Madrid Solo Travel = Amazing
I just returned from an epic solo trip in Madrid! I loved, loved, loved Madrid, you guys. I’m not exaggerating even a little bit. Madrid gave me a tiny (and needed) taste of Spain.
Let me tell you… I am ready to go on a million more trips to this incredible country. Hell, I even want to learn Spanish now, and I’m currently looking for affordable lessons in my area. Yes, my trip impacted me that much, given I’m terrible at languages that aren’t English, haha. You don’t want to hear me speak the tiny bit of French I know. You’ll cry.
Now I am going to be honest here. At first, the Easter holiday crowds in Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor overwhelmed me. I have never been chill in crowds, which is funny seeing how much I love New York City. In addition, it had been awhile since I traveled solo, and my jetlagged and stunned self wondered if I made the right decision. Was I going to love Madrid?
Boy, oh boy, was I in for a surprise. Madrid’s beautiful neighborhoods, delicious food, fascinating history, and world class attractions stole my heart in no time. Spain’s capital is one of the best places to travel solo, in my opinion.
Without further ado, here are some of the (insanely positive) impressions I had as a solo traveler in Madrid. Happy reading!
I Fell in Love with Madrid’s Many Museums.
I’m the sort of person who can get completely lost in an art museum. As a child, Philadelphia’s Museum of Art was one of my favorite tourist attractions. And Madrid itself is very well known for its world famous art museums, especially The Prado, Museo Reina Sofia, and Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you studied art in school or just appreciate art history, then Madrid is a destination specifically created to serve your interests! I enjoyed each of these museums.
In particular, Pablo Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica, stirred my interest and expanded my mind. I don’t know much about Picasso, but this piece … wow. Guernica is huge, taking up an entire wall, and the depiction of war really makes you think about the real life ramifications of violence. It’s deep.
Another piece of art that stood out to me was Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych called “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” Talk about a piece ahead of its time! The creepy pig-faced nun on the final panel is the stuff of nightmares.
Be warned, though, the Prado (the most famous of the three museums) is huge and requires an ample amount of time. I went on Easter morning and stared at gorgeous works by El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez and Goya. Total time? About two hours. I don’t feel like it was nearly enough time to truly appreciate all the paintings. So, if you’re a huge art buff, then schedule your visit to the Prado right.
Social Accommodation was Essential.
Most solo travelers need social accommodation not to feel lonely. As for me, I like my “alone time” during the day, but want to share stories and fun experiences as soon as night falls. Troublesome, huh? Fortunately, Madrid has a lot of great hostels to appeal to solo travelers of all ages, not just college students on backpacking trips.
As for me, I like my privacy and usually book private hostel rooms, but on this trip, my budget forced me to spring for a four bedroom dorm. I had a WONDERFUL time! I stayed at Sungate One – which was recently voted the best hostel in Spain! The free dinners guaranteed striking a conversation with someone, and every night the staff organized parties out on the town. The ages of the guests were also very diverse ranging from early twenties to late forties! So I never once felt “too old” or “out of place” here.
If you plan to go to Madrid, then I really recommend going to Sungate – One. I paid the full price (meaning none of this is sponsored), and I would pay the full price again to spend another week with my wonderful Sungate family.
Madrid has some of the Best Day Trips.
Honestly, Madrid packs a punch when it comes to day trips. The Spanish capital is perfect for solo travelers who wants to base themselves in one place, but still see different cities and sites. I didn’t even have a chance to see all of the day trips.
Toledo: One of the most important cities in all of Spanish history. Located in Castile, the UNESCO world heritage site has many important buildings and stunning viewpoints. I loved exploring the tiny roads and staring at the Spanish countryside basking in the sun. So beautiful. Toledo is a simple bus or train ride from Madrid, and can be seen in a few hours. You can even go ziplining.
Segovia: Oh my god, I loved this small town. It’s only an hour bus ride from Madrid and is truly a magical place. Out of Segovia’s sites, the Roman aqueducts most impressed me, because I never expected them to be so … so massive! Segovia also has a castle that supposedly inspired Walt Disney!
El Escorial: This monastery/residence is one of the places where the Spanish Kings resided. Many of Spain’s former royals are also buried here. El Escorial is located in the town of San Lorenzo and makes for an easy day trip from Madrid.
The Valley of the Fallen: Valle de los Caídos or Valley of the Fallen is definitely a chilling tourist attraction, to say the least. Additionally, the basilica and memorial is quite controversial if you look more deeply into Spanish history. For instance, Spain’s former dictator, Francisco Franco, is buried inside the basilica. He was also responsible for constructing the building. It is huge, bigger than St. Peter’s in Vatican City, and to be honest, I felt uncomfortable at the architectural megalomania.
