Instead of going into deep detail of what we did every day, I’m going to list our favorites, least-favorites of our trip to Spain (and one day in Portugal), and our recommendations.
They were all great in their own sense but my favorite was Valença, Portugal. Valença felt as we had traveled back in time: the fort, the small historic town, the people and the food. In Spain, Madrid was a very vibrant, modern but historical , and accepting city. Santiago de Compostela was charming as well and very laid back.
Least Favorite City:
The home-made pizza at Cafeteria 4D Gelateria in Madrid was better than any pizza I’ve had in the USA or Italy. The pastries at any of the pastry shops were also explendid.
Least favorite food/dish:
The food was a big negative. We’ve eaten in a few differents countries, always ventured out, and enjoyed the local cuisine. This time, it bit our tail. The food wasn’t that great. No way does it compare to Mexican or American food. The paella, one of Spain’s most recognized dishes, was very disappointing. Put it this way, we ate at the pizza joint 3 times, and twice at McDonalds. We do recommend the codfish croquettes, the cheese plates, beef tips and potatoes, and the beef lasagna, and every pastry of course.
El Palacio Real & Santorini Gardens were my favorite attractions. And for only 4€ per adult, we got a guide to give us a personal tour of the palace. The best time to go is right before noon. There was no wait at the palace and the price was reasonable for adults and kids under 6 are free. Veronica really enjoyed El Prado, which I second. The kids liked all the parks and plazas.
There wasn’t a bad attraction but I was a little disappointed in The Temple of Debod because it was hyped up leading up to our visit. The area around the temple is very nice with parks for kids to play and plazas to sit and enjoy the day. It also has a nice view of Madrid. The problem is that it is very uninteresting once you get there. Take a pic and call it good.
I’m not the shopper in our family. I leave that to Veronica. But, man did I go crazy on this trip. Because I’m a big guy and I’m cheap, I usually can’t find nice dress shoes that fit my big feet or they are too expensive for my taste. Well, I came back with 5 pairs of leather shoes and boots. It was so bad that we had to buy another suitcase to bring back our new shoe collection. But if leather boots are for 20€, wouldn’t you buy a few pairs!?! The best shopping is near La Puerta del Sol on Calle de Arenal, and by Plaza Mayor. The prices are very reasonable. Oh, did I mention we walked 20 minutes uphill one-way in 50° temperature for a nice pair of dress shoes? That good!
Veronica recommends Pempke for reasonable, stylish women clothing. I also recommend Celio for men’s clothing.
El Corte Ingles. This store chain is like a mall + athletic store + Grocery store on steroids. And the prices are also on steroids! The only shopping we did was for food which was really cheap. Save your money for the shoe stores.
- Lodging: Stay near Puerta Del Sol. You will be in the middle of all the important places to visit, eat, and shop while in Madrid
- Eating: Bars with Tapas. I really enjoyed the bar and tapas scene in Spain. You can’t go wrong with the codfish croquettes and a caña de cerveza.
- Nightlife: Madrid puts NYC’s and New Orleans’ nightlife to shame. The bars don’t stop until 7am and the scene is very controlled. We didn’t do much bar hopping because of the kids but you can’t go wrong to do so. Police are always on surveillance and don’t bother the night goers.
- Shopping: A must are the shoe stores. The salespeople are not pushy and allow you to browse while you come and go. Veronica recommends Pimkie for fashionable and informal women’s clothing.
- Getting around: In Madrid, walking and the metro can get you to where you need to be. Outside of Madrid, we recommend a car rental to allow you to move at your pace.
- Day Trips: There are many day trips you can take. Check the cheap airlines such as RyanAir & Vueling for cheap airfare to save you some time and money. These airlines usually have airfare cheaper than train tickets. We highly recommend Santiago de Compostela and driving to Valença(Portugal). You will enjoy the towns and the breathtaking views.
- Currency: Euros(€) are the currency in Spain and the majority of Europe. Take a debit card like the Charles Schwab Investor Checking Debit Card that refunds all ATM withdrawals and currency exchange fees. Go to an ATM and withdraw money as need be. For high expense items, you can use a credit card with free foreign transaction fees. Most cards come with this feature but I use the Chase Sapphire Preferred for backup. Using these two methods, will save you some cash.
- The Spaniards: Some of the people we encountered were very polite, nice, and helpful. Some were jerks and inconsiderate. There was not an in between in my opinion. Just know you aren’t at home where hospitality is a must, especially in our area of the country.
- Tips: Tips are included in meals, taxi-fare, and other related services as is in many European countries, so no need to tip. Save that cash and buy you some leather shoes!
- Language: Spanish is the local language but most signs/stores have some type of English translation. I would recommend brushing up on your Spanish.
We had a great trip in Spain and Valença. Between Paris, Rome, and Madrid, I recommend Madrid than the others. In Madrid, we felt safe and secure even into the late hours. Food and clothing prices are reasonable and comparable to the U.S., but lower than the other two. Also, the panhandlers in Madrid were few compared to Paris or Rome which is always a plus.