Madrid was a dream destination for me since I was little, because of Real Madrid and a story I wrote about Palacio de Cristal. So an opportunity and a 3-hour flight later, we landed at Baraja Airport in May 2022.
May is ideal for a trip to Madrid, as the temperature is still low enough to enjoy every moment of the day and avoid the dry heat they fear all summer. And you get the perfect moments to relax until later in the day because the first thing that impressed us at arrival was that Madrileños party late. It was 1 am and the metro was comfortably full, the street bustled and people weren’t in a rush to go to bed.
As opposed to Paris, which has a great Metro system, but the distances in-between stations are longer, Madrid will feel like a breeze to get around and change as many lines as you need. Just get a 10 tickets card asap and begin to travel. Coming from the airport (you need a supplement for this ride), make sure to stop at Goya station and admire the works of the master. And then hop on the next train no charge and go where you need to be.
I’m going to recommend a hotel for Madrid, because it had the perfect location, price, breakfast and staff.
Prepare, Avoid, Expect
How to spend 5 days in Madrid
General things to consider first, and then a list of 10 Must-Do Things to do in Madrid, to get the most out of the experience.
Here we go: we recommend April-May, because of the Mutua Madrid Tennis Open or the football games, local or in the Champions League. But if you are not a fan, anytime is a good time and you have lots to do.
Prepare, Avoid, Expect-When you spend 5 days in Madrid
1. Prepare – to walk a lot, of course, it’s not a spoiler, but also to get some sleep.
If you want to visit a city, the best way to do it is on foot. We again put our Nike’s Zoom X to the test and they delivered. Even if it may seem smaller than Paris for example, you have a lot of neighborhoods to discover and lots of parks and museums too.
- we walked 75 km in 5 days, and still missed the Escorial and other local museums and parks.
- book a room at Hotel Regina Madrid and enjoy the place, the breakfast they provide, the closeness to Sevilla Station and Puerta del Sol at 5 minutes, the great restaurant downstairs and great staff overall.
- just to take a stroll inside the Prado Park or the Royal Botanical Gardens you’ll put in the double required number of steps for a day.
Prepare to be confused by the schedules of the businesses:
- the schedule for most of the business is a little strange. For example, some restaurants are open from 11-16 and then close for 2-3 hours, only to open again from 20 pm.
- the shops have a chaotic schedule, meaning that some open at 10 ap, others at 10.30, on the same street. and they close the same, some at a certain time, others when the last people leave. 🙂
- the siesta is a little bit of a myth, I don’t think people go to sleep in the afternoon, they just have this tradition of going out late, eating late, and enjoying every moment.
2. Expect – to be greeted by talkative people, to scramble for a free table after 4 pm and follow every street sign.
- madrileños are a little loud but warm overall. People in Madrid rarely speak English but you can get along, and also Spanish is easy to get if you come from a Latin country and in a matter of days, you can try a few phrases. In Barcelona it’s another matter.
- the street signs in the city center are amazing and they all tell a story, so keep your eyes us and follow the signs.
- we loved the fact that there are barely any cars parked on the streets. You can enjoy strolls with no impediments and lots of streets are for pedestrians only.
- be polite, always, just because it’s a good way to be, not only because spanish people appreciate it.
- the metro is easy to use, with the same need to remember the direction you need and the last station in that direction. There are less people singing in the metro here, as opposed to Paris.
- expect a serving of tapas when you order drinks, but be sure there’s no bottom limit because there are places that don’t serve tapas if you only order one glass of beer.
- expect to fall in love with the narrow streets and all the grafitti, the architecture (different from the one in Paris, but also mesmerizing) and the statues that are everywhere.
- expect to eat a lot, because they bring you a lot of tapas in some places. But not everywhere, so avoid this expectation.
Our experience was great with the staff everywhere, and just a couple of homeless people (of which there are many) caused us some reason to avoid a part of the street. A great experience was in a shop where we asked for a refill of tap water and we engaged in a conversation with the lady there. And when she tried to say Dry heat in English and couldn’t she asked for help from a younger employee and he also joined the conversation. So nice!
