This comprehensive guide to Madrid covers where to stay, eat, drink and party in the Spanish capital! Read on for sights worth the hype and hidden gems.
I first visited Madrid in May 2014. It was the fourth stop on my post-college backpacking trip around Europe. My first day in the city, I joined a free walking tour in Puerta del Sol. The guide told the group the majority of people living in Madrid weren’t actually from Madrid. It was a city of transplants. People from all over Spain and all over the world move to the Spanish capital thus cultivating the city’s cosmopolitan vibe.
“You should never feel like an outsider in Madrid,” the guide, originally from London, said.
While I won’t say I never felt like an outsider, I learned to not only navigate Madrid but also found my place in it. Madrid was my home for two years. As a recent college grad striking out on her own for the first time, the city’s “live and let live” attitude inspired me. Madrid is somewhere you can be who you want to be and do what you want to do.
Oh, and while you’re planning your trip to Europe, don’t forget to grab my top travel tips for traveling Europe on a budget!
Regardless of where you’re staying in the city, Madrid is super easy to get around. I recommend taking a walking tour on your first day in order to get the lay of the land. You’ll see how quick it is to get from one neighborhood to another. In my two years living there, I think I took taxis less than five times. Even coming home at 2 a.m. (or 3 or 4 or 5 a.m.), I’d always walk.
“Free” walking tours: Sandemans offers free walking tours of the city every day at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The tour starts in front of the Tourist Information Center in Plaza Mayor and includes stops at Teatro Real, Catedral de Almudena, Mercado de San Miguel and Palacio Royal. When tipping, consider the cost of a full-priced walking tour and pay what you can. Guides understand backpackers and budget travelers aren’t going to shell out big bucks, but it’s still important to pay them fairly for their service.
Guide To Madrid Metro
This may come as a bit of a surprise since the Spanish aren’t really known for their organization or punctuality, but Madrid has excellent public transportation. It’s clean, efficient and cost-effective. I particularly love that you can get from the airport to the city center on the metro. Who wants to pay €30 for a cab?!
There’s an app for that: Download the Madrid Metro app to make getting around even easier. With access to WiFi or data, you can calculate routes, find your closest stop and see waiting times. A map is available for download and use offline. The app is available for both Android and iOS. Information is offered in several languages.
Other Madrid Public Transportation
If you’re in Madrid for more than a few days, you may have a need for transportation beyond the metro and your own two feet.
- Cercanías Madrid: Commuter rail service for the city and its metropolitan areas. Main rail terminals are Atocha (south) and Chamartín (north).
- Buses: The EMT network has 217 routes and over 10,000 stops. Nearly everyone in Madrid lives within 300m of a bus stop.
- High-speed rail: AVE connects Madrid with other major Spanish cities including Barcelona, Málaga, Valencia and Sevilla.
Is Madrid dangerous?
As in every city, you need to be aware of your surroundings, but, overall, Madrid is very safe. When using public transportation or walking on a crowded street, be mindful of your personal belongings. In the two years, I lived in Madrid, I never had an issue, and that’s probably because I made a conscious effort to always be alert. If you ever have a problem, don’t hesitate to ask a police officer for help. Madrid law enforcement officials genuinely want to serve and are very professional.
Top Madrid Sights Worth The Hype
- Rooftop of the Círculo Bellas Artes building
- You have to pay to go up, but it’s totally worth it! Grab a drink at the bar and enjoy the panoramic views.
- Location: Calle Alcála 42. Entrance fee: €4. Hours: Open all week from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday open until midnight.
What is Madrid best known for?
Madrid has three of the top art museums in the world: Prado Museum, Reina Sofía Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Together, they’re known as the “Golden Triangle of Art.”
- My personal favorite is the Reina Sofía, Madrid’s museum of modern art. Its most famous piece is Picasso’s painting “Guernica.” The first time (and second and third time) I saw the massive work it took my breath away.
- You can see it free of charge 7-9 p.m. Monday and Wednesday thru Saturday as well as 1:30-7 p.m. Sunday.
When should I visit Madrid?
There really are no bad months to visit Madrid (except for maybe brutally hot August). But, if you want to visit Madrid at its absolute best, I suggest late spring/early summer. April, May and June are all good months to visit Madrid. You’ll get to enjoy a drink on one of they city’s many terraces or rooftops while mostly avoiding the summer crowds.
Where To Eat in Madrid
You should know, Spanish meal times are super strict. It can be difficult to find a place serving food outside certain times. Lunch starts at 2 p.m. and lasts till 4-5 p.m. Dinner begins around 9 p.m. and goes till late on the weekend.
If you’re going to eat and drink in one neighborhood in Madrid, make sure it’s La Latina. It’s the oldest part of the city and just classic Madrid. All the bars along Cava Baja and Cava Alta are good bets for tapas. Seriously, it’s hard to go wrong. For the full tapas experience (standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a packed bar), visit La Latina on Sunday afternoon.
Spending Sunday in Madrid? Lucky you! For the ultimate Sunday Funday, check out this guide for things to do in Madrid on a Sunday!
If you decide you want to sit down to eat (aka something more than tapas), consider making a reservation. The Spanish are weirdly obsessed with them. You can either stop in the restaurant or call. Many people in the service industry speak at least a little English. What kind of Madrid guide would this be without a few of my fave spots:
- El Imparcial (Calle del Duque de Alba, 4)
- Taberna Rayuela (Calle de la Moreria, 8)
- Casa Jaguar (Calle de los Caños del Peral, 9)
- La Mi Venta (Plaza de la Marina Española, 7)
Where to Drink and Party in Madrid
Madrid (okay, Spain in general) is famous for its nightlife, and if you want to experience it to the fullest, don’t plan on getting a good night’s sleep. A night out in Madrid begins with a late dinner or tapas hopping starting at 9 or 10 p.m. People will drink beer or wine with the food but then switch to copas (mixed drinks). No one hits the club until at least 1 a.m. and sometimes not until 2 or 3 a.m.
