Madrid: First-Time Visitor’s Guide!

Madrid, the capital of Spain, is known for its typical food, nightlife, and culture. Living here for more than 5 years I love its undeniable charm and endless possibilities. In Madrid, you can find historic places, the most delicious typical food, cool stores, and unique bars and clubs. If you are planning to visit Madrid for the first time I’ve got you covered with a simple guide that covers everything you need to know for your first trip to Madrid.

Must-see Places

  • Gran Via: The bustling shopping street is lined with dazzling lights and iconic buildings.
  • Plaza del Sol: The vibrant heart of Madrid, home to the famous El Oso y el Madroño statue.
  • Plaza Mayor: A historic square with picturesque architecture, a lively atmosphere, and fantastic people-watching opportunities.
  • Mercado de San Miguel: A food market full of typical Spanish food and other culinary delights. Beware of high prices and tourist crowds, but worth a visit at least once.
  • Puerta de Álcala: A majestic triumphal arch that serves as a gateway to the city.
  • Parque Retiro: A tranquil retreat in the heart of Madrid, perfect for leisurely walks, boat rides, and escaping the city buzz.
  • Fuente de Cibeles: An iconic fountain depicting the goddess Cibeles, symbolizing Madrid’s prosperity and beauty.
  • Palacio Cibeles: A stunning palace that often hosts free art exhibitions and provides breathtaking views from its observation deck.
  • Palacio Real: The royal palace of Madrid, where you can admire its magnificent exterior or explore the opulent interiors with a ticket.
  • Catedral de Almudena: A beautiful cathedral located next to the Palacio Real, offering free entry and a serene atmosphere.
  • Plaza España: A grand square with impressive architecture and a central fountain, surrounded by shops and theaters.
  • Templo de Debod: A charming park housing an authentic ancient Egyptian temple, offering a perfect vantage point for admiring Madrid’s sunset.
  • Barrio Chueca: A vibrant LGBTQ+ neighborhood, known for its trendy shops and cool bars.
  • Barrio Malasaña: A bohemian neighborhood with a creative vibe, featuring vintage and design stores, and a plethora of hip bars and cafes.

Getting Around

Madrid, is a great city to explore on foot and it’s very safe. If you’re staying in or near the city center, you can easily enjoy your entire trip by walking around. However, if your accommodation is more than a 20-minute walk from the city center, you can take advantage of the efficient and affordable metro system.

Upon arriving at any metro station, you’ll find machines where you can purchase the «Tarjeta Multi» for metro and bus travel. This rechargeable, multi-person card allows everyone in your group to use the same card, deducting one journey per person. I recommend getting the ten-journey recharge option to save money. It’s worth noting that there’s a supplemental fee for the T1-T2-T3 and T4 airport stations. If you’re arriving at or departing from Madrid’s airport with the Tarjeta Multi, be sure to add a ticket called «Billete Suplemento Aeropuerto» to your card.


Madrid is renowned for its pleasant weather, but it’s important to consider the season you choose to visit. People are often shocked to find that Madrid experiences a cold winter because Spain is often associated with warm summer weather. If you visit between December and March, be prepared for temperatures ranging from -5 to 10 degrees Celsius.

On the other hand, summers in Madrid can be unbearable. Madrid is very dry and in the summer temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees Celsius. Walking around in such heat can be uncomfortable. For the best weather, I recommend visiting during spring: April to June, or fall: September to November. These seasons offer more moderate temperatures. Before packing, don’t forget to check the forecast and be prepared for a bit of rain.


Renowned for its vibrant clubs and bars, people from all around the world come to experience Madrid’s nightlife. Whether you’re into energetic clubbing or prefer a more relaxed evening, Madrid’s nightlife scene offers a vibrant and diverse atmosphere that guarantees a memorable experience. It’s also a very safe city, making it a comfortable environment for group outings. Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the city’s fantastic clubs and bars during your visit.

For a more laid-back night out, there are plenty of low-key bars where you can dance and enjoy drinks without an entrance fee. Madrid locals love to go bar hopping, particularly in lively neighborhoods such as Huertas, Malasaña, and Chueca. Outside of the city center Avenida de Brasil and Argüelles-Moncloa are also popular areas, especially among university students.

