Greetings from Family Travel Week, sponsored by The Family Backpack, a new online guide that connects you to the best family travel blog posts. Enjoy seven days of family travel stories that will help you plan your next adventure, reduce pre-vacation stress and provide useful tips for once you arrive at your destination. Wheels up!
Hola! Here’s a sneak peek into our day-to-day life while our family visited Madrid in 2015.
Outside of Chicago, Madrid is the largest city that we visited with our kids who were 8,6 and 2 at the time. I admit, I was slightly intimidated. Adding to the excitement or anxiety, this was the first trip traveling this far with all three kids.
I traveled to Madrid before, but sans children, so I knew I had to re-evaluate my expectations in terms of how much we would be able to see of this great Spanish city.
Hotel Laura Mate. We chose this hotel because it was apartment style, but with the amenities of a hotel: free Wifi, breakfast served until 12 p.m., fresh lemon infused water in the lobby and a friendly staff that was very helpful. The location was the other selling feature. We could easily walk to Puerta del Sol, Palacio Real and other appealing locales. Note: if you have very young kids the staircase in the room we were in was very steep. It made me nervous, but our 2 year old (almost 3) seemed to think nothing of it. (Deep breaths, deep breaths.)
Day 1: We arrived at 7:30 a.m. and had to take two cabs to the hotel because we couldn’t all fit into one as a family of five. We checked in, decided who was sleeping where and then headed out into the heat. Palacio Real (the Royal Palace) was our first stop. I figured the kids would love exploring a real palace and it gave us a break from the 95-degree weather. While in line to get in I gave them a snack and water. The highlight was when my 2 year old said, "I really miss the princesses, mom." Afterwards, we found a sidewalk cafe that overlooked the palace and had lunch. We went back to the hotel for a nap and shockingly everyone fell asleep. We emerged early evening to walk around and find a place for dinner. After eating paella, we walked some more and found a great gelato place. The kids were entertained by all of the mimes and street vendors and my husband and I loved being surrounded by all of the gorgeous architecture and the feel of a big city. We went to bed around 10:30 p.m.
Day 2: We started off with breakfast at the hotel. At 10:30 a.m we met Almu from Across Madrid for a "bear tour of Madrid" in Puerta de Sol. She provided handouts and markers for the kids and treated it like a scavenger hunt. We had to find the symbol of Madrid, a bear, as we walked along. It was a very interactive tour. We saw some great sites like the oldest restaurant in Madrid, Plaza Mayor and the Mercado de San Miguel. My 8-year-old loves history and asking questions and Almu answered every last one. We stopped at one point for churros and chocolate. A classic Spanish – not to mention yummy – treat. I would not suggest doing this tour with young children when it’s super hot unless you’re used to the heat. I chose not to bring a stroller on this trip and I tried wearing our 2-year-old in the Ergo Baby on my back, but that didn’t go over so well. In typical two-year-old fashion, she didn’t want to be in the Ergo, but she didn’t want to walk, either. She just wanted to be carried. Hence, this was one of the more challenging – and exhausting – moments on our trip. After the tour, we grabbed lunch and then headed back to the hotel for some much-needed downtime.
I would have loved to have gone to the Prado Museum that afternoon, especially with my 8 year old, but I knew the other two would not have lasted more than 30 minutes. So I embraced what traveling with kids means: being super flexible and letting stuff go.
Instead, after our nap time, we headed to El Retiro Park via the Metro. This was the only subway-like experience our kids have had other than the L in Chicago so they were pumped to navigate the subway system and "walk quickly" (OK, maybe they ran when no one else was around) through all of the underground tunnels that weave between exits and entrances. In El Retiro Park we headed straight for the row boats. Once again, we had to split up due to being a family of 5, but it was fine. After rowing around, the kids ran around in the park and pretended to be mimes. We found a great tapas restaurant for dinner that night. Somewhat surprisingly, all three kids tried squid and loved it. Afterwards, the boys headed back for gelato and I got our daughter down for bed.
Day 3: Both of our sons are obsessed with soccer and love to play it, so we surprised them with a tour of Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of Real Madrid. My husband’s and my surprise was that everyone else in Madrid had the same idea we did, so we stood in line forever to get tickets. (It was a national holiday, which explains the long lines.) I bring a backpack wherever we go and therefore came prepared with coloring books for the kids to stay entertained while in line. Once we got the tickets we were told our tour wasn’t until 3 p.m. and it was only 1:00 p.m. (Remember what I said about being super flexible? Yeah.) We grabbed lunch close by to kill time before the tour. Luckily, all of the waiting was worth it! The tour was amazing – our boys actually got goose bumps – and included a museum, photo opportunities and a tour of their locker room. We thought this tour would be a half-day excursion but it ended up being almost the entire day, but again, it was well worth it.
After a subway ride back to our hotel area we did some shopping for soccer jerseys, of course. Then we ate an early dinner and bedtime so we could catch our train the next morning. Score!
I crave fresh fruit and vegetables, but it’s not always easy to eat that way on vacation. Much to my delight, fresh-squeezed orange juice is everywhere in Madrid. Well, not literally everywhere, but you get my point.
Note: if this is your first time traveling to Europe, keep in mind that milk is shelf milk and not in the refrigerated section. Since room-temperature milk for most Americans is about as appealing as room-temperature sherbet, I chilled it in our hotel fridge so it was cold when the kids drank it. That seemed to help.
Also, most grocery stores are closed on Sundays in Madrid, but the Mercado de San Miguel is open.
Other Travel Blogs I Consulted:
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Andrea Khan is the founder of The Family Backpack, and a kids and family content contributor at OnMilwaukee.
She was born and raised in Wisconsin and first ventured out of the country to France in high school. That trip changed her life and she has been traveling every since.
Three kids, over 24 countries and 20 plus states under her belt she still has a lot of world to see!
She considers herself a foodie, participates in a CSA, hits her local farmers market and also has her own backyard garden.
When she’s not traveling or planning their next trip she enjoys reading, cooking and playing games like Rummikub with her kids.