A weekend getaway is the perfect escape from a busy semester. It’s the chance to clear your headspace and take a well-earned break from the workload and pressures of university, all while exploring a new city. It could be to one of Manchester’s neighbouring cities in the UK or a European metropolis further afield. Take a trip with your mates, or go solo, and experience the culture, history and traditions somewhere new, all while on a student budget.
So grab your piggy banks, or create that savings pot on Monzo, and get ready to make some fabulous memories.
This week we’re exploring the Spanish capital of Madrid. It’s a treasure trove of culture and, as I lived there for five months during my year abroad, I’d definitely recommend it as a student-friendly city. It boasts grand art galleries containing famous Spanish masterpieces and impressive architecture – particularly the towering white buildings sweeping all the way up its main street, Gran Via. There are charming little shopping streets such as Calle Fuencarral and the most beautiful park, El Retiro – the perfect place to spend an afternoon in a rowing boat on the lake. Madrid is the place to try sangría, indulge in chocolate con churros, and swap the bar crawl for a tapas crawl, trying out the different miniature dishes (or tapas, meaning snacks or appetisers) that each bar has to offer.
As an international capital, most people you meet in cafés and shops will speak English but don’t be afraid to try out the lingo and say “¡hola, buenos días!” or the informal “¡hola, buenas!” if you want to sound more like a local.
After a traditional savoury breakfast of tostada con aceite y tomate (toast with tomato and olive oil), perhaps in the Spanish café chain Rodilla, a good place to start is Madrid’s art scene. Museo del Prado exhibits a wealth of classical art including Spanish artists like Goya and Velázquez. Head to Museo Reina Sofia close by for more modern artwork like Picasso’s immense painting of Guérnica – both can be visited without paying a penny. El Prado has free admission 6-8 pm Mon-Sat and 5-7 pm Sunday (otherwise 7.50€ for students), and you can see certain exhibitions at Reina Sofia for free after 1:30 pm on Sundays (successfully avoiding its hefty 10€ ticket price.)
Enjoy lunch by the lake in the nearby El Retiro park, at one of the café bars, and test your rowing skills by hiring a boat for an hour for 6€ Mon-Fri and 8€ Sat-Sun. From the park, you can make your way up Gran Via towards the city centre, where you’ll find two of Madrid’s main squares which are definitely worth a visit. In the first, Puerta del Sol, you can find the ground mark for the geographical centre of Spain – it’s worth queuing up to get a group photo of your feet upon it; the perfect addition to the inevitable photo album. Afterwards, you can bask in the sun trap of Plaza Mayor within its surrounding striking redbrick walls.
From here, the Royal Palace is the next place to visit, exploring its luxurious interiors for only 6€ for students – so bring your Manchester student card and reap the benefits! If you don’t fancy splurging on visiting the Spanish royal family’s official home, you can marvel at the wonderful views from the Templo de Debod, a few minutes walk away. This is an Egyptian temple that was brought over and reconstructed in Madrid to protect it from flooding; it is one of the only wonders of ancient Egyptian architecture outside of Egypt. The best time to visit the hilltop temple is to watch the sunset over the western outskirts of the city.
It is difficult to suggest a specific place to enjoy tapas as each bar or restaurant has its own speciality dishes, but by exploring the districts such as Malasaña, Chueca, or La Latina you can find cheap and cheerful eateries. I’d recommend a few of the following traditional dishes; patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), tortilla española (Spanish omelette), albóndigas (meatballs), croquetas (filled croquettes) and jamón ibérica (Iberian ham). Finish the meal with a visit to the historic Chocolatería San Ginés, serving chocolate con churros 24-hours a day. If you fancy treating yourself further, head to Teatro Flamenco Madrid, in the Malasaña district, for a flamenco show costing 18€ pp, which you can book online for one of its three nightly performances.
The metro is the fastest way to travel around the city – a tourist travel pass costs 8.40€ for one day’s worth of unlimited metro travel, including travel to and from the airport. Otherwise, you can buy a general travel pass for 2.50€ or ‘pay as you go’ with each trip costing 1.50€. Download the metro app to help with directions and head to the stop Sol for the city centre. However, everything is easily reachable on foot, so you could easily skip the metro ticket and save the cash.
You can fly to Madrid in January 2020 for a long weekend from £30 return with Ryanair – a perfect treat to celebrate the end of Semester 1 exams! I’d suggest you need 2-3 days in Madrid to visit all the main sites and enjoy all that the city has to offer.
We hope this go-to guide has inspired you to travel to this fabulous city and reap its rewards; until next time with another wonderful student-friendly destination.
Flight prices correct at time of publication. Book early to avoid disappointment!