Located in the heart of Spain, Madrid is a melting pot of the country's architecture, culture and cuisine. Its night life is legendary - Calle de la Cava Baja's tapas bars are a cacophony of locals' orders and bodegas flow with the country's world-famous wines. Try and visit in the shoulder season. Locals leave in summer months for a reason; it is scorchingly hot.
Madrid's currency is the Euro (€). €1 = £0.83 / $1.10 (as of 2022).
Top 5 things to see
Palacio Real de Madrid
After the Alcázar burned down in 1734, Felipe V instructed a Royal Palace to be built in its place that would dwarf palaces across Europe. Extraordinarily, the palace was designed to be 4x the size of what it is today (2,800 rooms), however Felipe dies prior to its completion.
The Plaza de Oriente out front is a maze of statues and picturesque little gardens. Behind is Campo del Moro, 20 acres of streams, paths and gardens.
Tickets start from €10/€5 adults/children.
Museo del Prado
One of the world's most renowned art galleries, the Museo del Prado teaches you the history of Spain through its 7,000 works of art; from the royal paintings of Velázquez, to the atmospheric works of Goya. The imperious, neoclassical-style building dates back to 1785 and is as much a spectacle as the artwork inside.
Tickets range from being free, to €15. Check on the website below and book tickets in advance.
Retiro Park & Ibiza
A haven of beauty, architecture and shade amongst the unbearable summer heat, Retiro Park was opened to the public in the late 19th-century. One step into El Retiro, as know by the locals, will make you smile. Its vibe, ornate fountains, and beautiful statues of Spain's celebrated writers and poets dotted around the near 300-acre park is perfection. You can even boat on the Estanque Grande del Retiro.
The nearby neighbourhood of Ibiza is a treat to visit too. Chic bars and taverns line the streets and the smell of fresh bread and seafood will remind you why you visited one of Europe's most mouth-watering cities.
Casa de Campo Park
A former royal hunting ground, west of Palacio Real de Madrid, Casa de Campo is the largest urban park in Madrid. The park dates back to the 16th-century when King Philip II decided to move his royal courts to the city.
Significantly larger the El Retiro, it provides stunning walks, landscape gardens and a boating lake surrounded by wonderful little cafes and restaurants; our top pick is Villa Verbena.
Tapas Crawls and Calle de la Cava Baja
Madrid's tapas bars and its tapas culture is legendary. Calle de la Cava Baja is the city's most renowned street for tapas with nearly 50 bars on one street alone. Although it has become heavy for tourists, there are definitely gems to consider visiting that bustle with locals. These include: Taberna Tempranillo, Casa Lucas, and La Perejila.
Two Passports Top Tip:
You'll stick out like a sore thumb if you order plates and plates of tapas at one bar. Order a drink, stand by the bar, and ask the knowledgeable staff what they're best known for and order a plate or two, the move onto the next place!
Madrid City Pass
There are a number of Madrid City Passes to choose from to suit your trip. From a simple transport pass, to a Eight Museum Madrid Pass which gives you access to eight museums as many times as you like. Click the link below to find one that best suits you.
Where to eat and drink
Despite its location in the centre of Spain, Madrid's produce is arguably the freshest. Being situated in the middle of the country gives the city and its creative chefs access to the diverse ingredients in ever region. Its seafood is legendary and its thirst for tapas rich and enviable.
Breakfast is a quiet, often a thick hot chocolate with churros; or perhaps toast with ham and tomatoes. A vermouth before lunch might be on the cards, before bars start exploding with hungry workers and locals who are whetting their appetite ahead of the evening. Evenings start late and end later compared to Britain and America. It's not unusual to see families dining late into the evening.
If you're stuck for options, visit the Ibiza neighbourhood, east of El Retiro. It's only 10-15 minutes from the city centre and renowned for its fabulous tapas bars. Or Calle de la Cava Baja, the city's most popular street packed with over 50 tapas bars!
Chocolat is specialises in churros and porras (thicker churros). Order a few alongside a dark hot chocolate and dunk away in a nearby plaza.
Chocolateriá San Ginés by Plaza Mayor is a 100-year old churreria is another good spot!
Villa Verbena by the lake in Casa de Campo is a scenic spot with food to match. Dine on stunning Labanese cauliflower and exceptional grilled squid.
Casa Toni is Madrid's most loved bar. Ask any local and they'll say visit Casa Toni. It's been run by the same family for generations which you can easily sense when you visit. It's a must visit.
Mercado de San Miguel is Madrid's stylish market nearby the Plaza Mayor. Although tourist-heavy, it does still cater for locals, supplying them with fresh food for their day. Perfect to create your own picnic and visit Retiro or Casa de Campo. Visit early at 10am.
Mercado de la Guindalera or Mercado de la Paz are other markets elsewhere in the city if you'd prefer a quieter and less-central vibe.
Cervecería Sol Mayor by Plaza Mayor is an unpretentious hole-in-the-wall selling some of Madrid's best calamari sandwiches. A perfect snack ahead of exploring.
