Madrid, Spain

We visited Madrid for the first time as part of this Road Trip in Spain (from Lisbon) itinerary and were so impressed! So, here is a guide with lots of information, tips and favourites to remember our visits and help you get to know a little bit about the beautiful capital of Spain.

Madrid is the most populous city in the country with about 3.6 million inhabitants and approximately 6.7 million people in the metropolitan area (at the time of writing). It is both the capital of Spain and the surrounding autonomous community of Madrid. It has a long and captivating history, founded as a Moorish fortress in the 9th century and today is a thriving city famous for its art, culture, iconic landmarks, and lively nightlife. This vibrant metropolis seamlessly blends ancient tales with contemporary life, offering a kaleidoscope of experiences that can resonate with every traveller.

To help you plan your visit, please read on for some of the top attractions and activities (+ free admission times, when available):

Royal Palace of Madrid*: A stunning building that serves as the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. Visitors can see the palace’s grand rooms, gardens, and impressive collections of art and artifacts.
* Free admission Monday to Thursday from 5 to 7 pm. Check the official website prior to the visit, as they could be cancelled for special events.

Prado Museum*: One of the world’s top art museums, with a vast collection of works by famous Spanish and European artists, including Velazquez, Goya, and El Greco. Visitors can spend hours wandering through the museum’s galleries, admiring the impressive artworks on display. 
* Free admission Monday to Saturday from 6 to 8 pm, Sundays and holidays from 5 to 7 pm. Recommend arriving about 40 minutes before to queue.

Reina Sofia Museum*: Another famous museum that features a collection of 20th-century art, including works by Miró, Picasso and Dali. (Ticket info here)
* Free admission Monday, (closed on Tuesday) and Wednesday to Saturday from 7 to 9 pm, Sunday from 12:30 to 2:30 pm.
Tip: Free tickets can be booked online in advance. Recommend arriving about 40 minutes before to queue (even with free online tickets)

Retiro Park: Expansive park in the heart of Madrid with beautiful gardens, fountains, statues and a great pond (boat rentals available), making it the perfect place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The park sits adjacent to the Royal Botanical Garden* and also houses the Velasquez Palace Museum and the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal) – both of which are managed by the Reina Sofia Museum (Ticket info here). 
* Royal Botanical Garden – Free admission on Tuesdays from 10 am to 1 pm. 

Plaza Mayor: Large and impressive square that has been a gathering place for locals and visitors for centuries. It’s surrounded by beautiful buildings, restaurants, and cafes.

Puerta del Sol: A busy central square and popular meeting spot during the day or at night, also known for the famous clock tower (at the Royal Post Office building) that marks the countdown during the New Year’s Eve celebrations. The square is also the location for the “Km Zero” mark, from which all distances to Madrid are measured.

Gran Via: Madrid’s main street, sometimes called “Spanish Broadway”, is lined with beautiful buildings, theatres, and a myriad of shops and restaurants. It connects Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza de España and is a great place to stroll and take in the city’s architecture and energy.

Plaza de España: Located at the end of the Gran Via, this imposing square is surrounded by beautiful buildings and monuments. Other nearby attractions include the impressive views from the RIU Plaza Espana rooftop, the Temple of Debod, the Royal Palace of Madrid and its gardens, the Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Theatre.

Temple of Debod*: An ancient Egyptian temple that was gifted to Spain in 1968. It was disassembled for transport and re-assembled in Madrid, where it’s now located in a beautiful park and is a popular place to visit.
* Free admission, Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 8 pm

Mercado de San Miguel: A popular food market that features a variety of traditional Spanish cuisine, including tapas, seafood, and wine. Visit this market or choose from a number of others in several neighbourhoods.

These are just a few of the many points of interest the city has to offer, but there’s so much more to experience!

Madrid is known to have great nightlife, with many bars, clubs, and restaurants staying open until the early hours of the morning. Some of the best areas for food options and nightlife include the La Latina, Malasaña, and the lively Chueca.

There are also many theatres and performance venues in the city, but the crown jewel is the Teatro Real (Royal Theatre) – one of the most famous opera houses in Europe.

Flamenco is an important part of Spanish culture, and there are many places in Madrid where you can see a traditional Flamenco show. Some of the most famous venues include La Cueva De Lola, Las Tablas, Torres Bermejas, Corral de la Morería and Tablao las Carboneras.

Let’s not forget all the delicious food!

Many traditional dishes are available all around the city and local favourites are easy to find. The cocido madrileño (a hearty meat and chickpea stew) and callos a la madrileña (beef tripe and sausage stew) are two of the most famous dishes, but I prefer to stick with the many choices of tapas, bocadillos (sandwiches), delicious churros con chocolate (fried dough served with a creamy hot chocolate – try them at Chocolatería San Ginés) and many amazing pastries.

Amongst the best places to try the local cuisine (along with fresh produce and handmade crafts) are market halls such as Mercado de San Miguel, Mercado de San Antón, Mercado de San Fernando, and Mercado Antón Martín, among others. A more diverse option is the 3-storey Mercado de San Ildefonso, which offers both Spanish and international food along with 3 cocktail bars.

Madrid’s dynamic tapestry awaits, where each corner is a canvas painted with stories of the past and dreams of the future, offering something for everyone. As you make your way through its streets, you’ll find yourself immersed in an ever-evolving tale of a city that invites you to explore, discover, and make memories that will have a special place in your heart.

