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Madrid, Spain – The Ultimate Travel Guide

Madrid is a lively, colorful city with a vibrant art scene (including their abundance of street art) that’s perfect for a visit of at least three days! We spent 3 full days there and had a great time! Read on for all of our recommendations and tips and click here for a 4 day Itinerary for Madrid to help you plan your trip!

The Best Spot for Delicious Paella in Madrid! | Lots of Lora

Food to Try

Tortilla – This is not the kind of tortilla you’re probably used to – no burritos will be made with this kind of tortilla. Spanish tortillas are made with eggs and potatoes and are about an inch thick. They vary in consistency from gooey to solid, all depending on how the place chooses to make them. I like mine gooier. These tortillas are great for breakfast or really any time of day. They often come in small slices as tapas with your drink order.

Patatas Bravas – These are kind of like a Spanish version of french fries that come with hot sauce on them. I’m not a big fan of spicy and I could still handle these, so don’t worry. They’re delicious and a great little snack during the day!

Churro con chocolate – If you’re a chocolate lover, this is a must. Dip your churro into the steaming cup of thick, creamy chocolate. This chocolate is so good you’ll want to drain the cup once you’ve finished your churro.

Paella – The classic Spanish seafood dish. Paella is a must-try, but just be careful and make sure you actually get a good paella! Tourist traps will advertise these and then serve you microwaveable rice with chicken wings. A good paella is generally a large serving, often for a minimum of two people, and is full of flavor.

Croquetas – If you’ve never had a croqueta, I definitely recommend you try some! These are one of my favorite foods in general, not just from Spain. They are a bit overpriced when sold in restaurants, considering how cheap it can be to make them at home. However, if you’ve never had one, you should definitely try them!

Our Favorite Places to Eat

Casa Pepe – this is definitely one of the most budget-friendly places we’ve been. Order a caña and you get a good-sized tapa. Depending on the day, you may get something as good as a portion of paella. We regularly stopped in here at least twice a day for a snack and a caña. If you’re looking to fill up on the cheap, come here often and just order a caña each time.

Cantina La Traviesa – This is a great place for paella. We like the paella mixta. However, you can only order paella if you are a group of at least two people and the price of the paella listed in the menu is per person.

Cuevas El Secreto – This place is mainly great for its location and the service. If you’re out in the La Latina area, this is a great place to stop by if you’re not sure where to eat.

Mercado San Miguel – Europe is littered with markets, and this covered market is a really cool spot. It’s definitely not the most budget-friendly, although not outrageous. If you have a little leniency in your budget and really want to try some new and interesting things, go to Mercado San Miguel and get a few different tapas.

Corona Bar in Madrid: Ultimate Travel Guide
Corona Bar in Madrid, Spain

Things to do

Corona bar – If you’re looking for a really cool spot to chill and have a few beers during the day in the summer, this is it! We stumbled upon this outdoor bar while walking to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum and fell in love. They have events in the evenings too, which is when they’re more crowded. You can reserve tickets (often free) here to make sure you get in! The Coronas are a little pricier than your average caña, but having a couple won’t break the bank.

Museums– There are three major museums in Madrid: The Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Prado, and the Reina Sofia. Each has a different vibe and different collections, but they are all pretty big. Make sure you have the time – and the stamina to go through these! They all also have free hours one day a week. If you’re on a tight budget, utilizing these hours is a great idea! If you want to take your time visiting the museums, consider using these hours to go back for free a second time. If you’re a student under the age of 25, with a valid student ID, you get a discounted ticket at all of these museums. More details on the museums below!

Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol – These are the big monuments in Madrid that are high-traffic tourist areas. There are a lot of things around here, as they are situated right near the middle of the city, but they will also be very crowded and very touristy. These are great landmarks to use to orient yourself as you move around the city. 

Must Visit in Madrid: Parque El Retiro | Lots of Lora
El Palacio Real - Visit Madrid

Parque El Retiro – This park was one of my favorite parts of Madrid – hands down! I’m a sucker for a good park. El Retiro is huge and has bikes for rent outside of most of its gates, as well as lawns for picnics, and boat rides available for only 8 euro per 45 minutes. If you want to take a boat ride, I definitely recommend going early in the day. This is a fairly popular activity and there is almost always a line. This park is a great place to walk through, have a picnic, or even a siesta!

