If you’re wondering, ‘Is Madrid worth visiting?’, this article contains all the information, suggestions, and tips you need to make an informed decision. I’ve lived in the Spanish capital for over two years, and during my time here, I’ve investigated many of the city’s biggest attractions. Now I feel like a true local and am excited to share my recommendations with you.
Madrid is a true cultural hotspot that’s begging to be explored. So, I’ll fill you in on the premier museums, the most beautiful outdoor spaces, and the best shopping around. I’ll also advise on the city’s best parts to stay and suggest hotels you may want to consider. And, as I’ve been here a while, I have some useful insider tips to share with you too.
Hi, I’m Timon!
I’ve experienced the heartbeat of Spain firsthand. Over the last five years, I’ve immersed myself in the dynamic cities of Spain, truly living the Spanish way. My insights into this beautiful country are rooted in genuine experience.
My experiences From Living Two Years in Madrid
If you’re early in your ‘Is Madrid worth visiting?’ research, you may have only come across the most famous parts of the city. But, Madrid has loads of areas – in fact, there are 21 districts (known as distritos) and a mind-boggling 131 neighborhoods (or barrios) to explore!
I’ve lived in two parts of the city during my time here, and both have been very different.
Chamartin is an upscale district that’s largely residential. But it is perfect for getting around the city, and the airport is only ten minutes away.
I also lived in Lavapies, which I found to be an edgier and more multicultural district. There’s always loads going on, and it’s home to some incredible restaurants and nightlife.
I’m happy I got to experience two different parts of the city. Madrid has multiple personalities, and so you’ll definitely want to explore at least a couple of neighborhoods to feel you’re experiencing Madrid like a local – or a Madrileno, as they’re known.
Is Madrid Worth Visiting In 2023? A personal journey
I’ll be honest before I moved to Madrid, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew it was Spain’s capital – and biggest – city and experienced scorching hot summers. But other than that, I arrived ready for a voyage of discovery. Heck, I didn’t even speak Spanish!
As weeks turned into months, I started getting a feel for the place, putting together the geography of the city and its main districts. Plus, I was developing a sense of the many positive aspects of Madrid, which I’ll delve into below.
I’d spend hours walking Madrid’s streets, appreciating the gorgeous architecture, the pretty parks, and the endless cafes inviting me to sit and enjoy a few minutes of relaxation. And that’s one of the beautiful things about Madrid: there’s a place to suit every mood. If I wanted to chill out, El Retiro Park was, for sure, my favorite place. But, when I was feeling high energy, my home neighborhood of Lavapiés always had something going on.
As I’ve spent longer in the city, I’ve come to love Madrid for its energetic buzz, urban but friendly feel, and balance of culture, food, and sights.
What is Madrid known for?
Madrid is, without a doubt, an artistic hub. I started hearing about its many art museums and galleries soon after I arrived, and as I explored them, I was blown away by how great they are. My favorite Spanish artist is Dali, so I was pleased when I discovered that the city’s Reina Sofia Museum is home to a wide selection of his best surrealist paintings.
You may know about Madrid’s gastronomic reputation if you’re a foodie. I’m a massive fan of tapas, and if you are too, you’ll soon discover that Madrid is head and shoulders above other destinations for the number and quality of tapas joints.
Madrid is also renowned for its rich cultural offerings. One of the must-experience traditions is attending a flamenco show. In fact, Madrid is one of the best cities to immerse yourself in this passionate dance. If you’re curious about the top places to witness a flamenco performance, check out the best Flamenco shows in Madrid.
And, as you’d expect from a city capital, Madrid’s nightlife scene is legendary. I love finding a plaza and settling in for a few beers and a night of people-watching. But, if you’re looking for a more lively scene, Malasaña, Chueca, and Lavapies are some of the best neighborhoods for nightlife.
BEST Things To Do In Madrid
So, now you know a bit more about my time living in Madrid, let’s explore the best things to do while visiting the city.
Madrid is a vibrant place with lots to do, and although it doesn’t have the obvious tourist sights that cities like Barcelona do, that’s part of what makes it so enticing. You can walk around Madrid and immediately feel like a local.
Here are the best things to do in Madrid, whatever your interests.
Madrid’s Museums: From Prado to Reina Sofia and Beyond
If there’s one thing Madrid has in spades, it’s art museums. Its big three are known as the ‘Golden Triangle of Art.’
The Prado Museum is worth visiting, especially if you love Spanish art. There are over 1,500 works on display and another 5,500 in the museum’s collection. This is a world-class gallery with big exhibitions of Goya’s work, fellow Spaniard Velazquez, and outstanding Flemish results.
Private Tour: Guided Tour of the Prado Museum
Private Tour: Prado and Reina Sofia Tour
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is the perfect art museum if you want to see a wide-ranging collection of international art, spanning the 13th to the 20th centuries and covering artists as varied as Van Gogh and Cezanne, Hopper, and Lichtenstein.
Private Tour: Thyssen Bornemisza Museum
Of the three museums, Museum Reina Sofia focuses on the most modern art, displaying only 20th-century pieces. You can expect to see artists like Munch, Kandinsky, and Picasso, as well as work from lesser-known, but equally talented, artists.
