The capital of Spain has always been an incredible destination for many people throughout the year. Whether Madrid is part of a family trip, summer break with your friends, a romantic weekend break or even a mixture of work and pleasure. Madrid is always a good idea!
Madrid is a city that has everything needed to entertain and inspire: beautiful landscapes, exquisite restaurants that cater to every budget, thematic cafés and bars, flea markets, peaceful lakes and gardens, stunning nightclubs, remarkable architecture and so much more!
I want to share the highlights and some lowlights of my personal experience of Madrid, which includes accommodation advice, the best attractions and travel tips. So, please take a short reading stroll through the crowded Spanish streets of Spain’s most visited city.Join me as a fellow traveler and lover of all things new and adventurous, and it may help you to navigate this astonishing city when you visit.
First, let’s talk about where to stay whilst in Madrid. It’s very important to choose the right hotel, private residence and area whilst taking into consideration how many people you are traveling with. What might please your friends, will differ when with a loved one and children. My recommendations will include all possible scenarios.
Type of Accommodation
As a solo traveler on a budget, Couchsurfing is a great way to find affordable and sometimes free accommodation whilst be-friending a local who can help guide you around the city. Also, rooms can be rented in people’s home on Air BnB. These can be great if you are only looking for a place to lay your head.
Large groups and families might be better suited to renting an entire property on Air BnB. This is a great option as Madrid offers many private residencies that have 2 or more bedrooms with a fully functioning kitchen and bathroom. Ideal for large groups and families who want to eat breakfast in a home environment or eat at a different time to the Spanish timetable, as dinner in restaurants is normally served from 8.30pm until late.
However, when I visit Madrid I like to stay in hotels and each time I stay in a different neighborhood. There is something about a hotel that makes holiday extra relaxing. Most likely because I don’t have to make my own bed.
If you are traveling with your family, I recommend choosing accommodation in downtown Madrid,it has great public transportation, is easy to find and is surrounded by restaurants.
Anywhere near Plaza Mayor would be fantastic, so the Puerta del sol and Austrias neighborhood will be best. This is because you would be in the actual center of Madrid’s downtown. You can walk back to the hotel or go anywhere because you’re close to the Metro, which is the word used to describe the subway/underground. Several popular tourist attractions to visit are close by, for example museums, churches and the Palacio Real, which I’ll discuss more later.
If you want to be a little further away from the hustle and bustle of the city, find accommodation around the Real Madrid stadium, these local neighborhoods are called Cuatro Caminos and Charmartin.
This is primarily a residential area but it has many superb restaurants and bakeries, perfect for trying the tasty Madrid breakfast favourite of Churros. Don’t fret about being out of the city because these neighborhoods have a really fast and easy metro ride into the city center. As you are further out of the city you can practically guarantee a seat on the train and the hotels will be a little cheaper.
Popular Attractions in Madrid
Now comes the fun part, what to see and do in Madrid. This is a city for all ages and caters to every taste. My only advice is to stop regularly to rest your legs and indulge in local tapas favourites. If you visit in summer, do make a conscious effect to stay hydrated as the temperature can increase to above 40°C.
La Puerta del Sol
For specific unmissable touristic activities, I would recommend taking your time walking around Madrid’s main and most central plaza, La Puerta del Sol. You must have a photo with ‘Estatua del Oso y el Madroño.’ It’s a 13ft statue of a bear standing up to the strawberry tree. This is a true symbol and favourite statue of the city.
Remember to look up and admire the legendary Tio Pepe neon sign, which sets the atmosphere of the square.
One of my favorite places was the Palacio Real, the official residence of the King of Spain. The tour is 10 euros, but due to security reasons the current king doesn’t actually live there. The palace is a beautiful building and is surrounded by huge gardens and another square, which is great for a quick photoshoot with the palace for a backdrop.
I loved the tour because you learn a lot about Spain’s history; the palace was built in the 1700’s and is full of paintings by famous artists like Francisco de Goya and Velázquez.
