Topics include Transportation, Spain: For Foreign Visitors & more!
Madrid, like Spain in general, is one of the most child friendliest destinations in Europe. Kids and teenagers are welcome in most public places like restaurants or bars and represent an integral part of daily life. Travelling to a major capital like Madrid has some natural limitations like traffic, space and noise, nevertheless Madrid offers some unique experiences. In the following, the key offering for both kids and parents travelling with them, just pick the one you find useful or search the individual segments in the discussions.
Madrid Barajas consists of 5 terminals, T4 and T4S are for oneworld airlines (plus vueling.com) in the new part of the airport, all other airlines (Skyteam, Staralliance, low budget etc...) arrive in the old terminals 1-3. T4/T4S and T1-3 are connected with eachother by a shuttle bus, the metro stations departs from T2. www.aena.es
Leaving the airport
All major car companies are located in the arrival hall and you can walk to the cars. It can be a challenge when ordering a taxi for 4+ people and luggage, in most cases the drivers want you to take two cars. In order to make it less painful try to order a shuttle bus or pick-up service, the prices are around €39 into the city for up to six, a taxi ride costs between 25-35€ each. Please note that taxis charge a surcharge to/from airports (4,60€), train stations & conventation centers, all prices are marked in Spanish and English on the backseat windows. Ask for a receipt if you have any doubt.
In face of the traffic and limited parking space taxis, metro & buses are better options than rental cars, if you want to make a daytrip outside the city you have the major agencias present everywhere in the city. A low budget rental is www.pepecar.com. The metro & bus systems are very reliable and safe and in general very modern & clean. Key traffic hours are from 7.30am-10am and 6pm-8.30pm, don´t be surprised to have a traffic jams late at night, people are on the move at all times.
Please check the evaluations to find your best hotel, there are multiple options for every budget. Areas around Retiro, the art triangle or between lower Serrano & Velazquez are safe and central points. Many hotels offer pools which is great during the summer.
Many locals have built vacation villas for tourism. Compared to a hotel, one can find this type of accomodation cozier and more convenient, especially for families with children. Most of the villas have private pools and gardens. The main advantages of private villas accomodation are the lower cost and the "home" feeling. You can choose from a vast selection of holiday villas and you can book the accomodation online.
There are many places to rent a flat from in Madrid. This is often the easiest way to travel with the family as it allows for the most meal flexibility and it means that small children can nap if necessary. There are many sites that offer vacation rentals: Spain-select, Friendlyrentals, Mad4Rent, and VRBO are just some of the places people have recommended on the forum.
Madrid offers a surprising variety of theme parks, zoo and inner city attractions. Highlights are:
Warner Bros Movie Park - Theme Park outside Madrid with train access from Atocha - typical Amercian theme park - has been rated in many surveys as best European Park.
Faunia ( www.faunia.es) - a biological expedition through planets' climate zones, includes dolphin and other animal shows combined with super attractions, he best choice to go in Madrid for ages 6-15.
Besides the two parks mentioned above you find places like the Madrid Zoo or Parque de Atracciones, both placed inside Casa de Campo. They are great parks but not much different from other cities. Faunia & Warner make the difference. http://www.parquesreunidos.com/
If your kids love football (soccer) visit the Santiago Bernabeu stadium on "La Castellana" ( http://www.santiagobernabeu.com/), they offer several tours of the stadiums and its installations. Try the Real Café Bernabeu on Concha Espina, it offers good food at normal prices with a great view of the stadium. Inside the shopping center next to the stadium you find the offical Real Madrid store. In case you want to watch a game try to buy tickets on www.serviticket.com (Spanish) or at the gate.
One rainy day activity that children may enjoy is the Museo de America. This museum offers activities for children and includes many models and exhibits that are interesting for them as well. It also has a cabinet of curiousities from the 18th century which can be walked through (it's three rooms' worth) and includes everything from giant shells and nuts to clothing made of grass and shrunken heads. more info here: http://museodeamerica.mcu.es/
Inside the Retiro Park you can rent boats to paddle on the parks inner lake, especially on weekend the park gets very crowded with tourists and little artists. It is a great place to relax from the city stress.
