This bustling metropolis is the capital of Spain. While it’s no Manhattan, Madrid offers a wide variety of culture and entertainment options. Whether you’re an art buff, a thrill-seeker, or a party animal, Madrid has something for you.
How to Get to Madrid
Madrid is accessible by air and land. Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez International airport (MAD) is conveniently located and provides direct access to the metro and Cercanias trains. You can take a bus to and from the airport. If you’re already in Europe, you can still fly, or you can reach Madrid via train, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re more than ten hours away.
You can visit Interrail to help you plan your trip via train around Europe, or visit Renfe’s website to view prices and schedules for train tickets around Spain. You can also download the Interrail app and Renfe app to get info and make purchases from your phone.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Spain is particularly beautiful during the summer months, but with that beauty comes surging prices, and I generally aim to save as much money as possible when I travel.
Don’t even think about visiting Madrid in August unless you’re willing to make some serious concessions regarding your conveniences. If you’re like me, and budget-travel, I recommend visiting Madrid in September.
August marks the height of the tourist season, so everything is at its most expensive. Prices begin to fall precipitously once September 1st arrives. It’s the perfect blend of weather and savings, because along with the freefalling in prices comes a gradual drop in temperature. If you ask anyone who has been to Madrid in the summer, they’ll tell you that the heat can be downright oppressive.
It’ll still be warm enough to wear your summer clothes but not so hot as to make you stay indoors or search for shade all day. Take the W and plan your trip to Madrid for September if you’re just looking for a generally good time to visit.
The Matadero is an old slaughterhouse in Legazpi that was repurposed and now houses art exhibits year-round. There’s always a reason to visit El Matadero because the exhibits are changed frequently.
I went there for an exhibit about the sleep environments of people, and it was amazing. I got to try and enjoy every type of bed you could imagine. My favorites were the bed made out of beans and the trampoline bed.
There’s also a restaurant on the premises, La Cantina, where you can have a nice snack or grab a coffee. I recommend grabbing a bite to eat from one of the surrounding restaurants. There are plenty to choose from.
El Matadero is open every day from 9am to 10pm, but there might be limited access on the weekend.
Hop-On/Hop-Off Bus Tour
The bus tour is a staple of any trip I make to a new city. Madrid’s bus tour has two routes that cover the majority of the city.
The historical route takes you by the most famous monuments in Madrid and gives you the history of the city’s architectural gems. The modern route is all about the new and innovative side of Madrid’s architecture.
The buses were in good working condition, and the free headphones were actually of decent quality, so that’s a bonus. They’ll tell you at the ticket booth that buses come every 15-20 minutes, but when I went, I had to wait for around 30-40 minutes for the first bus. You have to take into account that you’re in Madrid, and there’s a ton of traffic.
I recommend going as early as possible so that you can enjoy the little bit of extra space that will suddenly appear when everyone goes for their midday siesta. Overall, the tour is worth checking out.
Visit a Museum
The Prado Museum is arguably the most popular museum in Madrid. Upon first entry, it doesn’t look all that impressive, but there is so much more than meets the eye.
The first floor is where you’ll see the bulk of the works on display. I was initially underwhelmed when I visited because I went straight to the top floor, and the only thing there was a tiny café and a handful of statues. My disappointment was short-lived.
The second floor had a private exhibition that required a separate ticket, so make sure you ask about that when you visit. I didn’t want to spend the extra money, so I can’t tell you what was there.
The first floor is massive and seemed endless. I felt like I was walking around that place for hours, and eventually, I had to tap out and leave. There was no way for me to get to everything, but hopefully, you’ll do better than I did.
If you’re an art-lover, add the Prado to your Madrid to-do list. Admission is free if you visit Tuesday to Sunday between 6 and 8 pm. I got in line at 5 pm, and there were already a plethora of people waiting ahead of me. The line is eternal, and the museum is extremely crowded during the free-entry period, so make sure you get there early.
El Retiro Park
No trip to Madrid is complete without a visit to El Retiro Park. It’s Madrid’s version of Central Park, and you’ll find all kinds of activities taking place depending on when you visit. There are yoga groups, photography lessons, and a host of other things happening daily.
I recently went to a Día de Los Muertos festival in the park, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had during my two-plus years living in Madrid.
You can rent a rowboat or buy tickets for the solar boat and enjoy El Retiro park from the lake. You can easily pass an entire day in Retiro park.
Visit Madrid’s tourism site has a list of nearby attractions and a schedule of events.
Temple of Debod
The Temple of Debod is an Egyptian temple located in Cuartel de la Montaña Park. The temple itself is rather small, but it’s worth a visit, and best of all, it’s free.
I recommend going on the weekend. The park comes alive with musicians, and you’ll often enjoy a free concert by local musicians. It’s a great atmosphere during the summer. To top it off, there is a breathtaking view of Madrid that you must see at sunset.
Visit the Madrid Rio
The mall is nice, but the rooftop is the main attraction as far as I’m concerned. You can enjoy a meal as you get a birds-eye view of the city. There’s a wide selection of restaurants, but if your heart is set on shopping, the mall has a good selection of stores. It’s within walking distance of Matadero, so I generally visit these two places together when I’m in the area.
Walk Around Sol
Sol is the definition of a tourist trap, but it sure is a good one. You can find just about anything you need/want there.
Whether you’re searching for culture or a good time, Sol has it all. I’ve done everything from seeing a traditional flamenco show to dance the night away with a bunch of strangers. And don’t get me started with the food options! I’m just thankful that I don’t live in Sol because I wouldn’t stop eating.
Sol offers some of the comforts of home while simultaneously allowing you to experience some Spanish culture. Spend some time in Sol and indulge that stereotypical tourist inside you begging to get out.
Enjoy the Nightlife or Do Something Extreme
Madrid is packed with entertainment options. You can enjoy some live music, dance all night, or can even go indoor skydiving.
Next up on my to-do list is a trip to Windobona Skydiving center in Madrid. I don’t have the guts to jump out a plane, so this is the next best thing. Windobona is open Wednesday to Sunday from 1 to 9 pm. On Saturdays and Sundays, it opens at 10 am. They have some affordable skydiving packages starting at 29 euros, and it’s open to everyone over the age of four.
Before I leave Madrid, I will pay them a visit.
Madrid is a very safe place, but you should always be mindful of your surroundings. Madrid is a haven for pickpockets, so don’t leave your things unattended.
I make sure to keep my wallet in my front pocket where I can feel it. If someone gets it out of there, they wanted it more than I did. Ladies, I advise you to wear a smaller purse that you can place across the front of your body. You want it where you can see it all times.
If you prefer to wear a backpack, you should invest in an anti-theft travel backpack. Standard backpacks can be opened without you noticing, but with the right anti-theft backpack, the only way for someone to get inside is for you to take it off.
I recommend the XD Design anti-theft backpack. It costs $79 – $95 depending on the color, but it is one of the best on the market. The inside is inaccessible from the back, and the zippers are completely hidden. It also has padded straps, a padded backplate, and built-in spine support. The XD is designed for comfort and security.
The Kopack anti-theft backpack is another high-quality travel backpack, but it’s much cheaper at $49.99. It doesn’t have the same level of padding or back support as the XD backpack, but it has the same level of functionality. It’s a nice alternative if you’re looking for a great anti-theft backpack on a budget.
Where to Stay?
If you’re a budget-conscious consumer, I recommend using Booking.com for stays in Madrid. It’s one of the most expensive regions of Spain, so you’ll want access to a wide variety of lodging options for the sake of bargain-hunting. You can use the map below to help you get started.
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