A weekend in Madrid (or as long as you fancy) is something everyone should do at least once in their lives. I’m not saying that because it is my hometown. I know it may seem that I am a bit biased but hear me out. This is not coming from my undying love from my turf. Over the years I’ve chatted to many travellers who concur that Madrid was a highlight of their trip to Spain. I mean, everyone goes to Barcelona. Or to any of the sun-baked cities and towns along the Mediterranean coast. But not so many stop to think of the Spanish capital. Well, you shouldn’t. What Madrid lacks in seaside, she makes up in plenty of other areas.
How to Get to Madrid
Madrid has one of the busiest airports in Europe. This means, you can travel to Madrid with almost all major regular and low-cost airlines. Both from within Europe and outwith, at reasonable prices. From the airport to the centre takes about 30-45 minutes with the Metro. About 20 minutes with the bus number 200 to Avenida de América. There you can connect with other buses and metro lines. Or, if you are in a hurry, you can go for the Express bus, which will take you straight to the city centre in about 20 minutes.
If you have time, Madrid is also well connected by train and bus to other European cities. However, that may take quite some time (Madrid – Paris by night train takes about 14 hours!).
Madrid Public Transport Made Easy
Public transport in Madrid is hands down the best way to move around, besides walking of course. There are options available both day and night, so it’s hard not to find a way to get where you want.
Pricing can be confusing with a single journey ticket bought on the bus costing 1,50€. But the same type of ticket at a Metro station costing something else, depending on the number of stops. If you know you won’t be using public transport too often, a 10-trip ticket may be your best bet. For the A Zone ( Madrid centre) you’ll pay 12,20€. This ticket is valid for buses and metro in the central ring of Madrid, which is enough.
Yet, if you are arriving by plane, the best option is the Tourist Card because it includes the airport fee. You can buy them for 1, 2, 3, 5 and 7 days, and costs between 8,40€ and 35,40€ (prices valid as of Feb. 2021).
Besides public transit, there also are e-bikes and scooters available throughout the city.
And finally, we have the good old taxi. Taxis are quite costly in Madrid, but there are set tariff tiers. You’ll pay your rung wither by the kilometre or by the hour and will be more expensive during night time.
The only exception will be the Airport-City / City-Airport ride, which costs a fixed price of 30 € (they aren’t allowed to charge any supplements, don’t let them tell you otherwise!!).
Or, you can uber, but, this is a delicate topic in Madrid due to regulations.
Where to Stay in Madrid
During your weekend in Madrid, you’ll need a place to stay, right? No matter what your budget is you can find the perfect option for you. From vacation homes to hotels and hostels, there are plenty to choose from.
If you want to splurge, you can go to one of the many high-end hotels in the city. From the homely Iberostar Hotel de las Letras to the luxurious Ritz or Palace. Or something half-way with the Boutique Room Mate Oscar.
For those on a tighter budget, Madrid offers a wide range of “Hostales” and “Pensiones”. These are like guest houses at affordable prices. A good example is Pensión Apolo XI, in Calle de Espozo y Mina. There you can stay in a nice double room for about 30 – 40€/night right in the heart of Madrid.
If what you want is a low budget place to stay in Madrid and meet people, the Hat is the place for you. A designer hostel with a lively atmosphere in the city and one of the best rooftop bars. Prices start from 19,95€/night in a 6-bed room (incl. Breakfast), but they also offer affordable private rooms.
Things To Do in Madrid and surroundings
For outdoors lovers
About 1 hour away are Navacerrada and the Sierra de Guadarrama. The area is a favourite among locals during winter for its many ski resorts. While the rest of the year, beautiful hiking trails are what attracts people to this region. You can also enjoy other outdoor activities such as kayaking, horseback riding or cycling in Madrid province. Your best bet is to find a company that organises these with a guide for individuals or groups.
One of the things I enjoy the most in summer here are the natural pools in el Paular and Rascafria. Summers in Madrid are scorching so this is the perfect place for a day out and a refreshing swim in the river Lozoya.
One of the unavoidable things you must do during your Madrid getaway is visit the renowned kilometro 0. It is a plaque in the centre of Madrid that signals the very start point of all Spanish roads, sort of the centre of the country of sorts.
If you are a football fan, then this one is for you. One of the most popular tours while in Madrid is a tour of the Real Madrid Stadium. Followed by visiting a football (soccer) game during the season.
The Sunday flea Market el Rastro is also a popular visit while in the city. There you can find anything you are looking for. But beware of the pickpockets! El Rastro opens every Thursday and Sunday throughout the year. But, if you are not in town either, all the small shops around are open all week and are worth a visit too.
Arts & Culture in Madrid
One of the things that make Madrid a must-visit destination is its museums. There are so many wonderful options that it is hard to pick one. But if you have to, it will have to be either Reina Sofia or El Prado, which is also nearby.
At Reina Sofia, the Modern Art Museum, you can visit among other Picasso’s famous Guernica. This museum is close to the Atocha Train Station, a perfect spot for a relaxing cup of coffee among palm trees.
El Prado is the classical art museum. Their permanent collection includes famous pieces by local and international artists. Names such as Velazquez or Tizzano have found their home here. It also hosts regular exhibitions in collaboration with other national and international institutions.
