Madrid is a great city to visit with kids. Little ones are welcome everywhere — museums, restaurants, cafes, shops — and there are playgrounds around nearly every corner.
Food, Glorious Food
There is some great food to be had in Madrid (and the wine is on par). The biggest issue for many visitors with kids is that restaurants only serve lunch between 1:30 and 4:00 p.m. then do not start serving dinner until 8:30 p.m., at the earliest.
If you do show up at 1:30 p.m. for lunch or 8:30 p.m. for dinner, and the restaurant is actually open, you will surely be the only people in the place. Depending on the noise level and volume your kids like to demonstrate in dining establishments, this may not necessarily be a bad thing….
Fear not, there are places that serve all day so you can get lunch before you end up with kids in a heap on the ground. And, if yours are like mine and turn into little gremlins after 8:00 p.m. (fed or not), there are some good places where you can fill their tummies and still get them to bed on time.
La Taberna de Goya
Thanks to the tapas culture, you will never be too far from a bar or cafe serving small bites, which are perfect for little appetites, and which often are served throughout the afternoon and into the evening. One of our favorite places for tapas is La Taberna de Goya. This subterranean tapas bar (not to be confused with it’s above-ground, next door sister restaurant Rincon de Goya), which serves all day and into the night, is quaint, fun and packed with locals.
Also nearby and open from morning until late evening is Magasand. They have great salads, soups (order the remolacha) and sandwiches plus several racks of childrens’ books to keep the little ones occupied while waiting for your food to be prepared. They also provide picnics baskets to order (you can rent or purchase), complete with plates, utensils, glassware and everything else you would need.
Mercado de San Anton & Mercado de San Miguel
If you are more in the mood to sample various types of food, you should check out Mercado de San Anton or Mercado de San Miguel, the latter of which is located near the tourist-popular Plaza Mayor and Puerto del Sol. Both were traditional Spanish markets where people would shop daily for their fish, meat, bread, produce, etc.
Having been completely renovated, these two aren’t typical markets anymore but they are fun and offer lots of great, high-quality food options that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. Plus, they are open all day long and into the early evening.
Mercado de San Fernando
For a bit more of an authentic and local experience, you can head to Mercado de San Fernando in the Lavapies neighborhood. There are several food vendors, many offering typical Spanish fare as well as some international foods.
Most places have a mish-mash of tables and chairs set out in the various passageways so people can sit and relax. Our favorite place to eat is Washoku, a Japanese joint, which has a raised dining area tucked off to the side where kids can sit and play while waiting for the food to be prepared.
In addition to offering good bites, Mercado San Fernando has an awesome beer shop that specializes in micro-brews from around the world. At La Buena Pinta, you can pick up beer to go or choose from their large selection of cold brews to enjoy as you wander the market.
Across from the La Buena Pinta is a wine and olive oil bar where, again, you can purchase a bottle or two to go or grab a glass to sip in the market (of wine, that is). The wine isn’t the best but most glasses are around 1.5 to 2 Euros. With kids in tow and at that price, honestly, who cares how good it is (or isn’t)???
From time to time, Mercado San Fernando also hosts various performances. We’ve seen a few singers and happened recently to catch an amateur dance exhibition complete with interpretive dance (I’m not quite sure what they were interpreting, though), belly dancers (in some rather interesting get-ups), and a dancing roller-skater.
One last tidbit regarding food: it is common and completely acceptable in Madrid to occupy a table at a cafe just to have a coffee, a soda or an alcoholic beverage. Moreover, when you order beer, wine or a mixed drink, you will always be served something to nibble free of charge. Typically these nibbles are olives or potato chips, which are perfect for keeping the kids quiet for, oh, about two minutes or so.
Museums For Kids
Madrid has a slew of world-class museums. One of the best museums to visit with kids is Caixa Forum. It often hosts exhibits that interest kids, e.g., a recent Pixar exhibit; periodically shows kids’ films; and regularly offers family and kid workshops and activities.
Museo del Ferrocarril
One of our other favorite museums is the Museo del Ferrocarril de Madrid (the Train Museum). With an impressive collection of vintage rolling stock, an outside ride-on train and a cafe located inside a 1930s restaurant coach, it’s sure to entertain the whole family.
Check the website before going as there are often activities and events taking place. If you’re lucky enough to be in Madrid in the spring or fall you can buy tickets to ride El Tren de la Fresa (the Strawberry Train), which runs from Madrid to the World Heritage city of Aranjuez.
La Bolsa Magica
There are a lot of places around the city that offer workshops and activities for kids on the weekends. Our favorite is La Bolsa Magica, which is right next to El Parque del Buen Retiro– or El Retiro, as everyone calls it. Although many of the activities are in Spanish, they usually are offered in English once a month. The owner of “La Bolsa,” as my daughter refers to it, is really sweet, fluent in English and always ready to sit down with any English-speaking kids to help them along.
The activities are fun and creative and I’ve never seen a kid leave without a smile on his or her face. Additionally, La Bolsa Magica has great kids toys for sale and has a baby changing table in the restroom.
Our second favorite place for kids’ activities is Baby Deli. Also near El Retiro, Baby Deli has a slew of classes to keep kids occupied; offers great toys and baby/kids products for sale; has a baby changing table in the bathroom; and houses a small cafe with an area for kids to play while parents recharge with a cup of coffee to help muster the will to soldier on … or toast a successful day touring Madrid with a cold beer.
Parks, parks, parks
Madrid has tons of green space and playgrounds nearly everywhere you look. Our favorite park is El Retiro. It is 350 acres of beautiful greenery just off the city center and right by the Prado Museum.
With loads of playgrounds, a man-made lake with row boats, a garden with peacocks running free, cafes, large grassy patches for relaxing and numerous hawkers and performers (including puppet shows for kids every weekend and a bandstand with free concerts on Sundays between May and October), you can spend the good portion of a day exploring the park.
A bit further from the city center is Madrid Rio, a truly impressive 10 kilometer-long park. This beautiful park is absolutely worth a visit! With seventeen play areas, including 65 different pieces of equipment, the kids are sure not to get bored.
The most popular play areas include the slides hill, which has at least 8 slides of varying heights and lengths, the tree trunk jungle and the super zip-line. If you are in Madrid in warmer months, don’t miss the “Urban Beach,” formed by three oval-shaped water areas with different effects. Just be sure you bring along bathing suits or extra clothes.