The city of Madrid may not attract as many international travellers every year as Barcelona. However, what it does offer to its visitors is a much more authentic feel and a rather cosmopolitan vibe.
Whether you are looking forward to experiencing the nightlife and incredible cuisine that Madrid has to offer, or simply want to lose yourself in the rich culture and history that make this incredible city what it is, Madrid really does have something to offer for everyone, which we will explore in this essential Madrid guide for 2023.
After all, the 2.2 million tourists that they welcomed in 2021 would certainly agree that it is a great place to visit.
Table of Contents
- Taking it all in your stride
- Travel Tips for Madrid
- Things to do in Madrid – An Essential Madrid Guide For 2023
- What should be on your “to see” list in the Essential Madrid Guide
- Foods you really should try – Essential Madrid Guide
- Final Words On Our Essential Madrid Guide
Taking it all in your stride
Like many capital cities, Madrid is quite a large urban space. However, it is one that is ideally explored on foot, and at a rather more relaxed pace than you would expect. The pace of life in Spain is one that is altogether much slower. Lunch is a meal to linger over and many of the tourist places are open later than those back home. With its quaint streets, magnificent museums, and a plethora of restaurants specializing in both local and international cuisine the only problem that you will have in this city that is well known for its hospitality is what will you squeeze into your time here.
Travel Tips for Madrid
Visiting any big city can be expensive. However, there are a couple of things you can do to make your visit to Madrid a little more wallet-friendly. When eating out, look for the menu of the day. This is a smaller set menu that is very reasonably priced. Many museums in Madrid have free entry days or times, so do some research first.
Things to do in Madrid – An Essential Madrid Guide For 2023
When it comes to attractions to visit, and things to do, you really will be spoilt for choice in Madrid. There will certainly not be time to do everything in a single visit, but that really does give you an excuse to return. Here are some of the “must-do” things that should be on everyone’s list. We also include a few that are a little more unusual.
Templo de Debod
Madrid is home to the only Egyptian temple you will find anywhere in Spain. Dating back over 2,200 years, the Templo de Debod was built to honour the gods Isis and Amun. Whilst the temple may date that far back in history, it has actually only been in Madrid since 1968. This original Egyptian temple was shipped, in pieces, by the government of Egypt as a thank-you to Spain for the work they did helping to preserve monuments that the Aswan Dam could have destroyed. An unusual payment indeed, and certainly something worth visiting. If you time your visit carefully, then you will be able to snap an incredible sunset from this unusual viewpoint.
Parque Warner Madrid
We couldn’t complete an essential Madrid guide without this. It may not be Disneyland Paris or Florida, but Madrid has its very own theme park. Whether you are visiting with children, or just fancy something a little different, this is a great choice. Parque Warner Madrid is filled with Warner Bros and Hollywood-themed rides and attractions for a fun-packed, adrenaline-filled day out. There are even a few live shows for those people who prefer to keep their feet firmly on the ground.
For awe-inspiring architecture you really cannot beat the giant monastery-palace of El Escorial. It was built for King Felipe II. This landmark house is massive; it’s a monastery, royal palace, and tomb with 15 cloisters and 4000 chambers. It is also home to one of the best Renaissance libraries you will find anywhere in the world. It holds everything that was essential to the man who was one of the most powerful kings in Europe.
The Royal Palace of Madrid
Not to be confused with Santiago El Escorial, the Royal Place has been the home of the Spanish Royal family from Charles III to Alfonso XIII. The Palace and its grounds have undergone some restoration work in recent years, making it a particularly fantastic place to visit. The kitchens, which were restored in 2017, are the oldest and best-preserved kitchens in a royal residence anywhere in Europe. Plus, the royal armoury houses a stunning collection of weaponry and royal armour dating back to the 13th century. It’s a must-have in any essential Madrid guide.
If you visit on Wednesday or Saturday, be sure to look out for the changing of the guards’ ceremony. If you want to see something even more special and are visiting on the first Wednesday in a month (except for in January, August and September), then you may be able to witness the solemn changing of the guard. This is a much more ornate ceremony with 400 individuals and 100 horses. It takes place in a truly spectacular ceremony that remains unchanged since the time of King Alfonso XII and King Alfonso XIII.
Guided tours – An essential Madrid guide to show you the best parts
As you might imagine, with a city the size of Madrid, there are no shortage of guided tours. While the public transport is excellent, sometimes a guided tour really is the best way of seeing all the best bits. This will ensure that not only do you see all the top sights but also that you will learn lots of interesting information about them as well. These may include things that are often missed when you are your own tour guide.
Take a cooking class
The Spanish are passionate about their food, so if you really want to learn about local cuisine, then you could sign up for a cooking class. Here, you can try to master the basics of one of the classic Spanish dishes. There are no shortages of cooking classes available in Madrid. They are often a good mixture of people from all nationalities and with a range of different cooking abilities. However, they all have one common passion: learning about great food. It’s certainly something a little different to do on your visit to Madrid.
Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
For any football fans, a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is a must-have in any essential Madrid guide. This is a modern museum with interactive screens and displays all about the history of the city’s football team – Real Madrid. A trip to the top terraces of the stadium will offer some fantastic views out across the stadium as well.
What should be on your “to see” list in the Essential Madrid Guide
Spain, and in particular Madrid, has a rich cultural history. Plus, it has more than its fair share of famous artists in its past. No trip would be complete without a visit to at least a couple of art museums. Everyone should make time to visit the world-famous Prado art museum. Here, you will find works from artists like Goya, El Greco, Velazquez and a whole host of other masters. These masters include both Spanish and those from other countries all over Europe. Works of particular note that you certainly want on your list are 1498 “Self-Portrait” by Dürer and the entire collection of works by Hieronymus Bosch. It is the biggest and best of all the art collections you will find in Madrid. Therefore, if you don’t have time to visit any other collection, then do make time for this one.
This world-class modern and contemporary art museum is home to Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Be warned, this incredibly moving piece of artwork with its anti-war image is something completely different seen in person compared to how you might have felt seeing it in a picture. If you see nothing else at Reina Sofia, make time to see Guernica.
Not something you might expect to see on most lists. However, the Ayuntamiento de Madrid is one of the most interesting buildings in the city. The building itself is striking and one that is likely to feature in your photographs. Once the Palacio de Telecomunicaciones, the building now houses some interesting exhibitions dedicated to city life. There are others dedicated to contemporary artists and live music. Whilst the outside of the building will give you plenty of photo opportunities, there are plenty inside. Head to the Terraza Cibeles on the sixth floor and the Mirador Madrid on the eighth floor for some incredible views.
The Circulo de Bellas Artes is a great location for high-quality culture. However, it is also the place to be in Madrid if you are looking for incredible vistas. Take a trip to the rooftop terrace, and you really won’t be disappointed at the views out across the city. Even if you think you have seen it all before, they never get old.
Foods you really should try – Essential Madrid Guide
When it comes to food, Madrid is a gastronomic paradise. The city is a melting pot where you will find typical foods from every region of Spain. Plus, lots of international flavours can be found too. You could, in fact, eat your way around Spain if you wanted to without even leaving Madrid. Whilst gazpacho, salmorejo and pulpo a feira certainly sound tempting, Madrid has many of its own delicacies that deserve your attention.
If you are visiting in the chillier months, then this rich and inviting stew is a must to ward off the cold. Be warned, though, this is a meal that will certainly leave you feeling full.
An enticing mixture of chickpeas, vegetables, pork and rich chorizo sausage are simmered for at least four hours in a rich vegetable broth. The dish doesn’t stop there. Once everything is cooked, the broth is used to make a vermicelli noodle soup. This is then followed by a dish of chickpeas and vegetables and then finally the soft, falling apart meat.
In a culture that is rather meat heavy, this dish of “broken eggs” can easily be made suitable for any vegetarian visitors. Potatoes freshly fried in olive oil with just a little salt, topped with over easy eggs, and served with crusty bread. This is simple food cooked well and simply delicious. Some restaurants as cured ham or chorizo. However, they are happy to cook their huevos rotos without meat when asked.
Tapas style dishes
In Madrid, just as in any other area of Spain, you will find plenty of tapas-style dishes. These are an absolute must whilst you are in the city. Look out for Tortilla de patatas. Delicate, bite-sized squares of potato omelette served with cocktail sticks make a savoury side to a nice cold drink.
Croquetas, these crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside bites come filled with ham, mushroom, chicken and even pea and mint. The only problem will be deciding which you like the most.
Salt cod fritters are another must. Madrid’s seafood scene is surprisingly robust, and there are plenty of places that serve these unforgettable morsels. They are often served draped with a sliver of roasted red pepper. This earns them the nickname soldaditos de Pavia after the 19th-century troops.
Madrid is big on mushrooms as well, and these are another staple Tapas dish in the city. Grilled, fried or stuffed, they are definitely worth looking out for.
No food tour, no matter where you are, is truly complete without something sweet. In Madrid you should certainly make time to sample the buñuelos. Freshly fried dough puffs topped with rich hot chocolate, powdered sugar or simply as they come. You will find them all over the city at any outdoor street stall.
Popular with the late-night crowd, Churros are the sweet treat to look out for in the evening. However, they are also very popular at around 6 pm when they are served with cups of thick hot chocolate as an afternoon snack. Of course, if you wanted to eat them for breakfast, nobody will stop you.
Final Words On Our Essential Madrid Guide
It’s up to you how much or little of this essential Madrid guide you decide to fit into your trip. But one thing’s for sure, there’ll be plenty to tempt you back for another trip.