Updated: 10/4/2021 | Madrid Travel Guide
Madrid has an amazing fusion of history and modern-day lifestyle. Madrid is a very large city so it may seem very overwhelming. We assembled this guide to help you navigate through this amazing city.
Madrid is a city with a rich history, gorgeous architecture, world-class shopping, and vibrant nightlife. It’s the capital of Spain that is filled with fine art, top notch wine, delicious tapas, and a plethora of experiences that are unique to everyone who visits.
Madrid is a college town that’s home to not one but two world renown football clubs — Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. It is the world capital of bullfighting, which takes place from March through October.
Madrid is known as the city of the “Bear and the Strawberry Tree” (villa del Oso y el Madroño). The nickname comes from the mid-thirteenth century, which according to the legend is a result of a dispute between the Council and the clergymen of the city’s parishes about the right to certain forests and fields. It was resolved by agreeing that the forests belonged to the Council and the meadows to the clergymen. To commemorate the agreement, the Council added a Strawberry tree to the shield of the municipality with a black bear leaning on its trunk.
General info about Madrid can be found here: https://www.introducingmadrid.com/general-information
What You Should Know About Madrid
Language: The official language in Madrid is Spanish. You’ll find that people in the tourism businesses speak English, but not as widely as in Barcelona, or other major European cities.
Currency: The Euro is used in Madrid.
Madrid is an inland city that’s been the Spanish capital since the 17th century. English isn’t as widely spoken in Madrid as it is in Barcelona, making it an ideal place to dust off your Spanish in restaurants, cafes, and shops. You might want to plan for a mid-morning snack as you’re exploring, however. Lunch and dinner are typically eaten late in Madrid, where siestas really do break up the day.
Credit Cards and Banks: The majority of retailers and restaurants accept debit card as payment; an increasing number are using credit cards.
Siesta: Many small shops and restaurants close from about 2:00-4:00PM. If you have important errands to run, make sure to get them done in the morning if possible! Because of siesta, Spaniards usually eat their dinners after 8:00PM, and go out even later.
Climate: Madrid has hot and dry summer months, and mild spring temperatures. I think the best time to visit Madrid is between September and November or in the early spring—March and April. Accommodations tend to be cheaper during their winter months, but expect cold weather!
How Many Days Do I Need to See Madrid
We recommend four to five days in Madrid. Madrid has been compared as Italy’s Milan and the USA’s New York because it’s huge. With over 131 neighborhoods, there are so many things to do and see.
Best Time to Visit Madrid
Madrid is a city that literally sizzles during the summer with temperatures that can soar above 100° F. It’s worth it to brave the heat for Madrid’s take on Pride, which starts each year in late June and runs through early July. What used to be a small celebration in the late 1970s has since grown into one of the largest celebrationbsn of LGBTQ pride in Europe. For better weather, lighter crowds, and cheaper prices, try visiting during the fall or spring when temperatures are more pleasant. The days are sunny, and you’ll be able to celebrate events like the San Isidro Festival, held each year in May.
How to Get to Madrid
The best way to get to Madrid is by plane or train. Flights to Madrid are fairly cheap if you buy the tickets ahead of time.
You’ll want to book tickets to fly into Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport (MAD). We found inexpensive tickets through a flight deal subscription program such as Dollar Flight Club or Thrifty Traveler.
How to Get Around Madrid
By Metro: The metro is very easy to navigate and is our favorite way to get around. It’s also less expensive than other metro systems in Europe. If you’re heading into the suburbs, hop on one of the local trains or buses and get there in an hour or less.
By Car: The city streets tend to be congested so it’s best to avoid renting driving a car unless you’re intended to take a day trip beyond the city. Parking fees are also expensive in downtown and the surrounding areas.
Arriving by Air: Depending on where you are staying, the airport is approximately 15-25 minutes from downtown. Catch the metro to the city center for just a couple of euros.
Use Uber or Free Now Rideshare Apps: Uber and Free Now are rideshare apps that are widely used in Madrid.
