Last updated on May 2nd, 2023 at 02:22 pm
If you’re thinking of visiting the Spanish capital soon, this 3-day Madrid itinerary has all the information – and inspiration – you need to plan the perfect trip to one of the most fascinating, open-minded and lively cities in Europe!
The second-largest city in the European Union, Madrid became the capital of Spain in 1561. This is quite recently compared to other capital cities, like Rome or Athens. Until then, Toledo was the capital of Spain. Madrid was only built as a fortress town to protect Toledo from enemy invasions.
Nowadays, Madrid is an inclusive city open to everyone. In this spirit, Madrid is also one of the best places in Europe for the LGBTQ+ community to visit – or even live in.
Even by spending a mere 3 days in Madrid, it’s easy to grasp the unique character of this remarkable city. Madrid may not be graced with the grand architecture and iconic monuments that other European capitals boast but it can win your heart over with its open-mindedness and sense of freedom.
So, sit back, relax and enjoy this amazing 3-day Madrid itinerary!
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Madrid Travel Tips
Before you start reading our Madrid 3-day itinerary, here’s a brief Madrid travel guide to help you plan the perfect trip to Spain’s amazing capital. Click here for our detailed list of Madrid travel tips.
- Where is Madrid: Situated in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula, Madrid is the capital city of Spain.
- Best time to visit Madrid: Madrid is a year-round destination, a fantastic place to enjoy a city break any time of the year. Although spring and autumn are generally the best times to visit Spain, Madrid isn’t bad during the winter either. Our YouTube video about what to do in Madrid in winter can attest to that. The only time you should avoid visiting Madrid is in summer.
- How many days in Madrid: We recommend spending at least 3 days in Madrid. If you want to take a day trip too, make sure you add a fourth day to your Madrid itinerary. You can find some suggestions for day trips from Madrid further down in this guide.
- How to get to Madrid: You can get to Madrid by plane. Madrid Barajas Airport is only 12 kilometres from Madrid’s city centre. However, you can also get to Madrid by train, as Spain boasts one of the best railway networks.
- Where to stay in Madrid: The best area to stay in Madrid is the city centre. Our top choices are close to Plaza Mayor or around Gran Via.
- How to get around Madrid: Madrid is one of the most walkable cities in Europe. If you stay in the city centre, you can reach everything on foot. However, there is also an excellent public transport system if you want to get around Madrid quickly.
For a tour of the best of Madrid in just one day, look no further. This Madrid in a Day with Royal Palace, Churros Tasting, and Prado Museum tour run by Walks covers all of Madrid’s essentials and offers valuable insight into the Spanish capital by a knowledgeable guide.
Travel Resources To Help You Plan The Best 3-Day Madrid Itinerary
Madrid in 3 Days: The Best Madrid 3-Day Itinerary
Day 1: Madrid Essentials
Chocolatería San Ginés
Every trip to Madrid should start on a sweet note with a visit to Chocolateria San Gines. The latter is the best place in Madrid to try the quintessentially Spanish treat that goes by the name of churros con chocolate.
Forget any churros you’ve tried before. The crunchy churros of San Gines dunked in divine dark chocolate will haunt you forever. At least that’s how we feel. Forever doomed to compare any churro we try with the ones of Chocolateria San Gines.
Chocolateria San Gines is located very close to Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, tucked away in the passageway next to San Gines Church. Opened initially as an inn, it was turned into a chocolate shop in 1894. Apart from the original shop, Chocolateria San Gines has now expanded to nearby shops as well. However, try to find a table in the original one as the traditional interior setting is outstanding.
Besides the famed churros, at Chocolateria San Gines, you can also try their bigger version, called porras. Needless to say that ordering a cup of dark chocolate to dunk the churros or porras – or both – is a must. The chocolateria is open 24/7 in case you need a chocolate boost during the night.
Puerta del Sol
Representing the kilometre zero point of Spain, Puerta del Sol is the heart of Madrid. It’s the busiest place in the city and the square where every demonstration takes place. What’s more, one of Madrid’s most recognisable landmarks stands at Puerta del Sol. That’s no other than The Bear & The Strawberry Tree, the very symbol of Madrid.
