City Breaks with Kids: Madrid

When you think of holidaying in Spain with children, the coast will spring to mind first.  But what about a city break?  Seville, Barcelona and Madrid are all great places to explore with kids, and there is plenty to do and a warm welcome awaiting you.  One huge advantage to travelling in southern Europe with kids is that children are welcome pretty much everywhere.  The, Italians and Spanish think nothing of taking their kids to bars and restaurants, even late into the evening.  Children are welcome, and looked after, wherever you go, even in the city centre.  As well as the usual attractions, there are plenty of child-friendly options for adventures and days out.  Here are our top things to do in Madrid with kids.


When to go?

Climate and geography mean Madrid is best avoided in high summer as it gets stuffy and overwhelmingly hot.  Try autumn or early spring to avoid the crowds, or May/June for great weather, higher temperatures but with a refreshing breeze.  I have even visited in January and February for bright, crisp days, low hotel prices, and no crowds (you get the Prado nearly to yourself!).  Maybe one to book for October or February half-term?

How to get there?

With just a short hop flight to Madrid from the UK, tempers will hopefully still be in one piece on arrival, so you could take the Metro into the city or the train to stunning Atocha station for downtown hotels.  Far easier though to book a private transfer for a comfortable transfer straight to your hotel.  Check in then hit the ground running to make the most of your time in this wonderful city.


Palacio Real de Madrid

The Palacio Real is no longer home to the king, but this enormous building is still a sight to behold.  the largest royal palace in western Europe, it boasts hundreds of rooms, magnificent works of art, and luxurious gold, silver and marble interiors and artefacts.  The pharmacy, filled with hundreds of bottles to cure all ailments is extraordinary in itself, and kids will love the armour for children and animal in the Armoury.  After your visit, burn off some steam in the Plaza de Oriente, filled with beautiful gardens, hedges, statues and fountains.  Great for hide and seek!


The Golden Triangle

Madrid's famous 'Golden Triangle' has three of the most impressive art museums in Spain, even the world, all within a 15 minute walk of one another.  Most famous is, of course, the Prado which has an extensive collection spanning more than a millennium.  The Goya collection, featuring more than 100 paintings, is worth the visit alone.  The museum is child-friendly, offers audio guides for 5-12 year olds, and has a great café and restaurant.  The only niggle is they don't admit baby carriers, but do have prams and strollers you can use.


Within a short walk are the other two galleries, with the Thyssen-Bornemisza, once a stunning 18th century palace, right next door.  Though less famous than its neighbour it boasts an impressive collection of Old Masters such as Holbein, Canaletto, El Greco, Rubens, Caravaggio and Rembrandt, combined with a wonderful selection of Impressionist art from Degas, Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne.  Their modern art collection is equally impressive, featuring Klee, Picasso, Hopper, Dali, Lichtenstein and de Kooning, amongst others.


The real destination for modern 20th century art is next door at the wonderful Reina Sofia.  With three collections spanning 1900-1982, the three sections are The Irruption [sic] of the 20th Century: Utopias and Conflicts 1900-1945; Is the war Over? Art in a Divided World 1945-1968; and From Revolt to Postmodernity 1962-1982.  A fascinating overview of 20th Century art, and history, perfect for teenagers.  The jewel in their crown is undoubtedly Picasso's astounding masterpiece Guernica.  Depicting the bombing of the town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, this critique of conflict and war is little short of breath-taking.


Any of the museums is the perfect way to introduce art to your children, or to foster an interest in art and art history.  However, like all big museums they can be overwhelming, so maybe choose just one or visit them on different days, and do a bit of research first.  Focus on just a few paintings that match their interests or studies, and enjoy the rest as you pass through, rather than trying to take in everything.

Teleferico

For something completely different, and to get a great overview of the city, take the Teleferico cable car, from which you have superb views of the Parque del Oeste, the Manzanares River, the Egyptian Debod temple, the Royal Palace, and Almudena Cathedral.  Set in La Casa de Campo with huge expanses of green space and exciting paths to explore, a fish and boating lake, and small amusement park there's plenty to do on terra frima too.


Parque de Atracciones

If you are visiting in the summer months (May to mid-September), Parque de Atracciones is a great place to take the kids.  There are plenty of white-knuckle rides for the older kids, a separate area for younger children and toddlers, and water play areas.  The parque has plenty of bars, restaurants, and enough outdoor shows and street theatre to keep everyone happy all day.  (If you get the 72-Hour Madrid card, entrance is free.)


