A Complete Planning Guide For Your Trip To Madrid
Madrid is a fantastic city filled with true, authentic Spanish culture wherever you look. It is also not a place where there are hundreds of sights that you must see. You should visit Madrid with the mindset that you are going to experience the Spanish culture. Therefore, you should eat tapas in bars, watch a flamenco show, picnic in Retiro park, and go out on the town for all hours of the night. I lived in Madrid for a year teaching English, and it is hard not to fall in love with every aspect of the city. So take some time to explore, and make sure you enjoy the laid-back Spanish culture, the delicious food, and the siestas! If you are looking for a Madrid itinerary, check out my incredibly detailed Spain Itinerary: 10 Days in Barcelona and Madrid post.
Here are a few words that you might hear along the way that don’t exactly translate into English!
1. Botellon–it means to sit and drink publicly in the streets, in a plaza or anywhere really with friends
2. Tinto Verano– a very refreshing drink made of wine and carbonated soda or lemonade, perfect for a hot summer day
3. Menu Del Dia– similar to a price fix menu with 3 or 4 lunch courses and the price is only between 8-15 euros!
Things to Do:
1. The best way to get acclimated with the city is to go on a free walking tour. Sandemans New Madrid Tours always provides excellent free walking tours. I highly recommend a tour, so you can understand the history of Madrid and get a good overview of the sights. That way, you will know what sights you wish to further explore. Although it is free, it is expected that you tip at least a little bit, as the tour guides do work solely on tips.
2. Museums: The two main museums to visit are the Reina Sofia for modern art (you go here to see Picasso’s Guernica) and the Prado for more traditional art. Both museums are free nightly. The Reina Sofia from 7-9 Monday, Wednesday-Saturday and 1:30-7 on Sundays, and the Prado from 6-8 Monday thru Saturday and 5-7 on Sundays and holidays.
3. Sol and Plaza Mayor: Take a walk through Madrid city center through the Plaza del Sol, Huertas area, and through the famous Plaza Mayor.
3. Retiro Park: Retiro is similar to Central Park in New York for its expansive greenery, paddleboats, and weekend picnickers. I strongly urge everyone to take at least a half-day (preferably later in the evening during the summer so it is not quite as hot) and pickup some brie, baguettes, wine, and playing cards. Spend the afternoon relaxing and enjoying your fellow traveler’s company.
4. Cathedral and Palace: You can also go inside the Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace of Madrid. You will see the outside of both on your walking tour; but if you would like to venture inside, you should visit on your own. Ticket details and hours of operation can be found here.
5. Bernabau futbol stadium: You should check out a game if you go to Madrid during futbol season, or you can go on a tour of the stadium if you are in Madrid during the summer.
1. El Tigre is a must. I get the cider (sidra) but you can also get the beer. I don’t recommend the mojito or sangria as both are really sugary here. Make sure you go to the original one which is at Calle Infantas 30. You will receive platters upon platters of free tapas for ordering a drink. If you go with a big group, you will seriously have endless amounts of food.
2. Museo de Jamon ( Museum of Ham): This eatery is not quite a museum like the Reina Sofia or the Prado, but it does have a ridiculous amount of ham for very cheap. There are multiple locations too, so it is very convenient for a quick pit stop during shopping or sight seeing.
3. Cien Montaditos (100 small sandwiches) You actually choose from 100 different types of sandwiches! This is a huge chain so you can find them everywhere. On Wednesdays, the sandwiches are 1 euro!
1. El Botin– The restaurant near Plaza Mayor that is the oldest in the world. The food is supposed to be decently good and the ambiance incredible.
2. Open Market Places- Check out either Mercado San Miguel or Mercado de San Anton. I prefer the latter as San Miguel is very touristy but both are great! Mercado de San Anton also has a rooftop restaurant. There are lots of rooftop restaurants as it is a very on trend thing to do in Madrid.
3.Baobab-A Senegalese restaurant in barrio Lavapies. I had never had senegalese food before and was very excited to try it. There are also a ton of Indian restaurants in Lavapies, so I would definitely come over to this area if you are looking for some unique food choices. Also, you can get tapas everywhere, but the area most well-known for its tapas is La Latina. Cava Baja, the main street in La Latina ,is poppin all the time, but it gets especially crazy on Sunday nights.
