Madrid – the capital of Spain, known for its beautiful architecture that steals you heart away and … but you are not here for that, right? If you decide to visit Madrid, you’ll hear guides babbling about historical events and the architectural details every minute anyway.
If a stranger came to ask me what I think about Madrid, I would probably shrug and give them some generic answers: “Beautiful streets, delicious food, the refreshing vibes you get while drinking a beer on a hot summer day”. But here, at Travelhog, you and us are no strangers to each other. So, between friends, I’ll let you in on a little secret: “It was much better than Barcelona, but still not my cup of tea“.
They said Madrid was built on water, but there is no way you can see that nowadays – and that’s something I instantly noticed and wasn’t a big fan of, so to speak.
Budapest has the Danube river, Rome has Tiber, Bucharest has the Dâmbovița river, Dublin has River Liffey, and the list can go on with so may examples it would take me days to finish it. Even the former capital of Spain – Toledo – is built around the Tagus River.
And the lack of a river brings me to the second thing I didn’t like: The heat. Don’t get me wrong – if you visit Spain in the summer like we did, the heat will be something you’ll have to put up with in any city, at any given time of the day or night. I am pretty sure that, at 4 a.m. in the morning, the weather is just perfect for visiting, but I am not sure everything is open at that time!
Why is the heat is even more unbearable than in other Spanish cities? Not being a coastal city and having no major river along or in the city, makes the climate very hot and dry. And for autumn-lovers like me who enjoy rain and cloudy weather, that can be hell.
But enough with the negativity, let’s find out about the best things you can do to cool yourself in Madrid (or at least make yourself look cool in front of your friends!):
1. Lose Yourself in Atocha Railway Station
One of the most beautiful railway stations I’ve ever seen!
Madrid Atocha Railway Station is an oasis of green trees, lazy turtles, and jungle vibes. And it awaits to energize you if that heat becomes too unbearable for you!
Like any railway station, there’s no entry fee, and if you feel hungry you can enjoy a selection of several small cafes and restaurants where you can nibble on something.
2. The Temple of Debod
The heat and the dry air can make you think that you are somewhere in the Middle East. Funny enough, if you want to feel like Cleopatra or King Ramses, you can even find an Egyptian Temple in Madrid!
There’s no entry fee, but don’t forget that the inside of the temple is closed to visitors. But this doesn’t mean you can’t admire its beauty with a cool drink in your hand, and let your imagination run wild.
- Tue-Sun: 10:00am-8:00pm
- Mondays: Closed
3. Palacio de Cristal del Retiro (The Glass Palace)
You can find this romantic glass palace in the Retiro Park. Built in 1887 as a greenhouse, this place has been the spot where many art exhibitions took place.
You can visit it for free and, after that, roam around the lake and admire the black swans or the little water jet that imitates the one from Geneva.
- October: 10:00am – 9:00pm
- November-March: 10:00am – 6:00 pm
- April-September: 10:00am – 10:00pm
4. Prado Museum
One of the most important art galleries in Madrid, this place is full of paintings, over 700 sculptures – everything from the Italian, Spanish, and Flemish schools. So, if you want to take a deep cultural breath, this is surely the right place for you.
The entrance fee is only €15. But since Madrid was the last city on our itinerary, we decided to spend the money a little “wiser”. So, with the “we are budget travelers” excuse in mind, we visited this place only from the outside.
If you are interested to see the inside too, don’t forget that the opening hours are:
- Monday – Saturday: 10:00am – 8:00pm
- Sunday and Public Holidays: 10:00am – 7:00pm
5. The National Library
There is nothing better on a hot summer day than tucking yourself away between old books and chilly walls.
Maybe I am not one of the best visitors when it comes to art, since I am not really passionate about paintings, but I must tell you I know my way when it comes to visiting libraries – they are so comfy and quiet, and surprisingly empty!
Library Opening Hours:
- Monday to Friday: From 9:00am to 9:00pm.
- Saturday: From 9:00am to 2:00pm.
Entrance Fee: Gratis (that means “without charge” in Spanish).
6. Cool Yourself with Gazpacho And Vermouth
If there were a Nobel Prize for the best thought-out foods in the world, Gazpacho would be among the first nominees! This delicious soup is perfect for literally anyone – from vegans to vegetarians and meat-lovers – and it is served COLD on those hot Spanish days!
Add to this tapas and a glass or two of cold and refreshing Vermouth, and you are ready to start exploring the streets again!
7. Visit the Gay Heart of the City
If you want to see a more colorful and vibrant part of this city, maybe you should visit Chueca – the Gay Quarter of Madrid. Here, even if the weather is bad or the sun isn’t up yet, you can still see rainbows on people’s balconies!
8. Take a picture of El Oso y el Madroño (the Bear and the Strawberry Tree)
The Bear and the Strawberry Tree is the coat of arms of Madrid.