Walk: And if all else fails, we recommend walking! It takes about an hour to traverse along the Gran Via to fully get across town. Madrid is huge but entirely walkable with shops and things to do and see everywhere you turn.
Where to Stay in Madrid
Madrid has plenty of amazing hotels to stay at. We ended up staying at Riu Hotel Plaza Espana on Gran Via (main street) and it was amazing! Breakfast is included and there is a sky bar that has amazing aerial and city views of Madrid.
Other hotels that we highly recommend also include:
- Barceló Imagine
- Hotel Indigo Madrid – Gran Via, an IHG Hotel
- Hotel Palacio del Retiro, Autograph Collection
- Iberostar Las Letras Gran Via
- NH Collection Madrid Suecia
- NH Collection Madrid Palacio de Tepa
- NH Collection Madrid Gran Vía
- Radisson Blu Hotel, Madrid Prado
- Relais & Châteaux Hotel Orfila
- Vincci Soho
What to See and Do in Madrid
#1 The Royal Palace
One of the most famous sites in Madrid, the Royal Palace formerly housed Spanish royalty and held historical events in its gorgeous halls.
Today, you don’t need to be royalty to visit the palace. It’s largest royal palace in Western Europe, with an astounding 2,800 rooms. Spend a few hours wandering around the rooms that are open to the public and marvel at the different artworks and furniture that’s so luxurious your head is sure to start spinning.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is among the largest and most opulent palaces in Europe, boasting more than 1.45 million square feet of space spread over 3,418 rooms. Public tours visit several opulently decorated room housing paintings by artists including Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez. The Palace is also home to the world’s only complete Stradivarius string quintet and hosts changing of the guards ceremonies on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Besides the lavish rooms filled with precious artifacts, the Royal Armory is one of the best places to visit in the palace. Its expansive collection of weapons and armor used during Spanish reign is sure to wow!
You should also be sure to snap a few pictures at the Main Staircase and make your way to the Hall of Columns to really round out the tour.
As this is one of the most popular places to visit in Madrid, you should consider buying a skip-the-line guided tour so that you get easy access to the palace as well as learn more about its history.
#2 Plaza Mayor
A landmark dating back to the Renaissance Era, a trip to Plaza Mayor is a must while in Madrid. This plaza is brimming with historical monuments and statues, the most notable being the one of King Philip III right in the center of the square.
If you’re seeking more than history on your trip to Plaza Mayor, this is a great place to stop for a coffee at one of the many cafes in the square. Take the chance to rest your feet while sipping on Spanish espresso while locals and tourists alike bustle through.
#3 Art History at the Prado Museum
It wouldn’t be a trip to Madrid without spending some time at the world-famous Prado Museum. The Prado is a renowned museum filled to the brim with historical artwork. With more than 7,000 paintings to see, you should start with the greats — unless you plan on spending your entire Spanish vacation within these walls.
There are some stunning works by Velazquez (stop by Las Meninas!) and El Greco as well as art by Bosch (namely Garden of Earthly Delights), all of which are immediately recognizable by the art lovers of the world. Here, you’ll also find paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Caravaggio, Botticelli and Goya!
Art lovers, you can buy your ticket online to save some time.
If some of the world’s finest masterpieces aren’t enough to entice you on a visit, you should also know that the Prado is free Tuesday through Sunday from 5pm to 8pm. What a deal!
#4 National Archaeological Museum
If you want to learn a thing or two about history that dates even further back than the Old Masters, take a trip to the National Archaeological Museum. This museum is filled with Spanish treasures dating back more than 2,500 years!
On a trip to the National Archaeological Museum, you’re going to want to stop to marvel at the Lady of Elche bust which has more detail than you could ever imagine. Another must-see is the Treasure of Guarrazar, a set of crosses and crowns that date all the way back to the 600s.
Visit the Masters at the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum
While we’re on this whole museum kick, there are a couple more worth mentioning, one being the Thyssen Bornemisza which takes you on a trip through Spanish history. There are more than 1,000 pieces of art on exhibition, and you’re sure to run into familiar names like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Manet, and Raphael.
