Madrid with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day
Start your family adventure in Madrid early, before the tourist crowds get going. Hop on a metro to Opera station and walk a couple blocks to Plaza de Oriente, where you can enjoy a typical breakfast of coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and a plate of churros (fried dough sticks) at the historic Café de Oriente (Plaza de Oriente 2, 28013 Madrid, +34 91 541 3974). If it's a sunny morning, sit out on the terrace and watch the business people rushing to and fro. The cafe opens every day at 8.30AM (which is early in Spain!).
From there, it's a quick jog across the square to the Palacio Real (Plaza de Oriente, 28013 Madrid, +34 91 454 8800), or Royal Palace. It's a stunning complex that will enthrall tweens with its opulence, and it's one of the essential things to do in Madrid, with tweens or without them. If they're not so impressed by the palace itself, the armory, which showcases several centuries' worth of medieval weapons and armor, will certainly catch their attention.
Tours are available in English and move at a good clip to prevent boredom. Note that hours vary seasonally so do check the website before planning your family vacation to Madrid.
Plan on spending the whole morning at the palace, then walk a few blocks back towards the metro station for lunch at the famed market of Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel, Madrid 28005, +34 91 542 4936). At night, this market revs up and turns into a sophisticated club setting, but during the day, it's a mellow and diverse place to get a wide variety of foods. Fresh fruits or nuts, tapas and all kinds of baked goods are available here, so even the pickiest of palates can be satisfied. There is plenty of comfortable outdoor seating, and the market is frequented by locals just as much as by tourists on family vacations in Madrid.
Once you've finished eating, head back to Opera metro station and take the train to Plaza de Espana. This remarkable square is home to one of Madrid's most famous statues, that of literary character Don Quijote (Don Quixote in English) and his devoted sidekick, Sancho Panza. The book by Miguel Cervantes, entitled "El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha", is arguably Spain's greatest literary achievement, and Spaniards are immensely proud of it. Although most non-Spanish kids will be unfamiliar with the story, it's worth telling while you're actually on vacation in Madrid: tweens are the perfect age group to enjoy the romantic lunacy of this unlikely hero. The statue makes for a great photo op, and afterwards you might be able to hunt down an abridged version of the book in English at a bookstore on Gran Via.
Next, head to Madrid's amusement park, the Parque de Atracciones (Casa de Campo, Madrid, +34 91 463 2900). It's easily accessible by metro (Casa de Campo stop) and has a huge variety of activities for all ages, even adults. There are thrilling rides, food vendors and plenty of street performers and theater shows; it's enough to occupy anyone for a full day, but with so many things to do in Madrid, you're best off restricting your tweens to an afternoon of fun.
The amusement park is definitely worth checking out on a trip to Madrid with tweens; not least because it's so heavily advertised in metro stations that if you don't put it on your itinerary, your child is sure to start pointing it out and demanding a trip there. Hours vary seasonally and everyone aged between 7 and 64 pays Euro 29,50 to get in.
After you've exhausted the death-defying thrills of Madrid's Parque de Atracciones, you can always check out a soccer game in Madrid. With tweens who are soccer-mad, take a tour of Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the home stadium of top team Real Madrid. Tour times and dates vary according to the season and whether there is a match on that day, so call +34 90 231 1709 for details. Rates are Euro 16 for adults and Euro 11 for kids under 14.
Although Real Madrid, David Beckham's former team, is the best-known of the city's soccer teams, you may also find a good match being played by Madrid's other two professional teams Atlético de Madrid and Rayo Vallecano. Games often start in the late afternoon or early evening, so you can catch a match after a full day of sightseeing and amusement park fun.
A crazy soccer match in Madrid will make everyone hungry, so finish off your best family vacation day in Madrid with a good dinner. Head to the Plaza Mayor (Puerta del Sol metro stop) for an array of restaurants and street performers to entertain both kids and adults. This lively area is where many locals choose to while away their evenings, sitting outside and dining companionably as toddlers and teenagers dance, chase bubbles or simple run around laughing in one of Madrid's great public spaces. There are plenty of options for eating late into the night at the Plaza Mayor, and there's no better place to really get the flavor of Madrid.
Family vacations with tweens are often a challenge, but in a city as diverse and amazing as Madrid, you will have no trouble creating memories that will last a lifetime.
- Overview:Madrid Travel Guide