The Ultimate Madrid Travel Guide

Our expert Madrid travel guide has the insider info on what to do, where to stay, what to eat and everything you could ever want to know about the city.

It’s easy to get swept away with the elegant boulevards, manicured parks and captivating museums for which Madrid is renowned throughout the world. But before you start planning your ideal city-exploring outfit or making reservations for the best restaurants in town, browse our Madrid travel guide and arm yourself with all the insider info you need to make your trip incredible.

Madrid Travel Guide: Budgeting advice

Traveling Madrid on a budget
Photo by Christian Dubovan on Unsplash

Our Madrid travel guide is designed to offer helpful advice for everyone, from backpackers on a budget to families who’ve been saving all year. Here are some of the typical costs you’ll come across in Madrid, plus some money-saving tips so you can make the most of your Euros.

Accommodation in Madrid

Prices for accommodation in Madrid vary hugely depending on where you stay. A bed in a shared dorm costs €12-€25 per night in a hostel, while a private room costs €25-€65, depending on how central the hostel is. These prices usually include free WiFi access and breakfast. Expect to pay €40-€100 for a double room in a budget hotel and €150+ for a double room in for four- and five-star hotels.

Airbnb can save you a small fortune on accommodation in Madrid. Prices start from just €30 per night for a private room and if you sign up for Airbnb using this link, you’ll get a $40 discount off your first booking! Here are some of our favorite Airbnb rentals in Madrid city center.

Eating out in Madrid

If you’re happy with simple tapas and eating in small café-like places, a meal in Madrid of 3-4 tapas or two courses will cost you €6-€13. This price rises to around €18 if you include wine and up to €25 if you’re dining in a nice restaurant.

Food shopping in Madrid

A great way to reduce your food bill is to buy your own groceries from a big supermarket, such as Carrefour or Mercadona, or a local farmers’ market and cook for yourself. You can easily buy enough food to last a family of four for a week for €50.

Madrid Attraction Tickets

Attractions Ticket prices for Madrid’s big attractions vary massively, but there are always ways to save money. Check for online discounts on the attraction’s official website and those run by authorized ticket sellers. You can also save cash by sticking to free attractions, like free walking tours, and only visiting museums on the days they offer free entry.

Suggested daily budget for Madrid

Suggested daily budget €60 per person, which includes a bed in a budget hostel. If you’ve already paid for your accommodation and only need money for attractions, food and transportation, €40 per person per day should cover it. Don’t forget to budget in extra for big nights out, shopping and treats!

Madrid Travel Guide: Transportation

The guide to getting around in Madrid
Plaza de España Metro stop in Madrid – Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

Most of Madrid’s biggest attractions are concentrated in a very small area, making it a great place to explore on foot. But if you want to get out of the city center, the most efficient way to explore is on public transportation. Because one of the aims of our Madrid travel guide is to help you save money, we recommend purchasing one of the following cards:

Madrid Metrobus Card

Metrobus Card Valid for metro and bus services, a Metrobus Card costs €12.20 and is valid for 10 journeys. A single journey on the metro/bus costs €1.50 if you’re traveling between five stations or €2 if you’re traveling between ten stations, making this card a real money-saver. You can buy a Metrobus Card from newspaper stands and metro stations.

Madrid Tourist Pass

Tourist Pass This special card offers unlimited use of the bus, metro and local train services, but is non-transferable and linked to one person only. There are two types of card: one for traveling within just Madrid city (the first prices listed below) and one for traveling throughout the whole of the Madrid region, including Toledo, El Escorial and Guadalajara (the second prices listed below). Children under 11 get a 50% discount and children under four travel for free.

  • 1-day Tourist Pass: €8.40 / €17
  • 2-day Tourist Pass: €14.20 / €28.40
  • 3-day Tourist Pass: €18.40 / €35.40
  • 5-day Tourist Pass: €26.80 / €50.80
  • 7-day Tourist Pass: €35.40 / €70.80

You can buy a Tourist Pass in metro stations, at the airport or online.

Madrid Travel Guide: Practical info

Photo by zibik on Unsplash

Regardless of how much of a nomad you are, we all make silly mistakes and forget things sometimes when we’re traveling. So your dream trip doesn’t turn into a nightmare, here’s some practical info on the city to round off our Madrid travel guide.