Named after one of the gates of the 15th-century city wall, Puerta del Sol is home to the Old Post Office, now the headquarters of the Madrid regional government. In front of the Old Post Office, you can see the zero-kilometre point stone slab. Atop the building sits the famous clock that locals have associated with the city’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.
If you happen to be in Madrid on New Year’s Eve, you’ll witness the locals enjoying one of their favourite traditions at Puerta del Sol. At midnight, the people that are gathered at the square eat twelve grapes. One at every stroke of Puerta del Sol’s clock. If they manage to eat all of them, it means that the new year will bring them good luck.
Barrio de Las Letras
Translating to The Literary Quarter, El Barrio de las Letras is a district in the heart of Madrid where prominent Spanish writers used to live and work. Among the several writers of the Golden Age of Spanish Literature that used to call this neighbourhood home, Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, stands out.
Plaza Santa Ana is one of the loveliest squares in Barrio de las Letras. However, the neighbourhood’s most fascinating attractions are the famous poems and verses written on the cobbled streets. So, don’t forget to look down while wandering around.
If you’d like to grab a quick lunch, there’s an indoor food market near the Literary Quarter. Mercado Anton Martin offers a variety of food stalls featuring international cuisine, with several vegan and veggie options.
Colegiata de San Isidro
Dedicated to San Isidro, the male patron saint of Madrid, the Baroque Church of San Isidro served as Madrid’s Cathedral until 1993 when the Almudena Cathedral was completed. Inside the church are the remains of San Isidro and his wife Santa Maria de la Cabeza.
La Gatoteca (Cat Café)
Just around the corner from San Isidro Church, a relaxing cat shelter awaits. La Gatoteca is the perfect place for a refreshing break from sightseeing, with a cup of coffee and the best company. The café’s fluffy inhabitants are super popular. Therefore, make sure you make a reservation if you want to spend some quality time with them.
Plaza de La Villa
On your way to the Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace, make a quick stop at Plaza de la Villa, the square with the oldest buildings in Madrid. Plaza de la Villa is home to the former City Council – Casa de la Villa – which dates back to the 17th century. Across the street, Casa de Los Lujanes with its imposing tower is the oldest building in Madrid, as it was constructed in the 15th century.
A stone’s throw from Plaza de La Villa, the Monasterio del Corpus Christi hides a sweet secret. The cloistered nuns who live within the walls of the monastery sell homemade cookies. Although the cookies themselves aren’t bad at all, the once-in-a-lifetime experience lies in the way they’re sold.
Once you locate the monastery’s door – there’s a sign that reads Venta de Dulces and another with the opening hours – check for an extra sign on the door that announces the lack of cookies or when the cookies will be available again. If such an announcement is nowhere to be seen, ring the bell labelled Monjas (Spanish for nuns) and ask ¿Hay dulces hoy? – Are there sweets today?
If the door opens, step inside and follow the arrows until you reach a revolving tray. Next to it, you’ll see a menu with all the types of cookies available. You can buy either half or one kilo of each type of cookie. Once you decide what you want, say it out loud. Then, place the corresponding amount of money on the revolving tray. Oh, by the way, it’s a cash-only affair.
Somewhere behind the wall, the nuns will then turn the tray in utter silence. Moments later, your cookies will magically appear without ever getting as much as a glimpse of the nuns or hearing a single word.
Catedral de La Almudena
The construction of the Almudena Cathedral started in 1883 on the site where a medieval mosque used to be. However, the church was completed many decades later in 1993. The Cathedral’s exterior was built in the Baroque style, in harmony with the adjacent Royal Palace.
Yet, it’s the Cathedral’s interior that’s utterly fascinating. With pop-art elements and chapels adorned by contemporary art, the Neo-Gothic style of the Almudena Cathedral is more modern than expected.
For an extra fee, you can also visit the Cathedral’s dome for a closer look at the gorgeous cupola and jaw-dropping views of the Royal Palace and the historical centre of Madrid from the Cathedral’s rooftop terrace, accessible by a lift and then a few steps.
What’s more, it’s worth visiting the Crypt below the Almudena Cathedral. With more than 400 columns, the resting place of several prominent Spaniards is the largest crypt in Spain.
