Last updated on May 2nd, 2023 at 02:20 pm
A trip to Madrid can never be a bad idea and this list of the best Madrid tips is a valuable tool to help you plan your escape to the Spanish capital.
A capital city like no other, Madrid is a diverse, open-minded and extremely lovable city. From wandering around its many neighbourhoods to visiting world-renowned art collections to tasting mouthwatering Spanish tapas, Madrid promises a European getaway to remember.
But, before you skip to the good part, read this thorough Madrid travel guide and get ready to plan the perfect trip to this city of wonders. Complete with the most useful Madrid tips and a brief list of the most amazing things to do in Madrid, this guide will be your best pal while roaming around the Spanish capital.
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Top 20 Madrid Tips
- Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art comprises three of the best museums in the world: the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum. You can visit all three museums for free on certain days during the week. Although this sounds like a bargain, we’d advise against it. During the free openings, there are always long queues outside the museums. As a result, you’ll probably spend more time waiting in the queue than inside the museums. If it’s your first time in Madrid, you have to visit at least one of the three museums. But if you’re really into art, visiting all three of them is a great idea. Consider booking your tickets in advance to skip the lines and make the most of your time amidst some of the world’s most celebrated masterpieces.
- Similarly, although you can visit Madrid’s Royal Palace for free on certain days for a few hours, you should expect long queues there too. Moreover, the Royal Palace of Madrid is massive. Therefore, we highly recommend booking a skip-the-line guided tour of the Royal Palace.
- If your trip to Madrid is super short, this fantastic guided walking tour covers the basics of Madrid in just one day. A guided tour of the Royal Palace and the Prado Museum along with a churro tasting is the perfect introduction to the magic of Madrid.
- Book your accommodation in the city centre to reach all the tourist attractions on foot. That’s one of our favourite Madrid tips!
- Explore the various neighbourhoods that make up Madrid’s city centre. Wander around and discover hidden gems in La Latina, Lavapies, Malasaña and Chueca.
- Enjoy jaw-dropping views of Madrid from the rooftop terrace of the Palacio de Cibeles, the Almudena Cathedral and the Corte Ingles department store on Gran Via.
- Templo de Debod is one of the best spots to enjoy the sunset in Madrid.
- Check out the temporary exhibitions held in the Crystal Palace, part of the stunning El Retiro Park.
- Madrid is one of the most inclusive cities in Europe. Whether you’re a woman travelling solo or an LGBTQ+ couple, you will feel safe and welcome at all times.
- Don’t try to squeeze too many attractions into your Madrid itinerary. Also, don’t plan many day trips from Madrid, unless you’re spending several days in the city. Always remember to take your time.
- The famous El Rastro flea market is open on Sundays and public holidays. While checking out the countless vintage treasures you’ll find there, be aware of pickpocketing.
- Chocolatería San Ginés, the best place in Madrid to eat traditional churros con chocolate, is open 24/7.
- At lunchtime, look for the menu del dia. The menu del dia includes a first course, second course, drinks and coffee or dessert. It’s an excellent opportunity to try freshly cooked typical Spanish dishes without breaking the bank.
- If you plan to head outside of the city centre, keep in mind the siesta times. Many businesses close in the afternoon for lunch and a bit of relaxation.
- One of the most useful things to know about Madrid is that lunch and dinner times are different in Madrid than in other European capitals. A typical lunch starts around 14:00 and dinner at 21:00.
- At most restaurants, you can order a half portion which is often more than enough.
- Avoid eating at Plaza Mayor. There are many tourist traps there. However, Plaza Mayor is the best place to try the traditional bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich), preferably at Bar La Campana. For a vegan take on Madrid’s favourite street food, go to Viva Chapata instead.
- If the weather is cold and/or rainy, there are plenty of covered food markets in Madrid to enjoy lunch or dinner. The most famous among them is Mercado de San Miguel.
- When in Madrid, do it like the locals by ordering a caña. In Spain, a caña is a unit measuring beer and it’s the standard order at most bars. In Madrid, a caña equals 200 ml.
- Learn some basic Spanish before your trip to Madrid. Not only will that make your experience a lot more immersive, but also a few words can get you very far as you make your way into the locals’ hearts.
Some phrases to remember are:
¡Hola! = Hi!
¿Qué tal? = How are you?
¡Gracias! = Thanks!
¡Una caña bien fría, por favor! = A very cold beer, please! (Our personal favourite.)
Querría comida sin carne, por favor. = I would like food without meat, please. (Fellow veggies, we know that’s a life-saver to remember.)
Travel Resources For Madrid
Madrid Travel Guide
Where Is Madrid
The capital of Spain, Madrid is situated in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula. Madrid is built along the Manzanares River, 60 kilometres south of the Guadarrama mountain range. An interesting fact to know about Madrid is that it sits at an average elevation of 650 metres, which makes it the second-highest capital in Europe.
