Your first step should be create a Madrid travel planning guide. I’m aware that the best part of planning a trip is creating a collection of beautiful images of your destination, but you should definitely gather as much information as possible and start trying to figure out the basics of your trip.
So your Madrid travel planning document should answer to the 5 main travel questions:
OK, OK,… There’s no reason to stress.
Planning a trip is funnier than you think, trust me. Over the years I have improved and refined my trip planning research, and it all gets down to a general step by step outline.
So that’s exactly what you should do: breaking down each of the steps to planning a trip. This way you will avoid any confusion and you will manage the information you gather in a practical, down to earth way.
At the end of the planning workflow, you’ll end up with a comprehensive document containing all of the information you need for my trip: everything from where you’re staying and how to get there, to what to eat. Once you’re done, take that document with you (print it or leave on the cloud) and refer to it constantly during your trip.
Ready? Let’s start from the beginning!
What not to include in your Madrid travel planning guide
The truth is that each minute you spend in the hotel looking stuff up is a minute you’re wasting instead of being out there enjoying your trip!
That being said, once you’re outlining your schedule for each day, make sure that you don’t overbook your days. In similar fashion, don’t map out every single day of a trip down to each tiny detail. When your travel plans will inevitably fall apart (they will), you’ll get stressed, and that’s the exact opposite of the perfect vacation.
So make sure that your trip is well-planned while being flexible enough.
1. Don’t plan an itinerary for every single day
Your Madrid travel planning guide should never include a fully detailed itinerary for each day.
What happens the weather is not what you were expecting? What if you find something else you’d like to do instead once you arrive? And if you’re too tired and you prefer to do something more relaxed?
Solution: be flexible and planning out a few day options to choose from.
Which ones? Well… Have a look at these amazing walks.
Each day, you can choose from your activities and plan depending on the circumstances. For instance, go to one of the beautiful museums Madrid has when it’s raining cats and dogs. Pick a bunch of attractions near your accommodation if you’re feeling tired, etc.
And my favorite: allow yourself at least half a day or a full day that is totally unplanned. Use this time to return to a highlight that you missed, explore a new corner, or to relax!
2. Don’t plan out every meal
What if the fancy and amazing restaurant you wanted to go to for lunch in full? Or even worse, closed?
There we go… Now you have to look online for some recommendations, get to that place, check if there’s a table… And by the time you’re reading the menu, you’re not hungry anymore.
Solution: write down one or two restaurants that you would love to try.
How? Easy. I’ve done all the work for you, so check my recommendations.
3. Don’t plan on doing too much
Have you ever heard of “slow travel”?
Slow travel is a travel philosophy based on taking your time and enjoying the unexpected.
Don’t do too much, but rather choose to do what you really like. Connect with local people, try traditional food and discover local traditions. Immerse yourself in the destination you’re visiting and transform a simple holiday into a life-changing trip. This is slow travel.
So don’t be the regular tourist and don’t overestimate time. Otherwise, you’ll spend all your vacation running from one place to the other.
Madrid travel planning guide: let’s start with the basics
But before you start planning like crazy…
Tip #1: Create your Madrid travel planning guide – a master document that will include ALL the practical information regarding your trip. This way, you’ll be able to check at a glance all the details in case of doubt.
Start opening up a brand new document (I love using a Google Doc that I can share with the rest of my fellow travelers so we can all contribute to) where you are going to copy and paste every information that you find useful.
And now, let’s start with the basic aspects to get your trip to Madrid off to a good start. They will help you make sure that you have the most important things under control.
- Make sure that the time of year you plan to travel to Madrid is optimal.
- Establish how many days you want to spend here.
- Find out visa requirements. Investigate if you need to obtain a visa to travel to Spain. Can you get a visa online, visa on arrival, or do you need to get it in your home country?
- Now here comes my favorite part: it’s time to book your flight!
Tip #2: Whenever you make a booking or reservation, take a screenshot of your details and confirmation number and throw it into your master document immediately. Include absolutely everything: flights, hotels, tours, tickets, anything you’ve paid for!
Great, and now the next step.
How to minimize risks while traveling
1. Get travel insurance
First and foremost: you should NEVER travel without traveler’s insurance. Why? Because bad things happen (sometimes).
Make sure you’re covered in the event of emergencies, medical issues, trip delays, or trip cancellations – it’s well worth the expense for international travel.
Not sure if it’s worth it? Have a look at a detailed guide to travel insurance that will help you decide.
2. Don’t forget some extra travel essentials
After years traveling around the world, I thought I’d share some extra tips with you…
- Make sure you check this handy travel checklist for Madrid highlighting some of the most important things to do before leaving home.
- Consider whether you’ll need to bring emergency medications or extra supplies of your regular medications.
- Research the best way to gain access to data or Internet while you’re in your destination.
- Find out how safe is the destination you plan to go to. Fortunately, Madrid is a very safe city.
- Before you leave home, photocopy or scan all your important documents (e.g. passport, driving license, credit cards, etc.) and keep the copy in a place that’s easy for you to access while abroad – in the cloud (e.g. iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.), on a pen drive or printed out and left in your suitcase.
How to plan vacation accommodation
Once you’ve figured out when you’re actually traveling and you’ve sorted out all the essentials, your next step when planning a trip to Madrid is booking your accommodation.
Madrid’s city center is a relatively large area, but it’s not complicated to navigate through it.
At this point, you should have some idea of where are the cool neighborhoods, and where are most of the highlights and hidden gems you should visit. So can search for accommodation near what you want to visit or explore. This way, you won’t make any guess while booking – you can look at the map, locate each accommodation, and decide whether it’s a cool place or not based on whether there are interesting attractions nearby or not.
