How to enjoy a perfect weekend in Madrid with the kids

Madrid is an old favourite of travel writer Antonia Windsor who spent a weekend visiting friends when she was young, free and single. But is the city still fun with three young children in tow?

How to enjoy a perfect weekend in Madrid with the kids
The kids enjoying Retiro Park in the autumn sunshine. Photos: Antonia Windsor

It’s 9.30pm and I’m sat outside a lively little bar in the Plaza del Dos de Mayo with a glass of red wine. My two-year-old is conked out in her pram while across from me in the playground my five-year-old and six-year-old are shrieking with laughter from either side of a substantial seesaw. I needn’t have worried about how I would manage Madrid with three children in tow. They have slipped into the rhythm of the city with little fuss. Waking later and revelling in the post-dinner trips to the playgrounds in the squares while I soak up that intoxicating mix of vino tinto and bonhomie that’s to be found in every corner of this dynamic capital.

I’ve been visiting a friend in Madrid regularly for over decade and until now all of my trips have been done alone giving me the freedom to roam at leisure by day and socialise late into the night. Having children with me made me, for the first time, sit down and see what Madrid offered by way of attractions and distractions. Of course I knew about the green oasis of the Retiro Park, but I didn’t know it boasted at least three playgrounds, each with different equipment and atmosphere. I knew of the world famous Prado gallery, but I didn’t know Madrid had a zoo with pandas. I was also aware that the city had a palace, but it had never occurred to me to visit it.

With children I abandoned the flaneur approach to my city visit and instead engaged with Madrid in a more orderly and equally rewarding way. From discovering bright-coloured 1970s children’s clothes in the secondhand Humana stores, to scoffing chocolate and churros, my three children delighted in Madrid as much as me.

If you are planning a family visit to Madrid here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Madrid Zoo

Enjoying the penguins. Photo: Antonia Windsor


Situated in the Casa di Campo, about a €10 taxi ride from the centre of town, this is a full day out and made the perfect “treat day” in our one-week stay. The shows, which include dancing dolphins, each run once in the morning and once in the afternoon so you have time to space them out with time spent watching the pandas munching bamboo, or the rhinos rolling in mud. At 20-hectares it’s a large site, but you can hire a cart to push the children in if that makes it easier and there are also lockers to store heavy bags. The kids delighted in watching the chimpanzees and also exploring the petting zoo where they fed the goats and sheep. The shows are in Spanish but there is lots to look at and the language barrier didn’t seem to bother the kids.

Retiro Park

Kids love playgrounds and the Retiro Park has quite a few. Photo: Antonia Windsor


This wonderful oasis in the middle of the city is a great spot for the kids to let off steam and find shade on a hot day. You can take four people out in a little wooden rowing boat on the lake for just €6 in the week and €8 at weekends. The largest playground is right by the metro at Retiro and has a sandy section for toddlers and a large adventure playground for older children. There is also a smaller playground by Ibiza metro near a grassy wooded area and toilets, making it a perfect spot for picnics. Another playground can be found near the Gate of Spain on the West side, which is easily reachable from the Prado, so good option for a post-gallery play.

El Palacio Real

A traditional Carousel adds extra fun at the Royal Palace in Madrid. Photo: Fiona Govan 


The queues can get long to visit the official residence of the Spanish royal family, particularly if you are trying to visit at weekend. If you are two adults then one can take the children off to the playground opposite the entrance while the other waits in line, otherwise aim to get there when it opens at 10am. Children will delight in the sheer grandeur of the rooms; particularly the throne room with its chandeliers and ornate thrones guarded by lion statues. For kids with their heads in Disney it is a revelation to them that kings and queens really do exist and really do live in palaces.

Chocolaté con Churros

Photo: joannawnuk/Depositphotos

What child (and parent) wouldn’t love Chocolate con Churros, Spain’s ultimate sweet indulgence?

The chocolate is rich, thick and more like a chocolate sauce that the hot milky drink my children are used to and they love dipping the long sticks of dough into the cup before messily smearing it over their faces on the way to their mouths.

The calorific treat is best eaten in the morning – Spaniards consider it a breakfast option – and you may struggle to find it being served after midday.

The famous place to go is the classic Madrid establishment, Café San Gines off Calle Mayor, where you will be likely met with queues out the door.  The atmosphere in the  charming establishment which opened in 1890 is something special, but the kids won’t really care.