  • If you’re not an EU citizen, you need get a Spain visa before you land in Madrid. But it’s always a good idea to check with your country of citizenship for current travel guidelines. 
  • The city’s currency is Euros which you can buy before you fly or exchange in the city when you arrive. Most places happily accept international Visas and MasterCards, as long as the check is €5+.
  • The language of Madrid is Castellano. This is the “classic” version of Spanish most people are familiar with and it’s the one you will have been taught at school if you took Spanish. If you want to impress the locals, brush up on your Castellano skills before you go.
  • The time zone in Madrid is UTC +1 for 6 months of the year and UTC +2 during Daylight Savings Time.
  • The water from the faucet is safe to drink in Madrid and tastes perfectly fine, so don’t waste your money on bottled water!
  • Just like Barcelona, Madrid is one of the safest places in Europe. But just like you would in any city, you still need to take basic precautions. Here are some tips on staying safe in Spain.
  • Madrid has standard European sockets and runs on 230 volts, so take an adapter if necessary. For more practical info about Madrid, take a look at Spain Travel Tips: Things to Know When Traveling to Spain.

The best things to do in Madrid: Cultural highlights

La Almudena Cathedral in Madrid
La Almudena Cathedral in Madrid – Image by ddzphoto from Pixabay

Visiting a city as huge as Madrid and managing to see and do everything it has to offer is not an easy task, but it’s totally doable. From world-famous museums and awe-inspiring art galleries to scenic city parks and incredible nightlife, this cosmopolitan metropolis has something to keep everyone entertained from dusk ‘til dawn.

Whether you prefer to explore on your own and get lost in Madrid’s sprawling streets at your pace or sign up for a guided tour and have an expert local take you to all the best off-the-beaten-track places, here are the best things to do in Madrid we 100% recommend to everyone.

Madrid Cultural Guide Highlights

Centro de Arte Reina Sofía Home to some of the most famous works by Picasso, Dalí and Miró, this art gallery showcases a grand collection of the city’s premier contemporary art. The stunning displays span from the beginning of the 20th century up until the 1980s, with the occasional appearance of work from a non-Spanish artist, such as Lying Figure by Francis Bacon.

Teatro Real A distinguished opera house, the Teatro Real was inaugurated in 1850 and continues to host some of Europe’s biggest names in singing, musical direction and dance today. La Rotonda (the only floor devoted to the general public) encircles the building and features four large halls, each lavishly decorated in different colors with beautiful artwork from the Museo del Prado.

Museo del Prado Housed in a magnificent neo-classical building, this stunning art gallery is Madrid’s most popular attraction and the star of the Paso del Arte itinerary. The gallery’s walls are adorned with over 8,600 paintings from Spanish, Italian and Flemish artists, while display cases house more than 700 spectacular sculptures, making it an absolute necessity to plan what you want to see before you go!

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza This relatively modern art museum features the private collection of the late Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, considered to be one of the most important in the world. The vastly extensive and varied nature of the art lets you immerse yourself in a world of different styles, from medieval artwork from the 13th and 14th centuries, to pop art and cubism from the 20th century.

The best things to do in Madrid: Outdoor attractions

The lake at El Retiro Park in Madrid where you can rent row boats
The lake at El Retiro Park in Madrid where you can rent row boats – Photo by Sara Riaño on Unsplash

Parque del Buen Retiro One of Madrid’s best-known and biggest parks, here you can enjoy a well-deserved siesta on a shady grassy spot or hire a boat and row across the lake. The green oasis covers more than 125 hectares and is home to over 15,000 trees, giving you more than enough room to find the perfect spot to relax.

Cercedilla Walking Trails The mountainside village of Cercedilla boasts several hiking trails of varying difficulty and length, making them ideal for everyone from weekend ramblers in the mood for a pleasant stroll to experienced hikers up for a challenging trek. All the trails take in gorgeous scenes that include Instagram-worthy views of things like gushing waterfalls, mountain goats and countryside panoramas.

Outdoor Gym in Parque de Las Avenidas Featuring incline boards, parallel bars, high steppers, dip bars and roman rings, as well as a jogging trail, tennis courts and a soccer field nearby, this gym is ideal for anyone who wants to keep up their fitness routine on vacation without being stuck inside.

