Madrid by Wheelchair
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
From Madrid City to Alcalá de Henares, Aranjuez and beyond, I round up the best accessible places to stay, visit, eat and drink.
In November 2017, I was lucky enough to be invited to an International Meeting on Accessible Tourism: All Madrid for All. It was my first overseas hosted blog trip and I was so excited. I returned from the trip inspired, and determined to write about the amazing experiences we had… and then life intervened. The madness of Christmas, the trauma of my husband’s sudden critical illness, his subsequent recovery and then starting my exciting new job at AccessAble. All of those things mean that this blog post is long overdue, but I hope it’s helpful enough to have been worth the wait.
The aim of the trip was to show that Madrid as a region, not just a city, has many interesting destinations which welcome all visitors. All of the places we visited were carefully selected to be accessible for wheelchair users, people with walking difficulties and people with sensory impairments. Any stand-out accessibility features are detailed in this post – for the sake of clarity I will state that I was able to access everywhere listed with ease, as a manual wheelchair user.
Disclaimer: My flights, accommodation, activities and food on this trip were provided on a complimentary bases, hosted by PREDIF. Insurance was provided on a complimentary basis by Justtravelcover.com. This is an honest review and my opinions, as always, are entirely my own.
Our group stayed at the Ilunion Alcalá Norte hotel, about 6 miles out of the centre of Madrid. Our room was an accessible junior suite, which was huge, bright and welcoming, with a separate living space with a sofa and table and a large work area with desk. The bathroom had a roll-in shower, portable shower chair and support rails at different heights.
We were treated to a plentiful buffet breakfast each morning, and indulged in a night cap in the hotel’s bar after a long day of sightseeing.
Airport transfers were provided by Accessible Madrid – a company specialising in accessible travel which offers tours across Spain.
Our group was transported around the Madrid region on our very own accessible coach, which had a wheelchair lift, secure tie-down for wheelchairs and comfortable seats for those able to transfer.
Though our accommodation, travel and activities were covered by PREDIF (the state representative for physically disabled people in Spain), I would never travel without insurance, especially as a disabled person. I took out a policy with Justtravelcover.com - who have a range of flexible options to cover pre-existing conditions, over 65s, single trip and annual policies, mobility aids, medical expenses and lots more.
Our first day of the trip started with an official welcome at Madrid’s Tourist Office. You could really feel the buzz of excitement around this project – we were a part of something special, something important, and something which I hope will open doors for disabled travellers for years to come.
We had a tour around central Madrid with a knowledgeable, passionate and hilarious tour guide, breaking half way through for the most amazing churros I have ever tasted (this would become a theme; the Spanish know how to eat!).
After the tour and a three-course lunch (yep!), I really needed a nap; but there was no time for rest as we had so much more to see.
The afternoon was spent at the Prado Museum, the main Spanish national art museum, which has one of the largest collections of art in the world. It’s a must-visit for any culture lover, but allow plenty of time – there are over 20,000 pieces in the Prado’s collection!
After a short tour on the coach to see Madrid’s beautiful Christmas lights, dinner was modern tapas at NuBel, a striking, on-trend restaurant with live music, level access and accessible toilet.
Alcalá de Henares
Day two, and our first destination outside of Madrid was the beautiful city of Alcalá de Henares. Its historic centre is an UNSECO world heritage site, and a wealth of places to visit makes Alcalá an ideal city break destination in its own right.
The Oidor chapel is famous for being the place where Miguel de Cervantes, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language, was baptized. Entry for visitors is free, access for wheelchair users is good, and there are plenty of historical exhibits to browse.
Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes
The Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes is located at the place where, Miguel de Cervantes’ family home was and where the writer was born and spent his early years. The different rooms of the building recreate the customs, tastes and daily activities of the 16th and 17th centuries, with the aim taking visitors back in time to feel the inhabitants of the house. A collection of Cervantes' works is exhibited. Access for wheelchair users is limited to the ground floor, but there’s plenty to see and explore.
Catedral de Alcalá de Henares
Billed as the most important site in Alcalá de Henares, the Cathedral houses the tomb of Cisneros, who was so important to Spain as the founder of the University in Alcalá. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place to visit, filled with historical treasures.
