Giving Madrid a Second Chance

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The first time I went to Spain, I included Madrid as part of my plans because the guidebooks said it was a must, not because I wanted to go there.  I did a fair amount of reading on the city and came up with exactly one thing I wanted to see there (Palacio Real de Madrid), and yet came to the conclusion that a few days in Madrid was still worthwhile because everyone else liked the city so much.

Unfortunately, while I was there, I found that Madrid was just not the most interesting place for me to visit, though I tried to make the most of my time there anyway.  However, when 2012 rolled around and my husband requested a one night stopover in Madrid, I decided it was only fair to give Madrid a second chance.

I went into this second visit with a whole different outlook.  This time, I decided not to force my visit in Madrid to fit my top interests and instead I’d focus on what Madrid does best: food, drink, and nightlife.  Officially, our original plans also included a Real Madrid futbol game, but the combination of a flight delay, sheer exhaustion from running ourselves ragged in Morocco, and my husband’s unfortunately-timed illness meant we squeezed in an afternoon siesta rather than a soccer game.

After a rest, snack, and some time to get fashionably dolled up, we headed out for the evening.  It was still early – by Madrileno standards, at least – so our first stop was to the Christmas markets.

I’ve wanted to visit European Christmas markets ever since I realized they existed, and this was a great opportunity to see one of Spain’s.  Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed, expecting more of the traditional offerings and less of the tacky made-in-China trinkets bombarding us everywhere.  We browsed for less time than I anticipated and I’m glad we went to check it out, but I personally wouldn’t return.

madrid christmas market spain
Christmas markets in Madrid

The rest of the evening was spent wining and dining, something I’m quite fond of doing.  We stuffed ourselves silly on a tapas crawl and I can honestly say that it was a fun night.  However, I left Madrid still feeling underwhelmed.  It was nice, but not special.  I made my stopover into a good one, but looking back, I can’t say that Madrid improved the quality of my overall vacation or provided a meaningful experience.

Madrid falls onto my list of “one-day wonders”: places I’m grateful I’ve visited briefly, but not places that I feel deserve much of my time.  Millions of people love Madrid for various reasons and there’s a really good chance you’d love it as well…but it wasn’t a good fit for me.  It’s important to travel the way you want to: you’ll never be able to see and experience the whole world, so it’s best to pick the places that will resonate most with you.

Have you ever gone on vacation somewhere solely because it was recommended?  What was the outcome?

20 thoughts on “Giving Madrid a Second Chance”

  1. Kay @ Travel Bug Diary blog

    I went to Madrid on a college backpacking trip back in 2001. I also found Madrid underwhelming, especially in comparison Paris (our previous stop). My group solved the problem by spending most of out time in dance clubs. I never was much of a club kid, but it was fun. I still think of Madrid whenever I hear “One More Time” by Daft Punk. Despite the nice memories, I’m not yearning to go back to Madrid like I’m yearning to go back to Barcelona or to explore Andalucia. I’ll find something to do if a stopover takes me there, but that’s about it.

    On a separate note, I actually think a list of cities you didn’t like would be a great idea. There’s very little information out there about places NOT worth visiting. According to guidebooks and blogs every destination is amazing, which makes it hard to prioritize. I’ve learned that if Lonely Planet says “dig under the surface” or “more than meets the eye” they mean I’m going to an industrial transportation hub. If you provided sound reasons for your dislikes, it would help other people make their own decisions and prioritize.

  2. @Kay, your stories of clubbing in Madrid sound a lot like my time in Quito. I still have a mix CD that I listen to a lot on roadtrips to bring back good memories of those nights. Do make an excuse to go visit Andalucia – I loved Granada & Cordoba, and need my own excuse to get back in order to visit Seville (finally) along with some of the smaller towns. I also loved Barcelona.

    @The Weekly Flyer, I’m glad you had the right amount of time in Madrid and completely agree that eating/drinking to your hearts delight is an excellent descriptor for Madrid.

    @JAbrams72, I think part of why I was less excited about Madrid is because art museums in general don’t interest me. I did visit the Reina Sofia & Prado on my first visit, but apparently I needed an art translator to help me understand…

    @Zz, I love Barcelona and would happily go back in a heartbeat.

    @Zach, pick somewhere else next time 🙂

  3. I agree that Madrid isn’t an amazing city on the whole, but the museum triangle and the combined collections there are amazing and tell one of the most amazing art historical narratives anywhere in the world!

  4. Madrid is very underwhelming. Still have to go there for business. I much rather prefer Barcelona among the bigger Spanish cities.

  5. I relate with your experience and agree. Madrid is nothing to write home about. It didn’t help that Iberia lost my luggage, and it wasn’t returned until a week after I got back, but that’s not Madrid’s fault. The most interesting were the art amuseums.