Palacio Real de Madrid
On December 24th, 1734, a fire broke out at the Royal Alcazar of Madrid, a fortress that served as a royal residence for centuries on end. The fire raged for four days, burning the Alcazar to the ground.
According to the legend, the Alcazar was destroyed on purpose, so that King Philip V of the Bourbon Dynasty – who wasn’t very fond of the dull fortress he had to call home – could reconstruct it in a way that would remind him of the Palace of Versailles in France. And he was granted his wish.
Designed by Filippo Juvarra, the new lavish Royal Palace has over 3000 rooms featuring great pieces of art from the Golden Spanish Age. The royal family doesn’t live in the palace. The latter is now only used for state ceremonies. The largest royal palace in Western Europe, Madrid’s Royal Palace is also one of the few that are open to the public.
Due to the palace’s size, the visitor route changes every few months. For an extra fee, you can visit the extraordinary royal kitchen, too. On some days, entrance to the Royal Palace is free for a few hours. However, expect long queues – and less time in the palace – on those days.
Join this fantastic guided walking tour to visit the Royal Palace and the Prado Museum, complemented by a churros tasting!
With its numerous entrances and porticoes lined by snack bars and shops, the rectangular Plaza Mayor is one of the best places to visit in Madrid.
Remodelled in 1619 – during the reign of King Philip III – in Herrerian style, Plaza Mayor was burnt down three times ever since. The only original building that survives in Plaza Mayor is the stone-built Casa de La Panaderia, the city’s former bakery. However, the stunning colourful frescoes that decorate its facade have only been there since 1992.
In the past, Plaza Mayor was a site for bullfights and executions. The royalty used to watch these gruesome spectacles from the balconies of the surrounding buildings. Nowadays, most of these buildings are residential properties.
Another reason why Plaza Mayor is famous is Bar La Campana, probably the best place in Madrid to try the traditional bocadillo de calamares or squid sandwich. Following the increasing demand for bocadillos de calamares, more squid bars are now concentrated around Plaza Mayor.
However, if you are vegetarian or vegan, fear not! There are several places scattered across the city that serve delicious vegan versions of bocadillo de calamares. We tried one of the best at Viva Chapata.
When packing for your trip to Madrid, make sure you save some space in your luggage. One of the best things to do in Madrid is to get your hands on a pair or three of local espadrilles (alpargatas in Spanish). This type of traditional Spanish footwear is one of the best things to buy in Madrid.
You can find authentic handmade espadrilles in different colours, styles and prices at Casa Hernanz. A stone’s throw from Plaza Mayor, Casa Hernanz has been in business since the distant 1845.
Mercado de San Miguel
Finish your first day on this 3-day Madrid itinerary with a stop at Mercado de San Miguel. Situated next to Plaza Mayor, this elegant covered market dates back to 1916. Renovated and reopened in 2009, the Market of San Miguel offers plenty of food and drink choices, with a focus on gourmet gastronomy.
The best way to delve into the history of Madrid is through the city’s tastes in century-old bars that locals never ceased to frequent. A tour we’ve enjoyed immensely during our most recent trip to Madrid is this Madrid Tapas, Taverns & History Tour.
Run by Devour, a tour company that specialises in food-related activities, the Madrid Tapas, Taverns & History Tour takes you on a walking tour of the city with several stops for tapas and drinks in iconic establishments that have been around for centuries on end.
What we loved about this tour the most is that it can be adapted for vegetarians. That and the fact that we savoured the best mushrooms we’ve ever tried in our lives!
Day 2: Art Museums & Neighbourhood Strolls
Paseo del Prado
Start your second of 3 days in Madrid with a walk along Paseo del Prado, a tree-lined boulevard that runs between Plaza de Cibeles and Atocha, Madrid’s main train station. Designed in the 16th century during King Philip II’s reign, Paseo del Prado was one of the first promenades to be constructed in a European city. Alongside El Retiro Park, Paseo del Prado is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some notable things to see along Paseo del Prado are the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid and Caixa Forum, a cultural centre housed in a former power station. Outside Caixa Forum, you can see Spain’s first vertical garden. Created by Patrick Blanc, the vertical garden consists of 250 different plant species that don’t need soil to grow.
