Looking for a first timer’s guide to Madrid? Wondering what to do, where to stay, what to eat, shop and more? This post will provide you with all the essential Madrid tips to get you travel ready in no time!
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11+ Essential Madrid Tips: A First Timer’s Guide to Madrid
Ever since I was a child, I have been visiting Madrid for almost every other year. To be honest, the Spanish capital never really made my heart beat any quicker. But this last trip finally changed my opinion,when we were guided around by a local who gave us the chance to get to know the city by taking us to places we had never been before. And I have to admit, the tour changed my mind! Madrid is very beautiful and definitely worth a city trip for the stunning architecture, food and access to outdoor activities nearby. Read all about it in my first timers guide to Madrid.
ESSENTIAL INFORMATION ABOUT MADRID SPAIN
Here are some quick facts about Madrid
- Location: Madrid is the capital city of Spain in Europe. It is centrally located in the country, making it a great mid stop when you explore Spain either from the north or south
- Schengen: Spain belongs to the Schengen zone
- Currency: Euro
- International Airport: Madrid–Barajas Airport is the main international airport
Spain is a multi-party constitutional parliamentary democracy. They have a royal family, based in Madrid. The current Spanish royal family members include King Felipe VI, the queen consort, Queen Letizia, and their children.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT MADRID?
Madrid has an inland climate which means that the winters can be very cold and the summers very hot. The best time to visit the city is in spring or autumn, and this is when you can also avoid mass tourism.
Spring months in Madrid are from March to May. During this time, temperatures range from a high of 22 degree celsius, and a low of 6 degrees.
Autumn kicks in September and lasts till November, and during this time the temperatures are pleasant, and hotel rates are affordable (as compared to peak seasons). You can expect a high of 26 degree celsius, and a low of 6 degrees.
WHAT TO PACK FOR A TRIP TO MADRID?
It is important to note that Madrid remains sunny all year round. I recommend carrying your sunglasses and sunscreen when you travel there.
Here are other Madrid packing essentials,
- Pack light and breathable clothes for summer, late spring and early autumn months
- For winters, do pack your wool coat, scarf, warm boots, socks and pullovers
- There will be a lot of walking in Madrid (if you love wandering around, or want to go on hikes and quick strolls), so don’t forget to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes
- Madrid’s prime attractions can be crowded (depending on the month, and time of travel), so secure your belongings, passport, cash/Euros in an anti theft bag
HOW TO GET TO MADRID?
Madrid is served by Madrid–Barajas Airport. From the airport in Madrid, it takes 20 minutes to get to the city center with a taxi. The ride will cost you around 30 euros.
From Madrid airport to the city center by bus is a much cheaper alternative. It will take you to the city for only 3 euros. Buses operate from 6 am to midnight.
As I am based in Belgium, I traveled from Zaventem, Brussels to Madrid, and it took about two hours and fifteen minutes to reach there (flight).
TRANSPORTATION MADRID TIPS
The best way to move around in Madrid city is by foot or by bicycle. Madrid also has an excellent metro network.
The hop on hop off bus is ideal if you are only in the city for a short period. The bus stops at 30 different places in the city and you can choose where you want to hop on and off. From March to October the bus drives throughout the city from 9 am to 10 pm.
Madrid City Pass is a good buy, if you are planning to use public transportation a lot, during your stay. It also includes a hop on and hop off ticket, express entry in major attractions, and bus/metro rides. If you opt for a 3-day public transport pass, transportation and airport transfer by taxi is also free to your hotel.
WHERE TO STAY IN MADRID?
If you are planning a short trip to Madrid, and prefer to check off all the attractions, you must consider staying in the city centre area. From here you can easily walk to sightseeing places and also hop on to the ‘Hop-on and Hop-off tour.
Whether it is transportation, starting point of walking tours or restaurants, you will be within easy walking distance of one another.
You will find dozens of affordable hotels on Gran Via. This street is in the middle of the center and is the perfect base for your stay in Madrid. We stayed at Catalonia Gran Via and were extremely satisfied with our accommodation.
Another neighbourhood to consider is Retiro, which is close to art museums.
HOW MANY DAYS ARE ENOUGH FOR MADRID?
At a minimum, I recommend 3 days in Madrid. To explore the city, a three-night stay is certainly not a luxury. Madrid is a big city and your days will be well packed with all the wonderful activities and must-sees the city has to offer.
If you have more time you can experience more of Madrid by indulging in outdoorsy activities, short day trips to the mountains and parks.
MUST SEES IN MADRID: TIPS AND ATTRACTIONS
With a plethora of activities in Madrid, you will be wanting to visit this Spanish city often! Here are some of my favorite things to do in Madrid for your upcoming trip,
- Parque del Buen Retiro/El Retiro Park: Parque del Buen Retiro is a beautiful park located in the middle of the city. Sprinkled with marble landmarks, gorgeous landscapes, gardens and water bodies, the El Retiro Park is a must add to every first time itinerary to Madrid. I also recommend visiting the Palacio de Cristal as well, which is a beautiful crystal palace.
- Plaza Mayor: Plaza Mayor is the most famous square in Madrid. Although very touristy, it is certainly worth a visit. The beautiful square, today, is surrounded by small shops, restaurants and stunning terraces. The square serves as the central place for many events and street artists can be found all around it. Be very careful as you stroll the area, and it is a crowded spot, and a playground for pickpockets.
- Palacio de Comunicaciones: Palacio de Comunicaciones served as a former main post office (since the 1909). Today it is the town hall and also acts as a workplace for the Mayor of Madrid. This structure is by far the most beautiful building in the city.
