When visiting a foreign city with children, it's important to have enough of a plan to allow for spontaneity. On my twin tween daughters' first trip to Madrid, we based our two-night plan around our hotel, the Westin Palace, Madrid. Operated by Westin Hotels & Resorts, the Palace is both steeped in Spanish history and well-suited for families.
Most importantly for our plan, the grand belle epoque, trapezoidal "palace" built in 1912 is central to everything. Not only is it across from the gardens and water features of 350-acre Retiro Park, but it is also at the heart of the city's Golden Triangle of Art, with the famed Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums nearly next door. And the Puerta del Sol, the ancient square at the center of the city, is a short walk to the west.
Being able to roll out of bed and walk to the destinations on our itinerary made all the difference. And that's exactly what we did. Well, sort of. Because the hotel was so comfortable, we ended up spending more time there and less time exploring, but that was not such a bad problem to have.
The Fountain of Neptune as seen from a room at the Westin Palace, Madrid.
Case in point: When we ordered the hot chocolate service to our room, it was delivered on a silver tray with two silver pitchers, one of melted chocolate and one of milk. These we poured together and enjoyed in the suite's sitting room with a view of the Fountain of Neptune from the window.
Though we wanted to stay put, our first day was sunny and our plan was to walk across the Retiro (Park of the Pleasant Retreat) before dinner. What happened instead is that we climbed the sculpted cypress trees, sat in the sun, took videos of doves, listened to buskers play music and watched families use rented rowboats at the Estanque Grande del Retiro, the central fountain and lake. Especially a hit was a rotating seesaw swing that the girls would have been happy to play on all night.
Hunger prevailed, and we walked to Lateral, a good nearby restaurant with hip decor and creative tapas. After a stop at the seesaw swing on the way back, we were glad to settle into Westin's signature Heavenly king beds.
A junior suite at the Westin Palace with a sitting area ideal for enjoying hot chocolate.
Tempting as it was to sleep in, we rallied for the breakfast buffet under La Cupola, the hotel's central art nouveau dome.
The delicious and impressive buffet was surpassed only by the wonder of the light blue and green stained glass above. One can easily imagine the fancy tea dances that took place under the dome during the Roaring '20s.
As it was a chilly, rainy day, I sent the girls on a treasure hunt after breakfast to explore the hotel by texting a photo of a location for them to find. They had to text me back a picture of it, and I would text them the next photo and so on.
Landmarks included a black-and-white snapshot of Salvador Dali, who stayed at the hotel and once drew on the walls. Next, a photo of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria, a bronze bust of Alfonso XIII and a guest book with Pablo Picasso's name in it.
The crowning item was a trompe l'oeil of a drawing of a child on a curled piece of paper painted on the marble wall. This they couldn't find, until I suggested they ask the concierge. Spoiler alert: There it was, right next to the concierge counter.
We then headed out into the city on foot with umbrellas, walking across Puerta del Sol and along the maze of pedestrian-only shopping streets. Because of the rain, we opted for the hop-on, hop-off City Tour double-decker bus for an audio tour of the city on the way to the Royal Palace.
The nearly 1.5 million-square-foot, 3,148-room baroque palace, the largest in Europe, was the highlight of the trip for the girls. As it's now only used for state ceremonies, we could follow the open walking tour through many of the lavishly decorated rooms, including the vast banqueting hall, royal chapel and our favorite, the regal throne room.
Twins jump for joy at Madrid’s massive Royal Palace, a highlight of their whirlwind trip to the city. Photo Credit: Melissa Coleman
After lunch nearby, we took the City Tour bus back through the city to the hotel for, yes, another hot chocolate service, before the art portion of the day.
Choosing just one museum was not easy. The Prado Museum across the street from the hotel is the most famous, with extensive collections of Spanish artists Velazquez and Goya. However, at least a half day is needed to do it justice. We also wanted to see the works by Picasso and Dali at the Reina Sofia, but it was closed that day (as it is on every Tuesday).
As a result, we opted for the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, with elements of both, literally next door to the Westin Palace. We enjoyed unique selections from Picasso, Rembrandt, Kandinsky and Monet. Two of our favorites were Marc Chagall's "Madonna of the Village" and Salvador Dali's "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening."
Afterward, the seesaw swing was again a hit, even on a rainy evening. We brought takeout Spanish tortillas (egg and potato omelets) back to the hotel for dinner and relaxed from our full day. Then we warmed up with luxurious baths in the large tub before bed, feeling fully satisfied with our whirlwind visit to Madrid.
For a parent traveling with children, the chance to relax as well as tour is the goal of a good itinerary. The central location and comforts of the Westin Palace were the key to our success.
Rates start at about $300 for a standard room in the winter low season.