Where to Stay
For the budget or solo traveller, hostels are a great option. Based in an 18th century palace, Cat’s Hostel is centrally located and offers a variety of activities in the hostel and around Madrid, from morning walking tours to evening pub crawls. Their sister hostel, Mad Hostel, is another cheap option, also featuring a roof terrace. If you are looking for something a little more luxurious, check out these budget-friendly hotels: The Artrip Hotel is central and comes highly rated and both Hostal Zamora and Hostal Persal are based in great locations for nightlife. It is easy to get around central Madrid by foot, but if you want to venture further, their metro system is cheap and easy to use.
Cat’s Hostel, Calle Cañizares, 6, Madrid, Spain, +34 913 69 28 07
Mad Hostel, Calle de la Cabeza, 24, 28012 Madrid, Spain, +34 915 06 48 40
Artrip Hotel, Calle Valencia, 11, Madrid, Spain, +34 915 39 32 82
Hotel Zamora, Plaza de Vázquez de Mella, 1, Madrid, Spain, +34 915 21 70 31
Hotel Persal, Plaza del Angel, 12, Madrid, Spain, +34 913 69 46 43
Where to Eat
Close to the afore-mentioned hostels and hotels are a number of amazing restaurants. Be sure to visit Copas Rotas near to Atocha station. It’s sleek and simple and its 1€ tapas menu is a great way to sample local dishes. This venue fills up quick, so if you can’t get a seat, pop into Pecaditos just next door, a similarly priced tapas bar who create fantastic churros. Both these bars are chains, so watch out for similar venues around the city.
An absolute must is El Tigre. A fantastic, informal free tapas bar. Buy a round of drinks, massive beers, sangrias, or mojitos, and then watch as the plates of free food follow. It’s enough to fill you up and delicious to boot. There are three different bars, and all are cosy and predominantly standing. The locals love it, and you will too.
Copas Rotas, Calle Dr. Drumen, 3, Madrid, Spain, +34 915 27 32 25
Pecaditos, Hortaleza, 118, Madrid, Spain, +34 916 22 66 76
When you are out and about seeing the sights of Madrid, there is no better place to stop for a sandwich than Rodilla. Established in 1939, they have built a reputation for quality and taste. Their foccacia are particularly good and reasonably priced. There are three things you have to try at least once when you are in Madrid. Rabas (squid), sangria, and paella. You can take care of the first two almost everywhere, but paella is a little more specialized. Try La Fragua de Vulcano, a traditional-looking tavern which serves individual portions for an incredibly reasonable 6€. Check out their amazing selection of cold meats too.
If you are looking for something more formal, look out for restaurants with a set menu or menú del día. These usually include a choice of starter and main, bread, a drink and desert. Good places to look, away from the central tourist haunts, are Calle Atocha, or Plaza de Santa Ana.
La Fragua de Vulcano, Calle Álvarez Gato, 9, Madrid, Spain, +34 915 22 36 05
Rodilla, Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, 13, Madrid, Spain, +34 915 21 14 62
Where to Drink
Madrid is renowned for its all-night parties and buzzing bar scene. The Chueca area is populated with lively gay bars and home to many of the best night clubs. Check out the popular Kapital near Atocha, or for a slightly cheaper night, Gris and Tupperware. These clubs are often put on pub crawl routes, so it might be worthwhile combining the two.
If clubs aren’t your thing, there are still plenty of great bars to have a drink with friends. Taberna San Jose is just off the Gran Via, and gives you all the pros of being centrally located without the con of over-pricing. Beer and wine are cheap at 1.30€ for a small glass, and like many bars they offer free nibbles to all. They also do great breakfast deals, so you can visit the morning after as well.
The Bulevart Heineken Bar is another cheap option for beer lovers. 5€ for five Heineken bottles is a bargain anywhere. The cocktails here are a little pricier than other nearby places, but they are large and spectacular to look at.
Kapital, Calle de Atocha, 125, Madrid, Spain, +34 914 20 29 06
Gris, Calle San Marcos, 29, Madrid, Spain, +34 647 26 26 93
Bulevar, Calle de Sta, Teresa, 2, Madrid, Spain, +34 913 08 34 17
What to See
Unlike other cities, there is no one thing that people come to see. When in Paris, visit the Eiffel Tour, when in Rome, see the Colosseum. Madrid’s attractions are as varying as the food and nightlife. There is something for everyone.
Being a cultural hub, museums are in abundance. The Museo del Prado is generally considered the crown-jewel of Madrid tourism, and their massive galleries featuring European art from the last 1000 years are fantastic. If you are short of time, check out the impressive collection of Spanish works from 18th-19th century in rooms 60-75. However, the modern gallery, Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, is a real gem with lots of hard-hitting contemporary political exhibitions and fascinating post-war art from around the world, plus, the opportunity to see Picasso’s Guernica is the cherry on top. Both of these museums are free to students 18-25, or free certain evenings to all. Check out their websites (Prado and Sofia) for exact days and times.
If museums aren’t really your thing, take a walk in the beautiful Parque Del Buen Retiro. These gardens are host to a number of quirky free art exhibitions, pond-side cafes and monuments. If the weather is right, you could easily wile away an afternoon in the sunshine here.
To learn more about Madrid’s past, visit the Royal Palace. It’s free on Wednesdays, and you won’t regret exploring this stunning venue. Next to it is the Cathedral Almudena. It is well worth a look in, and there is a museum tucked around the side.
Parque del Retiro, Plaza de la Independencia, 7, Madrid, Spain, +34 915 30 00 41
Royal Palace, Calle Bailén, s/n, Madrid, Spain, +34 914 54 87 00
Cathedral Almudena, Calle Bailén, 10, Madrid, Spain, +34 915 42 22 00
Two free must-sees are the Templo de Debod, and El Oso y El Madrono statue (‘The Bear and the Strawberry Tree’). The former is a gift from Egypt, and this ancient monument make for a fantastic photo opportunity, as well as the hill offering great views over the city. The Bear and the Strawberry Tree has become synonymous with Madrid, features on the coat of arms, and is where Madrid gets its name. A big hit on the walking tours, you are bound to pass this statue many times.
No trip to Madrid would be complete without a visit to San Gines Chocolateria. Popular with locals, tourists and celebrities, this quaint café serves divine churros and chocolate, and it is surprisingly cheap. The portions are huge, so if you are going solo get the mini portion for 2€. This place is open 24hours, so drop in whenever you please.
Templo de Debod, Calle Ferraz, 1, Madrid, Spain, +34 913 66 74 15
San Gines Chocolateria, Pasadizo San Ginés, 5, Madrid, Spain, +34 913 65 65 46
By Rebecca Cairns