Is Madrid Worth Visiting? Honest Answers About the Spanish Capital
Last updated on April 8th, 2023
Is Madrid worth visiting? That was the question I asked the first time when I had a long layover in the capital of Spain and wasn’t sure if leaving the airport was worth the hustle. Second time I asked myself the same question was after planning a trip to northern Spain where I was supposed to come from Madrid in a rented car.
Since then, I have been to Madrid quite a few times on different occasions and got a good idea about the city and why to visit it all. So I thought why finally not share my vision and discoveries? Especially considering that fact that Madrid is a peculiar city which may be difficult to fall in love with on the first encounter.
This is why I provide answers to such questions as whether Madrid is worth a visit in summer or not and if it’s worth visiting in winter. Is Madrid worth seeing on a layover or when you are traveling slowly with kids? Answers to these and other questions are below just a few clicks away!
Is Madrid Worth a Visit?
While for me personally Madrid is not a favorite Spanish city, I am still convinced that it is definitely worth a visit. In fact, Madrid is not only worth a trip, but it is a must go-to. Madrid is one of those cities that simply must be on your bucket list. There are many reasons, but mainly it can be summarized with one of the Spanish sayings.
People in Spain tend to say “De Madrid al Cielo” which translates to “From Madrid to the sky”. This refers to Madrid being so beautiful, that only the sky is above the city, or that Madrid is a step before the sky.
However, there are many legends and stories where this saying comes from. One of those (not so nice) stories is that Madrid’s sewage draining system was so bad, that people started to walk looking up to avoid the bad smells.
But in the modern age and our today’s life, this phrase perfectly defines the true essence of how proud the people of Madrid feel about the capital and why they think it is one of the most interesting cities in Spain. And here is why.
Reasons to Go to Madrid
Madrid is Among the Most Important Capital Cities in Europe
Madrid has been the capital of Spain since 1561. Since then, its economy, political power, and arts flourished. This has made Madrid a very strategic point for most kingdoms in the past. Even in today’s social-economic landmark, Madrid is one of the most important capitals in Europe.
Thanks to this, architecture is one of the key things to explore. The Spanish capital is home to an architectural range as rich as its history. Even if you only decide to walk and not visit anything else, you can travel through the different times of history that have influenced Madrid into the majestic city it is today.
Some examples of great architecture are Atocha main train station, The Royal Palace, Plaza de España, and many more.
There are also some unique and completely unexpected structures to see in Madrid such as the Templo de Debod, which is an ancient Egyptian temple.
Architecture Tours in Madrid:
The best way to learn about architecture in Madrid is through the tour either with a guide or on your own. For self-guided tours, do your research in advance and prepare short info about each place in a separate file, so you can read about it once on spot. For guided tours, here are a few suggestions hand-picked by me:
- Madrid architecture tour with a local – can be 100% personalized for you.
- Free architecture walking tour of Madrid – if you are on a budget. It covers all iconic monuments and architectural landmarks.
- Architecture tour of Old Madrid – architecture tour from a professional architect and lifelong resident of Madrid.
Madrid Has Some of the Best Museums in the World
Did you know that Madrid has some of the best museums in the world? Many of them are so cool that you may want to plan a separate visit just for museums alone. And they are another reason why visiting Madrid should be on your list!
Madrid museums showcase many artistic periods and pieces from all over the world. The most Spanish and iconic is Museo del Prado, where you will find the biggest collections of Velazquez, Goya, and other Spanish artists.
My favorite museum though is the Reina Sofia, where Guernica lives. The Guernica is an art painting by Picasso. It is seen as the most touching anti-war piece of art in the world.
Along with the museums, there are a plethora of art activities like the opera, theater, and Broadway shows.
It is Famous for Its Incredible Nightlife
Madrid has also one of the best nightlife atmospheres in Europe for everyone.
The abundance of discos, nightclubs, and different night shows will delight the most demanding tourists. I, while not being a fan of clubs and discos, was amazed by the number of various performances that take place almost on any day of the week.
The city even has such a thing as “Madrid night”, which, according to local residents, is considered the longest club night where music and dance flow like a river. It starts on Friday evening and ends on Sunday.
Madrid has been also the capital city for the LGBTQ++ community with some of the best Pride celebrations in the world.
