Winter & Christmas in Madrid
Updated: Nov 23, 2020
Like all Christmas Markets in Europe, there are the Christmas trees, shops, churro stands and street vendor's that are pushing you to buy selfie sticks. The Christmas market we visited in Madrid was that of Playa de Mayor. And to be honest, the Christmas market of Prague and Rome both outbeat the Christmas market in Madrid. In both Rome and Prague there were a lot more attractions, games and street performers; the Christmas markets had shops with one of a kind items that all seemed special in their own way. The shops in Madrid, however, (from what I saw) were filled with weird, cheap looking items that seemed to have nothing to do with anything. It was quite disappointing. Even the Christmas trees weren't actually trees, they were large cones that were decorated with lights and ornaments. Beautiful in it's own way but, come one, it's missing the main part (the tree!). Although I am ragging on the Christmas Market in Madrid a little bit, it did have some of it's own sparkle and 'Christmas magic'. There wasn't one street that was left without crazy lights being strung across from building to building, and there was no limit to the amount of Gingerbread Lattes being sold and sipped on the sidewalk. Which to be completely honest, when it gets down to the wire, the Starbucks holiday lattes are what get my judgmental Jewish American Princess butt into the holiday spirit.
Also, before moving on. For any other suckers out there that thought they would find a cute romcom-esque skating rink outdoors in Madrid is mistaken. Your research will prove to be disappointing.
Toledo is a small town (village?) near Madrid (30 minute train ride away), and we decided to go on the morning of Christmas Eve, my birthday! The second we stepped off the train, I breathed in straight ice shards. It was SO cold. Like eyelashes freezing over kind of cold. Luckily in Toledo they have one of those super touristy double-decker buses that goes around all of Toledo in an hour and a half and stops back at the train station. This was perfect for us since we were freezing cold (I obviously didn't have my mom around to tell me to put real pants on in the morning), in no condition to walk around and had a train back to Madrid in three hours.
Tzukit and I happened to be either the only people crazy enough to go to Toledo on a winter morning or the only sensible tourists to take a tour bus because we were the only ones on. We made the obvious choice of sitting on the upper deck, front row, and it was the best seat in the house. One of the stops along the way boasts "panoramic views of Toledo" seen below in the middle picture, but the only view we saw was white fog -- which credits my claims on the frozen nippy weather. I don't know how the view was supposed to look on a normal clear day but the white fog was really quite breathtaking. Since the stop was atop a cliff, the thick fog looked so vast and all consuming. I feel like it would be something fitting for a scene in Game of Thrones (I haven't actually seen the show, but I would just assume the whole mysterious, vast fog would fit in somewhere). The tour bus of Toledo was such a blessing in disguise. We managed to hit all the highlights in such a fast and organized way. We got to see how beautiful Toledo is (even considering the blanket of the fog) while riding in the comfort of a tour bus with (another) piping hot cup of Gingerbread Starbucks Latte to warm our hands while listening to the little town's history.
To top things off, we got our own entertainment from about 20 motorcycle guys dressed up as Santa Claus riding and honking behind us for a good chunk of the ride back to the station.
The Central Park of Madrid! Although it's the end of December, Retiro Park looks as though it is still recovering from fall. Which is great for me since Israel seems to only have two seasons, scorching hot summer and downpour rain. We went to Retiro Park on a mission to go see the Crystal Palace so we did little meandering. But based off of our short walk that we did take, it looks as though you could walk around in any direction for a good amount of time without reaching a dead end or a city street. I was super psyched about the leaves on the ground (again, I am deprived of fall in Israel) and also the unlimited amount of benches lining the path ways. I've only been to New York once in my life and it was when I was 12 for only a few hours (a stop in between flights) so I can't actually claim that it's similar to Central Park but let's just say, it is similar to what I would assume Central Park looks like. There were young couples making out on the benches, old ladies power walking in groups, parents running after their kids, and tourists taking cliche pictures of themselves throwing leaves in the air (us).
Rooftop Views (Círculo de Bellas Artes):
This rooftop was written on every blog I read before going to Madrid. It was titled several times as the best rooftop in Madrid for the best views. So obviously this made it onto our list of "places we gotta visit". When going you have two options, to reserve a seat at the restaurant or spend 4 euro to go up to the bar. My friend keeps kosher so the restaurant was out of the question, but for any of you wondering which is the way to go, the bar is definitely the way to go! The bar has the best views and is way more 'in the action' than the restaurant. You pay for your drinks on the spot and there are several different tall bar tables to sit at. There is also a section of beds that people can lounge on for awhile in the sun. Not to mention the super chill vibes playlist they have coming through the speakers all along the roof. Before flying I saw on their site a place to make reservations which ended up being completely unnecessary. So if you saw that too and thought to yourself 'oh boy we need to pencil this in to the schedule ahead of time', don't worry! They have that as precaution for the restaurant. Anyways you should be going to the bar.
If you're going to Madrid for the shopping, like us, you won't be disappointed. Unless you're looking for Bath and Body Works and Victoria Secret bras -- both don't exist and completely blindsided me and my shopping expectations. Otherwise, all the shopping you could ever want can be done in one place, Gran Via! And there's an entire post dedicated just for shopping in Madrid. Since we knew this trip would be shopping 24/7, we made sure to have an Airbnb right on Gran Via (see more on that below). We also learned early on to go shopping with as little 'carry on' as possible. That means no coats, scarfs, gloves or anything that would slow down the shopping and changing room process. We also learned that Starbucks stops are absolutely necessary in intermediate breaks during the day -- don't worry, like everywhere, there's a Starbucks every other building. We visited Zara, H&M, Mango, Lush, Oysho, Pimkie, Primark, Springfield, Calzedonia, and many more! Get deets on my blog post, here.
We had two apartment requirements. 1) Needs a jacuzzi and 2) Near Gran Via. This Airbnb knocked all the qualifications out of the park! Our apartment was even better than the pictures. It was beautiful, clean and had a spacious jacuzzi that was used every night! We brought with us Cava, wine, bubbles and candles - you would think we came for a romantic vacation. Also, locationnnnnnn! This apartment is right on Gran Via and allowed us to do
hours of shopping with easy access for dropping off bags to continue on. The apartment is also a 4 minute walk from Plaza Del Sol and a 2 minute walk from Starbucks which made mornings that much better!