4. Other trendy options include: Lateral, Bazaar, Lamucca, El Jardin Secreto
1. Napolitana de Chocolate– A must-try dessert from the famous bakery La Mallorquina which is located right in the middle of the main plaza in Sol.
2. Gelato– I know it is not Italy, but you are still in Europe, so therefore you have an entirely justifiable reason to eat excessive amounts of gelato.
3. Churros con Chocolate from Chocolateria San Gines–You can eat this at all hours of the day, but churros definitely taste best after a late night out at a bar or discotech.
Of course, Spain has incredible nightlife. Similar to Vegas, you might want to utilize the promoters that are swarming the streets in Sol. If they can get you a good deal and a few free drinks, it is not a bad way to start off the night. They should also be able to get you into the nightclubs for free or at a discounted rate, depending on the time of night.
Here are a list of the main nightclubs in Madrid: Kapital (a 7-story club), Pacha, Joy Eslava, and Fabrik which is 40 min outside city center you take a bus from Plaza Espana.
There are a million bars in Madrid and truthfully, I think it is better to just happen upon one spontaneously and see what it has to offer. But, here the names of a few key places, should you want to plan out your nights more specifically.
1. La Via Lactea-A bar in barrio Malasanya that has a 70s grunge feel to it with huge pool tables. If your night is going well, you should continue it at Club Nasti nearby.
2. El Chapandaz– A bar in Moncloa (this area is sort of out of the way). It is a cave bar and the most popular drink here is leche de pantera (panther’s milk).
3. Ojala– In barrio Malasana, Ojala is what you could call a “beach bar” as there is sand all over the floor and cute beach decor all over the room.
After all this partying, go treat yourself to some late nite food. Pizza places are open to pick up a slice and sometimes you will find hidden gems like this woman who sells empanadas out of a trash can. Of course, there is Chocolateria San Gines, and in Malasanya, there are a couple of mexican food places.
Flamenco: My favorite flamenco spot in Madrid is called Tablao Flamenco La Quimera. It is a tiny, local place with true, authentic flamenco. The only reason I even know about this place is because it just so happened to be near my apartment when I lived there. It is in a residential neighborhood and about 7 stops away from the city center, and it is an absolutely beautiful show. You should make a reservation toward the beginning of your trip to ensure availability.
Other Important Tidbits:
Shopping: The barrio Gran Via has all of the shops you could possibly imagine. There is also a jewelry store in Plaza Mayor called Tierra that has really unique items. I usually go here for souvenirs for my female friends and family.
Read More: Shopping: Best Retail Stores in Spain
Pickpockets: While perhaps not as prevalent in Barcelona, there are still plenty around. Just be aware of your surroundings and don’t ever set your phone, purse, or wallet down and walk away. I have a whole post on tips to avoid pickpockets so read here for an in-depth guide to keeping your stuff safe!
Read More: Stories of Attempted Pickpocketing in Europe
What to do on Sundays:
1. El Rastro: A huge flee market where you can get souvenirs and gifts for people. El Rastro only occurs once a week on Sundays. If you were out all night Saturday, it might be difficult to wake up in time (it always was for me), but it is definitely worth a visit.
2. Las Ventas: A highly controversial subject of course is bullfighting. Madrid does still have a stadium where you can watch. I went once just to say I had been and it was pretty disturbing. There were some people in my group of friends who left immediately and some who sat it out. If you do decide to go, make sure you at least get sol y sombra tickets which means you will be sitting mostly in the shade.
3. Tapas on La Latina: A Sunday night tradition, head to the street Cava Baja with the rest of the madrilenos and tourists for some amazing tapas and drinks. Of course, you can “tapa hop” on any night of the week along Cava Baja, but Sundays seem to be the designated night for this particular activity.
Day trips from Madrid:
Many people ask which is a better day trip, Toledo or Segovia. If you ask around, responses are usually split 50/50. Personally, I like Toledo more because I enjoy the medieval aspect of it, but many prefer Segovia for the incredible aqueduct and Alcazar de Segovia that, rumor has it, Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland was based off of.
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