However, the most famous sites along or near the Paseo del Prado, are the three museums that comprise the famous Golden Triangle of Art.
The Golden Triangle of Art
Three of the world’s best art museums are collectively known as Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art:
- Museo del Prado. Situated on the Paseo del Prado, the Prado Museum is a tribute to some of the most important Spanish painters. Among the highlights of the Prado Museum are the emblematic Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez and The Second of May 1808, The Third of May 1808 and the Black Paintings by Francisco Goya. At Prado Museum, you can also see numerous paintings by prominent European artists, such as Bosch, El Greco, Tiziano, Rubens and more.
- Museo Nacional Thyssen – Bornemisza. Perhaps our favourite museum of the three, the Thyssen – Bornemisza Museum is literally a summary of the history of art. Organised ideally for art newbies, the museum features paintings from the 13th and 14th centuries to the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Situated at the southern end of the Golden Triangle of Art near the Atocha Train Station, the Reina Sofia Museum is home to the Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s most celebrated painting. The museum focuses mostly on Spanish artists from the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Picasso, Dali and Miro.
All the aforementioned museums are free to visit on certain days during the week. However, if it’s your first time in Madrid, we don’t recommend visiting the Golden Triangle of Art during the free openings. Long queues and limited time will spoil the magic for you.
We recommend visiting at least one of the three museums, ideally two. That said, if you are really into art, why not visit all of them? Keep in mind that all three museums are huge and can feel a bit overwhelming. Especially if you are not familiar with the history of European art. This is why it might be best to visit on a guided tour.
Skip the lines and make the most of your time with those tours:
- Skip-the-Line Prado Museum Guided Tour
- Thyssen Museum Guided Tour
- Reina Sofia Museum Tour
- Prado, Reina Sofia & Thyssen-Bornemisza Museums Guided Tour
Puerta de Atocha
A few steps from the Reina Sofia Museum, the Atocha Train Station or Puerta de Atocha was Madrid’s first railway station, inaugurated in 1851. Apart from a functioning train station, Puerta de Atocha is one of the best places to visit in Madrid in its own right.
Once you step inside the imposing old part of the train station complex, you’ll be amazed by its tropical garden that features 400 different plant species. Connected to one of the saddest moments in Madrid’s history, the Atocha Train Station is also home to a heartbreaking memorial to the victims of a terrible terrorist attack – one of the worst in Europe – that happened there in March 2004.
One of the best things to do in Madrid is to take your time exploring the city’s several neighbourhoods. Characterised by remarkable diversity, Madrid’s various neighbourhoods represent the Spanish capital’s own diversity.
After visiting the Atocha Train Station, it’s a great opportunity to explore the multicultural neighbourhood of Lavapies. Lavapies literally means wash feet. The neighbourhood was named after the fountain that existed in Plaza de Lavapies, where people used to wash their feet.
Although Lavapies is a historical neighbourhood that dates back to the 16th century, there aren’t any major Madrid tourist attractions to see there besides the Reina Sofia Museum.
This doesn’t mean that Lavapies isn’t worth your time, though. Wandering around the uphill streets, discovering unique bars and restaurants around Plaza de Lavapies and witnessing how different cultures blend perfectly in this diverse neighbourhood in the heart of Madrid is one of the best experiences you can have in the city.
Bordering with Lavapies, La Latina is yet another of the oldest neighbourhoods in Madrid. Built outside the city’s medieval walls, La Latina was named after the nickname of Queen Isabella the Catholic’s tutor who was skilled in Latin.
Traditionally, La Latina was the commercial quarter of Madrid where merchants used to live. Plaza de La Paja, which means the Straw Square, or Plaza de Los Carros, the once Carriage Square, are some of the locations that attest to the commercial roots of La Latina.
Lined with numerous tapas bars, Cava Baja Street is one of our favourite streets in La Latina. At the end of the street, you will find Plaza de Los Carros and the imposing San Andres Church, one of the oldest churches in Madrid. At the back of San Andres Church is the downhill Plaza de la Paja, one of the liveliest squares in the area.
