So I decided to imitate the popular style of the Wikitravel guides, following their format but hand-picking what to include on the page. But to keep it in the spirit of Wikitravel, any reader can add their suggestions to the bottom of the page.
- 100 Things to Do in Madrid
- Five-Day Suggested Itinerary for Madrid
- One-Page Wikitravel-Style Guide to Barcelona
UnderstandMadrid is the capital of Spain and the country's largest city, with a population of over three million people. Though popular with tourists from around the world, the city escapes the frenzy that Barcelona or Seville can attract. Madrid is a genuine working city, where visitors can mingle with the local businessmen and manual labourers as well as other tourists.
Location Madrid is situated in the center of Spain, 350 miles from Madrid and 330 miles from Seville (by road).
Climate Madrid is the highest capital city in Europe. Its climate is relatively dry. Summers can be stiflingly hot, with temperatures of up to 40°C (104°F), with many businesses shutting down for August so their owners can escape to the coast. Winter temperatures often go below zero. April and May are usually the wettest months. Read more about Weather in Spain.
Culture As the present capital of a country and the former capital of an empire, Madrid has attracted and assimilated many elements of Spanish and Latin American culture from its large number of immigrants.
For this reason, though flamenco and bullfighting are typically seen as Andalusian traditions, they are also popular in Madrid. The city is home to Galician, Asturian and Basque restaurants, as well as welcoming cuisine from Ecuador, Mexico and other areas of the Latino world.
Madrid has a highly diverse mix of neighborhoods, known as barrios. Just like a New York native talks of Manhattan or Brooklyn over 'New York', and Londoners refer to Camden or Shoreditch instead of 'London', Madrid should properly be thought of in terms of its neighborhoods (albeit, on a smaller scale). A visit to Madrid should be seen as a visit to each of these neighborhoods, spending a day or half-day in each:
- Things to Do near Sol & Gran Via
- Things to Do in Madrid de las Austrias
- Things to Do in La Latina
- Things to Do in Malasana & Chueca
- Things to Do in Lavapies
- Things to Do in Huertas
- Things to Do Around Paseo del Prado
- Things to Do in Casa de Campo
- Things to Do in Barrio Salamanca
- Things to Do Elsewhere in Madrid
- Things to Do Outside of Madrid: Day Trips from Madrid
By Plane Madrid Barajas Airport is Spain's biggest airport. Budget airlines (such as easyJet and Ryanair) and major carriers alike fly in to Madrid from around the globe. With only one international airport in the area, there is no confusion over which airport you will be landing at. Compare Prices on Flights to Spain
See also: Madrid Airport Transfer - how best to get from Madrid airport to the city.
By Train Madrid is the hub for the AVE train, Spain's excellent high-speed train network, which connects the city to Barcelona, Seville and Malaga, among other cities. It's expensive, but very fast (faster even than the train). Unfortunately, not all of Spain is on the AVE network. In fact, not all of Spain is covered by train at all! There are also trains directly from Madrid to Paris, via Valladolid (Spain), Burgos (Spain), Vitoria (Spain), Poitiers (France), Blois (France) and Orleans (France). Book Trains to Spain (book direct)
By Bus Spain's national bus service is more extensive than Madrid's train network. Buses are cheaper than trains and are usually a lot slower than the train, but not always. For example, Madrid to Granada is only slightly slower by bus but is less than half the price.
By Car Madrid is served by a number of excellent highways. There are no border controls between Spain and France or between Spain and Portugal, so you can drive directly between the countries without stopping. Compare Prices on Car Hire in Spain
Get AroundMost of Madrid's major sights are within walking distance of each other. I would recommend a new arrival in Madrid do a walking tour or one of these other Madrid tours to get a feeling for the layout of the city before jumping straight into taxis and the metro. There is a series of walking tours that come free with the Madrid Card.