What’s more, the building that holds all of this artwork is beyond gorgeous and runs frequent programming for visitors. You can often find concerts and film screenings at this hip museum amid the priceless artwork on display.
#5 Do the Golden Triangle at the Reina Sofia Museum
If you’ve had enough of the Old Masters but still have an art itch to scratch, the Reina Sofia Museum has one of the loveliest contemporary collections in the world. It’s also the third of the Golden Triangle of Arts in Madrid that’s made up from the Thyssen Bornemisza, the Prado, and of course these modern galleries.
The main draw here is, of course, Picasso, with more than 100 sketches and paintings displayed. One of the most famous, Guernica, is sure to dazzle, so don’t miss it on a trip here!
Besides Picasso, this museum houses paintings by the surrealist Salvador Dali, the most recognizable being the Cubist Self-Portrait from 1923. Even if you aren’t an art lover, you’re bound to find something that tickles your fancy at this gem of Madrid!
Insider’s Tip: If you’re keen to complete the Golden Triangle, save some time and money with a combination ticket that provides access to all three museums. You can save up to 20% on entrance fees (and put that money towards tapas instead)!
#6 Discover Spanish Street Art
One of the coolest things about Madrid is that the city’s art isn’t only confined to gallery walls. In fact, Madrid has some of the coolest street art in the world, with entire district walls covered in colorful paintings and vibrant scenes.
You can take a tour of Madrid’s street art with a local graffiti hunter who knows all of the best spots. You’ll visit places like the Lavapies, Embajadores, and La Latina neighborhoods, all of which encapsulate Madrid’s insane underground street-art culture.
#7 Visit the Glass Palace
Keen on learning a bit about Spain’s dark history? A tour of another kind, take a guided walk around Madrid to learn all there is to know about the Spanish Inquisition.
A landmark period in Spanish history, the Inquisition showcases some of Spain’s darker sides and a true trip to the country isn’t complete without this brief trip back in time.
On this walking tour, you’ll learn not only about the history of the Inquisition, but about how it impacted Madrid and key sites that make up the setting for some of Spain’s most chilling days.
Travel Back in Time With a Spanish Inquisition Walking Tour
Okay, so you’ve done all the art and culture, now what? Well, if we’re being honest, we all know you’re in Spain for one reason, and one reason only: the food.
To soak it all in, take a full tapas tour of Madrid, where you’ll visit some of the best tapas restaurants in the city and try their house specialties. It’s a good thing this is a walking tour so you’re able to free up room in your belly in between succulent bites.
I can guarantee that after this tour, you’ll be full-on Spanish delicacies and a little tipsy from the drinks. But there’s no reason to stop once the tour is finished! Carry on on your own by seeking out little nooks in Madrid that serve up some of the most delicious tapas on the planet.
Other than the tapas tour listed above, here are a few of our other top picks
Devour Tours Madrid (check out their tours- they are our fave!)
Market Bites and Tapas
Tapas and Flamenco Bar Crawl
#8 Mercado San Miguel
Since we’re riding the food train, you may as well stop at Mercado San Miguel on the way. This lavish market is one of the most popular in Madrid, and it’s the best place to find Spanish delicacies in abundance.
Eat your way through the market with paella, grilled shrimp and shaved yam, all paired with the finest Spanish wines. It’s going to be hard to pull yourself away from this market when you see all that it holds. If you’re not sure about what to eat, check out our guide to Spanish food.
#9 Go Treasure Hunting at El Rastro
Another market but of a different kind, El Rastro is an awesome place to spend a Sunday morning treasure hunting. This crazy flea market has pretty much everything you could ever dream of. There’s an insane amount of stalls that sell t-shirts, handbags, jewelry trinkets, a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.
It’ll probably be overwhelming with so much to see, but take your time wandering from stall to stall, discovering what each one has to offer. You never know what you’ll find!
El Rastro is only open on Sunday from 9 am to 3 pm. Make sure to arrive early as it gets crowded after 11 am. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your bag and belongings as pickpockets happen in this area.
#10 Stand in the Center of Spain at Puerta del Sol
Another famous square in Madrid is the Puerta del Sol, also known as the Gateway of the Sun.
