So you're off to Spain's gorgeous capital? Grab a delicious Spanish red and let's discuss a few top Madrid travel tips!
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Orientation to Madrid
Madrid is a bustling European capital city, with a great blend of everyday locals going about their business, alongside the city's fair share of tourist attractions. Madrid really is an excellent destination for all sorts of travelers, with offerings from the famed Prado to splendid food and drink around every corner. For the history-focused tourist, it offers one of the most concentrated historic centres I've seen in Europe, with almost everything you'll want to visit within almost surprisingly easy walking/Metro distance.
And, perhaps most importantly (and shockingly), though a large number of tourists visit Madrid each year, with the recent "over tourism" experienced by Barcelona, Madrid definitely had a refreshingly relaxed vibe, when comparing Spanish tourist destinations. Though we certainly visited the tourist highlights, in restaurants, we were often the only people speaking English.
No matter what brings you to Madrid, I promise you'll love it. And, if this is your first trip to Europe, be sure to check out my First Timer's Guide to Europe, for everything from power adapters to where to find coffee.
So, what are the 10 things you need to know about Madrid?
10 Things to Know About Madrid
Madrid Travel Tips: Understanding Madrid's history
Madrid and Barcelona are very different cities for a number of reasons. One of the common travel mistakes visitors often make is not learning the history of a place before visiting, and Spain is no exception (for more on the political issues over in Catalunya, check out Common Tourist Mistakes in Spain).
The second-largest city in the European Union, Madrid might not be as old as you would expect. Madrid only became the capital of Spain in 1606, after the King moved his Court from the historic capital of Toledo the previous century. Many of the city's must-see sights, such as the Prado and Retiro Park, were built for the reasons they're used now - to beautify the city and provide entertainment. And, of course, to "keep up with the Joneses" (the other major European powers). This is as opposed to places like the Louvre, which was a royal palace, or many of London's royal parks, which were private gardens for the Royal Family. Madrid was built to impress, relatively from the ground up. It has a much newer feel than, say, Barcelona, an ancient Roman port city.
Madrid Travel Tips: It's less touristy
I've said it once, but let's discuss it again! The absolute #1 reason to visit Madrid is its "less touristy" atmosphere.
Of all the major cities we've visited in Europe, Madrid boasted by far the most "local" vibe, even in the historic, tourist centre.
While there are obviously the main squares positively buzzing with tourists, it's perfectly easy to escape those areas quickly enough. In many a restaurant, we were the only people not speaking Spanish - which was a fun surprise. While the city's top sights garner their fair share of visitors, you'll enjoy shorter lines, and less frazzled employees, than in Barcelona.
Madrid Travel Tips: Get ready for appetizers & olives
One extremely tangible and tasty benefit of Madrid's "less touristy" atmosphere is the abundance of free appetizers coming your way to accompany your delicious Spanish beer! If you pop by a bar/restaurant to grab a drink, helpful waitstaff will regularly bring you small plates of olives, potato chips, and/or cheese. Of course, the locals are enjoying these as well, but a we all know, in "touristy" establishments, staff will often avoid giving such freebies to tourists, who don't know to expect them.
If you want to be sure you get beer with alcohol (GASP! There's another option??) Check out the Top 10 Common Tourist Mistakes in Spain!
Madrid Travel Tips: Take those easy day trips
Madrid Travel Tips: Don't miss the Royal Palace
Spain's Royal Palace is in Madrid - and frankly the Palace alone is reason enough to visit Spain's capital!
No longer the actual residence of the Spanish Royal Family, Europe's largest functioning Royal Palace's 3,418 rooms are now used for official engagements and tours for people like me! Unfortunately, you can't see all those rooms (would you want to? Probably a bit much), but the tour is spectacular. It's hugely reminiscent of London's Buckingham Palace - you won't be disappointed!
Madrid Travel Tips: Come prepared for lovely weather
No matter the season, you really can't beat Madrid's mild weather.
Even in winter, It's plenty warm to just wear a light winter jacket and certainly comfortable to walk around, hitting all the tourist highlights! For more on what to wear in Spain in winter, check out the full post! Of course, things get toasty in the summer months, with highs in the upper 80s and almost no rain - so don't forget the sunscreen!
Madrid Travel Tips: There's plenty of green space!
And thankfully, that lovely weather gives you ample time to stroll in Madrid's romantic Retiro Park, home to more than 15,000 trees. If you happen to be in town on New Year's Day, as we were, be sure to stop by in the late morning, as you'll definitely find most of the city out for a stroll, waiting for the shops and restaurants to wake up after a late night!
Madrid Travel Tips: Expect to use the Metro
Madrid has the 12th longest Metro in the world (you read that right!) and it truly is a tourist's dream! Having just celebrated its 100th birthday, the Metro is going strong, and it'll make your time in Madrid a breeze. With 302 stations, you'll never have to walk too far to hop aboard!
Madrid Travel Tips: You'll love the reasonable prices
Compared to many other major cities in Europe, you'll be pleasantly surprised with prices in Spain, even in Madrid. Dinner, drinks, & trinkets are all a bit cheaper than you'd expect. So maybe try a few extra tapas and another glass of verdejo.
Madrid Travel Tips: Eat your heart out at food markets
Madrid is home to some very exciting food markets throughout the city. Stop by to enjoy a lively atmosphere, and a massive selection of delicious meals and snacks! I'd highly recommend Mercado San Antón, seen below, in Madrid's Chueca neighborhood, which is much less crowded than the more famous Mercado San Miguel, right next to Plaza Mayor.
Well...Madrid or Barcelona?
I'm going to take a controversial stand and say, as much as I loved Barcelona, Madrid's less touristy atmosphere really stole my heart. From endless appetizers to friendly staff, I truly felt welcomed in this bustling city. And you know I loved that Royal Palace.
Thanks for stopping by!
I so appreciate you coming here to talk about Madrid and hope you'll visit and enjoy all that Spain has to offer! xx And no matter which cities you'll be visiting during your time in Spain, I'd highly recommend bringing Rick with you!
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