Madrid with Teens: A Perfect Family Day

Madrid with Teens: A Family Vacation


How to keep teenage travelers occupied & happy in the Spanish capital.

Traveling with teenagers can be a challenge, even in the most cosmopolitan of cities. Fortunately, the Spanish capital of Madrid offers plenty of activities to captivate your teen traveler, no matter what their interests may be. Here's what you can do in Madrid with teens.


Teens' disinclination towards breakfast may not be the healthiest, but it will serve them well in Spain, where breakfast is the most neglected meal of the day. Start your day like the Spanish with a quick hit of caffeine: drop into any cafe near your hotel and order a cafe solo (espresso), cafe con leche (espresso with milk), or cafe cortado (espresso with just a tiny bit of milk).

If there's no cafe near your hotel, then just hop on the blue line (line 1) of Madrid's easily navigable Metro system and head to Atocha station, where cafes abound near the day's first destination, El Museo Reina Sofia (named after the current Spanish queen). The museum opens at 10AM every day of the week except for Tuesday, when it is closed, and it's a great place for teens -- if any group of people can compete with teenagers for the label of "most rebellious", it has to be the twentieth-century artists. While Madrid is stuffed with art, including the remarkable Prado museum, the Reina Sofia is unique for its modern collection and its un-stuffy approach, both of which make it ideal for teens. There's a significant multimedia presence that young people will appreciate, as well as a display of wearable art by Oskar Schlemmer that looks like it came right out of Lady Gaga's closet. From Picasso's masterpiece "Guernica" to an installation of hundreds of tires packed into a hallway, the museum is unexpected and casual in ways that will captivate teenagers.


After a morning of modern art -- estimate about three hours to make it through the Reina Sofia unhurried -- grab the blue line for three stops, to Puerta del Sol. This plaza has long been considered the heart of Madrid; today it is a bustling commercial hub. Snap some photos with the iconic bear statue in the center of Sol (the bear is a symbol of Spain) before sitting down to lunch at El Museo de Jamon, which is, as the name suggests, entirely devoted to ham (if your teen is a committed vegetarian, this might not be the best option, but there are plenty of other restaurants in and around Sol). The portion sizes are large by Spanish standards and the prices are reasonable, so it won't break the bank for your teenage boy to scarf top-quality jamon iberico. The decor of El Museo de Jamon consists of ham hocks hanging out to dry and the service is famously rude -- like "Jersey Shore," but with sandwiches. Just be sure to save room for dessert: down the street from El Museo de Jamon is La Mallorquina, Madrid's most famous sweet-tooth outpost. Grab a Napoleon or some of their fabulous macaroons for a nosh as you stroll around Sol, which is packed with shops and stores, including Spain's biggest department store chain, El Corte Ingles, where teens can purchase Harry Potter or Twilight in Spanish (and their parents can grab anything they might have forgotten for their trip, or just savor the air conditioning!).

The midafternoon heat in Spain can be oppressive, so once you've finished meandering through Sol, do what the locals do and hop on the Metro's red line (line 2) from Sol to El Parque del Buen Retiro (or just "Retiro"), Madrid's answer to Central Park. It's the perfect place for an idle stroll, a nap in the shade, or, if your teen is feeling energetic, a paddleboat ride in the Retiro pond. No matter how hot it gets, there's always entertainment in the Retiro -- puppet shows, musicians, even comedy acts perform here constantly. No matter what sort of mood you or your fellow travelers might be in, there is something at Retiro for everyone; if your teenager needs a break from sight-seeing, he or she can curl up with a book or an iPod while you wander through the rose garden or check out the crystal palace, or just recharge for the evening ahead.


No trip to Spain would be complete without experiencing some of its famous football, especially now that they've claimed victory in the World Cup. Madrid boasts one of the most famous soccer teams in the world, Real Madrid. Grab a ticket to a game and check it out (if your teenage girl isn't interested in sports, entice her by pointing out that legendary hottie David Beckham has logged a lot of time on the football fields of Madrid). Although Real Madrid and its roster of star players is the most well-known, most locals prefer to cheer for the city's other first-division team, Atletico de Madrid -- the two teams have a rivalry similar to that of the Yankees and the Mets. If neither Real Madrid nor Atletico de Madrid has a game on the night you'd like, be sure to check out some of the other professional football clubs that play in the city. This is Spain -- someone is always playing soccer somewhere!

The football games are usually scheduled in the late afternoon or early evening, so you'll want to hold off on dinner until afterwards. Head to the renowned Mercado de San Miguel, accessible from either the Sol or the Opera Metro stops (you'll have to walk a few blocks from each). The market stays open late -- from Sunday through Wednesday until midnight, and on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday until 2 AM. The produce and meat vendors who hawk their wares during daytime hours give way to purveyors of drinks and tapas, and the place feels like a friendly, upscale nightclub. Teens will love the diverse mix of people and the thrum of excitement, plus there are enough options to satisfy even the pickiest palate. Work your way from one end of the market to the other, sampling drinks and tapas, savoring the Spanish nightlife, and watch your teen fall in love with one of the world's great cities.

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