I still remember my first ever visit to Madrid, the grand and intricate architecture, the hustle and bustle of Gran Via, the calm of El Retiro park and not to mention the most beautiful royal palace I have ever seen!
Since then we’ve happily revisited Madrid on several occasions and it never ceases to amaze me how much we discover upon each new trip to the Spanish capital.
With so much to explore and discover throughout this incredible city, planning the perfect trip to Madrid may feel a tad overwhelming. As such, I’ve put together this Madrid City Travel Guide to help you do exactly that, to plan an unforgettable visit to one of my favorite European cities!
How to Get to Madrid
Madrid is a very well-connected city and is easy to reach for both international and domestic visitors. You’ll be able to reach the city by plane, train, bus or car.
Tourists flying into Madrid will land at the main international airport, Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport. It is close to the city centre and from there you can easily connect to the city by metro or taxi.
Madrid’s two main railway stations are Chamartín and Atocha. Depending on where you come from, you will reach one or the other. Domestic tourists or visitors from nearby countries might find that this is the best option. However, trains are oftentimes more expensive than flights.
If you’re coming from surrounding cities, or even from other parts of Europe, a bus is an affordable option. Flixbus has some incredibly budget-friendly long-distance tickets and their busses are both comfortable and spacious.
Of course, driving to Madrid is an easy option from nearby European towns or other areas on the peninsula. I find that rentalcar.com has the best prices and vehicle options.
Where to stay in Madrid
There are, naturally, plenty of options when it comes to accommodation in Madrid. Use the map and search feature below to find the best hotel (or hostel) for you! If you are travelling as a family and want to cook yourself during your trip to Madrid, I recommend checking out Airbnb here.
Madrid Travel Guide: Getting Around
Getting around Madrid is a breeze. The city has an excellent public transport network with a number of options to ferry you between places of interest. Although Madrid is a fairly large city, many attractions and popular sights are packed into a central area that you can explore on foot.
There are a number of ticket options to keep your transport costs low. A combination of tourist tickets and putting your feet to work makes getting around Madrid efficient, easy, and affordable.
By far the most convenient and popular way to get around Madrid is the metro. The lines run across the majority of the city and reach all the popular tourist areas. They stretch as far as the Southern suburbs and run to the airport, too.
A single ticket on the metro costs between €1.50 and €2.
Another good option, especially for short distances, is the bus system. You won’t have to worry about getting caught up in the inner-city congestion as they have special bus lanes. The routes and frequency are displayed at each stop which is extremely user-friendly for first-time visitors.
The bus times are from 6 am to 11.30 pm. Affectionately known as búhos (owls), the night busses are a convenient mode of after dark transport (although they don’t run as frequently as they daytime busses).
If you’re planning on spending a weekend in Madrid, or more, and your itinerary is packed with activities then you should consider the tourist ticket.
This ticket grants you unlimited use of the metro, busses, and train for a number of days. They are available for one, two, three, five or seven days. Prices vary between €8.40 to €70.80 according to the number of days.
The Best Time to Visit Madrid
Choosing when to travel Madrid is based on the type of activities you’re interested in. The city is alive and buzzing year-round and there is always something happening.
Summer is peak season and you can expect sweltering temperatures with long lines and crowds at all the major attractions. Winter is much quieter, but also much colder, making it less comfortable to walk around.
For the best of both worlds, the best time to visit Madrid is in early spring or late fall (May or October). Temperatures are mild and pleasant, with an abundance of activities all over the city. But the tourist influx is slightly less than during summer.
Visiting Portugal next? Don’t miss this three day Lisbon itinerary.
Madrid Travel: Top 6 Things to Do
Madrid is packed with a load of fascinating, historical and fun things to do. Here are the top 5 activities that shouldn’t be missed.
1. Take a Tour of the Royal Palace
A Madrid guide would not be complete without the addition of the grand Royal Palace. Although it is the official residence of the royal family, it’s only used for state ceremonies and is open to the public for the rest of the time.
The impressive palace was built during the 18th and 19th centuries after the original medieval alcazar burned down in 1974. Simply viewing the elaborate exterior is breathtaking. From the outside, you can have a panoramic view of the spectacular palace and the surrounding countryside.
