Sunsets at El Arco de la Victoria in Madrid. Photo by Author.
It was 2 months into my stay in Madrid when I first realized I had spent way too much of my time underground.
The metro had whizzed me to Sol, Argüelles, Plaza de España, Tribunal and La Latina so effortlessly that I hardly realized I had no idea where I was, really. And what was more, the feeling of comfort had begun to set in as it does when the novelty of a thing wears off, and my desire to move on to a new city had started to burn. I felt like I had done most of the things I wanted to when I first arrived in Madrid, but I decided I shouldn’t leave the city without taking advantage of my super cool job with Gray Line… So I hopped on a Gray Line bus for a day-long tour of the city I thought I knew.
Rather than utilizing the hop off feature of the tour to revisit places I had been inside more than a few times, I instead took a front row seat, plugged in my headphones, traded off between two of the 14 language options, and spent the day watching Madrid sprawl out before me.
Route 1 began on the curb outside El Museo del Prado (a stop on it’s own, housing the works of Goya and Velázquez). The city tour took us along the lively Plaza de Colon and past the walls plastered in political graffitti and other thoughtful street art of the grungy-hip Fuencarral. We breezed along the roads just outside of Plaza de España where theater companies decorated entire buildings with enormous advertisements for upcoming shows. Our bus swirled us down the ritzy Calle de la Princessa, and through the university neighborhood of Argüelles where students sipped coffee at roadside cafes while reading chemistry textbooks. We passed the absolutely enormous El Palacio Real and cruised the wide boulevards of Plaza de Isabel to Calle Mayor. Curving steadily around the city’s many roundabouts and looking up at the should-be-famous buildings lining nearly every street, I watched how neighborhoods evolved into one another, transitioning sometimes smoothly and sometimes abrubtly into new ‘hoods and often entirely new scenes. The tour finally dropped us back at El Prado where I hopped off to start Route 2–a route showing an entirely different sector of the city–without much of a wait at all.
So it was atop a Hop-On Hop-Off bus amongst first time visitors to the city that I really learned the city I had been wandering for weeks. The rich history of war and reconstruction gave the city’s sights new meaning and I discovered a renewed enthusiasm for the classically charming, yet edgily modern Madrid.
I was never sure that I was the open top bus type, whatever that means, but my city tour in Madrid made me a believer. The hours I had spent browsing museums, strolling alleyways and munching on tapas all came together to form a mental street map. And rather than viewing Madrid as a fragmented city of destinations, I felt like I finally appreciated it for its atmosphere… I liked the feeling of Madrid and that’s something you can’t really get bored of. I suppose sometimes all it takes is a new vantage point to make you look at a place in a whole new way.
Stay tuned for a photoblog from my tour!
Want to take your own Hop-On Hop-Off Tour of Madrid? Check out the Madrid Hop-On Hop-Off City Bus Tour from our guys at Gray Line Spain!
In your opinion, what city has the best vibe? Is it quickly identifiable or does it take time to grow? Let us know in the comments below! (Can’t see the comments? Click here for a link to the full story: Hop-On, Hop-Off, Hop Into Madrid)