Madrid is the capital city of Spain, and the first place I’ve ever traveled solo! I flew into the city a day before my study abroad group (because had to snag that cheaper flight), and got to explore the city on my own. I really did not have any plans once I flew in – typical me! – but had a great time anyways.

This is my top to-do list if you only have a day to spend in Madrid!

General Tips:

  1. Bring walking shoes! Walking is one of the best ways to get around Madrid so make sure your feet are comfortable.
  2. The sun doesn’t set for a while so expect long days!
  3. It gets quite hot in the summer (mainly because it is right in the middle of the peninsula) so try and carry water around with you to stay hydrated walking around!

9:00am: Rise and Shine!

Get your day started around 9:00 am, Spain doesn’t get bustling until around 10, and head on over to the Circulo de Bellas Artes to grab some breakfast with a view! This museum has a rooftop restaurant with an almost 360` view of the city that you can see for 4 euros. While you’re enjoying the fresh air and sights, wake up with some café con leche and tostadas con tomate y jamon (toast with tomatoes and ham) – a typical Spanish breakfast!

10:00 am – 2 pm: Explore!

One of the great characteristics of Madrid is how walkable it is! After breakfast, explore the city at your leisure. Head down Gran Vía and do some shopping. Stop by Puerta del Sol and see the epicenter of Madrid – sometimes you can catch a live performance! Get lost (well not too lost – you’re on a schedule!) wandering through some of the most popular neighborhoods like Malasana, La Cheuca or La Latina and search for some cool souvenirs to take back home.

If you start getting hungry, pop into a bakery or small shop and grab a snack to keep you fueled – the Spanish don’t eat lunch until 2! But don’t fill up too much, lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day here and you won’t want to miss out.

If you can make it to the Palacio Real, the palace where the royal family use to live, and the Catedral de la Almudena they are worth the walk. You don’t have to go inside to admire the beauty of the palace, but pop into the cathedral and take a quick peek, almost all cathedrals are free to enter in Spain! (they just ask for a donation if you can spare it)

2:00 – 4:00 pm: It’s lunch time!

After all that exploring, I’m sure you’ve worked up an appetite! There are several options for lunch, and all are so delicious.

Menú del Día

Most restaurants offer a menu del día for around 10-15 euros and includes an appetizer, main dish, and either coffee or dessert. Once you see restaurants opening up again follow the locals to find the best places! They should have the menu posted outside so you can choose before you sit down. I’d recommend one with paella – an amazing and popular Spanish seafood dish. Naked Madrid also wrote this article about menús del día and includes a comprehensive list of different ones throughout the city!

Tapas  

Another popular way to eat lunch is by doing a tapa crawl! Tapas are basically a vital part to life in Spain. If you have time, look up all of the different stories of where tapas originated. There’s tons! A tapa is essentially an appetizer or a small portion of any kind of food. The best way to do a tapa crawl is to find a street with lots of bars and bar hop! This way you can have an assortment of tapas till your tummy’s content. 🙂

Or, another fun way is to find one of the markets near you, like Mercado de San Miguel. They typically have tons of different varieties of food that you can taste, some exotic (like sea urchin!) and some your typical Spanish cuisine.

One other option I’m going to include for lunch – because I just really loved it – is Takos Al Pastor! They have amazing options for tacos, quesadillas, and margaritas. They open at 1:30 and I would advise getting into line early if you want a seat inside, because this place fills up fast! 

4:00 pm – 6:00 pm: Retiro Park!

After all that food, I’m sure you’re in the mood to just lie down somewhere. Head on over to Retiro Park, or any park but Retiro’s the best in my opinion, and find a patch of grass to lie down in. Maybe you can even participate in a small siesta (Spanish for nap) – I’m all for experiencing the culture! Or, try and walk off all of those calories by exploring the park. There’s lots to see and do, including the Crystal Palace and taking a rowboat out on the lake.

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm: Let’s see some art work!