There are over 3000 elegant rooms in the palace but visitors can only access a few dozen. Each room is more lavish than the last and there is a palpable regal atmosphere. Photography is prohibited throughout the palace with the exception of the magnificent main staircase. This is a good place to snap a stately picture.
For lovers of castles and palaces, this is one of the best in the world and a must-see site in Madrid.
2. Stroll Around the Puerta del Sol Area
Puerta del Sol is a vibey, bustling area in Madrid and the city’s most famous central square. There are a ton of interesting things for visitors to see in this area.
Check out the ‘Kilometre Zero’ stone slab on the pavement, representing the starting point for Spain’s six national roads. You can’t miss the huge bear statue as it gorges on fruit, the symbol of Madrid. And of course, you’ll see the iconic Clock of the Puerta del Sol.
Take in the amazing energy of this area as you look out for famous landmarks or enjoy people-watching at a street cafe. Every Madrid trip should include a visit to this lively area.
3. Shop, Eat and Explore Gran Via
You can’t go to Madrid on vacation and not pop by the most famous street in the city, Gran Via. Considered the Broadway of Spain, it is a lively and vibrant street with a lot going on.
Packed with shops, theatres, restaurants, and bars you’ll be spoiled for choice. You can treat yourself to a Flamenco show or Spanish play. Of course, the most popular activity is to shop for some of Spain’s best-known brands and indulge in a little high fashion.
There are a ton of incredible restaurants where you can feast on traditional food and fine dining spin-off dishes. The nightlife is buzzing on Gran Via and the best way to begin a bar-hop is on a rooftop terrace.
If you want to make a historical stop, visit the ‘Monastery of the Barefoot Royals’. It is an old convent and museum with only a few nuns still living in it which is now open for the public to explore.
4. Visit the Heart of Madrid, Plaza Mayor
This major public square in the heart of the city is the perfect spot to soak up quintessentially Spanish architecture and the unique energy of Madrid.
The tangled, compact streets of Madrid open up into a huge open space encircled by grand buildings. The geometric Herrerian style of architecture is present throughout the square, most noticeably in the towering slate spires.
Browse through the market stalls, or simply sit at one of the many outdoor cafes taking in the splendor of the square. Just walking around the area is an enjoyable experience in this unmissable Madrid destination.
5. Immerse Yourself in Art at the Prado Art Museum
Introducing one of the greatest art museums in the world and the most visited attraction in Madrid – the Prado Art Museum. Regardless of whether you’re an art aficionado or someone who doesn’t know their da Vinci from their Rembrandt, this is a worthwhile visit.
The museum was established in 1819 and houses one of the most extensive art collections in the world, comprising over 20 000 pieces of art. You’ll see portraits of Spanish royalty through the generations and an array of Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces.
A visit to this important national landmark is a must on your trip to Madrid. The sheer size of the museum and the millions of visitors it attracts can be daunting. But if you book a ticket in advance and head in as soon as it opens, you’ll love the journey through some of the best European art.
6. Plan a day trip to Segovia
Last but not least, for those with a little extra time on their hands, consider planning a day trip out of the city and visit Segovia, only a short 30-minute train ride away.
This gorgeous and popular day trip destination from Madrid features incredible architecture, a gorgeous and majestic Cathedral, and not to mention the pretty cobbled streets of the historic center.
The train journey from Madrid to Segovia lasts around half an hour, with prices ranging from €14 and upward. For a cheaper alternative, you may also make use of the Avanzabus service that takes slightly longer at an hour and 20 minutes but for a fraction of the price, from as little as €4.05 one-way.
Here is a selection of day trips from Madrid to Segovia you can join, if you would rather join a guided tour:
Want more things to do in Madrid?
As you can tell by now, there is a vast amount of fun things to do and activities in Madrid. Above are 6 that we recommend, but of course there is plenty more to do in the city! Here are just a few recommendations for you.
About the author: Born and raised in South Africa, Marco Santos from Travel-Boo, together with his partner moved to sunny Lisbon over 3 years ago. With an absolute love for Europe, he is on a mission to rediscover his own Portuguese heritage along the way. Marco has set out to blog and share his passion for travelling through and exploring both Portugal, Spain and throughout Europe, through his blog Travel-Boo.