Firstly, if you have luggage, take a taxi into the centre. It’s a fixed rate of €30 and the taxi can drop you off right at your hotel. If you’re travelling light, hop on the airport bus or take the Cercanías commuter train directly to the Puerta del Sol.
This is where all Spanish roads lead, the location of one of the city’s most central metro stations and a meeting place for many madrileños. Check out the statue of el oso y el madroño (‘the bear and the strawberry tree’), the official symbol of Madrid, which appears on its coat of arms and on the logo of football team Atlético Madrid.
Popular local favourites include tomato bread and a pincho de tortilla (a slice of Spanish potato omelette). Make sure to wash it down with a café con leche (coffee with milk). If you have a sweet tooth, head to one of two bakeries close to Puerta del Sol. La Mallorquina, opened in 1894, is famous for its napolitanas – Spanish pastries filled with chocolate or cream. El Riojano, founded in 1855, is a beautiful bakery with displays that will make your eyes pop. Head to the lovely café at the back where you can enjoy breakfast.
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2017 with a jam-packed schedule of performances, concerts and interactive activities. The rich history of the square has included everything from bullfights and beheadings to markets and football matches. Skip the overpriced restaurants on the plaza itself, and enjoy a Madrid speciality, a bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich) from one of the bars on the side streets.
Skip the inside and instead take a walk around the beautiful Plaza de Oriente for a stunning view of Madrid’s Royal Palace. It is the official residence of King Felipe and Queen Letizia but is only used for state occasions – the royal family live in the more modest Zarzuela Palace just outside Madrid.
The beautifully restored old market is a tourist favourite and a great place to sample a few Spanish delicacies. Get an aperitif of vermut de grifo (vermouth on tap), a particular favourite tipple of madrileños.
Madrid is home to some of the most famous art galleries in the world, handily located in a ‘golden triangle‘. If you have only a short stopover here, though, it’s best to choose just one so you can dedicate a little more time to it. If you want to explore some of Spain’s most famous painters, such as Velásquez and Goya, visit the Prado; if modern art if more your thing and you want to see Picasso’s stunning masterpiece, Guernica (1937), head to the Reina Sofia, Spain’s national museum of modern art.
If you have time, pop into Retiro Park, located close to the Prado Museum. It’s a lovely, tranquil place to wander and enjoy an hour or so away from the hubbub of the city.
Madrid is home to a good range of rooftop bars, and one of the most stunning is the rooftop at Circulo de Bellas Artes. It has 360° views across the city and is an amazing place to enjoy a chilled glass of wine, a caña (small beer) or a cocktail. From here you can get a stunning photo of Madrid from above.
Head to La Latina and sample some of Madrid’s finest tapas. Cava Baja is the city’s famous tapas street and is home to lots of tapas bars, from traditional taverns to more modern and innovative establishments.
No trip to Madrid would be complete without a stop at Chocolatería San Ginés, which has been making churros and chocolate for over 100 years. Luckily, it is also open all night long, so it’s an ideal stop on the way home from a night out.