Spain is so much more than a holiday exclusively for those seeking a sun tan, writes Ciara Fitzpatrick.
A mention of Spain usually prompts one to conjure up notions of scorching summer days, but the sprawling capital city of Madrid, far from the coast, provides an ideal setting for a bitterly cold winter escape. Despite the freezing temperatures, the city manages to charm and beguile; a light covering of snow endows the city’s green spaces with an aura of serenity and stillness amid the bustling traffic.
Madrid’s streets are lined with an impressive array of buildings comprising many architectural styles. The street signs in old Madrid are worth looking out for; they are unusual in that they take the form of impressively illustrated plaques. A historically minded traveller will find much to satisfy their appetite in Madrid, and there are many fine art collections to be seen at the city’s galleries and museums, notably the Prado and Reina Sofia.
A short break in Madrid can be very affordable and it is possible to find cheap, high quality hostel accommodation in a central location such as Sol. Sol is the traditional centre of Madrid, from which all distances in Spain were once measured. From here many sights are within walking distance, such as the Palace, Plaza Mayor, and Gran Via.
The grand ‘El Retiro’ park is a beautifully landscaped leisure space, the product of centuries worth of planning, architecture and sculpture. The large pond in the centre of the park, flanked by a huge monument to King Alfonso XII, was partially frozen when we visited. However, in spring and summer one can take a boat out on the pond, and row and recline amongst the resident ducks. Street performers and musicians can also be found in the park during pleasant weather.
One negative aspect to Madrid is crime; there is a highly visible police presence in the city, which takes a bit of getting used to, especially as it is armed force. One would be advised to be aware of the methods of pickpockets on the underground Metro system and learn to keep an eye open for a well trained hand, concealed beneath a trailing scarf.
Madrid is famed for its nightlife, and club promoters line the streets enticing customers with the promise of a free or cheap drink. However, there are exceptions. One famous nightclub is truly in a league of its own when it comes to drinks prices; you can expect to pay €15 for a soft drink and up to €800 for champagne in this converted theatre.
Visiting sights in Madrid needn’t be expensive. For example, the Prado Museum is free to visit after five o’ clock on a Sunday, a visit to the Botanical Gardens will cost a student €1, and the Palace is free to visit on a Wednesday. Like many European cities, there are free walking tours available; you simply tip the guide at the end of the tour with how much you feel the tour was worth. However, be warned that the Palace can shut its doors without much notice when the royal family come to visit!
With affordable food, accommodation, attractions and nightlife, Madrid is a superb destination for students in search of a European jaunt in any season.