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  • Janis Nunez

Madrid & Toledo Spain

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

We usually take several trips throughout the year, but with the pandemic and so many places opening and closing we chose Spain. We were able to use hotel points for our entire stay. If you travel frequently, there are lots of cards that give you points for purchases you make every day. My husband is the credit card researcher for our travel needs, but there are several YouTube videos that can help you decide. If you use it to pay your bills, get your groceries, and pay for trips it adds up in no time. We pay it off every 2 weeks so for those of you staying out of debt it can work for you.


BEFORE YOU GO


ADAPTER: You will need an adapter to plug in your electronics while you are in Spain. Click here to view the one we have and use. We usually each have our own. You might need it at the airport if you need to charge while you are waiting for your flight home, so keep it in your carry-on bag.


Another thing to find out (ladies) is the wattage of your flat iron or other electronics you will be taking. I found that getting a universal wattage flat iron saves me the hassle of worrying if I need an adapter AND converter. Most hotels and Airbnbs provide a hair dryer, so just make sure whatever you bring along it has Worldwide Voltage, or you will need a converter.


PHONE: Contact your cell phone provider to see what is included. T-Mobile gives unlimited data and texting, but charges $0.25 per minute per call for us. I have read other companies require you to get a European SIM card, so contact your provider for details.


CONTACT YOUR BANK AND CREDIT CARD COMPANIES: It's important to let the bank know when you will be out of town so that you won't have any problems withdrawing your money when you get to your destination. You also may need to notify your credit card company of the travel dates.


WHERE TO STAY: This time the work of finding a place was really taken out of the equation for us since we had to find a hotel that we could use our points. Some were booked, and the ones that were available to use points were further out of the city than we wanted to be. This led us to the decision to rent a car. We looked up the average daily parking rates in the city as well as which hotels had free parking. Even with these fees, our trip was well under budget. You really can't beat a free stay.


We stayed south of the city and broke up the stay between 2 hotels since that would allow us to stay totally free. Hotels in Europe are difficult for families. We have found that IHG hotels usually have 2 queen beds which will accommodate our family of 4. Most only accommodate 2 people, which would mean booking 2 rooms. This is why many times we will stay in Airbnbs. It's more affordable for a family, and you can pick a location right where you want to be without the hassle of renting a car. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Leganes part of the time, and at the Holiday Inn Express Alcobendas. Both were extremely clean and suited our family's needs. They also included a really good breakfast. My sons and I had dinner one night in the hotel (quite late) and it was really delicious. It seemed locals came there to eat as well. Be mindful you are not in the city center and will need to drive everywhere, so if you are not comfortable driving around another country you may want to find a spot in the city center.


CAR RENTAL: We like to rent through Costco. It's almost always the best deal and if something happens and you can't make it for some reason there is no issue cancelling the car.


WHEN YOU ARRIVE AT THE AIRPORT


CURRENCY: You can find an ATM at the airport or wait and find a bank in the city (which is what we did). Check fees and be sure you take out the lump sum of what you need, so that you don't get hit with multiple fees from Spain, your bank, and exchange rates.


TRANSPERTATION: If you plan to stay in the city center there really is no need for a car. You can take the metro all over the city for little cost. Uber and taxis are also available. Since we were staying a bit outside of the city, we had a car. Once you get through customs the car rental places are right out the door which is very convenient. We were in our car and on the road in no time. Drop off was just as easy heading back to the airport. No issues.


COVID TESTING: It's a good idea once you get yourself situated to figure out where you are going to get the mandated covid test to return to the US. You have to have a specific test, so make sure you ask if that will qualify before taking the test. We went to one place, and they instructed us where to go for the specific test we needed. It cost us $30 per person. Here is the link to the one we went to: Clinimat. The address is C/ de Francisco Silvela, 46, 28028 Madrid, Spain. There are several throughout the city, just find what is closest to you. Things are constantly changing so check what is required before going to your destination. And be prepared to show all documentation.


SPAIN TRAVEL HEALTH FORM: Head over to https://www.spth.gob.es/ and fill out the form with your travel information. You will have to show them a QR code upon arrival and departing the country. Always look on the government websites to find the most current travel restrictions.


