In the last few days, I have been writing extensively about Madrid, going through my favourite itinerary, restaurants and day trip from the city. So far, however, I haven’t covered one of the main aspects that make me go back over and over again: how family-friendly Madrid.
There are many attractions in Madrid for kids, from its zoo to its theme parks, but what I think makes it suited for a family vacation is that it is so rich of sights and easy to navigate that you don’t have to sacrifice sightseeing to make your little ones happy. This is, to me, what makes it ideal for a city break with kids.
Top 5 things to do in Madrid with kids
Madrid is one of those places you can spend a lifetime in and still not know entirely, but I always seem to go there for short periods of time, weekend or short breaks, and so I devised this list thinking of families with justs couple of days available for city exploration.
1. Take a stroll in its charming city centre streets
Madrid city centre gets very busy and must-see squares such as Porta del Sol or even beautiful Plaza Mayor can be a challenge with buggies or toddlers.
However, as soon as you leave these majour landmarks you find many small streets with limited traffic but loads of charm: never leave your kids to run unattended on these streets as cars do pass here, but do get lost and take in the lovely quirky shops and stop for tapas. Restaurants and cafes are everywhere and many have areas that are specifically designed for kids with books, toys and sometimes workshops adults and kids can take together (usually advertised on the shop windows).
Main landmarks you should spot while you wander
Plaza Santa Ana and the surrounding streets leading to El Prado Museum: this area is full of restaurant and cafes and Plaza Santa Ana has a small playground with climbing frames little kids will love.
Plaza Mayor is an imposing square entirely enclosed by beautiful buildings: it can get busy but kids will love the fact that is close to traffic and may even get street performers to keep them entertained for a while! nearby Mercado De San Miguel is a great spot for lunch as it offers great variety and the informal atmosphere of the market: try to avoid the busiest lunch and evening meal times, especially if you have a buggy with you, as there is very little elbow room: the place gets packed!
Atocha station: always a hit with kids for two main characteristics: the speed trains that depart from here and the fact that the station is built like a greenhouse and host high palm trees.
Royal Palace: a beautiful building surrounded by stunning gardens, the royal palace sits on a large square with street performers, cafes and a public, manicured green space.
Madrid Museums: Madrid is full of beautiful museums and some of them can be easily visited with children. The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, near Atocha, offers workshops and family events and so does the Thyssen Bornemitza gallery (ask at the reception des for the family programme). Another museum older kids might enjoy is the Naval Museum that hosts, among other memorabilia, a world map dating back to the 1500s
Top tip for families visiting Madrid with kids: I was pleasantly surprised to find many small urban playgrounds in and around Madrid’s city centre. Sometimes the play equipment is inside parks and green spaces, but often it can be found in otherwise unused city corners. Despite these unexpected locations, the ones we saw were well equipped and properly mainained.
Notice its colourful details
Madrid is a busy, elegant city but it is also a very colourful one: street art, multi-coloured plasterwork and architectural details brighten up its bustling streets, creating an interesting juxtaposition with its more monumental landmarks.
Tip for families visiting Madrid with kids: Madrid’ s colours are often in the details and you can easily miss them if rushing through its most touristy streets. I find the best way to get the kids to engage with their surroundings is ‘I spy’ games: the excitement of spotting what they were challenged to find makes even a shop front something to remember and a great way to make them think, even if just for a minute, about how different the city is from their own. I also find they force ME to pay more attention and be in the moment, something not always simple with children around!
Stops and admire its imaginative street performers
While walking through Madrid’s city centre, my mind lost in wanderlust-filled thought, I was suddenly brought back down to reality by a goat screaming at me ‘MEEEEEEEEEHHHHH’! It wasn’t, of course, a real goat, you will not find any of those in the heart of this capital city, but rather a street performer who sits quietly in the street with a goat costume and makes its presence known giving a fright to distracted tourists! He/she was only one of the many street performers we encountered (and surely the funniest one): dance and circus acts seemed to be everywhere and they give the city a buzzing and dynamic vibe.
2. Seek out its unusual architecture
Madrid is a city with a long history and this is reflected in its varied architecture: baroque churches sit side by side with flashy skyscrapers, creating an architectural continuum that spans the course of many centuries. Some buildings stretch your sense of time and space: did you know that Madrid has a true ancient Egyptian temple right in the city centre? And that from it you can reach the XVI century Royal palace with a short walk? The photo of the temple of Debod always tricks me into thinking it is taken in Egypt but no, it’s right in the heart of the Spanish capital!
