One of the things that drew me to API was the abundance of included trips, excursions, and activities… and the first week of the program was no exception!
Upon our arrival in Spain, we were directed to meet in an area of the Madrid airport at the pickup time. Our program director took us to the bus that was waiting outside, before continuing on to the other terminal where some other members of our group were waiting to be picked up. As the first students to arrive, we were lucky in that we had almost the entire day to spend exploring Madrid, and exploring we did!
Madrid is a beautiful city, big but entirely walkable, touristy but somehow not (we were able to speak Spanish at most restaurants), and affordable in terms of food and drinks, which brings me to my favorite things that we did during our brief stint in the capital of Spain.
1. Palacio Real
Beautiful, extravagant, and a good introduction to the history of the royal family in Madrid. The signs inside the palace are minimal, so I would recommend visiting on a guided tour. With API, we had a great tour guide who was sure to point out the size of King Charles III’s nose any chance he got.
2. Mercado de San Miguel
If you’re looking for a fun way to try a whole bunch of different kinds of food upon your arrival in Spain, Mercado de San Miguel is the place to do it. The market is filled with tapas stands, bars, kiosks, and every sort of food you would find at a tapas bar but more! We stumbled upon this during our free time in the city. The paella was delicious, and the tapas selection was larger than any one restaurant could offer.
3. Museo del Prado
Museo del Prado is Spain’s national art museum, with the world’s largest collection of Spanish art, originally the Spanish Royal Collection. Give yourself at least two and a half hours to walk around the museum, but you could certainly spend an entire day here. We had a tour guide, which was definitely helpful if you aren’t very familiar with Spanish artists.
4. Plaza Mayor (and Surrounding Area)
Plaza Mayor was built during the Reign of Phillip III, and is now a good place to sit outside and have lunch. The area around the plaza was great to walk around, and there are many tapas bars, gelaterias, and other plazas to walk through. Fun fact: some restaurants in Spain raise the prices of items on the menu if you eat outside, although mostly just by a euro or two (this will be shown on the menu). We opted to eat outside to enjoy the sunshine, but most restaurants also offered indoor seating.
From Madrid, we stopped in San Lorenzo de El Escorial to see El Escorial, which is a historical residence of the King of Spain, and currently houses a school, a monastery, a cathedral, and a pantheon. Having once functioned as a summer palace, the simplicity of the building was a bit of a surprise after Palacio Real.
After El Escorial, we headed to Toledo, which is the religious capital of Spain, and was the actual capital of Spain at one time. The walled city is comprised of winding roads and Moorish, Jewish, and Christian monuments.
Following Toledo, we hopped on the bus to Córdoba, which was a very charming city with history rooted in the Middle Ages, most famous for La Mezquita, which I can’t rave about more. It is definitely a must-visit if taking a trip in Andalusia, and our entire group was in awe of the Cathedral turned Mosque turned Cathedral.
After a day well spent in Córdoba, the twenty five of us loaded back on the bus, headed to our new home: Sevilla!
Sevilla is the capital of Andalusia, most famous for being the home of the Alcázar and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, as well as Plaza de España. So of course, during our first two days in Sevilla, API arranged for us to visit these places!
Sevilla has the character, history, and culture that one would expect of a city in southern Spain, with endless amounts of restaurants, tapas, bars, clubs, shops, bullfights, flamenco shows, and sights to see. Unsurprisingly, I am already in love with our new home, and can’t wait to explore it some more!