If you’re looking for a memorable party experience, consider buying tickets in advance for your chosen club to avoid long queues. Some of the most-known clubs in Madrid for those under 30 include Cuenca, Teatro Barceló, Kapital, Icon, Medias Puri, Teatro Magno, ChaCha, Moondance, Stardust, Delirio, and Planet Club.

Typical Food

No visit to Madrid is complete without indulging in tapas, visit popular restaurants such as TAPA TAPA, Lizarran, Casa Labra, El Sur, and Taberna Dolores. Indulge in delicious Spanish dishes like Tortilla de Patata, Jamón Ibérico, Patatas Bravas y Alioli, Croquetas, and the famous Bocata de Calamar on Calle de Postas.

If you try only one thing, it must be Tortilla de Patata. You can find the authentic version at any local restaurant/bar, my favorite is from La Deseada Specialty Coffee and La Buha Chueca.

Don’t miss out on trying authentic paella, but be cautious in choosing a place known for its authenticity rather than falling into tourist traps. If you’re in search of delicious paella in Madrid, you can visit renowned establishments like Paellitas Tradición, Los Arroces de Segis, Socarratt, Larrocería, and others known for their authentic paella.

To complement your culinary experience, be sure to sample some of the popular Spanish beers such as Mahou, Alhambra, and Estrella Galicia. And don’t miss out on refreshing and traditional Spanish drinks like Sangría and Tinto de Verano.

If you’re looking for a delightful breakfast experience go to any cafeteria and order churros con chocolate. For a savory option, order «Pan con tomate», drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. These breakfast options will give you a true taste of Spanish flavors to start your day.


Madrid holds a prominent place in art history, making it a captivating destination for art lovers. The city’s renowned museums, including the Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, form the prestigious «Art Triangle.» These institutions house a remarkable collection of classical masterpieces, private art collections, and thought-provoking modern works. Madrid’s commitment to preserving its cultural heritage and the diverse range of museums available make it an essential destination for art enthusiasts seeking inspiration and appreciation. If you want to enjoy some museums during your visit I recommend the two must relevant ones: Museo del Prado and Museo Reina Sofía.

Museo del Prado

One of the most important museums in Madrid, the Prado Museum showcases a remarkable collection of paintings from various periods. Discover exquisite portraits, religious scenes, and historical depictions in the classic style of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Romantic periods. You will find the renowned painting «Las Meninas» by Velázquez and the works of other great artists like Goya, El Greco, and Bosch.

Museo Reina Sofía

While its interior may appear minimalistic with white walls, it houses an impressive collection of modern and contemporary artworks. Discover expressive and groundbreaking works of artists who embraced modernist movements such as Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstract art. Marvel at Picasso’s powerful «Guernica» and explore works by other influential artists such as Dalí, Miró, and Gris.

Both museums are quite large, I suggest prioritizing the pieces that interest you the most rather than exploring the entire museum which could take up to 6 hours. It’s worth noting that there may be opportunities for free entry on certain days or at specific times, but please check the latest information on the museum’s website to confirm.

Madrid: An Experience

To truly immerse yourself in the Madrid spirit, here are some unique local experiences to savor the culture:

  • [ ] Drink a tinto de verano in a “Terraza” (outside sitting of any bar) on Plaza Santa Ana.
  • [ ] Watch the sunset at Templo de Debod.
  • [ ] Eat traditional Spanish food at TAPA TAPA.
  • [ ] Have a picnic at Retiro Park.
  • [ ] Have a night out partying in Cuenca Club.
  • [ ] Watch a flamenco show at Tablao Flamenco Torres Bermejas.
  • [ ] Do some people-watching while sitting at Plaza de Jacinto Benavente.
  • [ ] Drink a cocktail at a rooftop terrace such as Picalagartos at NH Collection Hotel.
  • [ ] Eat a waffle dick at La Pollería.
  • [ ] Learn typical Spanish expressions such as “me la suda”.
  • [ ] Go to a unique bar in Malasaña such as Espit Chupitos.
  • [ ] Watch a drag show at LL Show Bar in Chueca.

Time to plan your trip

I hope that this guide helps you plan your first trip to Madrid. With its rich history, vibrant art scene, lively nightlife, and delicious cuisine, Madrid will be a trip you will never forget. Additionally, if you want to go beyond the basics, I suggest checking social media accounts about Madrid for the latest events, offers, and activities happening in the city such as @Madrid4U and @Madrid_Secreto, or city influencers such as @Ohlileven, @Barbygant, and @Albajimfe.

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