Where To Stay in Madrid
The best area to stay in any city, especially for first-timers, is usually the city centre. Madrid is no exception. Most tourist attractions are within walking distance from Plaza Mayor or Puerta del Sol, both great options for your accommodation.
As an alternative, our top recommendation is anywhere around Gran Via. Gran Via is the main shopping district and you can find many fancy and vibrant bars and restaurants in the neighbouring Chueca and Malasaña districts.
Our top choices to stay in Madrid are:
- Pestana Plaza Mayor Madrid for a luxurious stay and the unique chance to sleep within the walls of one of the gorgeous buildings surrounding Plaza Mayor.
- B&B Hotel Madrid Centro Puerta del Sol for a central stay at an excellent location, a few steps from Puerta del Sol.
- 7 Islas Hotel for a unique stay in the heart of Chueca and Malasaña, a stone’s throw from Gran Via and the metro station.
Best Time To Visit Madrid
It may sound cliché, but Madrid is indeed a year-round destination. Although spring and autumn are always the best times to travel, Madrid also enjoys mild winters. That means that visiting Madrid during the colder season isn’t a bad idea. Especially if you’re looking to avoid the soaring temperatures, prices and crowds the summer inevitably brings.
Just make a note not to visit Madrid at the beginning of December. Two national holidays – one on the 6th of December and the other on the 8th of December – are the reason why Madrid is flooded with mostly Spanish visitors during that time.
For more on that, watch our YouTube video about what to do in Madrid in winter.
Watch our Madrid YouTube video!
How Many Days in Madrid
You need at least three full days to visit the city’s highlights but also to enjoy Madrid. Unfortunately, there are many 3-day Madrid itineraries out there that suggest that 3 days in Madrid are enough to squeeze in a day trip from Madrid, too. Don’t listen to them. In our opinion, if you want to take day trips from Madrid, you should add one more day for each day trip to your Madrid itinerary.
Read our 3-day Madrid itinerary and start planning the best trip to the Spanish capital!
Here are some suggestions for amazing day trips from Madrid:
- Day Trip from Madrid to Toledo with Winery Tour.
- A full-day trip from Madrid to Toledo and Segovia with the option to visit Avila, too.
- Day Trip from Madrid to the Escorial Monastery and the Valley of the Fallen.
How To Get To Madrid
Madrid’s international airport, Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport, is located only 12 kilometres from the city centre. You can find many direct flights from the USA to Madrid. This means that Madrid is one of the best options for a trip to Europe. What’s more, Madrid is very well-connected to many European cities.
Find the best deals for your flights to Madrid.
You can get to the city centre from Madrid airport and vice versa by metro, train or bus. Click here to book your transfer by bus to the Madrid Atocha Bus Station in advance.
However, depending on how much luggage you carry, how many of you are travelling together and the location of your accommodation, it usually makes sense to pick a faster and more comfortable option by booking an inexpensive private transfer to drop you off right at your hotel.
If you plan to explore more parts of Spain like Barcelona or Seville, the best way to do so is by using the country’s excellent train network.
Check out the best deals to travel around Spain by train here.
Moreover, if you plan to travel from France or Portugal to Madrid and you feel more adventurous, you have the option to get to Madrid by bus.
Check out prices and routes with Flixbus here.
Last but not least, if Madrid is the starting point of a long road trip across Spain, find the best deals for rental cars here.
How To Get Around Madrid
Madrid’s centre is generally flat and easy to walk. If the weather allows it and your accommodation is central, you can reach almost every attraction on foot. That said, keep in mind that, while exploring the neighbourhoods around the city centre, such as La Latina and Lavapies, you may have a hard time climbing up the steep narrow streets.
Madrid has a reliable metro system. The bus network is also very efficient with night buses running across Madrid. Both metro and buses are accessible to travellers with disabilities. If you plan to use public transportation during your trip to Madrid, consider purchasing the Tourist Travel Pass. You can get the Tourist Travel Pass at any Metro station.
A Hop-on Hop-off sightseeing bus tour is always a good option if you want to see the main sites of the city in a comfortable and fun way.
An alternative and eco-friendly way to get around Madrid is to use electric bicycles. There are docking stations located at many central locations.
What To Eat in Madrid
Like all Mediterranean countries, Spain’s culture is strongly connected with food. Tapas bars are the best places to get a taste of traditional Spanish dishes. In Madrid, you can taste local tapas from all over the country. Restaurants are also a great option to try the quintessentially Spanish menu del dia, ideal for lunch and a great opportunity to taste traditional local dishes.
Moreover, one of the best ways to enjoy Spanish food is by visiting Madrid’s food markets. Undoubtedly, the most popular food market in Madrid is the gorgeous Mercado de San Miguel where you can find fancy and gourmet tapas. However, we recommend visiting some of the more low-key food markets, too, like Mercado Anton Martin or Mercado San Anton.
