Madrid is set in the heart of Spain, a fitting location for the nation’s capital. The city’s 4 million occupants spend their days traveling the metro, walking the sprawling shopping districts, and relaxing in Madrid’s famous parks. The most notable of these parks is El Retiro. And, what would a Madrid travel guide be if it didn’t mention the food? Madrid is a culinary paradise with few rivals.
As it’s part of the EU, EU nationals are allowed to freely travel around Spain and its capital. If you’re traveling from outside the EU it’s best to check whether you will need a visa or not. A great list of EU entry requirements can be found here. The good news is that citizens of the US, Australia, and New Zealand, and many others are not required to apply for a Schengen Visa and can stay for 90 days in any of the Schengen region’s countries.
Best time to visit Madrid
Weather in Madrid is highly dependent on the season. In the winter temperatures can reach as low as 6°C. While winter showers are fairly common, snowfall only happens rarely. Madrid is also known for its April showers, as April is consistently the wettest month each year. Visitors should consider whether they can put up with some rainy day, or if it would be potentially vacation ruining. On the flip side summer in Madrid is very hot. Temperatures average around 32°C, but days in July and August can reach highs of 40°C. As of the publishing of this travel guide (June 2019) Spain is in the midst of a scorching heat wave. Since Madrid is landlocked and not near any water, the heat is both intense and dry.
As you can see it’s important to choose your travel dates carefully if you are looking to enjoy some good weather during your trip. The best time to visit Madrid is in the Spring (March – May) and in the Fall (September and October). These months will be the most enjoyable to spend in Madrid.
Madrid City Tips
Madrid is easily accessible from the airport, with a metro line stopping outside Terminal 2 and Terminal 4. It’s super convenient and cost-effective for visitors as it means you won’t need to take a taxi into the center. If you do take a taxi from Barajas Airport to Madrid it will cost €30 for a trip. Note that if you land in either Terminal 1 or 3 you will have a short walk to the airport metro station.
To take the subway from the airport to Madrid, catch Line 8 take it through to Nuevos Ministerios. At Nuevos Ministerios, you will want to switch lines the line you take will depend on your destination. From here you’ll be able to make your way into the city center easily.
Normal Madrid Metro Tickets cost an average €1.50 a journey, with the trip from the airport to the city costing €4.50.
Besides the Metro, you’ll find a light rail which is usually less crowded and is geared more towards reaching the outskirts of the city.
If you’re under 25, you can stop by the Metro card office in stations across the city and you’ll be able to get a Joven metro card. With the student card, €20 a month will get you unlimited metro travel including the cost of the trip from the airport. This is a HUGE discount as a monthly pass typically costs a minimum of €54.
Although it’s the capital, you’ll be likely be surprised by the lack of English, compared to other touristy cities, like Barcelona and Valencia. Most café’s and shops can understand basic English, but it’s not as easy to have a full conversation as you may think. The Google Translate app is a great help in Madrid. Make sure to use the built-in feature where you can photograph signs/printed text and it will translate it for you. This really comes in handy when ordering off menus!
Although it’s the capital, with a big focus on business and politics, there’s still plenty to see in and around the city. These are a few of the top things to see and do in Madrid, Spain.
Palacio Real – The Royal Palace was built in 1735 and is a must see when you visit the city. Entry is around €10. For this price, you can walk around the grounds at the front, and go on a tour inside the Palace. As the largest royal palace in Europe, there’s plenty to see!
Opposite the Palacio Real is the Almudena Cathedral. For only a few euros, you can enter the Cathedral and check out the stunning interior. Visitors can even climb onto a roof terrace and look down over the city as well. Adjoining the cathedral is the Crypt, where for a small donation you can walk around and appreciate the history buried here.
Another must-see is El Retiro. A large public garden in the center of the city, El Retiro is a popular hangout spot for both residents and visitors to Madrid. The most famous part of the park is the Monument to Alfonso XII, which includes a large pond where you can hire rowboats by the hour.
What to eat in Madrid
Spain is known for its Tapas. And in Madrid, there is certainly no shortage! On Wednesdays and Sundays, many eateries offer plates at a cost of just €1. From fries to bocadillos (sandwiches), there are endless options to choose from. Take your pick from a wide range of cheeses and various types of jamon (ham), you will never be short on choices in Madrid!
A popular eatery is the Museo del Jamon. As the name (Museum of Ham) might suggest, they’re well known for their selection of ham and beers. Taking a look at the photos on their webpage will likely serve as motivation during your next visit to Spain.
If you have a sweet tooth, you can’t leave Madrid without trying a palmeras or two. These classic European pastries absolutely mouthwatering and Spanish bakers have perfected their recipe. This palmeras recipe is great for anyone missing that sweet taste of Spain.
If you want a different kind of pastry you should head to San Gines. It is one of the most famous Churro Cafés in the city. In business for nearly 130-years, San Gines is actually the oldest chocolatier in Madrid! Plan on spending an afternoon with a savory cup of hot chocolate and a freshly prepared churro.
Those who are more interested in wine than beer shouldn’t say no to trying a glass (or two) of Sangria. If you’re on a budget, and we all know how wine eats up our travel budget, try Tinto de Verano. This red wine spritzer will give you a taste of Spain at a price that will make anyone smile.
What to bring to Madrid
Depending on the time of year you may not need to bring a lot!
In the summer, light layers and shorts are all you would likely wear – anything more will only amplify the heat!
In April an umbrella is almost mandatory due to the rain. And in winter, you’d probably like to layer up.
Spaniards tend to dress for the time of the year, rather than the weather, so don’t be alarmed if you’re in shorts and sandals and they’re still wearing their coats.
Adaptor wise, Madrid runs on the standard European adaptors, with only two prongs. If you’re traveling from America, you may need voltage adaptors for things like your hairdryers, but laptops and phones will be safe.
Check out these other great destinations around Europe!