City breaks with children can be great fun; a chance for them to experience wonderful new sights, sounds and smells. And a City break to Madrid is just a 2 hour flight away from London and it’s small and compact enough city for little legs to get around. Autumn is a great time to travel when some sun remains, but the heat of the summer has given way.
Here are our dos and don’ts to Madrid with a toddler, if you fancy taking a short family break there.
Do eat tapas with your toddler. Tapas are small plates of food for sharing. Tapas restaurants are soooo relaxed and they’ll welcome your children. Sharing tapas is a great way to encourage children to try new foods. Let them help themselves to encourage their participation. Favourites among young children are croquetas, calamares (deep fried squid), chorizo, and the famous Spanish tortilla. Remember that your children don’t have an adult’s preconceptions about eating ‘weird’ stuff; so go ahead and let them try whatever they want.
Do try the fish! Take your children into a supermarket to see the fantastic range of fish. The fish counters in the large supermarkets are a sight to behold. Madrid has the second largest trade fish market in the world, behind only Tokyo, so if you want to introduce your children to fish, forget coastal resorts; Madrid is the place to do it!
Do ditch the buggy. During busy times in Madrid, you might find it difficult to negotiate a buggy on the narrow pavements that often have obstacles like trees planted in the middle of them! You could consider a back carrier, or reins for when your toddler fancies a wander. If walking a long way isn’t an option, the metro is cheap and easy to negotiate and children love trains.
Do go to Faunia. Faunia is an animal park in the Madrid suburbs is fantastic for children and adults alike. The animal houses are arranged by ecosystem. A hot and humid jungle zone houses exotic parrots and an area where you can wander around with squirrel monkeys for example. The penguin enclosure is snow filled, which is fabulous to see. The live displays such as the large bird display is great, and you don’t need to understand the Spanish commentary to enjoy them. The park itself is small and easy to walk around and you can take a picnic along with you. See www.faunia.es for more information.
Don’t visit Parque de Attractiones with toddlers. This theme park in Madrid is fantastic fun for older children, but there are very few rides for the under 3s.
Do visit Retiro Park. This park is a huge green space in the middle of Madrid. There are many play areas, sculptures and different garden areas to stimulate a toddlers senses. The crystal palace often houses an art display and it’s fun to sit on the steps of the nearby pond to eat an icecream and watch the turtles. There’s also a lake with rowing boats for hire. do that early in the day before the sun is too strong. Best of all for the children are the street entertainers. There are often living sculptures and performance artists on the main pathways through the park and a puppet show or two. Take a little bag of coins for toddlers to drop into the pots of the seemingly sleeping sculptures to see them come to life.
Do make the most of Madrid’s green spaces and play areas. There’s a fabulous playground in Plaza Oriente, near the palace which will keep your toddler happily occupied for a while. When taking a city break with children, they do need some time away from site seeing to wander and let of steam away from the traffic and sometimes crowded streets.
Don’t expect too much in the way of baby friendly facilities. Although your child will be welcomed in most restaurants, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily come well equipped. Lots of restaurants don’t have baby change stations. If you need one, try some of the bigger department stores like el corte ingles. It is also best to take a travel seat that fits on normal chairs for eating, in case a restaurant doesn’t have high chairs.
Don’t go in August. You’ll have Madrid to yourselves in August as many locals head off to the coast, but there is a reason why. Madrid temperatures can exceed 40 degrees in August and that’s no fun with a toddler. Winters can be chilly, but often with beautiful blue skies. Early summer or early autumn are probably the best times to go.
Do rent an apartment. With a toddler, you never know if they’ll sleep well, how they’ll respond do different eating times or just how much energy they’ll burn up during the day and therefore they will need a place to recharge. An apartment gives you the flexibility to work around your toddler and give you all a space to relax and somewhere to cook if you need to eat in.
Do enjoy yourselves. The Spaniards love children and your toddler will no doubt get plenty of attention, in the street as well as in restaurants. Have a fantastic time and enjoy your little taste of a new culture.