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We went to Spain for the first this spring on a three-generations girl’s trip without too scheduled of an itinerary. Life was pretty hectic at the moment (when is it not?), so the idea of going and just sort of taking things as they came sounded very appealing. Of course, we did have some idea of things that might be good family friendly activities in Madrid, but we also improvised a bit once we got there.
Our Madrid activities are potentially not the ones you may be after if you are going without kids and want to really take in all the museums and the late night tapas and drink culture, but if you are looking for family friendly activities in Madrid then read on!
During our three days in Madrid we stayed using points at both the Westin Palace Madrid and the Radisso Blu Madrid Prado (see linked reviews). These two hotels are within an easy walking distance of each other, and we found them to be well located for many of our activities.
These big red buses were a pretty big part of how we got around and saw Madrid during our short visit. The bus tours stop and start at the Prado Museum, which was literally right across the street from our two hotels, so it was very easy to head out for the day from there. Children 6 and under were free, and I was able to get a two day adult unlimited ride pass for 25.00€ which was well worth it for us since we didn’t have any previous knowledge of the city. Children 7-15 and seniors 65+ can get two day tickets for just 13.00€
There are two different bus routes, with each taking 60-80 minutes from start to finish. There were headphones you could listen to in order to learn about various sites along the way, or you could just sit back and enjoy the ride until you got to your desired destination. We did have one time in the evening when the bus took much longer to come pick us up than advertised, and it wasn’t stopping at all the stops, but otherwise we didn’t have any issues with the buses and would recommend them for a first time visiting family in Madrid.
This market is located is the last remaining iron market hall in Madrid and is located in Madrid’s old quarter. The indoor market is quite large with dozens and dozens of stalls selling everything including meats, cheeses, wine, beer, desserts, smoothies, seafood, paella, coffee, pizza, and much more. It is open on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday from 10AM – 12AM and on Thursday, Friday, Saturday from 10AM – 2AM.
Truth be told, finding places to eat in Madrid that worked for the adults and five-year-old in our group was a challenge, but not at this market. Here it was easy to see the food, and find something for everyone.
I think this market is absolutely worth a visit, but the downsides were that it did get pretty busy during our early evening visit and there weren’t always seats available (though we did eventually find some). Also, make sure to bring cash!
If you want somewhere nice to sit, use the restroom, etc. before or after visiting the Mercado de San Miguel, we enjoyed the very nearby El Pimiento Verde.
We really enjoyed the service and tapas there. When exploring any major city with a young kid, or really even without a young kid, it is so important to find quiet and comfortable spots to recharge for a bit along the way, and this was just the place.
Another “must visit” destination for pretty much anyone in Madrid is the Royal Palace of Madrid. The previous Royal Palace was destroyed by a fire in 1734, so the current version was built between 1738 – 1755 and it was purposefully made of stone and brick, not wood that could burn in another fire.
It is not the official residence of the King of Spain, but some official events are carried out at this location…and it is beautiful. You cannot use cameras in much of the palace, so you will just have to take my word that it is impressive and held the interest of all three of us.
The palace is open in winter (October – March) from 10AM – 6PM and in the summer (April – September) from 10AM – 8PM daily. The last entrance is an hour before closing, and that is enforced literally to the minute…we would know as we entered at about 4:59PM and they rushed us in because no one would be permitted starting a minute later. The admission price was 10.00€ for adults and children 5 and under were free. There are also free days/hours for citizens of the European Union and Latin America.
I think an hour to an hour and a half is a good length of time for a visit with a family with younger kids. Our daughter was pretty well entertained there for that length of time, but she wouldn’t have wanted to linger at various rooms and exhibits longer than that. She did like playing in the garden hedges in front of the palace for as long as we would let her!
This popular park is located pretty close to the two hotels we stayed at as well as the Prado, and it is a good but manageable size at around 300 acres (for comparison’s sake, Central Park is around 843 acres). Its origins are as the garden of the Palace of Buen Retiro, but was open to the public beginning in 1868. It includes the Rosaleda (a rose garden), the Palacio de Cristal, the Palacio de Velazquez and a boating lake, around which there are sometimes shows and street theatre during the weekends.
We were there on a kind of rainy and cool weekday afternoon in late March, so the park wasn’t as alive as it sometimes would be, but it was still fun to explore. Some of the playground areas were under renovation while we were there, but we did manage to find a few fun places to run around and play – which is one of C’s favorite activities when we travel!
If you are staying in Madrid with young kids, I think this park is another one of those easy (and free) can’t miss spots to visit.
The Casa de Campo Park and Madrid Zoo and Aquarium:
If you want an even larger park with more attractions, head west out of town a bit to the Casa de Campo Park that is Madrid’s largest park at over 4,200 acres in size. We initially headed there hoping to just explore and take the the Teleférico cable car. However, the 4,200 acre size sort of worked against us and we weren’t able to get our barrings enough to actually find the cable cars.
Truthfully the part of the park we were in was sort of empty and felt a little bit spooky. We knew the park also had an amusement park and zoo, so when we stumbled upon signs to the zoo we followed them just hoping to salvage what was quickly turning out to not be the highlight of our trip due to the size of the park and our limited knowledge of its geography.
As was a common theme on our trip since we slept in most mornings, we didn’t actually make it to the zoo until late afternoon an hour or so before closing time. Since we had promised something fun for my daughter to do that afternoon we paid the 23€ admission for me and the 18€ admission for her to explore for an hour. This was clearly not ideal, but necessary in the moment. Grandma decided to save her euros and read a book outside of the entrance while we visited the zoo. If you plan ahead and buy your tickets online, you can save a bit over the prices at the gate.
The zoo itself was not overly large, but it was a good size for a 5 year old to explore. You were able to get much closer to the animals and exhibits than in some of the zoos we have visited in the US.
One of my favorite parts of our impromptu visit to the Madrid Zoo were the play areas for the kids. My daughter had tons of fun playing in those play areas, which was great since our visit to the park as a whole didn’t go as well as I had hoped.
If you want to visit the Casa de Campo and some of its attractions, just plan ahead a bit more than we did since it is such an enormous park at roughly 5 times the size of Central Park, which itself is already too much to explore in just one afternoon. I think you could easily plan on a full day at this park if you wanted to visit the zoo, aquarium, and/or amusement park. Maybe you could even find the cable cars that eluded us!
Last, but absolutely not least, is Chocolateria San Gines. This place is really a must visit for any chocolate or churro lover in Madrid, but it is sure to be a hit with most families. The cafe has been making churros since 1894, and even though it is a two story cafe, it is still very, very busy.
To order, you visit the counter, place your order, and get a slip of paper that outlines your order. You then (try t0) find a a table and give the paper at a waiter who will bring your order to you. It was a little confusing at first, but very orderly in its own way once you get the hang of it. Pretty early into our trip to Madrid we figured out the “hot chocolate” you can order in many cafes isn’t really for drinking, it is for dunking.
The Chocolateria San Gines is located very close to the Mercado de San Miguel, so you can easily visit both on the same outing (if you have the stomach space).
Obviously we didn’t get a chance to partake in every family friendly activity in Madrid on our short visit, but these activities were ones that I think will please a variety of different families. We also spent some time shopping and strolling in and around the Gran Via, which was also a pretty popular pastime for our group of three (especially the visit to the two story McDonald’s).
All in all we found Madrid to be a very manageable city for a family with activities and attractions for all generations. You can also find more suggestions for family friendly activities in Madrid in the comments section of this post and fellow BoardingArea blogger Fly and Dine wrote a similar post with some of their suggestions for families visiting Madrid.
What are your favorite family friendly activities in Madrid?