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3 Nights in Trento: Exploring The Dolomites at Traverse 19

 

Earlier on this summer I spent 3 nights in Trento (Northern Italy) as part of my fourth annual Traverse conference weekend. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been a07ttending Traverse conferences for the past 4 years now, travelling to Cardiff, London and Rotterdam, so I was super excited when The Dolomites was revealed as the location for Traverse 19! Despite visiting Italy numerous times before, I have never been to the northern part, and was particularly excited about the prospect of exploring the Dolomites, which are home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe! After enjoying 2 nights in Verona, I was super excited to hop on a super quick 1 hour train and spend a further 3 nights in Trento exploring everything that this pretty Alpine town had to offer. Here’s what I got up to during my 3 nights in Trento, and what I would recommend you see there during your visit too…

 

Wander around Buonconsiglio Castle

 

The beautiful views from the castle balcony

 

The most important castle in Trentino, Buonconsiglio Castle is the residence of the Prince Bishops and an iconic symbol of Trento. Built in the 13th century, the castle is split into three different parts, reflecting different historic eras of the city, showcasing arts and incredible frescoes from the Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic ages. Nowadays, the castle is an open air and indoor museum, with visitors able to access almost every part of it, and every year an excellent summer exhibition runs activities and workshops for schools. I would definitely recommend climbing the stone staircase towards the upper part of the castle, where there are some seriously stunning mountain views from the top balcony!

 

Take the cable car up to Trento Alta

 

Just look at that amazing landscape!!

 

This was probably my favourite thing about my 3 nights in Trento, and it was the perfect way to get my bearings and start exploring the city as this was the very first thing I did when I arrived (after devouring some pizza, of course). From Piazza del Duomo, a few other bloggers and I made the short walk across the River Adige over to the Trento Alta cable car, located at the foot of one of the enormous mountains that dominated the Trento skyline. As we had Trentino visitor cards, our cable car journey was totally free, but otherwise it costs just a couple of euros for the return trip. A rapid ascent will see you reach the top of Trento Alta in just a matter of minutes, and believe me when I say you will be totally mesmerised when you see the breath-taking views that are waiting for you when you get there! I’ll let the photograph above do the talking…

 

Walk inside Trento cathedral

 

Trento Cathedral

 

Trento Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of San Vigilio, is located in Piazza del Duomo, right at the heart of the city, with the majestic Fountain of Neptune in front of it. Built in the 6th century, over an ancient temple dedicated to the city’s patron saint, the cathedral as we know it now wasn’t constructed until the 11th century, when the Prince Bishop Uldarico II started work on it. The Roman Catholic cathedral is decorated beautifully inside, with Gothic architecture, ornate frescoes and a stunning rose window at the front, also known as the Wheel of Fortune. I admired the Cathedral from the outside many times when I was passing by the main square, but it wasn’t until I went inside on my last day that I really appreciated it’s true beauty – this place is an absolute must visit during your 3 nights in Trento!

 

Base yourself at Piazza del Duomo

 

The glorious main square, Piazza del Duomo

 

The focal point of the entire city, Piazza del Duomo is at the core of Trento and is the main square from which everything leads off. The surrounding cobbled streets are home to numerous bars, cafe’s, shops and restaurants, with the glorious mountains providing an impressive backdrop. The main part of the Traverse 19 conference was set up in Piazza del Duomo, and it’s a great place to base yourself in order to get your bearings of the city. Enjoy lunch and dinner in one of the many restaurants surrounding the piazza, or simply people watch whilst sat at the Fountain of Neptune to enjoy the views from wherever you’re positioned.

 

Where to stay

 

My balcony at Hotel Albermonaco

 

I stayed in the quirky Hotel Albermonaco during my 3 nights in Trento, located near the train station and directly adjacent to the castle. My room had a spacious balcony with amazing views of the mountains and castle which was a pleasant surprise as I hadn’t expected any view at all given that the price I paid was super cheap! Along with tonnes of other travel bloggers who also attended Traverse 19, I recently contributed to this accommodation guide to Trentino, which was put together by Teresa from Brogan Abroad. As Trento is a fairly small city, you’ll be able to access pretty much all of it on foot no matter where you choose to stay, but I found being close to the castle and the train station super handy at the Albermonaco, and it was just a 10-15 minute walk away from the main square too!