  6. Maybe you had very high expectations. Although I don’t consider Madrid one of the best cities I have visited, it has a lot of cultural events and historical sites.
    So it is not only food, drink and nightlife. I am afraid if you find Madrid underwhelming, there are a lot of cities in the world that will dissapoint you.

    1. @Joel, I wish I were an art lover because the amount of world-class museums there is incredible!

      @Nic, I know Madrid is not just food, drink, and nightlife but I did check out many of the historic sites on my first visit there in 2009. And yes, I have been disappointed by other cities in the world – but love many more!

  7. We used Madrid as a jumping off point for day trips to El Escorial, Segovia, et al. We only spent 2 full days and 1/2 day on the way back to the airport in Madrid and that was plenty of time to see the highlights of Madrid and explore the food and market scenes. We actually rode on the red jump on/off buses for the 2 days and it was a perfect way to see the city and not deal with parking.

    I would also highly recommend the Andalucia region. Our time in Sevilla and Granada was the highlight of our trip and we would return to the region anytime to fill in the areas we did not have time to visit.

  8. I see now that some comments posted while I was typing. Yes, if you don’t like museums, and that may probably signal your not as interested in historical sites then Madrid is not your cup of tea.
    Plus you missed the Real Madrid game 🙁

  9. I’ve never been to Madrid, but I definitely have experienced a city that I would put in the one-day wonder category – San Francisco California. I had planned to spend several days there on vacation one year, and after the second night there, I was completely done with the city. There’s just not that much interesting to see or do there. I very gratefully got a car and drove up to Portland Oregon where I spent the rest of my vacation and had a fantastic time — much more culturally interesting and fun, IMHO. A lot of people had told me they love San Francisco, but it just didn’t speak to me.

  10. Any ideas on Barcelona? Good or Bad. Coming off a cruise there and have 5d/4n to kill. Some have said its very crime ridden, but then again, is’t every major city? I work for a major carrier, but don’t venture overseas much anymore.

  11. @Nic, I’m also disappointed I missed the soccer game, and I’m not even a sports fan! Will try again somewhere else for a good game…

    @pawtim, That’s really ironic because SF is also on my personal one-day wonder category and I was itching to get out on day #2 (but I stayed put since I had a red-eye that night). Should’ve listened to my instincts and headed up to Napa or somewhere for the day. Also glad to hear that Portland saved the vacation – I’ll be there in May!

    @Peap, I loved Barcelona and while pickpockets are supposedly an issue, I didn’t have a problem and think that keeping your wits about you and taking basic precautions is enough. With 5 days, my recommendations would be something like:
    1. La Boqueria, Las Ramblas, maybe one of the many walking/biking/bus tours to get your bearings. Tarantos flamenco is in the area as well and was decent considering Barcelona isn’t known for their flamenco. You could also walk to the port, into Born, or to Barceloneta beach.
    2. My favorite areas: La Ribera, for the gorgeous Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar and Palau de Musica Catalana (see if you can catch a performance during your stay or if not, at least take a tour), Picasso Museum. Plus Barri Gotic (I enjoyed the city history museum and just looking at the architecture, quieter restaurants, etc.)
    3. The Gaudi masterpieces of La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, Parc Guell + walking through/dining in Eixample.
    4. Day trip to Sitges (beach), Figueres (Dali museum), Girona (ancient walls), Montserrat (mountaintop monastery), or Lloret de Mar (seaside scenery).
    5. Another day trip or stick around Barcelona for shopping, Montjuic castle, Olympic venues, aquarium…

  12. I totally agree about Barcelona! It’s a great place to visit.

    @Peap — I have no idea what cruise you’re talking about, but it may be interesting to note that there are often some very good transatlantic crossing fares in April. For example this year, Royal Caribbean is offering a 12 day cruise from FLL to BCN for $429 currently, I think. It had been priced at $399 for about two months, but recently went up a few dollars. It would be awesome to take that over to Europe, spend some time on the Costa Brava, then use some of Avios to fly home on Iberia without this fuel surcharge. I’m probably not able to go this year, but it’s on my radar screen for something to think about for the future. You can even use Chase ultimate rewards points to pay for the cruise ticket — could involve very little out-of-pocket.

  13. Peap- Bcn is terrible, shocking, repulsive. YES, MOST DEFINITELY crime ridden. Nothing but. “ kill.”? Hell, yes. Nothing but KILLINGS!!! Seriously. 😉
    And next time I’m there, hopefully REALLY soon, I’ll be happy to update everyone on what a terrible situation still persists! 😉
    Heck, I’d update several times a year about bcn, if I could swing it…

  14. Oh,and, Kay: Ippit-zay on the whole Arcelona-Bay and the Aris-Pay input?? Mmmm, k, thanks.
    Hehe, yeah, plus that whole “poet..didn’t know it” thang. 🙂
    You’re welcome.

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