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10 Marvelous Madrid Travel Tips for First-Timers

10 Marvelous Madrid Travel Tips for First-Timers

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Are you planning a trip to Madrid, Spain for the first time and don’t know what to expect? Keep scrolling to check out my top Madrid travel tips for tourists!
This list of Madrid travel tips was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

Are you itching to visit Madrid and have you started planning a trip there?

Spain’s capital city is well-touristed, but it’s often overlooked in favor of Barcelona and cities on the southern coast where there are beaches and warmer temperatures.

But Madrid has a lot to offer! Its royal palaces, bustling markets, world-class museums, sprawling parks, and top-notch culinary delights make it a great choice for your European vacation.

This extensive guide has all of the Madrid travel tips for first-timers that you need to know to have a fantastic trip.

From tipping to public transport, from dining to attractions, discover how to plan your trip will all the Madrid travel tips you could ever need!

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Madrid blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting Madrid with kids.

Popular Madrid Tours/Activities

Kid-Friendly Madrid Hotels

Top Madrid Travel Tips for First-Timers

Planning Your Madrid Visit

Madrid has so many amazing landmarks and attractions that you must visit. It is the capital city of Spain, after all! Luckily, some of the top ones are in the same area like Plaza Mayor, Almudena Cathedral, and the Royal Palace of Madrid

Image of Prado Museum facade and Cervantes statue in Madrid, Spain
Museo del Prado in Madrid is a must-see museum.

These wouldn’t be very good Madrid travel tips for first-timers if they didn’t recommend two of the best museums in the world, Museo Nacional del Prado and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

If you’re short on time, just visit one. One of the Prado Museum’s most famous paintings is The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. And one of the Reina Sofía Museum’s most famous paintings is Guernica by Pablo Picasso so they both have a lot to offer.

Monument to Alfonso XII in Retiro Park at Madrid Spain - architecture background
My kids LOVED doing the boats at Retiro Park.

Other must-visits include Retiro Park where you can hire boats and the Gran Vía. This is mostly a shopping district, but head up to the rooftop of Círculo de Bellas Artes for sensational views.

Some places to visit only if you have the time include the Atocha Station Botanic Gardens (yes, a botanic garden in a train station!) and the Temple of Debod.

Add San Ginés Book Shop and Plaza de España to the ‘if there’s time’ list too.

You will no doubt walk through Puerta del Sol at some point, as it’s one of the city’s main plazas and where you can take a photo with Kilometre Zero. This is the point from which all distances are measured in Spain.

How Many Days in Madrid?

As you might’ve noticed, there are a lot of wonderful things to see in Madrid! If you don’t want to feel rushed, plan to spend at least three days in Madrid. Two days in Madrid is doable if that’s all you can spare.

Madrid has no shortage of fun day trips if you want to stay in Madrid for longer.

Image of Toledo Spain at sunset
Bring your walking shoes because Toledo is a hike!

Toledo, the former capital of Spain, is only an hour south by bus or train. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Center and has tons of breathtakingly beautiful Arab, Jewish, and Christian monuments in the old town. 

The Royal Palace of Aranjuez is another UNESCO World Heritage site to visit if you love history which is less than an hour away from Madrid by bus.

If you want to see the windmills made famous in the novel Don Quixote, rent a car and drive to Consuegra to explore a quintessential Castilla-La Mancha town.

Book a Family Photo Shoot

Whenever we travel, we almost always book a family photo shoot with Flytographer. They are super easy, affordable, AND guarantee that I’ll be in some photos. You can get $25 off if you book through this link or use the code HAWAIITRAVEL.

Public Transportation in Madrid

Madrid’s underground metro network is convenient and cheap, and it connects the entire city. Although there are buses throughout the day and night, you’re unlikely to need them as the metro runs from 6 am to 1:30 am.

Image of the Madrid Metro station sign at Gran Via
The Metro is an easy way to get around Madrid.

One thing to note is that Madrid no longer issues tickets for journeys. When you pay for your first journey, you’ll be given a red metro card which you can load with money to scan at the ticket barriers. 

You can either download the Madrid Metro app to see how much you have left on your card, or you can scan it at the ticket machines before you travel.