By Public Transit
-Metro Madrid's metro service is excellent and should be your preferred way of getting around Madrid. Tickets cost under a euro each when bought as a ten-ticket 'abono', making it one of the cheapest public transport systems in Europe. You can also buy an unlimited Madrid Travel Pass for use on all of Madrid's public transport. Read more about the Madrid Metro. Note that violent crime on the Madrid metro is virtually non-existent - the warning on Wikitravel about thieves robbing sleeping passengers is no more than scaremongering (probably the writer was drunk and left his belongings behind in a pub). Pickpocketing, however, is on the rise. Keep your valuables hidden.
-Bus As is the case in many cities, Madrid's bus system is a little harder to get your head around than the metro system. If your hotel tells you a particular destination is quicker than the metro, follow their advice - the tickets are the same as those used on the metro - but in general, you will be using the metro more.
-Night Buses From approximately 1am to 5am, Madrid's night bus service takes over. The buses all depart from Plaza de Cibeles, around the famous Madrid Post Office.
-Train Madrid's Cercanias regional train service fills the gap between the metro and the national train service. It may be useful for some routes within the city and for a handful of Madrid Day Trips but you are more likely to use the metro.
By Taxi Taxis are fairly cheap compared to most major cities, but the tight, often one-way, streets of central Madrid mean journey times and prices can easily add up - it can often be quicker to walk (the driver himself will freely admit it when it is). Don't use taxis unless you are traveling a long way across town.
By Car Parking is difficult in Madrid and I wouldn't recommend hiring one for getting around the capital. If you want to hire a car for travel outside the city, see if it is cheaper to drop off the car when you arrive in the city and pick up a new one when you leave. Otherwise, park it somewhere and use public transport.
By bicycle Madrid doesn't have the best bike paths, though the situation is improving.
TalkSpanish is the main language spoken in Madrid. Though Spain has a number of official languages, they are confined to regions such as Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country. In Madrid itself you will hear a very clear form of Spanish (albeit it with a few quirks), plenty of English and a large dollop of Latin American Spanish.
A recent study found that nine out of ten Spaniards are embarrassed about speaking English (which means that in most cases, they just won't). With many Spaniards, a mono-syllabic conversation is the best you'll manage. Get a phrasebook, make the effort and hopefully a few people will meet you half way.
SeeFor the best guide what to see in Madrid, see my 100 Things to Do in Madrid. A few choice picks appear below.
Landmarks and architecture One of the most common complaints about Madrid is that it doesn't have the iconic landmarks of, say, Barcelona or other cities in Europe. This is undeniably true, but that isn't to say there aren't photo opportunities in the city.
Madrid's most famous landmarks include the following:
- Madrid Post Office Probably Madrid's most photographed building.
- Templo Debod Genuine Egyptian temple, donated by Egypt and transplanted into the heart of the capital.
- Madrid Royal Palace Madrid's royal residence
See also: Best Madrid Landmarks
Museum Triangle Madrid's top three museums are found very close together. They are:
- Museo del Prado Classical art at one of Spain's top three most visited sights.
- Centro de Arte Reina Sofia Modern art collection, including Picasso's most famous work, La Guernica.
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum One of the largest private art collections in the world.
Other Museums For a list of other museums in Spain, see these pages:
Parks The most famous park in Madrid is the Retiro park. As central as Central Park, Retiro is where Madrid goes to breathe. See more on El Retiro
Bigger, but further out and less attractive, is Casa del Campo. Read about Things to Do in Casa del Campo.
Flamenco Shows Madrid is one of the most important destinations for flamenco aficionados. The music and dance form isn't as widespread as it is in Andalusia, but those in Madrid who know their flamenco, really know their flamenco. Your main choice is between La Solea in La Latina, a low key venue where flamenco artists get up and sing along to an accompanying guitarist, or a full-on tablao. Read about Flamenco in Madrid.
Concert Venues Information will be added shortly.
Classical and Opera Information will be added shortly.
