- Sights and Highlights
- To Eat
- For Drinking
Madrid is a city with an impressive cultural and architectural heritage, absolutely world-class art galleries and museums and fantastic food and nightlife. I really enjoy Madrid and always spend at least a few days here if heading to Spain for some more backpacking.
Sungate is one of the best hostels in Madrid and great for a solo traveler. Located in the heart of the city and is very welcoming and social. They have a dinner at night and then go out into the city afterwards, this was the best way to get to know people. A really great atmosphere, you feel like part of the family during your stay. Book the Sungate One Hostel here!
I really enjoyed my stay here. The hostel is in a great location in the La Latina district. Easily walking distance form the centre of the city but with plenty of places to eat and drink in the surrounding streets as well. Every night for €10 they offer a full dinner with drinks. It's a great way to get to know people at the hostel. The beds were really comfy and the staff knowledgeable and friendly. Book the OK Hostel here!
Another hostel in a great central location, halfway between La Latina and the Puerta del Sol. Very clean hostel with great beds and clean bathrooms and great showers. The breakfast is one of the best I've had in Europe hostels, and at 3€ it's a bargain. The staff were nice and helpful, and the pub crawl and walking tour guide were great. Another good hostel for solo travellers. Book the The Hat Madrid here!
Sights and Highlights
The Golden Triangle of Art
Madrid is one of my favourite museum cities. Right up there with London, Berlin and Paris. This is mainly due to the world-famous so-called Golden Triangle of Art consisting of the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. All are located within walking distance of each other and the city centre. There might well be nowhere else in the world with as many masterpieces in such a small area.
The Prado Museum is the main Spanish national art museum. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art. A list of collection highlights are listed on Wikipedia. Opening hours are 10am – 8pm Mon-Sat and 10am - 7pm Sun. Admission is free during the last two hours of each day. Last admission is 30mins before closing.
Reina Sofía Museum
Museo Reina Sofía is Spain's national museum of 20th-century art. The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art and includes excellent collections of Spain's two greatest 20th century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. More information on the collection can be found here. The museum is open 10am - 9pm most days but is closed on Tuesdays and shuts at 7pm on Sundays. Admission is free during the last two hours of each day.
The Thyssen fills the historical gaps in its two counterparts' collections: in the Prado's case this includes Italian primitives and works from the English, Dutch and German schools, while in the case of the Reina Sofia it concerns Impressionists, Expressionists, and European and American paintings from the 20th century. Opening hours are 10am – 7pm all days except Mondays when it is 12pm-4pm.
Free Walking Tour
There is so much to do in Madrid and so much to see. Joining a free walking tour on your first day in the city is strongly recommended. It is a great way to quickly understand the city layout and create a list of places you want to spend more time visiting later in your trip.
Discover the secrets of Madrid through Ogo's Old Town tour. It starts at 10:45am and departs from Puerta del Sol.
Sandemans run 3 free tours a day, at 10am 11am and 2pm. The tour departs from Plaza Mayor.
Jamón is Spanish for ham, cured pork. Jamón ibérico refers to a type of jamón from Spain and Portugal made from Black Iberian pigs. It is a Spanish specialty and in my opinion, the very best cured ham product in the world. Of course, it is priced accordingly and regarded as the most expensive ham in the world.
However, there is a way that you can enjoy a meal of Jamón ibérico on the cheap. There are several jamónerias (ham shops) located around the centre of Madrid. While they sell whole jamón legs, they actually function more as quick take away sandwich shop. They sell a range of different jamón based sandwiches and are idea spots to try the worlds most expensive ham. The jamón is sliced incredibly thin and has a strong flavour meaning very little is needed on each sandwich, so the sandwiches are surprisingly cheap. These shops also serve draught beer, making them a great spot to chill out for an hour or so with some other travellers.
One particular chain of jamónerias is called Museo del Jamón. They cater to the tourist, but seemed as good as any a place to get your jamón fix. Find them on google maps.
