There are so many wonderful things about Spain that make it an exciting and worthwhile place to visit. Spain has an extensive history that can been appreciated through it’s art, architecture and culture and. I am not an expert on all the places to see, but I am happy to give a general idea of where I suggest one visit. I spend most of my year living in a suburb of Madrid, so this is the area that I am most familiar with and where I feel comfortable enough to comment on.
I always recommend making Madrid your first stop and home base. You can find reasonably priced flights to Madrid from most major cities, depending on the time of year you decide to visit. Madrid is a sophisticated city with excellent museums such as the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen (my particular favorite). Make sure not to miss the parque del Retiro, a beautiful park in the center of the city that is a perfect spot to take a break from Madrid’s hustle and bustle. There is sophisticated shopping and superb restaurants, one of my preferred is Oter Restaurant in calle Claudio Coello. Spain has some of the best quality food I’ve tried. The variety of fish available is impressive and not to be missed. If you’re a foodie, you may enjoy eating tapas in the Mercado de San Miguel, walking distance from the Plaza Mayor. Another fun place to get a feeling of how fresh the food is in Spain is by visiting the supermarket at Spain’s largest department store, The Corte Ingles. This is an ideal place to shop for clothes and gifts and the supermarket, the Hipercor, is fantastic.
After spending a couple of days in Madrid I would suggest renting a car and driving to Toledo for a day trip. Toledo is only about an hour’s drive from Madrid and it is a beautiful city full of Christian, Muslim and especially Jewish heritage. A great place to lunch is at the Parador de Toledo. The food is quality, but the best part about the hotel is that it has a patio with a superb view of the city. You can easily walk the city.
Segovia is another great place for a day trip and an easy one hour drive from Madrid. Segovia is famous for it’s Roman aqueduct that remains intact and can be viewed from all angles of the city. You may enjoy taking a walk through the Alcazar, Segovia’s royal palace, and then taking a break to have lunch. Segovia is known for having incredible suckling pig. I recommend two restaurants for this, Candido or Restaurante Jose Maria. Both are excellent choices for eating suckling pig.
Another interesting place to visit close to Madrid (a little more than 35 minutes outside the city) is Alcala de Henares, the city where Cervantes was born. You can take a walk through the center of town, visit the Alcala de Henares university and take a tour of Cervantes natal home. An excellent place to have lunch is Restaurante El Casino. The food is beautifully prepared and delicious.
An easy drive from Madrid’s center is El Escorial, famous for the Monasterio de San Lorenzo. Take a tour of the Monastery and then have lunch at Charloles. Definitely order the Rabo de Toro, oxtail that is perfectly prepared and is a typical dish from Spain.
There are other wonderful places outside of Madrid that are close enough to drive and worth a visit. Such as Salamanca, about a two hour drive from Madrid and famous as being one of the biggest university cities in Spain.
Madrid is full of culture and creativity. Definitely check the internet before you go to see what concerts are offered at the Teatro Real (Royal Theater) and do a search for temporary art exhibits. On Sunday mornings it is fun to walk through El Rastro, Madrid’s flea market, that is full of unusual finds. While Madrid as a whole is very safe, make sure to watch your wallet and handbag from pickpockets when you go to any crowded spaces, such as the Rastro market.
Please keep in mind that I am basing my suggestions off my own experiences. Please share your own Madrid experiences with me and with others who read this blog.