Ultimate Travel Guide to Madrid, Spain (for first time visitors)

Ultimate Travel Guide to Madrid, Spain (for first time visitors)

If you have decided to visit Madrid and it’s your first time then this travel guide is for you. This is a comprehensive guide that will cover useful information with everything you need to know to make your trip brilliant – including things to do, top attractions, where to stay and food you simply must try! Like all European cities, Madrid can be overwhelming for first time visitors. But with a little help, you’ll be able to enjoy the vibrant metropolis!

Quick Find

Things to Know Before Visiting Madrid

  • Currency: Euro
  • Visa: Filipinos like us needs a Schengen visa. We applied in Italy CKGS as it was our main destination. If you need one, view a step by step guide here: How to Apply a Schengen Visa in Italy? 
  • Weather: There’s a general misconception that Spain is sunny all year round. That’s true in southern part but as you head north and to big city like Madrid during November to May – it can get very cold, rainy or snowy! When we visited in the first week of May, the weather is so cold 9-12°C! You better plan on bringing a coat, warm scarf, extra layers and an umbrella.
  • Electronics: WiFi was fairly easy to find and somewhat reliable. Don’t forget to bring a European adapter with you. We forgot and bought on our first day that cost us 12 euros!
  • Spanish Basics: Although Madrid is the capital city of Spain, the level of English spoken isn’t high. Madrileños are helpful despite the language barrier so it’s definitely worth learning few conversational Spanish to get by with them. If it’s beyond the basics, download google translate on your phone. Here are some basics that should get you through:
    • Good morning, afternoon, evening – Buenos días, tardes, noches
    • Yes, no – sí, no
    • Hi – Hola
    • Please, Thank you – Por favor, Gracias
    • Do you speak English? – Habla inglés?
    • Where is? – Dónde está?
    • How much is this? – Cuánto sale?
    • The bill please – La cuenta por favor
    • A table for two – Una mesa para dos
Plaza mayor Madrid

Plaza Mayor

Getting There & Around Madrid

Getting There: The Barajas airport is just a few minutes to the city center so you better take the Metro or an Aerobus. If you’re taking the metro, buy the 10-ride option which cost 12 euros. While for the Aerobus which take longer cost 5 euros.

Getting Around: Getting around Madrid is fairly cheap as compared with Barcelona or other European cities. You can explore by bus, taxi or by train. We only used the metro while in the city and bought the 10-ride ticket. There are tourist metro passes available as well but the city’s main attractions are pretty walkable so you don’t really need it. Be sure to download Madrid metro app here and you’re good to go.

Things To Do & Must Try Food in Madrid

First time visitors like us usually visits the main attractions, the sights that are popular on Instagram or those places that people are talking about. As much as we’d like to go off the beaten paths, we believe it’s not practical if it’s your first time in a country or city. So here are the top sights, markets to shop, our favorite plazas and food to try in Madrid. For complete details of each, visit our previous post:

Related Post: 16 Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Madrid (w/ Photography Tips!)

Top Sights: Royal Palace of Madrid, Almudena Cathedral, Palacio De Cibeles, Gran Via, Madrid Rio over Casa De Campo Park, Toledo Bridge, Temple of Debod, El Retiro Park, Crystal Palace, Jardin De Sabatini, Basílica de San Francisco El Grande.
Favorite Plazas: Plaza Mayor and Puerta Del Sol
Markets: Mercado de San Miguel, El Rastro market
Must Try Food: Churros at Chocolateria De San Ginés, El Botin Restaurant, Paella, Bocadillos de Calamares (fried squid sandwich), Tapas, chorizos, Picho de Tortilla, Boquerones (an anchovy tapa dish), wash it all with Sangria.

Crystal Palace Madrid

Crystal Palace

Al Mudena Cathedral

Al Mudena Cathedral

Churros at Chocolateria De San Gines

Churros at Chocolateria De San Gines

Mercado de San Miguel Madrid

Mercado de San Miguel

Bear and Tree, Puerta Del Sol

Bear and Tree at Puerta Del Sol

must things madrid photography tips

Gran via

Note that our list doesn’t include museums. If you’re an art lover and wanted to visit major museums we would suggest you to buy a Madrid Card. It will also include entry to the Royal palace and ride to sightseeing tour buses. But make sure to check what it covers and compare if it will really help you to save money.

Sample 2-Day & 3-Day Itinerary

Here’s our suggested itinerary if you have 2 or 3 days to spend in Madrid.

2 Days Itinerary

Day 1  View in Google map
Puerta Del Sol  – 6 min.
Chocolateria De San Gines – 2 min.
Plaza Mayor (Visit El Botin world’s oldest restaurant) – 2 min.
San Miguel Market – 6 min.
Almudena Cathedral – 3 min.
Royal Palace of Madrid – 14 min.
Temple of Debod

Day 2 – View in Google map
Crystal Palace – 9 min.
Retiro Park – 13 min.
Alcala Gate – 4 min.
Palacio De Cibeles – 5 min.
Círculo de Bellas Artes – 10 min.
take line 5 casa de campo station to go to…
Puente de Toledo (gate & bridge) – 6 min.
Madrid Rio

3 Days Itinerary

Day 1 – View in Google map
Puerta Del Sol – 6 min.
Chocolateria De San Gines – 2 min.
Plaza Mayor (Visit El Botin world’s oldest restaurant) – 2 min.
San Miguel Market – 2 min.
Plaza Dela Villa – 4 min.
Almudena Cathedral – 3 min.
Royal Palace of Madrid – 27s
Plaza de Oriente – 9 min.
Plaza de España – 8 min.
Temple of Debod

Day 2 View in Google map
Crystal Palace – 9 min.
Retiro Park – 13 min.
Alcala Gate – 4 min.
Palacio De Cibeles – 5 min.
Círculo de Bellas Artes – 10 min.
Gran Via – 12 min.
Sabatini Garden

Day 3 – View in Google map
Basílica de San Francisco el Grande – 6 min.
Plaza de la Cebada – 7 min.
El Rastro  – 8 min.
take line 5 Casa de campo station to go to…
Puente de Toledo
(Toledo gate & bridge) – 7 min.
Madrid Rio

2 day itinerary Madrid
3 Day Itinerary Madrid

Daytrip from Madrid

If you have more time to spend, don’t miss out on taking day trips to UNESCO heritage sitesToledo, Segovia and El Escorial.

