Planning a Solo Trip to Madrid:
I was definitely feeling the need for a solo trip and traveling to Madrid, Spain for the first time ever seemed like just the ticket. I was lucky enough to land a great business-class deal using miles on Iberia. All I needed was to fly nonstop to Madrid from JFK. Seems easy right?
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Traveling to and from Madrid:
I’ll go into the whole situation in another post but basically what I planned was to take an Amtrak train to Philly and then fly from Philly to JFK (on miles thank you very much). Before you click away thinking I’m out of my mind, it was actually cheaper to do it that way than to take the train to NYC and get a cab/UBER/Lyft to JFK. Wrap your head around that.
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Well, my train was delayed over an hour so when I got to Philadelphia, I ditched my original idea to take the SEPTA to the airport and got a Lyft. I made it to Philly and got thru check-in and security in record time only to have my flight to JFK get canceled.
Like for real. Canceled.
American Air got me rescheduled but not for another three hours. Needless to say I was really not sure if I was going to make it, cut to me rolling up to the gate as they started boarding. That is SO not my style. Hahaha…
Also, a quick note about traveling in Europe, one of the nice things about travel within Europe is how close everything is which makes it very affordable. Iberia runs a very affordable nonstop route to Madrid which you can then use as a jumping-off point to get anywhere in Europe for super cheap.
Something to keep in mind if you’ve got your heart set on a two months in Europe type trip but your flight to Berlin is giving you sticker shock. The business class flight I’m about to tell you about cost me next to nothing in cash and miles so I’d highly recommend thinking outside the box when planning your European getaway. If you’re just sticking to Spain though, check out these hidden gems.
Iberia business class review
As I mentioned earlier, I booked my very first business-class flight via miles on Iberia. I didn’t anticipate arriving at the gate sweaty and panicked so it was super nice to be ushered into a very comfortable situation where I could relax and catch my breath.
I was flying overnight so soon after takeoff, the flight attendants swung into action to get us our dinner so we could try to get some sleep. The food was amazing (pictures below) and they kept my wine glass topped up which was very nice. Unfortunately, my IFE screen wasn’t working but it didn’t really matter since I was heading to bed straight after dinner.
Let me just preach to the beauty of a lie flight seat on an overnight flight. I have NEVER gotten such a good night’s sleep on an airplane before! Breakfast was vaguely disappointing as it was a very small fruit plate but it did the trick.
Before the return flight, I was able to take advantage of Iberia’s lounge and it was lovely. The food and beverage selections were awesome with views of the runaway through the windows.
Quick side note: In these times of constantly changing travel restrictions etc…I would HIGHLY recommend hopping on your airline’s website to see if they’ve implemented an app or any paperwork to help expedite your experience at the airport.
There was a form that I filled out the day before and had the hotel print out for me that I used at check-in…they basically stamped my boarding pass with a big thumbs up and it sped EVERYTHING up moving forward. I thought it was mandatory but apparently, a lot of people didn’t do it so I was glad to walk on by those lines!
Anyways, back to the flight! If you have the option to upgrade your seats for only one of your two flights…always go with the longer flight…even if it costs more. It’s totally worth it! If you’re going to sit anywhere for more than 8 hours you should at least be comfortable. A solo trip to Madrid or anywhere can turn into something super special by upgrading your flights.
Without the time crunch of trying to get service done as fast as possible, the experience was even better going home. Pre-departure sparkling wine, the food again was incredible and then snacks and wine were set up for you to help yourself throughout the flight. My IFE screen was working this time…thank the Lord…and I cozied up to watch three movies before landing.
(Pro Tip: Go to sleep immediately after dinner on an overnight flight to your destination but don’t sleep on the return flight. Helps cut down on the jet lag.)
About an hour before landing, they came around with a light meal option and it was the fruit plate again. Haha…
So I have a huge pet peeve about the people who stand up and get into the aisles before the plane has even parked. Of course, this happens in business as well but I very smugly walked past all those pushy people as they stood four rows deep to go through customs while I zipped through Global Entry. Check out this blog post if you’re looking for more info on Global Entry or Customs.
I stayed in the Hampton Inn JFK for the night and you know I love a Hampton Inn. This one didn’t disappoint and it was a lovely stay. The next day was another adventure as American ran me all over the East Coast but that’s a story for another day.
The best area to stay in for a solo trip to Madrid:
I ended up staying in two different hotels, the first ended up being my favorite which was a bummer to realize that at the second one. The first hotel was Francisco I and it sits (in my opinion) in the perfect location. It’s right on Calle del Arenal in between the Opera Metro and Puerta del Sol which is in an older section of the city and perfectly located for everything you want to see. Definitely check it out if you’re planning a trip.
The second hotel was stunning but sadly I was seduced by the promise of a good view…which it did NOT disappoint…but I didn’t realize it was on Gran Via, the equivalent of Broadway in NYC. Now don’t get me wrong, you know I love me some Manhattan but that’s not really the experience I was going for. I would definitely recommend both hotels but just decide what kind of vibe you want before you book. Don’t be seduced by a great view…morale of the story.
What to eat in Madrid, Spain:
Ok so most importantly…the food!
There are a ton of incredible food markets in Madrid that you absolutely have to try. Food markets were super helpful for my solo trip to Madrid because I could pop around between all the different booths instead of having to navigate a restaurant in Spanish.
