Welcome to the Spanish capital, Madrid City! Madrid is a huge city that can take months to figure out your way around and choose your favorite spot to get a caña. Even living in Madrid can sometimes be overwhelming with so many bars, restaurants, and neighborhoods to choose from.
Which ones are tourist traps?
Which ones are not worth the money?
Which one can I get an authentic Spanish experience from?
I have visited Madrid multiple times and loved it so much I knew I had to get back. Now I live here and if I let you waste away your week trying to find all the best places I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence.
So, I created this Madrid travel guide, so you can sit back and relax while I take care of the hard part for you!
Best Things to Do in Madrid
While there really are endless things to do in Madrid and plenty of travel tips to give out, the 5 things you really must do while in Madrid are:
- Visit the local mercados
- Take a stroll through Retiro Park
- Enjoy a sunset at Siete Tetas
- Explore the areas around Calle Ponzano and Cava Baja
- Check out the views from Círculo de Bellas Artes rooftop
The Local Mercados
Some of the best things to do in Madrid include going to some of the markets aka mercados.
Mercado de San Miguel and Mercado de San Antón are some of the most popular, but Mercado de la Cebada in La Latina neighborhood is going to be a little more authentic and less crowded.
Markets are great for bringing some stuff home to eat and also munching on a few things while going from place to place. They're the perfect starting point to really grasp the tastes, smells, and flavors of Madrid.
Even though Madrid is a big metropolitan city, it has some green spaces that I definitely recommend you take advantage of.
The popular Retiro Park is perfect to enjoy a stroll in the middle of the day or have a nice picnic with all the goods you got from the mercados.
Now, Retiro is huge and you could easily spend a whole day there. If you are just strolling through though and don't plan to make a day of it, make sure to check out the Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace) at the very least!
The other park that I would take advantage of is called Parque de las Siete Tetas (I’m not going to translate that one for you, but I think you could figure it out). This is a great park to come and enjoy the Madrid sunset from.
Pick a hill (or teta) to sit on and relax while the sun goes down. If you want to bring some beverages or snacks to enjoy just be careful as it is technically illegal to have open intoxicants in Madrid.
Calle Ponzano and Cava Baja
Although Madrid can be a little harder to hop around from place to place to eat tapas, one place you should be able to do this is on Calle Ponzano in the Chamberí neighborhood.
Calle Ponzano is a main street with many different restaurants and bars where you can bop around and try different things.
Another great place for this that is right in the center is the street Cava Baja in La Latina. This street may be harder to find a place to sit as not many restaurants here have outdoor seating. That said, they have quite a variety and it is a fun street to check out when in Madrid!
Círculo de Bellas Artes
My final recommendation for something to do in Madrid is to go to the Círculo de Bellas Artes rooftop called Azotea. I am a sucker for a good view, and this one does not disappoint.
You can enjoy a nice glass of Sangria while soaking in the sun and admiring the city of Madrid from above. This is something that I have taken every visitor in Madrid to, and I just can't get enough of it!
Do keep in mind that there is a small fee (€5) to get to the top, but it’s well worth it.
Best Day Trips from Madrid
While you might be more than happy with just sticking around the city center, if you have the time to explore, I highly recommend you get out of Madrid and visit a few of the smaller towns nearby and enjoying a self-guided walking tour.
My 5 favorite day trips from Madrid are:
- Segovia (2 hours)
- Cuenca (1 hour on train, 2-3 on bus)
- Toledo (1 hour)
- Ávila (2 hours)
- Escorial (1 hour)
For those of you that aren’t a huge fan of big cities, or Madrid is just getting a little overwhelming, there are some amazing day trips that are a short bus or train ride away.
Segovia is only 2 hours from Madrid and a popular tourist destination. Most people are attracted to this town because of it's historical charm and unique architecture dating back to medieval times.
Cuenca tends to be less touristic and at least from my experience, gave me a more authentic experience. Cuenca has also some phenomenal architecture with the casas colgadas aka “hanging houses.”
Like Segovia, Toledo is another popular tourist spot near Madrid. Only 1 hour by train, it's an easy day trip most people try to squeeze into their Madrid travel itinerary. Again, similar to Segovia, Toledo is a charming town with medieval monuments and architecture.
