This Madrid travel guide lists the top things to do, the best places to eat, and where to stay in Madrid.
Want to know where to find the best tapas, where to get the best views of the city, or where to stay in Madrid? I asked a travel expert who has visited Madrid numerous times to help me with this insiders guide to the Spanish capital. You will find the best neighbourhoods to explore, which markets to visit, as well as tips on visiting Madrid’s top attractions.
Madrid is a fabulous city and will be a surprise to many of you when you visit for the first time. It is historical city with lots of cultural offerings, but it also boasts vibrant nightlife, superb shopping, and is well laid out with plenty of open green areas.
Top tips for visiting Madrid
At an altitude of 2,000 metres it has a dry climate with temperatures in summer of up to 40 degrees, although you will find air conditioning indoors.
In winter average temperatures are between 10 and 15 degrees. The beauty of the winter is that while it may be cold, the sun shines in a clear sky most of the time. So the best time to visit Madrid is autumn through to spring, and there are plenty of flights to Madrid all year round.
With a population of over 6 million it has a very efficient and affordable public transport system which I highly recommend, although it must be said that taxis are not expensive either.
Be prepared for a much more authentic Spanish experience than you might get in the holiday resorts on the coast – some basic Spanish will get you further, and will be welcomed by the locals who don’t all necessarily speak English.
As in most European cities a good starting point to get your bearings would be to take a hop on hop off bus or a tuk-tuk tour. You can also get public transport passes for 24 or 48 hours (or longer) in the metro stations (the underground train system) and tourist offices.
The old city centre is very easy to get around as it is quite compact. A main street which will serve as a reference point for the more modern city centre, is the Paseo de la Castellana.
At over 6 kilometres long it leads from Plaza de Castilla in the business district and turns in to the Paseo del Prado in the Art district (el Triangulo del Arte). The 27 bus whizzes up and down this street every few minutes, and is a great route to get a feel for the various districts – from modern office blocks to palaces and grand historical homes.
One of my favourite ways to start the day is in one of the many bars around the city, for a pincho de tortilla – a slice of potato omelette. You will see office workers having this from breakfast through to the coffee break at 11 am. It sets you up until its time for the aperitivo (a drink and a tapa) before lunch which is around 2 pm.
Top 10 Things to do in Madrid
1. Take in the views at Cibeles Terrace
I would start with a drink or lunch (reservations advised for a meal, not for a drink) at the former General Post Office in the Plaza de Cibeles (you can get here on the 27 bus). The venue is on the rooftop of the building and offers the most panoramic views of the city centre.
2. Relax at Retiro Park
Then head to the Retiro park, one of city’s largest parks at a 1,500 square metres. It originally belonged to the Royal Family and it has a botanical garden and a rose garden.
It has a large lake in the middle, where many Madrid families go on Sunday to take out rowing boats. The Park is very animated at the weekends, with outdoor bars as well as entertainers and artists around the lake. The park is a ten minute walk from Cibeles.
3. Walk the Golden Mile
In the nearby district of Salamanca, the elegant 19th century streets have many upscale restaurants. On Serrano street, Ortega y Gasset street and Claudio Coello street (known as the Golden Mile), there are many designer boutiques as well as old classical shops such as glove shops and pharmacies.
Pay a visit to the 19th century market on Ayala street to see the lively and vibrant fish, and fruit and veg stalls, where local housewives and maids have shopped for years.
This market, as many markets in Madrid, now has bars and restaurants indoors and around the sides, where you can people watch while eating all wonders of tapas and dishes.
4. Take a tour of Real Madrid Bernabéu Stadium
Back on the 27 bus route near the top of the Castellana street is the famous Real Madrid Bernabéu stadium at the Plaza de Lima (you can also get the metro to here). The stadium was originally built in the late 1940’s when this part of Madrid was still countryside!
With a capacity for over 80,000 spectators it has an impressive museum and interpretative centre full of interesting facts, figures and mementoes that anyone would find interesting, even if you are not a football fan.
Football fans though will be really impressed to be able to walk through the players’ dressing rooms. There are bars and restaurants in the stadium which you would probably be advised to pre-book.
5. Marvel at the Triangle of Art
The Triangle of Art (el triangulo del arte) is a must visit. The Prado is one of the world’s most famous art museums with works by the Spanish masters – Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, and more.
It is busy and I recommend that you book tickets online, as you will be given an admission time, particularly as entrance is free from 4pm. It can take four hours to visit the Museum.
The Thyssen Museum, across the road from the Prado, is a little less busy, more accessible and smaller. It is a beautiful bright and airy building with wondrous paintings collected by the late Baron Thyssen, Rubens, Caravaggio, Van Gogh and an American collection.
The third art museum in the triangle is the Reina Sofia with mainly modern and classical Spanish art. If you had to pick one and you are pressed for time, the Thyssen is the most convenient.
This tour that includes entrance to Prado and the Royal Palace is also very popular.
6. Visit the Royal Palace
In 1560 Madrid became the Spanish capital, when Philip II of Spain moved his court to Madrid and built its palace, the Palacio Real. The Royal Palace is now the largest functioning royal palace in Western Europe and is the official residence of the royal family, although it is mainly used for state functions.
A visit to the Royal Palace is undoubtedly one of the top things to do in Madrid, yet the tour only takes about 45 minutes. Although I haven’t been in to them you can also visit the Royal Kitchens, which must be booked separately. I also recommend you take time to wander around the Sabatini Gardens outside the palace.
7. Ride the cable car to Casa de Campo
Take a taxi or the metro to Paseo del Pintor Rosales, 28088 Madrid and you will find the the Teleférico de Madrid. This cable car will take you over 2 kilometres across the Manzanares River and the Royal Palace, to the Casa de Campo – the leisure hunting grounds of the Royals. Enjoy a drink in the snack bar at the other end and return.
