By Rachael Funk
A trip to Madrid is a must-do for anyone who loves food, art, and a vivid nightlife. The city’s spectrum of architectural history provides a stunning scene while you zip through the city, visiting museums, sampling the local tapas, or simply relaxing in the sunshine. A city whose energy powers the imagination of those who visit, Madrid is where you can feel the heartbeat of Spain.
What to know
Europe’s sunniest capital, Madrid gets about 300 days of sunshine a year. Despite the sun, locals tend to avoid shorts or sandals until around June. If you want to blend in, leave the flip flops at home and opt for breezy pants. A city with its own pace, Madrid may require you to shift your daily routine by a few hours. Plan for 3 pm lunches, 10 pm dinners, and closure of most shops from 2 pm – 5 pm. Brush up on your Spanish before you go – you might have trouble finding fluent English speakers here.
When to Go
The best time to visit Madrid is spring, (March to May) or fall (September to November) when the warm weather wakes up the city. Winter in Madrid sees lower hotel rates, and peak tourism season is in the heat of summer, so depending on the reason for travel, you may consider shoulder season instead of hustling through the crowds in the summer.
How to Get Around
Madrid’s city center is extremely walkable! With top attractions very close to each other, it’s unlikely you’ll need to get a car or bicycle to get around the city. Public transit is also available for longer distances. The clean and efficient metro system will take you anywhere you want to go.
Where to Eat
Tapas are a tradition in Madrid. In most places, when you order a drink, you’ll also receive a small bite to eat. Olives, almonds, or Iberico ham and picotos are very common as complimentary snacks. If you’re looking for something more substantial, here are some great places to get a bite that will leave you satisfied and ready for a nap.
- Bar El Boqueron Calle de Valencia, 14, 28012 Madrid, Spain Phone: +34 915 27 63 80
- La Castela Calle Dr. Castelo, 22, 28009 Madrid, Spain Phone: +34 915 74 00 15
- San Mamés Calle de Bravo Murillo, 88, 28003 Madrid, Spain Phone: +34 915 34 50 65
- La Copita Asturiana Calle de Tabernillas, 13, 28005 Madrid, Spain Phone: +34 913 65 10 63
- Panic Calle Conde Duque, 13, 28015 Madrid, Spain Phone: +34 910 86 22 01
- El Brillante Plaza Emperador Carlos V, 8, 28012 Madrid, Spain Phone: +34 915 28 69 66
- Lakasa Restaurant Plaza del Descubridor Diego de Ordás, 1, 28003 Madrid, Spain Phone: +34 915 33 87 15
What to See
The Prado Museum
Holding one of the most important art collections in Europe, the Prado is mandatory for art and history buffs alike. Specializing in European painting, sculpture, drawing, engraving, and decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the museum is full of treasures for anyone to explore.
Take a stroll through the city’s main tourist area, where you will find shops, bars, and even a casino. This is where you can sip a cocktail at the Museo Chicote, peek inside the Hotel de las Letras, or check out the landmarks along this bustling street.
Stop by to see the statue of Felipe III, people watch, and enjoy a cup of really good coffee or hot chocolate. The Tourist Information Centre is located in this plaza as well, so if you need inspiration for how to plan out your day or any questions, this is a great place to find answers.
Círculo de Bellas Artes
This is one of the best places to take in the views of Madrid. Head up to the rooftop terrace to see the whole city laid out before you, from the streets to the monuments to the skyscrapers jutting into the incredible skyline.
Don’t make the mistake of skipping the city’s parks! The largest is Casa de Campo, which is five times larger than New York City’s Central Park. Inside of Casa de Campo, you’ll also find the Madrid Zoo, which is a great place to spend a warm afternoon. Parque del Buen Retiro is smaller and excellent for a quiet picnic or a stroll through the shaded walkways.
Tips and Tricks
Siesta is taken very seriously in Madrid. This means many offices and shops tend to be closed between 2:00 and 5:00 pm. Be aware of how your itinerary interacts with siesta hours to avoid improper planning.
Buy tickets for the Prado online! You’ll be able to fly past the long line at the door and head straight in.
To save a little money in the nightlife of Botellón, drink before you go out. Locals there often purchase liquor at convenience stores then drink on the street or in parks before they hit the clubs.
Take a jaunt to Toledo, an ancient city whose multicultural history is palpable in every street corner. See Catholic, Moorish, and Jewish monuments as well as unbelievable art from El Greco and Velazquez. Visitors to Toledo can connect to the spiritual, artistic, and historic energy of this well-preserved city.
A city with dramatic scenery and a town of unsurpassed beauty, Cuenca holds the romantic and adventurous spirit those who travel to Spain are looking for. One of the least populated provinces of Spain, this striking city will be your favorite getaway destination while in the country.
Home to the oldest university in Spain, Salamanca offers monuments, cathedrals, museums, and cloisters to engage. With fewer tourists and a younger population than Toledo, this Renaissance city will be a welcome escape from the crowds of Madrid. Take in Plaza Mayor in the heart of the town where you can watch the vibrant local culture.