Royal Botanical Garden One of Madrid most beautiful green spaces that dates back to 1755. This garden was originally moved from the banks of the Manzanares River to its current location and today is comprised of three terraces, two greenhouses and a herbarium which together showcase over 30,000 plants and flowers, 1,500 trees and one million herbs.

The best things to do in Madrid: Top tours

Prado Museum in Madrid
Prado Museum in Madrid – Image by donfalcone from Pixabay

Spanish Cooking Class Learn to cook deliciously authentic Spanish cuisine under the guidance of professional chefs during this four-hour cooking class. You’ll discover all the tips and tricks you need to choose the best ingredients to make amazing paellas and delicious tapas, before getting stuck in and enjoying everything you’ve made! At the end of the day, you’ll get copies of the recipes to take home with you so you can share your newly-learned eats with friends and family back home.

Madrid Sightseeing

City Sightseeing and Skip the Line Prado Museum Combine two of Madrid’s most popular excursions on this half-day trip without waiting a second in line! You’ll get to explore Plaza Mayor, Santiago Bernabeau Stadium and the buzzing Los Austrias neighborhood before embarking on your guided tour of Museo Prado. At the end of your tour, you’ll be treated to a complimentary drink at the local Hard Rock Café where you can reflect on your day with the others in your group.

Private Custom Tour: Madrid in a Day See Madrid your way on this full- or half-day walking tour that lets you customize the itinerary to satisfy all your cultural cravings. If you want the real Madrid experience, leave it up to your guide to take you to all the best places only locals know about, such as the bustling El Rastro market and the fascinating underground concert halls.

Madrid by Night Segway Tour A whole new way to see the city, this one-hour tour will send you past illuminated landmarks, lively nighttime hotspots and alluring attractions on a speedy modern Segway. You’ll glide around buzzing Los Austrias, explore charismatic squares like Plaza de la Villa and see famous attractions including the Royal Palace of Madrid in a totally different way as they’re lit up against the dark night sky.

Check out this post on the best Spain tours for even more amazing days out in Madrid!

Travel Guide: Where to stay in Madrid

Streets of Madrid
Streets of Madrid – Photo by Jack Gisel on Unsplash

The charming city is home to some of the most captivating, historical and trendy neighborhoods in Spain. Which makes deciding where to stay in Madrid is no easy task! But with our insider’s guide to the city’s most popular regions and the best hotels, finding your ideal accommodation in Madrid will be simple and painless.

From low-cost hostels with all the must-have amenities and affordable centrally-located apartment blocks to luxury hotels with pampering spas and swanky lofts loaded with character, Madrid’s huge selection of accommodation options guarantee something for every budget and preference.

Gran Via

Metropolis at night in Madrid
Metropolis at night – Photo by Carlos Zurita on Unsplash

The main avenue that cuts through the center of the city, Gran Via is the very heart and soul of Madrid. Always bustling with people, this area is ideal for anyone who wants to be in the middle of all the action. It’s close to a huge selection of shops, restaurants, bars and attractions.

The Hat Hostel A boutique hostel set inside a historic mansion. With a mix of private and shared rooms which all come with air conditioning and WIFI.

Hotel Orfila A grandiose hotel bosting unique architecture and decor in each room. With antique furnishings from the 19th century throughout.

Gran Melia Palacio de Los Duques An opulent five-star hotel with Elizabethan-inspired architecture and timeless luxury.

For more great options on where to stay in Madrid, check out Airbnb Madrid: The Best Airbnb Rentals in the City Center.


Hotel in Madrid - where to stay in Madrid

Madrid’s literary gem, Huertas is the perfect choice for anyone who wants to be close to all the main tourist attractions, while still experiencing Madrid like a local. The city’s Avenue of Art is within easy walking distance and the area is buzzing until the early hours with lively tapas bars.

La Posada de Huertas A young, lively hostel with a buzzing vibe that offers simple and modern 4- 10-bed dorms, free WiFi access and great breakfasts.

Room Mate Alicia A charming design boutique hotel within easy walking distance of the biggest tourist attractions and Atocha Station.

NH Collection Palacio de Tepa Set inside a beautifully restored 19th century palace with elegant rooms, a 24-hour gym and contemporary gourmet restaurant.