Madrid is home to both the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia, some of the best museums in Europe, and are both a short walk from Retiro Park. If you are into classical artwork, I would suggest the Prado museum. But if you would like to see more contemporary art like Dalí or Picasso head to the Reina Sofia. This museum also houses Guernica, painted by Picasso in 1937 depicting the Nazi bombing of the town. It is one the most powerful and moving pieces of art I have seen.

If you’re not a museum person maybe you like graffiti artwork? The Tabacalera is located in the area of Embajadores and has impressive street art work. It was somewhat hard to find, but if you just ask around someone should be able to point you in the right direction. When you see the walls of graffiti – you’ve made it.

Head inside to see the almost underground work of artists and possible catch a live performance. It felt almost private and secret, but don’t worry it’s open to the public! This was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Madrid and a great option to get your art fix if you’re not into museums.

8:00 pm – 10:00 pm: Dinner Time!

For dinner, head over to the world’s oldest restaurant, Sobrino de Botín, near Plaza Mayor. This restaurant opens at 8pm, and I suggest getting in line early unless you can reserve a seat beforehand. Open since 1725, Sobrino de Botín has been visited by numerous famous writers, poets, and politicians alike. Try the most popular dish, suckling pig, if you up for it.

10:00 pm – 11:00 pm: Chocolate con churros!

Another Spanish tradition I love is chocolate and churros for a late night snack! One of the most famous chocolaterías in Madrid is Chocolatería San Ginés on Pasadizo de San Ginés, near Puerta del Sol.

*image not mine. Found from BoldGrid Connect Search.*
Too busy eating them I forgot to take pictures!!

11:00 pm – ??: Party till the sun comes up.. or just go to bed?

One thing about Spaniards that I learned during my stay is they love to party until the wee hours of the morning. Most clubs don’t close until 6 or 7am! If you’re up for it, go out and enjoy your night in some discotecas. Kapital is a popular seven story club, each level with a theme of its own! The party doesn’t start until around 2am though, so you probably have enough time to take a quick nap before dancing the night away!

Or, my favorite: bedtime! After all that walking and exploring a new city, you might barely have enough energy to brush your teeth before crawling into bed and knocking out.

Either way, you just spent a whirlwind 24 hours in Madrid! Congrats!

I hope this post helps on planning your visit to Madrid! If you do find more time in this amazing city some other great sites to visit would be:

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium – The home stadium of the famous soccer team Real Madrid

Temple of Debod – an ancient Egyptian temple and museum in a middle of a park

Palacio de Cibeles – an exquisite and important political building of Spain

City of Toledo – use to be the original capital of Spain before Madrid, is only an hour’s drive and a great day trip! (post coming soon)

Is there anything you would add to this list? Comment Below!

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The Sierra Nevada mountains are the highest mountain range in Spain and are in the southern part of the country. The easiest city to reach the mountains from is Granada (where I studied abroad!) and is a great day trip.

One of the first things my room-mate wanted to do was hike through the mountains. I’ve literally never been hiking before – Louisiana is probably one of the flattest places on earth – but like any good adventurer I told her I was up for it.

There are two options when wanting to hike the Sierra Nevada: you can either go on one of the guided tours that are offered by several companies, or you can wing it and take the bus and see where it drops you off. Because most of the tours offered seemed like you would spend lots of time in a car, we went with the second option.

I didn’t do too much research ahead of time because I figured the people I was going with, since they had been hiking before, knew what they were doing. Buut, I would highly recommend it and since you’re reading this article you’re already better off than I was!

We woke up early in the morning to catch a bus to the mountains at 9 am. It cost 9 euros for a round trip ticket, and we bought ours at the kiosk in the bus station. The bus dropped us off at the ski station of Pradollano, which in the summer months (we went in early June) isn’t as crowded.

As soon as we stepped off the bus, I knew how unprepared we were. I was expecting trees, a little bit of wind, and maybe for it to get a little chilly – the bus dropped us off in snow! Even in the summer months the mountain tops can still receive snow. All I had on were leggings, a light sweater and a jean jacket and one of the guys in our group had decided to wear shorts! But despite the weather we decided not to waste the day.