Mercado de San Fernando
Unfussy marketplace with food and shops
Mercado San Anton
Spacious food market with dining options
Mercado de San Ildefonso
Hip food hall for eclectic, global eats
Mercado de San Miguel
My personal favorite…a Tapas lover’s dream! Pictures below. You get yourself a drink and then start working your way around trying a little bit of everything. It’s definitely my favorite way to eat.
All the Plazas:
There are so many beautiful plazas to check out but one I frequented was Plaza Mayor right next to…you guessed it…Mercado de San Miguel. There are a ton of restaurants here both in the plaza itself and out in the open courtyard area. It can be a little touristy so be choosy where you stop to eat. I had the best seafood paella of my life here!
TAPAS, TAPAS, TAPAS:
Did I mention I love tapas? They could be just some olives or fried potatoes or it could be anything from fried fish to little sandwiches. So good.
Things to do alone in Madrid, Spain:
The Royal Palace of Madrid:
“The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish royal family at the city of Madrid, although now used only for state ceremonies. The palace has 3,418 rooms. It is the largest functioning royal palace and the largest by floor area in Europe.” (palace website)
I got the audio tour and it was totally worth it. Very interesting and the rooms inside are just incredible. Definitely go for it if you’re doing a solo trip to Madrid.
“Officially known as Museo Nacional del Prado, is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It is widely considered to house one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and the single best collection of Spanish art.” (wikipedia)
This was a pretty incredible experience. It was mind-blowing how much they have here. I didn’t know much about Spanish art before I went so I really enjoyed this.
“Located on the Art Walk, this wonderful museum holds a vast collection that traces the history of European painting from the Middle Ages right through to the late 20th century. Italian primitives, the German Renaissance, 19th-century American art, Impressionism, German Expressionism and Russian Constructivism are the most widely represented schools and movements in the museum, whose impressive collection boasts over 1000 works of art.” (Wikipedia)
Sadly, I probably wouldn’t recommend this one. It was a bizarrely frustrating experience even without factoring in the language barrier. No signage. No flow from one area to another. It was just overall a very strange museum visit. If are looking to go, click here for tickets.
Madrid Shopping Recommendations:
Oh shopping! There are a few things that I think make great souvenirs and then we’ll jump into a few specific places to go.
- Olive Oil: Apparently Spain produces more of it than even Italy and I can tell you…its delicious. Also, easily attained in a grocery store instead of paying souvenir prices.
- Wine: Again…deliciously inexpensive grocery store purchase. Make sure to check it as you can’t bring it home via a carry-on.
- Leather Goods: More of a pricier option but definitely worth it.
- Espadrilles: So cute in the summer. I’m bummed I didn’t get a pair while I was here.
- Ceramics: Gorgeous painted dishware or decorative tiles.
- Hats: I didn’t realize that Madrid was so hat centric but there seemed to be a hat shop on every corner.
- Hand-painted fans: So pretty and a great space-saver option for bringing it all home with you. Plus the sound they make when they open is just so satisfying.
Now the places you have to go!
- Antigua Casa Talavera: This place is crammed full of beautiful ceramics. Every surface is just covered.
- Taller Puntera: Really cool leather goods store. Half the store is their workshop which is fun to see.
- Casa Diego: Fan and accessories shop since 1858…so ya know…they know their stuff.
- Casa Hernanz: Opened in 1845, they hand make their espadrilles and baskets. Word to the wise, people line up out front before they open and they can only take a couple people at a time so get their early. Also, their windows are lined with all the different kinds of shoes and their prices. Maybe snap a pic to show to the clerk to speed up the process.
Day trips from Madrid to Segovia and Avila:
“Avila is one of Spain’s oldest cities, and surrounded by well-preserved walls dating from the 11th century, it resembles an immense castle. The old quarters are home to a number of important Romanesque churches, Gothic palaces, and the city’s 12th-century Gothic cathedral, which is also fortified.”
The Wildlife Diaries has a great post about walled cities in Spain that you should definitely check out if this is up your alley!
On this full-day excursion from Madrid, you’ll see the exterior of the Avila Cathedral, the Romanesque Basilica of San Vicente, and visit the Plaza Mayor. Take a short walk through the city’s old streets to the Convent of Ste. Therese.
Continue on to Segovia, a city rich in historical monuments. See the magnificent Roman Aqueduct from the time of Emperor Augustus. The elegant Cathedral, and its Alcazar fortress, the most spectacular castle in Spain, are among the highlights. Both Avila and Segovia are listed as Heritage of Mankind cities.” (getyourguide.com)
This was such an epic day! Our tour guide was wonderful as she gave the tour in both English and Spanish. Both towns were absolutely stunning. I opted for the tour that included lunch and that was super delicious. Another great option for a solo trip to Madrid, day trips make solo travel really easy.
Seeing Alcazar was one of those weird life moments. The castle belonged King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who not only sent Christopher Columbus off to America but their daughter was Catherine of Aragon. I’ve always had a soft spot for Catherine so it was a very cool moment realizing where I was and who had been there before me.
Speaking Spanish and other thoughts…
All in all, pretty incredible solo trip to Madrid. I will definitely be back and hopefully will include Barcelona next time. A word of caution for my American brethren, there is very little English spoken which I thought I could get by with my high school Spanish and very basic Portuguese but it was a struggle all week.
Combine everyone wearing a mask and standing behind plexiglass with the language barrier and it was definitely tough. I must have apologized a million times that week. So please remember that you’re a guest and it’s you who doesn’t speak the language. Pack your patience and humility and you’ll be just fine!