For your sweet tooth, you will instantly fall in love with the traditional churros con chocolate and a churrería can easily become your favourite place in Madrid.
We highly recommend this fantastic Madrid Tapas, Taverns & History Tour by Devour, which will take you to the best places in Madrid for tapas and drinks. If you are a vegetarian, like ourselves, the tour can be adapted to your dietary needs.
Best Tapas Bars & Restaurants For Veggie & Vegan Food in Madrid
If you are vegetarian or vegan, there are a lot of great options across the city. Our favourite places for vegetarian or vegan food in Madrid are:
- Viva Chapata in Lavapies for the best vegan versions of bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich) and tortilla española (Spanish omelette). If you are a pescatarian, try the original bocadillo de calamares in Bar La Campana near Plaza Mayor instead.
- La Oveja Negra Taberna Vegana in Lavapies. Check out their menu del dia. We tried – and absolutely loved – their vegan cocido madrileño, a typical dish of Madrid originally made with chicken, chorizo and pork.
- Calle de La Cava Baja is a lively street in La Latina with many tapas bars and restaurants. Most of them have veggie and vegan options.
- Meson del Champiñon just outside Plaza Mayor serves the most delicious mushrooms you have ever eaten! Typically, mushrooms are served with ham, so make sure you order your mushrooms without it (sin jamón, por favor).
- Casa Julio in Malasaña for fantastic croquettes in a traditional setting that even the famous band U2 loved.
- Chocolatería San Ginés for the crunchiest churros con chocolate. This place is open 24/7 and is usually crowded but it’s not a tourist trap. It does serve the best churros in Madrid.
Is Madrid Safe?
If you’re wondering about safety in Madrid, the most common crime is pickpocketing in crowded places like in many other big cities in Europe. Other than that, Madrid feels safe to visit as a solo, female, or LGBTQ+ traveller. However, always use your common sense if you happen to be in dark sketchy places.
To feel safe when travelling to Madrid, buy your travel insurance before your trip!
Money in Madrid
Like in most European countries, the local currency in Spain is the Euro (€). Most places in Madrid accept credit cards. However, it’s always a good idea to have some cash with you in case you need them. If your local currency isn’t the Euro, we recommend getting a Wise card to ensure the best exchange rates and make your life a lot easier while travelling. This is yet another of our favourite Madrid tips.
Get your Wise Card here and travel without worries!
Languages Spoken in Madrid
The language spoken in Madrid is Spanish or Castillian Spanish, which is the official language in Spain. That said, English is widely spoken in Madrid. Therefore, you won’t face any serious communication problems if you don’t speak Spanish.
What To Pack For Madrid
Sunny days are common in Madrid, so packing your sunglasses is essential. If you plan to visit Madrid in spring or autumn, pack some warm layers for the night and light clothes for the day when the sun is up. However, from November to March, you should expect low temperatures and rainy days. Therefore, pack a raincoat and a travel umbrella.
Of course, don’t forget to pack your plug adaptor if you travel from the USA or the UK.
Shopping in Madrid
Apart from the fantastic food scene and the vibrant nightlife, shopping is one of the best things to do in Madrid. Madrid is the best place to buy a pair of hand-crafted traditional Spanish shoes, espadrilles or alpargatas in Spanish. You can find this popular Spanish footwear in different colours and styles in Casa Hernanz, a few steps from Plaza Mayor.
The main shopping area of Madrid is Gran Via, where you can find popular clothing stores housed in the street’s historic buildings. For vintage clothes, ceramics, antiques and other accessories, head to El Rastro in La Latina, the largest open-air market in Madrid. El Rastro flea market is one of the top Madrid attractions and you can visit it on a Sunday or a public holiday.
Top 10 Things To Do in Madrid
After reading our list of the best Madrid travel tips, you’re now ready to plan the perfect trip to the Spanish capital. So, let’s put the informative part aside and move to the inspirational one by summarising some of the city’s highlights. Here’s a very brief list of the top things to do in Madrid:
- Try the crunchy churros con chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés.
- Take in jaw-dropping views of Madrid from the rooftop terrace of Almudena Cathedral.
- Step into the covered markets of Madrid.
- Visit at least one of the three best museums in Madrid: Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional Thyssen – Bornemisza and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.
- Explore the multicultural neighbourhood of Lavapies.
- Visit the Crystal Palace at El Retiro Park.
- Enjoy panoramic views of the city from the terrace of Palacio de Cibeles.
- Walk along Gran Via to admire the most emblematic buildings in Madrid.
- Visit the Egyptian Temple of Debod in Parque del Oeste.
- Discover vintage bars in Malasaña, the birthplace of la movida madrileña.
Madrid is one of our favourite cities in Europe, a capital we keep going back to. We hope that this thorough Madrid guide can save you some time when planning your own trips to Madrid. If you have any insider Madrid tips we should enrich this guide with, let us know in the comments!
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 and suggestions throughout our content.