 

Where to eat/drink

 

Traditional Italian gelato in Trento

 

Fortunately, my Trentino visitor card and my Traverse 19 ticket came with some complimentary/discounted food and drinks vouchers that I could use throughout my visit during my 3 nights in Trento, but I did get to sample a lot of different meals and check out numerous restaurants and bars during my trip too. A few fellow bloggers and I decided to head for dinner at local restaurants most evenings, whilst lunches and evening drinks were generally included at the conference days. Particular restaurants which stood out to me were Uva e Menta and Ristorante Antica Trattoria, which served excellent pastas, pizzas, meat and fish dishes. Pretty much anywhere around the Piazza del Duomo is recommended, and it’s really not hard to find good food in Trento!

 

Trento really is a hidden gem at the heart of the Dolomites, and a fantastic place to base yourself if you want to explore more of northern Italy. As I mentioned, Verona is just an hour away by train, and is in close proximity to Lake Garda too – somewhere that has been on my bucket list for soooo long! I’d definitely suggest giving yourself at least 3 nights in Trento to spend time exploring everything properly, but you could easily spend a week or two using the city as a base and then discovering plenty of the surrounding areas nearby too. Have you ever been to Trento before? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

 

Walking along the river Adige

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Restaurant Review: The Botanist Cheltenham

 

Last weekend I headed over to Cheltenham to catch up with some of my old work girls and was lucky enough to be invited to review The Botanist, one of the best restaurants in town, with my friend Steph. I had been twice before, once for lunch with my sister and once for an evening meal and drinks for my leaving do just before I went to Australia, but I was super excited to be back as I got to try out the brand new autumn menu this time! With 18 restaurants in various locations across the UK, The Botanist offers fantastic food, drink and live music in a beautiful secret garden style setting, as well as brilliant cocktail, gin and ale tasting masterclasses with crafted experts. I had wonderful evening during my visit, with the food, staff and new menu all being super impressive! Here’s what I got up to during my trip to The Botanist Cheltenham…

 

The location

The Brewery, Cheltenham

 

Situated on the corner of The Brewery, one of the newer parts of town, The Botanist Cheltenham is in a prime position to explore all that the town has to offer. There are shops, restaurants, bars, a Hollywood Bowl, a Lost Worlds Golf and a Cineworld all at the Brewery, as well as popular hotel chains Premier Inn and Holiday Inn Express being just around the corner. With both indoor and outdoor seating, The Botanist Cheltenham is in the perfect place for people watching at any time of day and is easily accessible from every part of the town, with a huge NCP car park just across the road too.

 

The restaurant

The pretty interiors at The Botanist Cheltenham

The plant wall on the right is so Instagrammable!

 

 

Decorated in signature The Botanist style, with references to botanical gardens including plant pots and flowers aplenty, the interiors at The Botanist Cheltenham are seriously dreamy. Split into two sides, there are lots of seating areas both to the right and left of the bar, with booths, bigger and smaller tables and even a private dining room for guests to use exclusively. The floor to ceiling plant wall to the left of the bar is the perfect place to capture those all important Instagram pics, and there’s enough floor space to get up dancing if the live music gets you in the mood.