*Additional times/museums with free admission in Madrid:

  • Museo Thyssen Bornemisza: Free admission on Mondays from 12 to 4 pm. Tickets should be booked online or by telephone.
  • Museo Arqueológico Nacional: Free admission Saturdays after 2:00 pm. and Sunday mornings.
  • Naval Museum: Free admission. A 3€ donation is requested but not mandatory.
  • Lope de Vega House Museum: Free guided tours. MUST be booked in advance. Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm and visits are every 30 minutes. The approximate duration is 35 minutes.
  • Cerralbo Museum: Free admission Thursdays from 5 to 8 pm, except holidays.
  • Madrid History Museum: Free admission.
  • Museo de America: Free Admission Thursdays after 2 pm and Sundays all day.

In addition to the city’s attractions, Madrid is surrounded by many interesting towns and attractions that are easily accessible by car or public transportation. Some popular day trip destinations include Toledo, Segovia, and El Escorial.

Weather in Madrid

Madrid has a Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and cold winters. The city enjoys over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, making it one of the sunniest cities in Europe. Here is a breakdown of the weather in Madrid throughout the year:

  • Spring (March to May): Spring is a great time to visit, as the weather is mild and pleasant, with temperatures averaging between 10°C and 20°C (50°F and 68°F). However, it can be quite rainy during this season.
  • Summer (June to August): Summer is hot and dry, with temperatures averaging between 20°C and 30°C (68°F and 86°F). In July and August, temperatures can reach as high as 40°C (104°F), so it’s important to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.
  • Fall/Autumn (September to November): Fall is mild and pleasant, with temperatures averaging between 10°C and 20°C (50°F and 68°F). The leaves on the trees in the city’s parks start to change colour, making it a beautiful time to visit.
  • Winter (December to February): Winter is cold and dry, with temperatures averaging between 0°C and 10°C (32°F and 50°F). It can be quite chilly at night, so it’s important to dress in layers if you’re visiting during this season.

Overall, the best time to visit would be in the spring (March to May) and fall (September to November), when the weather is mild and pleasant. However, if you don’t mind the heat, summer can also be a great time to visit, especially if you want to enjoy the city’s many outdoor activities and festivals.

How to get there and how to get around

Getting to Madrid by car, train, bus or plane is relatively easy due to its well-connected transportation infrastructure and international airport. Once you get there, it may be best to use public transit to get around, as there are several rules and restrictions in place for private cars.

The public transit system in Madrid is known for its efficiency, convenience, and extensive coverage. It consists of various modes of transportation (metro, buses, trains and light rail) that make it easy to navigate the city and its surrounding areas. 

Probably the most cost-effective way for visitors to use transit is with a Tourist ticket. It allows unlimited travel using all transit services in Zone A (Municipality of Madrid) or Zone T
(Community of Madrid) for the duration of the ticket, including travel to/from the airport Metro stations. This ticket can be purchased at Metro ticket machines, “tobacco” stores and other authorized points of sale, Bankia ATMs (with some exceptions) and Renfe-Cercanías stations.



Madrid has implemented a number of traffic restrictions in an effort to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion in the city center. The restrictions include:

  1. Madrid Central: This is a designated area in the city center where only vehicles with special permits can enter. The permits are based on a system of environmental stickers divided into 4 categories: 0 (Zero emission), ECO, B and C.
    Vehicles without environmental stickers (gasoline cars registered before January 2000 and diesel cars registered before January 2006, as well as motorcycles registered before 2003) cannot access Madrid Central. 
  2. How do I get to my hotel? If you have a hotel reservation in Central Madrid, and have a gasoline car registered since January 2000 or a diesel car registered since January 2006 (equivalent to categories B or C), you can drive to your hotel if it has its own parking space associated with the Madrid Central system. You may only park in the hotel parking space. Otherwise, if your hotel has a reserved space only for guests to get on and off vehicles, you will have to register your car in order to get through. Then, leave and find parking somewhere outside the restricted area. There are no restrictions for the circulation of vehicles labelled as 0 (Zero emission) and ECO
  3. Low Emissions Zone: This zone encompasses the entire city of Madrid and is designed to limit the entry of high-polluting vehicles. Diesel vehicles registered before 2006 and gasoline cars registered before 2000 are prohibited from entering the zone. Only electric or hybrid vehicles, as well as cars with a B or C environmental label, are allowed to enter the area.
  4. Public Parking: Parking is limited in many areas of Madrid, especially in the city center. 0 (Zero emission) vehicles can park in Regulated Parking Services (on-street parking) with no limit, while ECO vehicles can park for two hours during the times of regulated parking, as well as parking lots/garages. B and C category vehicles can only use car parking lots/garages. 
  5. Speed Limits: The maximum speed limit in the city of Madrid is 50 km/h (31 mph) on most roads, with some exceptions such as major highways. In addition, there are specific speed limits in certain areas, such as 30 km/h (19 mph) in residential areas and 70 km/h (43 mph) on some major roads.
  6. Bus Lanes: There are dedicated bus lanes throughout the city of Madrid, which are reserved for buses, taxis, and motorcycles. Other vehicles are not allowed to use these lanes during certain hours.

When booking accommodation in the city and if planning to bring your car, contact the hotel/host before arriving to ask about parking permits and locations allowed.

Please note that failure to comply with these restrictions can result in fines and penalties. The fine for non-compliance is usually €90 but can be up to €200. Additionally, the restrictions may change depending on air quality and other factors, so it is recommended to check for updates and follow current local regulations.

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