Madrid: First Impressions

I’ve always known I was going to love Spain. But then again, I have the tendency of expecting too much from places I’ve been dreaming of for the longest time. I am also guilty of putting a lot of pressure on the first city that I land on. First impressions are important.

In this case, it was Madrid. I landed in Madrid a few days ago with little to no expectations, just the intent of exploring the city in general and hopefully get to know Hemingway’s version of the city. Most of his books played a big influence on my desire to see Spain, so did other works of art from the greats Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Antonio Gaudi to name a few.

I only had two days in Madrid but it left me wanting to go back for more. Madrid is such a vibrant city and its appeal is more than just its historical landmarks and popular tourist destinations.

My friends and I landed in Madrid Barajas Airport at around 11:00 pm on a Wednesday night. The airport is about 20-25 minutes away from the city center and after traveling for more than 24-hours which included a sleepless flight and a London layover, we opted to stay at a hotel (Hotel Diana) close to the airport for one night to get some sleep.

Day One

We took the complimentary hotel shuttle to the airport to get on the Renfe train to Madrid station. For this trip, we got a Spain-Portugal Eurail Pass and purchased our seat reservations beforehand. Last year, I got the Global Pass which was perfect for traveling across five countries in Europe. I learned a lot on how European trains work and I loved traveling by train across EU. 

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Renfre train station is located at Terminal 4 of Madrid-Barajas Airport.

I chose a hotel in the La Latina neighborhood in Central Madrid this time. HRC Hotel was only a five minute walk from the train station and everything else was within walking distance! From Plaza Mayor, La Latina tapas bars and restaurants, to the Royal Palace.

What I Did

The only official thing on my itinerary was lunch at Restaurant Botin since I made reservations online before I left for Spain. It was quite an experience dining at the world’s oldest restaurant and one of Hemingway’s more popular hangouts back in his time.

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More importantly, I had my first real Spanish sangria at Botin!

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With no particular to-do list in mind, we wandered around the area first. Walking around Madrid was an experience itself. Since we had time to spare, my friends and I decided to jump on the next train to Toledo, an old city outside of Madrid. It was only a thirty-minute train ride and what a change of scenery it was.

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Toledo is set on a hill in Central Spain and is considered an open-air museum for its rich cultural history.

We left Toledo just in time to squeeze in a couple of siesta hours before venturing out to Madrid’s lively night life. La Latina neighborhood is famous for its tapas restaurants and bars. Of course, I made sure we were near the area.

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I don’t think I’ve seen so many outdoor restaurants in my life. How do you even pick a place? You don’t. You try them all. That’s what the Spanish do. Tapas crawl!

I can’t even begin to talk about how delicious Spanish food is. That would be a whole different post.

We ended the night with a stroll to Plaza Mayor before going out for drinks. I like how different a place can look during the day and at night.

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Where I Stayed

Hotel Diana – Took the taxi from the airport with a flat fee of 20 euros. You can make arrangements to have the hotel shuttle pick you up for free but we were so tired and were adamant to get to our hotel to get some rest. (Watch out for my Hotel Diana review soon)

HRC Hotel- This hotel is conveniently located minutes from the La Latina train station. It is only a fifteen to twenty minute walk from La Latina bars/restaurants, Plaza Mayor and Royal Palace.

What I Learned

If you have a big bag or heavy luggage, take the taxi! From the train station, we took the local metro to La Latina. There was no direct line so we had to change trains three times!  It wasn’t fun dragging luggage up and down the stairs at the metro when the taxi fare was not that expensive.

Day Two

We started our last day in Madrid with breakfast at Plaza Mayor. I highly recommend doing this. I know it’s such a tourist thing to do but who cares, we are all tourists every time we visit another country especially for the first time.

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Churros dipped in hot chocolate  for breakfast. Oh, and did I mention how delicious the coffee was? Why can’t I have coffee like this everyday? I feel deprived.

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After breakfast, we walked to the Royal Palace and went in the Cathedral.  We only took photos from outside the palace and didn’t go in. However, we went inside the beautiful cathedral right across from it.

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Royal Palace

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Almudena Cathedral

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Just a few blocks away from the palace, you can find the awesome Mercado de San Miguel for food, drinks and everything in between!

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Even though I only spent two days in Madrid, I was still able to enjoy the city’s vibrant culture. If anything, it just made me want to come back and stay longer. I’m glad my first impressions of Spain was through Madrid’s lively atmosphere. It is a city that has caught my attention, wanting  to be explored and enjoyed more.

And as I left for Sevilla, I’ve already decided that I MUST come back to Madrid.

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Adios, Madrid. Until we meet again.

Next: Toledo Day Trip

Jen is a Chicago-based traveler and a full-time Director of Development for an arts & culture organization. Originally from Connecticut, she created Angel of Wanderlust as a place to share her travel stories and photos with friends and family. Now, it is a place for adventurers, explorers and dreamers. Its purpose is to inspire and encourage people to see the world and achieve a better work-life balance.