Have a look at my 10 best Madrid travel tips. Are you preparing for your first trip to the Madrid? Here’s my beginner’s guide to the city, complete with advice on essential things to do (and not to do), and a few pointers on where to eat and sleep.
I must confess…
I was born in Madrid.
But I was not raised here.
It was not until high school that I started to truly experience this vibrant city. Madrid is well known for its big-hitter art museums such as the Museo del Prado and Reina Sofía, which I have both countless times… But there are plenty of lesser-known attractions and local experiences that I discovered little by little and that I believe are well worth your time too.
With dazzling light and bright blue skies for much of the year, Madrid is the European city that never sleeps. The culture, the food, the local’s hospitality… It’s cool, vibrant, authentic and charming.
It’s a modern city that is rooted in tradition. It’s staggeringly classy and its people are friendly and fun.
You’re going to love it!
A note on my 10 best Madrid travel tips for exploring the city
For obvious reasons, what you’ll find here is just that, travel tips, advice or recommendations. I’m not here to to tell you how you should prepare your trip or how you should enjoy Madrid. So take my advice as a bunch of ideas that you can use to prepare your trip to Madrid.
However, if you’ve already taken all this information into account while planning your trip or you prefer to do things differently, that’s great as well.
I hope that all these ideas and advice your trip to Madrid will be a lifetime experience you will never forget.
1. Plan when to go
One of the most important Madrid travel tips is to carefully plan when to go.
Actually, the first question you should ask yourself when planning your trip is “When is the best time to visit Madrid?“. Madrid has a climate and a location that allows you to explore it almost all year round.
That being said, Madrid has 3 very different visiting periods in which your experience can vary:
- Shoulder season (May-June & September-October).
- Low season (November-February).
- Peak season (July-August).
2. Keep an eye on airline ticket prices
Do you intend to fly to Madrid? In all likelihood, you’ll be flying here, unless you’re coming overland from Portugal or France.
The plane ticket is one of the most important expenses of your trip to Spain. Without it, there’s no trip!
Fortunately, with the appearance of low cost carriers in the market the chance to get cheap air flights to Spain has seriously increased. On top of it, very cheap international flights are also available from other parts of the world. It’s just a question of time to do some research and organize your trip in advance.
So keep an eye on airline ticket prices and book your flights as soon as you see a good fare.
Madrid is linked by air with the main cities of Spain and capitals of Europe. The airport is located just a few kilometers from the center and it is very easy to get there.
3. If you don’t fly to Madrid, book your train tickets in advance
Are you considering train travel in Spain? Madrid can be easily reached by train, especially from Seville and Barcelona where you can catch a high speed train. Some suburbs and surrounding towns are also connected by train.
Whereas local trains (Cercanías) have very affordable fares, high speed ones (AVE) are considerably more expensive. Nevertheless, you can access lower fares particularly if you buy your tickets in advance.
4. Book your accommodation online
If you are travelling alone and are a backpacker, you’ll probably have no problem finding a bed in a shared room in a hostel or guesthouse.
However, if you are travelling in a couple or group, it’s not advisable to go on an adventure. You could end up wasting hours looking for a bed to sleep in. This is particularly true in busy tourist times like the Semana Santa (Easter) or Christmas and New Year’s when hotel rates skyrocket.
For the lowest rates, travel in July or August (if you can cope with the heat). October and November are also a good month for hotel rates, and March and June are good mid-range months.
That is why I always recommend you to book all your hotels online.
One of the main advantages of booking your accommodation online is that it allows you to cancel a few days in advance without any cost. That’s key if you are still putting together the itinerary, so that you can change your mind whenever you want and without any trouble.
5. Purchase a good travel and health insurance
The most important piece of advice I can offer among my Madrid travel tips is to purchase good travel insurance.
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
6. Save up on ATM withdrawal fees
Stop worrying about crazy fees and abusive currency exchange rates and get the best travel money card you can use in Spain.
Be aware that most banks in Spain charge for money withdrawals. A bullet-proof way to avoid their fees is to pay with your travel debit card, which is possible almost anywhere in Madrid. Regardless of the bank, the ATM will display the charge price prior to withdrawing. If it seems high to you, you can always terminate the action.
In addition to this, having a travel debit card means that you won’t have to deal with high conversion fees if you need to exchange your local currency into euros.
Oh, one last piece of advice regarding money: learn how to tip in Madrid.
7. Decide what to see in Madrid
Most readers are surprised when they start to discover how many monuments Madrid offers. And this should not be the case considering its long history…
Whether exploring the Madrid’s world-class art museums, gazing at architectural marvels while sipping a café con leche at a sidewalk café or rollicking the night away at some great tapas bars hidden in a trendy neighborhood, the many attractions in Madrid are simply too captivating to miss. The country’s capital and largest city is no place for lazing about. There are so many things to do in Madrid!
With that in mind it’s very important to think ahead about what you want to see in Madrid and how much time you can spend in the city. It’s not the same spending a weekend or having a full week to explore all the amazing corners.
To truly experience Madrid, leave 3 or 4 days and bring good walking shoes. The city center is largely pedestrian-friendly and made for walking. That’s why you should have a look at my itineraries.
On top of it, I have created a super complete map of Madrid that integrate with your Google Maps. This map contains all the practical information and travel tips you need. In the post I just linked you can find step by step instructions to use them on any device whether you’re still at home or you’re already in Madrid.
8. Buy tickets to major Madrid attractions in advance
If you don’t visit the Museo del Prado, the Thyssen, and the Reina Sofía Museum, did you really travel to Madrid at all?
But it can be difficult to see all of Madrid’s major attractions when everyone, including backpackers, organized groups and school students, wants to visit these places and is standing in line with you.
That’s why to save time, and your sanity, one of my top Madrid travel tips is to buy tickets for all major attractions, online and in advance.
So when you arrive, you can skip the painfully long line and frolic right inside, while all the suckers in line give you the death stare.
9. Enjoy the city like a local with my Madrid travel tips
Don’t stick to the regular Madrid experiences. Enjoy it like a local instead. Few European cities can compare to Madrid when it comes to spoil visitors with an incredibly good time.
While Madrid is full of plenty of tourist attractions, there are endless opportunities to have an authentic experience during your stay.
With its great vibe, authentic traditions, and delicious cuisine, few cities can compare to the things that you can live while in Madrid. And while locations like the Museo del Prado, Plaza Mayor, and the Palacio Real usually top visitors’ bucket list, oftentimes it’s the lesser-known spots that create the richest experiences.
In the spirit of channeling your inner wanderlust, I set out to discover the best places in Madrid that fly under the radar. This isn’t your ordinary travel guide: read on to discover my picks for some of the best things to do, see, and eat in Madrid — and experience the city like a true Madrileño.
10. Check out what, where and when to eat
Eating in Madrid is one of those things that make the trip to this country doubly worthwhile. Spanish cuisine is rich, varied, different and even cheap if you know where to go.
I always like to remember to my readers that Spain is much more than paella, so be prepared to eat very tasty and special local specialties everywhere you go. And this is particularly true in Madrid: don’t miss going to a few of its tapas bars.
Oh, one last thing… Eat when the locals eat.
At the times when you may typically be eating lunch or dinner at home, the doors to Madrid’s restaurants may not even be open yet.
At lunch bars may be open earlier, but kitchens generally open anytime between 12:30 and 13:30 and close around 16:00 or 16:30.
As for dinner, don’t expect to find a good restaurant open until about 20:30!