 

The menu

The new autumn menu at The Botanist Cheltenham

The brand new autumn menu at The Botanist Cheltenham

Launched in mid October, the brand new autumn menu at The Botanist Cheltenham showcases a fantastic range of starters, mains, sides and desserts as well as the ever popular cocktail/drinks menu offering an eclectic range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with most of the cocktails available as mocktails too. In addition to the main a la carte menu, which is available from lunch and dinner daily from 12noon til late (or from 10am Fri-Sun), there are also separate kids, non-gluten, breakfast and Sunday roast menus too. Serving everything from home comforts such as bangers and mash and fish and chips, to the signature Botanist pies and famous hanging kebabs, the new autumn menu has something to suit all taste buds, with mains ranging from £9.95 – £19.50. The nibbles, starters and sides start from just £2.95, with the deli board and grill section offering popular dishes including steaks, burgers, meats, fish and cheeses. Finally, the yummy dessert menu serves up mouth-watering dishes including lemon tart, cookie dough and the iconic chocolate brownie hanging kebab, the perfect end to every meal!

 

The food

Our amazing hanging kebabs

Yummy starter dishes

Excellent cocktails

 

Steph and I ordered from the brand new autumn menu and were super impressed with all of our meals. We were treated to three courses and two cocktails each so certainly made the most of trying as much as we could from the new menu! For starters I chose the garlic mushrooms on toast whilst Steph opted for calamari, both of which were delicious. For mains we chose the famous hanging kebabs, one halloumi with seasoned fries and one surf and turf with sweet potato fries, all of which were AMAZING. Finally, for dessert, we both ordered the Nutella and biscoff bread and butter pudding which was absolutely incredible and totally melted in the mouth as we ate it! During dinner we had two cocktails each; I opted for a raspberry daiquiri and a raspberry disaronno sour (which was served with dry ice in a plantpot!) whilst Steph chose a passionfruit colada and a lychee and rose martini, all of which were super scrummy and the choice of cocktails on the menu was excellent.

 

The staff

 

The entrance to The Botanist Cheltenham

 

We were so well looked after during our visit and cannot thank the fabulous staff enough for making our visit to The Botanist Cheltenham truly outstanding. Our waiting staff, Georgie and Alex, served our food and drinks promptly and were friendly, welcoming and very informative when we were had questions about some of the items on the menu. Mark, one of the managers, came over to introduce himself towards the end of our visit and asked for some feedback which I gladly gave him as we had such a fantastic time. Natalia, on front of house, was equally as welcoming and friendly and even gave me a hug as we said goodbye at the end of the night – what a lovely lady! A big thank you to all the staff who looked after us so well during our visit, we will both certainly be back very soon.

As you can probably tell, I had a wonderful evening catching up with my old work friends in a beautiful setting right in the heart of Cheltenham. The food was amazing, the cocktails were scrummy and the live music and busy bar area made for a fantastic place to spend a Saturday night. I will certainly be back to The Botanist Cheltenham next time I am in town to visit my friends, and can’t wait to enjoy many more lunches and dinners there in the future. Book your table online to ensure you don’t miss out on availability – it’s getting busier and busier now that Christmas is creeping ever closer!

NB. All my food and drinks were gifted for the purpose of this review, but all words and photos are of course my own.

Thank you to The Botanist Cheltenham for a fabulous evening!

 

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How to Spend 24 Hours in Manchester

 

Last weekend I stayed overnight in Manchester for a fab travel blogger conference, Blog at the Beach, hosted by Ice Lolly Holiday and Visit Barbados. I had an amazing time catching up with all my fave blogger friends and meeting loads of new ones, and was excited to explore Manchester properly for the first time in YEARS. In the past I’ve usually just headed straight to the Trafford Centre from Liverpool as I spend a lot of time with my family up there, but this time I was determined to see all that Manchester had to offer, so when Hotels.com asked me to create a guide on how to do a budget break to the city, I was more than up for the challenge! They offer some fantastic accommodation options including luxury hotels, budget B&B’s and the serviced apartments Manchester are a great choice too. Here’s what I got up to during my 24 hours in Manchester, and what I recommend you do there during your northern getaway…

 

Check out Exchange Square & the Northern Quarter

 

exchange square manchester

The Exchange Square

 

Located slap bang in the middle of the city, Exchange Square is home to the shopping district and is right behind the popular Arndale Centre. You’ll find street performers and live music in the square, with the Corn Exchange building as the impressive backdrop. There’s also the Printworks, which has now been converted to a food court with the likes of Five Guys & the Hard Rock Cafe dominating the skyline. The Northern Quarter is another quirky area of the city which is home to an abundance of bars, cafes, shops and restaurants as well as some fantastic street art too. Situated between the Ancoats and Piccadilly, the Northern Quarter is the retro part of Manchester and has plenty of character, with record shops, vintage stores and places where bands gather to play live music.