Besides these two, you can also check our list of free museums to visit in Madrid for more inspiration.
On top of the traditional museums, there are plenty of other spaces that should be on your list of things to do in Madrid. For example, alternative cultural and art spaces such as el Matadero. And old industrial slaughterhouse repurposed. Oh, and did I mention that most of them are free, so they are perfect for a cheap weekend in Madrid.
Tips from the locals
One of the things I get asked the most from people planning a trip to Madrid is: where do the locals go? And the answer is quite simple, Madrid is a very multicultural city, so people from all over the world blend in straight away. Basically, everyone can feel like a local almost anywhere in Madrid if they want to.
But a really great place to start, get awesome “Tapas” and be surrounded by a lively atmosphere is El Tigre (Calle Infantas 30). It’s a “Cervecería” and they serve one of the best Spanish cider I’ve ever tried. If you are not into cider, you can also get excellent sangria or tinto de verano. And because it is so good, now they have two other locations within walking distance, Tigre del Norte (Calle de Hortaleza, 23) and El Tigre Sidra Bar (Calle Infantas 23).
Besides El Tigre and co., Madrid is full of incredible food markets each with its own character. Some are great to go with friends to grab a drink after work. While others offer a wide variety of cultural events such as dance classes or art shows. You can check our round-up of markets to visit in Madrid for more inspiration.
And this bring us to our next point…the food!
Where to Eat and Drink in Madrid
Madrid, like the multicultural city it is, offers a wide variety of food from all around the globe. But most people expect paella and jamón. Don’t get me wrong, you can get them too but since you are here, why not try something else. And no, I am not talking about pintxos either.
Madrid has a continental climate, which means that during the colder months the food tends to be on the heavier side to keep you warm. There are lots of legumes and beans involved. For example, a nice warm Cocido Madrileño if visiting in winter would be a treat. It’s a slow-cooked stew with chickpeas, meat, cabbage, carrots, and chorizo (it changes slightly from place to place tho). La Pompeyana (Calle Álvarez Gato, 5, 28012 Madrid), is a great hidden spot for a plate that will feed four for around 10€. Or if you prefer, a portion of the typical lentil soup.
For the meat lovers, Hylogui (Calle de Ventura de la Vega, 3, 28014 Madrid) is famous for its Codillo (pig’s knuckles) and Cocido Madrileño.
And last but not least, Yakitoro (Calle de la Reina 41, 28004 Madrid/Pº de la Castellana 130, 28046 Madrid). It is not traditional Spanish cuisine but their toasts and bruschettas are amazing at reasonable prices. And the restaurant itself is worth the visit. I personally recommend the red tuna & Pack Choi, it is delicious!
But if you are spending only a weekend in Madrid, go for one of the popular Bocadillo de Calamares (Calamari baguette) at La Campana in Plaza Mayor. At about 3.5€, it’s the perfect meal for a day out during your Madrid getaway. Order it to go and sit in a park.
As for tipping…
There is no established tipping amount, it’s a voluntary thing and depends on the service you received. If the service is bad you leave nothing. Oh, and if you didn’t like the wine, you place a napkin on top of the bottle with the remaining of the wine.
And let’s not forget the night owls
Madrid is also known for its nightlife. From small pubs where you can just sit outside with a beer and some tapas in Plaza Santa Ana to bigger more party like areas like Huertas, Chueca, Hortaleza y Fuencarral. Then, for a night out, Teatro Kapital, Pacha or Joy Eslava are the places to be.
Prices can be quite high in the clubs so a lot of people pre-drink somewhere before. Oh and let’s not forget that party clubs in Madrid open later than in most other countries (around midnight), so don’t be surprised if your bar of choice is still dead at 10 PM.
Other Tips & Tricks for the Perfect Weekend in Madrid
Local culture and customs
Most people in Spain are not great at foreign languages, especially the older generations so you’ll be glad you spent so many Christmas and family holidays honing your Charades skills. But learning a few words of Spanish such as hello (hola), thank you (gracias) and please (por favor) before your trip, they’ll adore you. And don’t worry, Spanish people are quite laid-back when it comes to things. Just be nice, don’t go around provoking, and you’ll have a lovely time.
What is the currency in Spain and how much would a beer cost?
Like most of the countries in the European Union, Spain uses the Euro. In comparison to other countries, food and drink are much cheaper (if you avoid the tourist traps) and the caña (33cl tap beer) costs about 3€ although it will always depend on where you go. Lately, it’s become quite popular to order buckets with 5 33cl bottles for about 5-6€.
Madrid’s best photo op locations
There are two different places I always take people for stunning photo ops. Templo de Debod and Retiro Park at sunset.
Templo de Debod is an actual Egyptian temple brought to Spain piece by piece and placed in its current location in the early 70s. The Egyptian government donated it to Spain as a symbol of their gratitude for helping protect the Abu Simbel Temples during the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The temple overlooks the city from its prime location on top of Parque del Oeste and is a popular spot among locals during warm summer evenings.
The second location is the lake at Retiro Park. With the palace in the background at sunset is definitely a breath-taking spot.