This is a common gathering place right next to the Post Office Building (Casa Correos) that has an instantly recognizable clock tower right on top. This clock is not only used for telling time, but also for counting down to the New Year on December 31 every year.
Statue of a bear eating out of a strawberry tree in Madrid, Spain
Besides the clock tower, there are other important landmarks in the square like El Oso y El Madrono statue depicting a bear eating something out of a tree, which has been a symbol of Madrid since the middle ages.
Something that can’t be missed while meandering through the Puerta del Sol is the Kilometre Zero Stone Slab which marks the official starting point for the six national roads that run through Spain. Locals think of this point as the exact center of the country, so take your turn standing on it to say you’ve been there!
#11 Wander along Gran Via
Don’t leave Madrid without visiting its most famous boulevard! For a true taste of Madrid in all of its glory, take a stroll down Gran Via for chic shopping, bites of culture, and endless entertainment.
On the Gran Via, you can also find things like the cinema or theater, as well as some of the hottest nightclubs in Madrid that come alive when the sun goes down.
#12 Go Shopping at Las Rozas
For even more shopping, a visit to Las Rozas Village is a must. There are more than 100 stores in this area, all boasting brand names like Gucci, Burberry, or Prada and at amazing prices!
What we love most is that the shops are brand discount outlets meaning you can get high-end and popular brands at a fraction of the price. You’ll also find tons of popular Spanish brands so that you can get something that is unique to Spain fashion.
And our favorite part? Shoppers who are not part of the EU get to shop TAX-FREE!
#14 Go Bar Hopping!
One of the best parts about Madrid is the exciting nightlife. We would even go as far as to say that New York has NOTHING on Madrid.
We love all the bars and speakeasies of Madrid where you can get a carefully crafted cocktail for half the price of what we pay in the USA.
Some of our favorite bars include:
- 1862 Dry Bar
- Bad Company
- El Chapandaz
- Enbabia Infused (they infuse their liquors with different flavors)
- Guru Lab by Salmon Guru
- La Santoria
- Santamaria Cocteleria
- Viva Madrid
#15 Watch a Flamenco Show
Originating in Spain, flamenco is an incredibly beautiful solo dance accompanied by a singer and guitarist. It’s an incredibly lively and upbeat experience with lots of hand-clapping, twirling, and of course castanets.
Madrid is one of the best places to catch a flamenco show, whether you’re looking for just the show or dinner as well. There are lots of places to go, but you can also book ahead to guarantee a place, especially if it includes a meal.
#16 Get an Adrenaline Rush Paragliding
If adrenaline is what you’re seeking on your visit to Spain, take this opportunity to have a paragliding adventure in Madrid.
You’ll travel to the outskirts of the city to meet your guides. Then after a safety briefing, you’ll be good to go! Enjoy soaring through the Spanish skies while an experienced professional takes care of the rest.
The best part is you don’t need any previous experience. This is an awesome way to take in the sights from above, and get your blood pumping during your holiday!
Travel Must: At the risk of sounding like your parents, make sure you get travel insurance before hitting the road. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without. We recommend either World Nomads or Safety Wing, depending on the type of traveler you are.
#17 Admire the Lavish Teatro Royal
In terms of sheer beauty, nothing really compares to the Teatro Royal, which is why it’s a must-see when visiting Madrid. This lavishly decorated theater has been around since the mid-1800s and after undergoing several renovations, it still maintains its original charm with some updated features.
The theater itself holds nearly 1,800 people across 6 floors and in 28 private boxes. The best part about seeing a show here, however, is that the theater is outfitted with technology that allows you to see and hear the stage as if it were in high definition, no matter how far back you’re sitting.
#18 Tour the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
Even if you aren’t a soccer (football?) fan, a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium should certainly make your itinerary. While you may not be crazy for Real Madrid (although don’t divulge this information to any locals), this stadium has hosted the best soccer teams in the world and gives awesome tours to interested visitors.
The stadium itself can fit more than 80,000 (!!!!!) people, and the stands offer an unreal view of the field from anywhere you’re sitting. It’s super easy to get to as this site has its own metro stop.
