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Madrid is Spain’s largest city and the country’s capital. Naturally, Madrid draws plenty of tourists every year. At the same time, when researching Spain as a travel destination, you’ll come across so many diverse regions to explore, as well as a variety of cities and small towns. This is awesome but problematic too.
Without a doubt, in a country as varied as Spain, it’s difficult to figure out which places to dedicate one’s time and money to, especially if you fall into 99% of the population and have limited vacation time and money.
Spain is destination that a person could visit a million times and still not see everything. I feel your pain. Whenever I plan a trip to Spain, I immediately feel overwhelmed by possibilities.
So it’s understandable that a person might ask themselves “is Madrid worth visiting?”
Never fear! I’m here to help you!
Is Madrid Worth Visiting? Mostly Yes
Yes, to me, Madrid is worth visiting. Why? Well, I absolutely love Madrid’s energy and vibe (I’m a city gal at heart), and unsurprisingly, I highly recommend it. You don’t even have to leave Madrid if you want the simplicity of staying at just one hotel on your trip to Spain.
You’ll find plenty to see and do to keep you occupied on a trip here. I even wrote a 5 Day Madrid Itinerary to describe how to manage multiple days in this bustling and rich city.
However, I also acknowledge that depending on your trip goals that Madrid might not exactly fit. Like I said, it’s a big city and not immediately what people think of when they envision a vacation in sunny and beachy Spain.
The Pros of Visiting Madrid
Let’s talk about the positives first. Honestly, I think any trip to Madrid is awesome, but I wanted to highlight here what exactly makes this city so special for visitors.
Best Art Museums in All of Spain
Madrid has some incredible art museums. Seriously, if you’re obsessed with art, then a trip to Madrid will be perfect for you. Madrid’s collections are expansive and vary wildly.
Probably the most famous museum is the Prado. If you want to see Spanish masters, such as Goya, El Greco, and Velazquez, then you need to go to the Prado. You don’t be disappointed, I promise.
Keep in mind, though, that the Prado’s collection is huge. You could easily spend three hours or more exploring this museum. To optimize your time, perhaps join a small group art tour where you’re able to skip the line and learn about the Prado’s masterpieces.
In addition, Madrid is also home to The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the latter housing Guernica, which is one of Pablo Picasso’s best known works. These art museums have smaller collections than the Prado, but are no less magnificent, in my humble opinion.
Last but not least, although it’s not specifically an art museum, I truly enjoyed visiting The Cerralbo Museum. This luxurious museum displays the art and historical object collections of Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, who was the Marquis of Cerralbo. You’ll feel as if you’ve been transported into a different time and place on a visit here, and the museum can be done in much less time.
Truthfully. I think Madrid’s art museums are second to none, and the main reason you ought to visit the Spanish capital.
Easy Access from North America
Are you flying to Spain from North America? Then you’re in luck, because Madrid-Barajas Airport is one of the largest airports in all of Europe and has flight routes all over the world. Madrid is so much easier for international travelers than cities such as Seville or Valenica, simply because of the airport’s size.
Even if you don’t want to spend a week in Madrid, this city is a good starting and ending point for a longer trip around Madrid, especially if you want to avoid the hassle of connecting to other flights within Spain itself.
Madrid flight connections are a traveler’s dream come true.
English (Relatively) Widely Spoken
In Spain, English isn’t as widely spoken as other European countries. Knowing some Spanish is very helpful. In Madrid, however, especially in the tourist sector, more people speak English than other cities.
Now I’m not saying to never speak Spanish. Learning a couple of words shows respect for the culture and country. However, at the same time, you’re more likely to find fluent English speakers in a major city such as Madrid.
As a result, Madrid is a good first stop for visiting Spain, because you’ll “get your feet wet” (so to speak) before heading off to other parts of the country.
Excellent Day Trips
Thinking about leaving Madrid but don’t want to unpack your stuff and go to another city? Not a problem! Madrid is close to several fascinating and wonderful day trips. Seriously, you could plan an entire trip around Madrid just because of day trips.
There are so many historically significant regions and towns a stone’s throw away from the city. For example, I talk about a couple day trips from Madrid on this blog, but there are even more options available if you do additional research.
My favorite day trips from Madrid include historically rich smaller cities such as Toledo and Segovia.
