Madrid is by far our favorite city in Spain! Madrid is the capital city of Spain and the third-largest city in the European Union. We love Madrid so much that we could see ourselves living there! It’s a lively city that’s affordable and boasts outstanding culture, art, architecture, delicious food, and excellent nightlife.
In this post, you will find our favorite things to do and plenty of tips for your trip to Madrid. We stayed for 4 days in Madrid which is enough to see all of the highlights and the surrounding area.
Things you need to know
- Language: The official language is Spanish. You will find that people in the tourism industry speak English, but not as widely as in other major European cities.
- Siesta: Many small shops and restaurants close from 2 pm – 4 pm. We recommend you buy important groceries in the morning.
- Summers in Madrid are hot with temperatures over 35°C, during the winter it can get cold around the freezing mark.
- There is a lot to see and do in Madrid, we recommend going at least 3 or 4 full days but you can easily add a few extra days if you love museums. There are also a lot of great day trips from Madrid.
How to get there
You can fly to Madrid from most European cities. We took a cheap Ryanair flight from Belgium to Madrid. Other ways to get there are by car, train or bus from other European cities. The airport is just a few minutes from Madrid’s city center. You can take the metro or bus for a couple of euros.
How to get around
Our favorite way of exploring a city is by trying to walk as much as possible. But Madrid is a large city, so walking through it all would be exhausting. You can use the metro which we recommend. It’s cheap and very easy to get everywhere. You can also take a taxi or catch one of the Hop-on Hop-off buses.
Where to stay
We stayed in Hotel Freedom which we recommend. It is a nice, modern, and clean hotel. The location is great and it is within walking distance from most of the main attractions.
Parque del Buen Retiro
The glorious gardens of El Retiro are as beautiful as any you will find in a European city. The park is filled with fountains, monuments, rose gardens, the Palacio de Cristal, and a lake where you can rent a rowboat.
When the weather is fine and particular on weekends, Madrilenos from all across the city gather here to stroll, read the Sunday papers in the shade, take a boat ride or enjoy a drink at one of the many outdoor cafes.
This is one of our favorite places in Madrid.
Parque del Buen Retiro is open from April – September from 6 am-midnight and from October – March from 6 am – 10 pm.
Plaza de la Cibeles
On Plaza de la Cibelles you will find the beautiful Palacio de Comunicaciones, The views from the top of the Palacio de Comunicaciones are among Madrid’s best.
Palacio de Comunicaciones is open from 10. 30 am – 2 pm and 4 am – 7.30 pm Tuesday – Sunday. The price for a ticket to the top is 3 euros.
Paseo del Arte
This area, known as the Art Walk, boasts art and beauty as you will see nowhere else in the world. Along a stretch of one kilometer, you will find the world-famous Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and the Reina Sofia Museum.
Whether you are a lover of art, or simply want to explore the city’s landmarks, The Prado Museum is one museum that you cannot miss.
The Prado Museum was founded in 1819, and today it is considered to be one of the greatest art museums in the world, as well as one of the most visited. The Museum is considered to have one of the world’s finest collections of European art, ranging from the 12th century to the early 20th century. Francisco Goya is the most represented artist, however, the museum’s collection also includes works by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Diego Velazquez.
We only got to spend a half-day in this beautiful building, but if you truly are an art lover we recommend you spread out your visit over 2 or even 3 days.
The Prado Museum is open from 9.45 am – 7.30 from Monday – Saturday and from 9.45 am – 6.30 pm on Sundays. The price of a ticket is 15 euros. You can buy tickets online or from the ticket office.
The Museo Reina Sofia is home to Picasso’s Guernica, arguably Spain’s most famous artwork. Here you can see Madrid’s premier collection of contemporary art. In addition to plenty of paintings by Picasso, other major works are by Salvador Dali and Joan Miro.
The Reina Sofia Museum is open from 9 am – 9 pm Monday, Wednesday – Saturday, and Sunday from 10 am – 2.30. The price of a ticket is 12 euros. You can buy tickets online or from the ticket office.
The Thyssen – Bornemisza Museum is home to an excellent permanent collection and also hosts exciting temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection displays work from Rubens, Monet, Van Gogh, Gaugin, and more. There are almost 1000 paintings to see, spanning from the 13th to the 20th century.
The Thyssen – Bornemisza Museum is open from 12 am – 4 pm on Mondays and from 10 am – 7 pm Tuesday – Sunday. The price of a ticket is 13 euros. You can buy tickets online or from the ticket office.
If you are planning on visiting all three museums, we recommend you to buy the Paseo del Arte Pass for 30,40 euros which is valid for one year and allows one visit to the permanent collection of each of the three museums.
Madrid’s train station is worth visiting. It is one of the most beautiful we have ever seen. Inside you can see a light-filled tropical garden with more than 500 plant species.
Gran Via is Madrid’s most famous street. Gran Via houses many restaurants, bars, clothing stores, cinemas, and theatres. Some of the most famous buildings in the country can be found here, such as the famous Metropolis building, and the Carrion building, with its famous Schweppes sign.
It is also one of the most important shopping streets in the city, it houses Primark’s second largest shop in the world, as well as other well-known brands like Zara, Sfera, and Pull and Bear.
We loved to walk here during the evening.
Plaza de la Puerta del Sol
The official center point of Spain is a gracious, crowded hemisphere of elegant facades. The plaza is named for a gate that stood there until 1510 and had on its front a representation of the sun. It is, above all, a crossroads; people here are forever heading somewhere else, on foot, by metro, or by bus.