Top tip for families visiting Madrid with kids: Do not presume that Madrid attractions such as the Debod temple or Atocha station, with its beautiful architectural lines, will be boring for kids. The temple is surrounded by a lovely park (there is even a cable car, for great views over the city, a children favourite!) and Atocha is decorated with plants so high it is reminiscent of a Victorian greenhouse
3. Rest in its beautiful parks and green spaces
Madrid is a very green city: its wide boulevards are often lined by tall trees and manicured lawns and parks such as Casa de Campo or El Retiro are great for picnics and a for letting the kids run around.
One of the most popular spots for families visiting Madrid with kids is the park El Retiro, located just beside the Prado museum and within easy reach from many of Madrid’s landmarks. The park was originally the property of the Royal family and its beautiful architecture bears witness of the experienced hands of architects and landscapers that shaped it, but it is now a public space and one families love. The area close to El Retiro is a great base to visit Madrid: you can find family friendly accommodation options in Madrid in this post, where i list my favourite neighbourhoods, hotel and tourist apartments for families.
Top tip for families visiting Madrid with kids: as well as the big parks, I have found many smaller spaces that are equipped for kids. Many larger plazas have either green patches or full on play equipment for little ones and often have street performers to keep adults and kids entertained (see also below): this makes for easy frequent stops without bringing you away from your sightseeing itinerary
4. Madrid for kids: theme parks and animal encounters
Madrid has several areas that are equipped especially for kids. Among the most popular you will find:
Parque de attractiones
Located in Casa de Campo, the large green space at the back of the Royal palace, el Parque de Attractiones is an amusement park with rollercoasters and rides for all ages. Little children will meet characters like tv heroes Dora and Diego and can have lunch at the Nickelodeon cafe, while older kids (8+) are likely to get excited by the many rides. The park is very popular especially in summer when many attractions include splashing about in the water.
Madrid Zoo Aquarium
located in casa de campo, just beside the Parque de attractiones, Madrid zoo hosts over 6000 animals of 500 different species, including pandas and gorillas. The zoo also has a shark tank, a petting zoo and a small train kids love. You can find more information about the zoo here
Located outside Madrid city centre, Parque Warner, like the name suggests is a theme park devoted to the Looney Toons and the super heroes of the Warner Bros family. This park has been built with the aim of competing with main European attractions such as Disneyland Paris and covers over 150 acres of land: plan ahead to make sure the kids have the time to meet the characters of their dreams!
Faunia is not a theme park as such but a space in between a park and a zoo: it is a large, natural area where animals are left free to roam around. The space is divided up into four areas replicating four ecosystems so that animals from several parts of the world can feel at home: one of the most popular areas is the one recreating the South Pole, where kids can see penguins. Please note: we haven’t been to Faunia and I have not researched how sustainable for the animals this attraction is – I am including it in this list on this list for information purposed only.
5. Best of Madrid for kids? Churros and chocolate!
If all of the above hasn’t made your kids fall in love with Madrid, the city has one last trick up its shoulder: churros and chocolate! Churros are a sweet treat made of deep fried dough sprinkled with sugar: they are served piping hot and with a cup of hot chocolate and you have to dunk the in it before taking a bit. They are delicious, kids adore them and they have an ancient and somewhat mysterious history: Some sources say that churros were originally an invention of nomadic Spanish shepherds who named this delicacy after the ‘Navajo-Churro sheep’, whose horns has a shape not dissimilar to the churros we eat today
A different version of the story says that they were originally created by the Portuguese, who discovered a similar food in China and imported it back to Europe when coming back from their commerce in the far East.
Whatever version of the story we go for, there is no doubt that churros are delicious and a sure success with even the fussiest of eaters! The establishment of choice to taste them is the legendary Chocolateria San Gines, in Madrid city centre.
Do you enjoy city breaks with kids? Visiting a big city with children can be challenging but I love to find ways to make a city child-friendly: do you have tips for city travel with kids? Please share them in the comments!
The attractions and establishments in this post are mentioned for information purpose only. The inclusion is the post is unsolicited and unbiased and I received no compensation for it.