I’ve called the grand city of Madrid, Spain my home for 12 years now. I’ve traipsed this gran pueblo from top to bottom endless times, visited all the tourist haunts, explored the hidden underground spots and experienced everything in between. I’ve seen the Madrid the locals know and the Madrid tourists know — but the best way to see the city is a mix of both.
After countless of inquires from friends, family and readers of my published work, I’ve decided to upgrade from my typical email response and post my guide to Madrid here. So without further ado, here is the perfect guide to Madrid for foodies, explorers, art lovers, wine aficionados and well, pretty much anyone/everyone. Read it, share it, come and visit!
Hotels in Madrid
I would recommend not staying too close to Plaza Mayor or Sol. Instead, Chueca, Huertas or Malasaña can be fun neighborhoods, but they can get loud. For more local vibes, try Lavapies (more international) or Salamanca (high-end) instead.
Hotels: H10 Puerta de Alcalá, Dear Hotel, Roommate Oscar, Westin Palace (Marriott), Santo Mauro (Marriott), Hotel de las Letras, Only You Chueca, Aloft Gran Via (Marriott), InterContinental Madrid (IHG).
Dining and drinks in Madrid
These are my top picks for restaurants, bars, coffee shops and beyond in Madrid. Note: not every place is tapas and jamón. Anything bold, make a reservation.
Traditional: Casa Mingo, Botin (touristy but fun), Jurucha (tapas)
Chic but affordable: Merimee (lunch), Bar Galleta, Le Coco, Baazar, Finca de Susana, Public, Fathe Pur (Indian), Cocina del Desierto (Moroccan), Momo, Gracias Padre (Mexican), 80 Grados (gourmet tapas), Amargo (downstairs, live music evenings), Maricastaña (lunch), Poncelet Cheese Bar (fondue-raclette), Banibanoo (lunch), Emma Cocina, Goiko Grill (burgers), Nubel (brunch, drinks), Sto Globo (sushi), Angelita, Sala Despiece (my favorite), Pai Pai (my other favorite).
Splurge: D’Stage, BIBO (chef Dani Garcia), Bistronomika (seafood), Tandem, Triciclo.
Fast: Tierra (burritos), Buns & Bones (baos).
Wine/Cocktail Bars: La Fisna, Angelita, Propaganda, Salmon Guru, BEST.
Food Markets: Platea (chic), Mercado de San Anton (great rooftop), Mercado de San Miguel (touristy), Mercado de la Cebada (traditional), Mercado de San Ildefonso (hipster), Mercado de la Paz (traditional).
Coffee spots: Olivia te cuida (reserve, breakfast), Pum Pum Cafe, Cafelito, Bocono, Monkee Coffee, Cripeka, Plantate Cafe, El Kiosko de Pan, Valor (best churros!), Mazel (bagels), Waycup.
Rooftops: Círculo de Bellas Artes (5 euro entrance fee), The Hat (millennial), H10 Puerta de Alcalá, El Viajero, Dear Hotel, Riu Plaza España, Hyatt Centric, Aloft Madrid, Corte Ingles Gourmet Gran Via.
Flamenco: Corral de la Morería (more touristy, but excellent food), Las Tablas (affordable for dinner and a drink).
Tourism: Museums, walks, shopping must-see spots in Madrid
Under the Radar Museums: Cerralbo, Museo del Traje, Sorrolla. For the best bigger museums, click here.
Parks: Retiro, Fuente de Berro, Casa de Campo, Caprichos, Templo Debod
- Sol to Plaza Mayor to Palacio Real/Almudena Cathedral
- Along Calle Huertes
- Sol to Gran Via and up Fuencarral/through Chueca/Malasaña
- Up Calle Alcalá all the way from Sol to Retiro Park, passing Cibeles and the Puerta de Alcalá.