 

Shop til you drop on the high street  

 

the arndale centre

The Arndale Centre

 

Manchester has got some fantastic shopping, and the high street is one of the best places to go for this. You’ll find every kind of high street, designer and department store you can think of, and the enormous Primark is also home to the newly opened Central Perk Friends Cafe which is hugely popular with locals and tourists alike. Located five miles west of Manchester city centre, The Trafford Centre is of course another obvious choice for shopping, and boasts a fantastic range of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. There’s also plenty of leisure options for those that don’t fancy shopping or eating, with an Odeon cinema, laser quest, mini golf course, escape room and even a Sealife aquarium offering a fantastic day out for all the family.

 

Visit one of the many museums

 

The National Football Museum

The National Football Museum

 

Manchester has some great museums, many of which are free to enter and are suitable for people of all ages. From football and music to art and fashion, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The National Football Museum, just a stones throw from Victoria station, is one of the city’s most popular attractions, detailing the successful history of the beautiful game. The Science and Industry Museum and the Manchester Art Gallery are well worth a visit, as is the Imperial War Museum located right on the waterfront at The Quays. For those of you who are soap lovers, Coronation Street The Tour at MediaCityUK in Salford is a great day out for all the family. You can explore the historic cobbles, wander through Weatherfield and even see where the pints are pulled in the Rovers Return.

 

Have a night out in Deansgate

 

 

One of the liveliest parts of Manchester, the Deansgate area is a great night out and is brimming with bars, clubs and restaurants. We had cocktails in the All Star Lanes bar, which is complete with a full bowling alley at the back, and then headed to Rudy’s for pizza. We passed the Peaky Blinders bar, a popular new hangout right in the centre of Deansgate, and also passed tonnes of other clubs and bars too. This area of the city is the place to be for a great northern night out, with the mile long road home to trendy eateries such as The Living Room, MOJO and The Botanist.

 

Getting around

a Manchester tram

The trams in Manchester

 

Manchester is quite a big city, so you may need to use public transport or taxis to get around, but the central area is best discovered on foot. You can walk from the high street up to Exchange Square in around 10 minutes, and head to the Victoria or Piccadilly train stations which are either a 5 or 15 minute walk away too. For a proper Mancunian experience, hop on a tram to get around like a local and explore everything much more quickly.

 

Where to stay

 

quad room at the macdonald manchester hotel

Macdonald Manchester Hotel & Spa

 

We stayed at the 4* Manchester Macdonald Hotel & Spa which was located a little out of the city centre, but was just a 3 minute walk from Picadilly train station. The hotel was in a perfect location for our Ice Lolly event as the office building was right around the corner, but we did have to get Uber’s/ taxis in and out of the city centre as the 25 min walk was a little too much for some of us who were wearing heels in the evening! The hotel had plenty of facilities including a tecnho-gym, swimming pool and spa with infra-red sauna, sensation shower, eucalyptus steam room and even an ice igloo. Please note that the spa was only accessible by paying a £10 supplement per person. I was in a room of 4 and we had 2 double beds between us which were super comfy and the bathroom was amazing. I’d definitely stay here again on my next visit as it was the perfect place from which to base ourselves during our 24 hours in Manchester.

 

Where to eat 

 

yard and coop manchester

Yard & Coop Manchester

 

Manchester has a great foodie scene, and we spent most of our time having lunch or eating dinner around the Deansgate area where we were going out on the Saturday night. There are some brilliant restaurants to choose from, with popular chains including Bella Italia, Nandos and Wagamama, but we opted to eat at Rudy’s which has been voted as one of the UK’s best pizza restaurants. For lunch the next day we headed to the Northern Quarter and ate at Yard & Coop, a speciality chicken restaurant serving every kind of chicken dish you could think of! Other great foodie areas include Peter Street and the Ancoats.

