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The Best Tips for Visiting Madrid, Spain

Madrid is such a lively city with so many activities to do, sights to see, and foods to try. Madrid is the capital of Spain, but it is a city with so much to offer around every corner and side street. Between amazing historical sights, museums, food, and culture- Madrid has a little bit of everything!

When is the best time to visit Madrid?

The best time to visit the capital of Spain would be during the spring and autumn months. This is because the temperatures are more stable, making it more enjoyable to explore the winding streets of the city. Summertime in Madrid is very hot because, sadly it is not near a beach, which is arguably the only negative aspect to this city. Most Madrileños even escape the sizzling temperatures of Madrid to go to a much cooler place like the mountains or the beach. So, the city may be pretty empty but it’s really only for the people who can brave the heat.

Spring is a wonderful time because the sun is shining for longer in the day (hello to 9:30 pm sunsets!) and the flowers are in full bloom. It’s the perfect time to take long walks around the city. Also to enjoy a tinto de verano or sangria on the terraces late into the evening. Autumn is amazing too because the weather is just right for people to soak up the last rays of summer before the chilly weather of winter hits. Although Christmas vacation in Madrid is magical with all the festive lights that line the street. So if you don’t mind bundling up a little it can be worth the visit!

Must-see attractions

There are so many places in Madrid to discover but we will highlight the 5 most famous and must-see attractions.

1. The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace in Madrid.
The Royal Palace in Madrid.

This is a national heritage monument and one of the official residences of the royal family. You can walk through the elegant rooms with a guided tour that explains the history of the building and the rooms. This is a must see if you love learning about royal families and seeing how they decorated their palaces. This palace won’t disappoint because every room is uniquely decorated with an interesting story to go along with it.

We also suggest taking the time to walk around the palace gardens (Sabatini and Campo del Moro) or visiting the palace during sunset. Recently the courtyard between the palace and the cathedral re-opened their gates to the public. Leading to a fantastic viewpoint with amazing views of the Madrid countryside. The atmosphere is breathtakingly beautiful!

2. The Prado Museum

Detail of "Las Meninas" at the Prado Museum
Detail of “Las Meninas” at the Prado Museum (Madrid).

For the art aficionados this is the mega museum. It is one of the most famous museums in Madrid with a wide variety of exhibitions that change throughout the months. This is the best place to go if you want to learn a little more about the culture of Madrid and Spain. It is so easy to get lost in these hallways while admiring the beautiful portraits and landscapes from renowned Spanish artists. This visit is worth spreading out for a couple of days because there are three floors packed with so much to see. But lucky for you, admission is completely free during the last two hours of the museum’s opening. So if you are on a budget this is a great way to soak up art history without breaking the bank.

3. Retiro Park

Retiro Park and Crystal Palace
Retiro Park and Crystal Palace

This park is the most iconic park in the capital with its large number of gardens, a pond where visitors can row a boat, and the infamous Crystal Palace. This is an ideal park to go to for a walk, play sports, have a picnic, or ride a bicycle. The Crystal Palace also holds exhibits that are fun to check out. The park also hosts some important events such as a book fair in the autumn and fireworks for the festival of San Isidro on May 15. It’s one of our favorite places to go on a Sunday afternoon stroll with friends to enjoy the sunny days that Madrid has to offer.   

4. Churrerías

Chocolatería San Ginés. Since 1894.
Chocolatería San Ginés. Since 1894.

You cannot miss a visit to a churrería for breakfast or for a mid-day snack. These are little cafés that only serve churros with a variety of chocolate. Some are even open 24 hours a day such as the Chocolatería San Ginés famous for its stance as one of the oldest churrerias in Madrid since 1894. This place is well known for its delicious churros that can be enjoyed at any hour of the day or night. It’s very common to see the rooms packed with people well past midnight trying to enjoy a delicious treat with friends and family.

5. Mercado de San Miguel

San Miguel Market
San Miguel Market (Madrid).

This market is famous for two things: its all-glass exterior and its food that celebrates the Mediterranean Diet. This is a famous historic building converted into a market near Plaza Mayor (Main Square). It offers an excellent blend of Madrid and international gastronomy that can be sampled as tapas. It is a great place to visit to get a sample of Spanish cuisine as well as try new foods.