A street in the Malasaña neighborhood
A street in the Malasaña neighborhood – Photo by Sergio Rodriguez – Portugues del Olmo on Unsplash

Malasaña is an up-and-coming neighborhood with a distinctly young and bohemian vibe. Here you’ll find a mix of creative artists from all over the world who love this part of the city for its modern restaurants, thrift stores and trendy bars.

Pil Pil Hostel A bright and colorful hostel with private and shared rooms, surrounded by fantastic nightlife options and steps away from a subway station.

IBIS Madrid Centro This basic 2-star hotel boasts spacious rooms with great street views, a 24-hour snack bar and super affordable rates.

URSO Hotel & Spa A five-star boutique hotel with original features and artwork, nestled into the bourgeois neighborhood where old and new Madrid meet.

Bar in Madrid
Photo by Mary Rebecca Elliott on Unsplash

Madrid nightlife: The best food and drink

A huge part of the local culture in Madrid is focused on eating and drinking. While we’re all guilty of skipping breakfast to get the kids to school on time, eating a lunchtime sandwich at our desk to get our work done or picking up a take-out on the way home because we’re too tired to cook dinner, the food and drink that make up the Madrid nightlife scene are so much more important to locals in Spain.

In Madrid, dining is an incredibly social occasion. Workers sip cafes con leches together before heading to the office, friends make time to meet up for leisurely lunches that span hours and entire families head out to restaurants to eat their evening meal together. In this magical city, eating isn’t just a way to fuel your body – it’s a way to spend some quality time with friends and family.

Bar in Madrid
Photo by Felipe Benoit Photography on Unsplash

The country’s taste bud-tingling cuisine is one of our top reasons to visit Spain, so it’s no surprise that the capital offers some real gastronomic delights. Here are just four delicious examples of the food that Madrid does best, each of which is a total must-try on your next visit.

Cocido Madrileño A traditional soul-warming stew made of a medley of flavor-packed broth, vegetables, chorizo and chickpeas.

Bocadillo de Calamares This super-simple sandwich is a fresh, crusty baguette filled with breaded and deep-fried squid rings, all smothered in heavenly aioli.

Callos a la Madrileña A peasant-like dish of beef tripe, chorizo and blood sausage – it tastes a lot nicer than it sounds and really warms you up on a winter’s day!

Tinto de Verano Similar to sangria, this alcoholic drink is a mix of red wine and lemon-flavored soda that the locals sip all-year-round.

Madrid nightlife: The best restaurants

Tables in Madrid

Since Madrid’s nightlife scene doesn’t even begin until around midnight, you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy a relaxed evening meal surrounded by good company and great food before you head out for a night on the town. Here are some of the best restaurants in Madrid you’ve got to try:

Restaurante del Olivo Regarded by many as the best place in Madrid for authentic Spanish food, this restaurant serves huge portions of typical dishes, including grilled steaks, homemade paella and fresh seafood, for very reasonable prices.

Oven Atocha Offering a selection of Spanish-style tapas and Italian pizzas, pastas, sharing platters and cheese dishes, this eatery is the perfect place to go for a real Mediterranean feast.

Restaurant Nuevo Horno de Santa Teresa Providing hungry diners with authentic Madrid home cooking, this restaurant is the best place to sample the incredible food the city is known for on a limited budget.

Cebo A top-end fine dining restaurant, Cebo boasts sophisticated surroundings and an excellent menu full of Spanish delicacies, as well as a delightful tasting menu that lets you sample a medley of local specialities.

Madrid nightlife: The best neighborhoods for partying

Calle del Oso, Madrid, Spain
Calle del Oso, Madrid, Spain – Photo by Alberto Frías on Unsplash

Madrid nightlife is a 24/7 party. No matter whether it’s Saturday or Tuesday, you can leave the house on an evening and still find yourself out at 8am in the morning, dipping a crispy churro into a cup of thick chocolate while the rest of the world heads out to work.

Gran Via Madrid’s signature nightlife hotspot for decades, Gran Via is the place you can feel like a local while sipping a beer and watching local life buzz by. Tip: stay in a nearby Airbnb rental so you don’t have far to walk home.

Barrio de Las Letras The best place for music, along this literary avenue you’ll find live bands playing everything from jazz and flamenco to pop and rock.