Retiro Park

The huge Retiro Park bang in the centre of the city is the perfect antidote to busy city life with more than 300 acres of green, pleasant space to explore.  Bring a ball to kick around, a picnic and a blanket to while away a few hours, or head to one of the lovely open-air cafeterias for a relaxing snack or meal.  There are lots of buskers and street theatre around the boating lake area, including puppet shows, or rent a rowing boat and head out on to the lake yourself.  The Crystal Place is stunning and has occasional exhibitions.


Parque Warner

Situated on the outskirts of Madrid, this is the Warner Bros. equivalent of Disneyland, with characters wandering around, shows and rides a-plenty.  With theatre shows, themed areas, six roller coasters, water rides and dozens of other attractions, it's a fantastic day out.  There are, of course, lots of restaurants and shops too, as well as all the services you could need.  Great fun with Looney Tunes, DC Super Heroes, Scooby-Doo, and more.  Who doesn't want to meet Yogi Bear, Batman and Tweety Pie in one day?!


Real Madrid

For football fans, a tour of Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu will be a real highlight, even in  Cristiana Ronaldo's absence.  The tour of such hallowed ground includes a panoramic view of the stadium, and visits to the Trophy Room, President's Box, dressing room, players' tunnel, the benches and dugouts, coaching area and the pitch itself.  Culminating in the official Real Madrid shop, it's sure to delight fans of all ages.


Urban Beach and Madrid Rio

The huge Madrid Rio project includes seventeen play areas for children, featuring imaginative play equipment made from natural, sustainable materials.  There is also an Urban Beach formed by three oval-shaped water areas with fountains and splash areas, perfect for a warm day.  Built around the Manzanares River with lots of space and play areas to explore, it's a mecca for kids of all ages.  You'll see an awful lot of the city's dogs being walked here too!


Plaza Mayor

Back in the city centre, Plaza Mayor is the heart of Old Madrid and well worth a wander.  This vast square used during the Spanish inquisition, and the impressive, ornate 17th century buildings that surround it are elegant and beautiful.  The atmosphere overflows with culture, history, and people to watch.  The Casa de la Panadería offers delicious baked treats.  Stop there or elsewhere for a coffee and a snack, but for something for more substantial explore the side streets where the food will be better and cheaper.


Templo de Debod

Given to Spain in 1968, this 2200-year-old Egyptian temple dedicated to Amon and Isis is located on a hill over Casa de Campo.  The temple contains an interesting museum, but is also a beautiful location to relax with a picnic and hang out.  Lit up at night the temple is a stunning sight, and during the day the park offers welcome shade under its many trees whilst you soak up views of the Royala Palace and cathedral on one side, Casa de Campo on the other.  Visit late in the day for great photos of the sun setting behind the illuminated temple which is reflected in the water.


Everywhere else!

Other attractions to suit families include Faunia, the Natural History Museum, Museo Ferrocarril (the train museum), the Gran Via and the Plaza de España, Carlos Sainz Go-Kart Center, Casa de Campo, Quinta de Los Molinos (especially in spring), the flea market at El Rastro, and you could always catch a famous musical at Teatro Lope de Vega or a flamenco show in the evening.


What to buy?

Madrid has a plethora of toy shops full of unique, often hand-crafted, toys.  Seek them out and stock up on educational toys, wooden toys, puzzles, musical instruments, soft toys and more.  Try El Lobo Feliz and Kamchatka Magic Toys, amongst others.  There are also lots of fantastic children's book shops which put on storytelling and theatre shows for kids.  El Dragón Lector and Pepa Luna are both great.

When buying for picnics you'll be spoilt for choice, with plenty of stalls on the streets or head to Mercado de San Miguel, just off Plaza Mayor for a fantastic culinary experience.  Further afield, the Art Nouveau Mercado de la Paz is stunning, with friendly stall owners who have been there for generations.


What to eat?

As mentioned above, Madrid cafes and restaurants are child-friendly, almost without exception, and many Madrilenos will be keen to welcome and interact with them.  Better to use 'normal' eateries than seek out specifically child-friendly places, firstly because it's easier and cheaper, and secondly, because the food will be better, plus you will have more of an authentic local experience.

Tapas is de rigueur of course, and meat eaters, pescatarians and vegetarians will all find plenty to eat.  There are several world-famous top restaurants, but tapas bars and small fixed menu cafes remain amazingly good value for money in such a world-class city.


Remember your timings though, lunch is usually taken after 2pm and dinner may not be until 10pm.  Older kids will love this, but if travelling with younger children, embrace big elevenses and late lunches and pick up something to eat al fresco for dinner.

Finally, you simply must make sure you try churros at least once.  These little finger doughnuts dipped in thick, sticky hot chocolate sauce are to die for!  The best are from the famous San Ginés churreria (chocolateria), made using the same recipe since 1894.  Delicious!


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