The city of Madrid can be a bit overwhelming at first. Not only is it huge, but with all of the history and architecture and corners to explore, it can be difficult to know just where to start. That’s why we’re giving you this cheat sheet. Strap on a comfy pair of walking shoes and follow this simple trail, and you’ll get a good introduction to the city without having to get on a tour bus — and with a few tastes along the way.
Start at the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) on Calle Bailén in the western section of downtown Madrid. Stroll around the impressive grounds of the Plaza de Oriente, where you’ll find a series of statues dedicated to the monarchs of Spain, carved between 1750 and 1753. They were originally meant to decorate the top of the Palacio Real but were thought to be too heavy and were therefore left in the park — much to the delight of the local pigeons. You can purchase a ticket to see the opulent interior for EUR 8 for general admission or EUR 10 if you’d like a guided tour. They also offer free visits to citizens of the European Union and Latin America, with proof of nationality, residence, or work permit, on Mondays through Thursdays from 3pm to 6pm (October to March) and 6pm to 8pm (April to September).
At the intersection of Calle Bailen and Calle Mayor, opposite the palace, you will find the Almudena Cathedral, the main church of the Archdioceses of Madrid. Entrance to the spectacular church is free, but there is a charge if you want to enter the museum. The unusual colourful painted ceiling alone makes it well worth wandering through.
After all that walking, time to start sampling some of the culinary treasures of Madrid! Continue up Calle Mayor taking in some of the sights along the way. In a few blocks you will find a place to indulge in a local favourite treat: churros and chocolate. Churros are a a fried doughnut-like, tube-shaped pastry. They are served with a steaming cup of hot chocolate that is thick enough to coat your churro, yet just thin enough to sip. A favourite place to grab one is at the Chocolateria San Ginés on Pasadizo San Ginés across from the Plaza Mayor.
After finishing your snack, cross the street and continue down Calle Mayor passing by the Museo del Jamón — literally, the “Museum of Ham.” It’s actually not a museum at all but a shop specialising in all things pork. A bit touristy but worth poking your head in and getting a sample.
Stroll on a little further and you will come to Puerta del Sol. It’s typically packed with people at all times of the day, but is worth a visit in order to get your must-have souvenir picture from Madrid.
Cross the street into the square and you will find the bear and madras tree bronze statue on the right — the symbol of Madrid. Snap a picture in front of the statue and cross it off your list of things to do.
From here, cross the street and head back down Calle Mayor until you reach Plaza Mayor. This Plaza, built in 1617, was once the major hub of activity in Madrid, where you could find almost anything from food markets to bull fights, royal coronations to public executions. Now the plaza is full of activities of a different sort: street performers, coin collectors, and seasonal markets.
Exit Plaza Mayor to the east corner and you will encounter, on the left, the oldest restaurant in the world, as dubbed by Guinness World Records: Restaurante Botín has been open and operating since 1725. (Pssst, they serve a really good sangria.)
You’re nearing the end of your loop, which means time for more tapas! Back track up Calle Cuchilleros and you will soon encounter the Mercado de San Miguel. Within this boisterous market you can find samples of many traditional foods, including paella, the Spanish tortilla (similar to quiche), wines, and gulas. Gulas are the Spanish version of “krab,” a stand-in for the expensive local delicacy, baby eel.
After peering at all the food stalls and making your choice, scan the busy market for a seat and settle in for some prime people-watching. Enjoy the view and rest your feet — you are done!
Need more help exploring Madrid? Let us show you local life on a Madrid city tour!