I had a great 24 hours in Manchester exploring all that the city had to offer, but I know there’s lots more that I didn’t see during my short time there. If I had longer I definitely would have spent more time seeing some of the museums and exploring the older buildings, as well as venturing out to the Trafford Centre too, but I definitely got a good feel for the city during my 24 hours in Manchester. Have you been to Manchester before? I’d love to know your top tips!

NB. My spending money during my time in Manchester was gifted by Hotels.com but all views, words and photos are of course my own.

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48 Hours in Valencia: The Perfect Spanish City Break

 

 

Beautiful Valencia. Famed for its football team, its extra long beach and for being the home of everyone’s favourite Spanish dish, Paella. The third largest city in Spain, Valencia was the second stop on my recent interrailing trip with my sister, breaking up the journey between Madrid and Barcelona. It was equally as beautiful but much less touristy than the other two cities, which we actually loved and it felt so nice to explore somewhere that wasn’t super crowded. We stayed just outside of the old town centre, in the new modern area, but within walking distance to the old town and all its attractions. Valencia is almost like a city of two halves; its old town square being home to the historic cathedral and bell towers, and then the more modern part of the city with its enormous Oceanarium, bioparc and state-of-the-art science and culture park. Although we only had 48 hours in Valencia, we felt this was definitely enough time to see everything and tick off plenty of the best known sights from our list. Here’s what we got up to, and what I would recommend you do there too…

 

Discover the gothic architecture

 

views from Valencia cathedral

Views from the top of Valencia Cathedral

 

Did you know that Valencia has its very own Gothic architecture? Influenced by the city’s Roman past and Mediterranean construction techniques between the 12th and 15th centuries, some of Valencia’s most popular landmarks represent this type of Gothic architecture. The main square, Placa de L’Amoina, is where the gorgeous Valencia Cathedral is located, along with it’s adjoining bell tower and incredibly ornate interiors, with the ceiling said to be inspired by Rome’s Sistine Chapel. The cobbled streets surrounding the cathedral are brimming with shops, bars, café’s and restaurants , and you can climb the tower for stunning panoramic views over the entire city below. Whilst wandering the streets during our 48 hours in Valencia, we found a super cool area called Plaza Redonda, a unique area filled with tapas restaurants and boutique stores laid out in a round circle, offering traditional Spanish food and souvenirs. La Lonja de La Seda, otherwise known as The Silk Exchange, is a one of the most civil Gothic monuments in Europe with history dating back to the 15th century, and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

 

Walk through Jardin del Turia

 

Torres de Serranos Valencia

The Torres de Serranos lit up at night

 

Spanning nine kilometres of lush gardens, winding foot paths and sports areas, the Turia Gardens (or Jardin del Turia) is one of the largest urban parks in Spain and runs alongside the former River Turia that once meandered its way through the city. Torres de Serranos is the gateway to the old style Valencia, linking the gardens and the new town with the history of ancient monuments in the old town. We actually walked through the gardens to get from our hotel to the old town many times during our 48 hours in Valencia and the walk was so lovely, with plenty of trees, flowers and plants lining the pathways. The walk between the towns takes around 20-30 minutes depending on how fast or slowly you’re going, and you’ll pass no less than 18 bridges above you as you make your way there. As well as being the gateway to the old town, the gardens are sprinkled with modern touches and are also home to the City of Arts and Sciences centre and plenty of sports and recreational areas with football pitches and tennis courts too.