3. Avoid – large portions, going to Spain on a diet and classical menus.
- avoid ordering large meals or drinks. Get a ”cana” for the beer, an aperitivo (sweet, red vermouth or wine) before the meal, get the menú del día at lunch or the small portions that are presented separately on the menu. And wait for a menu or ask for it before ordering.
- as things to eat, avoid the classical stuff (paella) or give them 1 try, but then try some of the local dishes: Rabo de Toro, oxtail in a garlic sauce, Cochinillo Asado or suckling pig, bocadillos, churos (a favorite for breakfast, served with hot chocolate and not as sweet as you imagine, and also without the cinnamon as it’s presented in Romania for example) and bacalaos, lots and lots of bacalaos. 🙂
- avoid the street sellers and the large touristy places, don’t eat in major squares and don’s make plans in the early morning. Mornings are for walks in the parks.
- also, take care of your hydration and always have a bottle with you, because it’s hot and I hope you won’t need the bathroom because there are famously little public toilets in Madrid.
Although not as filled with history as Paris or Barcelona, Madrid makes a great impression for a city break. The Maur style, the modern and the classic make a perfect melange and couple that with the two events a sport fan should never miss and you have the perfect 5 days.
The 2 events you should not miss when in Madrid
1. Mutua Madrid Open – the 1000 ATP and 1000 WTA event that makes people gather on Caja Magica. A special event on clay, where Nadal is king and Djokovitch comes to play too. Covered, so there’s no chance for delays, and an incredible atmosphere. What a place to be.
TIP> If you choose the tennis Open, I recommend the ABONO ESTRELLAS option, because it allows you to witness 4 Sessions (Morning and Evening sessions) in 2 different days. You’ll be sure to catch your favorites. If you worry about the tickets to the game, even going to the stadium that day can guarantee a place, just be careful with the transaction. And even if you miss the game and it was an important one, join the celebrations with the fans in Cibeles Square.
(More pics from the Mutua Madrid Open in a dedicated blog, covering tips and tricks for how to go to your first tournament.)
2. A football game – on the Bernabeu or on Wanda Metropolitano, watch Real Madrid or Athletico Madrid take on Spanish teams, each other or some Champions league opponents. It’s promised to be epic and we’ll do this next time. When we went (May 2022, Nadal was playing the same night as the match so we had to miss it) 🙁
How to spend 5 days in Madrid – 10 Must Do things
1. Be sure to explore the smaller streets and take in every nameplate of those streets, because they are really beautiful and original. I believe the smaller streets are the true spirit of a city. And on streets like Cava de San Miguel you can find old underground taverns, at Sobrino de Botín you find a 300 years old oven, look for Hemingway’s table and the Monastery of Corpus Christi las Carboneras for cookies.
Calle de San Nicolás is the oldest in town, and Calle del Codo is the narrowest in Madrid. Little secrets and treasures are hidden on small streets, like statues, little plazas and fountains. Calle de la Almudena has a weird funny statue.
2. Eat one of each: gazpatcho, Rabo de Toro (oxtail in a garlic sauce), Cochinillo Asado(suckling pig), bocadillos, churos (a favourite for breakfast, served with hot chocolate and not as sweet as you imagine, and also without the cinnamon as it’s presented in Romania for example) and bacalao. And try the local beer> Mahou. Some of the places we recommend> La Taberna Del Chato (recomended tapas bar), Tapas y Fotos, Emma & Julia Italian Restaurant, Mercado Jamón Ibérico for the obvious, Chocolatería San Ginés, Fatigas del querer old style spanish restaurant, Churrería Chocolatería Las Farolas, Taberna el Sur de Huertas Best rated tapas restaurant on tripadvisor – Juana La Loca tortilla in a basque way, Bodega de la Ardosa, El Rincón, Abulense Generous tapas free with beers.
Then LA Mallorquina for napolitanas de crema, Restaurante AskuaBarra patatas bravas – Restaurante La Bardemcilla De Santa Ana for croquetas de jamon, Chocolat Madrid for churros, Taberna Antonio Sánchez since 1787, la Taberna más antigua de Madrid, El RINCÓN DE ESTEBAN best gazpacho in Madrid, La Casa del Abuelo for gambas alajilo, Petisqueira for Free tapas with a drink, Posada Del Dragón – Mistura Ice Cream best ice cream – Casa Revuelta Latoneros bacalao- El Riojano – Cerveriz Bar – Las Bravas – Calle de la Montera – Rocambolesc.
