15 Places To Visit on Your Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid
Madrid stole my heart when I first visited in 2012. In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to move there and live for a year. Nowadays, I visit the city once in a while to catch up with old friends. May you could say I’m a little obsessed with this city. For some reason, many travelers I’ve talked think Madrid is boring compared to Barcelona. That couldn’t be farther from the truth!
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This post is part of the Madrid Travel series. Here’s a full list of posts in the series.
Walking tour: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid
Day Trips: The 10 Best Day Trips From Madrid
Tourist Mistakes: 6 Common Tourist Mistakes To Avoid in Madrid
I think Madrid actually has a greater variety of things to do than Barcelona. With gorgeous parks, unique neighborhoods, and some of the best museums in Spain, Madrid will keep you busy during your visit. I’ve mapped out a self-guided walking tour to help you plan your itinerary. I want to take you to various neighborhoods, hidden art galleries, not-so-touristy food markets, and other amazing places other Madrid guides leave out. So here is your self-guided walking tour of Madrid with a map to make finding your whereabouts easy.
Total time required for the walking tour
The tour will take around 3 hours if you follow the route without stopping. I would recommend you budget half a day for this tour to get to know the city well.
What to pack
- Comfortable shoes – preferably running shoes since there are some hills to climb.
- Portable WiFi – if you don’t have an international data plan then this will make your trip a lot easier. I’ve been using the Tep Wireless ‘Teppy’ device to access wifi – it’s convenient and reliable. You can read my full review of Tep Wireless to seek if it’s the right pocket WiFi for you.
- Water – always stay hydrated, especially since you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
- Map or GPS – Google maps, Apple maps, the Moovit app, a physical map, whatever works best for you.
- Camera – you can use your phone camera, but a DSLR will capture those Gaudi buildings so much better! I always recommend the Nikon D3400 for beginners.
- Snacks – if you get hungry easily like me then pack some granola bars.
Círculo de Bellas Artes
At first, I thought we should start at Plaza Mayor, the main city square, but I decided to switch things up. We’re going to start at Circulo de Bellas Artes (Center of Fine Arts), an art exhibition of the entrance to the main street in Madrid, Gran Via. But we’re not going for the art. We’re going for the views.
There is a rooftop bar on the 7th floor of the building called Azotea del Circulo. It provides a panoramic view of the Madrid skyline, an iconic view you’ve probably seen dozens of times (see below.) The drinks are standard, but the ambiance is fantastic. This is a great place to get your ‘I went to Madrid’ photo with the cityscape in the background. After getting your photo, you can lay back and relax on the white cushion sofas to save up some energy for all the walking ahead. Note that you don’t need to order anything at the rooftop, but you do need to pay 4 EUR at the entrance on the first floor for rooftop access. It’s more than worth it.
Address: Calle de Alcalá, 42, 28014 Madrid
Important: You can’t get into the building from the front on Calle de Alcalá. You’ll need to go around to the side of the building on Calle del Marqués de Casa Riera, 2, 28014 Madrid. That’s where the entrance is.
From Circulo de Bellas Artes, you’ll take a stroll down Gran Via, the largest pedestrian street in Madrid. Gran Via is to Madrid what Avenue de Champs Elysee is to Paris. The street is home to designer shops, theatres, fine restaurants, rooftop bars, tourist offices, and more. There is a giant Primark store with two stories as well as Zara, Mango, and other Spanish and international brands. Shopping on Gran Via is surprisingly not that expensive. That said, I wouldn’t eat at any restaurant on the street because it more than likely caters to tourists.
Address: Gran Via, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol, simply referred to as Sol, is one of the main metro stops in Madrid’s center. It literally means ‘gate of the sun’ and is a gateway to many attractions, restaurants, and bars in the city. Sometimes, you’ll encounter demonstrations, speeches, and processions at Puerta del Sol. For instance, during the festival of San Isidro in May, there is a procession of giant bobbleheads called Los Gigantes that starts here. In the Christmas season, the Spanish eating of twelve grapes tradition takes place here.