However, the highlight of La Latina is the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande. Constructed at a height of 58 metres and with a 33-metre diameter, the Basilica’s dome is the largest in Spain and the fourth-largest in Europe. What’s more, the Basilica is home to a collection of masterpieces by Spanish artists, such as Francisco Goya.
If you happen to be in Madrid on a Sunday or a public holiday, don’t miss the chance to visit El Rastro, the city’s famous flea market. The name El Rastro is a reference to the trail of blood that used to come from the nearby slaughterhouses.
Nowadays, El Rastro has transformed into the largest open-air market in Madrid. From ceramics and vintage clothes to antiques, second-hand albums and several other treasures, you can find almost everything in El Rastro.
Day 3: The Soul of Madrid
Parque del Buen Retiro
Start your last of 3 days in Madrid at El Retiro Park, one of the largest parks in Madrid. Created in the 17th century by King Philip IV and opened to the public in 1868, El Retiro Park or Parque del Buen Retiro is listed together with Paseo del Prado as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Throughout the years, it was home to the Palacio del Buen Retiro, while it also served as Napoleon’s fortress. Nowadays, it’s the best place for a relaxing stroll, offering a welcome break from the bustling city. Some of the highlights of El Retiro Park are:
- The huge artificial lake with the imposing monument to King Alfonso XII. You can rent a boat there for more fun under the sun.
- The Crystal Palace, one of the finest examples of iron-cast architecture. Built in 1887 as a pavilion for the Philippines Exposition – a colonial exhibition held in Madrid – the Palacio de Cristal is now part of the Reina Sofia Museum. Upon our visit, we were lucky enough to come across a unique installation during which thick fog covered the interior of the Crystal Palace.
- The oldest tree in Madrid, located near Puerta de Felipe IV.
- The Fallen Angel Statue stands out among the several statues that adorn El Retiro Park. It’s one of the very few statues depicting Lucifer and fittingly stands at 666 metres above sea level.
- The Rose Garden near the Fallen Angel Statue.
Puerta de Alcalá
Situated outside the northwestern entrance of El Retiro Park, the emblematic five-arched Puerta de Alcala used to be one of the gates to the city. It was commissioned by King Charles III. The reason? He was disappointed upon his arrival in Madrid by the not-so-impressive gate standing previously at the same spot.
Puerta de Alcala is built in neoclassical style. It stands on the old route that leads from Alcala de Henares to Madrid, hence its name.
Palacio de Cibeles
Calle de Alcala leads to Plaza de Cibeles, named after the Cibeles Fountain located in the middle of the square. The Cibeles Fountain is where Real Madrid’s celebrations take place every time the team wins a title. Opened in 1909, the Palacio de Cibeles dominates the square. The former Communication Palace, the building houses Madrid’s City Hall since 2007.
It’s worth visiting the Palacio de Cibeles even if you only have time to take the lift to its terrace to enjoy panoramic views of the city and Gran Vía.
We’ve already explained why wandering around the city’s neighbourhoods is one of the best things to do in Madrid. It’s now time to explore one of the most inclusive and fun-loving districts in Madrid.
Just steps from Gran Vía, lively Chueca is the beating heart of Madrid’s LGBTQ+ community. With its vibrant nightlife scene and genuinely local vibes, Chueca is the best area to get to know authentic Madrid. Near Plaza de Chueca, you can visit Mercado San Anton for a quick lunch among locals.
Neighbouring Malasaña is the birthplace of la movida madrileña, a cultural movement that emerged in the 1980s when Madrid was ready to leave the darkness of Franco’s regime behind.
The name Malasaña originates from Manuela Malasaña, a seamstress who was killed by Napoleon’s troops during the Uprising of the 2nd of May 1808. The uprising is portrayed in the famous painting by Goya you saw at Prado Museum on Day 2 of this 3-day Madrid itinerary.
Vintage bars, clubs and restaurants are scattered across Plaza del Dos de Mayo, the heart of Malasaña. We’re sure you’re going to find your favourite spot in Malasaña.
