Last week I was fortunate enough to escape the dark, cold Finnish “Dead Month” (November) to visit Madrid for a few days for a conference. While I spent most of the sunny, blue skied 20+ days (not bad for winter!) inside hearing about the latest in twin research, I managed to slip out for an afternoon or two of exploration.
My first escape was a quick jog squeezed in between conference lectures. Fortunately the beautiful Parque de la Quinta de los Molinos was right next to the conference venue and provided the perfect dose of sun and scenery.
Previously an estate, Quinta de los Molinos (Farm Mills) is mainly comprised of almond and olive groves, creating a peaceful, country feel- like you’ve just stepped into another world or time. Compared to most of the city, the park is very quiet, often deserted and lacks cafes and shops, again adding the feel of escape from the busy city of Madrid.
Part of the park is more formal, with fountains and terraced gardens, providing the perfect complement to the wild open spaces of the park.
On the final day of the conference we were able to take the afternoon to explore some of the city attractions. As the bus into town took an hour in Saturday traffic, we jumped off before the center, eager to get into the sunshine as quickly as possible. After a few minutes heading in the general direction of the touristy area we wandered onto a weekend market at Plaza del Dos de Mayo. There was an array of knick-knack stalls on the street above the plaza, with the square below filled with second hand clothing stalls (heaven!).
We then wandered the few blocks to the Plaza de Espana, the center of which features a monument to the writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.
The day we visited, most of the plaza was take up by protesters, so after a quick look at the monument we headed across the road to the beautiful neoclassical Jardines de Sabatini, which backs onto the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Walking out of the garden and around to the front side of the palace will take you to the entrance, where for 11 euro (6 if you’re a student) you can walk through the palace.
There’s often a line, although it moved very quickly when we were there. You can buy tickets online and with some options avoid the queue. It is well worth the small cost and time lining up to go through the palace- every room is beautiful and many have a different themes. The walls of one small room were completely covered in porcelain, with every joint cleverly hidden. The ceilings throughout are painted and embellished with gold- my neck became tired from gazing up so much! For most of the interior you aren’t allowed to take photos, giving you more time to marvel at the splendours around you.
Behind the palace is the imposing Cathedral de la Almudena– a baroque cathedral with colourful chapels and a Roman crypt and museum. While we didn’t have time to go in, it’s another highly recommended attraction.
Continuing past the cathedral we found ourselves wandering the streets of the old center of Madrid (Madrid de los Austrias). To me this provides as much wonder and picturesque sights as the main tourist attractions.
To finish off a perfect afternoon we headed to San Miguel market– a beautiful, huge glass building filled with all manor of delicious market food. From lobster, sushi, sardines and other seafood, to cured meats, and an array of desserts and cocktails, it was a true feast hall. I was too busy taking it all in to take photos (the very strong caipirinhas probably didn’t help either), check out the official page here for pictures and info.