The Casa de Correos houses the regional government of the Comunidad de Madrid and was built as the city’s main post office in 1768. The clock was added in 1856 and on New Year’s Eve, people throng the square to wait impatiently for the clock to strike midnight.
Facing the Casa de Correos from the rooftops opposite is the towering Tio Pepe sign, long a city landmark.
On the plaza, you will also see a statue of a bear nuzzling a strawberry tree. This is the official symbol of the city.
We loved to hang around here!
The Plaza Mayor is located in the heart of Madrid, near Puerta del Sol. The square is 129 meters long and 94 meters wide, surrounded by three-story buildings with porches all along the plaza. Historically it’s been a meeting place and was used for civil announcements and celebrations.
Various architects were commissioned to design the Plaza Mayor, but the two most important were Juan de Herrera and Juan Gomez de Mora. After a series of fires, the Plaza Mayor has been rebuilt several times throughout history.
To get there, you can use one of the various gates, each one with a special charm.
The Royal Palace is used only occasionally for royal ceremonies. The royal family moved to the modest Palacio de la Zarzuela years ago.
When the alcazar burned down in 1734, Felipe V, the first of the Bourbon kings, decided to build a palace that would dwarf all its European counterparts. Felipe died before the palace was finished.
You can visit the Palacio Real on a self-guided tour or with a tour guide. The route leads through 50 of the palace rooms, which hold a selection of Goyas, 215 ornate clocks, and five Stradivarius violins.
The Palacio Real is open from 10 am – 8 pm April – September and from 8 am – 6 pm from October – March. The entrance fee is 10 euros.
Mercado de San Miguel
This is one of Madrid’s oldest and most beautiful markets, within early 20th-century glass walls and an inviting space strewn with tables. You can order tapas at one of the food stalls. There are also plenty of bars where you can buy wine, beer, and cocktails. Eating here was one of our favorite experiences in Madrid. The Mercado de San Miguel is open daily from 10 am-midnight.
Another place we highly recommend for dinner not far from the Mercado de San Miguel is El Minibar. Here we had one of the best tapas we had in Spain and the staff was extremely friendly.
Chocolateria de San Ginés
If there is one sweet treat you can’t leave Madrid without trying, it’s churros con chocolate.
Crispy fried to perfection churros lightly dusted with sugar and dipped in thick hot delicious chocolate. We can’t think of anything better!
In El Pasadizo de San Gines right next to the Puerta del Sol, you will find the city’s most famous café specializing in chocolate con churros. Since 1894, it has been serving thick hot chocolate with delicious sticks of crispy dough to locals and tourists.
Chocolateria de San Ginés is open daily from 8 am – 11 pm.
Eat a Bocadillo de Calamares
In Madrid, there is one dish that tops them all, the bocadillo de calamares! This dish is so simple but delicious! A sandwich stuffed with thick, juicy rings of fried squid.
It is a local favorite and can be found all over the city.
Templo de Debod
This Egyptian temple in downtown Madrid was saved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser in southern Egypt when the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser built the Aswan High Dam. After 1968 it was sent block by block to Spain as a gesture of thanks to the Spanish archaeologists in the Unesco team that worked to save the monuments that would otherwise have disappeared forever.
You can visit the inside of the temple for free from Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am – 8 pm.
One of the highlights of our trip to Madrid was exploring the Malasana neighborhood. This area includes all of the elements we love; great food, vintage shops, and a local vibe.
Here you can also enjoy the best urban art in the city.
Another neighborhood we loved is multicultural Lavapies. Every corner of this neighborhood is steeped in art.
Take a day trip to Toledo
The walled city of Toledo is one of the most popular day-trip destinations from Madrid. Rich in Arab, Jewish and Christian history, the former Spanish capital is a Unesco World Heritage Site. We loved getting lost in Toledo’s streets.
Toledo is a one-hour train ride from Madrid. You can buy train tickets at Atocha Railway station, there are trains every 30 minutes. Another option is to take a guided Toledo half-day or full-day tour. You can book tours in one of the many kiosks in Madrid’s city center.
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
The plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is the largest bullring in Spain and the third biggest in the world, after the bullrings in Mexico and Venezuela.
You don’t have to see a bullfight to visit this stunning landmark, you can book a tour with an audio guide that will give you access to the main parts of the bullring. For us, it was enough to admire this beautiful building from the outside.
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is the home stadium of the Real Madrid football team. Its name is in honor of the man who was president of the club for 35 years, Santiago Bernabéu. After various remodeling projects, it is today classified as an elite stadium and holds the UEFA’S highest distinction of five stars.
You can visit the stadium and see the trophy room, the presidential box, the dressing rooms and have the chance to walk around the technical area.
The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is open from 9.30 am – 7 pm and from 10 am – 6.30 pm on Sundays. The price of a ticket is 20 euro.
Parque de El Capricho
Built in 1884 by the Duke and Duchess of Osuna on the outskirts of Madrid, El Capricho is one of Madrid’s most beautiful and least known parks. After the death of the Duchess, the park slowly fell into neglect and disrepair until 1974 when they restored it to its former glory. El Capricho is open from 9 am – 9 pm April – September and from 9 am – 6.30 pm October – March.
Circulo de Bellas Artes
The Circulo de Bellas Artes features over 1200 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, engravings, furniture, and a collection of over 3000 books and historic documents.
The best part is its trendy rooftop with stunning views over the city center.
The rooftop is open Monday – Friday from 9 am – 10.30 pm and during the weekend from 11 am – 10.30 pm. The cost for a ticket is 4 euro.