  • Toledo: You can either take the bus for 1 hour or by train from Atocha station for 25 minutes via high speed rail.
  • Segovia: Takes 1 hour by bus from Príncipe Pío station and 25 minutes via high speed rail from Chamartín station.
  • El Escorial: From the Moncloa bus station takes 1 hour journey. By train, from Atocha station is also 1 hour.
Puente De Toledo

Toledo bridge

Where to Stay in Madrid

Budget | Hostel Puerta Del Sol
Located in the bustling square of Puerta del Sol, it is nearby to the main attractions. Don’t hesitate to book it even it’s named as a gay hostel in Booking.com! There are more couples and old people here when we stayed last May.  Our private room overlooking the plaza is clean and very homey. Breakfast is proper and we met a Filipina staff here who became our friend on FB 🙂 Check here for rates and availability.

Mid-range |Hotel Petit Palace Cliper-Gran Vía
Part of the hotel chain Petit Palace Hoteles, the Petit Palace Cliper is situated between Madrid’s famous Gran Vía and Puerta del Sol. So you can really expect a good location when staying here. Sights such as the Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace and the Prado museum are easy to walk from here. Check here for rates and availability.

Luxury | Westin Palace Hotel
This luxury hotel is located in the heart of Madrid, within the Art Triangle. The Parliament is across the road, Royal Palace, Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofia museums are within walking distance. Check here for rates and availability.

Puerta Del Sol at night

Puerta Del Sol view from our hostel room

Travel Expense/Budget in Madrid

Madrid is certainly one of Europe’s cheapest capitals. You can splurge in a fancy hotel, or you can find cheap hostels like what we did but be sure to book early. Most of the attractions are free to explore. Expect to pay 2-3 euros for a glass of wine, dine out for 15-30 euros for a 3-course meal. Here’s a breakdown of what we spent in 4 days and 3 nights for two person. Prices are in Euro.

Air ticket via Pegasus airline (layover in Istanbul)
Dubai to Madrid *one way only
– 290
We scored a budget airline deal and we booked it 3 months before our travel dates.
Hostel Puerta Del Sol thru Booking.com243 Can be cheaper if booked in advance, we booked 3 days before the date of stay!
Metro transport – 46 Can be lower if you don’t easily get tired and go home every 2 attractions just like us! haha!
Food – 78 Lunch, dinner and snacks only. Breakfast is included in the accommodation.
Attractions – 30 Royal Palace €22, Rooftop terrace €8
Others – 21 Adapter, souvenirs
Total –  708 around 3000 in UAE dirham for 2 person

* We’re using spending tracker app to track all our expenses during our travels.

Palacio De Cibeles

They said that Real Madrid fans and players meet in this fountain to celebrate victories.

Tips on Visiting Madrid 

  • Don’t you dare say you like FC Barcelona simply because you’re in Madrid! :p
  • Bring thick coats/rain jackets even when google say weather forecast is 14-17°C. It’s NOT real. We learned from our mistakes!haha
  • Madrid subway is the best option for getting around. Buy a 10-trip train ticket.
  • Tipping is not required, but it’s nice to do if the service is really good.
  • Take care of your things. Just like any big cities in the world, Madrid’s prone to pickpockets too. Always put your bag in front of you. Don’t worry holding your phone/camera anywhere, it’s completely safe.
  • Allow yourself to walk as much as possible. It’s cheaper and definitely fun!
  • Enjoy Madrid! Remember, you save for that travel 🙂

Have you been to Madrid? Do you have more tips/recommendations? Share it in the comments section below to help our readers 🙂

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Mark Betonio February 2, 2018 - 5:34 pm

I’m traveling to Europe this summer and have looked through countless blogs about twelve different cities in search of the best things to do in each one; your blog is the best one I’ve seen!

Your pictures are great, your tips and information are super helpful, and I love how organized your itinerary is. I will definitely be using your three-day itinerary when I go to Madrid.


Joanna Villanueva February 6, 2018 - 5:40 am

Hi Mark! Thank you so much. We’re really glad to hear such kind of feedback. I’m actually preparing more travel guides for the remaining European cities we’ve been. Europe is so beautiful! I’m sure you’ll enjoy your adventures 🙂 Keep safe.

Jennifer88jones@yahoo.com July 26, 2017 - 7:15 pm

Fabulous Tips…you covered most of the populate spots I did research on. Thank you

Joanna Villanueva July 29, 2017 - 1:51 pm

Hi Jennifer, we’re so happy to help in a way! 🙂 Enjoy your trip to Madrid!

Absolute Wanderlust July 6, 2017 - 3:54 am

Wow, well done on publishing such a comprehensive guide guys! I’ll definitely be using it when I visit Madrid for the first time. So many handy hints & tips!!!

Joanna Villanueva July 8, 2017 - 8:11 am

Thanks Priti, so glad you’ve found this helpful 🙂


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