If you don’t want the stress of navigating public transit, plenty of locally run tours depart Madrid daily to the most popular cities. For example, this full day tour to Toledo allows you to visit this UNESCO city and see all the most important sites without the hassle.
Additionally other tours bundle destinations together in a an easier “package,” like this full day tour that combines Avila and Segovia.
Madrid’s many day trips will open your eyes to more regions of Spain. Absolutely well worth it.
Lots of Other Travelers
I personally loved solo travel in Madrid because it was so easy to meet other people. I never felt truly alone in Madrid, even though I was technically by myself in a huge city.
For example, on my first solo trip in Madrid, I actually had to work to carve out time for myself, because I met so many different people at my hostel and on walking tours.
Connecting with other travelers makes our trips overseas even more meaningful. Even if you’re not staying at a hostel, Madrid has plenty of great tapas bars and cocktail bars where you can easily strike up conversations with other people (if you want to).
Plenty of Public Transportation
Madrid’s very walkable, but if you need public transportation, you’ll have zero problems. Madrid’s extensive metro station is not only connected to the airport, but a lot of the lines will take you very close to all of the most popular tourist destinations.
You can even purchase a batch of 10 rides at the ticket machine, so you’re not buying new tickets every single time you need to board a metro train. The metro is also very frequent. I don’t think I’ve ever waited longer than perhaps five minutes to catch the next train.
In my experience, the metro is safe and clean, and I always felt comfortable, even as a solo female traveler. So that’s a plus too.
Strong Tourist Infrastructure
I love Madrid’s tourism infrastructure. Since Madrid draws so many visitors from all over the globe, you’ll find a seemingly endless amount of walking tours, pub crawls, Flamenco show packages, art tours, and so much more. Even if you have a niche interest, Madrid probably has at least one tour about it. For example, I took a unique Spanish Inquisition walking tour led by a history student, and each stop was fascinating and heartbreaking.
You can really specialize your visit here, and transform your itinerary into an experience that’s unique to you.
Plus, all the hotels and hostels have plenty of maps, and suggestions for restaurants and shows. You won’t go wrong asking for their help.
Wonderful Food and Cocktail Scene
Last but not least, Madrid has several fantastic restaurants and bars for travelers seeking a true culinary experience. Furthermore, since Madrid is a big city, you’ll be able to find plenty of food within your price range.
I personally suggest starting at Mercado de San Miguel, which is one of the most famous markets in all of Madrid. Is it crowded and sometimes overwhelming here? Yes, but you’re bound to taste a bunch of delicious Spanish treats. This magical market opened its doors in 1916 and is still a favorite today.
Additionally, if you’re interested in trendy dining, then you ought to explore Malasaña and Chueca.
Last but not least, are you a solo traveler who is nervous about dining alone? Never fear! Madrid has some wonderful tapas and wine tours that you’re able to join and make new connections over delicious treats. Win/win if you ask me.
All in all, Madrid is worth visiting for its vibrant food scene.
The Cons of Visiting Madrid
Whew, now that we got through all the best reasons to visit Madrid, we need to move onto the cons of going to this city. I want to be as honest in this guide as possible. To reiterate, while I love Madrid, I understand it may not be for everyone.
Big International City
I love big cities. Love them. But they’re not everyone’s favorite.
Madrid is a huge international city, meaning you’ll see all the big chains, such as Starbucks and McDonald’s, and you might feel as if you’re exploring a city in your hometown, especially if you’re staying in the outskirts rather than the center.
Don’t come to Madrid if you’d rather spend lots of time in smaller cities or villages. You’ll feel cold towards it.
Hot in the Summer and Cold in the Winter
Madrid’s weather isn’t always perfect. In summer, July is the hottest month with baking dry temperatures sweeping the city. Many of the locals head to coastal regions in summer, because the concrete in the city and lack of ocean breeze makes the heat unbearable. You’ll also want to keep in mind that air conditioning isn’t as strong or prevalent in Europe as the United States, which makes the hot temperatures even worse for some tourists.
Furthermore, in winter, Madrid is quite cold. You’ll have to pack a coat and boots, and on occasion, Madrid even gets snow in the winter months. Yup. Snow in Spain. Who would’ve guessed?
If you’re asking yourself, “is Madrid worth visiting?”, then I would definitely recommend coming in the spring. For example, April in Madrid had endless sun and comfortable temperatures. Perfect.
