Located on the Manzanares River in the centre of Spain, Madrid is the third largest city in the European Union and Spain’s thriving capital city. It has preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighbourhoods and streets while adopting modern-day infrastructure and amenities, making it a must-see destination for any traveller wanting to experience the Spanish culture in a beautiful setting.
After prehistoric times, Madrid existed as an established settlement in the Muslim age before being conquered by the Christians in 1085. Even though it has seen its share of unrest over the centuries, most recently during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the city became Spain’s capital in the mid-16th century and now boasts a stable population of around 3 million people.
Currency: Euro / €
Why visit Madrid?
- For the food – It may not be well-known for its own specialties, but with one bar or restaurant for every 192 residents, Madrid is a melting pot of typical food from every region in Spain.
- For the lively nightlife – on any night of the week, there are numerous pubs, bars and clubs playing a variety of music from late at night until the early hours of the morning. The night typically ends with a feast of churros with chocolate sometime after 3am.
- To see a football match – two world-known football clubs reside in this city – Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid – and their intense rivalry is contagious.
- To visit historical and cultural attractions – from world-class art museums, an ancient Egyptian temple, the royal palace, and the Buen Retiro park, Madrid has a number of sites that will resonate with almost any visitor.
Best things to see and do in Madrid
Experience the food like the locals do
It’s the Spanish way to sample tapas and a drink at several different bars and restaurants in a single night. And, it’s a great way to experience the local cuisine and beer while walking around a city with hundreds of years’ of history. Seafood (octopus, anchovies, prawns), pork (pan-seared pig ears, chorizo, ham), potato and egg feature heavily in the range of stews and tapas that make up the local fare. Churros (crispy dough) dipped in melted chocolate is a common afternoon snack, occasional breakfast item and a staple of Madrid’s after-hours nightlife.
You can also sample the fare at several lively food markets scattered around the city. The historic wrought-iron-and-glass building of the most famous food market, Mercado de San Miguel, houses many market stalls that sell all kinds of delicious local specialties, tapas and drinks. Get in before 9pm to secure a seat as it gets lively later in the night.
Other recommended restaurants: Restaurante La Alhambra, Ginos, Paralelo Cero, Casa Lucio, Restaurante Palacio de Cibeles, Mercado de la Reina, 100 Montaditos.
Immerse yourself in the Golden Triangle of Art located along Paseo del Prado and comprising three museums; the Prado Art Museum, (Museo del Prado), the Reina Sofía Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
The most famous of the three, Prado Art Museum, features pre-20th-century artworks from Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. It also hosts fantastic temporary exhibitions and is so it would take more than one day to see it all!
(Admission: €14 + temporary exhibitions. Opening Hours: 10am – 7pm daily)
Visit the Temple de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple originally constructed in Aswan, Egypt, in the 2nd century BC and transported stone by stone to Madrid in the 1960s. You can visit and explore the temple in the Parque del Oeste (Western Park), near the Royal Palace of Madrid.
(Admission: free. Opening Hours: Tuesday – Friday from 10am – 2pm and 6pm – 8pm, Saturday – Sunday from 10am – 2pm)
Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid) and enjoy the surrounding parklands. After the Palace was built in the 1700s, it became the official Madrid residence of the Spanish Royal Family. It is now only used for state ceremonies and to display an incredible collection of artwork and armoury.
(Admission: €10 + €4 per audio guide. Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm daily)
For traditional flamenco (music and dancing) that has great food and is less touristy, check out Tablao Flamenco Cafetín La Quimera.
Explore the squares and parks
Grab a cold drink and a traditional calamari sandwich in Plaza Mayor. Built around the 17th century, Plaza Mayor is a famous central plaza surrounded by three-story residential buildings housing numerous bars and cafes. The square sometimes features markets, performers and grand events.
Enjoy some world-class shopping near the busy Puerta del Sol and visit the bear and strawberry tree, the emblem of Madrid since the Middle Ages. Puerta del Sol also features a famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes at the beginning of a New Year.
