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Making the most of every trip is not just about what to see and where to eat but also about knowing some extra things that will help you get to know and enjoy the local culture, and save money, time, and energy. While there are tons of things to know before traveling to Spain, here are a few specific tips for visiting Madrid like a total pro. I can guarantee these will help you have the best time in my favorite city in Spain.
Wondering what to pack? Here’s my ultimate Madrid packing list!
TRIP PLANNING TIPS FOR VISITING MADRID
WHERE TO STAY IN MADRID
I had a great experience with Hostal Maria Cristina (located near Gran Via Street). Apart from its central location, the room was spacious, super clean, and comfortable, and the staff was always welcoming (the reception works 24/7). Browse the latest prices and availability.
I also stayed at Hostal Ivor (located near Puerta del Sol). If you’re looking for basic and central accommodation, this is a good choice. The reception works 24/7, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the room was simple yet comfortable and clean. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
It’s important to know that you don’t have to find accommodation right on Gran Via Street or near Puerta del Sol. I had incredible experiences with Airbnb‘s near Atocha train station and El Retiro Park. Madrid’s city center is enormous, and as I’ve mentioned, Madrid’s metro is everywhere, and it’s as easy as it can be to get from one place to another.
BOOK MAJOR ATTRACTIONS IN ADVANCE
From the Royal Palace to the Prado Museum to the Bernabéu Stadium, you have to book your tickets in advance online to avoid tedious long lines. Seriously, this is a crucial tip if you want to save yourself time and energy.
Tip #1: The Prado Museum and Madrid’s other art museums offer free admission on certain days and hours. However, these times are a lot more crowded. So be sure to get your ticket in advance or book a guided tour.
Tip #2: The visits to the Royal Palace are limited. To visit the palace, you can either book a guided tour or purchase a ticket for an unguided visit with a specific timeslot.
Want to explore the city with a guide? Check out these amazing walking tours in Madrid!
DON’T PLAN TOO SHORT A VISIT
I know it’s a matter of personal taste, but I’ve heard too many people downsizing what Madrid has to offer (and since it is my biggest love, I even feel personally offended). Even though you can enjoy Madrid in 2 days, I highly recommend spending at least 3 days in the city itself (if not more) and dedicate at least 1-2 to day trips. If you’re like me and you want to see the alternative side of the city instead of ticking items off the bucket list, treat yourself with a proper city break.
TAKE DAY TRIPS
I’m in awe of how much is there to see around Madrid, and like I just wrote, you should add a day or two to your itinerary to explore Madrid’s surroundings.
Most places are easily reachable by train, and you can use either Omio (former GoEuro – compares flight, train, and bus prices in one place) or Renfe‘s (Spain train company) website to purchase your ticket online. If you don’t want to take day trips independently, book a guided day tour instead.
WHEN TO VISIT
Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit Madrid. In summer, it’s very hot, but at least it’s not humid, so you can definitely visit Madrid in July and August if you want. This city is also an underrated winter break destination in Europe, and you’ll be rewarded with much fewer crowds.
LEARN SOME BASIC SPANISH
In comparison to other areas in Spain, there’s actually a good chance to find some English speaking Spaniards in Madrid. However, the majority of the locals know very little English (or no English at all). You don’t need to stress about it, but you should learn a few basic phrases in Spanish.
Tip #1: Websites like Booking and HotelsCombined let you know which languages are spoken in a certain hotel. Surprisingly, not all hotels in Madrid have staff that speaks English.
Tip #2: If you have any dietary restrictions, learn how to say it in Spanish because not all eateries have menus in English (although most of them do).
USE MADRID’S FABULOUS METRO SYSTEM, BUT BRING COMFY SHOES
Madrid’s Metro system is so extensive and well-organized that there’s no reason to use taxis to get around the city (including from and to the airport). That said, you can easily plan a walkable Madrid itinerary, so you won’t even need to use the Metro that much. What you will need is a pair of comfortable shoes.
WEATHER CAN BE UNPREDICTABLE
If you’re visiting in spring or fall, take into consideration the unexpected weather. From personal experience, I can say that you can’t trust the forecast as rainy days might eventually be sunny and vice versa. Be prepared for both warm sunny days and cold rainy days, and pack accordingly.
YOU DON’T NEED TO SPEND A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY
You can enjoy Madrid at almost any budget. Besides accommodations for all budgets, you can devour the best food in Madrid at any price from 1 Euro to 30+ Euros. Also, many attractions are free to visit or offer free admission on certain days or hours.