SIGHTSEEING


Day 1: We started our day at the Puerto del Sol and the statue of the bear pawing a madroño tree. This has been a symbol of Madrid since medieval times. The equestrian statue in the center of the plaza is of Charles III. He faces the building with the bell tower that housed the first post office. In front of the Post Office, you will find "Kilometro Cero." This is the center to all roads in Spain.



From the Puerto del Sol we walked over to the Plaza Mayor.


From the plaza we headed over to Mercado de San Miguel to get a snack. The market is filled with food stalls with something for everyone. Check out that giant sword fish in the last photo! There are stalls to buy and take home to cook yourself too.



The inside of the Basillica de San Miguel was closed, but the outside had beautiful architecture. I hear the inside is amazing.



For lunch we stopped for calamari sandwiches at La Ideal. It's just off the plaza and a perfect place to grab lunch to take back to the plaza to sit, eat, and people watch. My husband likes to try local bears wherever we go. Be sure to try a few while visiting.



For dessert we headed to Chocolatería San Ginés for their famous churros and chocolate. This iconic chocolateria is open 24 hours to get your sweet fix. There are two styles of churros, so be sure to try them both.



Plaza de Villa is one of the oldest squares in the city. It dates back to the Middle Ages. The statue in the center is of Don Alvaro de Bazan.



Iglesia del Sacramento (Church of the Armed Forces) properly called Castrense Cathedral is commanded and owned by the Ministry of Defense of Spain.


In front of the Cathedral, you will find the Assasination Attempt Memorial. This statue memorializes a 1906 assassination attempt on the king and queen during a parade. A man threw a bomb at the couple and missed, killing 28 people.



A short walk takes you to Almundena Cathedral. The Almudena Cathedral is the most important religious building in Madrid. It was consecrated by Pope John Paul II on 15 June 1993, making it the first cathedral to be consecrated outside of Rome. The cathedral is across the street from the Royal Palace, so definitely stop and take a look.



The Royal Palace does not allow photos to be taken. There is a fee to enter, and I think it's more than worth it. This palace is the largest in Spain. It has 2,800 rooms and is about 1.5 million square feet. You can get a guided tour here, but we were fine with just walking the palace. Outside of the gate is a hole you can look through to take a cool photo.



We also took more photos of the Almundena Cathedral from another perspective.



Dinner time is like most places in Europe...much later than we do in America, so we decided to head back to the hotel for a siesta. And then headed out for dinner later in the evening. We weren't sure exactly where to go, but we decided to try some local cuisine and go where we saw the most locals sitting. It was a decent meal, but not filling. We decided to go back to the San Miguel Market to get some snacks afterward.



A quick walk through the Plaza Mayor takes you over to the market. The sangria here is really good, and you can really find any food you want to try here. It's a little pricier than some places, but the atmosphere and food options make it a winner.



Day 2: We grabbed some coffee and breakfast before starting our day at a bakery we found near where we parked our car. Just what we needed before exploring for the day.



Calle Gran Via is an iconic street with great architecture, shopping and dining. The Metropolis Building with the winged goddess on top is my favorite building. The Plaza de Cibeles, the Town Hall, the Bank of Spain and the Fountain of Cibeles are all located in this busy intersection.



From here we head to the Church and Cloisters of San Jerónimo el Real. This church is found right behind the Prado Museum and is a definite must see.



The Prado Museum is widely considered to have one of the world's finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century. You are not allowed to take photos here, which I learned after I already took a couple. They REALLY watch you!


Outside of the Museum we took some photos. That door is just east of the church we visited before going to the museum. Beautiful.


Here are some things on our walk from the museum to our lunch spot.



We ate at El Alambique Taberna not too far from the Prado Museum. They have a daily menu, and it is run by a very enthusiastic couple happy to share all kinds of information about food, wine, and Spain in general. It's a hole in the wall restaurant frequented by locals that we were happy to find.



Next we headed to Retiro Park. You can take a picnic and eat on the grounds, go for a walk, take out a boat on the lake, or grab some food at one of the restaurants in the park. There's so much to do. We did the following while walking throughout the park:

  • Monumento del Angel Caido: fallen angel Lucifer monument

  • Crystal Palace. (It's not open to go inside, but you can see it from the outside.)

  • Estanque Grande del Retiro: pond

  • Monument to Alfonso: at the lake