- Along Serrano, Ortega y Gasset or Claudio Coelho for high-end
- Along Valverde for vintage shopping
For any tours or guides, contact my friend Heather, firstname.lastname@example.org
Practical information and logistics in Madrid
Breakfast: Breakfast in Spain is usually a coffee and a tosta con tomate, toast with olive oil, blended tomato and salt. You can also order croissants, pastries or toast with jam. Huge breakfasts with eggs aren’t usually a thing here, but in more touristy spots you can find them. Typically, a Spanish breakfast should be under a few euros! I suggest ordering un cafe solo (espresso shot), cortado (espresso with a dash of milk), cafe con leche (coffee with milk) or if you want to be a boring American, cafe americano. Please, stay away from Starbucks and frequent one of the aforementioned cafes or any little bar/cafe in your neighborhood — this is truly the way the Spaniards do it and the coffee is cheaper and better!
Menu del dia: These are daily lunch menus offered for a fixed price and typically include three courses and a drink (beer, wine or soft drink/water). They are usually on weekdays only! Order them! They are awesome. Look for chalkboards advertising them.
Beer/Wine/Water: Order cañas, which are little beers, served small to stay cold. For red wine, order Rioja or Ribera, one of the two main regions they come from. Tinto de verano is Spain’s very refreshing version of a wine spritzer. For beer, usually bars only have one kind, but if you have the option, try Alhambra, it’s the best. Also, it is perfectly OK to drink the tap water in Madrid. In a restaurant, you can ask for a jarra de agua (water carafe) at no extra cost (or a vaso de agua/glass of water) — most spots will give that to you especially if you’ve already ordered another drink.
Meal Times: Everything is pushed back here. Breakfast is anywhere from 9am to noon and lunchtime is typically 2-4 pm, but restaurants open for lunch at 1 pm, which is the largest meal of the day.
Restaurants open for dinner around 8:30 pm, but locals won’t eat until 9pm or even 10-11pm on the weekends. It’s also typical to have a short siesta after lunch, and you may notice smaller shops close during this time, as 3-6 pm is the hottest time of the day here.
Airport: Madrid’s city center is close the airport. I recommend using Cabify, which is around 20-25 euros or so to or from the airport. Download the app, put in your payment info and then use my code for a discount, loriz1. Or, you can order an Uber. Make sure to be available as the drivers will usually call you to tell you where to meet them. You can also take the metro, the 200 bus to Avenida America (1.50 euros) and change to the metro there, or the Airport Express bus (5 euros) which stops at the metro O’Donnell, Cibeles and Atocha. You will need cash for the buses.
Transport: I recommend getting a transport card for 10 viajes/10 trips which you can use on the metro and buses. Use the machines to do this in metro stations, and you can put them in English; they accept card or card. Taxis typically accept cash only, and Uber and Cabify are available too and very cheap within the city center.
Cash: Some smaller restaurants and bars prefer cash as their preferred method of payment rather than credit card, or don’t accept credit card at all. Also, it’s better to take out money directly from the ATM instead of exchanging it. Contact your bank beforehand to find out their ATM fees, and let them know you’ll be Spain in order to avoid them from blocking your card! Reminder: taxis sometimes make a fuss about accepting credit cards (even though by law they are required to), which is why using Uber/Cabify can sometimes be more convenient especially if you aren’t fluent in Spanish.
Medicine and pharmacies: Local grocery stores do not carry over-the-counter medicine, like tylenol. Over-the-counter and prescription medicine are available at pharmacies only. Pharmacies can be found all over the city, marked with a green cross and are usually closed during lunch from 2-5pm. If you wish to buy medicine like tylenol or advil, you can ask for paracetamol or ibuprofeno. If you have special prescription medicine you take, make sure to bring enough with you throughout your stay and your prescription as a precaution.
SIM card: If you don’t have an international plan, chat with your cell carrier to see. If you have an unlocked phone, you can buy a SIM card at the airport, or at stores like Orange, Vodafone or Movistar.
I know I’m biased, but I think Madrid is one of the greatest cities in the world. If you don’t believe me — come visit — the friendly locals, energetic vibe and general ambiance of joy is like none other. Bienvenido a Madrid!