Madrid is often overshadowed by its northerly neighbor Barcelona. There seems little reason for this, though—with delicious food, affordable living, and deluxe shopping, the capital of Spain deserves its own spotlight of fame! Discover what many locals already know and love about their charming city: plentiful rooftop bars, nonstop nightclubs, fantastic museum exhibitions, and luscious green parks. Check out all of my Madrid travel tips in this ultimate guide!
What to Expect in Madrid
Madrid has an amazing fusion of tradition and history, with a modern, urban lifestyle. Because Madrid is a very large city, it can be hard to get your bearings. Here are some of the basics you need to know for your trip to Madrid!
Language: The official language is Spanish, naturally. You’ll find that people in the tourism businesses speak English, but not as widely as in Barcelona, or other major European cities.
Currency: The Euro.
Credit Cards and Banks: The majority of retailers and restaurants accept debit cards as payment; an increasing number are using credit cards.
Siesta: Many small shops and restaurants close from about 2:00-4:00 PM. If you have important errands to run, make sure to get them done in the morning if possible! Because of siesta, Spaniards usually eat their dinners after 8:00 PM, and go out even later.
Climate: Madrid has hot and dry summer months and mild spring temperatures. I think the best time to visit Madrid is between September and November or in the early spring (March and April). Accommodations tend to be cheaper during their winter months, but expect cold weather! Here are more tips for The Best Time to Travel to Spain.
Our Experience as a Lesbian Couple
Madrid needs to go to the top of your list for LGBTQ+ friendly destinations in Europe! The city is very laid back, you will see plenty of same-sex couples out in the open. The gay scene has establishments catering specifically to LGBTQ+ women (rare), most notably Club 33, the oldest lesbian bar in Madrid. It’s one of our favorite destinations to visit as a lesbian couple and we highly recommend it!
Getting Around in Madrid
City traffic tends to be congested so it’s best to stay off wheels unless you’re driving out of town.
By Metro: The Madrid metro is very easy to navigate, even for non-Spanish speakers, and it’s much less expensive than other metro systems in Europe. It’s the best way to get around Madrid! If you’re heading into the suburbs, you can connect with local trains or buses.
By Car: Parking is no picnic in Madrid, but if you must arrive by car, be sure to use a reliable GPS and ask ahead about parking at your hotel or accommodation.
Arriving by Air: The airport is just a few minutes from downtown Madrid. Catch the metro to Madrid city center for just a couple of euros.
Where to Stay in Madrid
Madrid is a large city, but luckily, public transportation makes it a breeze to get around. When deciding where you want to stay in Madrid, consider where you’ll be spending most of your time.
The most popular neighborhoods for tourists are Salamanca and around Retiro Park—these areas tend to be quieter, safer, but also a bit more expensive. Other great areas to stay in are Centro, La Latina, Malasaña, and Chueca. Here are the top hotels in Madrid!
The Orfila is a stunning boutique with cream-color walls, a flowered patio, and a rooftop terrace. Built-in 1886, the hotel feels more like an art gallery with its period furniture and marble décor.
Renting a VRBO is a great way to see more areas of the city, connect with locals, and possibly save money compared to a hotel. Check out the excellent VRBO selection in Madrid!
This is a stunning boutique hotel that boasts refinery and contemporary design. Hotel Palacio Del Retiro is very affordable for being a luxury hotel and situated in one of the best spots you could stay in Madrid. You’re just steps away from the Retiro park, shops, restaurants, and museums!
SLEEP’N Atocha is a budget hotel located just a few blocks from the train and metro station, and is within walking distance to major sights, like the Prado museum.
Just walk through the doors, and you’ll love this hotel. It’s in a great location on Gran Via, walking distance to many sights (like Plaza de España) of interest and restaurants, plus there is a metro station right in front of the hotel!
Hostal Gala is very central so you can walk to a ton of places. The rooms are all private, kept very clean and the staff is awesome!
ICON Casona 1900 is located in the chic neighborhood of Salamanca, and is very accessible to the metro! The staff is on the top of their game, and the rooms offer all the modern conveniences you could want, in a stunning 19th-century building.
What to Eat in Madrid
As with other regions in Spain, Madrid has some local delicacies that you should try when visiting! Pork is king in this area so if you’re into that, be sure to try cocido madrileño, a pork stew, and roast suckling pig. Seafood is also plentiful—try the pulpo (octopus), gambas al ajillo (shrimps with garlic), and bocadillo de calamares, a sandwich with fried squid.