 

Chill out on Malvarossa Playa

 

palm trees on the beach in valencia

The palm trees at Malvarossa Playa

 

I wasn’t sure if we would have time to head to the beach during your short 48 hours in Valencia, but I am so glad we did as it was definitely one of the highlights of our time there! Instead of spending an afternoon there soaking up the midday sun, we actually headed over at around 5pm to catch the last parts of the early evening sunshine and still got to enjoy the heat whilst we were there. We headed for dinner on the beachfront and enjoyed a cocktail or three as the sun started to set behind us. Malvarossa Playa was super lively and there was so much going on that we could have easily spent another day/night checking out all the other bars and restaurants. There’s also plenty of water-sports action if that’s what you’re in to, and the long stretch of sand makes the perfect place for a spot of sunbathing.

 

Visit the Oceanografic Centre

 

Valencia's Oceanografic Centre

Photo credit: www.musement.com
Valencia’s Oceanografic Centre

 

Located in the Arts and Sciences complex at Jardin del Turia, and with impressive architecture that looks similar to Sydney’s iconic Opera House, the Oceanografic Centre is one of the tourist attractions that’s a real must see during your 48 hours in Valencia. Laid out over two levels, with nine underwater towers housing over 45,000 marine species, the Oceanografic Centre is considered to be more of a training and research centre as opposed to a zoological park, making it an aquarium like no other. Split into ten geographical areas, from the Mediterranean and tropical seas to the polar oceans of the Arctic and Antarctic, you’ll spot more than 500 different species of marine life, including sharks, sea lions, manta rays and penguins. There’s also a separate dolphinarium, with training talks and daily feeds as well as shows at the auditorium which seats over 2000 people. If all the fantastic marine life isn’t enough to tempt you to the Oceanografic Centre during your 48 hours in Valencia, I’d highly recommend checking out the underwater restaurant where you can sit and watch some of the amazing species of fish swim right past you as you dine.

 

Where to Eat

 

valencia's central plaza

The central plaza in Valencia – great for eating out!

 

There are an abundance of restaurants, café’s and bars to choose from during your 48 hours in Valencia, most of which can be found in the old town, on the streets that lead from Placa de L’Amoina, where the cathedral is located. On our first night we ate in a tiny restaurant overlooking the cathedral, which was super cute and really cheap considering how good the location was. Our pizzas cost around 10 euros, and we had a cocktail each too. On our second night we hopped in a taxi from the old town square to Malvarossa Playa, the long stretch of sandy beach that I mentioned earlier on in this post. There were so many lively restaurants and bars to choose from, and there was even a club at the end of the pier too. We ate in a small beach bar that served an eclectic menu of Spanish and Italian dishes and enjoyed great sea views as we dined. We stayed out quite late that evening as it was a Saturday night and we were hitting up the cocktail bars, but a taxi back to our hotel was only 10-15 euros and was around a 20 minute drive away.

 

Where to Stay

 

The Expo Hotel Valencia

The rooftop pool at The Expo Hotel Valencia

 

We stayed out of the old town, in the new area with the El Cortes Ingles shopping centre just behind us which seemed to be v popular in Spain! Our hotel, The Expo Hotel, was around a 5-10 min taxi ride from the train station, where we came in and out of because we were interrailing, but it wasn’t too far from the airport either. A 20 minute walk through the Jardin del Turia took us under some of the historic bridges and through the gate at Torres de Serranos which marked the entrance to the old town. The Expo Hotel had a rooftop bar and terrace with fantastic city views which we loved, as well as a rooftop swimming pool too! It was super handy having the shopping centre right behind us and there was a courtyard of restaurants to choose from too if you didn’t fancy walking all the way into the old town for dinner. We ate lunch in one of the restaurants on the day it was raining and it felt like we were locals not tourists! Our room was spacious and modern, and the hotel was really stylish throughout, in a great location. If you want to stay in the heart of the action during your 48 hours in Valencia, I would recommend staying in the old town instead to really soak up the atmosphere.

 

My sister and I absolutely adored this city, and we discovered that 48 hours in Valencia was definitely enough time to explore and take everything in. We loved relaxing on the beach, enjoying the amazing foodie scene and admiring the gothic architecture. Valencia felt like true authentic Span, more like one of the Balearic islands than one of it’s cities, and I felt it was super similar to Palma in Mallorca with it’s ancient landmarks combined with lively nightlife. We had a fantastic 48 hours in Valencia and I would recommend this city to anyone looking for a true taste of Spain in a really beautiful city. Have you been to Valencia before? I would love to know what you got up to over there!