Plus, after a visit here, you can brag that you’ve stood on the same field as Messi and Ronaldo have.
#19 Explore Retiro Park
Sitting right in the heart of Madrid is this picture-perfect park that is lush and filled with large lakes and animals. It’s a great place to have a picnic with goodies from the market, to relax, or just soak up the sun. Retiro is an amazing respite from the surrounding big city of Madrid.
One structure that we highly recommend is the Crystal Palace (or the Palacio de Cristal). It’s a gorgeous glass structure that refracts light to create endless rainbows when the sun is in the right position. There are no bad photos here.
From here, we suggest continuing south to visit the Rose Garden (or La Roselada) to see all the roses in bloom over Instagram-worthy wire archways and fountains. The roses are in full bloom between the months of June and July.
#20 Find the Egyptian Temple at Parque del Oeste
Another stunning park hidden away in Madrid is Parque del Oeste. It is home to the Temple of Debod, a gift from the Egyptian government to Spain. The structure dates all the way back to the 2nd century B.C., when it was gifted to Spain. It was eventually moved to Madrid, where it was rebuilt stone by stone and opened to tourists in 1972.
Parque del Oeste has more than 100 hectares to explore and its own rose garden. It’s a great place for a picnic, a nice stroll with your favorite person, and to just get away from the bustling city. The park is also a great place to catch the sunset in Madrid. If you’re lucky, you can catch a gorgeous sunset reflection off the lake water.
#21 Be a Kid Again at Parque Warner
Parque Warner is essentially Disneyland but with Warner Brothers characters. It’s a theme park filled with rides and attractions featuring characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tom & Jerry, and much more!
This is great for both families and adults! You’ll spend an entire day eating junk food, capturing photos with characters, riding all the rides, and viewing attractions and events.
If you’re looking to add this to your itinerary, we recommend booking the ticket with a shuttle from downtown Madrid.
#22 Hike up Faro de Moncloa
If you’re looking for one of the best views found on foot in Madrid, climb the 367 feet up Faro de Moncloa for the lookout of a lifetime. You’ll be greeted by panoramic views of the city once you reach the top, and famous monuments are even visible as well!
Keep your eyes out for the Royal Palace and financial center, and on a clear day, you’ll even be able to see mountains in the distance! This is the best place to catch a sunset in Madrid, but it’s enjoyable all-day (and year) long.
#23 Catch a Sunset at Plaza de Cibeles
The last place you need to visit is Plaza de Cibeles, home to Madrid’s City Hall. This square draws people in from around the world with its show-stopping architecture complete with an obligatory coin toss into the water fountain.
Between the spewing water, you’ll see Cybele in the fountain, a Roman goddess representing fertility, who has become the unofficial mascot for Real Madrid. Every time the team wins a title, the parade ends at Cibeles so one of the players can tie a team flag onto the statue.
There’s also an insane rooftop bar called Terraza Cibeles in the plaza with awesome views of the city. It’s one of the best places to catch a sunset in Madrid, especially over drinks!
Plaza de Cibeles is a public square anchored by the iconic Cibeles Fountain, which has stood here since 1782. This spot offers one of Madrid’s best known views and is surrounded by four pieces of legendary Spanish architecture, including the former post office that now serves as Madrid City Hall. Plaza de Cibeles also marks the beginning of Madrid’s arts district.
#24 Soar Over Madrid in a Hot Air Balloon
For views even higher than Faro de Moncloa, step into a hot air balloon and enjoy flying over the Spanish countryside in style.
From up high, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of everything below: the sprawling countryside, small towns, plus the surrounding natural areas and mountains. Romantic, exhilarating, and the most memorable experience, there’s no better way to see Spain’s beauty than from a hot air balloon.
#25 Take a Day Trip to a Nearby City
Finally, one of the best parts of Madrid is it’s right in the center of Spain, making it easy to get to other destinations for a quick day trip.
Visit different cities like Toledo and Barcelona, or fairy tale towns like Segovia and Avila, and important Spanish monuments like El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen, all of which are easily accessible from Madrid via train.