Stroll through Buen Retiro Park and go rowing on the Great Lake. The 1.4 km2 (350 acres) park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy and was used for hunting before it became a public park in the late 19th century. It’s a magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, and a great lake you can go boating on.
(Boat hire: €8 for 45 minutes. Opening Hours: 10am – 5.30pm daily)
Watch a world-class football (soccer) match. Real Madrid (the largest team in Spain) and Atlético Madrid are both world-renowned teams and major football rivalries – a game would be well worth it.
Located on Ribera de Curtidores and open every Sunday from 9am to 3pm, El Rastro is Madrid’s oldest and most iconic open-air flea market. Hundreds of stalls fill the street with life and bustle as locals and tourists haggle with store keepers and browse through the new and second-hand clothes, costume jewellery, decorative items, vinyl records, T-shirts of bands, souvenirs of Madrid, prints and drawings.
How to get around Madrid
The Madrid public transport system includes the Madrid Metro (underground train system), buses, suburban trains and light rail trams. Most attractions are in zone A.
To travel on any of the 12 Metro lines or on buses from all EMT (bus) stations (except the Plaza de Colón to Airport line), you can buy a single-trip zone A metro ticket for €1.50, or a 10 journey Metrobús ticket for €12.20, at the ticket office or the automatic ticket machine.
The Tourist Travel Pass is most useful if you are planning a stay of several days and want to incorporate travel to and from the airport, or outside of the city centre. An adult pass for 1 days’ travel costs €8.40 for travel only within zone A, or €17.00 for a 1 day pass for travel across the whole autonomous region of Madrid. A seven day pass for travel in zone A only costs €35.40, while the seven day pass covering the autonomous region (including zone T) is €70.80.
Day trips from Madrid
You can use public transport to travel to surrounding towns Segovia and Toledo in a day.
Segovia is a UNESCO World Heritage listed historic city northwest of Madrid and can be explored in under 3 hours. It has a rich architectural legacy, including medieval walls, Romanesque churches, a former royal palace, a Gothic cathedral, and an iconic ancient Roman aqueduct (circa 50 A.D) that has more than 160 arches. For food, try roast lamb or trout at Restaurante José María.
Toledo is located in zone T, 70km south of Madrid, and can be easily reached in 25 minutes by train from Atocha station. Its historic quarter, declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, still has exactly the same layout it had in the Middle Ages and features impressive cathedrals, castles, mosques, squares, a Jewish Quarter and numerous restaurants and bars near Calle Alfileritos.
How to get to Madrid
Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport is the main international airport serving Madrid. The airport is within a 30 minute drive or 45 minute Metro journey from the city centre.
Spain’s high-speed AVE train links Madrid with both Barcelona and Seville in under 2.5 hours, as well as most other regional destinations in Spain. Estación de Atocha (Atocha Railway Station) is the largest and most central train station, though many trains also go through Chamartin Train Station.
International and regional bus services are operated by Alsa and Eurolines to and from Estación de Atocha (Atocha Railway Station) and Madrid’s main bus station, Estación Sur de Autobuses (Bus Station South).
Madrid can be accessed on good roads by car from anywhere in Spain and surrounding countries.
Weather in Madrid
In Madrid, summer months (July – August) are warm to hot, with an average July daytime temperature of 32 °C, occasionally climbing over 35 °C (95 °F).
In spring month (April – June) and autumn months (September – October), Madrid enjoys a warm climate, very little rain, and cool evenings ranging between 15°C/ 60°F and 22°C/ 72°F.
The temperatures drop drastically for winter between December and February, with a maximum temperature of only 10°C/ 50°F and the minimum temperature at freezing with some sporadic snowfall.
Looking for more travel inspiration?
Check out my recommendation on what to do in:
Amsterdam, Bali, Berlin, Brisbane, Bristol, Budapest, Cambridge, Canberra, Cappadocia, Chamonix, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Kotor, Kyoto, London, Lyon, Madrid, New York City, Paris, Riga, Scotland, Tokyo and Washington D.C.