8. Visit Plaza Mayor and the San Miguel Market
The Mercado de San Miguel is probably the most popular food market in the centre of Madrid. The market was built in 1915 and has modernised to become a food lovers’ playground, with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, meat and cheeses, and also bar stools where you can eat prepared food.
It is located close to the Plaza Mayor, the main square in old Madrid which was built in the early 1600’s – this is another must visit when in Madrid.
9. Shop till you drop
If shopping is more your thing, get off the 27 bus or the metro at Nuevos Ministerios to visit Spain’s largest department store, El Corte Inglés. The old saying about El Corte Inglés was that you could buy anything there, even a car.
It is known for its clothing (with many designer brands), and its supermarkets with upmarket gourmet sections. Today the company has over 90 branches nationwide.
Another shop to look out for when in Spain is the homes section of Zara, you will find a separate shop called Zara Home with beautifully designed homeware. If Primark is more your style – don’t worry, the second largest Primark in the world is located on Madrid’s Gran Vía.
10. Book a tapas and wine tasting tour
I have listed some of my favourite restaurants below, but a tapas tour is also a great way to discover local delicacies and dining recommendations. This small-group walking tour is led by an expert local guide with a maximum off 12 people.
There are day tours available but this night tour which includes wine pairing with Iberian ham, salted cod, and lots more, is a great way to kick start your evening in Madrid. Tour includes 12 different tapas in 4 bars, with a drink at each bar.
If you can extend your visit by a couple of days consider day trips to El Escorial, Toledo, Segovia or Cuenca. I also visited some of the wine regions of Castilla y León last year, many are reachable by train from Madrid.
Alternatively combine your visit with another of Spain’s great cities. You can get to Malaga in two and a half hours and Seville in three hours by train.
Where to stay in Madrid – 4-Star Hotels
ME Madrid Reina Victoria
This 4-star Meliá Hotel is a 19th century iconic building and is located in the bustling Santa Ana square, a popular area for night life, bars and restaurants. It boasts a trendy rooftop bar with fabulous views of the city.
NH Collection Madrid Colón
This popular hotel is located near the Plaza de Colón (Columbus’ Square), which has the largest national flag I have ever seen at full mast. NH Collection is a good Spanish chain, this four-star hotel and well located for the shopping area of Barrio de Salamanca.
Petit Palace Plaza Mayor
Petit Palace hotels are located in refurbished old buildings in city centres, and this one is no exception. This 4-star hotel is located next to the Plaza Mayor and the San Miguel Market.
Where to stay in Madrid – 5 Star hotels
Mandarin Oriental Ritz Hotel
This luxury five-star hotel happens to be over one hundred years old. It is very centrally located on the Plaza de la Lealtad close to the beautiful Neptune fountain, and halfway along the Paseo del Prado. It has recently reopened after three years of refurbishment works.
NH Collection Palacio de Tepa
Originally a 19th century palace, the five-star NH Collection Palacio de Tepalocated in the Literary quarter, close to the Royal Palace. This romantic location is where writers and poets lived, and Cervantes’ remains are buried in the convent across the road from the hotel.
A five-star plus luxury hotel, this is located in the political and financial area of Madrid, a few minutes walk from the Triangle of Art – Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofia museums. It was once a 19th century palace and boasts a distinctly art theme. Its rooftop bar is also very popular and fashionable.
Rosewood Hotel Villa Magna
For a real treat try this luxury five-star hotel located on the main street of Paseo de la Castellana – it backs on to Serrano street in the heart of the Golden Mile, Barrio de Salamanca.
It is a classical hotel of Madrid and as such the location is central to the offices and embassies belt, designer boutiques and good restaurants. It is a walking distance to the Retiro Park and to the Paseo del
Where to stay in Madrid, self catering and value options
Apart-Hotel Serrano Recoletos ***
This apart-hotel is located close to Plaza de Colón. The apartments and rooms are well priced for the location, and the apartments are very convenient if you fancy a night in, to cook some local ingredients you may have picked up during the day.
Hotel Mora **
This is an old favourite of mine, and is ideal if you are looking for a good value option for a one- or two-night stay. The rooms are small and functional, but it is well priced and well located on the Paseo del Prado, across the road from the museum.
It is about three-minutes walk from the railway station Atocha, the main railway station in Madrid, with connections to the whole country, and where the high speed AVE trains operates from.
The hotel has a cafeteria on street level open to the public so you can see all types of locals having breakfast and dinner here.
Where to eat in Madrid
Café de Oriente is a good choice for lunch and is located close to the Royal Palace. This is located in the basement of a 17th century convent. Apart from the views of the Royal Palace opposite you, can also see the remains of the city walls of Madrid through a glass floor in the restaurant.
Casa Mingo is a 20 minute walk away from the Royal Palace. This is a very famous traditional cider house from the 1880’s. Be sure to try their roast chicken, and their Cabrales blue cheese from Asturias in the north of Spain.
Casa Botín boasts a more classical and traditional experience. Located close to the Plaza Mayor, this claims to be the oldest restaurant in the world (established in the 1750’s). It is a quaint ramshackle building in Cuchilleros Street, a very atmospheric part of the old town. The specialities here are roast suckling pig or roast baby lamb, and is in my opinion one of the best dishes from Castille – the region Madrid is located in.
Jose Luis Serrano (no. 89, Serrano Street) is a classical tapas bar and restaurant for well–heeled Madrid residents for decades.
Bar el Tomate serves delicious, well prepared food and wood fired pizzas from brunch to dinner.
I hope this insiders guide to Madrid will help you plan a trip there soon. While every effort is made to insure accuracy, please note information is subject to change. Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links, where I receive a small commission if a booking is made, but at no additional cost to you.