More Expensive Compared to Other Parts of Spain
Madrid is the capital city which means capital city prices. I spent far more in Madrid than Seville or Granada. You’ll need to realize that accommodation, tickets, and food are all going to cost more money in this city.
So, if you’re on a strict budget for your Spain travels, then you need to exercise additional caution in Madrid, so you don’t overdraw your bank account. As you might guess, I think Madrid is worth the higher cost, but at the end of the day, only you’re able to make that decision.
No Beaches in Madrid
Alas, you won’t fine any lounge chairs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Madrid. Not a chance. You’d even be better off in Barcelona.
So, if you want a beach vacation in Spain, then you’ll need to skip Madrid, because … well, the capital isn’t remotely located near the coast. Anyone craving sun and sand should opt for San Sebastian or Malaga rather than busy Madrid.
The lake in El Retiro Park is lovely, though, and you’re more than welcome to bring towels for sunbathing.
Signs of Poverty
First of all, I understand that homelessness and poverty are problems in every big city. This isn’t a Madrid specific issue. Not even close.
However, I also think that *some* American tourists romanticize Europe to such an unrealistic extent that they’re surprised that homeless people exist in the cities here. And, with the rising costs of housing, I don’t expect the problem to improve anywhere soon.
In particular, homelessness is noticeable in tourist areas (re: areas that have money). Walking along Gran Via and near Atocha Train Station, you will see people sleeping on mattresses and begging for money.
So, if you don’t live in a large city, this poverty will mentally impact you. I always try to view the homeless population with compassion, but nonetheless, it would be naive to say that seeing human suffering won’t leave a negative mark on you. Just something to be aware of.
Important Madrid Travel Tips
Last but not least, I wanted to include a couple of basic travel tips for Madrid in case you decided that a visit here is worth your time and money.
What to Bring in Madrid
- EU Plug Converter: In Spain, you will need an EU plug converter, so make sure to bring one if you’re visiting from North America, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.
- Madrid Guidebook: As you can see, Madrid is a huge city with plenty to see and do on a visit here. Bring a Madrid guidebook for the latest information on attractions, restaurants, day trips, and more!
- Pacsafe Day Bag: I wouldn’t worry too much about pickpockets in Madrid, but I also understand the desire for additional security. Pacsafe makes wonderful backpacks and crossbody bags with antitheft protection to ease your mind.
- Portable Phone Charger: You don’t want your phone to die on your adventures around Madrid! So you’ll want to pack a portable charger to keep your devices powered and ready to go.
- Spanish Language Guide: Madrid may have more English speakers than other cities in Spain, but it’s still smart to learn a few words of Spanish. Take a Spanish phrasebook for additional help.
- Sturdy Walking Shoes: You’ll definitely clock some steps in Madrid. Not all sidewalks are even either. Sure, the cobblestones are cute, but will wreak havoc on your feet if you’re not careful. I would bring sturdy walking shoes for your sightseeing.
- Travel Insurance: You don’t want to visit Madrid without travel insurance. If you’re delayed or sick, then you want to have recourse and protection. I use World Nomads for my trips, and haven’t had any issues. Their policies are comprehensive and reasonable.
Where to Stay in Madrid
Madrid has plenty of wonderful hotels and hostels. You won’t run out of places to stay, that’s for sure!
For this post, I’ve listed a hostel, budget hotel, and boutique hotel to give you some ideas for accommodation.
- Casual del Teatro Madrid: This highly rated budget-minded hotel has a cool theater vibe with all the perks. See prices on Booking.com | Expedia.com | TripAdvisor.com
- Only YOU Boutique Hotel Madrid: I love boutique hotels because of their unique designs and settings. This hotel is set inside a beautifully restored palace from the 19th century. See prices on Booking.com | Expedia.com | TripAdvisor.com
- Sungate One Hostel: This casual and fun hostel is located only 7 minutes from Plaza Mayor. You will make tons of friends here. The other travelers and staff are all looking to connect with other people. See prices on Booking.com | Expedia.com | TripAdvisor.com
I hope this guide helped you figure out if Madrid is worth visiting. Regardless of your decision, I hope you have an absolutely magical trip to Spain. It’s truly one of my favorite places in the entire world.