It is Also Famous for Its Food
The most desirable reason to travel to Madrid is its Food. Being a very vibrant city, it offers a wonderful opportunity to taste the real Spanish cuisine that characterizes different regions of the country. From local tavernas to Madrid vegan restaurants and specialty cafes, you can find it all!
So if you can’t travel around Spain while getting acquainted with different parts of the country, just come to Madrid and through food get to know the country. And for that it is not necessary to visit expensive cafes and restaurants. It is enough to walk around the local markets that are full of incredible traditional meals.
With endless cuisine options, you can delight yourself with traditional meals like Cocido Madrileño, Michelin-starred restaurants, or many of international cuisine restaurant options. And then of course don’t miss tapas and wine from the Madrid region.
Food Tours in Madrid Not to Miss:
Another thing which is absolutely worth doing in Madrid is to join a professional food tour. If in many cities in Europe you can easily do self-guided food tours (like in Vienna for instance or Copenhagen), in Madrid you simply can’t miss them! Because food tours are very affordable and serve as a great cultural experience.
My favorite food tours in Madrid that are worth spending money on are:
- Madrid wine & tapas tour – iconic tour all times classic, especially must-do if you are traveling to Madrid for the first time.
- Olive oil tasting in Madrid – a very unique tour which is unlike any other!
- Gastronomy & history tour – walking tapas tour of Madrid where you also get to learn about the history of the Spanish capital.
- Paella & tapas cooking class – for a different foodie’s experience in Madrid.
When Madrid is Not Worth a Visit?
While the capital of Spain is a wonderful city that should be on everyone’s list, there are still times when Madrid is not worth a visit. And they are during the summer.
Never, ever go to Madrid in the summertime if you don’t want to get the wrong impression of the city and have a terrible experience. Especially don’t go there in August.
Most people from Madrid would leave the city during the summer. In August, you won’t see a soul in the city, just foreigners and the tourist traps that remain open to serve these visitors. You won’t see the fascinating lifestyle and won’t be able to visit some restaurants and attractions as they close fully or partially during the summer months.
The capital gets very high temperatures and with its dry weather, it feels impossible to even breathe. It is not a good idea to try to walk the astonishing streets of Madrid when the temperature can get as high as 40 Celsius degrees.
So the only time when I say Madrid is not worth a visit is in summer. It’s just the worst time to go.
Is Madrid Worth Visiting in Winter?
Oh well, winter, a lovely time of the year for Europe travel, especially lovely it is for travels to Spain.
Winter is a wonderful time to visit Madrid and I have even dedicated a long separate post to winter in Madrid. I visited this city also during the winter and absolutely loved it.
As I said earlier, Madrid’s weather is dry, so it becomes an advantage during the wintertime. Of course, it’s not as warm as for example Valencia in winter or at least Barcelona, but Madrid in winter is one of the warmer places in Europe.
There are many indoor activities. And, once you bundle up, you will be able to enjoy the outdoors as well.
One of the best winter destinations from Madrid is visiting Navacerrada for a day or two and enjoying some of the best European ski resorts or just local nature.
For that, you should rent a car (cars for rent in winter in Madrid are very cheap, at least with my favorite car rental company here) and take advantage of this opportunity to see more of Spain outside Madrid. Learn about driving in Spain and hit the road to see a bit of the country.
However, if you are wondering what is the best time to visit Madrid, my recommendation would be to go in the following months: March, April, May, June, September, and December. Making May and September the top months to visit.
Is Madrid Worth a Visit With Kids?
Yes, absolutely! Madrid is extremely child friendly. You will see that there are tons of kids everywhere in any Spanish city and Madrid is no exception.
Families like to take their kids everywhere from simple shopping trips to full-on nature adventures. Madrid is very well designed to welcome kids with tons of activities.
Also, kids are welcome to any restaurant, tapas bar, museum, and other attractions like Parque Warner. Parque Warner is a theme park located 23 km southeast of Madrid. It is suitable for all ages, so kids and adults can have a great time.
Is Madrid a Good City to Visit on a Layover?
Layovers are a great opportunity to quickly explore a new city while being en route somewhere else. I visited many cities on my layovers, some in Europe and others in the Middle East like Doha in Qatar and even Dubai on a long layover too.
But it can easily become a nightmare if the city center is not well connected. The great news is that the city center of Madrid is in close proximity to the airport thanks to a train that connects them and visiting Madrid on a layover is a good idea.
