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 city—plentiful rooftop bars, nonstop nightclubs, fantastic museum exhibitions, and luscious green parks. Check out all of my tips in the ultimate Madrid travel guide!
What to Expect in Madrid
Madrid has an amazing fusion of history and modern, urban lifestyle. Because Madrid is a very large city, it can be hard to get your bearings. Here’s 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 card as payment; an increasing number are using credit cards.
Siesta: Many small shops and restaurants close from about 2:00-4:00PM. 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 8:00PM, 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!
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 metro is very easy to navigate, even for non-Spanish speakers, and it’s much less expensive than other metro systems in Europe. If you’re heading into the suburbs, hop on one of the 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.
Arriving by Air: The airport is just a few minutes from downtown. Catch the metro to the city center for just a couple of euros.
Relais & Chateaux Hotel Orfila
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.
Location: Salamanca Neighborhood
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!
Accommodation: All Types
Hotel Palacio del Retiro
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!
Location: Retiro Park
Accommodation: 5-Star Boutique Hotel
SLEEP’N Atocha is a budget hotel located just a few blocks from the train and metro station, and is in walking distance to major sights, like the Prado museum.
Accommodation: Budget Hotel
Barcelo Torre de Madrid
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!
Location: Next to Plaza de España
Accommodation: 5-Star 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!
Location: Next to Plaza Mayor
Chocolatería San Ginés (Cheap Eats)
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.
Top local Spanish goodies to try: 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)!
Taberna El Sur de Huertas (Casual Dining)
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 on your next trip.
What to Order: The solomillo relleno, garlic shrimp, pulpo (octopus) and the sangria!
Mercado de San Miguel
Get your nibbles and tidbits form the Market of 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 miniBAR (Cheap Eats)
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.
Cebo (Fine Dining)
The ambience and food experience at this restaurant is one for the books! They offer tasting menus of traditional Spanish dishes, paired with delicious wines, and it will blow your taste buds away.
Helpful Tip: You have to make reservations online, and not over the phone.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota (Local Dish)
The best ham in Spain is incontestably Ibérico de Bellota ham, which is made 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!
Wander Around Parque del Buen Retiro
I would compare this park to New York City’s Central Park — a beautiful oasis in the middle of a large, bustling city. You could get lost among the park’s paths, fountains, and monuments and get some great people watching in too!
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. Be sure to check out Villa Rosa!
Puerta del Sol
As a major transport hub, the 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!
Marvel at Palacio de Cristal
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 set in a 130-hectare park alongside a large lake where there is a variety of flora and more than 15,000 trees to discover on a sunny Spanish afternoon.
Book a Tour with Take Walks
To make the most out of your time, I’d highly recommend joining a Take Walks tour! Find the one that speaks to you! 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!
Visit the Catedral de la Almudena
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.
Mercado de San Miguel
The beautiful Mercado de San Miguel sits next to Plaza Mayor and serves a variety of pastries, snacks, and tapas. Locals and tourists alike flock here to sample fresh nibbles, and it’s a great way to see Madrid through the eyes of its natives.
Classical Art of the Highest Order at the Museo del Prado
The Museo del Prado is one of the best museums in Europe—it boasts a fine collection of classical art from Spanish masters like Velasquez and Goya and far-off artists such as Rubens, Botticelli, and Caravaggio.
Watch a Game of Fútbol
Spain is one of the most fanatic nations when it comes to soccer, and Madrid is a perfect spot to catch a game. Stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale strut their stuff around Madrid. Players from Atletico Madrid (the underdogs) are equally exciting to watch.
Take a Day Trip to Segovia or El Escorial
Segovia is a colorful Spanish town that is home to an ancient (and incredibly stunning) Roman aqueduct. El Escorial was once the home to Spain’s Royal Family. It now offers tours of the palace and is an operating monastery.
Book a Walking Tour
One of the best ways to learn about a city’s unique history and attractions is with a guided walking tour. Lead by locals, you’ll get an inside look into Madrid and discover the city’s food culture, fascinating museums and beautiful architecture.