First Timer's Guide to Madrid, Spain

25 May 2018

Felicia Malolos

Klook Travel Curator

Hola! Travel to the lively and bustling streets of Madrid for an authentic Spanish getaway. While other Spanish cities are known for Moorish castles, Gaudi and pilgrims, Madrid plays the role of a capital city quite well and offers tourists a little bit of everything. This includes incredible architecture, delicious tapas, charming gardens, world-class museums and not to mention the incredible shopping experience!

As the Madrilenos would say - when you’re in Madrid, you’re from Madrid. You will truly feel like you belong in the city the moment you step foot here.

Passes that cover the city

1. Madrid Highlights Guided Tour

  • Start: 9:00 AM
  • End: 12:30 PM

Places of Interest Covered:

  • Plaza Mayor
  • Plaza de la Villa
  • Puerta de Alcalá
  • Paseo de la Castellana
  • Plaza de Castilla
  • Parque del Oeste
  • Ventas Bullring
  • Palacio Real
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2. Madrid Segway Tour

  • Start: 10:00am | 12:00am | 2:00pm | 4:00pm | 6:00pm | 8:00pm

Places of Interest Covered:

  • Plaza de Callo
  • Gran Via
  • Plaza Espana
  • Statue of Don Quixote
  • Sancho Panza Skyscraper
  • Debod’s Temple
  • Plaza de Oriente
  • Plaza Royal
  • Royal Theatre
  • Sabatini’s Royal Gardens
  • Almudena Cathedral
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3. iVenture Unlimited Pass

Places of interest covered:

  • Prado Museum
  • Las Rozas Village Shopping
  • Madrid Segway
  • Atletico de Madrid Stadium
  • Flamenco Las Carboneras
  • Catedral de La Almudena Museum
  • Palacio Real Guided Tour
  • Mercado de San Miguel
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Madrid Highlights

1. Plaza Mayor

People from various walks of life cross the famous Plaza Mayor. The square is not just a place to gather, converse, and dine, but also gives a sense of community in the heart of this buzzing city.

In addition to the many shops and restaurants in the area, the square’s buildings and structures tell tales of the city’s rich history. In the past, the Plaza Mayor played host to many special events - football games, public executions, markets, and bullfights. This bullfight culture is an important event to the Spaniards, which explains the handful of bull bars in the area such as the La Torre del Oro, which is definitely worth a visit!

2. Royal Palace of Madrid

he Royal Palace of Madrid is located right in the heart of the city, surrounded by luscious gardens and offers fantastic views of the capital. Though the Royal Palace of Madrid is said to be the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, tourists would be surprised to know that the royal family don’t actually live here! Instead, the Palacio Royal is where ceremonies, banquets, and other state functions are held. So if you’re hoping to get a glimpse of the Royal family, you may need to go to Palace of Zarzuela, which is located just outside Madrid.

Unless an event is scheduled, the Royal Palace of Madrid is open to the public year round. Tourists can explore over 3000 rooms, the Royal Chapel, banquet halls, the throne room, and the Royal Armoury to name a few. Visitors are also welcome to tour the courtyards surrounding the palace, namely the Plaza de Oriente and Plaza de Armas.

Klook Tip: Visit on a Wednesday or Sunday and stand a chance to see the changing of the guards!

3. Prado Museum

In the heart of Madrid, you will find one of the world’s greatest art museums. It houses a fine collection of European art, namely those of Goya, Raphael, and Bosch to name a few. The museum’s expansive range and the updated exhibits are sure to delight art lovers!

As one of the largest museums in the world, exploring the Prado Museum may sure seem like a daunting task. That said, we suggest you do minimal research beforehand to get an idea of what exhibits or piece you’d like to see! However, if it is your first time, we recommend you don’t skip out on this art museum’s most famous pieces such as Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, The Dead Christ supported by an Angel by Antonello da Messina and The Clothed Maja by Francisco Goya.

Aside from its amazing art collection, the museum building is a work of art itself - the Prado Museum’s 18th century neoclassical design has visitors stopping in their tracks.

4. Temple of Debod

Any first-time visitor would immediately notice how different the features of the Temple of Debod are in comparison to Madrid’s usual baroque style structures. The temple is actually an Egyptian structure that was delivered block by block to the city of Madrid to save it from Egypt’s floods! Today, it stands in the heart of Madrid, and has been open to the public since 1972.

If you’re looking for a place to watch the sunset, this may be your best bet! The Temple of Debod is set on a hilltop location, offering magnificent views of the city. Visitors are welcome to watch the day go by on its surrounding gardens that are ideal for picnics!

5. Gran Via

When in Spain, one must not miss out on the city’s incredible shopping experience! March down the streets of Gran Via, the most famous commercial area in Madrid, and shop your favorite Spanish brands! The area also isn’t short of restaurants and bars, so you’ll surely find something tasty to devour after a tiring day of shopping.

If you’re a musical junkie, Gran Via happens to be Madrid’s version of New York’s Broadway, so you can definitely catch a musical or two. However, if you’re up for a more cultural experience, we recommend watching a flamenco show! Flamenco is an art form consisting of dance and music that originated in the Spanish region of Andalusia. Although there are multiple flamenco shows in the area, we recommend going to La Chocita del Loro.