There weren’t a whole lot of signs and I’m still not positive which trail we took (looking online I think it was the Hoya de la Mora trail), but we just started heading up. The trail we followed was not that difficult, but because of the altitude it was easy to lose your breath faster and the wind was not helping either. The views were not that incredible until we got further from the ski lodge. The higher we went, the better the view got!

We hiked for a good 2 or 3 hours until the weather go the best of us. It started raining/snowing and we had to book it back down the mountain. The weather in the mountains can change fairly quickly. The rest of the time, we spent indoors near where the bus dropped us off and ate and played card games.

For a trip that cost around 15 euros, I was not disappointed. We obviously weren’t prepared to do some intensive hiking that day, but I’m pretty proud of how far we did go. This was definitely a hike I would love to try again – obviously dressed a little warmer, or with better weather!

Have you ever tried something during your travels and realized you were totally unprepared for it? Tell me your stories below!

For some more tips on the different hiking trails in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I enjoyed reading these two blog articles:

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The Alhambra is an important part of the history of Granada, Spain and is a must-see when visiting Andalucía, or Southern Spain. It was originally a military fort and then converted into a palace for royals during the Nasrid Dynasty. This is also where King Ferdinand and Isabella gave Christopher Columbus commission to find a new route to India. It sits on top of the hill and can be seen while walking through the city. (I could also see it from my room at my host family’s apartment – and it lights up at night!)

It’s an interesting historic site because it has both Moorish and Christian symbols in the architecture. The details on the walls and ceilings were absolutely mind blowing. It is considered one of the best preserved Arabic cities in the world.

From the top of one of the old fortress towers there are amazing views of the city of Granada with the Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop.

Generalife is in the “newer” grounds of the palace. It was the summer palace for the royal family and has stunning gardens full of an array of flowers and fountains. All I could think about was how nice it would have been to be one of the princesses and stroll through the gardens every day.

The only thing I didn’t like about the tour was our guide who was going way too fast for me to enjoy all of the incredible details. This was only a problem because he was a guide for our study abroad program, and he wanted to make sure we saw everything and then could come back later if we wanted. However, I would advise to spend a few hours here if you love looking at architecture!

 Alhambra tours are from 9 am until 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday, it closes on Sunday at 3:30 pm and all day on Monday. Tickets aren’t expensive, I believe they’re 14 euros unless you want private tours, and they come in English, Spanish, and French. I recommend getting tickets in advance because there is only a certain amount of people allowed in the Palaces and at certain times.

Court of the Lions

However, technically you can go to the Alhambra for free and the grounds are always open. All you have to do is walk through the Puerta de Justicia. You need tickets to get into any of the buildings, but you can still see a lot for free (the tickets are definitely worth it though). Because of this the Alhambra is a great place to watch the sunset (or sunrise if you’re into getting up that early) in Granada!

Have you ever visited the Alhambra in Granada? What were some of your favorite parts? Or, what is the most stunning architectural work you’ve seen in your travels?

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One of the first travel goals I made was to travel to Ireland before I turned 21 – and I finally accomplished that goal in 2017!

I have always been somewhat obsessed with Ireland – being a ginger and all. Originally I was supposed to spend a whole month studying abroad through my university. But shortly after being accepted, they canceled the program because not enough students wanted to go!

It turned out however, that my dad, stepmom, and younger brother were planning on traveling to Ireland and London that same summer to attend a wedding for one of my dad’s coworkers, and lucky me I got to go along with!

We flew into Heathrow the first week of June, and because we had to make it to the wedding on time (we flew in a day late because nobody packed the passports when we left for the airport, making us late for our original flight), we spent the whole first day catching trains to Hollyhead to take the ferry to Ireland. Be warned – the ferry takes about an hour long. Make sure to bring some Dramamine to avoid sea sickness!

Ireland

As soon as the ferry landed in Ireland, we hopped into our rented car. If you have the cash, this is arguably one of the best ways to see the Emerald Island. Just make sure to drive on the left side of the road!

