We only had a couple of days in Madrid, but we were able to cover a lot of ground in this vibrant city.
Madrid may be overshadowed by ever-trendy Barcelona, but it more than stands on its own as a worthwhile destination in Spain. The EU’s second-largest city has a world-celebrated art scene, stunning and well-preserved architecture, delicious food, and lush green spaces.
Keep reading for a self-guided walking tour of Madrid. Be sure to stick around until the end for some budget tips!
A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid, Spain
Parque del Buen Retiro
This gorgeous park is one of the biggest green spaces in Madrid. If you find yourself in the city on a sunny day, you’ll definitely want to spend some time here.
- The Palacio de Cristal, or Crystal Palace: A beautiful glass pavilion built in the 19th century, originally used as a greenhouse and now home to rotating art exhibits
- The Estanque del Retiro, or Retiro Pond: A large pond where you can rent rowboats
- The Monumento a Alfonso XII: An impressive monument dedicated to King Alfonso the 8th that’s located right next to Retiro Pond
- The Paseo de la Argentina, a pathway lined with 18th-century statues
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Plaza de Cibeles
You’ll pass through this impressive square on your way from El Retiro to the city center. My favorite building here is the intricate Palacio de Cibeles. Originally built as the city’s main post office, telegraph, and telephone headquarters, it’s now home to Madrid’s City Hall.
This stunning Beaux-Arts building is topped with a cupola covered in 30,000 leaves of 24 carat gold.
Puerta del Sol
If you head to the right of the Metropolis building, you’ll find yourself on the Gran Vía, originally home to the “Spanish Broadway.”
But for now we’re going to keep walking along the Calle de Alcalá.
Before long you’ll reach the Puerta del Sol. Translating to “Gate of the Sun,” this is one of Madrid’s main public squares.
- El Oso y el Madroño: A statue of a bear and a strawberry tree, representing Madrid’s coat of arms
- Pastelería la Mallorquina: This famous pastry shop has been a Madrid staple for sweet treats and gatherings since 1894. By a stroke of luck, Dan and I were able to snag a window seat on the second floor overlooking the Puerta del Sol. It was so fun to enjoy pastries and coffee while watching the busy square below.
- Tío Pepe sign: You won’t be able to miss this giant, illuminated sign denoting a famous brand of Spanish sherry
Detour to Malasaña
If you’re up for a little detour, head north out of the Puerta del Sol and into Malasaña, a trendy neighborhood popular with students and marked by funky bars, vintage stores, coffee shops, and other small businesses.
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This part of the walk could also be done on its own another day if you’d rather save it for a separate outing.
- Café de la Luz | Calle de la Puebla, 8, 28004: This cozy spot has a little bit of everything, from coffee and pastries to sandwiches and cocktails
- Libros Para Un Mundo Mejor | Calle del Espíritu Santo, 13, 28004: Translating to “Books for a Better World”, this pretty little bookstore describes itself as a “literary space, therapeutic space and library creation space for those who need it most.”
- Toma Café | Calle de la Palma, 49, 28004: If you’re not caffeine-d out yet, stop by this specialty coffee roaster for a pick-me-up to fuel the rest of your walk
- Plaza del Dos de Mayo: This square is named after the uprising in 1808 that began the Spanish War of Independence
Chocolateria San Gines
You won’t want to leave Madrid without enjoying some churros!
A Madrid institution, San Gines is a well-oiled machine, with waitstaff deftly maneuvering the busy dining room carrying a stack of full hot chocolate mugs in one hand (!) and a large tray of fried goodness in the other. It’s almost like they’ve been doing this for 120+ years. What a treat.
This enclosed, rectangular plaza is another one of Madrid’s main public squares. At the time of its original construction in the 1400s, it was used for the city’s main market. Due to three major fires over the 600+ years that the square has been in existence (in 1631, 1670 and 1790), its makeup and the buildings surrounding it have changed several times.
Mercado de San Miguel
We were warned by the woman who checked us into our guesthouse that the Mercado de San Miguel is largely for tourists. That said, we were walking right by it and couldn’t resist stepping in to make heart eyes at the colorful stands and sumptuous displays of food.
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You can learn more about the market here.
Catedral de la Almudena
Visiting the inside of this unexpectedly colorful and modern church is free, but a one euro donation is requested. If you’d like to visit the church’s museum, with the highlight (for us) being access to the rooftop for city views, the cost is six euro.
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Royal Palace of Madrid
This imposing structure is the largest functioning royal palace in Europe. The palace is so large (nearly 1.5 million square feet, with 3,418 rooms) that while it is open to the public for tours, the route only features a selection of rooms at any one time, and changes every few months.
Although it is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, it is now only used for state functions, with the family preferring to stay at the nearby Palace of Zarzuela instead.
We did not tour the palace interior, but if you’d like to, the cost is six euro. You can also visit for free on Monday through Thursday starting at 4 pm.
Temple of Debod
We didn’t make it to the Temple of Debod, but it’s a 15-minute walk from the Royal Palace if you’d like to see it. This ancient Egyptian temple – now a popular spot to enjoy the sunset – was recovered in Egypt, dismantled and then rebuilt in Madrid, opening to the public in 1972.
Free Museum Visits
We used our evenings in Madrid to take advantage of free visits to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the Museo Nacional del Prado.
The Reina Sofía: Free admission Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 6 to 8 pm. Sunday from 1:30 to 2:15 pm. Regular admission 10 euro.
Highlights at the Reina Sofía: Large collections by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, most notably Picasso’s Guernica.
The Prado: Free admission Monday through Saturday from 6 to 8 pm. Sunday from 3 to 5 pm. Regular admission 15 euro.
Highlights at the Prado: The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez, and pieces by Francisco Goya, El Greco, Titian, Raphael, Albrecht Dürer, and more.
I don’t usually prioritize museum visits if I don’t have much time in a city because I prefer to use daylight hours to be outside and exploring, so the evening free admission windows worked perfectly for us!
It also felt especially worthwhile to make time for museums in Madrid, a city with a world-renowned art scene.
Be forewarned: free admission nights are very popular, so plan on arriving a little early to get in line. This wasn’t a deal breaker for us, and the lines moved pretty quickly.
For great sunset views that won’t cost you a penny, head to the top floor of the department store El Corte Inglés at Plaza del Callao 2, where you can enjoy panoramic views over downtown Madrid and the Gran Vía. If you’re hungry, the top floor happens to be home to a gourmet food court.
We also visited the rooftop of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, but weren’t as impressed. While this only costs four euro, part of the rooftop was under construction, so we were largely unable to enjoy the views. The space is home to a popular rooftop bar that, construction aside, offers a great vantage point over the Plaza de Cibeles and the Metropolis building.
We loved Tinto y Tapas, a casual eatery with two locations at Calle de Almadén, 14, 28014 and Calle de San Pedro, 22, 28014. We may have gone back more than once for their tostas and empanadas.
Have you been to Madrid before? Did I miss any of your favorite spots? Let me know in the Comments!
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