6. La Latina

If you’re looking for a spot to best observe or experience the local life, La Latina’s district is one that’s not to be missed! Favored by locals all around, La Latina is best known for its wide range of tapas bars, parks, and most especially the largest flea market that occurs every Sunday! This market is called the El Rastro and conquers the streets of La Latina with its stalls of food, clothing, and antiques.

Once you’ve tired yourself out from the shopping, you can choose from the many bars in the area and enjoy a delicious plate of tapas and wine! However, if you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere, La Latina is home to beautifully landscaped parks where you’re more than welcome to rest and watch time go by. While people crowd over at Retiro, you’ll surely find refuge at Las Vistillas or Principe de Anglona Garden - some of the city’s hidden gems!

7. Parque del Buen Retiro

The park previously belonged to the Spanish monarchy, which explains its grand design and landscapes. Considered by the locals as the lungs of the city, the wide gardens of Parque del Retiro are comprised of lakes, thousands of trees, and lush greenery. Alongside these gardens are limestone statues, fountains and pavillions such as the Palacio de Cristal - a must visit for any park goer!

The name Parque del Buen Retiro translates to Park of Pleasant Retreat, which is exactly what this park is best known for! Madrilenos and tourists visit the park during the weekends and meet up with loved ones to enjoy the park’s facilities or to simply catch up and unwind. Visitors can rent boats for rowing, have coffee by a cafe in the area, or simply read under one of the many trees in the park. In the summertime, free admission concerts are organized for park goers to enjoy as well!

8. Reina Sofia Museum

Any art aficionado would enjoy a visit to the Reina Sofia Museum! Unlike the neighboring Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia Museum focuses its exhibits on contemporary works of art created in the 20th century. The museum’s more manageable size allows visitors to discover over 21,000 artworks in a reasonable time frame.

As you walk through the halls of Reina Sofia Museum, you will notice paintings by famous artists like Picasso, Dali, and Miro. If you’ve already been to the Reina Sofia Museum before, it’s definitely worth a second visit! The museum dedicates two floors for temporary exhibits, so the organizers are always showcasing something new and exciting for the visitors!

9. Mercado de San Miguel

One of the most important aspects of Spanish culture is their food! So take a break from your Madrid sightseeing and make pit stop at Mercado San Miguel for a delicious meal (or three!) If you’re planning to meet up with friends over tapas and wine, this is also a great place to get together!

This glass enclosed market is filled with food stalls ranging from tapas to chocolates! You’ll surely have all sorts of cravings satisfied as you walk through the market! To give you a quick food itinerary around the market, start off at the tapas stalls at the head of the market and get your fill of pintxos and jamon. Follow that up with a variety of cheeses at its neighboring stalls, and if you’re feeling fancy - complete your meal with some wine, which are sold in nearby stalls!

10. Puerta de Sol

The popular square of Puerta del Sol is permanently crowded with people, but for good reason! Thanks to the many attractions in the area, the square has become one of the top tourist hubs in the city.

Start off your visit at the Clock of Puerta del Sol. Similar to New York City’s Times Square, tourists and locals gather at this very spot to celebrate the last night of the year and guzzle down twelve grapes at midnight as tradition. Two of the most iconic statues of Madrid are also installed in this area - the Oso and Madrono and the equestrian statue of King Carlos III.

Past these attractions, make your way down Preciados street - a famous shopping area lined with both high-end and high-street stores that end at the Gran Via. However, before you leave the square, make sure you take a photo at the Kilometer Zero Stone Slab, which marks the official starting point for the city’s national roads.

What to eat

1. Tapas

This Spanish staple absolutely cannot be missed! It’s pretty impossible to visit any Spanish city and not order tapas. With so much variety, there’s surely something for everyone to enjoy! In this big old town of Madrid, you’re bound to find a tapas place you’ll love.

Tapas can be served as an appetizer or as a meal, and you can choose your set or have the waiters select for you! If you opt to choose for yourself, some favorites are the Patatas Bravas, Chorizos, or Gambas al Ajillo. Traditionally, tapas are eaten with wine or sangria on the side, so to enhance the experience, do as the Spaniards do.

2. Jamon Iberico

Vegetarians may need to stay away from Madrid since the locals are very fond of meat and enjoy this delicacy in a variety of ways! The Jamon Iberico is a famous type of cured ham which originates in areas of Spain and Portugal, and is often served in most Spanish restaurants. Prior to being served, the Jamon Iberico is hung and exposed for at least three years, which may be the reason as to why it’s full of flavor. The best way to enjoy the Jamon Iberico is simply with a piece of bread or toast and cheese!

3. Churros

Madrid’s got the remedy for your sweet tooth: Churros! These deliciously fried pastry is a specialty in many Spanish restaurants and is best dipped in chocolate sauce. To other countries, this may be a snack or a desert, but to the Spaniards, this dish means breakfast! No other place does it as well as they do in Spain, which is where this delicacy originated. Drop by Chocolatería San Giínes or Churreria Siglo XIX for some of the city’s best churros!