Planning a trip to Madrid? This Madrid travel guide will get you acquainted with the city, list the top sights, show you where to stay, and more!
Madrid, the bustling capital of Spain, is a must on any Spain itinerary. Even though the city is large, the historic core is easily walkable, making jetting from place to place a breeze. Madrid offers sights to lure any type of traveler, from grand palaces, lush parks, famous museums, chic neighborhoods filled with designer stores, hipster cafes, and bustling food markets.
This Madrid travel guide will give you insider tips on everything you need to know before visiting this memorable city.
Top Sights in Madrid
Hands down one of my favorite palaces in Europe…and I’ve been to a fare few. The Royal Palace of Madrid joins the ranks of Versailles in Paris and Schonbrunn in Vienna. The opulence of the interiors will blow your mind.
Buy tickets in advance so you don’t have to waste time waiting in line. The general entry ticket is €13 (an additional €3 for the audio guide) with varying discounts for children, seniors, students, etc. Choose the earliest time slot available, preferably opening time at 10:00 am, or visit in the late afternoon after 3:00 pm.
The palace is most crowded in the afternoon with tour groups.
Considered one of the best collections of European art in the world, the Prado Museum is home to masterpieces by Spanish artists including Goya, El Greco, and Velazquez. General tickets are €15 and free entry is offered Monday through Saturday from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm and Sunday 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Free entry days and times will be the most crowded.
Adorning pretty much every guidebook and advertisement for Madrid, this colorful square is worth a quick stop and a few pics. Skip the restaurants here as they are overpriced and mediocre in quality. Instead, stop by Chocolateria San Gines for churros and chocolate.
Another highly photographed spot in Madrid. Stop by Retiro park to enjoy a scenic escape. Filled with fountains, monuments, rose gardens, and even a small lake that you can rent a rowboat to skim across the water.
Getting to Madrid & Planning your visit
Flying into Madrid
The Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suarez Airport, code MAD, is a major international airport. Madrid is one of the most convenient European cities to fly into from the United States and other countries outside of Europe. Most major US cities have non-stop flights to Madrid year-round. You can often find steals for as low as $320 roundtrip depending on where you are departing from.
European airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, Iberia, and Air Europa fly directly to Madrid from cities all over Europe.
Getting to the City Center from MAD Airport
Once you arrive at MAD airport you have several options to reach the city center. Uber currently operates in Madrid and is by far the easiest method. Fares are typically between €25 and €35 to reach the city center. If you have more than one person in your party, don’t want to deal with dragging your luggage around, and want a drop off right at your hotel doorstep, the extra cost of an Uber might be worth it.
A more economical method to reach the city center is via the Expres Aeropuerto bus or the Metro. Tickets for the Aeropuerto bus are €5 and can be purchased on the bus with cash or with a contactless credit card. The bus runs every 15-20 minutes from 6:00 am to 11:30 pm and every 35 minutes 11:55 pm to 5:35 am. It will take around 30 to 40 minutes to reach the Atocha train station in the city center (the night bus that runs 11:55 pm to 5:35 am stops at Plaza de Cibeles instead).
Once you arrive at the Atocha train station you can walk, metro, or take an Uber to your hotel.
I personally prefer the metro. It runs more frequently and is located within the airport in Terminal 2 and 4. It’s also easy to transfer lines to get to your final destination within the city center. Google maps is extremely helpful and accurate in figuring out how to get to the city center via metro. It will show you which lines to take, times of departure, where to transfer, etc. The metro will cost around €5 since there is an extra fee to go to and from the airport.
Madrid Weather: When to Visit
Visit Madrid during the spring or fall to get the perfect mix of good weather and low crowds. My personal favorite time of year is late September to early October. The summer tourists are long gone and you’ll find the weather in the high 60s and low 70s. Perfect for exploring the city by foot.
Chance of rain increases the further you get into fall. November sees the highest chance of rain with temperatures in the 40s and 50s. This would be a good time to visit if you have a lot of indoor attractions on your itinerary.