Here is a video that shows some of the amazing places that Madrid has to offer such as Reina Sofía museum, Thyssen Museum, El Escorial Monastery, etc. This way you can get a sneak peek into the city and plan possible routes to follow to see everything.

Video courtesy of our friend José Luis Sarralde from GUIAS VIAJAR.

You can also go to this site that has live cameras throughout the major parts of Madrid so you can see the city anytime of the year.

Famous Gastronomy in Madrid

As a major city, Madrid accommodates to many palates with its variety of foods to choose from. But four dishes come to mind when thinking of the basic staples of a Madrileño Mediterranean Diet and they are the following:

1. Cocido Madrileño

This is a stew typical in Madrid during the winter season. This is served in three dishes. The first serving is the broth and noodles followed by the chickpeas with vegetables and finally the meat. It is very typical for many Madrileños to spend Sunday lunch at their family’s house to enjoy this meal. But it is also very common to see this on the carta del día or menu of the day in many restaurants during the winter months as it is very filling and flavorful.

We highly recommend El Restaurante La Bola which is a typical tavern in Madrid. This tavern has a very long history, almost 150 years, that can still be seen today thanks to the family dynasty of four generations that continues to care for this establishment and serve traditional Madrileño meals such as the cocido Madrileño. The stew incorporates the best raw materials and is prepared the exact same way since 1870. Which is over embers from oak charcoal to respect and maintain the flavors of the ingredients and traditions of the past. The flavorful stew is then placed into traditional clay pots to be served to Madrileños or world travelers alike.

2. Squid sandwiches

This sandwich is extremely famous in Madrid. It is a bit strange that there is no sea nearby. But the squid sandwich is a staple that can be enjoyed in any bar in Madrid. There are even restaurants that claim to have the best squid sandwich in Madrid. So you can even do a little sandwich crawl to see if the sandwiches live up to their fame. Either way you can’t go wrong with this delicious sandwich.

But we recommend a visit to El Restaurante los Galayos in Plaza Mayor. This is a family-owned restaurant that has been in business for more than 115 years thanks to strong family values. The dedication to serve delicious food, and the evolution over time to adapt to the new tastebuds and needs of the public. It was even frequented by many literary geniuses like Luis Cernuda, Federico García Lorca, and Pablo Neruda, among others. Nowadays, this restaurant is open for anyone and everyone who want to get their hands on a scrumptious squid sandwich!

The squid sandwich (Bocadillo de Calamares) is a cheap and delicious tapa typical from Madrid.
The squid sandwich (Bocadillo de Calamares) is a cheap and delicious tapa typical from Madrid.

3. Spanish tortilla

This is a very simple dish that consists of potatoes, eggs, and sweet onions (although there is a heated debate on whether to add this or not). This dish is very versatile because you can eat it for breakfast, a mid-morning snack, or as a tapa which is typical in Madrid’s gastronomy. Lucky for you. We have a post here on how to make this delicious meal so you can try it before visiting Madrid.

Making a Spanish omelette is a challenge
The delicious Spanish Tortilla.

4. Patatas bravas

This is a very typical dish found anywhere in Spain. But it is typically served in Madrid as tapas or as its own meal. These are “spicy potatoes”. It depends on where you go because sometimes the spice is very mild while in other bars they can be quite spicy. They consist of white potatoes that are fried in oil and served with a warm red sauce. We love to go to El Bar Terzio to get our hands on this tapa. They serve their patatas bravas with a classic and lightly smoked sauce that we just can’t get enough of!

Tapa of Patatas Bravas
Tapa of Patatas Bravas very typical in Madrid.

5. Ir de tapas

If you are more curious about the gastronomy in Madrid. You can always go out for tapas, which are little plates of food that come with your beverage. This is a great way to sample a little bit of everything that Madrid has to offer. Especially since many bars have their own take on what should be considered a tapa. Some offer elaborate plates full of food (like Spanish tortilla, paella, and Manchego cheese) while others offer the classic variety of olives. Either way you really can’t go wrong. So it’s worth spending an afternoon with friends trying new local bars to see where the best offers are located!

Some delicious tapas.
Some delicious tapas.

We hope you come visit Madrid someday to try our amazing dishes as well as see the beautiful sites!

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