Guide To Madrid Neighborhoods (My Personal Faves)
It’s got to be really freaking cold for people to not be sitting outside in Madrid. When possible, enjoy your beverage like a Madrileño: al fresco.
- Madrid’s Malasaña neighborhood
- It’s the hipster center of Madrid, which means lots of mustaches, plaid and cool little bars.
- Check out: Plaza Dos de Mayo; 1862 Dry Bar (Calle del Pez, 27); The Passenger (Calle del Pez, 16).
- Madrid’s La Latina neighborhood
- Had your fill of tapas? Keep the party going!
- Check out: Plaza Tirso de Molina; El Estudio de los Arquitectos (Costanilla de San Pedro, 9); María Pandora, Cava & Poetry (Plaza de Gabriel Miró, 1).
Madrid Nightlife Guide
If reggaeton or electronic music is your thing, you’ll have no trouble finding clubs in Madrid. My favorite spots played a mix of indie hits, old school pop punk and classic rock. Every Sunday night, Marula Café hosts the RootsJam hip-hop session which is a mix of serious artists and people just having fun. An incredible jam band backs everything from freestyles to duets.
Check out: Marula Café (Calle de Caños Viejos, 3); Graffiti Music Bar (Calle Bailén, 39); ContraClub (Calle de Bailén, 16); Space Monkey (Calle de Campoamor, 3).
Where to Stay in Madrid
It’s actually quite easy to visit Madrid on a budget because there are lots of accommodation options! If your goal is to embrace the city’s social atmosphere, I suggest staying in a hostel. Hostels attract open-minded travelers aka people who want to make new friends and have a good time. Unless you’re totally cool hitting the club on your own, stay in a hostel and find a group to party with.
- Address: Calle Jesús y María, 12
- 8-bed mixed dorm: €16.50 per night.
- Double bed private room: €63 per night.
- Address: Calle Cañizares, 6
- 19-bed mixed dorm: €15 per night.
- Deluxe twin private room (sleeps two): €60 per night.
Never stayed in a hostel before? I promise most aren’t scary or gross. Read this post to find out what it’s really like to stay in a hostel!
Guide To Madrid Off The Beaten Bath
Madrid Food Markets
As supermarkets gained popularity among Spanish shoppers, traditional markets were forced to reinvent themselves. The trendy food markets we know today were born, and it’s difficult to imagine a Madrid without them. Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel) is hands down the most popular among tourists due to its close proximity to Plaza Mayor, but it’s not the city’s only food market. In my opinion, it’s not even Madrid’s best.
Don’t miss: Mercado San Fernando (Calle de Embajadores, 41); El Matadero (Paseo de la Chopera, 14); Mercado de Antón Martín (Santa Isabel, 5); Mercado de San Antón (Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24B).
Madrid Day Trips
As if there wasn’t enough to see and do in Madrid, there’s even more waiting for you outside the city limits! I like day trips because they really help give a more well-rounded understanding of the place you’re visiting. Who doesn’t love a little two-for-one?! Tourists flock to Toledo and Segovia, and while both those towns are lovely, sometimes you just want something a little different…
Lesser-known Madrid day trips:
- Alcalá de Henares
- The hometown of Miguel Cervantes.
- An impressive medieval wall surrounds the city.
- Hike then take a dip in the natural swimming pool.
Trying to decide on the best Madrid day trip for you? Check out this ultimate roundup of Madrid day trips!
Parque de las Siete Tetas
While the park’s official name is Cerro del Tío Pío, locals refer to it as “Seven Boobs Park” due to the shapely hills at varying heights. Arrive 30 minutes before sunset to give yourself time to spread out a blanket and uncork a bottle of vino. This park offers the best view of Madrid, and you’ll stay long after the sun goes down taking in the city lights. Seriously, this is one of Madrid’s best-kept secrets!
How to get there: Take Line 1 (light blue) of the Madrid Metro and get off at the Buenos Aires station. Follow Calle Pío Felipe then turn onto Calle de Benjamín Palencia.
To get the most out of your Madrid trip, why not brush up on your Spanish skills before going? Check out this FREE resource guide.
Have you spent time in Madrid? What hidden gems did you discover? Let me know in the comments below!
Psst…Don’t forget to Pin this post for later!
Thais post should entice every potential visitor to Madrid to forgo monetary restraints and head out right now. It’s all in front of you now-don’t delay.
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
Even though Madrid’s popularity is increasing, I still think it’s one of the more underrated European capitals. Such a fun city. And affordable too! Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment 🙂
Kim Mibram says
Well, Spain is all about delicious Tapas, once you order a drink in Spain, you get free Tapas. I found new information on your blog. Thanks for the sharing.
Alex | Backpacking Brunette says
Yay! I’m so glad you found this post helpful, Kim. Free tapas in Madrid are pretty basic such as chips, olives or peanuts. But hey, that’s better than nothing! You’ve got to pay for the really good stuff. Head to the south of Spain for the big freebies. I only pay for drinks when I’m in Granada! Happy travels 🙂
Alex Wittman recently posted…Mountains, Missions and More: Exploring the Sierra Gorda
Whow! This is really local. Not that many travellers know about Parque de las siete tetas. Thus, I consider this post a must-read. Cheers!