Constructed between 1910 and 1929, the iconic Gran Vía is lined with emblematic buildings that reflect Madrid’s effort to be modernised at the beginning of the 20th century. The once Broadway of Madrid is home to fewer cinemas and theatres compared to the past as Gran Vía is now one of the city’s main shopping streets.
Gran Vía, as its official name has been since 1981, connects Calle de Alcala near Plaza de Cibeles with Plaza España. Some of the buildings along Gran Vía that stand out are the magnificent Metropolis Building and the Edificio Grassy near Calle de Alcala, the Telefonica Building next to the Gran Vía metro station and the Carrion Building (Capitol) in front of the Callao metro station.
Templo de Debod
Situated near the Royal Palace, the Temple of Debod dominates the Parque del Oeste and it’s the perfect place to finish your Madrid 3-day itinerary. Its construction began in the 2nd century BC near Aswan in Egypt. It was completed by the Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius.
When the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt started in 1960, UNESCO initiated an international effort to save as many monuments in the area as possible. Egypt donated the Temple of Debod to Spain in 1968 as a gift for Spain’s help in saving Abu Simbel Temples. The temple was dismantled and reconstructed in the Parque del Oeste.
It’s the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset and panoramic views of the city.
Best Day Trips From Madrid (If You Have More Than 3 Days in Madrid)
This itinerary is crafted for anyone planning to see Madrid in 3 days. However, if you have more than three days in Madrid, there are some easy day trips you can enjoy. This way, you can get a small taste of the rest of Spain. Here’s a selection of the best day trips from Madrid:
Toledo Day Trip From Madrid
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, Toledo was the old capital of Spain until 1561. During your visit, you’ll notice the influences of the Moors, Christians and Jews. Known as the City of Three Cultures, Toledo is a city with many attractions.
Among Toledo’s highlights are the Alcazar, which is situated at the highest part of the town, the Cathedral of Toledo, which is one of the largest Cathedrals in Spain, Cristo de La Luz Mosque, the only surviving former mosque in Toledo and the El Greco House Museum, an art collection dedicated to the prominent Greek painter from Crete.
You can get to Toledo from Madrid by bus in about an hour. Alternatively, a train ride from Madrid to Toledo takes about half an hour.
For a more hassle-free day trip, you can join this small group Toledo day trip from Madrid with Winery Tour.
Segovia Day Trip From Madrid
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985, Segovia is the ideal day trip from Madrid. Like Toledo, Segovia is a fairytale-like town you’ll instantly fall in love with.
With its 166 arches, the impressively well-preserved Roman Aqueduct is one of Segovia’s highlights. The other two significant landmarks of the town are the imposing Segovia Cathedral and the Alcazar of Segovia which inspired the iconic Disney Castle.
You can get to Segovia from Madrid in about 30 minutes by high-speed train or one hour and a half by bus. However, the best way to visit Segovia on a day trip from Madrid is by joining a guided tour that combines it with Toledo.
Check out this day trip to Toledo and Segovia from Madrid.
Ávila Day Trip From Madrid
Situated about one hour and a half from Madrid, Ávila is popular for its medieval walls. The 2.5-kilometre-long medieval walls run around the city and feature 88 turrets and nine gates. The best thing to do in Ávila is to walk along these gorgeous city walls.
Ávila is usually included in organised day trips from Madrid that combine it with Segovia, like this one.
El Escorial Day Trip From Madrid
Another fantastic day trip from Madrid is the under-the-radar El Escorial, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated about one hour by public transport from Madrid, El Escorial is a royal site commissioned by King Philip II. It’s the historical residence of the King of Spain and it’s the largest Renaissance building in the world.
Check out this day trip from Madrid to El Escorial, which includes transportation and a guided tour to the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen.
You made it to the end of this 3-day Madrid itinerary. Hopefully, you’re now ready to plan your own trip to the Spanish capital, a city that holds a special place in our hearts for its lively vibes, kind people, inclusivity and open-mindedness.
WORDS & IMAGES: Katerina
Disclosure: We had press passes for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Walks/Devour Tours. As media and marketing specialists, we often visit destinations on press tours or as part of marketing campaigns. However, this doesn’t affect our opinions about the places we visit and the experiences we try. Rest assured that you’ll only find honest reviews throughout our content.