La Posada de la Villa is one of Calle de la Cava Baja's oldest restaurants, set in a building dating back to 1642. It's known for its roasted meats, specifically the roasted lamb. Opposite is Posada del Dragón, a sophisticated restaurant set above the old walls of the city - you can see this on some of the glass floor in the restaurant.
Sobrino de Botín is the oldest restaurant in the world, dating back to 1725 (the building dates 200 years further). Understandably it dines off of this and is popular with tourists who come to visit. It's main attraction is the extraordinary suckling pig, that is roasted and cooked in the stone ovens.
El Boqueron in the Lavapiés neighbourhood is a rustic bar serving up the freshest grilled shrimps imaginable (gambas). It's beautifully tiled inside and very reasonably priced.
For the adults
Taberna Tempranillo is a haven for wine on Madrid's famous Calle de la Cava Baja. The wine rack behind the bar will make you realise that pretty quickly!
Taberna La Concha is renowned on the street for its exceptional vermouth (fortified wine). Their vermouth is homemade, served straight in a martini glass and enjoyed chilled with a tapa.
La Canibal in Lavapiés is known for its fantastic wines on tap and craft beers too. It's a relaxed, casual atmosphere with an east London-style setting.
Tipping isn't required, but you can add an extra euro to your bill if the service was good.
Madrid is a very safe city but tourists can be an easy target for pickpocketing, especially on the metro. Madrid's centre is well lit, but its neighbourhoods outside are a little darker, so just be careful when walking on your own. Uber is in Madrid, as are other taxis to book, so if you feel more comfortable, taxis are an option!
Two Passports Top Tip: Madrid's Tapas Culture
Looking for tapas? Ask the locals! Don't visit one tapas bar and order multiple dishes. Certain tapas bars will be renowned for a dish or two, whether that grilled sardines, or their patatas bravas. Tapas crawls are an essentially part of the culture and something to be savoured and enjoyed!
Bars, especially in the summer, often close in the middle of the afternoon due to the heat. They will re-open their doors at 8pm and by 9pm the city really comes alive.
When to Go
Low Season: November to January
Chances of rain and sometimes snow! Crowds are low, so if you go when it's go weather it can be a good time to visit the city. Christmas markets are on so it can be busy.
Shoulder Season: February to May, September to October
Weather is perfect to stroll the city, though crowds do increase and attractions and hotels get busier, so book in advance. The flowers in Retiro Park bloom is spring!
High Season: June to August
Madrid can be uncomfortably hot during these months due to its location in Spain. The locals leave the city, and football games are played close to midnight - that's how hot it gets. Try to avoid these months if you can.
How to Get There
Madrid Airport (MAD)
A huge airport flying you to all continents (apart from Oceania), MAD sits just 13km away North-East of its city centre. The variety and simplicity of the transport infrastructure is excellent, but they all leave from different places:
From all terminals: 20-minute journey at a flat rate of €30.
From T4: Very long to get to if you arrive into T1 or T2. The airport shuttle would be needed.
A RENFE train costs €2.60 and takes 25 minutes.
From T2 and T4: Line 8 (Pink) takes you right into the heart of the city so quickly.
A ticket costs €5 and can be bought at an easy-to-use ticket machine. We recommended this if you are carrying less luggage!
Express bus: From T1, T2, T4: Runs 24/7. The bus takes 40 minutes and a ticket costs €5. Tickets can be bought on the bus in cash only.
Travelling by train or coach
Madrid's main train station is Atocha, which has to be one of Europe's most remarkable stations and somewhere you should visit on your journey. It has its own tropical rain forest and a haven where many people relax and read, even if they are not getting a train. Madrid's second train station is Charmatin - especially if coming or going from northern Spain.
However, trains into Madrid can be slow, expensive and requires you to change half-way through the journey. Instead, consider getting a coach; For example, coaches from San Sebastián, and Barcelona to Madrid are cheaper and quicker than a train.
Travelling in the city
Madrid is a walkable city but its metro stations can save a lot of time, especially in the overwhelming heat. Neighbourhoods like Ibiza (no, not the island), Casa de Campo and Atocha Station are significantly easier to visit by metro.
There are 12 Metro Lines, all coloured and number 1 to 12. We'd recommend downloading the CityMapper App to see all of these routes and help your journeys before and during your stay. In the meantime, the Lines that would be of interest are:
Line 8 (Pink): This is the metro route from MAD. For €5, this drops you off at Neuvos Ministerios at the end of the line. Change here for either Line 6 (Grey) or Line 10 (Navy). In fact Line 10 (Navy) is next on the list...
Line 10 (Navy): From Neuvos Ministerios (the end of Line 8 from MAD) you can go as central as Plaza de España, which could be walking distance from your hotel, and in central Madrid.
Line 2 (Red): The line takes you to Sol, Retiro Park and Ópera. From these, you are an easy distance from most of the major attractions in the city.