There has always been this misconception that a city break is an expensive getaway, but it doesn’t have to be! Madrid is Spain’s capital and is often overlooked as a tourist destination by Brits as many prefer to explore Barcelona. However, this bustling city boasts a vibrant nightlife and is bursting with culture and history, but most importantly you can visit Madrid without having to break the bank.
When to go
The summer months in Madrid can be sweltering hot as the capital is located in the centre of Spain. The months of July and August can reach maximums of an oven like 40°C. However, as Madrid is situated close to the Guadarrama, Somosierra and Toledo mountain ranges it often receives a refreshing cool breeze, making the heat more bearable. August is often noticeably quiet compared to the rest of the year as the local Spaniards take their annual summer holiday and flock to the Mediterranean coast. This is a great time to visit to avoid crowds and long queues.
Arguably the best time of year to visit Madrid are the months of October and May as temperatures can still reach a maximum of 21°C. The city is also relatively peaceful at this time of the year as many tourists have made their way home.
Top things to see
Parque del Retiro is the city’s green lung and locals’ favourite retreat for weekends and afternoon breaks. This is one of the largest parks found in Madrid measuring a staggering 350 acres. It was formerly used as the royal grounds but was opened to the general public in the late 19th century. There are many things to do in this park for free. You can spend the whole day here marvelling at various sculptures and monuments, which have survived the Spanish civil war, WW2 and other defining moments in history. If you choose to visit, close to the northern entrance you will come across an artificial boating lake known as Estanque, which is one of the oldest features in the park. During the reign of Felipe VI, it was used as a setting for mock naval battles, but now it is used as a romantic setting for rowing boats. Whilst if you head deeper into the park you will come across the famous Palacio de Cristal and Museo del Ejericto, which are both interesting places to learn about Spain’s history, art and culture. However, if you just simply wish to sit back and relax there are many cafes dotted around the park selling ice creams, coffee and refreshing lemon granita.
If you want to learn more about the Spanish royal family you must visit Palacio Real. This fabulous Royal palace was inspired by Bernini’s designs for the Louvre in Paris and is now one of Europe’s most outstanding architectural monuments, and more than half of the state rooms are open to the public. Some of the most staggering rooms to look out for are the throne room, the royal chapel and the royal armoury which boasts over 2,000 pieces used in battle, jousting and tournaments. Entry fees for the palace range from just €2 to €11 depending on what parts of the palace you wish to visit.
The Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s most famous square which in the past has been a bullring, an open-air theatre, a market and even a place of execution. But now its use is not as sinister as it has become a popular meet up point for Madrilenos and tourists. The best time to visit this square is at night time, as all the buskers come out to entertain.
Museo del Prado is one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world and is home to Goya’s technically brilliant “black paintings”. It also houses some of the world’s finest art collections including masterpieces by Rubens, Jose de Ribera and Diego Velazquez. Admissions to this fine gallery cost €12, however if you are a student you can enter for absolutely free!.
Madrid is not just a city for adults. There are plenty of attractions for children as well including Madrid’s Zoo and Aquarium, which is considered to be one of the best in Europe. There are over 500 species of animals here including the rare white tiger and the black rhino. There are also many shows to watch such as the Dolphinarium and wild birds show. Children under the age of three can go free, but prices tend to change depending on the season so make sure to check the website before you visit.
Where to dine
You can’t go to Madrid without trying some traditional tapas or some flavoursome paella. Café & Té are a well-known chain found throughout Spain. If you fancy a cup of coffee and a sandwich for a quick break then this is the place to head to. If you fancy somewhere with a bit more charm and authenticity you must try one of the Museo Del Jamon branches found around the capital. Once first entering the restaurant you may mistake it for a butchers due to the number of Serrano Ham joints hanging on the wall, but this is in fact a trendy tapas bar, very popular with locals.
La Torre del Oro is a must whilst staying in Spain’s capital. This over-the-top tapas bar is found in the Plaza Mayor and is often overlooked by tourists. Every inch of the neon lit eatery is crammed with bullfighting memorabilia, including photos, signed shirts and even bull’s heads. But a word of warning make sure to check the menu prices before ordering as some dishes can be rather pricey. This place may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you want a memorable night, then this is the place for you.
Where to stay
Staying in the centre of the capital doesn’t always have to be expensive. Francisco I is an affordable hotel located in the main shopping street of Calle Arenal, which has recently received a stylish and modern revamp. Its central location means it is within walking distance to all the major tourist attractions such as the Royal Palace and the Prado Museum. Or if you want a five star experience at a budget price check in at Artrip Hotel, which is rated as the number one hotel in Madrid on TripAdvisor. Even though this contemporary style hotel is a little further out of the centre in Madrid’s Lavapies district, it is still well within walking distance to attractions including Parque del Retiro and the Reina Sofia Museum.
There’s no doubt the best way to travel around is by the Metro. Don’t worry if you are put off by the London Underground as Madrid’s Metro is surprisingly cheap, spotlessly clean and most importantly air conditioned! Instead of the zones having names they are simply called Lines 1 – 12, which comes in handy if you can’t speak Spanish!
For a single trip most journeys cost only €1.50. Whilst if you plan to use the metro frequently, a useful tip to know is to buy the ’10 trips ticket’ which costs €12 and will take you wherever you please in the city. Also worth mentioning is if you get lost or don’t have a map you can always download the free ‘Metro Madrid’ app to your Android phone or Iphone.
For a 14-day forecast in Madrid, click here.