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


‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?


One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”


One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”