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Two Days in Madrid

Palacio de Madrid

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After our time in Toledo, we took an early train back to Madrid. Our flight wasn’t until the following evening so we had almost two full days to explore Spain’s Capitol.

We stayed in a boutique hotel near the Palacio de Madrid called Hotel Principio Pio which felt very similar to Hotel Per La in Los Angeles. One benefit to hotels when arriving at a destination early in the day is that often you are able to check in early. We arrived around 10 am and even though check-in wasn’t until 3 pm, our room was ready so we were able to set our bags down and relax a bit before we started to explore the city. I only really had two goals for our time in Madrid, the Prado Museum, and Palacio de Madrid. We decided to break them up and do one each day.

Plaza Mayor

Madrid’s Plaza Mayor

After settling into our hotel, we headed to the Prado. I was able to buy tickets online in advance which allowed up to skip the line. The Prado Museum is Spain’s premier art museum and is known to house one of the world’s finest collections of European art, especially Spanish art. Being my first visit to a European art museum, I enjoyed seeing new-to-me artists such as Goya, Francisco de Zurbarán, and El Greco. Probably one of my favorite parts of the museum was a special exhibit that showed the similarities between selected works of El Greco and Picasso. Picasso spent many hours in the museum in his youth and many of El Greco’s paintings were the inspiration for some of Picasso’s famous works. The Prado is also home to an older version of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. I could’ve stared at it for hours comparing it to the most famous one. If you enjoy art and art museums, the Prado is a wonderful museum that you need to visit in your life. Wonderful guided tours of the Prado can be found on Viator.

We started our second day in Madrid with a guided tour of the Palacio de Madrid. While I was able to get tickets to the Prado a few days in advance, all the tickets to the Palace were booked up so, to see it, we had to book a private tour. In the end, I am glad I did because our tour guide explained a lot about the palace and the history of Spain that you wouldn’t get just by walking through. It did get crowded at times, but we had earpieces so we were able to hear her even if we were separated, which was really nice. More tours should invest in this equipment!

Lions on the stairs of the Royal Palace

Lions on the stairs of the Royal Palace

The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest palace in Europe at 135,000 m2 (1,450,000 sq ft) and is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, although these days it is mostly only used for official functions. The palace is full of lavish furnishings and amazing Spanish art. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted in most of the palace so I don’t have any pictures to show you. One of the rooms that was open on our visit was the crown room where a rather simple-looking silver crown is on display. It is much less ornate than what I expected anyway and our tour guide explained that the Spanish “are not the British”. Overall, I highly recommend a guided tour of the Royal Palace and I had a great experience with Madrid walking Tour and Royal Palace Skip the Line tour on Viator. Combination tours of the Prado Museum and the Royal Palace are also available on Viator.

Architecture of Madrid

The Architecture of Madrid

After our tour of the Palace, we still had the whole day ahead of us and we had checked out of our hotel, so we booked a hop-on hop-off bus tour. This allowed us to get to see the rest of the city and enjoy the breeze from the top deck of the bus. From the bus, we learned more about Spanish history, including that in 1874 a military coup overthrew the monarchy of Spain. A dictator named Fransisco Franco ruled from 1939 to 1975. In 1969, he named Prince Juan Carlos (the grandson of the most recent king of Spain) as his successor. When Franco died, Juan Carlos transitioned the government from a dictatorship to a constitutional monarchy and his family still rules today. In 2014, Juan Carlos abdicated the throne and said “We do not want my son to wither waiting like Prince Charles.”

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop back next week as we fly to our final stop on the trip, Iceland. To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Pena Palace

Pena Palace

One Day in Sintra

Pena Palace

Sintra is a popular day trip from Lisbon and is known for its picturesque buildings and royal history. There are many private tour options that include round-trip transportation from Lisbon and there is also a train that runs to Sintra from Lisbon throughout the day. The train is included with the purchase of the Lisboa Card and the Lisboa Card offers discounts at several of Sintra’s monuments. Like many tourist destinations, Sintra gets busy during the day so it is important to get there early to avoid crowds. We decided to take an early train from Lisbon to Sintra. We used Bolt (Portugal’s version of Uber) to get around town.

Pena Palace is probably the most popular attraction in Sintra. As soon as we had our itinerary nailed down, I bought my tickets to Pena Palace online so I could get the earliest entry time and beat the crowds. For less than 3€ a person, I added a transfer from the gate to the palace to avoid a 30-minute uphill hike first thing in the morning. Lisboa Card offers a discount for entry to Pena Palace. I really enjoyed the view of the Palace from the terraces and exploring the surrounding Pena Park. If you are interested in historic furnishings and royal history, you may have appreciated the interior more than I did.

Pena Palace

Pena Palace started out as a monastery but was severely damaged by lightning and then destroyed during the Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. In 1838, King Consort Ferdinand II set out to acquire the old monastery and other nearby estates and turn it into a summer home for the royal family. Construction of the palace was completed in 1854 in the Romantic style and it includes Medieval and Islamic elements. The Portuguese State purchased the palace in the late 1880’s and it was converted into a museum. In 1995 the Palace and the Cultural Landscape of Sintra was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Quinta de Regaleira's Initiation Well From Pena Palace, we took another Bolt to Quinta de Regaleira. We did not pre-purchase tickets to the Quinta, but the line was short by the time we arrived and we were able to use our Lisboa Card for a discount. Quinta de Regaleira is famous for its Initiation Well (left). The Initiation Well is mysterious because it is a circular stairwell into the ground with no known purpose. It is recommended that if you want to walk down the Initiation Well you get there early because a line forms later in the day. We arrived around noon and had to wait a bit but it was worth it.

Quinta de Regaleira sits on more than nine acres so there is a lot to explore besides the Initiation Well. There are towers near the entrance that can be climbed, and a small chapel that be visited. Parts of the Romantic, five-floor Palace known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire” can be toured (below).

Quinta de Regaleira

After we got our fill of Quinta de Regaleira we found a little cafe for a late lunch before exploring some of the shops in Sintra. Then, we did the downhill walk to the train station for our return to Lisbon. There were so many more monuments we didn’t have time to explore. I really wished we had stayed one night in Sintra to really get a feel for the place when all the day visitors leave. As I always say, I guess we will have to go back another time!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week as we take the train from Lisbon to Porto! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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