On the east side of the square, there is a statue of a bear called El Oso y El Madroño. It’s a statue of a bear eating from a strawberry tree and represents the coat of arms of Madrid. When I lived in Madrid, people were always making a big deal about this bear. It’s a rather simple statue, but I guess it has historical significance. Still, I wouldn’t call this a must-see sight.
Address: Puerta del Sol, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Every Spanish city has a main town square, or plaza, normally located at the heart of the city. Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s expansive town square with gorgeous buildings covered in Romanesque artistry. You’ve probably seen Plaza Mayor on a million postcards. It’s a great place to sit, relax, and have a drink. There are also a number of restaurants and souvenir shops in the square, but they tend to be more expensive. I wouldn’t eat at the restaurants within the plaza itself because they’re nothing special. There are tons of really good restaurants on the streets surrounding the plaza, such as El Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world.
Address: Plaza Mayor, 28012, Madrid
Catedral de la Almudena
This cathedral doesn’t get as much love as it deserves – at least compared to other churches in Spain, like La Sagrada Familia. As the seat of the diocese of Madrid, it’s the most important church in the city. The Gothic-style interior is just gorgeous and the cool blue exterior serves as the perfect backdrop for photos.
Address: Calle de Bailén, 10, 28013 Madrid, Spain
El Palacio Real
Spain’s official royal palace isn’t as famous as Versailles or Buckingham Palace, but do not overlook it! With 3418 rooms, it is the largest royal palace in Europe by area. It is larger than Buckingham Palace, which has 775 rooms. Of course, not all the rooms are open to the public, but the palace tour will take you through ornately decorated rooms, collections of crown jewels, and storage of royal armory. You can take a tour of the palace between 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets cost $13 for general admission and $7 for students.
Address: Calle de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid
Malasaña is one of the young, hip neighborhoods of Madrid. Here, you’ll find quirky coffee shops, cool bars, and vintage boutiques. This neighborhood is filled with great photo spots, too. Here are some recommended spots in this neighborhood:
La Bicicleta: This is one of the coolest bars in Madrid, with bicycles hanging in the ceiling. There is a basement with even more eclectic designs. Both hipsters and non-hipsters love the place.
Address: Plaza de San Ildefonso, 9, 28004 Madrid, Spain
Casa Julio: this little bar/restaurant serves the best croquetas in Madrid. Their gourmet croquetas are a must-try when in the city. The first thing I do when I go to Madrid is head to Casa Julio. I’m not kidding about these croquetas!
Address: Calle de la Madera, 37, 28004 Madrid, Spain
Libros para un Mundo Mejor – this bookstore, whose name translates to ‘books for a better world’ is a quirky little place that’s definitely worth a stop Malasaña. First of all, the entrance is just so cute, with a bicycle in front and a yellow wall. Photo spot alert. Then, in the interior, you’ll find shelves of books and a live-in cat. Yes, there is a cat that lives at this bookstore.
Calle de Fuencarral: this is one of the main streets in the neighborhood and exemplifies the hipster vibe. There is a lot of shopping to be done here to, from vintage shops to high street brands.
Mercado de San Anton
The most famous market in Madrid is Mercado de San Miguel, located down the street from Plaza Mayor. While it has a lot to offer, it’s also quite expensive. Mercado de San Anton is a great alternative, not only because it’s less expensive, but also because it isn’t packed to the brim with tourists. It is located at the heart of the Chueca District, which is known as Madrid’s gay district.
Address: Calle Augusto Figueroa 24, 28004 Madrid, Spain
El Museo del Prado
El Prado, Spain’s national art museum, is easily one of the best art museums I’ve ever been to. It has a collection of 7,600 paintings and 1,000 sculptures dating from the 12th to 19th century. The amount of time to budget for your visit depends on your pace, but you should be looking to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour.
Address: Paseo del Prado, s/n, 28014 Madrid
El Museo de la Reina Sofía
La Reina Sofia is located just around the corner from El Prado – less than a 10-minute walk. Pablo Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, is housed here. The iconic canvas, which depicts the bloodiness of the Spanish Civil War, was a pleasant surprise. Although I normally don’t care for abstract art, I was impressed by the sheer size of the painting. Besides that, there is a collection of 100,000 books specializing in art and many works by European artists. La Reina Sofia has four floors, each with a collection of portraits from different eras. I remember the second floor having the most ‘wow!’ pieces, although I couldn’t tell you who the artists were.