From the museums holding priceless works of art, to the parks, plazas and walking streets filled with Spanish delicacies, I can promise that you’ll never be bored on a trip to Madrid. If you’re not sure how to plan your stay, read our Madrid itinerary which lays out the perfect three-day stay in Spain’s capital.
#26 See the Running of the Bulls
Puerto del Sol is the place to hang out in Madrid. Located in the heart of Madrid, it is the city’s best known public square and home to the clock whose bells mark the beginning of the Spanish New Year. Puerto del Sol is also the official center of Spain’s road network.
#27 Visit the Del Prado Museum
This is Spain’s main national art museum. Along with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Museo Reina Sofía, the Prado forms Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art. The museum was founded as a museum of paintings and sculptures in 1819. It’s collection includes pieces by Francisco Goya, El Greco, and Diego Velazquez.
Visit the best Neighborhoods
Las Austrias: This is the heart of old Madrid. It has been home to palaces, churches, and monasteries since the 16th century. It’s now home to a key gathering spot, Plaza Mayor as well the Royal Palace and Corral de la Morería, a flamenco spot whose guests over the years have included Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Che Guevara, and Demi Moore.
Las Letras: This lively neighborhood known as the Literary Quarter is a book lover’s paradise. This is where you’ll find the former homes of icons of the Spanish Golden Age, including Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. The streets here are narrow, car traffic is limited, and the bohemian vibes run deep.
Chueca: This is the heart of Madrid’s LGBTQ community. It’s a lively area filled with bars, cafes and shops and at the center of Madrid’s iconic Pride celebration each year
Malasana: This area in central Madrid is the city’s hippest neighborhood. It’s known for its vintage shops, one-of-a-kind boutiques and its role in helping Spain return to democracy. This is where you’ll find the live music as well as edgy clubs.
What to Eat in Madrid
#1 Mercado San Miguel
Mercado de San Miguel opened as a wholesale food market over 100 years ago. Today, it is the place to sample Spanish bites ranging from Iberian ham to fresh fish and tapas from more than 20 stands serving authentic Spanish food.
#2 Visit Chocoleteria San GiNés for Chocolate and Churros
Churros are not just a Mexican delicacy. These long, crispy fried pastries covered in cinnamon and sugar are the perfect afternoon treat after a long day of walking.
If you’re near the city center, we suggest seeking out Chocolatería San Ginés, the most famous chocolate shop in Madrid. It’s just a five-minute walk from Plaza Mayor. San Ginés has been serving churros with chocolate for over a century and they also offer ice cream.
#3 Sobrino de Botin
For a truly memorable meal, head to Sobrino de Botin, the official oldest restaurant in the world and a favorite of authors Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sobrino de Botin opened its doors in 1725 and continues to base its dishes on its original recipes. Among those recipes? The roast suckling pig that earned a mention in Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”.
#4 Los Montes de Galicia
This upscale restaurant is famous for its tasting menu, which features seafood and traditional Spanish cuisine. You can wear your casual clothes, but expect to pay more than you might for the average meal in Madrid.
#5 Dos Cielos Madrid
Dos Cielos Madrid is no ordinary hotel restaurant. Located inside the five-star Gran Melia Palacio hotel, Dos Cielos is the brainchild of Michelin award-winning TV chefs Javier and Sergio Torres. Like the Barcelona location of Dos Cielos, the menu here is inspired by their grandmother and includes items like crunchy suckling pig and a top sirloin cap steak marinated for 90 days.
#6 TIki Taco
We stumbled upon this little taco joint and it confirmed that I could potentially live in Madrid.
Their tacos are super affordable and delicious. They also serve delicious Micheladas, quesadillas, tamales and vampiros. We were surprised that food could be so cheap in Madrid compared to other parts of Spain.
#7 Corral de la Morería
Corral de la Moreria is the place to experience flamenco in Madrid. This venue has been hosting live flamenco shows since 1956 and holds performances every night of the week. And if it’s dinner and a show you’re after, there may be no better place. Coral de la Moreria has a Michelin-starred restaurant on site.
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