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Sunshine, siestas and shopping - what's not to love!

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Madrid, the capital of Spain, is packed full of culture, beautiful architecture, green spaces, and mouth-watering food and drink options. Often overlooked for Spain’s coastal destinations and typical holiday spots, Madrid is somewhere you can really experience a taste of local life, whilst still being comfortable in a well known city. It’s one of our favourite cities of all time, so if you’re thinking of visiting, we have plenty of material to convince you to get those tickets booked!! 

As a city, Madrid is somewhere that we feel you can never be bored. If the sunny, warm weather and hundreds of bars aren’t enough to keep you occupied, there are plenty of parks, museums, shops and attractions for you to visit. We would’ve been more than happy just sitting outside tapas bars all day, but we thought we better do some exploring too!

The entrance to Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain

The Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid!

A major attraction of the city is the Royal Palace. It’s the biggest palace in Europe, and not to be missed. You can pay to go in or take a guided tour, but if you’re on more of a budget the exterior and the gardens are gorgeous too! Next door, you’ll find the Cathedral - La Almudena, which is free to go in and again, a stunning sight to see just from the outside. Just remember to remove any headwear before you go in.

If a long stroll through a park is your idea of a perfect day, there are plenty of options in Madrid. Your best option is Retiro Park, over 300 acres of lush green space. There are countless bars, cafes and kiosks, but you will probably pay more here than you would in the city centre. There’s even a lake where you can rent a boat! 

You’ll also find the “Palacio de Cristal” here, a stunning glass house which is currently used to display art exhibitions. Make sure to try and find the rose garden section in Retiro Park, especially if you’re visiting in May or June when the roses are in full bloom, it's absolutely gorgeous. 

If this isn’t enough, you’ll also find the Royal Botanical Gardens close by, which are 4 euros to enter and contain over 5000 species of plants. What a lovely spot for a stroll on a sunny day! See the map below for exactly where to find them:

However, when in Madrid, you can’t spend all your time wandering, you have to make time to try some of the local food and drink (what a shame!). Explore the city centre to find hundreds of tapas bars, and restaurants serving local specialities if you’d prefer to sit and have a full meal. 

Lots of restaurants offer a “Menu del día” offer during the day - which means you get several courses, with a smaller selection than the normal menu, plus a drink for a set price. Our favourite that we tried in Madrid was Mu steakhouse, take a look at the menu we had below so you can see why it's such a great deal! The food and service were amazing too.

Menu del dia at mu steakhouse, Madrid
Menu del dia at mu steakhouse! We think it's a great deal

When you’re not quite hungry enough for a 3 course meal but still want to relax and enjoy some local specialities, head over to Calle de la Cava Baja. This is a street in the city centre with over 50 tapas bars, all unique and serving different, delicious food and drink. Our personal favourite bars on this street are Taberna Salamanca and Vermuteria la Bolita Negra.

In Madrid, there are lots of options to take a guided tapas tour or pub crawl, which seem like amazing experiences, but you can also easily spend a full day just going from bar to bar on this street! Pace yourself with the food - the tapas may seem small but they fill you up pretty quick. We found ourselves needing a “siesta” after a few too many in the afternoon!

Calle de la Cava Baja, Madrid (the tapas street)
Calle de la Cava Baja, Madrid (the tapas street)

You can also eat in the main square - Plaza Mayor. It’s a stunning square with arches and walkways all around the edges, lined with bars and restaurants. The atmosphere is lovely, but you will definitely pay more if you decide to eat or drink there compared to the rest of the city centre. Eating in main squares is always more expensive, and sometimes the food doesn’t reflect the price. You can read more about how to get more for your money in our post about avoiding tourist traps

There are lots of incredible foods in the Spanish capital, but we’d definitely recommend trying Bacalao (fried salt cod), Patatas Bravioli (potato cubes with spicy sauce and garlic mayonnaise) and Torreznos (crispy pork / bacon often served with peppers or potatoes). And if you fancy an alcoholic drink, try a Tinto de Verano (literally translates to summer red wine), Sangria, Vermouth, or a local beer!

Don’t miss the Sunday market, El Rastro, if you’re in Madrid over the weekend - the atmosphere is just electric! You won’t believe how busy it becomes, if you want to beat the crowds try going early in the morning.

El Rastro market, Madrid
So many people!
An old book stall at El Rastro flea market in Madrid
An old book stall at the flea market in Madrid

The market feels as though it goes on forever, and then if you turn off the main streets you’ll find lots of small courtyards with beautiful antique shops such as El Jueves. Head more into the back streets such as Calle Santa Ana and you’ll find more of a flea market with stalls selling antiques, junk stalls, and piles and piles of old books! But if you’re after more high street or designer shops instead of market stalls, head to Gran Vía, the main shopping street of the city, where you can enjoy retail therapy for hours on end. 

Wanting to explore further? Madrid has a fantastic transport system and you can use the metro, light rail and buses to get across the city and its suburbs. If you’re wanting to head out of Madrid and see some new towns, you can take day trips to places like Toledo and Segovia which are less than an hour away by train from Madrid Atocha Station.

A post all about visiting Toledo as a day trip from Madrid will be out very soon to give you all the information you need! Make sure to sign up to the Passport Press (at the bottom of this page) to receive updates on our posts and the latest travel information!

Toledo, Spain
Toledo, a great day trip from Madrid (less than 40 mins by train)

You can book tickets at the station, on the Trainline website or through Renfe (Spain's main rail company). It’s best to book in advance, especially over the Summer period. 

Or, alternatively, you could book a guided tour including transport from Madrid if you want to make things easier for yourself. You can also take longer train trips to other cities such as Seville or Barcelona - the long distance trains can take a while, of course, but they’re very comfortable and you get great service throughout your journey. 

Overall, Madrid is a great destination for everyone - whether you’re looking for a relaxing city break with lots of local food and drink, or a jam-packed adventure full of sightseeing and day trips. It’s a welcoming city where we instantly felt at home, and completely safe throughout the duration of our trip. Madrid is modern, and full of such a range of activities that we truly believe everyone could enjoy a weekend here.

Additional information:

Getting there: Madrid is easily accessible by air, with direct flights from many major cities around the UK.

Visas: Citizens of most countries do not need a visa to visit Spain for a stay of up to 90 days. Take a read of our Schengen Agreement post to find out more about this. 

Currency: The currency of Spain is the Euro. Money is easily and safely withdrawn from ATMs, however be careful as some may charge you for this.

Language: The official language of Spain is Spanish, but English is very widely spoken in Madrid, so don't worry if you're not fluent. It's always polite to learn a few phrases though!

Time zone: Madrid is in the Central European Time Zone, usually one hour ahead of the UK

- Search for somewhere to stay in Madrid on

- Look for things to do in Madrid or day trips on GetYourGuide here


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