Address: Calle de Santa Isabel, 52, 28012 Madrid
La Tabacalera is an underground art exhibit that even some Madrileños (people from Madrid) don’t know about. In the entire year when I lived in Madrid, I never heard of this place. I only found out about it on my visit to Madrid in the summer of 2018. I was completely captivated and wondered how on earth I had never heard of this place!
The exhibit looks like a dingy alleyway when you enter but then blossoms into an art exhibition as you walk down the halls. The building features mainly street art on the walls which diverge to different exhibitions as you walk through the building. Some of them contain political messages while others are whimsical portrays o cartoon characters. Some will make you scratch your head and pause for a bit. There is no art that is too bizarre for this exhibit, a contrast to the curated, post-modern paintings at El Prado. It might not be to everyone’s liking.
La Tabacalera is located in the Lavapies neighborhood, where many African and Middle Eastern immigrants live. It has a reputation for being sketchy. Okay, so here’s the thing: yes, there are some suspicious-looking people lurking around in some corners, but I’ve spent some time living in Lavapies and didn’t encounter any problems. It’s really not that bad. Lavapies is a great area for ‘ethnic’ food, like Senegalese and Turkish.
Address: Calle Embajadores 53, 28012 Madrid, Spain
Parque del Buen Retiro
After all that walking, it’s time for some relaxation. That’s why we’re ending at Retiro, the second largest park in Madrid. The name literally means ‘Park of the Good Retreat,’ a very suitable name. This park is more like a little kingdom – it’s 350 acres of gardens, lakes, sculptures, fountains, and quaint little houses. It’s easy to get lost here. Although I lived next to the park and went there often, I still lose my way. Take a look at my map below to navigate this behemoth of a park.
Address: Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain
Here are the must-see attractions at Retiro Park:
Palacio de Cristal – The crystal place is not only stunning, but it also functions as a museum. There are different displays archeological finds and art throughout the year.
Lago del Retiro – this iconic lake is right in the middle of the park. Its image is what people normally associate with El Retiro. Here, you can rent a boat and go for a ride for about 30 minutes. They allow 1-4 people per boat. It is so much fun!
La Rosaleda – this lovely rose garden has statues and fountains surrounded by 4,000 roses. If you visit in May or June, it’s even more beautiful.
Casita del Pescador – this is a quaint, bright orange house surrounded by a pond. It stands out in a park full of greenery.
Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez – this garden has some very special guests – peacocks! It also has a fountain that attracts tons of birds, a lovely sight.
Travel Resources I Recommend
Tep Wireless Pocket WIFI Device – With portable WiFi, you can say goodbye to ridiculous roaming charges and SIM cards for good. I’ve been using the Tep Wireless Pocket WIFI device, called a Teppy, for a while and love the peace of mind it gives me. The Teppy provides 3G-4G WiFi for at least 6 hours and works in 100+ countries. In my experience, it lasts 9 hours. It also works in a variety of landscapes and terrains. I even filmed a Facebook Live from a boat in the Atlantic Ocean using my Teppy. I can also use Google Maps, request an Uber, call my mom, and do tons of other things I couldn’t do before. A quick tip: turn off the device when you’re not using it so that the battery can last longer. Use code SOMTOSEEKS to get 10% off your order.
Booking.com – Booking.com is my go-to website for booking discounted accommodations around the world. What I love most about Booking.com is the variety of properties you can find, from luxury apartments to treehouses to university housing. It’s hard to beat the insanely low prices. The website also has a flexible cancellation policy, which is great if things come up or you change your mind.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner.com is my go-to website to search for flights. It’s hard to beat the prices! I’ve snagged a $24 direct flight to Milan, a $30 flight to Berlin, a $400 roundtrip ticket to Colombia, and a $500 roundtrip ticket to Japan. I’ve been using Skyscanner since I studied abroad in Spain back in 2012. I check the website along with the Hopper app to determine the best time to buy tickets.
For more travel product recommendations, check out my travel essentials page.
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