Placed in La Puerta del Sol, the most central square, this symbol represents something that you cannot find in Madrid: Bears and strawberries. So why is this the coat of arms of Madrid?
The bears used to be quite frequent in the forest around Madrid a long, long time ago. So they decided it to put it on their flag. Or was it because, during the Roman period, the name given to Madrid was Ursalia? You choose what sounds better to you!
But what about the Strawberry Tree? Contrary to its name, the tree doesn’t produce strawberries. Though, the tree’s red berries do look very similar to them.
As for the origin story, a long time ago, when Alfonso VIII was the king, there was a dispute between the city council and the church: Both claimed the fields in the area. But the king decided that the animals should belong to the church, and the fields and trees to the city council. Happy with this idea and the economical growth, the city immediately put a tree on their crest.
9. Indulge Yourself in Some Chocolate Con Churros at San Ginés
One of the most recommended things to eat in Madrid. I must admit that their chocolate, combined with the churros, makes for an extremely delicious treat. If I didn’t have to keep an eye on my calories, I would have definitely returned here every morning to start my day off just right!
The price for one dish of Chocolate Con Churros is only €4. And since I already told you we didn’t visit the Prado Museum, that means we saved €30, and that lead to almost 8 extra portions of Churros Con Chocolate!
10. The Royal Palace of Madrid
If you are really interested in seeing this, you better buy the tickets online in advance, since the lines are very long when you show up at the Royal Palace of Madrid.
When we visited Madrid, it was July and the temperatures reached 42°C. Standing in line meant spending a lot of time in the sun.
And since we don’t have a high heat tolerance, waiting to see the inside of the palace was just out of the question. But the interior is grande and spacious, and I think you should really give it a try – especially if you can plan your visit in the morning!
- Winter hours (October to March): From 10:00am to 5:00pm.
- Summer hours (April to September): From 10:00am to 8:00pm.
Entrance fee: 10 €, but check their official website (where you can buy your tickets) for discount prices!
11. Walk along the Gran Vía
When I first heard about the Gran Via, it was in Hemingway’s book “The Sun Also Rises”. As a little fan of his books, I knew it was just a matter of time until I got to explore the Gran Via myself.
The buildings here are impressively tall, and if you are lucky to find a seat at a roof-top restaurant, you will definitely have a magical night!
12. Eat at the Oldest Restaurant in the World
If eating at the oldest restaurant in the world is on your bucket list, then you should give Sobrino de Botín a try, and indulge in their specialty: The suckling pig.
Personally, I didn’t enjoy the food as much as I expected: I couldn’t taste any special flavor or condiment that would make me recommend this dish out loud. The meat was boiled and plain, without anything noteworthy.
Since the prices are a little bit higher than your usual little bodegas, this experience felt more like a tourist trap. Still, that’s just our opinion, and you might actually enjoy the experience. Who knows, maybe their other dishes are quite delicious.
13. Go Outside the City
If you are staying for more than 2 days in Madrid, you can book one of those day trips that are usually promoted at any hostel/hotel.
You can go and visit Toledo, the former capital of Spain, and be amazed about the differences between this place and Madrid. It feels like visiting a much older place that’s chock-full of history and religion.
Next, you can visit Segovia, and see the super famous towering Roman aqueduct and the Segovia Fortress ( Alcázar de Segovia), which is said to be the source of inspiration for the Disney Castle.
Another thing you can visit would the beautiful city of Salamanca, with it’s gorgeous Plaza Mayor square.
As you can see, the options are plentiful, and you can always choose to visit more than 1 city in an well-organized day trip. If you want something special, you can add a little bit of a romantic touch, and book one of those tours that offer a lunch with a view or wine tasting.
So, take advantage of your free time and venture outside the city, roam on other streets, and discover new great places!
All in all, Madrid can offer you a lot of interesting things to do on your holiday! A little bit quieter than Barcelona (although that doesn’t say much), Madrid should be on everyone’s bucket list!
If you are in love with the summer heat, and you generally cannot wait for sunny days to show up, then it would probably be a perfect destination for you! Just keep in mind that the summers here tend to reach 42°.
I already said at the beginning of the article that these kinds of cities aren’t my cup of tea. In my article about the best things you should do in Barcelona, I mentioned how my negative attitude towards modernist architecture has slightly changed the very moment I stepped into Gaudi’s masterpiece – the Sagrada Familia.
The same thing happened to me in Madrid. No matter how much I disliked the heat or some aspects of this city, there was something that drew my attention every second. And it made me stop at every corner: The Balconies of Madrid! They were absolutely mesmerizing, beautiful, came in all the sizes and shapes you can imagine, and… but this isn’t the time for this. I am going to tell you more about this in a future little story dedicated especially to the balconies of Madrid!
Is there anything that mesmerized you about Madrid or did you find a spot that made your heart skip a beat? Tell me your little crazy stories in the comments section below, and I will make a compilation of the best ones!