After a couple hours we made it to our destination – Kilronan Castle! We were going to stay the night! Walking the ground after dinner, I could almost picture being a princess and

The next day, we attended a traditional Irish catholic wedding. The wedding and reception were both so beautiful. Although I didn’t partake in the after dinner festivities of drinking and dancing, my dad said the Irish now how to party! Some of them were still going at 4 in the morning.

Not wasting any time, we were on the road again the next morning. One thing I loved about driving through Ireland is how many abbeys and castles are tucked along the country side. We stopped at a few of them on the way to the Cliffs of Moher. If you’re driving also watch out for the livestock, but what’s a trip to Ireland without getting stuck behind some cattle or sheep on the road!

The Cliffs of Moher were astonishing to look at. My brother and I paid the small fee to climb up the tower and I loved the view from there. Don’t forget your jacket, as the cliffs are quite windy. There are a couple trails to the left and right of the cliffs, so you can see it from all angles!

That night we drove into Dublin. In the morning, we booked a bus day trip to Cashel Rock and the Blarney Castle. The history of both of these buildings is absolutely amazing and very interesting to read up on (if ya got the time). One of the coolest things I saw at Cashel Rock was a sword dating back to 700 BC!

The Blarney Castle could easily be a full day excursion by itself because of the surrounding gardens and buildings. Don’t forget to walk around and look at the wishing steps, the seven sisters, the mansion and more.

The Blarney Stone of course is the main attraction and the wait to kiss it was only about 30 minutes. It was rather an acrobatic feat to kiss it back in the day – however, it’s very safe today. The vertically challenged (like myself) may have to stretch a little to be able to reach it.

We spent the next day in the Big Red Bus tour of Dublin, but since it was Monday most of the places were closed! We did get to explore Trinity College, the library, and see the Book of Kerns. We also went down to the Temple Bar neighborhood and checked out the Temple Bar Pub, although we ate at a pub a little ways down the street.

London

The next day we took the ferry and multiple trains back to London. Since it was getting dark when we arrived, we made the decision to stow our luggage at the Waterloo station, instead of wasting time going to the hotel and checking in before exploring.

We walked around the River Thames and snapped pictures of the London Eye and the Big Ben. We also ran into the Underbelly Festival and grabbed some burgers to eat. If you’re in London during the summer, you can catch some live comedy and entertainment here!

We woke up bright and early the next day in order to squeeze in one more attraction: The Tower of London. You can’t visit London without seeing the crown jewels! We didn’t have much time, because we had to catch our flight later in the day, but it was definitely worth squeezing in. The London Bridge was right there as well.

One week exploring Ireland and London is by no means enough time to see what both of these places have to offer. But if you plan accordingly, and maybe sacrifice a little shut eye, you can see quite a lot. I can’t wait till I can go back and roam more of the Irish countryside and explore those London streets.

Have you been to Ireland and London? What were some of your favorite activities or sights? Comment below!

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Oh Dubai..

My dad and stepmom took a leap of faith and moved abroad to Dubai back in 2014. So I have had the opportunity to visit every summer and make the grueling 16 hour flight to the UAE. Dubai is a stunning city and does a fantastic job of letting you forget you’re in the desert, the only way you can tell is from the heat!

Dubai offers various adventures and activities throughout the city and even out into the desert. Having visited 3 times now I wouldn’t call myself an expert but I am pretty familiar with what there is to do.

One of my favorite things to do was go to the top of the Burj Khalifa. I’m slightly obsessed with this building – partly for it’s remarkable architecture and partly because of my thing for spots where you can look out over a city. On the observation deck, the 125th floor, you can feel the building being swayed by the wind. If you want great shots of Dubai you might want to go early in the morning and on a day that has good visibility (if there’s too much sand in the air you won’t see much). We went at night looking out at the lights of the city.

We also watched the fountain show from above, they do one in the lake in front of the tower every 30 minutes starting at 7pm. You can also watch it from the plaza out of the Dubai mall. They play many famous Arabic songs and even songs like Thriller and I Will Always Love You. 