Parque de El Retiro
Another great spot to take beautiful pictures and enjoy a picnic is Parque de El Retiro, also called “Madrid’s lung.”It’s a 300-acre garden with lakes and cafés perfect to enjoy a lovely spring or summer evening. You can also fish, ride a bike and hire a rowing boat. There is no entrance fee, but activities vary in cost between 5 to 30 euros.
San Miguel Market
Looking for true Spanish food? Visit the Mercado de San Miguel, the culinary temple of Madrid. It was originally built in the 1900’s but was recently bought by private investors to rescue its architectural and gourmet value.It is free to enter.
Mercado de San Miguel is a popular Spanish marketplace, with both locals and tourists. You can buy edible souvenirs, ingredients for preparing a homemade Spanish dinner or you can try some tasty tapas. The best tapas you must eat are:
Tortilla - A Spanish Omelet, made with eggs and potatoes
Bocadillo de Calamares – A tasty deep-fried squid in a sandwich
CocidoMadrileño - A traditional Spanish stew, great for Autumn and Winter
Gambas Ajillo – Perfectly cooked garlic prawns
JamonIberico with Queso Manchego – this will a plate full of the cured ham with Spanish goat cheese and most likely served with fluffy bread.
Museo del Prado
If you are a fan of art, do visit Museo del Prado on Calle Ruiz de Alarcón. The best and most viewable painting, in my opinion, in the Prado Museum, the main Spanish art museum is El Jardin de las Delicious by Hieronymous Bosch. In English it is called ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights.’ It is a great interpretation of Heaven, Hell and Purgatry. You may have to queue to view this work of art but it is 100% worth it.
Fine Arts Museum
My final recommendation is the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, a 300-year-old museum that has a fine art collection, like no other on the planet. The paintings range from the 15th to the 20th century and includethe work ofartists Goya, Rubens, Giovanni Bellini and Fragonard.
For these types of museums in Spain I recommend paying for a guided tour, they cost between 20 to 30 euros, but you do walk the whole gallery with someone who truly knows about art and they share some incredible stories related to both the art and the artists.
Whether you like jazz, electronic music or salsa, there is a bar or disco for you in Madrid. Keep in mind that a bar, a tavern, and a discotheque are not the same thing. A bar in Madrid is an establishment decorated with low lights and has a few tables, but a lot of people stand; it’s been said that Spain is the country with the most bars on the planet, in relation to the number of residents. A tavern may be described as a small restaurant, there you can have traditional Spanish food and alcoholic drinks but it is not or dancing nor listening to music. Basically, if you don’t eat paella in a real Spanish tavern, you didn’t go to Spain. And a discotheque is the regular dancing establishment, entrance prices range from 5 to 20 euros.
I enjoy standing around talking and drinking local beers and wine, visiting different bars throughout the night and absorbing the local street vibes. I also love electronic music discos and as a Captial city Madrid is packed with well-known DJs. Finding a good party is not a problem.
Gran Vía,is great place that effortlessly mixes street artists, rappers, flamenco dancers, Latin bars and Arabic restaurants.You have dozens of places to choose from depending on your mood. However, if you are not travelling to the South of Spain, this is a good city to watch a flamenco show. Although, the shows in the south are less about tourism and more about showing authentic dance and music.
Drinks can be expensive in some bars, for example, a beer in a regular tapas bar can cost you 1 euro, but in a club,it can cost 3 euros. But you are paying for the music and the party atmosphere as well as the drink.
Night Time Annoyances
One thing I didn’t particularly enjoy was walking around at 11ish because you have to stumble through, 10 or 20 PR people who are inviting you into their club.You can be handed as many as seven flyers in just 15 minutes. It’s a good idea to have a plan and know where you want to go, so these people don’t bother you and you can simply say “No, gracias.”
Like all major cities Madrid has different methods of transportation operating throughout the days and are priced accordingly. The cheapest form of transport will always be walking. So, why not save some money, get some exercise and enjoy the sites from the ground.