SIGHTSEEING IS OVERRATED; EXPLORE MADRID FREELY
Don’t get me wrong; I love Madrid’s landmarks and you should go sightseeing, but strolling around the different neighborhoods freely is the best way to see the city. To me, Madrid is about a lively and cozy atmosphere, which you can only experience by walking its colorful streets, wandering beyond Puerta del Sol and Gran Via, and meeting with the locals. You’ll be surprised by how much there is to see in this city beyond the monuments, and that’s where the true magic of Madrid begins.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE SIESTA AND WEEKENDS
In such a buzzing city like Madrid, there’s always something to do and there are always shops, attractions, and places to eat open.
Many tapas bars and restaurants are open exactly during siesta time (1 PM – 4 PM) and some close right after it until dinner. Also, markets like El Rastro or monthly markets like Malamarket and Mercado de las Ranas only work on weekends. Madrid doesn’t shut down ever, and you will never be bored in this city.
GO TO A FOOTBALL GAME
Let’s start by making things clear – in Europe, you should call it football and not soccer. Football is a huge part of the local culture, and attending a game is truly a must-have experience. The atmosphere and the love of the local fans for their team are unbelievable, and you don’t have to be a fan to get excited and feel the energy in the stadium.
I highly recommend going to one of Atletico Madrid’s games because they have the best fans and the vibe is insane, but Real Madrid’s games are also worth it. Tickets are available on each team’s official website, and you should purchase yours a few weeks in advance, if possible.
FOOD RELATED MADRID TRAVEL TIPS
DON’T PAY FOR HOTEL BREAKFAST
Madrid is a foodie’s heaven, and that includes breakfast too. With all the incredible cafes you can find in Madrid, you have to eat out. From Spanish classics (like toasts with tomatoes and olive oil) to freshly baked pastries to decadent breakfasts, this city has you covered.
EATING PAELLA IN MADRID – YES OR NO?
Exploring the local culinary scene is such a big part of traveling, and each one of Spain’s 17 regions has its own food culture. While paella is Spain’s most famous dish, Madrid has nothing to do with it because it was actually born in Valencia. So if you’re looking to experience Madrid’s authentic food scene, searching for paella is not the way to do it.
Having said that, I understand not everyone goes back obsessively to Spain over and over again (like I do), and you might want to try paella even if it’s not in Valencia. To have a somewhat authentic meal, avoid the touristy cafes and restaurants that try to tempt you with photos of paella and central locations on the city’s main streets. Those are the biggest tourist traps. Instead, go to a Valencian restaurant like La Paella de la Reina for a proper meal.
DON’T EAT IN PLAZA MAYOR
Just like you shouldn’t eat on Las Ramblas avenue in Barcelona, you should also avoid the restaurants in Plaza Mayor in Madrid. The views of the square might be tempting, but the prices and food are usually not worth it. If you’re looking for a genuine local experience, this is 100%, not it.
THE BATTLE OF THE CHURROS
Asking where to find the best churros in Madrid is like starting a war. Both locals and tourists have their personal favorite, and mine is San Gines, which is probably the most famous place in Madrid. I know not everyone would agree with me, but I like their thin crispy churros with their hot chocolate, which is not overly sweet. The fact that it’s open 24/7 and you can feast on some churros even in the middle of the night is a huge bonus.
Here are a few other places to check out. Let me know which one was your favorite when you get back!
SEEK FOR HIDDEN ROOFTOPS
Exploring the streets of Madrid, you will walk next to some innocent-looking buildings without knowing they are keeping a secret – the trendiest rooftop bars and restaurants (which include some of the best rooftop bars in Europe). They are super popular and you cannot travel to Madrid without visiting at least one. Here are a few places you should try.
BUSY AND LOUD TAPAS BARS ARE THE BEST
Good local tapas bars can seem intimidating for the average traveler. They can be busy as hell and super noisy, but that’s why these are the best places to have authentic food and enjoy an authentic atmosphere. All you need is a little bit of patience, and you’ll have a table or a spot at the bar. It’s not uncommon to eat tapas while standing, so try having your meal at the bar at least once (I guarantee it’s a fun experience).
OTHER MADRID TIPS
WATCH YOUR BELONGINGS
You don’t need to stress out about it, but like in other European cities, watch your things and beware of pickpockets. One particular place that is a pickpocket’s paradise is the El Rastro market. It’s packed with people, and you probably won’t notice anything or anyone suspicious. So be sure to put your bag in front of you and keep your pockets empty.
DON’T COMPARE IT TO BARCELONA
I’m going to be a bit harsh here, but one thing that bothers me is people comparing destinations like they’re a pair of shoes. I totally get having a favorite destination or liking one better than the other. However, I don’t agree with dismissing a city just because people are unrealistically expecting it to be similar to the other.
I want you to celebrate Madrid for all the fantastic things it has to offer and not see it as better or worse than Barcelona. Each city is completely different but isn’t that what’s beautiful about traveling?
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