Retiro’s Closure Didn’t Ruin My Adventure.
Sadly, Madrid’s famous Retiro Park was closed for my entire visit. The park was originally scheduled to reopen on April 1st, but then was postponed until … who even knows when.
Why the closure on Easter week, one of the most popular times to go to Spain? In March, intense winds had been a frequent occurrence and (unsurprisingly) weakened many trees. As a result, a tree in Retiro fell down and killed a child. Tragic and awful, and I’d be a horrible person if I complained about the safety inspections, which shut down Retiro. Always better safe than sorry. Besides plans are shaky – at best – whenever you travel. I mean, remember that time I didn’t see the northern lights in Iceland? I sure do!
However, Madrid has many lovely squares and parks for you to enjoy the warm Spanish spring weather. I personally loved the Botanical Gardens near the Prado museum. The tulips were all in bloom, and the nearby cafe had some delicious coffee to go with the gorgeous views of the park. Mmmm!
Teachers can Score Discounts on Attractions.
As an English teacher, I was in major luck when it came to discounted attractions! Yay, for once, my wallet wins. For example, I could visit the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Botanical Gardens near the Prado, and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for free. Yes, three great spots for zero euros! All I had to do was show my school I.D. and boom, financial victory.
So please look into discounts before your trip to Madrid! I know students could also get reduced prices, as well as holders of Latin American passports. For future trips, my teacher I.D. will definitely come along for the ride.
What if you’re not a teacher or student? Don’t despair! Some other attractions, including the Prado museum, also have free admission in the evenings. Check the hours ahead of time and save your cash.
Exploring Madrid’s Neighborhoods is So Fun.
Madrid has some damn cool neighborhoods. Frequently, I would turn off my maps app and wander the streets in search of interesting sites, shops, and tapas. I always felt safe “getting lost,” too, which is another bonus.
For instance, Malasaña was one of my favorite areas to roam free, haha. Talk about cool coffee cafes and trendy street art! I felt like I was exploring Brooklyn! Malasaña totally has a hipster vibe.
Likewise, Fuencarral, which borders trendy Malasaña, has some great shopping available! I (alas) didn’t spend any money, but window shopping was an absolute joy on a sunny afternoon. I loved the art galleries and vintage clothing stores. So, if you’re a traveler with an active credit card, I highly recommend a visit here.
Finally another favorite neighborhood of mine was Barrio de las Letras where you can feel literature seep out of the streets. This area was home to some of Spain’s greatest writers including Cervantes and Quevado. If you love books, then you must go to Barrio de las Letras and see for yourself. You can find some great tapas bars, too.
Eating Alone in Madrid Wasn’t Very Scary!
I boast a lot about solo travel, but there’s one prospect of solo travel that I hate. Which is, ugh, eating alone. Oh my god, you guys, sitting at a table for one is the bane of my existence. I have actually gone hungry and skipped meals instead of enduring a solo dinner at a packed restaurant. In Madrid? I had zero problems, and I promise I didn’t eat every meal at McDonalds (ugh, could you imagine?).
Mercado de San Miguel is a great spot for solo travelers to eat their hearts out and not feel the slightest bit awkward about it. This historic market, originally built in 1916, is a place for you to sample tapas. However, keep in mind that Mercado de San Miguel is a big tourist destination so the crowds may feel overwhelming at times. Just be patient and try not to glare if someone bumps into you, haha.
In addition to Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid has many wonderful restaurants with outdoor seating. I saw many others eating alone so I wasn’t scared to sit down myself, enjoy a meal, and indulge in some quality “people watching.”
Madrid has so Many Incredible Walking Tours
I’m a huge fan of walking tours, especially when I take a trip alone. Walking tours provide me with a good sense of direction and I always strike up conversations with fellow travelers. Win win.
Madrid definitely had a lot of enjoyable tours available for all interests. For instance, I took a “free” walking tour with SANDEMANs, and learned a lot about Madrid’s history and culture. These free (well “tip what you think the tour was worth”) tours draw a lot of fellow hostelers, making them easy avenues to use to make new friends.
I enjoyed my free walking tour so much that I later booked the Spanish Inquisition Tour with the same company. The Spanish Inquisition is a dark period in history that I knew little to nothing about. After all, it has been highly misrepresented in the media, and most people don’t know how horrible the Inquisition actually was for “heretics” living in Spain. For me, the tour was a great learning experience and open my eyes. I never realized the Spanish Inquisition didn’t come to an end until the 1800s, for instance. Crazy.
SANDEMANs also offers Flamenco Shows and Tapas Experiences. If you’re alone and shy about attending events at night, then look into both of these tours so you can feel more comfortable.
Are you planning to visit Madrid in the near future? How about Spain? What were your first impressions? Share all your thoughts in the comments!
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