A Montadito is a staple of the Spain cuisine. It is a bread roll, similar to a french baquette, only tapas sized. 100 Montaditos are a chain of small restaurants that serve 100 different varieties of montaditos, priced at between 1€ and 2€. A full menu of the 100 varieties can be found at spain.100montaditos.com/carta/montaditos/ but will need translation. 100 Montaditos also serves cheap beer and wine, making it a great spot to spend a few hours relaxing in the afternoons. There are seven of these stores located around the centre of Madrid. This store is the most central, only a few hundred metres walk from Puerta del Sol.
Tapas at El Tigre
Trying to find decent tapas in Madrid can be a frustrating experience. What does tapas even mean these days? As a restaurant style, tapas has been exported around the world. However in the process it has become an excuse for restaurants to charge high prices for small quantities. It would seem that this trend has now come fall circle and made it back to Spain. Many restaurants in Madrid use the word 'tapas' to entice tourists into their expensive restaurants under the guise of providing an authentic experience.
As a budget traveller, only type of tapas that you should be trying is the variety offered by a place like 100 Montaditos (mentioned above) or even better, the type that comes for free when you order a drink as offered by a place like El Tigre.
For 5€ at El Tigre you can purchase a 500ml beer and a receive a large plate of tapas to go with it. It is located walking distance from the city centre. The tapas comes free with each drinks order, so be sure to order each drink separately to maximise the quantity of food served.
For a list of some other great budget friendly tapas bars I recommend the article City Life Madrid - 7 Budget Worthy Tapas Places in Madrid.
Finding a place to get a drink in Madrid is very easy. However most of the beer served in Spain is relatively boring Spanish domestic beer, Estrella, Mahou and San Miguel are common. Check out the following places if you want more variety, particularly craft beer
Amazing beer selection. The food's great and pairs well with the beers - the staff rock and are always there to share their awesome beer knowledge with you. Highly recommended.
A lovely American styled craft beer and burger joint. You can eat probably one of the best burgers in Madrid here. The staff are friendly and the ambience is cozy, yet lively. It is in a good location and prices are not very expensive. One of my favourite places in Madrid.
Madrid proudly sports one of the best public transportation networks in the world and the second largest metro network in Europe, second only to that in London. This subway systems is the main way you will move around the city, including to or from the airport. This metro system is well integrated with google maps which makes it very easy to find the right station and catch the right train. A pdf of the metro system can be found here.
Getting In and Out
All train tickets mentioned below can be bought through the official site renfe.com or alternatively you can use loco2.com. Loco is an easier to use and offers the same prices as the official site including all promo fares.
By far the easiest way to get to Toledo is by high-speed train. This is particularly true if you are only going for a day trip the high-speed train only takes 33min. Tickets cost around 13€.
There are two options to travel between Madrid and Barcelona. The high-speed train takes only about 3 hours whereas the bus takes around 8 hours. However the train ticket costs 60-80€ if booked in advance and over 100€ if booked last minute. The bus costs only around 30€. My recommendation is to take a night bus booked through alsa.es/en. Some people report problems using foreign credit cards on the Alsa website. If your transaction is denied, they also accept paypal.
The options are the same to Cordoba as they are to Barcelona. You should either take the high speed train or the regular bus. The train takes less than 2 hours and you can find tickets for under 40€ if you look carefully. The bus company that operates this route is socibus.es. Their website is quite clunky to use. I suggest just turning up to the departure point and buying your ticket directly. The price should be around 20€ and the bus trip is just under 5 hours.
You should either take the high-speed train or the regular bus. The train takes 1 hr 45mins and you can find tickets for under 40€ if you look carefully. Avanzabus.com operate this route. They do not accept foreign credit cards so buying tickets from the departure point is the way to go. Tickets are around 30€, so if a cheap train tickets can be found, it might actually be the better idea.