Something that can be worrying to everyone is sticking to a budget. Taxis in Spain can be expensive, as gas prices are high, so if this is your choice of transportation be sure to budget for it. Using a taxi to move around Madrid wouldn’t be the smartest choice, as there is a lot of traffic in the capital city, so journey times can vary greatly. But they are a safe, especially late at night. Remember, always use marked taxi’s and always pre-book or order via a phone call.
Fortunately, public transportation is well connected throughout the city. You can wait for the bus and pay between 1.5 – 2 euros, depending on your destination. Buses are generally very clean, safe and efficient. They have schedules, and even though they are punctual, sometimes traffic jams may cause delays. If you want to move from one neighborhood to another, choose a bus. They operate from 6am until 7pm.
Purchasing a ticket for the city tour bus with unlimited hop-on’s is also a great way to see the city, but it is more expensive than the local bus, obviously. I adore these types of tours and I complete one in every city I have ever visited.
If you plan on any day trips from Madrid, invest in the Renfe, which is a travel card for the train that connects the capital with towns and cities outside Madrid. This is great if you are planning on visiting places like Toledo. I found the trains in Spain to be fast and comfortable, but it can be kind of expensive depending on where you are going.
An alternative mode of transportation and my favourite is to take the metro; it operates till 1.30 am and it has around 300 stations. It’s a fast service, and a train can arrive every 5 to 7 minutes, but when the night falls, the service slows down to arrivals every 15 to 20 minutes. The metro in Madrid is surprisingly very clean and carriages are spacious with air conditioning.
So, to go back home after 11 pm or later, you can choose the metro or a taxi service. Madrid is safe enough to walk to your hotel, but I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have company and know the streets well.
When visiting popular tourist cities like Madrid it is not essential to speak the native language. In places that draw the international crowds there will always be someone who speaks English, French and maybe German. When you’re in a restaurant ask for a menu in your native language, there is a good chance they will have one.
But before you head to sunny Spain, try and pick up a few polite phrases and food names, trust me when I say they will appreciate your efforts and it will make your time less alien. It also a good idea to download a translation app that can be used offline. Play it safe, as you happen upon important information that isn’t provided in your chosen language.
To summarize, let me give you a list of things you must do while visiting Madrid
Walk through the streets: Madrid is a city with great architectural richness, buildings can have 100 year-old facades. Being on the streets can give a real in depth flavour of a city.
Pay for guided visits: Investing in a tour adds another layer to your Madrid experience, especially in museums.
Wear comfortable clothes:Whatever the season, please wear comfy shoes and dress in layers! You will be walking a lot, don’t ruin the whole holiday with sore feet and blisters.
Check the weather forecast:Pack according to the forecasted weather. Changing from an air-conditioned room to the outdoor environment means temperature and conditions can vary greatly so be prepared!
Install a dictionary translator on your phone: If you do not speak Spanish, download a translation app. Play it safe incase you happen upon information that isn’t provided in your native language. Also, connect to the many free Wi-Fi systems available throughout the city, to avoid using up your data.
Walk through the city alone at night: Madrid is not an unsafe city, but the streets of any city can have problems. Don’t tempt local criminals by being alone in secluded places.
Lose sight of your belongings: Keep everything valuable with you at all times, in a secure bag pack or an over the shoulder bag. Never use a one shoulder bag, place your bag on the floor or on the back of a chair. Remember, pick pockets are always hard at work in busy streets and even bars.
Be scared or intimidated by locals: sometimes when we go to a country that’s far from ours or where they don’t speak our language, we behave shyly around natives. Spanish people are welcoming and charming, so don’t be afraid to engage in a conversation with them.
Wear flip-flops: please! Unless you are going to the beach or to a pool party, do not wear flip-flops anywhere in Madrid. They are considered tacky and your feet will get dirty really quick.
I hope you enjoyed and found the ‘Madrid: A Personal Travel Guide’ useful. The biggest and important ‘Do’ whenever you travel is of course, ALWAYS HAVE FUN! In Madrid, you can pretty much guarantee that you will.