Madrid is the capital and largest city in Spain. Even though Madrid possesses a modern infrastructure, it has also preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighborhoods and streets. In Madrid you will be sure to find wonderful food, fashion, and nightlife. Like Barcelona, this is a city that starts late and goes late. Dinner doesn’t happen until 9 or 10pm at night. The frenetic energy of the city, the friendly locals, and the amazing good food tend to keep people here longer than they expected. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- Hostel Prices: Hostel dorm rooms are between $16-27 USD per night depending how close the hostel is to the Plaza Mayor. Private rooms are around $60 USD for a double room.
- Budget Hotel Prices: A typical budget hotel room for two is between $50 and $95 USD per night, depending on the location and time of year.
- Average Cost of Food: You can get cheap tapas and meals for around $7-14 USD. That will include about 3 or 4 tapas. If you want wine included, expect to spend about $20 USD per meal. A good restaurant meal will set you back around $27 USD. Cheap food like McDonalds and Maoz cost around $7 USD. If you buy your own food, expect to spend about $40 USD for a week’s worth of groceries.
- Transportation Costs: Metro ticks costs $2 USD per trip, within the more central area of the city.
Money Saving Tips
- Eat a large lunch - Lunch is much cheaper in Madrid, and everywhere you will find “menu del dia” which will cost around $13 USD.
- Free museum days - Lots of museums in Madrid are free on certain days and certain times throughout the day. Be sure to check before you go because it’s far better to see sights like the Prado for free than have to pay!
Top Things to Do
- Visit the Palacio Real – Also known as the Royal Palace, this is the official residence of the King of Spain, though it is now only used for state ceremonies. The palace is partially open to public, except when it is being used for official business and on Sundays, when it is also closed. The Palace is free for E.U. citizens on Wednesdays, and guided tours in English are also available.
- Stroll Plaza Mayor – The Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s main square, located in the middle of the city. Winding streets will take you past churches, tapas bars, and give you insight into royal history and architecture. While walking this plaza, don’t miss the following: Ayuntamiento, San Pedro, San Francisco el Grande, and Calle de Cuchilleros. This is a popular place to eat and relax but be prepared for “tourist” prices.
- Check out Puerta del Sol – This is Madrid’s most famous and central square, located just a short walk from the Plaza Mayor. Originally it was the site of one of the city’s gates, which faced the east and was adorned with an image of the sun, hence the square’s name (the “sun gate”). The square is actually almost semi-circular in shape and owes its current form to the major renovation work carried out between 1854 and 1860.
- See Flamenco Dancers – Madrid has been enjoying flamenco since the early 19th century and has seen the best artists triumph here. Flamenco can be seen in many bars and taverns in Madrid. Normally you go for an evening meal to one of these places, and listen to the music afterwards.
- See a Bullfight – Madrid’s main bullring is called La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo, or more simply, Las Ventas. The best time to see bullfights in Madrid is during the months of May and June. The world famous San Isidro bullfight festival takes place during these months and brings together the best fighters, bulls and aficionados from around the country. There are fights every day for 20 days, starting at 7 o’clock in the evening.
- Visit the Prado Museum - The Prado Museum is Madrid’s top cultural sight, and one of the world’s greatest art galleries. Its dazzling display of works by the great European masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, and Bosch (among other major Italian and Flemish artists), is housed in an 18th-century building that opened as a museum in 1819.
- Take a Walk through the National Archeology Museum – This well-designed museum houses an incredible collection of archaeological finds from across the peninsula. It leaves the visitor with a sense of the chronology of civilization in Spain. There are also a few pieces from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
- Unwind in El Retiro Park – The main park of Madrid, this is the perfect place to take a rest during a sunny day, or take part in the drum circles around the statue of Alphonso XII on summer evenings. There is a large boating lake where one can hire a rowing boat. Check out the monument to the victims of the Madrid 3/11 terrorist bombings, the Forest of the Absent, and the Crystal Palace.
- Watch a Real Madrid Match- Madrid’s soccer team is one of the best in Spain and in the world. It has some of the top players in the world, such as Ronaldo, who also happens to be my favorite player. If you want to see soccer (football) at its best, come visit a game. The stadium is always full and the crowds always wild!
- Explore the Naval Museum - When you think back on the world’s historical naval powers, Spain is sure to come to mind. If it weren’t for Spain, who knows when the New World would have been discovered! Come here to learn about the nation’s rich naval history.
- Go on a Free Walking Tour - What better way to orientate yourself in this city than by beginning your visit with a free walking tour? This is one of my favourite ways to get to know a new place. New Madrid Walking Tours and Cat’s Hostel Walking Tours are the two most popular free tours in the city.
- Admire Some Modern Art – The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía offers a fantastic collection of modern art. I’m not a modern art fan myself, but it’s still interesting to see some of the big names here: Picasso’s, Miró, Kandinsky, Dalí, and Bacon. The centerpiece of the exhibit is Picasso’s famous Guernica painting.
- Shop at the Mercado de San Miguel - This indoor market is a really trendy spot to get your grocery shopping done, to eat some cheap meals, or to just take in the people. It’s located near Plaza Mayor, and attracts the after-work drinks crowd in the evenings.
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