Ticket: Museo Reina Sofía
To be honest, the Museo Reina Sofia is my favorite of the big three art museums, but they are all great in their own right. Whichever art museum you visit, I’d advise you to buy a ticket in advance if you can. Ideally, get a skip-the-line ticket. Otherwise, it can take a long time to get into these popular galleries – I’ve seen the lines of people waiting, and they don’t look fun.
Must-Visit Sights: From Puerta del Sol to El Retiro Park
Regarding Madrid’s sights, there are some big hitters you can’t miss.
Gran Via is the city’s main street, running over a kilometer from Plaza de Espana to the Metropolis Building, a gorgeous beaux-arts construction dating back over a hundred years.
On Gran Via, you’ll find the city’s main department stores and many theaters, restaurants, and bars. Although it gets busy here, with any luck, you’ll be so distracted by the beautiful architecture surrounding you that you won’t notice.
El Retiro Park
A great place to visit to escape the hubbub of everyday life – and one of my favorite places in the whole city – is the huge El Retiro Park. Located east of the city center, and next to the Golden Triangle of Art, it’s the perfect place to stroll, have a picnic, or enjoy a rowing boat ride on the park’s Great Pond.
There are many monuments to check out, as well as the Palacio de Cristal, an arts venue modeled on London’s famous Crystal Palace.
The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) is another spectacle worth devoting a few hours to. Located slightly west of the city center, this former home of Spanish royalty – and Europe’s largest Royal Palace – is now open to the public, who can view a selection of its 3,418 rooms on a guided tour.
If you’re visiting on a Wednesday or Saturday, you can also watch the changing of the guards’ ceremony.
Ticket: Royal Palace of Madrid and the Prado Museum
Ticket: Madrid Walking Tour and The Royal Palace
(Walking Tour & Skip-the-line ticket)
Ticket: Royal Palace and Guided Tour in Madrid
(Guided Tour & Skip-the-line ticket)
El Rastro market
Markets aren’t always considered a sight, but El Rastro is different. Every Sunday from 9 am, hundreds of vendors set up stalls along Calle de Ribera de Curtidores, selling everything from clothes to jewelry, and vintage furniture to vinyl.
You never know what you’ll find, which kept me returning throughout my time in Madrid. Tradition dictates that after spending an hour or two exploring, you must enjoy tapas and a few beers at one of the many bars in the La Latina district – and who am I to argue?
Cultural Experiences: Flamenco Shows and La Liga Football Games
I was lucky enough to experience two football matches while I lived in Madrid, both at the 80,000-seater Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, which is home to Real Madrid. I’m not the biggest football fan in the world, but there was something special about joining the passionate Madrileno fans as they encouraged their team to victory.
If football doesn’t interest you, don’t write off visiting Santiago Bernabeu completely, as it occasionally hosts parties around the summer that will give you a completely different perspective of the interior of the vast stadium.
Madrid is also a great place to catch a flamenco show, Spain’s passionate national dance. Venues range from tiny flamenco bars, known as tablaos, that put on small-scale, intimate performances, to giant theatres where you can catch a show while enjoying a fancy dinner. Here are a few places I’d recommend you check out:
Open 365 days a year, you can always catch a show at this classic Madrid flamenco theater.
Ticket: Traditional Flamenco Show
Ticket: Flamenco Show at Madrid Theater
This is one of the older tablaos in Madrid and is rightly seen as one of the best. Also, it has the benefit of an in-house Michelin-starred restaurant.
Ticket: Traditional Flamenco Show in Madrid
(Tablao de la Villa)
Ticket: Traditional Flamenco Table and Tapas
Exploring the Vibrant Streets of Madrid City Center
If, like me, you think the best way to learn about a city is on foot, exploring Madrid will be a real joy. It’s ideal for exploring, as around every corner, you’ll find a shaded park, small bar, or bench-lined square to catch some respite from the fierce Madrid sun. If you prefer a more comfortable and convenient mode of exploration, consider renting a car in Madrid to navigate the city’s streets and visit nearby attractions easily.
Madrid’s architectural styles are wide-ranging. Many of the city’s most beautiful structures were built during the reign of King Charles III, who understood the benefit of making Madrid an attractive place to be, proving it worthy of its status as the country’s capital. He was responsible for commissioning the beautiful Prado Museum, among others. The 19th and 20th centuries saw the construction of numerous ornate buildings, like the Palacio de Comunicaciones and the Art Deco Palacio de la Prensa.
You can easily explore Madrid on foot, but to better understand the stories and history behind the city’s best architecture, a walking tour is your best bet.
Food Tour: Tapas, Taverns & History
Food Tour: Madrid Walking Food Tour
Food and Drink Experiences in Madrid
Madrid is one of Spain’s best destinations for food – and that’s saying a lot, especially when Spain has so much gastronomical heritage to explore. As I mentioned earlier, the city is well-known for its tapas scene. It’s a way of eating that has become popular worldwide, but there’s nothing like sampling foods in their home country, to see how they should be done.