The Casa de Campo is another outdoor area. Unlike the Retiro it is a a natural area rather than a formal garden. You can get there several ways, but many children enjoy taking Madrid's Teleferico out there. There are places to picnic and to stroll and bike ride.
A bit off the beaten track and often gone unvisited is the enchanting Parque el Capricho. While many people in Madrid have never visited it themselves, children find the "whims" (caprichos) enchanting as you follow the winding wooded paths through the late 18th century pleasure garden. Some of the many surprises include Greek temples, canals, ponds with rare ducks and black sawns, the first iron bridge in all of Spain, a rustic cabin, a large hedge maze, and a hermitage which in the day housed an actual hermit. Sadly the maze cannot be explored since the crash landing of an Iberia plane some years ago. Built for the Duchess of Osuna, it is a free attraction which can be found almost at the end of Line 5 on the metro at its eponymous stop, El Capricho.
There are many playgrounds throughout Madrid. One large one is in the Plaza de Oriente. There are others along the Paseo de Prado and another in the Plaza Santa Ana.
The Jardines de Sabatini is a small formally laid out garden next to the Royal Palace where the hedge rows are cut into a maze pattern. In order to maintain them, the gardeners have cut small passes in and out of the hedges. Children can often be found chasing and running in and around the mazes of Sabatini on a nice day.
The Real Jardín Botanico de Madrid is a lovely botanic garden right next to the Prado Museum. It is full of flowers, trees, fountains and benches. In addition there is a Misterio en el Botánico/Mystery in the Botanic Garden which is part scavenger hunt and part detective game where CSI meets the game of Clue. This is a very fun thing for children ages 7-13.
The Royal Palace has a huge collection of arms and armor if your child is interested in playing knights on horses. For some children the pharmacy there is also a draw.
La Caixa Forum has rotating exhibits, films and programing. There is usually special programming for children.
Madrid has a wax museum replete with a Tunnel of Terror (which is a ride through various 1980s movies including Star Wars, Rambo, Predator, Jaws etc). The upstairs level includes a crime and tortures exhibit. Perhaps best avoided by the younger set, teens get a kick out of it the medieval torture devices and crimes. More info here: http://www.museoceramadrid.com/
Madrid has a most unusual Aviation Museum. Not only is it full of vintage planes, but these planes fly once a month for visitors to Cuatro Vientos Airbase where they are housed. On the first Sunday of the month you can see these exhibits fly at 1:00pm. More information.
Do not underestimate a child's fascination with food and anything weird. Madrid is home to many market places where foods from all over the country are on display and can be consumed. Some are more upscale like the Mercado San Miguel which is near the Plaza Mayor. Others are more working markets like the Anton Martín market on Atocha or the aptly named Maravillas market near Cuatro Caminos. The fish monger's alone is enough to both attract and repel many children for a good long time.
Madrid is surrounded by wonderful cities like Toledo or Segovía, especially the latter offers a great old castle and aqueduct for the kids. You can get to Segovía either over the highway (A6) or through a beautiful mountain road (90min). Take the m-607 towards Navacerrada, make a stop in "La Granja de San Ildefonso before getting to Segovía. You can also take the AVE or the bus. Bear in mind the train to Segovia does not leave from Atocha but from Chamartín.
Avila is also a fun day trip for children. The city walls can be climbed and you can walk around a good bit of the city walls. Avila can be reached by commuter train (Cercanias) from Madrid or by car.
Aranjuez in the spring is another lovely option for children. Look for the strawberry trains to be advertised for those who love strawberries. Aranjuez has a terrific palace which older children may enjoy and incredible gardens which all can enjoy. Most spectacularly it is known for its strawberries (not the larger "fresóns") but the tiny, pinky fingernail sized "fresas" which are eaten with "nata" (whipped cream). These are the wild strawberried beloved of the royalty and which grow wild in the woods of Aranjuez. If you are in Madrid between early May and late June watch for this, because it's a most delicious and special treat. You can get there on commuter train (Cercanias).
