Madrid - a city literally buzzing 24*7 with the excitement of camera toting tourists & lively local Madrileños alike - its a place that knows how to live life. Whatever you are looking for - art, architecture, gastronomy, nightlife, sport - Madrid's got em all! While the third largest city of Europe houses a sizable urban dwelling along its periphery, it has taken great care to leave the historic city center well preserved, and in fact enhanced its appeal over the years blending the new with the old. Madrid is best enjoyed on foot, with the area spread out between Cibeles Plaza to the East & the Royal Palace to the West packing enough attractions to keep you occupied for days, if not weeks. During summers, the days can be long, so dinner in Madrid typically starts late - around 9 till 11 PM. On most evenings, Madrileños prefer hopping places, buffeting their Sangria with handy portions of Tapas. No wonder they can party into the wee hours of the night! Interestingly, the very reason Tapas came into existence was that the King did not want his subjects getting drunk in the lunch hour itself, so he made it mandatory for all establishments in Spain to offer free Tapas with each drink. Tip - Take a walking/bus tour on your first day to get oriented with the city, then spend the remaining days dwelling upon the ones that piqued your curiosity the most.
Haughtily perched over a cliff top, encircled by River Tagus on all sides, Toledo presents a formidable sight as you make your way into the town. The Alcazar dominates the skyline, while the extravagant Cathedral's spires make up the background. The city transports you right back to the medieval era, but be warned - the winding & steep pathways can be exasperating. Expect to get lost & tired - take a full day to take in Toledo. Its less than an hour away from Madrid by high speed Renfe train, or two hours by bus. Tip - Avoid the Hop on Hop Off bus, at best it gives you two photo ops on the way for double the price of a normal bus. The streets of Toledo are too narrow, so you will anyway have to take it on foot once in the town.
While Toledo leaves you a bit disoriented, Segovia is a much gentler & more rewarding day trip from Madrid. Why? A perfectly preserved 2000 year old Roman Aqueduct stretching across majestically right in the middle of the city, & an 11th Century Alcazar castle perched atop a hillock overlooking sweeping plains, influenced by all major artistic styles the world has seen in the last 1000 years. The bus from Madrid drops you off right at the Aqueduct. After feasting your eyes & clicking enough pictures for a lifetime, you can take the short fleet of stairs right into the old town. All the attractions are neatly lined up with prominent signages. You cannot get lost here, all roads lead ultimately to the Alcazar at the other end of the town. En route, catch your breath at the Plaza Mayor with the Gothic 15th century cathedral in the background. Finally, head to Alcazar perched on a rocky crag - shaped like the bow of a ship - the views from its towers are truly stunning.
We spent a total of 4 nights in Madrid, with 2 day trips to Toledo (by high speed AVE train) & Segovia (by Bus).