La Latina For an authentic Spanish night out choose La Latina, well known for its narrow streets bursting with outdoor terrace bars flaunting a heady Latina vibe.

Castellana Popular amongst the after-work drinks crowd, Castellana is full of trendy, modern nightclubs, cocktail bars and wine lounges.

So the next time you’re sipping a glass of tinto de verano in Gran Via or digging into a plate of paella from Restaurante del Olivo, be like a local, savor the entire experience as much as you can and you’ll fit in just fine.

Madrid Travel Guide: Madrid history

Plaza Mayor, Madrid
Plaza Mayor, Madrid – Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

Madrid history is long and complicated, which is why the city is such an intriguing place to visit. From starting out as a Muslim settlement to picking up the pieces following the Spanish Civil War, the capital city has been through a lot and the diversity of local culture, variety of historical architecture and wonderfully divergent artwork are all proof of that.

The city was originally called Mayrit (or Magerit) when it was founded by the emir Muhammad at the end of the ninth century. Up until that point, Toledo had been the main Spanish city, but Madrid was slowly gaining importance and growing into a rival. During Spain’s Christian re-conquest, Madrid passed between the hands of the Muslims and Christians several times, resulting in the melting pot of cultures which characterizes the city today.

In 1083, King Alfonso established Madrid as we know it today and the following year, the royal court and parliament occupied the city. Despite being popular with royalty, medieval Madrid remained incredibly poor and small. So much so that one writer in the 15th century wrote, “in Madrid there is nothing except what you bring with you”.

Madrid Travel Guide - Palacio Real
Palacio Real de Madrid – Photo by Daniel Prado on Unsplash

When Felipe II took to the throne in 1556, Madrid was surrounded by walls with 130 towers and six stone gates. Despite these fortifications being mostly for show, Felipe II still named Madrid the capital of Spain in 1561.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that Madrid really started to shine and become a real capital. At this time, the city was home to 175,000 people, making it the fifth largest in Europe. From 1759 to 1788, Carlos III cleaned up the city, oversaw the completion of the Palacio Real and inaugurated the Royal Botanical Garden, earning himself the title of the best “mayor” Madrid has ever known.

Modern Madrid

The 18th was a period in Madrid history of great modernization. New city gates, bridges and buildings began springing up all over the city and the Palacio Real was constructed. Napoleon seized control of Spain in the early 19th century and following his defeat, the entire country saw a major decline leading up to the formation of First Spanish Republic.

The Second Spanish Republic began in 1931 and ended in 1936 after the Spanish Civil War, when Madrid suffered unbelievable damage. Things got worse in 1939 when General Franco assumed control of the country, although he did succeed in expanding the city and increasing its importance.

Following Franco’s death in 1975, King Juan Carlos I guided Spain back to democracy and Madrid quickly became the country’s cultural center, bursting with liberal music, film and art. Despite the European debt crisis which greatly affected the city in 2009, Madrid remains a dynamic place with an energetic, upbeat attitude.

Recommended books related to Madrid history

Books in Madrid
Second-hand book stall in Madrid – Photo by Leigh Cooper on Unsplash

Whether you want to learn more about Madrid history or just want to inspire yourself for your upcoming trip to Spain, here are some highly-recommended books about the city.

Leaving the Atocha Station A fascinating novel that follows a young American poet on a fellowship in Madrid, Leaving the Atocha Station delves into the poet’s struggles he experiences when it comes to the language barrier, politics and relationships. The book is loaded with Madrid as seen from an expat’s view, providing a unique insight with lots of insider info.

Winter in Madrid: A Novel This international best-selling title set in post-Civil War Spain is about a British man sent to Madrid to be a spy and win over the trust of an old school friend turned shady business man. Although the story is fictional, many parts are based on real-life historical events.

The Sun Also Rises Written by famous Madrid lover Ernest Hemingway about English-speaking expats traveling from Paris to Spain, The Sun Also Rises features many important Madrid landmarks, including Botín (the oldest restaurant in the world) and the Westin Palace Hotel.

101 Coolest Things to Do in Madrid From street food stalls to Michelin star restaurants, from local fiestas to huge music festivals, from famous attractions to unusual off-the-beaten-track places to visit, this Madrid travel guide book has got everything you need to have an amazing time in Madrid.

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