On a regular weekday schedule, you can reach the city center (Puerta del Sol) from Madrid Airport in just 30-40 mins by train. Avoid taking a taxi or bus at all costs.
The M30 and M40 are the busiest highways in Madrid, and it will ruin your plans of enjoying Madrid on a tight schedule. Especially if you are having a short layover in Madrid which is half a day or so.
Get on the train, get off in Puerta del Sol. Take a short walk to Plaza de España, possibly join a quick walking tour, have a calamari sandwich or tapas, walk Madrid streets, and head back to the airport. That itself counts as one of the most local experiences in the city. But for more places to visit in Madrid, keep reading.
What is Worth Visiting in Madrid?
There are a lot of top sights and landmarks in Madrid that are worth a visit. But in this post, I want to mention those that are unique and special, and paying them a visit will help to see the city through the eyes of locals.
So even if you have been to Madrid before but didn’t check some of the places on this list below, you should change that and visit them soon!
Most famous Square in Madrid Puerta del Sol & Its Top Sights
So… One of the most important landmarks in Madrid is Puerta del Sol, a public square which is one of the busiest places in the city.
Tons of people go to Puerta del Sol to take photos with the tile by the Post Office door named Kilometer 0. This spot marks the start of 6 national highways. Some consider this exact point as the “country’s center”.
But there is more to Puerta de Sol, which makes it one of the main tourist attractions. Here you will find The Oso y el Madroño, the symbol that represents Madrid, the sign of Tio Pepe (bottle of Jerez wine), the clock of the Postal Office, where Madrid celebrates the end and the beginning of each year.
This plaza is the meeting point for locals and where you can start to make your way to Plaza de España. Here you can also find old and iconic Chocolateria San Gines and have delicious churros con chocolate.
The Oldest Restaurant in the World
In Calle de Cuchilleros (Knife Makers Street, bustling with life that has a historic archway), lies the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records Restaurante Botin.
Their suckling pig is one of my favorite meals and the most authentic Castilian dish. I recommend you make a reservation to eat at this restaurant and ask for a table on the lower level where you can eat in a “cave” wine cellar atmosphere.
Tapas, Tapas & More Tapas
Everyone knows Spain is famous for its tapas. In Madrid, you can go to any bar/restaurant and enjoy this special way of eating. You might even come across an establishment where they give you a free tapa with every drink you order.
Also, you can’t miss going to what Spanish people call a covered market such as Mercado de San Miguel or San Ildefonso. Both are some of the best places to bar hop eating tapas.
In the late afternoon or after dinner, visit the area of Chueca (especially for the LGTBQ community) or La Latina for a drink.
More Places in Madrid Worth a Visit
Take a relaxing walk along El Retiro Park (the Spanish version of Central Park). You can even take a boat tour if you go during the nice weather months.
While in the park, visit the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace). This palace is made almost entirely of glass set in an iron framework on a brick base. The building has the shape of a Greek Cross, and its cupola makes the structure over 22 meters high.
And if you happen to go in the hotter months, visit the man-made beach we have in the Manzanares called Madrid Rio Beach or the Aquopolis in Villanueva de la Cañada. This is the largest water park in Europe and just under 45 minutes by public transportation from the center of Madrid.
As you can see, there are tons of reasons why Madrid is worth visiting with the only exception, if you don’t go there in the hottest months of July and August!
This is just a quick overview of the main attractions and special things to do in Madrid. But there is so much more to do, see and eat in the capital of Spain!
Bonus: How Many Days to Spend in Madrid
After deciding for yourself if Madrid is a good city to visit, I assume the next question you ask is how many days in Madrid are enough for a trip. This is why I wanted to cover this topic quickly as well and provide my outlook.
If you are wondering how many days you need in Madrid to slowly get to know the city, my answer will be 4 days. This time is enough to get to know the main iconic sights, mentioned above, and even pop into a few hidden gems.
With proper planning and being ready to walk a lot, four days is also enough to go take a peak at the surroundings of Madrid, for example, go on a mini road trip to El Escorial, the royal residence and tomb, or Navacerrada resort area. Also, you can do wine tasting in the region or even drive to one of the smaller charming towns in the northern part of Spain.
Of course, you can also do much with 2 days in Madrid by taking an introductory tour on a hop on hop off bus. This will allow you to get an idea of the main interest points of the city and then walk through those places that you want to explore in detail.
So… is Madrid worth it? Yes, if you do proper planning and avoid going in July and August!