Plaza de la Cibeles (Cybele’s Square) – Central Post Office (Palacio de Comunicaciones), Madrid, Spain. Photo: 123rf.com
Mention Spain and its vibrant culture, delightful dishes and Mediterranean climate come to mind. While its capital Madrid is widely known as a party town, the city is also surprisingly kid-friendly; just step into its restaurants or even bars, where no one will bat an eyelid if you have kids in tow. And with its wide, open spaces and scores of theme parks and museums, you and your family will never run out of things to do.
The weather in Madrid can be quite extreme – think 6 deg C during winter in January or up to 40 deg C in July, the hottest month of the year. Summer days are long, with the sun going down only after 10pm. The best time to visit would be during spring (March to May) or autumn (September to November).
While it’s generally a safe place to go, you’ll want to be on the lookout for pickpockets when you’re out and about, especially in tourist spots and crowded areas.
1. Museo de Cera
Amble through more than 40 rooms in this wax museum and snap selfies with the likes of George Clooney, Rafael Nadal, Barack Obama, even Sponge Bob Squarepants. Besides the figurines of actors, singers, and sports and political personalities, you can get your thrills with a ride on the Terror Train, experience a virtual journey in the FX Spaceship on the RV Simulator, or learn about the fascinating history of Spain at Multivision, where a series of superimposed images detail the significant moments in the country’s history.
2. Royal Palace of Madrid
While it’s not the official residence of the Spanish royal family, this is where official banquets and state ceremonies are held. The 18th century architectural masterpiece is a sight to behold, with an interior courtyard offering a panoramic view of the Almudena Cathedral right across from it. Take your time to explore the expansive palace and marvel at its beautiful artworks, furniture and tapestries; if you prefer a running commentary, get your hands on the audio guide or join a guided tour for €4 (S$6) each.
3. Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
A must-visit for football fans, the stadium is home to Spanish giants Real Madrid. Join the stadium tour where you’ll see the dressing room used by the players, as well as walk through the tunnel and onto the dugouts and pitch – the route the players take before any game. Available year-round (except on Christmas and New Year’s Day), the one-and-a-half hour tour operates on match days too, up until five hours before a game. Visit during football season from August to April to catch a live game – a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any die-hard soccer fanatic.
4. Mercado de San Miguel
Located in the city’s old quarter, this historical market is a perfect blend of tradition and modern life, with stalls offering fresh produce and seasonal items, as well as quintessentially Spanish foods like paella, croquettes and tapas. The market is open daily from 10am to midnight, and until 2am from Thursday to Saturday, making it an ideal supper option or for an early dinner with the kids, as many restaurants close in the afternoon from around 3pm and typically reopen only after 8pm or 9pm.
5. Museo Nacional del Prado
What better way to introduce art to your kids than at the home of some of the most famous European art pieces. The building first opened to the public as a museum in 1819; it houses artwork dating from the 12th century, so expect to see the works of master painters like Goya, Rubens and El Greco.
If you have limited time to spend at the museum, go to its website which tells you exactly what the must-sees are, depending on whether you have one, two or three hours to spare.
6. Casa de Campo
Make it a day-long family affair at Madrid’s largest park, which spans over 1,700ha and is home to a lake that occupies almost 861,113 sq ft. The former royal hunting estate also boasts some child-friendly attractions, from a zoo and aquarium to an amusement park. The zoo has almost 3,000 animals, an aquarium and a dolphin tank. Then there’s the amusement park with its pony rides, indoor paintball and roller coasters. Casa de Campo is also the perfect spot for a bird’s eye view of the city – to get there, hop on the Teleferico, Madrid’s cable car, at Paseo del Pintor Rosales street and you’ll be there in 10 minutes.
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7. Madrid Rio
There are no natural beaches near Madrid but there’s a beautiful urban one less than 2km from the city centre. The Madrid Rio project consists of a large park, an urban beach, cafes, restaurants, as well as cultural and sports facilities.
There are rowing lanes on the river and other sports you can take part in including in-line skating, basketball, football and tennis. There are over 10km of walking and cycling routes and 17 play areas for children. The kids can swim and play at the beach while you bask in the sun.
8. Gran Via
No visit to Madrid is complete without a pit stop at Gran Via. Its countless shops aside, the grand boulevard is also home to entertainment options galore, from theatres to restaurants, clubs and bars.
Certainly worth exploring, the Great Way, as it’s called, is a network of streets housing impressive Art Deco buildings, many of which have statues or intricate designs carved on their rooftops. Notable buildings include the Telefonica Building, one of the first skyscrapers in Europe; Edificio Metropolis, famed for the winged statue on top of its dome, and Edificio Grassy, which features a hard-to-miss Rolex logo. The street ends at Plaza de Espana, an expansive square that’s also a popular tourist attraction.
9. Temple of Debod
Get a taste of ancient Egypt at the Parque de la Montana in downtown Madrid. Here, you’ll fi nd the Temple of Debod, which dates back to 2BC. The ancient temple was originally built in the village of Debod in Egypt. Due to the construction of the Aswan Dam in 1960, numerous monuments, including this temple, were in danger of being destroyed. This prompted Unesco to appeal for help from other countries. As a show of gratitude to Spain for its help in preserving its monuments, the Egyptian government donated the temple to Madrid in 1968. Opened to the public in 1972, it is laid out in exactly the same manner as it was in Egypt. The area even offers some respite with its grassy lawns and shady trees, and is said to be the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
10. Royal Botanical Garden
Take a breather with a walk in the park – there’s no better place than Real Jardin Botanico. Situated right in the centre of Madrid, in front of the Museo Nacional del Prado, the 261-year-old garden spans 8ha, boasting three outdoor sections or terraces and two greenhouses. And, with more than 30,000 varieties of plants and flowers and 1,500 trees to comb through, you really should take the time to smell the roses.
This story was originally published in the January 2016 issue of Simply Her.