Book your accommodation in advance: showing up and figuring it out is something you won’t enjoy. At all. And remember to include the booking information in your master document!
Planning what to do and where to go
After buying the plane (or train) tickets, this is by far the most fun part of planning for a trip: it’s time to find all the exciting things you’ll do as soon as you get there!
The idea here is to establish what you want to visit and start to get an idea of what you want to do in Madrid.
1. Where to start
And in order to do this, you should create a list of things that catch your attention: a few attractions here and there, a couple of cool neighborhoods to explore, a few food recommendations, some walking tours, you know the drill.
Start opening up a brand new document (I love using a Google Doc that I can share with the rest of my fellow travelers so we can all contribute to).
Then, start dumping all the interesting stuff you find in. It’s easy, just copy and paste everything. Later on, you have time to go back and edit it down.
2. How to find the cool stuff
Obviously, the hardest part is finding things to do…
The first reaction would be to Google “best things to do in Madrid“. But as you can imagine, it can takes ages to go through everything, scan all the information and filter what’s interesting from what’s not. And the worst of it all is that it doesn’t always get you off the beaten path, which is the best way to get to know a destination like Madrid.
Solution: Avoid any generic travel advice. Try to find first-hand suggestions like the ones you’ll find on this website!
- Visit Madrid’s most emblematic sights.
- Go to a museum.
- Attend a flamenco show.
- Enjoy specific events (bullfights, football matches).
- Discover local festivals.
- Experience things to do in Madrid off the beaten path.
- Book a walking tour or a cool experience.
- Embark on a day trip from Madrid.
- Go to other destinations around Madrid, like Córdoba or Granada, or somewhere else in Spain.
3. Edit your findings
At first, your list will be humongous.
Little by little, you’ll go through all the information you’ve gathered to edit and organize it:
- Remove everything that’s repetitive.
- Delete every idea that’s not interesting anymore once you’ve found other cool stuff to do.
- Classify your findings by types (sights, events, neighborhoods, food, experiences and so on).
How to plan your arrival in Madrid
Arriving in Madrid should be thrilling, not stressing! The last thing you want after a long plane journey is to get here exhausted and confused, and then have to figure out how to get to your hotel safely and without getting scammed.
It’s easy to get confused and lost, especially when arriving somewhere where not everyone speaks English.
That’s why planning your arrival in Madrid is essential.
1. How to leave the airport and get to your accommodation
As soon as you know where you’ll be sleeping, you should start planning out how you’re going to get there. Your accommodation should definitely always be the first place you should go when you arrive at a destination.
Look up things like:
- How much should a taxi cost?
- Is a cab the cheapest option? Or do cabs at the airport take advantage of tourists and up-charge them like crazy?
- Can I get a cheaper fare by walking down the street and hailing a taxi?
- Is my hotel right off a local bus or train line?
- Can I take transit from the airport?
- Is there Uber or any other service (e.g. Cabify)?
- Is there Wi-Fi in the airport?
These are the key questions. But there’s no need for you to do any research, just have a look at this complete guide on how to exit the Madrid airport.
2. Include all this information in your Madrid travel planning guide
Make sure that all the details are in your master document. You’ll end up using it for everything!
In addition to this write down in your Madrid travel planning guide the name and address of your hotel or apartment, clearly visible and readable. So if we’re having difficulty communicating with someone you can show it to this person – a lifesaver in places like Madrid where not everyone speaks English.
I also recommend you to add a screenshot of a map with the hotel’s location. This is especially helpful for communicating with taxi drivers if you don’t speak Spanish.
You should also include walking, driving, or transit directions to the accommodation so if there’s no data or Wi-Fi while on the streets, you can still find how to get there:
- You can write down instructions in your master document.
- You can use Google Maps. Create an itinerary using Google Maps and save it so you can use it offline.
And remember, since you threw your booking information into your master document, once you arrive, you can checking in in the blink of an eye.
3. How to get back to the airport to take your flight back home
Don’t forget to figure out how to get from your hotel or apartment to the airport.
You’ll need this information before leaving Madrid.
Madrid travel planning guide: fine tune the location logistics
By now, you should have a pretty messy document with
- Your travel basics.
- Your travel insurance details.
- Your accommodation information and how to get there.
- All the details on how to exit the Madrid airport.
- A bunch of sights to see and things to do.
So now it’s time to edit, correct and organize this last category.
Start by removing duplicates of sights and things to do. Then, skim your list and delete all the sight and things that don’t sound as good now that you know more about Madrid. It’s time to start figuring out what you actually might want to do.
At this point, spend as long as you need researching logistics for all of those places you want to visit and things you want to do.
Here’s what you should add to your travel document for each attraction or activity you’ve included in your trip itinerary.
- How to get there (walking, bike, public transportation)?
- What are the hours it’s open?
- How much does it cost?
- Any travel tips?
Tip #3: If you’re a fan of maps like me, have a look at the Madrid Traveller maps. They’ll prove helpful during the planning and while you’re on the field.
Time to pack and check last minute preps!
What are the must-have travel essentials that you should pack for your trip to Madrid? Any last minute thing that you should check or confirm before catching the flight?
There’s a surprising number of to-dos that need to be crossed off before heading out for any trip. So prior to every vacation, you should generate a mental checklist of things that need to be taken care of.
Traveling is fun and exciting, but even the most meticulous packer might forget something at home. Don’t procrastinate, and don’t try to cram too many tasks into the night before you leave, and end up forgetting things to do and items to pack.
- Minimize your pre-trip stress with a comprehensive packing list. This way, you’ll make sure you’ve got everything you need to make your trip hassle free.
- Add to this list any other thing you might need to do.