Another option is to take the A1 (north) to La Pedraza or Sepulveda ( http://www.villadesepulveda.org ) where you can see free vultures and eat some great sucking pick. Driving time each way is around 1h from the city.
Being surrounded by fairly high mountains you have skiing possibilities next to Madrid (Navecerrada & Valesqui), on winter weekend the accesses are congested.
Leaving the M-607 towards Manzanares/El Soto Real you find a gorgous little town on a lake where you can visit La Pedriza National Park, a great refuge during hot summer days to take a walk or a bath. Driving on in direction Miraflores you can cross the mountains on a scenary road to Rascafría, a little town with a monastery (starwood hotel*****) and great places to eat, from there you can either drive back via the A1 to Madrid or follow on to Sepulveda or La Pedraza.
El Corte Ingles with its multiple consume temples across the city has the biggest variety of toys. Imagenarium is a Spanish toy chain with wonderful little gifts.
Madrid is famous for its variety of restaurants and bars. Travelling with kids you will find all major chains like Tony Romas, Foster Hollywood, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Café etc...Try "Vips" which offer great quality kids menus wiith several locations across the city. Many Spanish restaurants do not offer child menues but waiters are generally very helpful to create one (meat & french fries=carne con patatas or spaghettis with tomato sauce=espagettis con salsa de tomate. Many places offer to split a menu in two, i.e. each child gets one plate (dos segundos en vez de primero y segundo cada uno). Kids are very welcome in restaurants & bars. Breakfast is served until 9-9.30am, after 10.30am you can take a second breakfast (tapas!) in most bars to bridge the long time until lunch from 2-4pm (sometimes 1.15pm), dinner starts at 10-10.30pm with earliest seating at 9.30pm ( you will be alone!). Between 5-7pm kids use to take take a "merienda" consisting of little snacks like fruits or cakes.
Of course Madrid is famous as well for its choclate con churros. There are several places to try this out and it's generally "on tap" all day long for those who need a quick chocolate pick up. Try some of the classics like Chocolateria San Gines, Choclateria Valor, Maestro Churero, or the Café de Oriente.
Spain is one of the safest countries in Europe with the lowest crime rate behind Portugal. Nevertheless be prepared for typical little street crimes like pickpockets and other minor offenses.Please use common sense to keep yourself out of trouble. Avoid dark empty streets or carrying valuable cameras/phones too openly. Be careful taking money from an ATM in the city, there are multiple banks with ATMs inside security doors. Be careful with the traffic, a red traffic light does not necessarily mean cars stop!
Madrid has a very sunny and dry climate. June through September is very warm with temperature between 35-40C with hardly any rain, best months to travel are June and September, in August the city empties because of the local vacation period and temperatures reach their climax. October to November in general are quite nice (20-30C), the transition from the warm to cold season can be from one day to another, 25C or 5C end of november are both possible. December to February are generally cold, in some years even with days of snow. Marchto May is the rain period (with less in May). In general it is very sunny all year long with few rain days and long cold sunny winters. Especially when your kids are not used to such a warm climate avoid the sun between 2-5pm and carry enough water. Even during summer always take a light jacket for the kids, the air is extremely dry and therefore sometimes it feels colder than it actually is. To protect them from the sun carry light long trousers and shirts and a cap!
In case your kids become sick ask the concierge for a doctor or in case of an emergency go to "Hospital San Rafael" (children hospital) on C/ Serrano, 199 or La Paz on La Castellana (huge but one of the best hospitals globally) http://www.hulp.es/.
If you or your child need a doctor and it is not an emergency, there is an English speaking clinic in Madrid located near the Puerto de Alcala. The Unidad Medica Angloamericana has bilingual staff and can usually make appointments same day or next day. They are also open on Saturdays.