Single journeys of up to five stations cost €1.50, an extra €0.10 for up to nine stations, and €2 for more.

Children under the age of four can travel without a ticket.

Taxis and Ubers

Taxis in Madrid are white and will display a green light if it’s free. Unlike other European cities where you need to locate a nearby taxi rank to catch a ride, you can hail one anywhere in Madrid by raising your arm.

Of course, you will still find taxis outside train stations and the Madrid–Barajas Airport. Expect to pay a set fixed rate of €30 if you want to travel by taxi between the airport and the historic center of Madrid.

Line of Taxis in Madrid Spain
It’s easy to find a taxi in Madrid.

If you prefer to order and pay for taxis in Madrid via an app, download FreeNow (this is the largest taxi app in Spain), or TXMAD which is the city’s official taxi app.

You can usually pay for your taxi ride with cash or a card. Keep in mind that taxi drivers in Madrid are only legally required to give change for €20 bills and smaller, so try and avoid €50 notes! 

Madrid and Barcelona are the only two cities in Spain that have Uber. It’s a reliable option in Madrid so if you’re used to using Uber at home, you can also use it in Madrid.

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    Money in Madrid

    Madrid, like the rest of Spain, uses the euro currency. Hotels, shops, and almost all restaurants and bars will accept card payment so bring a travel credit card. You will need cash for markets and tipping.

    Euro money: closeup of banknotes and coins
    It’s always helpful to get some Euros in cash.

    Unlike other European countries, American Express is widely accepted but it’s always good to have a backup card.

    Is Madrid expensive to visit? You’d think so, what with it being a major European capital city and all! But the reality is that Madrid is one of the cheaper western European capital cities to visit. 

    There is an over-abundance of accommodation options which means the hotels need to be competitively priced, unlike cities like London. Museum tickets cost around €10-15 compared to the €25+ prices in Amsterdam and the food is extremely reasonable.

    Dining in Madrid Tips

    Speaking of food, one of the best Madrid tips anyone could give you is to eat as much of it as possible!

    Start your day with churros dipped in chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés, a Madrid institution. Dating back to 1894, it’s open 24/7 and frequented by both locals and tourists.

    high-angle shot of some churros and a cup of hot chocolate, a typical Spanish sweet snack, on a rustic wooden table
    You’ll definitely want to try churros and chocolate in Madrid! Yum!

    Madrid has lots of food halls where you can eat small plates from different vendors. Imagine the fast food courts at the mall but with delicious, local cuisine instead of McDonald’s!

    Mercado San Miguel is the most popular and central, but Mercado Antón Martín and Mercado San Anton are great choices too if you’re nearby.

    There is also a great cafe culture in Madrid, with places like Cafe de la Luz and Cafe Del Art serving excellent coffees and relaxed lunches.

    Vermouth, patatas bravas, tortillas, ham, and certain seafood like calamari and squid are essential Madrileño dishes. The street Calle Cava Baja is where you’ll find the city’s best tapas restaurants.

    Avoid Flamenco and Paella

    Some guides recommend catching a flamenco show in Madrid because it’s well-known as a traditional Spanish dance. However, it’s only traditional in the Andalusian region in the south of Spain.

    Watching a flamenco show in Madrid is like drinking sweet tea in Boston!

    You should also avoid ordering paella, a traditional Valencian dish, in Madrid because it’s infamous for not being very good in the city. No one drinks sangria in Madrid restaurants either.

    Access Madrid’s Museums for Free

    Most of Madrid’s top museums are open every day, including the Prado Museum. However, the Reina Sofia Museum is closed on Tuesdays. Only lesser-visited and more obscure museums and landmarks are closed on Mondays.

    Madrid, Spain-16 October, 2017: Reina Sofia Museum of Art (Museo Nacional Centro De Arte Reina Sofia)
    Reina Sofia Museum of Art.

    What you might not know is that it’s super easy to visit some of Madrid’s top museums for free during the last two hours of their opening times.

    The Prado Museum welcomes visitors for free from 6 pm – 8 pm Monday to Saturday and 5 pm  – 7 pm on public holidays. The Reina Sofía welcomes visitors for free from 7 pm – 9 pm on Monday and Wednesday to Saturday and between 12:30 pm – 2 pm on Sundays. 