March is the driest month in spring with temperatures ranging in the low 40s to 60s. April and May have similar rain amounts to November, so pack your umbrella. I prefer to visit in early May before tourists crowd the city. Weather in May becomes quite pleasant for enjoying the outdoors with temperatures in the low 70s. You’ll enjoy seeing the city flock to patios and parks as locals appreciate the longer days and warmer temperatures.
If a low hotel rate and minimal crowds are your priority, visit during winter. It will be cold, 30s and 40s, but you’ll enjoy almost empty tourist sights and the ability to get into popular restaurants without a reservation.
Avoid summer as Madrid is packed with tourists. San Miguel market, the most popular food market, is shoulder to shoulder from morning to night. Lines are out the door for the Royal Palace and top museums, and reservations are a must at busy restaurants. Many locals leave the city to escape the crowds during summer, most notably during August, which makes Madrid feel more like an attraction and less like an authentic Spanish city.
How to Get Around Madrid
The city center of Madrid is compact and easy to get around on foot. Most tourist attractions are no more than 20 minutes away by foot from the very center of Madrid, Puerta del Sol.
If you are tight on time, get comfortable with the metro system. I use Google maps when using the metro in Madrid. It’s extremely reliable and details which line to take, what entrance to use, and the time of departure. If you think you’ll be using the metro often, buy a 10 journey pass for €12.20. You’ll save time by not having to buy a ticket every time you use the metro, but also a few euros as single tickets cost €1.50 to €2.00.
How many days should you spend in Madrid?
You can easily see the main sights of Madrid in a quick two-day itinerary. The compact historic center makes dashing from sight to sight a breeze. Two days will give you a good feel for the city, enjoy a tapas crawl or two, wander the Royal Palace, and walk around a few neighborhoods.
If you’re a fan of day trips and prefer to base yourself in one city for a longer amount of time, you could easily fill five to six days in Madrid. There are a number of very worthwhile day trips from Madrid that are a quick and cheap train ride away (more on day trips below).
Where to Stay in Madrid
If you’re like me and prefer to walk as much as possible, the best area to stay is Puerta del Sol. This popular square is the very center of Madrid. The majority of tourist attractions are no more than 20 minutes away by foot. I also love this area because there are plenty of hotels to choose from at varying price points.
The area to the west of Retiro Park is another wonderful option if you prefer American branded hotels like Marriott, Westin, and the Ritz. Not only will you be steps away from one of the most famous parks, perfect for a morning jog, but you will still be close to the city center via foot or metro. Hotels on or near Calle de Alfonso XII will be the most convenient.
Day Trips from Madrid
Toledo is my personal favorite day trip from Madrid. It takes 30 minutes to get to Toledo via train and tickets are €11.10 each way if you book in advance.
Toledo used to be the capital of Spain and oozes medieval charm. The narrow streets twist and turn and are a joy to get lost in. You can easily see all the sights and have plenty of time to wander as the city is small. If you’re looking for picturesque views and streets, this is the day trip for you. Toledo has a breathtaking hilltop location, is surrounded by ancient walls, and has one of the most spectacular cathedrals in all of Spain.
Take the earliest train as Toledo can get crowded in the afternoon.
Segovia is most famous for its Roman aqueduct. Towering at 100 feet tall, 2,500 feet long, and over 2,000 years old. You’ll also find other sights like Segovia’s cathedral, charming squares, and a fortified palace.
This is a wonderful option if you want a break from busy Madrid as this is a much smaller city. It’s a quick 35-minute train ride and tickets can be found for €11.10 each way if you book in advance.
I hope this Madrid travel guide helps with your trip planning and points you in the right direction on how to spend your time. If you’re like me, you will probably find yourself planning your return trip to Spain while enjoying a meal of mouthwatering tapas and sangria!
Ashley is the owner and creator of Abroad with Ash. After leaving a career in finance, Ashley began focusing on her travel blog where she provides beneficial advice and insights through firsthand experience, itineraries, city guides, and top 5 lists to help others plan their next adventure.
She currently resides in Texas and has a healthy obsession for coffee shops, travel deals, gelato, and Harry Potter. Follow her Facebook and Twitter.