Ever-evolving Madrid just keeps getting better and better
If there was ever a train ride that felt like a blink of an eye, the journey from Barcelona to Madrid on the Spanish high-speed AVE deserves every accolade that it can get. The three and half hour trek will leave you longing for more with its spectacular views and cozy ride. You’re introduction Madrid will be the Puerta de Atocha station. Filled with palm trees and topped with a glass ceiling, the building is airy and comfortable. Before exiting, stop and say hi to the turtles.
The Atocha Station is connected by frequent rail service (passes valid) to the “other” main station, Madrid Chamartin, taking about 10 minutes. And for use of the city’s buses and subway, be sure to get a Madrid Tourist Travel Pass.
The capital of Spain is a real city. At the stately, 17th century Plaza Major (main square), you’ll find outdoor cafes and bars filled with locals and travelers. If not to eat or shop, it’s a great place to people watch.
When hungry, be sure to try the famed Serrano ham. On Carrera de San Jerónimo a flashing neon sign’ll beckon you. This is no roadside novelty but the Museo del Jamón – the ham museum. Enter into this bastion of bacon and find hundreds of hams hanging from the ceiling. The “museum” is a chain, but this is the original.
For a sweeter treat, enjoy a breakfast or late night snack of chocolate con churros. And the best place to have this thick cup of heaven with long fried dough sticks is San Gines Chocolateria. For over 100 years, this place has been churning out chocolate goodies better than anywhere in Madrid.
Visit the Prado Museum, the most visited in all of Spain and home to treasures seen only in art history books. With the Madrid Card, you can enjoy priority access.
Two of the country’s prized artists: Velasquez and Goya, are well represented here by their most iconic paintings. Velasquez’ Las Meninas (meaning the servants) was meant to portray the king and queen in a positive light. Instead, the artist paints himself at work, along with their daughter – a princess, who watches her parents pose. The painting has stirred the soul of Spain and the world for centuries and is considered one of the finest pieces of art – ever.
Francisco de Goya was Spain's official court painter who became a liberal, political painter. His paintings The Second of May and The Third of May are also on display at the Prado, and shows how Goya sympathizes with the common man as a victim of war.
For more history, go beyond the canvas into the smaller towns that surround Madrid. With a Eurail Spain Pass, you can easily take day trips and be back for a tapas dinner.
One of the more enriching side trips is a visit to Toledo. Just 30 minutes away on the AVE, you’ll explore a triumvirate of religions that lived side-by-side in peace. Visit the Christian Cathedral, the Jewish Sinagoga del Tránsito del Segovia and the Islamic Mezquita de Cristo de la Luz. For a souvenir, purchase a famed steel Toledo sword if only to use for opening mail. You can also take our Excursion to Toledo, for a fully guided tour of the city.
Come to Spain. See Madrid. And so much more thanks to a high-speed train network that can bring you to see more history, more ham, more hermosa. And thankfully, a siesta.
Contributed by: Mick, Rail Europe French Bilingual Staff, studied in France and became a nomad backpacker in Europe.