Explore the parks
Madrid has acres of green space that is easily accessible from the city centre. All of the parks are well set up with ice-cream and drinks kiosks, play equipment and often bars and restaurants, too. The equivalent of Hyde Park in London, or Central Park in New York, is El Retiro, which is large enough to spend an entire day hopping from one playground to the next, taking a rowing boat out on the lake and watching buskers and street performers. The largest play area is right by the metro at Retiro and has a sandpit for toddlers and a large adventure playground for older children. Looking for a picnic spot? Try the playground by Ibiza metro, which is near a large grassy area peppered with trees and also has toilets nearby. Looking for post-gallery play? Try the play area by the Gate of Spain on the west side, which is easily reachable from the Prado.
Visit the zoo
You may not expect giant pandas and dolphins to be a highlight of a Madrid city break, but the municipal zoo in the Casa di Campo is a definite hit with kids. As well as ooing and ahing at those black and white bears you will get close to giraffes, elephants, rhinos, koalas and penguins, among others. There’s a show every hour or so and although they are delivered in Spanish they are still a joy to watch. Hire a cart to push the children in and store any heavy bags in the lockers at the entrance so you can fully enjoy the 20-hectare site.
Eat chocolate and churros
You don’t have to have children with you to enjoy this decadent Spanish treat, but it is certainly more fun to see the chocolate-smeared smiles of accompanying little ones. Although the chocolate comes in a cup it is more like a rich, thick chocolate sauce than a milky hot chocolate, and the churros are long finger-sized donuts that you scoop up the chocolate with before devouring. The Spanish consider this a breakfast option so you’ll be hard-pushed to find it much after midday. Head to the most famous place to order it, the 19th-century Chocolateria San Gines off Calle Mayor, which is open 24 hours. Or, if you don’t want to queue you could just try any decent Chocolatería, such as Valor, which can be found dotted across the city.
Watch a flamenco show
Although the city swings to the sound of flamenco until the early hours of the morning, you don’t have to miss out if you have little ones in tow. You’ll find a child-friendly 6pm show at the famous Cardamomo Tablao Flamenco near the Peurta de Sol. This tablao (the name for a place where flamenco is performed) is small and intimate and will give your children a memorable introduction into this intensely beautiful art form where singing, clapping, heel-tapping and dancing combine with guitar and sometimes even violin to create a spine-tingling celebration of what it is to be human.
See where the royal family lived
Most children are obsessed with princes and princesses, particularly if they have their heads in Disney. So it will be a delight to show them that such creatures really do exist and they do indeed live in sumptuous palaces. The Royal Palace is the official residence of Spain’s royalty, although it is now mainly used for state occasions. The queues can get long at the weekend, so it is best to go in the week if you can. There is a playground more or less directly opposite, which is great for letting off steam and waiting for the queue to subside. Once inside a highlight is the throne room with its ornate thrones guarded by statues of lions and glittering chandeliers. Don’t miss the changing of the guard every Wednesday and Saturday at 11am.
Head to the amusement park
Parque de Atracciones in Casa de Campo (not far from the zoo) is a proper amusement park with rollercoasters, funfair rides, water slides and a separate area called Nickelodeonland, where you can meet your favourite TV characters such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and Paw Patrol. There’s also a 4D cinema and plenty of restaurants and shops. It may not have cultural qudos but the kids will forgive you more than one order of anchovies for a day out here. Take the Metro to Batán in Casa de Campo and the park entrance is just 50 metres away.