 

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Two Nights in Madrid: Visiting the Spanish Capital

 

 

Only have two nights in Madrid? Don’t worry, I did too, and I promise you’ll have enough time to see most of the sights and explore as much as you can during your short time there! Madrid was the first stop on my recent Spanish interrailing adventure with my sister, where we took in the beautiful cities of Barcelona and Valencia too, and what better place to begin than the beautiful capital city? From the lively squares of Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol to the Royal Palace and the Temple of Debod, there’s so much to see and do that you’ll want to return again and again. Here’s what we got up to during our two nights in Madrid, and some top tips for making the most of your visit there too.

 

Visit The Royal Palace

royal palace of madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid

 

One of the cities most famous attractions, the Royal Palace of Madrid should be the first thing you tick off your list during your two nights in Madrid. The palace is the official residence of the Spanish royal family and was built back in 1735. With over 3400 rooms and one million square feet of floor space inside, it’s the largest functioning royal palace in Europe. Today, both the palace and gardens are open to the public during certain times and are certainly worth a visit. My sister and I kickstarted our two nights in Madrid by wandering around the gardens and admiring the palace’s extraordinary architecture from the outside. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go inside and do a tour as they only ran at certain times of the day, but we climbed the rooftop of the cathedral opposite to get a good birds eye view of the palace and its forecourt. We did manage to watch the Changing of the Guard though, which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday at 11am.

TOP TIP: If you’re an EU citizen, admission to the palace is free Mon-Fri 4pm-6pm from Oct-Mar and Mon-Fri 6pm-8pm from Apr-Sept. Quick, make the most of it before Brexit happens guys 😉

 

Chill out in El Retiro Park

 

el retiro park

The beautiful El Retiro Park

 

This was one of my favourite spots of Madrid because my sister and I stumbled upon it purely by chance whilst we were out wandering around the city on our first day. Located off the Gran Via, the main shopping district, El Retiro Park is a gorgeous green space stretching over 125 hectares with flowers, trees and plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by. There are small bars and cafes selling snacks, lunches, drinks and ice creams, as well as a gorgeous blue lake where you can rent a paddle boat and row across the water. The park is huge and is also home to Palacio de Cristal, a glass palace overlooking a huge pond filled with hundreds of tiny terrapins, and the Teatro de Titeres, the only theatre in Europe that puts on puppet shows every weekend! We walked a lot on our first day and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream and a mini siesta in the sunshine at El Retiro Park, but we could have easily spent longer there as it was such a beautiful place and didn’t feel too touristy either.

 

Soak up ancient history at The Temple of Debod

 

the temple of debod

The Ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod

 

I am an absolute sucker for ancient history, particularly anything to do with Greek or Egyptian stuff, so when I found out that Madrid was home to an second century Egyptian temple I just HAD to go and check it out! Built waaaay back in 200 BC, the Temple of Debod was under threat in Egypt many moons later in 1960 due to the construction of the Aswan Dam. When Spain stepped into help with saving this and the nearby Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated Debod to the country in 1968. The temple was dismantled and flown over to Madrid, then rebuilt in Parque del Oeste, right near the Royal Palace. Since 1972, the modified Temple of Debod has been open to the public; entrance is free, but make sure you’re prepared to queue as only a small number of visitors are allowed in at a time. It really is a fascinating temple, with hieroglyphics and ancient markings carved into the walls, and it’s one of the few ancient pieces of Egyptian architecture that you can see outside of Egypt.