El Palacio Real – The Royal Palace of Madrid is another site you can visit if you need something to do! Inside you can find lavishly decorated rooms from the time of its use that are both stunning and overwhelming. Students also get a discount here!

Flamenco – We saw an intimate flamenco cellar show that was a great value in my opinion. The tickets and a little about flamenco is included in my 4-day itinerary for Madrid.

Salsa – If you’re a salsa fan like us, or you want to learn to dance salsa, El Son is the best place to do this in Madrid! They offer classes on weeknights at 10:30 which also then give you free entrance to the club to dance for the rest of the night. We loved this place because of its laidback environment that made everyone feel comfortable dancing and its selection of music!

Madrid Art Museums: The Ultimate Guide

Which museums should I go to?

If you are a fan of Picasso, Van Gogh or Monet, the Thyssen-Bornemisza is probably going to be your favorite. It has a good mix of art from different periods! (Free hours on Mondays from 12-4 p.m.).

For more classical art, and art from the baroque and renaissance periods (think Velasquez, Goya, Caravaggio) go to the Prado. This one has more of a line than the Thyssen-Bornemisza from what I could tell, but you can still definitely get in quite quickly! (Free hours Monday-Saturday from 6-8 p.m.)

If you like history and politics, you might like the Reina Sofia. Its pieces have a lot more context, in this sense, and there is more “contemporary” kind of art. Picasso’s famous Guernica is housed here! (Free hours on Monday-Saturday from 7-9 p.m).

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Madrid, Spain

Transportation

Madrid’s metro is super easy to use and there are ticket machines in every metro station for your convenience! I definitely recommend buying a pack of 10 tickets for about 14 dollars instead of individual tickets. You get a better deal this way. You can download the Madrid metro app for convenience.

To get from the airport to the city center is always super easy. There is a bus (the Exprés Aeropuerto) that stops right in front of the airport and can take you to several stations from the airport. Plus, it only costs 5 euro!

Travel to Madrid, Spain

Things to know

A caña (pronounced cahn-yah) is a small beer in a glass (usually 1-2 euro) that you can order just about anywhere in Madrid, and Spain in general. When you order a caña, you get a tapa, which is a small plate of food to go with your drink.

Tapas are served just about everywhere but vary greatly in what they are, and how big they are. A plate of tapas alone is not a meal, but if you go to a few places in a row, you can get full off of just tapas. Different places will serve different tapas of different sizes and they will vary just by what they have available that day. You can order tapas on their own, even without a caña, and some places will give you tapas with water as well.

La Latina is a lively neighborhood with lots of restaurants and bars. If you’re at a loss of where to go, this is a great place to start.

A lot of things in Madrid (and Spain as a whole) close down from about 3 or 4 to about 7 or 8 p.m. This is generally referred to as Siesta. This is part of the reason that Spaniards don’t tend to eat dinner until about 9 p.m. and can stay out until 6 a.m. partying. So do your best to adjust to this schedule while in Madrid!

Nightlife in Madrid is excellent! The streets are filled with people at all hours – Madrileños like to party until 6 a.m. on the weekends! There is a wealth of big clubs, small clubs, and bars to satisfy any type of night out. La Latina is also a great location for nightlife.

Madrid, Spain: The Ultimate Guide

Budgeting

Madrid is a city where it’s pretty easy to get by on a tight budget. Ordering a caña and getting a free plate of tapas with it at several bars is an easy way to get full on the cheap! Even if you choose to go to actual sit-down restaurants, there are plenty of places to eat in Madrid that won’t break the bank.

For visiting sites, all of the museums have free hours and if you’re a student under the age of 25, you can get a discounted price!

Overall, counting all the food we ate, drinks, club covers, what we spent on visiting sites/museums, and transportation (including to and from the airport, but not our flights in and out of Madrid), we spent $376 for 2 people over 3 full days and 2 partial days (arrival and departure). If we’d really wanted to, we could have done it even cheaper by utilizing free hours more and not going to any clubs or buying drinks. 

Here is a breakdown of what we spent:

  • Museums: $33 (using discounted prices for students and free hours for the Reina Sofia only)
  • El Palacio Real: $14
  • Clubs (and drinks at clubs): $95
  • Food: $200
  • Airport transport: $20
  • 10 Metro rides: $14

I hope this has been helpful for you if you’re interested in making a trip to Marid! 

The Ultimate Guide to Madrid, Spain
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