3. For a special experience and s great travel gift, go order some Dolces at a local convent for secluded nuns (Corpus Christi). You see no one there and the whole experience is great and even if it’s advertised as a secret of Madrid, it’s actually very popular. And the sweets/cookies are amazing, especially the ones CON YEMMA.
4. Visit the museums and revel in the spectacular Latin art. Goya is a personal favorite of mine. Prado is a must but consider a reservation. Make time for Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum – Sorolla Museum – Rosales Station- Las Ventas Bullring, Madrid Planetarium – El Rastro- National Archaeological Museum, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and of course see the Atocha train station and the Cristal Palace in El Retiro park, both little pieces of art.
5. Take strolls, in the Malasana, La Letras and la Latina. Enjoy the graffiti, and shoot some great pics. And don’t miss the little hidden gems, like the narrowed street or the statue you absolutely have to touch. Start on Calle de Alfonso XII, visit the Malasaña Neighbourhood, a little busier and louder, then Barrio de La Latina and Calle del Nuncio. Pass by the Royal Palace of Madrid, head to Calle Gran Vía, THE shopping street and some of the capital’s most iconic buildings. See Calle de Buenavista, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, maybe you’re lucky and Real Madrid are celebrating with fans in Plaza de Cibeles.
See the special Temple of Debod, Puerta de Alcalá Catedral de la Almudena – Plaza del Dos de Mayo – Las Vistillas Garden – Paisaje de la Luz and Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.
Some other attractions> Plaza de la Villa – Neptune Fountain – Plaza de la Armería – Mercado San Antón – Plaza de Oriente -Plaza de Ramales Velasques grave – Calle del Factor – Toledo Gate – Plaza de Santa – Barrio de las Letras – Círculo de Bellas Artes – Railway Museum – The Magic Box.
6. Cross some of the bridges and see how well Madrid can make the old and the new come together in something sumptuous. Toledo Bridge and Segovia Bridge for the 1th century were our favorites.
7. Visit the parks and marvel at their size. Parque Lineal del Manzanares is one of the biggest in Europe, but El Retiro with its Palacio de Crystal, Manzanares River Linear Park, Europa park with the popular Europe landmarks as replicas and Casa del Campo with the teleferico is great too. Madrid Río Park is great too.
8. The street food culture is not as prominent here as in Paris, but catching a table after 4 (preferably once at the San Miquel Market) and watching people is a must. The place is amazing and the food too, but the atmosphere makes it a special place to be and relax.
9. Visit some of the Churches and all the royal places. All the incredible styles, from Maur to gothic are present and you will understand why a king needs horses when visiting his grounds because every place is massive. You can get a glimpse of Madrid from one of the terraces I recommend looking for, Rayuela Cheap coffee shop, with good views of Almudena.
10. Get out of Madrid to visit the Escorial. The largest Renaissance building in the world, it needs a day just for itself and we’ll come back to it someday.
Traveler tip: Find stamps for all the postcards at the Tobacco places and then chose any yellow mailbox on the streets. And make sure to touch the bottom (the special one on Calle major) and include the Atocha Station and its green feel to your list.
Extra tip: You’ll find some American influences in Madrid, from Donking Donuts to a 50s style cafe Tommy Mel’s – Calle Gran Via 53.
Any suggestions for us are always welcomed! Like and follow for more trips, tips and tricks! Happy trails,
The GALs, Catalina&Florin
”We’re a couple in love with travel and research. We hope to give you some good tips from experience so that you can have the best of times.”
Decide on a trip to Madrid and take these suggestions for a bag and a book before:
- A bag to match the clay court in Madrid, but also a beautiful summer and autumn color> Here
- A book about Nadal, the reason we went to Madrid but also a great inspiration if you need motivation. More than a motivational book, this one and watching Nadal play can teach you a thing or two about determination, concentration and will.
Legal disclosure: *These links are affiliate links. If you buy a product through these links, we get a small share of the price (without the product being more expensive for you). It’s up to you if you use them, thank you for reading!
More pics on my Instagram – click here.
PS: We end with a song that warmed the audience in the breaks at Mutua Madrid Open and later we voted for at Eurovision 2022.