Three days in winter makes a wonderful city break, and for anyone reasonably fit they should be able to see a great deal of this fascinating city in that time. Here are a few tips to make the most of your stay.
1. Getting from the Airport: If your hotel is near O’Donnell, Cibeles or Atocha, the easiest method is to take the 24-hour Express bus you will find to the right of the Arrivals doors. It costs 5 euros each and takes 15 – 30 minutes. As long as you are near a metro station, you could also take the bus to one of these three stops and get a train from there.
2. Where to stay: There are probably three main areas to stay in, which are near a range of sites. We chose the O’Donnell area and could walk through Retiro Park (no flowers but still lovely), and reach the Prado, Thyssen and Sofia art galleries. In the centre near Puerta del Sol you are close to the action and shops, or over to the west near the Opera metro you can reach the Royal Palace on foot.
3. Eating. Be prepared for odd mealtimes, but you will certainly find food available all day. Spaniards eat their main evening meal around 9pm, and you will see many empty restaurants if you try to find a table between 7pm and then. However, from 4pm – 8pm you can fill up on drink and tapas in almost every bar or taverna. There is even San Miguel market, a wonderful indoor market consisting of just tapas nibbles and drinks stalls where people go for lunch. (We didn’t want our evening meals that late so ended up eating Italian as they seem to buck the trend!) Lunch can be any time between 12pm and 4pm and cakes and pastries are everywhere.
4. Visiting sites. Always check when galleries and museums have FREE periods on some days (take care these are current times, as they can change). The Prado, for example, was free from 6 – 8pm each weekday, and the Palace was free 4 – 6pm on Thursdays. Do NOT buy a Museum Pass if you only want to visit 3 or 4 places and before checking the free periods. Also, anyone over 65 must take proof of age (passport) to pay the concessionary entrance fees..
The wonderful thing about Spain is that, although some shops shut between 1 and 5pm, the museums and art galleries as well as shops are open until 8 or 9.
5. Walk if you can. As we wandered around we discovered a street full of bookstalls, wonderful churches to pop into, amazing architecture, fascinating bars and brilliant shops. You won’t see this if you are on the Metro or a bus!
6. Chocolate. We didn’t realise that Spain has a love affair with chocolate, but the chocolate shops are superb (we bought slabs of chocolate studded with dried strawberries and raspberries to take home) and a favourite meal is churros (sweet pastry sticks) dipped in pots of chocolate.
7. What I would do differently: My one regret was that it was quite cold and there were few flowers in the parks or Botanical Gardens. We went in January, so if I had the choice next time i would aim for April, May or October.