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A Complete Guide to Visiting Madrid

Madrid is one of the cheapest destinations in Spain and it’s home to fantastic art museums, raging nightlife, and one the most beautiful parks in Europe. Like any Spanish city, the food is fantastic, and Madrid certainly has more of an international feel in that regard. It’s not the most beautiful city in Spain, but it makes up for it with its authenticity, and it does have its fair share of pretty architecture. Here’s the complete guide to visiting Madrid!

Related: A Complete Guide to Seville

What to Do

Museo Nacional del Prado – With many pieces from El Greco, Goya, and Velázquez, this is one of my favorite art museums in Europe. The tickets are €15 and there is free entry everyday from 6-8 PM (5-7 PM on Sundays). The entrance is also free to everyone under 26 years old.

El Retiro Park – A sprawling park with a rose garden, a lake, and monuments. In the middle of the park is the Palacio de Cristal which holds a small free art exhibition and is a great place to take a few pictures. El Retiro is incredibly beautiful and it’s the perfect place to spend a few relaxing hours.

Catedral de la Almudena – The baroque church opposite the Royal Palace is not very attractive from the outside, but the unique artwork on the interior makes it worth a visit. The entrance is free.  

Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande – The artwork on the interior of this church is spectacular and it has one of the most beautiful domes I’ve seen. It’s open from 10:30 AM-3:30 PM from Tuesday to Saturday, and the entrance is €5. 

visiting Madrid
Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande

Related: 12 Ways to Save Money on Travel Without Missing the Best Experiences

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia – A contemporary art museum featuring Dalí, Picasso, and Miró. The entrance is €12 (free from 6-8 PM), and it’s closed on Tuesdays. You’ll want to arrive a few minutes before 6 PM to avoid the lines. 

Take a stroll down Gran Vía – The most famous street in Madrid features many historic hotels and restaurants.  

Watch the sunset at the Temple of Debod – The area surrounding this Egyptian temple is a very popular spot to watch the sunset and listen to local musicians. 

View from the Temple of Debod

Explore Barrio de La Latina and Lavapiés – Madrid’s two most beautiful neighborhoods lie just south of the city center. Many of the city’s immigrants live here, and every Sunday the famous El Rastro flea market takes place between these neighborhoods. 

Related: Best Things to Do in Bilbao

Day trip to Toledo – Toledo is a medieval town with narrow streets and architecture that makes you feel like you’re walking around in the 1600s. Some recommend spending 2 days/1 night here, but I felt that was too long of a stay. The town is very small, and the hostel and restaurant scenes aren’t very impressive.

There are a lot of small attractions here that cost a few euros, but feel duplicitous. I recommend visiting the Cathedral of Toledo (€10), Museo del Greco (€3), Sinagoga del Tránsito (€3), Mirador Del Valle (free), and Iglesia de los Jesuitas (€3). You can buy a bus ticket to Toledo for €6 at an Alsa kiosk inside Plaza Elíptica Station. 

Cathedral of Toledo
Cathedral of Toledo

Where to Eat

El MiniBAR – A cheap tapas bar with delicious food and friendly staff. It’s a great place to try the calamari sandwich, a local specialty.

Casa Gonzales – A vintage deli & restaurant serving ibérico ham, cheese, and wine.

Taberna El Sur – A tasty Andalusian style tapas bar.

El Tigre Sidra Bar – One of the few bars you will find that still gives a free plate of tapas for every drink you order. For €5, you can get a pint of beer or a sangria and a sizable plate of tapas. Don’t come expecting gourmet food, but it’s a unique experience. 

Tiki Taco Clavel – Madrid has fantastic Mexican food and here you can devour tacos for €1 each. Another popular Mexican spot is Takos Al Pastor, which always has a line out the door. 

For many visiting Madrid, Sobrino de Botín is a popular choice for dinner because it’s the world’s oldest restaurant. I have to say it’s some of the blandest food I’ve ever had and for €40 there are plenty of better options.

Where to Stay

Sungate One – The daily organized activities and a very welcoming staff make this hostel fantastic for solo travelers. It has a family vibe and a perfect location near the city center.

The Central House – A modern, eco-friendly hostel in Lavapiés with a laidback social vibe and awesome staff.

Cats Hostel Madrid Sol -A party hostel in a 17th-century palace with a beautiful courtyard. If you’re looking for a night out, this is a solid option.

How Long to Stay

When visiting Madrid, I recommend 4-5 days before heading elsewhere Spain. This leaves enough time to explore the city and make the day trip to Toledo.

Where to Next

After visiting Madrid, there are plenty of fantastic options for your next stop.

Seville – The beautiful Andalusian city has a unique blend of Spanish and Arabic influence.

Bilbao – A port city in the Basque Country with fantastic regional food, art museums, and viewpoints.

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