Two things about Madrid stand out to me: how bright and clean it is and also how different the architecture looks compared to Portugal. To be honest, I thought that there wouldn’t be much difference between the buildings of the two countries but I was very surprised and pleasantly so, in fact! Yes, you can berate me all you want for the misconception that *gasp* all of Europe looks the same. That’s like saying all Asian countries look the same – they certainly do not. I admit my ignorance.
Getting to Madrid from Portugal and back.
The nightly train leaves Lisbon Santa Apolónia station at 21h25 and arrives at Madrid Charmartín station at 08h40 the next day. Spain is 1 hour ahead of Portugal so the journey takes approximately 10 hours and 15 minutes. Tickets can be purchased online at Trainline.eu and is a relatively fuss-free process. The trains are operated by the Spanish train company, Renfe, and are perfectly adequate for a night of travel.
There were two options for us, both of which we tried. Second class tickets come in Turista (Tourist) and Cama Turista (Tourist Beds) versions. The beds cost more but are definitely more comfortable than the seats. Instead of saving 20+-30+€, I would say just go ahead and get the bed. The seats weren’t bad but it was really difficult to get a good night’s rest while being upright. Since you aren’t paying for accommodation while you travel, the bed is a pretty good bargain. Each small room is equipped with a sink and 4 beds. Toothbrushes, toothpaste and a bottle of water are provided for each passenger when you select the bed option. Very decent for the price which range from 80-100€ one way depending on the day you choose to travel. Prices may drop lower than that but that’s pretty rare.
As for food, bring your own if you feel like you might want to munch late into the night. The onboard cafeteria is nothing to shout about. I just had dinner before boarding and brought some light snacks (biscuits and chips mostly) in case I got hungry.
Places to stay.
Accommodation is quite a personal thing. If you’re a backpacker and want to keep costs as low as possible, a dormitory bed in a hostel might suffice. But if you prefer luxury, you’d probably want to stay in a nice hotel. I like to have a mix of the two. I don’t make a ton of money so I am always looking for something that gives me the most “bang for my buck”. I prefer to have a room to myself, preferably with a private bathroom, but if prices do not permit, then a shared bathroom situation is also fine. I don’t tend to spend the entire day outdoors so having a nice private room to chill during the heat of the day or in the evenings (I’m not one for night life) is my idea of the perfect accommodation. I generally opt for rooms with modern, minimalist decor and cleanliness is another big thing for me. It absolutely has to be clean – smells included. There is nothing worse than a musty and dusty room to kick start my allergies. No thank you.
These are obviously my own preferences. Of course, given the situation, I’ll adapt pretty quickly, so there are no places that are effectively off-limits, but essentially I’ll get the best I can possibly afford while still maintaining my budget. I tend to use Booking.com or AirBnB.com for all my accommodation needs. Both websites are reliable and so far I haven’t had any issues with any of my bookings through these platforms. This time in Madrid, I paid for a room with a private bathroom for 36€ a night. Since there were two of us, the costs were halved. For some reason we were given the second night free of charge which we suspect might have been due to the renovations that were going on next door. So essentially, I spent 9€ a night which was a total bargain! There are plenty of accommodation options in Madrid, so you needn’t worry too much. Just take your time to browse and find the right one for you.
Places of interest – where to go.
While I don’t like to admit that I’m a typical tourist when it comes to visiting new locations, that’s how I usually roll. There must be a reason why so many people flock to certain monuments, right? I dislike crowds so I try to avoid them as much as possible by choosing to visit at odd times of the day or non-tourist heavy seasons. And if the entry fee to something is too expensive (like a museum or monument), I’ll usually be satisfied just taking in whatever is free. Unless it’s really worth it. I also try to do things that are “off the beaten track” or essentially free. Always have to think of ways to make my budget stretch as much as possible.
Our lodging was a short walk away from Sol, which is one of the main shopping areas in Madrid so transport was not an issue whatsoever. Sol is extremely accessible due to the Metro system to pretty much everywhere, including the Charmartín station. You simply have to buy a card which you can top up with money when you go. Most things were within walking distance for us.
Google Maps is extremely useful as there are tons of places marked on there with pictures so you can get a sneak preview of whether a location is worth checking out or not. Here’s the list of landmarks we visited although there were plenty plenty more that we didn’t get to see.
- Templo de Debod
- Plaza de España
- Palacio Real de Madrid
- Jardines de Sabatini (Sabatini Gardens)
- Estadio Santiago Bernabéu (Real Madrid’s stadium)
And of course, the shopping areas which are near Sol, Gran Via and Callao. These 3 metro stations are essentially laid out in a triangle – and also the black hole where your money disappears. Madrid is really hot during summer time so we escaped the scorching heat of the afternoon in our rooms (this is why having a comfortable room is important to me). We went out in the morning and again in the evenings. The next time I visit, it’ll definitely be during the cooler seasons.
So would I visit again? My overall impressions.
Absolutely. Everywhere I turned, there was beautiful architecture to be seen and most of it was well-maintained. It was a pleasure to take in the city and there is obviously a lot more exploration to be done! I was also quite dissatisfied with the quality and quantity of photographs I took. Unfortunately, since I was with someone else, time was not quite on my side and I didn’t get a chance to thoroughly take in the beauty of my surroundings. The food was also fantastic but more on that in another upcoming post. Nonetheless, I did enjoy myself and am extremely grateful for this opportunity to visit Portugal’s only direct neighbour. If you’re considering a tour around Europe, do stop by Madrid. You won’t be disappointed.
*Note that the links to Booking.com and AirBnB are referral links which means I might make a small percentage of money or benefits from them at no added cost to you.
It's been a while since I've explored new parts of Portugal but a few Mondays ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Alfama district in Lisbon. Alfama is one of the oldest areas in Lisbon that spreads out from the Sao Jorge's castle on the...
Exploring and taking photographs are some of the things that I enjoy doing. There’s something incredibly relaxing about being in a new space, in the middle of new culture and taking in the sights slowly. If you ask ten people on the street on...
Stepping into Sintra is like stepping into a magical wonderland where elves and leprechauns exist. At least, it feels like it anyway. It’s a quaint little town, approximately 30 minutes away from Lisbon by train. The trains come fairly often, so...