- Bernabeu: For football fans, a visit to Bernabeu, the Real Madrid stadium, is a must. Buy your tickets online so that you escape the long queues at the stadium itself.
- La Tabacalera Museum: La Tabacalera Museum is an edgy museum for artists of the spraypainting persuasion. In fact, it’s a bit old-school Berlin; it’s a squat-turned-creative space.
- Prado Museum: Prado Museum also known as the Museo del Prado is an rt museum in central Madrid. It is home to the world’s richest and most comprehensive collection of Spanish paintings, including many European masterpieces of art.
- Patrimonio Nacional: Patrimonio Nacional is the royal palace of Madrid. It is the largest palace in Europe, with over 3,000 rooms, grand interiors, and gardens. There is an entry fee to access the site, and it is completely worth it.
- Visit Desert City: If you have some time left on your Spain itinerary, visit the Desert City. This botanical garden of 5000sqm is located about 30km out of town but is definitely worth the visit.
- For best views in town: Do you love city views like I do? Then look no further than the Círculo de Bellas Artes. For 4 euros per person you can take the elevator to the top and you will arrive at a beautiful rooftop bar with cozy seats. Here you can enjoy a beautiful view and cocktails at reasonable prices. Try to go up there before 6 pm as the later it is in the evening, the longer the queue gets.
WHERE TO EAT IN MADRID TRAVEL GUIDE
When in Spain, you must set aside time for devouring amazing dishes. Here are my top picks for food and restaurants in Madrid,
- Taberna los Gallos: Taberna los Gallos is a nice place to try various Spanish cuisines. You can order all dishes either as a half or a whole portion which is ideal if you want to share a cozy meal or if you are an eternal doubter when it comes to choosing dishes. You will find other restaurants at this pleasant street corner and I have been told that they are all equally good.
- Mercado De San Miguel: El Mercado De San Miguel is a covered food market. I recommend trying a fresh cheese board at Mya Quesos Artesanos or fresh oysters at Ostras Daniel Sorlut
- Tapa Tapa Santa Ana: This is a great spot to try tapas in the city. You will love the ambience here, and everything is of decent size and freshly made.
- Plaza de Sta. Ana: This is another square where you can try tapas bars. It is a popular spot for locals to hang out.
- Bar La Campana: This place is famous for fried octopus (they also have a ton of options on their menu and are well priced). You can expect a long queue in the summer months
- San Ginés: You cannot leave Madrid without trying churros con chocolate from Sang Gin’s (which really is sugar-drenched-deep fried dough sticks with hot chocolate). It has been serving churros since 1984 and is open all night long. This makes it the perfect pit stop on your way to your hotel after a night out in town.
- For nightlife: Malasaña is a very nice borough in Madrid with not only trendy shops but also good food all around you. If you want to enjoy Madrid’s vibrant nightlife, this is the place to be!
WHERE TO SHOP IN MADRID?
Calle De Serrano and the streets around in the borough “Salamanca” are a true shopping paradise. Not only will you find the most beautiful designer shops and luxury boutiques here, but also the nicest restaurants.
Looking for budget friendly stores? Then you have to be at Plaza Mayor, Gran Via and Puerta del Sol. Here you will find all major international brands, such as Zara and Massimo Dutti. Did you know that these two chains are much cheaper in Spain than in other countries? Another excuse to go shopping!
Looking for shoes? Then Chueca is the place to be!
Every Sunday you can find Madrid’s popular flea market El Rastro on Calle de la Ribera de Cortitores. You will find both new and second-hand items, as well as food stalls or every corner of the street.
It is important to note that this market can get quite busy, so keep your belongings safe and secured, as pickpockets are never far away.
EXPLORING IN AND AROUND MADRID
After exploring Madrid, you can visit a couple of places located close to the city – as a day trip, or to further extend your Spain vacation.
Visit Sierra De Guadarrama
Sierra De Guadarrama, Walhalla for mountaineers in the Madrid region is one of the country’s best-rated climbing areas. Both novice climbers and experienced boulderers will get their money’s worth here.
The highest peak, the Peñalara is no less than 2430 meters high. In this outdoor paradise, the climber is king.
Travel time from Madrid: 1 hour drive from the city centre.
Castle of Medoza
If you love visiting medieval towns and castles, you must consider a trip to Manzanares El Real. It is home to the well-preserved castle of Mendoza with an impressive colonnade.
Travel time from Madrid: 45 minutes drive from the city centre.
Buitrago del Lozoya
The perferie of the capital Madrid conjures up a lot of medieval heritage.So does the nearby walled city of Buitrago del Lozoya. It is known for its Moorish walls. The 800-meter-long city wall was the only one in the region to remain.
The fact that you can walk across it again today provides special views over the old city.
Travel time from Madrid: 1 hour drive from the city centre.
Other cities to visit after exploring Madrid
Located less than 2 hours away from Madrid is Valencia. It is the third largest city in Spain, and boasts a rich heritage of art and cultural gems. Paella was invented here, and the iconic City of the Arts and Sciences is a must visit.
From Madrid you can explore more of Spain. Madrid to Seville is just an overnight train away. Seville is a stunning city, located in the southern part of the country.
Another city to add to your itinerary is Bilabo. Located in the Basque country, Bilbao welcomes you to its stunning coastline, and is also within reasonable distance to ski resorts.
You can also add Barcelona to your trip. You may like my 2 days in Barcelona – The ultimate itinerary for inspiration. If you are looking for amazing things to do in the rest of Spain, you may like my ultimate Spain bucket list post.
There you have it! These are some of the essential Madrid travel tips that will help you to craft the perfect vacation to Spain.
Do you have any further questions about this article? Feel free to leave a comment below.