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My itinerary from London to Palma de Mallorca, Spain, had an intentional bonus: A layover of around 12 hours in Madrid. Any time you can spend a good portion of a day in a great city like Madrid, you have to take it, right?

Getting to central Madrid from the Airport

I landed at Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) around 9 am, which gave me an entire day to explore. I quickly went through EU passport control and hopped on a Metro train toward Nuevos Ministerios. If you are on a layover in Madrid, I recommend getting the Madrid Tourist Travel Pass. Currently, this pass is 8.40 € for one day of unlimited Metro & bus rides in Madrid, including the airport, which normally costs 5 € each way. Even if you never ride the metro other than to and from the airport, you’ll save some money. Factoring in travel time, I still had most of the day to spend in central Madrid.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

My first target was one of Madrid’s most renowned museums, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, near Atocha train station.

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I had been to Reina Sofia before, but I wanted to return and visit again. The museum, which has been expanded in recent years, houses a range of modern art exhibitions. The permanent collection includes various works from famous Spanish artists, including Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso, whose Guernica dominates one gallery in the center of the museum.

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Guernica is one of my favorite paintings. It tells the story of the Nazi bombing of Guernica, Spain in support of Franco during the Spanish Civil War. That same pain would be spread throughout Europe & the rest of the world as the bombing of cities became common during World War II. Guernica has been described as one of the most powerful anti-war works of art ever created. You can see it online or in a book, but to truly understand just how imposing the painting is, go see it in person at the Reina Sofia.

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Another exhibition I saw at the Museo Reina Sofia was Really Useful Knowledge, an installation about the importance of people being informed about politics and the world around them.

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Having seen Guernica once again and all of the temporary exhibitions, I skipped re-seeing the permanent collection in favor of more Madrid exploration. I was thirsty, so I purchased this at a convenience store, thinking it was sparkling water.

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One sip and I realized it was not. That little smiling guy on the bottle is not Stewie Griffin from Family Guy, but rather a happy lemon. It was an odd-tasting soda, similar to Sprite. I do enjoy trying local sodas, but this particular one was a miss.

Parque del Retiro

Next, I headed towards Parque del Retiro, one of the world’s great urban parks. The park encompasses 350 acres just east of the city center and feels even larger than that. While there are plenty of open spaces, Retiro is filled with gardens, monuments, activities like boating, and an array of small buildings that house everything from cafes to art exhibits. It’s a lovely place to relax with some food & drink on a nice day.

I entered the park along Calle Claudio Moyano, a street lined with vendors selling books.

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I stopped at a bench and ate a jamón ibérico sandwich I had bought from a place called ENRIQUE TOMAS – Atocha. It was a simple sandwich of just meat, quality bread, and olive oil. It was as delicious as it looks.

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After eating, I continued wandering through the park. Despite it being late December, some of the plants in the gardens still had flowers. In the spring & summer, it’s even more green & lively.

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I arrived at the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal) in the park’s center. It turned out that there was an art exhibition inside. In fact, several of the buildings in the Retiro contain temporary installations from Museo Reina Sofia. It’s a nice way to keep the buildings occupied, though it doesn’t seem like many people are aware of the exhibits. While the rest of the park was pretty busy for a Monday afternoon in December, a few buildings only had a couple of other visitors inside.

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Here’s the temporary art exhibition inside Palacio de Velázquez in Parque del Retiro.

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I’d had a long trip so far, and I still had more travel to go. To get on Spanish time as quickly as possible, I sat in the sun for a good hour or so at the Monument to King Alfonso XII. Between the warm-for-December sun and people-watching, it was easy to pass the time.

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After my time in the Retiro, I headed west toward Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía. On my first trip to Madrid, I stayed in this area of the city, and to be honest, I hadn’t gotten much of a good vibe from it. I’m glad I went back to Madrid because I had a better time than any of the days I had been there previously.

Fabrica Maravillas

I had dinner, and then headed to my final stop in central Madrid, a brewery called Fábrica Maravillas.

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Fabrica Maravillas has been around since 2012. It’s a leader in the Madrid craft beer scene. I arrived just as they were opening. I didn’t have a lot of time before I needed to head back to the airport, but I did try several of their beers. My favorite was their Cabrona, a Belgian Quad (pictured above with tapas olives).

I wrapped up my layover in Madrid with a Metro journey back to Barajas Airport. I still had one more travel leg on the first part of my trip, flying from Madrid to Mallorca, an island off the coast of Spain. Thanks to being so convenient to get to from the airport, central Madrid makes for a nice layover if you’ve got some time to spare.

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