If you want to avoid the queues just head to any decent Chocolatería, such as Valor, which can be found dotted across the city. 

Antonia Windsor is a London-based travel writer. Follow her travels on Instagram and at her website.

READ ALSO: Ten magical ways to give your kids the best Spanish Christmas ever

For members


Why are fewer British tourists visiting Spain this year?

Almost 800,000 fewer UK holidaymakers have visited Spain in 2023 when compared to 2019. What’s behind this big drop?

Why are fewer British tourists visiting Spain this year?

Spain welcomed 12.2 million UK tourists between January and July 2023, 6 percent less when compared to the same period in 2019, according to data released on Monday by Spanish tourism association Turespaña.

This represents a decrease of 793,260 British holidaymakers for Spain so far this year.

Conversely, the number of Italian (+8 percent), Irish (+15.3 percent), Portuguese (+24.8 percent), Dutch (+4 percent) and French tourists (+5 percent) visiting España in 2023 are all above the rates in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. 

German holidaymakers are together with their British counterparts the two main nationalities showing less interest in coming to Spanish shores.

Britons still represent the biggest tourist group that comes to Spain, but it’s undergoing a slump, with another recent study by Caixabank Research suggesting numbers fell particularly in June 2023 (-12.5 percent of the usual rate). 

READ ALSO: Spain fully booked for summer despite most expensive holiday prices ever

So are some Britons falling out of love with Spain? Are there clear reasons why a holiday on the Spanish coast is on fewer British holiday itineraries?

According to Caixabank Research’s report, the main reasons are “the poor macroeconomic performance of the United Kingdom, the sharp rise in rates and the weakness of the pound”.

This is evidenced in the results of a survey by British market research company Savanta, which found that one in six Britons are not going on a summer holiday this year due to the UK’s cost-of-living crisis.

Practically everything, everywhere has become more expensive, and that includes holidays in Spain: hotel stays are up 44 percent, eating out is 13 percent pricier, and flights are 40 percent more on average. 

READ ALSO: How much more expensive is it to holiday in Spain this summer?

Caixabank stressed that another reason for the drop in British holidaymakers heading to Spain is that those who can afford a holiday abroad are choosing “more competitive markets” such as Turkey, Greece and Portugal. 

And there’s no doubt that the insufferably hot summer that Spain is having, with four heatwaves so far, has also dissuaded many holidaymakers from Blighty from overcooking in the Spanish sun. 

With headlines such as “This area of Spain could become too hot for tourists” or “tourists say it’s too hot to see any sights” featuring in the UK press, budding British holidaymakers are all too aware of the suffocating weather conditions Spain and other Mediterranean countries are enduring. 

Other UK outlets have urged travellers to try out the cooler Spanish north rather than the usual piping hot Costa Blanca and Costa del Sol destinations.

Another UK poll by InsureandGo found that 71 percent of the 2,000+ British respondents thought that parts of Europe such as Spain, Greece and Turkey will be too hot to visit over summer by 2027.

There’s further concern that the introduction in 2024 of the new (and delayed) ETIAS visa for non-EU visitors, which of course now also applies to UK nationals, could further compel British tourists to choose countries to holiday in rather than Spain.

READ MORE: Will British tourists need to pay for a visa waiver to enter Spain?

However, a drop in the number of British holidaymakers may not be all that bad for Spain, even though they did spend over €17 billion on their Spanish vacations in 2022. 

Towns, cities and islands across the country have been grappling with the problem of overtourism and the consequences it has on everything from quality of life for locals to rent prices. 

READ ALSO: ‘Beach closed’ – Fake signs put up in Spain’s Mallorca to dissuade tourists

The overcrowded nature of Spain’s beaches and most beautiful holiday hotspots appears to be one of the reasons why Germans are visiting Spain in far fewer numbers. A recent report in the country’s most read magazine Stern asked “if the dream is over” in their beloved Mallorca.

Spanish authorities are also seeking to overhaul the cheaper holiday package-driven model that dominates many resorts, which includes moving away from the boozy antics of young British and other European revellers.

Fewer tourists who spend more are what Spain is theoretically now looking for, and the rise in American, Japanese and European tourists other than Brits signify less of a dependence on the British market, one which tends to maintain the country’s tourism status quo for better or for worse.