Parents may balk at taking their kids to Europe, but the Spanish capital of Madrid is surprisingly family friendly. Non-stop flights from New York City to family friendly Madrid are just six hours and the tapas culture of eating a lot of small plates works well for finicky children. The late nights might be challenging. Restaurants don’t really hit their stride until 10 p.m., so either give your kids a nap or enjoy personalized service at nearly empty restaurants earlier on.
The first time I visited Madrid, we stayed in a charming old hotel with a mattress so soft I actually had to sleep on the floor. For our recent trip to Spain, we purposely chose a thoroughly modern hotel, the brand new Exe Central, around the corner from the Madrid History Museum and the Tribunal Metro Station.
Exe Central, a contemporary hotel, with bright red accents and wood floors throughout, is in the tony Salamanca district. It is a short walk from Retiro Park, Puerta del Sol and the Prado Museum. We walked over to a fancy food court atop the Cortes Ingles and had a delicious meal, with lots of vegetarian choices, at the nearby hip restaurant, Ten Con Ten.
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The staff speaks perfect English and there is 24 hour reception, useful if you have a late arriving flight. The hotel is very welcoming. There are hard candies sitting out at reception, a carafe of ice water at night, and chocolates on the bed when you check in.
Amazingly, the hotel is quite reasonably priced. The Exe Central is considered a four star hotel and is not as luxurious as a four star hotel in the United States or the Caribbean. But as long as you don’t mind things like your sheets not being changed for a three day stay (towels are changed daily) it’s a perfect base for a Madrid family adventure.
The only disappointment was the minuscule gym. We were hoping to do some stretching and maybe weights since we were using our legs to walk all over Madrid. But the gym, really just a room next to the business center, had only a couple of elliptical machines and treadmills, along with stationary bikes. All told, about eight people could squeeze in there at once. More space and a few exercise mats, along with free weights, would be welcome.
We took our three daughters to Paris when they were young, and they loved how there were carousels through the city. Our girls are too old for merry-go-rounds now – we were visiting our middle child, a college graduate who is in Madrid on a Fulbright and our youngest, who just finished her first semester at college, came along – but I was surprised to see random carousels throughout Madrid. Then again, I hadn’t noticed my previous time in Madrid how many people have dogs. We met many friendly dogs – and their owners – and we never saw dog poop on the streets.
The bathroom was very spacious with a large glass enclosed shower with rain shower head and a bidet. Only some rooms have tubs. Beds are simply dressed with a down comforter and no extra pillows. We had a large room with three twins. You can also get a room with a sofa bed.
Rooms have hardwood floors, flat screen TVs and decent reading lights for the beds.
There is no restaurant, but the hotel has a breakfast buffet with a huge number of choices. Cold cereal (though no hot), eggs, bread, cheese, meat, mesclun salad and fresh fruit are available, along with yogurt, several juices and milk. There is a machine for coffee, along with tea and hot milk. If you have more of a sweet tooth, there are muffins, croissants and slices of cake. About the only thing lacking was little packets of peanut butter, which is not a popular item in Spain. There were packets of jam, honey and Nutella for toast.
The deal we got included breakfast, but if you like a hearty breakfast, it is worth the extra cost.
- Free, and fast, reliable WiFi
- A very tiny gym
What Works for Families
- Late check out – 2 p.m.
- Large rooms with a pull out couch or rooms with 3 beds
- Minibar fridges can be used to chill a few items for kids
- Lots of kid friendly choices at breakfast
What Doesn’t Work for Families
- Not all rooms have tubs