I have to admit that I was a bit uncertain about what to do with my little kids (ages seven and four) in Madrid. And with a week to spend, well, honestly, I was wondering how many museums and cathedrals my two little ones could take.
While Madrid offers a lot in the way of amusement parks (even one by Warner Brothers!) and specialized children’s activities, I wanted to enjoy the finer things with my little ones in tow as well. Turns out, taking in the art, food and architecture of Madrid with the family wasn’t all that daunting after all.
Here are my top takes on fun family activities in Madrid that won’t leave you stuck in amusement parks and toddler playgrounds:
Visit the Reina Sofia
Smack dab in central Madrid, the Reina Sofia museum is a great choice of parents with little ones. It’s a lot livelier than most stuffy museums. Our kids loved the surrealist paintings of artists like Picasso and Dali, and really enjoyed getting close to many of the sculptures.
The Reina Sofia museum is set up as a series of small exhibits in rooms off a large central hallway. The hallways are wide and make great spaces for the kids to burn off a little steam in between checking out the exhibits.
Important Tip! There are no ropes at the Reina Sofia to keep little hands away from the priceless artwork. After I stopped asking myself “what the hell were they thinking?“, I made sure I had a tight grip on my kids. The staff will also remind you if you forget.
I’d recommend no more than an hour or two at the Reina museum with little ones, depending on your patience and your kids’ need to run free. Check the Reina Sofia’s website for a generous selection of days and times with free admission. Regular prices are 6 Euro for adults and free for kids under 18.
Go for a walk in Centro
Cars aren’t allowed in a good chunk of Madrid’s centro, making the city center the perfect place to go for a walk. There are, quite literally, at least a dozen squares in central Madrid, all connected by pedestrian only streets, or at the very least, streets with wide sidewalks, which are fantastic for traversing with children. Start with Plaza de Oriente, the Royal Palace (Palacio Real de Madrid), lively and contentious Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and Plaza de España.
Don’t miss the playground beside Plaza Oriente, which is complete with swings, slides and climbing apparatus for slightly older kids (perfect for our seven year old Cole, who’s half boy, half mountain climber).
If your little ones aren’t walking yet (or can’t walk long stretches) a stroller is an absolute must in Madrid. You may struggle a little bit with the stroller on the metro escalators, but Madrid is a walking city. Even our four year old, Jordan, who walks untold kilometers without needing to be carried, folded under the pressure of all of the walking we did in Madrid, leaving Charles and I toting a tired preschooler around the streets.
Enjoy a glass of wine (or a cervesa) and a tapa
Decidedly unlike pubs or bars in North America, where children are never allowed, Spain’s tapas bars are often quite comfortable with having your children accompany you for a glass of wine or a beer.
Traditionally, you’ll get a small tapa (snack or appetizer, in North American terms) with each wine or beer. Tapas can vary from a simple dish of olives or bread, to hot dishes like paella, seafood or serrano ham (if you’re lucky).
One of our favorites places we ate was at the kid friendly Casa Mingo. Casa Mingo specializes in traditional cider (sidra) brewed in Northern Spain. Charles swears their succulent roasted chicken was some of the best he’s had in a very long time. There are plenty of tables and other families in the generously sized restaurant area. The con? It’s a long 20 minute walk from Plaza Oriente so a bus or taxi might not be a bad idea.
Churros Con Chocolate
One of our favorite traditions in Madrid was enjoying churros con chocolate.
Melted chocolate is served in small coffee cups, with long strips of lightly fried dough called churros. You eat the churros by dipping them in the thick hot chocolate. It’s every bit as decadent and delicious as you imagine. For a change of pace, try the porros, which are larger than churros and have slightly different texture.
Spaniards traditionally eat churros con chocolate for breakfast (have I mentioned how much I love Spain for this?), but we found them a bit to heavy and sweet for so early in the morning.
We loved Madrid’s famous San Ginés (in business since 1894) but found the chocolate a bit too dark for us. If you’re milk chocolate lovers like us, check out the Maestro Churrero Chocolateria.