 

Explore the many cathedrals 

 

The beautiful Almudena Cathedral

The ornate Almudena Cathedral

 

The capital of Spain has GOT to have it’s fair share of cathedrals, right? Correct! There are plenty of churches and cathedrals to see during your two nights in Madrid, with some of the most stunning architecture and gothic style features. We made our way over to the Church of San Francisco, which was unfortunately closed when we got there but the gorgeous rose garden behind it was well worth a visit, with pretty views over to the city in the distance. We also visited the Crypt at Almudena Cathedral, a Neo-Romanesque church built below the ground that houses hundreds of ancient tombs as well as a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena. The star of the show however has to be the beautiful Almudena Cathedral itself, located right opposite the Royal Place of Madrid. Construction began back in 1879 but was not completed until 1993, the same year it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. Nowadays, the cathedral is arguably one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, and you can climb the staircase to the rooftop for breath-taking panoramic views across the city below, and visit the onsite museum too.

 

Go shopping along the Gran Via

 

The buildings along the Gran Via are nothing short of spectacular

The magnificent buildings along the Gran Via

 

Likened to London’s West End, I enjoyed the Gran Via way more than I thought I would and actually loved strolling along it each day when we were getting around the city walking to and from our hotel. With gothic style buildings and designer stores lining the streets, the Gran Via was super lively both during the day and at night too. There were a handful of casinos and nightclubs as well as grand theatres showing amazing West End and Broadway shows like Anastasia the Musical, Ghost and The Lion King, making the Gran Via a fantastic entertainment district for locals and tourists alike. The Gran Via is absolutely buzzing at any time of day, and is the beating heart of the city, especially after dark when everything is lit up and it becomes a real hub with everything staying open until the early hours. You certainly won’t be short of things to see and do during your two nights in Madrid if you base yourself close to the Gran Via!

 

Where to eat

 

the colourful plaza mayor

The colourful Plaza Mayor is a great place to eat out

 

I suppose the bad thing about only having two nights in Madrid is that you can only try a handful of restaurants during your short stay, which is super annoying given that the foodie scene in the city is AMAZING! On our first night we ate at an authentic tapas restaurant just off the Gran Via and indulged in allll the patatas bravas, cheese and chorizo washed down with sangria. On night two we headed to Puerta del Sol to a tiny Italian restaurant just off the main square and ate up some delicious pasta. For lunches we did the classic supermarket food ‘picnic’ as we were out exploring all day everyday and were happy to just eat on the go so we could splurge in the evenings, but there were tonnes of cool places to stop for lunch too. The colourful Plaza Mayor, pictured above, also looked like a fantastic place to eat out as it was lined with tonnes of restaurants, but it looked quite a lot pricier than some of the other nearby restaurants. For something a little different, check out Mercado San Miguel, a covered market with bars and mini cafe’s serving every kind of Spanish food and drink you can think of, located a 5min walk from Plaza Mayor.

 

Where to stay

 

views over to the red rooftops from our hotel room

Views over the Madrid skyline from our hotel room

 

During our two nights in Madrid we stayed at the Hotel Madrid Plaza Espana by Melia, a stylish hotel right on the Gran Via, at the heart of the city. After taking the metro from the airport (tubes run every 5 mins from 6am-2am at either T2 or T4 and cost 3EUR per journey plus a small 2EUR airport supplement) we got off at the Plaza de Espana stop and our hotel was literally opposite, just a 10 second walk away. The hotel was in the perfect location for exploring all that Madrid had to offer and we walked absolutely everywhere, only using the metro on our last day to get us over to the train station. Our room was huge with spacious beds and modern bathrooms, and the view from our window wasn’t bad either! Make sure you ask for a room on one of the higher floors to get views like this too. There were other Melia hotels to choose from in Madrid, as well as Eurostars properties too, but we had a fantastic say at our Plaza Espana Melia and I would definitely stay here again if I ever came back to Madrid.

 

Although two nights in Madrid was enough time to tick off pretty much everything that we wanted to, there was so much going on that you could easily spend another day or two wandering around the city and discovering even more. Madrid is a charming place and we fell in love with the foodie scene, the ancient landmarks, the gorgeous green spaces (v unusual in a city as large as Madrid), and the great nightlife. Have you ever spent two nights in Madrid (or longer) before? I’d love to know what you thought of it too!