Bullfighting As with flamenco, bullfighting isn't traditionally from Madrid, but it has the biggest following in Spain outside Andalusia, with regular fights every Sunday throughout the summer and during the San Isidro festival. Read more about Bullfighting in Madrid.
Movies and Film Madrid's most famous street, Gran Via, is famous for its grand movie theaters. Unfortunately, most have now closed down. And anyway, they only showed films in Spanish (the locals aren't comfortable with subtitles). There are some English Language Movie Theaters in Madrid.
Festivals Madrid's main festival is called San Isidro, which takes place in May. Read more about Madrid Festivals.
Language Schools With Madrid's clear spoken Spanish and lack of any regional languages makes it a great place to learn Spanish. The city is also big enough to escape from foreigners when you wish but to find them when you miss home. Read more about Learning Spanish in Madrid.
Cooking More information will appear here shortly.
BuySee also: Shopping in Madrid
Shopping Districts Gran Via, Madrid's most famous street, has the biggest international brands. Principe Pio train station also had a shopping center. For clothes and jewellery most of us could never afford, check out the Salamanca district.
Shopping Outlets More information will appear here shortly.
See more on Food in Madrid
Cuisine Madrid is a multicultural capital city, so cuisine from all around the world can be found here. If you want to try traditional Madrid food, check out this Madrid Food
Many of Madrid's best restaurants congregate around particular streets. Check out Where are Madrid's Restaurants?
-Budget If you want to eat cheaply, eat at lunchtime, when the menu del dia deal gets you the best value food. Read more about my Best Restaurants in Madrid where you can get a full meal with a drink for around 10 euros.
See also: Madrid Cheap Food
-Mid Range Information will appear here at later date.
-Splurge Officially the world's oldest restaurant and Ernest Hemingway's favourite restaurant (he describes it as the best restaurant in Spain in The Sun Also Rises), El Botin is an essential stop and worth saving up for. It's even that expensive.
Read more Free Tapas in Madrid.
Cafes Around every corner in Madrid (and, indeed, Spain), you'll find a tiny cafe with a zinc-topped counter serving coffee en masse, though there are some classic cafes that really deserve your attention, like Cafe Commercial or, my favourite, Cafe Barbieri. In recent years, more modern cafes have also cropped up, especially around Malasana. Read more on my favorite Madrid Cafes
Bars Most places that serve coffee also serve beer. Bars are everywhere in Madrid and are extremely diverse. Which is 'best' is hard to define. Madrid's nightspot districts are quite well segregated, which means you can make a beeline for the exact type of nightlife you want. Read more on Madrid Nightlife.
Clubs The most famous nightclubs are Kapital near Atocha and Pacha in Malasana, where you can get exactly the same mix of hip-hop and dance that you will find everywhere else in the world. Malasana is also home to some more alternative, smaller nightspots, but the current in-vogue bar changes regularly. A favorite of mine is Club Nasti.
Budget Madrid is full of backpacker's hostels and cheap pensiones. Check out Hostelworld (book direct).
Mid-range The best mid-range hotels can be found on Venere.com (book direct)
Splurge The classiest hotels in Spain can be found here: Top Five Hotels in Madrid
Apartments To rent apartments in Madrid, I'd recommend the excellent Airbnb service.
If you need to make a quick, inexpensive phone call, look for a locutorio public telephone shop. They are all over town.
Free wifi is everywhere in Madrid. Even if it's not advertised, most bars playing music will be streaming it from the internet. If you see a laptop behind the bar, ask for the wifi password. See also Free Wifi in Madrid
Find here a list of Embassies in Madrid for the English-speaking world.
Madrid is a safer city than most large capital cities in Europe, though there always risks. The center is so busy that there are few 'dark alleys' to be wary of. At the same time, pickpocketing has not taken hold here to the same extent as in Barcelona, though it is on the rise in the metro. Read more about Safety Tips for Spain
ATMs There are almost as many ATMs in Spain as there are cafes and bars. This is the best way to get money in Spain. Read more about ATMs in Spain.