University of Alcalá
The University of Alcalá is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Spain. Walking through the doors really does feel like you’re stepping back in time. Our group was treated to a delicious lunch here, including a warming, traditional cream of pumpkin soup. Guided group tours include the courtyards, the auditorium, and the University’s chapel which dates back to 1499.
Parador de Alcalá
This modern, avant-garde hotel was formerly a 17th-century monastery school and student lodgings. The interior oozes minimalist elegance whilst staying true to its traditions. We enjoyed a delicious tasting dinner of traditional dishes in the hotel’s restaurant, an informal, relaxed space.
San Lorenzo del Escorial
Day three – a visit to San Lorenzo del Escorial, an ideal day-trip destination in the heart of the Guadarrama mountain range.
Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial
Considered the eighth wonder of the world, the El Escorial complex consists of the Royal Palace where the Spanish royal family lived, a pantheon, a school, a library, a basilica, and the Monastery. Erected in memory of the millions who died in the Spanish Civil War, the poignant sculptures of the Valley of the Fallen monument can be admired in the grounds. The opulence here is amazing, viewing the royals’ collection of art and the rooms that they dined and slept in is very special indeed. You can easily spend half a day just exploring the Monastery and its many treasures.
Sercotel Los Lanceros
Day three’s relaxed lunch was on the stunning terrace at the Sercotel Los Lanceros. Bathed in sunshine, with stunning views and simple, fresh local produce, it’s the perfect place to eat in San Lorenzo del Escorial.
Evening, day three – we’re all dressed up and ready to take in some culture at the Teatro Español; ‘Las Troyanas’, a modern adaptation of the legend of Helen of Troy, which narrates what happened the day after the end of the Trojan War, the story of the women who lost the war.
The theatre have really thought about accessibility – with step-free routes and wheelchair spaces, subtitles, audio description and hearing loops.
The performance was in Spanish with English subtitles, which I found quite intense and tiring to process, but definitely interesting and enjoyable.
Bar Ana la Santa
Ravenous after our theatre experience, we headed straight to Bar Ana la Santa for a late dinner, which is within the ME Madrid Reina Victoria hotel. And what a stunning venue! Hands down, when I return to Madrid, this is where I will stay. It’s right in the heart of the city surrounded by theatres, boutiques and nightclubs, with its own rooftop bar and a spa next door.
We didn’t have chance to see the accessible rooms, but I’ve read some really good reviews about them.
Dinner was simple, delicious tapas – for me, when in Spain, there really is nothing better.
Day four – the final day of our whirlwind tour of the Madrid region, and on the agenda was a visit to Aranjuez, a town favoured by Spanish royalty.
Royal Palace of Aranjuez
The Royal Palace is Aranjuez’s main attraction, and rightly so. Again I feel a sense of stepping back in time, of being part of Spanish history. Stunningly beautiful architecture, rooms filled with Chinese paintings, ceramics and mirrors combine to give a truly immersive experience.
Real Cortijo Winery
The last attraction we visited, on the last day of the trip, was without doubt my favourite. Those who know me will know that I’m partial to a drop of vino tinto, and at the Real Cortijo winery I was in heaven. Built in the 17th century and passed down through the hands of royalty, to the present day it stays true to its purpose of making and aging wine.
The earthy smells, cool air and candlelight all combine to create a magical atmosphere in the caves. After a wine tasting and ‘pica pica’ (which roughly translates as a buffet, a little bit of this and a little bit of that), we were gifted a bottle of wine each to take home… and of course we bought a couple of extra bottles!
Having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, we took the opportunity to walk off the food and wine in the royal gardens of Aranjuez. As you can see from the photo, we may have been slightly giddy from all of the consumption – it was a lot of fun!
The group’s last hurrah was a cocktail reception, four-course dinner and flamenco show at the Ilunion hotel. By this point I was so full of food that I skipped the third course… the Spanish really do know how to eat.
It was amazing to see a traditional flamenco, if a little enduring on my startle reflex; the loud noise of the dancer’s shoes stamping on the floor became too much for me after a while. Despite this, you have to be impressed at the sheer stamina of the dancers.
Madrid is truly a wonderful place, where they leave no one behind, with so much to explore and discover.
As a result of this trip I’ve made amazing memories, contacts, and lifelong friends. Special thanks to PREDIF, and everyone involved in organising the All Madrid for All initiative.
Liked this post? Read my review of Barcelona by Wheelchair.