Ávila has incredible walls that surround the city and you can take yourself on a walking tour around it! Although other cities nearby are also walled, like Cuenca, Ávila felt more authentic and less touristic.
El Escorial is a great day trip if you are craving some nature. There are some hiking trails around the city that have incredible views.
Foods You Need to Try in Madrid
I'm here to tell you, the food in Spain will not disappoint. Admittedly, before I ever visited Spain, I don’t think I could have told you what foods Spain was known for other than paella. After visiting and now living in Madrid, I am much more aware of Spanish food and also absolutely in love with it.
Some of the foods that you absolutely need to get while in Madrid are:
- Jamón (iberico and serrano)
- Tortilla Española (Spanish omelet)
- Patatas Bravas
- Cocido Madrileño
Although you can find all of these delicious foods around Madrid, I wanted to give you a few recommendations for the best places to try each of these!
For croquetas and tortilla, you should definitely hit up Pez Tortilla. Not only is their food absolutely amazing, but they have very reasonable prices and even have some craft beer options if you are missing that while in Spain.
If you are vegan and still want to try out some traditional Spanish cuisine, the tortilla and croquetas are also extremely good at Viva Chapata and 100% plant based.
Amazing Hidden Gems in Madrid
Now I am ALL about authentic traveling. Meaning getting the best cultural experience out of your destination. So, I have for you some hidden gems that I highly recommend taking advantage of to fully enjoy your time in Madrid.
Here are 7 fantastic hidden gems in Madrid that you shouldn't miss on your visit:
- Get away from the city at Casa de Campo
- Try the delicious Nun cookies
- Head to the flea market at El Rastro
- Do some shopping at Mercado de Motores
- Get spooked at Chamberí Ghost Station - Andén Cero
- Drink up at Casa Camacho & Taberna La Concha
Casa de Campo
First up is the Casa de Campo. This is a getaway from the city, and it is not going to be packed with people/tourists like Retiro is. Casa de Campo is huge, so if you are not able to make it out of Madrid to one of the day trips I mentioned previously, you should definitely visit Casa de Campo.
It’s a little (big) greenery getaway that is perfect for a hike or picnic.
Another thing to do is to buy some cookies from the local nuns. Yes - nuns.
You can go to the Monasterio de Corpus Christi and ring the doorbell to ask for the cookies. Then you enter in (make sure to bring cash) and choose the type of cookies you want to buy.
They are only available in a half kilo or full kilo so make sure you are hungry, or share with friends! This is such a cool experience and not only are you supporting the nuns, but the cookies are delicious too!
If you happen to be in Madrid on a Sunday you may run into a flea market called El Rastro. Although not necessarily hidden as it covers many blocks of streets south of the center, it is definitely an authentic experience. There are hundreds of vendors selling an assortment of goods.
You can buy things from clothes and shoes, to cameras, furniture, tools, and other antiques.
Mercado de Motores
Another market that happens once a month in Madrid is called the Mercado de Motores. It is held in an old train station in the Delicias neighborhood, and there are a variety of local stands and food trucks to enjoy.
Chamberí Ghost Station
If you happen to be planning ahead for your trip to Madrid, you must visit the Andén Cero Museum aka the Chamberí Ghost Station. This is a FREE museum and guided tour that you can go on about an abandoned Metro stop in Madrid.
The tour guides are great and give you a thorough history and will answer any questions you might have.
Pro-tip is to make sure to book in advance. Tickets go on sale the last week of the month for the next month.
Casa Camacho & Taberna La Concha
Final recommendations are where to get some good drinks!
Now, in Spain people drink a lot of Vermouth, and before making that disgusted face, let me tell you, it is actually quite delicious! Especially if it’s high-quality.
My favorite places to have a good vermouth are at Taberna La Concha in the La Latina neighborhood and Casa Camacho where they have a Vermouth drink called “Yayo.” This has gin and vermouth, so be careful because a few too many of these could put you over the edge!
If you make it to Casa Camacho be prepared to get there a little early if you want a table otherwise it’s mostly standing room only.
I still have so much to learn and explore about Madrid but I have absolutely fallen in love with this city and what it has to offer. I hope you are able to enjoy it just as much as I do. If you need any specific recommendations or have any questions about getting around, feel free to reach out!