Monthly Archives: September 2013

Top 5 Things To Do In Madrid

Madrid is unusual for a capital insofar as it is found in the centre of the country, whereas most capitals are found on the coast or rivers in easily accessible locations on old trade routes. On the one hand, this does mean that, unfortunately, unlike the majority of popular Spanish destinations, Madrid doesn’t have a beach. However, it also means that the city benefits from a really unique character. So, what are the top 5 things to see and do in Madrid?

Prado Madrid

The Royal Palace

This palace is the official home of the Spanish royals, though they don’t actually live here. It shouldn’t cost more than €10 entry, and there are several concessions and ways to get free entry. Many of the rooms are open to the public and are decorated in an opulent, extravagant manner with lots of marble and luxurious velvets. Be warned that photography is forbidden inside the palace.

Jardín Botanico

There are more than 30,000 plants from all corners of the planet residing in the botanical garden, making this a little slice of paradise and welcome respite from the intense heat of the city. Water features , shaded areas and sprinklers make this the perfect place to visit in the late afternoon when heat can become stifling, and there are beautiful blooms here all year round.

Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle is the name for Madrid’s three major art palaces – the Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia. These three galleries between them contain the vast majority of the city’s priceless artworks, making it ideal for art buffs. A pass to the three should come to around €15, a small price to pay to spend time with some of the world’s most impressive, coveted pieces of art.

Eat tapas

Scattered around central Madrid and the Gran Via Broadway are ‘ham museums’, or eateries specialising in various types of cured ham. Many of these act like the abundance of other tapas bars in the city, where you can order a drink and be brought a free tapa as an accompaniment. Wherever you are, the tapas on offer will vary broadly, from seafood to sliced meats and chorizo to vegetables to tortilla, so you can sample a huge variety of Spanish cuisine.

Bus tour

Most European capitals offer up some kind of river tour to visitors, but Madrid’s lack of river means that city tours should be done by bus. You will be given earphones and a map of the city so you can listen to Madrid’s history and figure out where you want to go, and it is a far better way to travel than by Metro as you get to see more of the tiny winding streets, hidden churches and bustling plazas for the price of one hop on, hop off ticket.

Madrid has much to offer its visitors, but anyone wanting to get out of the busy capital can hire a car to nearby city Valladolid, which should take around two hours, with a trip to the vibrant Salamanca taking around the same time.

Planning A Trip To Iceland

I’m looking at taking a trip to Iceland this winter in the hope of seeing the elusive, mysterious Northern Lights. It’s been on my ‘do before I die’ list for as long as I can remember, and this year the aurora is supposed to be particularly spectacular. Fortunately, thanks to the tiny area of inhabitation in Iceland and the compact nature of Reykjavik, a trip to Iceland can be done in a weekend. However, going to Iceland isn’t like a standard weekend away to Europe, and a little more planning needs to be done.


Firstly, there is the matter of money. The Icelandic Króna (ISK) can be tricky to come by outside of Iceland, and many foreign exchange desks won’t stock it at all. You can also expect to get a pretty poor exchange rate whenever you try to exchange your own currency for króna, so if you feel you will need cash, use your card to withdraw it at an Icelandic ATM. However, a better idea still is to simply use your card as normal. Inform your bank that you will be in Iceland to ensure it isn’t blocked, and spend away. Almost everything, including taxi fares, can be paid for with a card.

Secondly, the language. Icelandic is spoken by less than 350,000 people worldwide with the vast majority residing in Iceland itself, so it is not expected that any visitors will speak Icelandic. A few token words (hallo = hello, bless = goodbye, takk = thank you, já = yes, nei = no) is enough to be polite, but almost everyone will speak immaculate English. Danish is also very widely spoken if this is more comfortable for you.

The weather in Iceland is incredibly volatile, so it’s important that you go prepared for all eventualities, particularly throughout winter. It is not at all uncommon to see heavy snow on the same day as brilliant sunshine and pouring rain, so go for layers. Warm layers are particularly important, along with something fully waterproof, but most important should be sensible, walking-friendly footwear. Much Icelandic activity takes place in the rugged nature, so you need shoes that will allow you to walk on slippery, uneven and challenging terrains.

Finally, there’s the small matter of the Northern Lights themselves. There is no way to predict when they will make themselves seen, but there are Northern Lights forecasts online which can suggest how likely it is that they will appear. You will need to leave the bright lights of Reykjavik and head north further into the Arctic Circle for the best chance. You can either join a tour which will take a group of you up together with a tour guide or hire a car so you can drive yourself up into the countryside in the hope of spotting the incredible Aurora Borealis.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some flights to book…