    That’s a lot of free museum time! If you’re traveling with older kids, you could explore in the mornings, take a siesta during the afternoons, and visit the museums in the evenings.

    Get a Travel Adapter

    Like the rest of Spain, Madrid uses the type C plug which is also known as the ‘euro plug’ because most countries in Europe use it. These plugs are the ones with two rounded prongs.

    The voltage supply from Madrid’s electrical sockets is 230V, so you might need to use a voltage converter. Invest in a travel adapter that can both adapt your plug sockets and convert voltage to protect your electrical equipment!

    Safety and Awareness in Madrid

    In a 2021 study, The Economist listed Madrid as the 21st safest city out of 60 cities worldwide, safer than Paris or Brussels. Violent and dangerous crime here is low risk.

    Police on horse back patrolling the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain
    Keep an eye out for the mounted police in places like the Royal Palace!

    However, when determining if is Madrid safe for tourists, that’s a slightly different story. While Madrid has fewer occurrences of pickpocketing and scamming than Barcelona, it is still rife in busy areas near landmarks and on public transport.

    Never keep all of your cards and cash in one wallet and make sure your wallet is hidden inside a pocket in your backpack. Keep your belongings on you or in your line of sight at all times. Whatever you do, don’t keep your smartphone in your back pocket!

    Watch out for scammers trying to hook a ‘lucky rosemary’ on your wrist or neck and then demanding payment for it afterward. You also might want to avoid the La Latina neighborhood after dark.

    First Time Visiting Madrid FAQs

    What should I wear in Madrid?

    Madrid’s climate is categorized as ‘moderately continental’ which means mild, drizzly winters and hot, dry summers. If you’re visiting Madrid in the winter months, pack a thick wool coat and an umbrella as well as sturdy boots.

    If you’re visiting Madrid in the warmer months, be prepared for extremely hot temperatures. Wear light, breathable fabrics. Sun hats and sunglasses are necessities! 

    Remember not to wear shorts or anything that the Catholic church wouldn’t deem ‘appropriate attire’ when you visit religious sites.

    You will also want to pack comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking. Madrid’s historic center has a lot of cobblestones. 

    Where are the best places to stay in Madrid?

    Since it’s your first time in Madrid, stay as close to the historic center as possible. Book accommodation close to the western side of the Gran Vía and around Plaza de España

    This area is still super central but doesn’t have as much nightlife. Perfect if you’re traveling with kids! The Lavapiés neighborhood is one of the best places to stay in Madrid if you are traveling on a budget.

    When is the best time to visit Madrid?

    The best time to visit Madrid is, undoubtedly, during the shoulder seasons. April – June and September – October is when the weather is the most pleasant (i.e. bearable).

    This is, of course, a really tough time to travel if you have kids in school!

    Nowadays, temperatures during July and August in Madrid regularly exceed 100°F which is just not fun when you want to explore. If you can travel to Madrid in June or during spring break, you’ll have a much more enjoyable vacation.

    Do you need to tip in Madrid?

    Once upon a time, tipping in Madrid was a nice gesture for wait staff in restaurants but by no means expected. Today, around 10% of the bill is usually expected.

    But if you’re paying for your meal by credit card, there often isn’t an option to add a tip. Carry some cash so you don’t get caught out.

    Check that a 10% tip hasn’t already been added to your bill before you put more money down as this is becoming increasingly common in Madrid. 

    Tipping taxi drivers, housekeepers, and any other hospitality worker is totally optional.

    Madrid Travel Tips for First-Timers Wrap Up

    Madrid is an easy place to navigate for first-time visitors. But the sheer number of things to do in Madrid and its size could make some travelers feel apprehensive.

    Now you know that Madrid is easy to get around and not too expensive. With all the cool things to see and eat in Madrid and potential day trips you could take, you’ll have an unforgettable trip to the Spanish capital!

    Looking for more Spain travel resources? Check out the top hidden gems in Spain, things to do in Barcelona with kids, best kid-friendly Madrid hotels, Mallorca travel tips, day trips from Madrid by train, day trips from Barcelona by train, things to do in Madrid with kids, best day trips from Benidorm, how to plan a trip to Spain, and my Barcelona travel tips!

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