Last weekend was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception holiday in Spain, and we took advantage of the 4-day weekend to take a quick trip to Madrid. Thanks to the AVE high speed train, which goes up to 310 kph (192 mph), we made it from Valencia to Madrid in under 2 hours.
Madrid, Capital of Spain
We barely scratched the surface of Madrid in a day and half, but its energy and vibe was reminiscent of some of the other big cities we’ve visited. It was exciting being in the city during the holidays, decorated beautifully and with a festive atmosphere. We identified several neighborhoods and attractions that we want to check out on our next visit.
One of our first stops was the Casa de Campo Park, Madrid’s largest park, a short walk from the city center. Within the park there are miles of walking trails and an awesome rope course where kids can climb and swing from one end to the other. There is also a small lake in the park where you can rent boats. We didn’t try this, but it looked like a fun warm weather activity.
Set back from the main crowded squares, we found several quaint neighborhoods with cool restaurants, cafes, and shops. It was fun to just wander around and explore with no particular agenda. Our Airbnb was located in the Cortes neighborhood, which was a good home base for exploring Madrid.
In contrast to the food scene in Valencia, Madrid has a wide selection of ethnic restaurants. We got our fix of Vietnamese pho and Mexican street tacos, which alone made the trip worthwhile! We highly recommend the tacos at Takos Al Pastor and we ate some delicious tapas at the El Brillante cafeteria, across from the Madrid Atocha station.
From Madrid, there are many opportunities for day trips to nearby towns. We chose to explore Toledo.
Toledo, more than Manchego and Marzipan
This UNESCO World Heritage site was the capital of the Visigoth Kingdom in the 6th century. It is an ancient walled city in Castile–La Mancha which stands atop a hill, surrounded by a river on three sides. The city also has a long history of producing bladed weapons such as swords and knives, which you now see everywhere in the souvenir shops and museums.
You must see the massive Alzacar (originally used as a Roman palace in the 3rd century) and the very impressive Catedral Primada. Since the Alzacar interior was closed due to a worker strike, we spent some extra time walking and exploring the city, meandering off of the typical tourist thoroughfares into more peaceful, winding, cobblestone streets.
While it is famous for its Manchego cheese and Marzipan, our favorite local food was Carcamusas, a traditional stew of braised pork and potato in tomato sauce. Eaten with crusty bread from its warm clay dish, it was really tasty, especially on a cold winter day. Try Bar Ludena, a lively tapas bar that offers many of Toledo’s typical dishes.
And of course any legitimate hill town is incomplete without a zip line. Why not?! It sounds out of place, but this proved to be a good hour of entertainment, and a nice way to break up the day. Because the zip line goes across the river, you get a really pretty view of the water, the city, and the surrounding hills.