Another thing that I recommend doing while in Dubai is taking a Big Bus tour, especially if your short on time and want to see a lot of the main attractions. We did this during our first week and it brought us to places like the Dubai Museum where you can learn all about the history of the UAE and Dubai, the Jumeriah Mosque which is one of the only mosques that allows non-Muslims to enter and tour it, the gold souks where you can haggle for precious jewels, and it even brings you out to the Palm Jumeriah part of the man-made islands built by Dubai. If you do have more time another easy and affordable way of getting around is taking the city tram.

Strolling down the Dubai Marina you can find an abundance of restaurants to choose from and you can also go for a dhow ride along the canal. They also have a mall where you can look through all the shops and find some great souvenirs.

For all you beach bums Dubai offers many free public beaches, one of them being the Jumeriah Beach that has “The Walk”(very creative name right?) where you can find many restaurants and shops as well. One night we went and walked along the beach to find sand sculptures!

If you want to get away from the big city but still relax on the beach you can head north to either Ras al Khaimah or east to Fujaira both of which have awesome dive spots! I actually learned to scuba dive in Dubai and the first dive trip was to Fujaira where I got to pet a sea turtle (honestly one of the best moments of my life omg)!! The PADI dive-masters there were awesome and another girl said she even got to see a shark while on her dive. A lot of the beaches have many other water activities like jet skiing, parasailing, and water jet-packing. 

Another cool trip outside of Dubai is to the capital city Abu Dhabi. We went for a day and visited Ferrari World where we rode the world’s fastest roller coaster (it goes 150 mph). One thing we didn’t get to see but would of really liked to is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, one of the world’s largest mosques. The architecture alone looks stunning. 

If you want to get out into the desert Dubai, and many other cities, have safaris where you can ride a camel, drive a dune bug through the sand, and enjoy a bbq dinner all in the desert. Some even offer overnight stays! Or if you want to go on your own you could always rent a car and drive out into the desert like my family and I did and just sit on the sand dunes. It was so peaceful and the sand honestly felt like silk. Also while driving around you will usually see camels on the side of the road and could even stop and take pictures of them (don’t approach them though they are still wild animals and could harm you).

And here are just a couple more things to keep in mind if you are planning on going to Dubai:

1. Stay hydrated. You are in the desert. It gets HOT, especially if you go during the summer months. I like to always carry a refillable water bottle on me at all times no matter where I travel. Yes there’s almost always somewhere you could buy a refreshment but why not save money and just bring one with you. It’s also very convenient while on the beach.

2. If you plan on renting a car, drive safe! The roads are probably the most dangerous thing about Dubai and the UAE in general. I thought nobody knew how to drive in the US but going here… I’ve seen people backing up on busy highways because they missed a turn. I’ve also seen car accidents and was almost in one ( a head on collision with a Lamborghini wouldn’t of been too bad of a way to go out though). There are plenty of reckless drivers in the country, don’t be one of them! And even if you don’t rent a car and find yourself in a taxi, if the driver is not being as safe as you would like – tell them.

3. Respect the culture. The UAE is an Islamic country. You’ll want to dress appropriately and pretty modest, as some public places have a dress code. No you don’t have to wear the hijab but try to keep the hemlines near the knee and the tank tops to a minimum. Also check to see if you are traveling during the month of Ramadan, as there are special rules during this time. There is no eating or drinking in public to respect the people that are fasting, and many restaurants are closed during the day as well. There are some places that either cover their windows to allow customers to eat or let you take it to go, and there’s usually a special food court for non-Muslims in the malls.

4. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Yes the UAE seems like a land for the rich but your trip doesn’t have to be expensive! There are plenty of free activities to do such as walking along the Marina, watching the fountain show in front of the Burj Khalifa, or just walking around the malls.  They also have free public beaches. Another way to save money is to look for deals on Groupon. My stepmom always used to do this before we did anything. They have coupons for restaurants, popular activities or attractions, and even hotels.

Dubai is what you make of it. You can come here to relax in the luxurious resorts and beaches, or go thrill seeking and take the world’s fastest roller coaster or sky dive, or be adventurous and trek out into the desert and ride some camels. Since Dubai is always expanding and building there’s almost always something new to try out!

Has anyone else traveled to Dubai or have any questions if you’re planning a trip? Comment below!