Put Madrid, Spain on the bucket list

Scenic gateways lead into Plaza Mayor in Madrid's Hapsburg section

Scenic gateways lead into Plaza Mayor in Madrid’s Hapsburg section

Pop into an amazing hat shop on the Plaza Mayor (emphasis on the last syllable) and also find wonderful ceramics. A sign embedded in the walkway outside the entrance gives its 1894 founding date. Check out the plaza’s other shops then relax at an outdoor café.

Start your Madrid planning at the Tourist Information Center at Plaza Mayor

Start your Madrid planning at the Tourist Information Center at Plaza Mayor

Queue for hot chocolate and churros (long, crisp donut)  down a narrow (can this really be a street?) passageway across from the plaza, at Chocolateria San Ginés next to the San Ginés church.

Try tapas, beer and sherry and other taste treats at the Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel market) that sits across Calle Cava de San Miguel from the plaza. Inside the charming market, you buy everything from cheese to tasty bites and sweets from stalls around the edge then sit in the center to savor them.

Lunch on tapas washed down with beer or wine at the San Miguel Market across from Plaza Mayor

Lunch on tapas washed down with beer or wine at the San Miguel Market across from Plaza Mayor

Do the over-the-top marble and glitz of Palacio Real (the Royal Palace), about a 15 minute walk from the plaza on Calle Mayor and look over the countryside from its vast courtyard. On the way there or back stop at Restaurante Botin, a favorite Hemingway hangout that is among the oldest (Guinness says the oldest founded in 1725) continually operating European restaurants.

Ah, as commercials say, but there is more. You will likely want to browse the Rubens, Goyas and El Greco works in the Museo Nacional Del Prado (Prado Museum). Then see Picasso’s famed “Guernica” and Miro and Dali pieces in the Reina Sofia Museuma few blocks down the Paseo Del Prado from the Prado.

Fit in a visit to Botin, an atmospheric, Hemingway favorite and among the oldest restaurants in Europe

Fit in a visit to Botin, an atmospheric, Hemingway favorite and among the oldest restaurants in Europe

Or go to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum across the circle with Neptune’s statue from the Prado. If you go by May 18 you can catch Thyssen’s Paul Cézanne exhibit. Tip: Pop Art Myths including Roy Lichenstein will be there mid-June to mid-September followed by “American Impressionism” early November 2014 to early February 2015.

Wait, how can you do everything? Well, how many days do you have to see and enjoy Madrid?

Madrid is a perfect snap-a-sight and twitter or Facebook-it city. It’s a fun series of tapas snacks washed down-by-beer sort of city. And you don’t gain weight because Madrid is a walking city.

Put the art museums near the Fountain of Neptune on Paseo del Prado on the to-do list

Put the art museums near the Fountain of Neptune on Paseo del Prado on the to-do list

But there is so much to see and do your best plan is to map out your thoughts before setting out.

Start at the Tourist Information Center at number 27 in the Plaza Mayor. From a tour guide or brochure you can learn that the plaza was formerly called “Plaza del Arrabal” and “Plaza de la Constitución, and why. But the Plaza Mayor, itself, is worth exploring to see its shops and photograph.

At the tourist center you can get advice, tours, brochures, maps and buy a Madrid Card. Similar to the CityPASS, the Madrid Card is a discount entry to several of the city’s attractions. Even better, you won’t have to wait in the ticket line at each attraction. The Madrid Card package includes walking routes, guided tours and attraction descriptions.

Another option is to take a Madrid City Tour Bus, through esMadrid or a hop-on, hop-off bus through Tourist Active.

But even when you get off the bus you will want comfortable shoes to explore the attraction.

When doing Madrid, you definitely need your walking shoes.

Accommodations: Madrid has lots of options from hotels to condos. Among them is the Hotel Intercontinental on Paseo De La Castellana. The staff is very accommodating. Unless you speak Spanish, be sure to have the doorman explain to taxi drivers where you want to go. The surprise is how few drivers speak English.  In addition, the Paseo De La Castellana is an elegant boulevard near good stores.

Photos copy written to Jodie Jacobs

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