Food Tour: Gastronomy & History
Although you’ll find international and regional food all over Madrid, trying some foods that originated in the region is fun. Some of these are:
- Cocido Madrileno – a hearty pork stew popular in the wintertime;
- Gambas al Ajillo – although they’re enjoyed all over Spain, prawns in garlic sauce were created in Madrid, in a small bar called La Casa del Abuelo;
- Oreja a la Plancha – this delicacy, which is only tried by the very brave (and I will admit, I didn’t indulge), is grilled pig’s ear!
In terms of drinks, Spain is known for sangria, which you will find in every bar or bodega in town. But, try Mahou beer, whose brewery was founded in the city in 1890, for a taste of a Madrid institution.
Food Tour: Madrid Local Tapas & Wine
It can be difficult to choose where to eat in a city with (literally) thousands of restaurants. And some are better than others – I can vouch for that after living here for two years! Knowing the best places to in Madrid sample traditional foods can be like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. So, if your time in Madrid is limited, I’d recommend a food and drink tour to ensure you experience the most authentic places. You’ll find plenty of cooking classes in Madrid as well.
Private Tour: Wine and Premium Tapas
When Is The Best Time To Visit Madrid?
Madrid’s weather varies wildly throughout the year, thanks to its location at 650 meters above sea level. Snow falls in many Spanish cities during winter, and Madrid is one of those places where snow isn’t unusual. But by August, temperatures often reach over 40 degrees Celsius. Because of these weather extremes, December, January, and August are the least popular times to visit Madrid.
Another thing to consider is that many Madrilenos escape the city for the entire month of August, so many restaurants and bars also close for the duration. I found the height of summer too hot for my North European constitution, so I joined the mass exodus out of the city.
Ideally, visitors want to experience Madrid when the weather is warm enough for a T-shirt. So, I recommend visiting in the shoulder season, May to June, or September to October, when the weather is much more pleasant.
Where To Stay In Madrid
With so many districts and neighborhoods, each with its own character and features, how can you know where to stay in Madrid during your trip? It’s also important to know how many days in Madrid you’re staying when booking your stay. During my years in the city, I spent time in as many neighborhoods as possible, so you can be assured the following suggestions are among the best places to stay, especially for first-time visitors.
Best Neighborhoods for Tourists in Madrid
Divided into six neighborhoods, Centro is perfect for visitors who are short on time and want easy access to Madrid’s best sights and attractions. Encompassing Gran Via and Plaza Mayor, Centro offers a great selection of shopping and restaurants, and its hotels cater to many price points.
This is the best neighborhood for lovers of luxury hotels and boutique shopping, both of which are found in spades in Salamanca. The prices may be high, but that’s what living a high life in Madrid costs!
This is one of Madrid’s trendiest neighborhoods, offering an ever-changing array of hip restaurants and some of the best street art to be found in the city. Happily, its hotel prices are lower than other neighborhoods too.
Hotels and Accommodation Recommendations in Madrid
Whether you’re seeking the best 5-star luxury, a trusted mid-range hotel, or something more unique, Madrid will have accommodation that meets your needs. Here are my recommendations for the best places to stay in Madrid, nearby Puerta del Sol (center):
Visiting Madrid: FAQs
Planning a trip to Madrid? Some potential visitors’ most common questions about this vibrant Spanish capital are here. Let’s dive in!
🔒 Is Madrid safe?
As someone who has lived in Madrid for several years, I can confidently say that Madrid is generally safe for residents and tourists. During my time there, I never experienced any unsafe situations.
Nevertheless, as with any popular destination, it’s always important to stay vigilant, particularly against petty crimes like pickpocketing in crowded areas.
💰 Is it expensive to visit Madrid?
In my experience, Madrid is not expensive. You can find good food and fun things without spending a lot. Compared to other big cities in Europe, Madrid gives you much of your money. Of course, your expenses will depend on your travel style as well.
🗓️ How many days do you need in Madrid?
While living in Madrid, I found that there was always something new to explore. For a tourist, I would suggest spending 3-4 days. This gives you enough time to visit big spots like the Prado Museum and Retiro Park. If you have extra time, don’t miss the chance to visit nearby cities like Toledo and Segovia.
🚫 Are there any reasons not to visit Madrid?
Some people might not like the hot weather in Madrid during the summer. Also, Madrid doesn’t have old, medieval buildings like some other Spanish cities. But for me, Madrid’s lively atmosphere and tasty food make it a great place to visit, no matter the season.
Conclusion: Is Madrid Worth Visiting In 2023?
I’m unashamedly biased when I say that Madrid is an amazing destination. Enjoy a day in the city exploring on foot, indulging in cultural art appreciation, hunting out souvenirs, or relaxing in El Retiro Park.
Try out Madrid’s best tapas restaurants by evening, visit a traditional flamenco tablao, and perhaps end with some bar-hopping in lively Lavapies or Malasana.
Now you know more about the main sights in the city, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to visit. All I can say is once you’ve experienced Madrid, it’s a place you may never want to leave.
Just letting you know
When you buy something through my links, I’ll earn a small commission—don’t worry, it won’t cost you any extra! It’s a win-win, right?