I’ve also compiled a list of 10 amazing tapas to order in Spain, and check out the best places to eat in Madrid below!
Spanish food is SO good, and I love trying the local specialties. When you’re in Spain, you’ll want to opt for tapas—I’ve compiled the ultimate list of tapas to try in Spain. Here are some of my favorites to try in Madrid: bacalao (salted and dried cod), olive oil and olives, jamon (ham), cheese, patatas bravas (smoky potatoes fried in oil with aioli), and pimientos de padrón (spicy fried peppers)!
And I can’t forget the famous Jamón Ibérico. The best ham in Spain is incontestably Ibérico de Bellota ham, which comes from the black Ibérico pig whose diet consists of wild holm oak acorns. This ham can cost twice what normal ham does but oooohhhh is it worth it!
Chocolatería San GinésChocolatería
Don’t miss this famous and historic café at Pasadizo de San Gines. Since 1894, this delicious Chocolatería has specialized in thick hot chocolate and mouthwatering, deep-fried churros.
Taberna El Sur de HuertasSpanish
A local’s favorite that serves great drinks, delicious Spanish and Mediterranean tapas, and main dishes! The service won’t let you down, so book a table onahead of your next trip. And be sure to try the solomillo relleno, garlic shrimp, pulpo (octopus) and the sangria!
Mercado de San MiguelMarket
Find all the local delicacies at the Mercado San Miguel! This historic market in the old quarter is perfect to sample your way through Spanish cuisine—vermouth, pintxos, oysters, olives paella, caviar—the list goes on and on.
El miniBARTapas, Bar
This is my FAVORITE place for tapas in Madrid! Situated near Plaza Mayor, this place has awesome service, delicious food, cold beer and yummy sangria for a fraction of other places. If you’re traveling on a budget, this is a must.
This fine-dining establishment offers tasting menus of traditional Spanish dishes, paired with delicious wines, and it will blow your taste buds away. The overall experience here is one for the books! You’ll need to make reservations online ahead of time.
What to do in Madrid
For me, Madrid has a certain old-world charm to it, compared to other European capitals. Madrid has amazing historical sites, museums, restaurants, shopping areas, plazas, and parks where you can learn, relax, wine, and dine. I’ve listed the best places to see in Madrid, but you can find more things to do in Madrid here too!
I would compare this park to New York City’s Central Park—a beautiful oasis in the middle of a large, bustling city. The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, before being opened to the public. You could get lost among the park’s paths, fountains, and monuments and get some great people watching in too! In 2021, the park became part of a combined UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located inside of Retiro Park, the Palacio de Cristal was built in 1887 and is made almost entirely of glass, set in an iron framework. It is seriously magical! It sits alongside a large lake and is surrounded by more than 15,000 trees. Perfect for a walk on a sunny, Spanish afternoon!
One of the most iconic forms of dance, Flamenco originated in Spain and still plays an important role in the culture. Madrid has a range of venues that offer Flamenco shows with a traditional Spanish dinner—a lively and fantastic way to spend the evening.
This ornate cathedral is one of the largest in Europe and blends a neo-Gothic style with modern statues and pop art décor. Construction took more than a century and the cathedral was only consecrated in 1993. It’s stunning!
As a major transport hub, Puerta del Sol is the most interesting square to visit in town. Here you’ll glimpse at intriguing statues, public artworks, and historic architecture. Grab a coffee and relax while you watch the people of Madrid go about their business. Be sure to watch your bags though, this is a popular place for pickpockets!
To make the most out of your time, I’d highly recommend joining a Take Walks tour! Led by locals, you’ll get an inside look into Madrid and discover the city’s food culture, fascinating museums, and beautiful architecture.
I’ve been on tours with Take Walks all around the world and am always so intrigued by what they have to offer—plus it’s a great way to see the city in a whole new light.
Spain is one of the most fanatic nations when it comes to soccer (aka football), and Madrid is a perfect spot to catch a game. In Madrid, there are two teams to look out for—Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid (often considered the underdogs)— and both are equally exciting to watch.
There are many places to day trip from Madrid! Some of the most popular are Toledo, Segovia, El Escorial and the university town of Alcalá de Henares.
Segovia is my personal favorite! It is a colorful Spanish town that is home to an ancient (and incredibly stunning) Roman aqueduct, as well as a commanding medieval castle, the Alcázar de Segovia, that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
If you have a few extra days, I’ve compiled a list of other amazing cities to visit in Spain (that aren’t Barcelona)!