TRAVEL GUIDE: 1 Week in Madrid

As promised, I’ll now be continuing my blog as more of an informative guide to travel while I’m taking a break for it myself here in Boston. It’s only fitting for me to begin with the place I learned the most about: Madrid.

There is never enough to do in Madrid, and even during my four months there, I still did not get to see or do everything that I’d planned (so I guess I’ll just have to go back!). That being said, there’s definitely a way to see the major highlights of Madrid in a week, in three days, or possibly even in 24 hours if needed.

For a normal, planned vacation to Madrid, I think one week is the perfect amount of time to spend in the city – it’s long enough to see everything you need to, while also getting some time to relax and enjoy some of the more local parts of Madrid without feeling too rushed. To start, I think the best way to get around Madrid is public transportation – it is very easy to figure out, clean, and affordable, and Madrid is a rather walkable city, so there’s no need to take cabs or Uber. You can purchase a weekly pass for around 30€ which allows you to use the metro, bus, and train as many times as you like.

The first area you must visit is Sol. Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s city center, and just close by is the Plaza Mayor. Both are large open plazas, surrounded by restaurants, shops, and lots of street activity. This area is definitely a bit more pricey (it’s a major tourist spot), but one of the most bustling, popular places to visit. Right outside of the metro station is one of Madrid’s most famous bakeries, La Mallorquina, which you’ll definitely be able to smell right away! While in the area, I also recommend grabbing a bite to eat at the Mercado de San Miguel – a large indoor market with a wide variety of Spain’s traditional food items. The Chocolatería San Ginés serves churros with chocolate 24 hours a day, and is one of Madrid’s oldest and most famous chocolaterías. Lastly (and my favorite), you must visit Takos al Pastor at least once. There are two locations just outside Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor, where you can get some of the best tacos I’ve had (and the best in Europe) for 1€ each!

Another great area to walk around is the neighborhood of Mala Saña. This is a much younger area with lots of shopping, so be prepared to spend some time here! You can walk down Gran Via toward Calle Fuencarral, both filled with stores and great restaurants. I would recommend starting at the Plaza de Cibeles, one of the prettiest buildings in Madrid (which you can go inside and up to the roof!), and making your way up Gran Via during the day. Spend some time on Fuencarral, and then find a cool tapas restaurant in Mala Saña for dinner!

While in Madrid, a day must be spent visiting its many museums. There is SO much art history here, so I highly recommend taking the time to explore and appreciate it. If you take the metro to Estación del Arte (also called Atocha), you can access both the Museo del Prado and the Museo Reina Sofia, where you can see Picasso’s Guernica. Two other museums I recommend visiting are the Sorolla and the Thyssen Museums. These visits may take up to a whole day (depending on how many museums you choose to see), so definitely reserve some time for this. One more building I recommend visiting is the Royal Palace of Madrid. It’s especially beautiful from the outside, but worth walking around inside as well. There is so much art and history to see, though the line for tickets is often very long, so be prepared and get there early!

Right by the Prado and the Reina Sofia is Madrid’s Retiro Park, which is another must-see. Not only is this one of the few nature-filled areas of the city, but you can rent boats, visit the Glass Castle, or grab lunch at one of it’s cute outdoor restaurants! Retiro Park is especially beautiful during the fall once the leaves begin to change colors, though it’s always an amazing place to visit and a nice escape from the bustling city once in a while. Also nearby is Madrid’s botanical gardens, another great pocket of nature worth exploring.

If you have another full day free, I definitely would suggest taking a day trip to either Toledo or Segovia, both about 30 minutes to an hour outside of Madrid by train. You would need to purchase a train ticket in advance, but these are only about 20€-30€. Both of these cities are so close and accessible, yet so different from Madrid, that I think it’s definitely worth taking the time to explore and get a deeper feel for Spanish culture. There is a lot more history to be learned from these smaller cities, and as much as I love Madrid, there is A LOT more to Spain! While in the area, try Spain’s traditional seafood paella, or a Tinto de Verano (sparkling sangria)!

Now that your days have mostly been filled up, I have some recommendations for the evenings. Spanish people tend to eat dinner around 9pm, so you have some time to kill before restaurants begin to open up. One area that’s best seen at sunset is the Temple of Debod. You can visit here at any time of day, but I think it’s prettiest while the sun is setting, and you don’t need too much time here, so it’s a good evening activity. Madrid also has lots of rooftop bars and lounges, so I highly suggest visiting at least one, again during sunset. You can see all of Madrid from a glance, and enjoy a drink or two before getting dinner. Some of my favorites are Azotea, and the Hotel RIU (360º view). Definitely plan ahead for both of these, as the lines can be long and you don’t want to miss the sunset! Lastly, if you can, try to get to a soccer game while in Madrid! You will definitely need to purchase tickets in advance, but it’s a great part of the Spanish culture to experience.

For dinner, you can’t go wrong with a local tapas restaurant – for the most part, their menus should all be rather similar, and Madrid is a very affordable city, so you’ll be able to get lots of food for a great price! There are also lots of non-tapas restaurants for when you get sick of all of the fish, ham, and cheese (I did very quickly), so definitely try some of these as well. If you’re still looking for more after dinner, Madrid has a very active nightlife, and you’ll be able to find something going on any night of the week, so younger travelers should definitely check out some of the city’s many nightclubs. These are a much larger part of the culture than most other places I’ve visited, and definitely than the States, just be prepared for a very late night – Spanish people don’t start going home until 4, 5, or even 6am!

There is always more to do and see in such a large city, but I think this is a pretty good overview of the major points to hit in order to truly experience the Spanish culture. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong in Madrid, but these are my favorites and most-visited places during my stay. I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide, and I will be posting lots more content like this in the upcoming months before I begin traveling again. Subscribe below to stay posted, and happy travels!



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