I often marvel at how terrain, architecture, and feeling can evolve before you during a train ride. It is undoubtedly one of my favorite ways to travel– the pacifying hum of continuous movement, the gentle unfolding of a landscape’s story, the speculation on the coming and goings of fellow passengers. This journey is a continuation from Marbella and Malaga, Spain and is a segment of a series of Spain travel: Part I, Part II, and Part III.
With one last look at our idyllic retreat in Marbella, we woke up early to begin our journey towards Madrid. It was a fairly simple operation– taking a taxi to the Marbella bus depot which brought us to the Malaga train station. From there, we took a smooth bullet train that had been booked through Rail Europe (Renfe). It’s worth noting that Renfe generates variable ticket prices (based on demand), so frugal travelers will benefit from buying early.
The Palacio Real has well over 3000 rooms, with each space possessing its own decorative theme. I floated in a reverie from soft skyscapes and pillow clouds to regal ruby curtains and gold flourishes at every turn. Although the Royal Family does not live in the palace (they reside in the Palacio de la Zarzuela), ceremonies and important events are conducted here.
Purchasing advance tickets online can help save some extra time (which is so precious) from standing in queues and also lighten the need to carry extra currency with you. While planning this trip, I knew I only had two days in Madrid so that made it fairly easy to pick a day to visit the Palace. Many Spanish attractions will require you to select a specific window of time that you’ll be visiting (this method is used to alleviate visitor congestion). Note that you may not always be able to walk in and immediately visit major attractions if the time window is sold out.
It’s no surprise that Madrid won the 1992 European Capital of Culture designation with its rich array of heritage all over the city. There are well over 20 museums (full list here) to visit, which can vie for your time if you only visiting for a couple of days.
My traveling style is typically a mix of culture (museums/religious sites), heavy preference for delicious cuisine (street food/beloved local restaurants), and being open to serendipitous activities (music shows, beach excursions). With a limited amount of time in Madrid, I set my sights on visiting the impressive collection at the Museo Nacional Del Prado (Prado Museum).
The Museo Del Prado is home to well over 21,000 pieces (paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings) from acclaimed artists throughout time. You could easily spend an entire day here– luckily, there is a great cafeteria available where you can rejuvenate over coffee and jamon (Spanish ham). After your museum visit is wrapped up, bask in the sunshine at the Real Jardin Botanico (Royal Botanical Garden) to enjoy a lazy moment amongst the lovely trees and plants.
I rose early on our final day in Madrid, thinking I could bumble around the city to catch breakfast and perhaps even meander through a museum. After 20-minutes of walking, I realized 8:30 was just too premature for getting a Spanish day started– barely anything was open. Many of you have heard of the famous siesta, or afternoon nap to avoid the hottest part of the day. A typical Spanish workday may be from 9:30 am – 1:30 pm, siesta, and then 4:30 pm – 8:00 pm. Once you’re on that cadence, it begins to make a lot of sense why everyone stays up so late and sleeps in! I pressed forward and finally found a cozy cafe that also doubled as an art gallery.
It was long until we found ourselves happily rumbling along the train tracks from Madrid to Barcelona. Rail Europe (Renfe) offers multiple direct train rides between the two major cities throughout the day. Our pre-paid tickets at 50€ each (booked online) made the 3-hour ride a breeze.
Barcelona is teeming with attractions; which also presents a challenge if you have a limited amount of time in the city. Strategically, we selected an Airbnb location that would be conveniently located near Gaudí’sLa Sagrada Familia, the Torre Agbar (Agbar Tower), and even the sprawling Parc de la Ciutadella (Ciutadella Park) with its own zoo and Catalan Parliament building.
One of my favorite parts about traveling is uncovering what the “club life” means in every country. Each place holds its own unique flair, and I discovered that Sala Razzmatazz certainly had a distinct flavor the night we popped in. The picture above only does a little justice in capturing the heavy electronic drumbeat and maniacal smirk of the chainsaw-wielding dancer with ghoulish makeup. I’d love to write a roundup of most memorable clubs while traveling someday…
La Sagrada Familia is a remarkable Catholic structure designed by the Catalan visionary, Antoni Gaudí. It’s well-regarded for combining Gothic and Art Nouveau, in combination with Gaudi’s personal flair. Construction began over a hundred years ago, in 1882. Gaudi joined the project in 1883 and devoted his life to overseeing Sagrada Familia until his death in 1926. At that time, the basilica was only 15-25% complete and construction has continued (with a few halts) throughout the years and even to this day. It is expected that church towers and structures will be completed in 2026 and decorative finishes in 2032. Good things take time and patience, my friends!
It’s difficult to fully appreciate or understand the intense labor and foresight it took for Gaudi to design and engineer a project such as this. Every sight, sound, and sense have been optimized for beauty, and those working La Sagrada Familia long after his death has worked hard to execute his plans (even down to the arrangement and color of the glass panes). It’s no wonder that the basilica draws many admirers from around the world, so make sure to buy tickets in advance online which will spare you an hour plus wait in the queue. Opt-in for the tower tickets and wind your way up the tower steps for an extra-special view of Barcelona.