Madrid Royal Palace
Royal Palace of Madrid (Photo credit: Pixabay)

Madrid Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • The capital of Spain and it’s largest city, with 3.3 million inhabitants.
  • Located roughly in the center of the country, on the Manzanares river.
  • The third largest city in the EU (after London and Berlin), Madrid is the financial center of southern Europe and is home to many international organizations.
  • Nicknames: Los Madriles (“many Madrids”). Locals are called “Madrileños.”

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Euro (EUR).
  • Spoken languages: predominantly Spanish.
  • Best time to visit: from February to November. Mediterranean climate with cool winters.
  • Arriving via airport: from Barajas International Airport, located 12 km to the northeast: you can take the metro (Line 8, Nuevos Ministerios at Aeropouerto T4) which will get you downtown in about 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, there are many bus lines that get to the airport, including an Express 24 hour line. You can also get to the city by train or a taxi.

WHERE TO STAY

There are many accommodation options in Madrid, ranging from youth hostels to 5-star hotels. The price goes up the further you go from the city center. You can find decent and cheaper hotels near Puerta del Sol Terminal, Toledo Street, Gran Via boulevard, and on Fuencarral Street.

GETTING AROUND

  • Madrid has a very developed and extensive transportation system. The easiest way to move around is arguably by subway, a modern network of 12 lines. The tramway (Metro Ligero) ads another 3 lines on the surface. The cost of a ticket starts at 1.50€ and goes up depending on lines used and length of voyage. A 10-trip ticket starts at about 12€.
  • The bus system (Empresa Municipal de Transporte, or EMT) covers the entire city, with many stations and lines. Although there is a special lane for buses in Madrid, roads often get packed.
  • There are over 15,000 taxis in Madrid: look for white cars with a red diagonal line and the emblem of the city. A green light indicates that they are available.
  • One of the best ways to explore Madrid is with the Tourist Pass, which gives you unlimited journeys while valid. A 1 day pass in the city center is 8.40€, while a 3-day pass is 18.40€. 5 and 7 day passes are also available.

MADRID NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18, no official last call (some clubs are open all night).
  • It is not unusual to see young people out in the streets at 5 AM, while some clubs and discos have lines in front until after midnight. Don’t be afraid to start your night late – it’s what the locals do (especially on weekends).
  • Areas with active nightlife: Arenal Street, Atocha Street, Barcelo Street, and Chueca area.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Note: Although Madrid does not have the exuberance of Barcelona, it is still one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (and the world). While it is not a very old town and does not have medieval architecture or very old buildings, Madrid has a charm of its own, with many things to do and see.
  • Visit the center of Madrid, where you will see one of Spain’s most impressive palaces: the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). The hallways and rooms are a testament of the luxury and style of living of the Spanish monarchy. Other notable landmarks nearby include: the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena, Plaza Mayor, the San Francisco el Grande Basilica, Teatro Real, San Pedro Church, San Isidro Church, Tetro Real, and Plaza de la Villa.
  • The Prado Museum is one of the largest and richest museums in the world, with over 8,600 paintings from different ages. Close to the Prado, there are two other art galleries that will amaze any tourist and art lover: the Reina Sofia Museum (with works by Dali, Miro and Picasso, among others) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
  • Explore Madrid’s natural beauty: visit the Parque del Retiro, a large green space right in the center of town. While you’re in the area, walk through the Botanical Garden.
  • Other landmarks worth visiting: the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, the Anthropological Museum, Palacio de Justicia, Biblioteca Nacional, Campo del Moro, Plaza de Cibeles, Puerta de Alcala, Museo Archeologico Nacional, Museo de America, and Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Starting from Plaza de Colon on the Paseo de Recoletos, pass by the Plaza de Cibeles and enter the Paseo del Prado (where most museums are located). Finish at the Plaza del Emperador Carlos V.
  • Take a walk along the alleys of Parque del Retiro, discovering the small statues and pavilions. If you have time, continue through the Botanical Garden.
  • Take a walk in the historical center of Madrid. Starting from Plaza Mayor, visit the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, San Pedro, San Francisco el Grande, and the Palacio Real. Take your time to observe all the smaller landmarks along the way.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Treat yourself to a traditional Spanish music/dance show – ask your hotel for recommendations on where to see a flamenco performance.
  • Where to find good cheap eats: try the local food at small restaurants that serve traditional Spanish dishes and recipes. Among the specialties you have to try: tapas, cocido, besugo, callos, torrijas, and barquillos. Don’t forget to try some Spanish wine!
  • Dangerous areas: the center of Madrid is extremely safe. Avoid the suburbs and the train stations at night, as well as unlit back streets.

RECOMMENDED MADRID GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 4-5 days


SEE ALSO:
Madrid Travel Guide was last modified: September 25th, 2016 by Nick
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