Time needed: (approx. 3-4 hours)
Recently I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what to do and see in Madrid, where to go, what to eat, etc. So, instead of retyping or copying and pasting half-assed guides over and over, I’ve decided to design a few posts covering my view on my beloved Madrid that I can refer people to!
The first in my Madrid series will be a DIY walking tour of some of the city’s central sights (and some of my favorites).
There are a few other DIY walking tours online (links below) and even a few free walking tours offered in Madrid, but none of them seemed to cover all of my favorite Madrid sights.
I’m not necessarily a museum person and I usually travel on a pretty strict budget, so if you can relate to those to things, then this tour is for you. If you’re looking for a an in-depth history tour or information about architecture, I’m sorry but you’ve come to the wrong place.
Thankfully, Madrid is a really walkable city, so this tour is completely possible. Everything really is s a lot closer than it may seem. If you didn’t catch it above, depending on your pace and time spent in each place, you should be able to get this done in about 3-4 hours.
Madrid is a city with many things to do, but there are also many things to see that don’t necessarily have to be ‘done.’ What I mean by this is that you can very much enjoy yourself by simply exploring Madrid’s streets and taking in the sights from afar, rather than paying to enter them! One of my favorite things to do in Madrid is just wander around while enjoying the inevitably good weather and seeing where my curiosity will take me.
**When visiting Madrid, don’t let the public transportation system suck you in. As clean and modern as the Madrid metro may seem, walking is a much more enjoyable way to see the city. Don’t get me wrong, the Madrid metro is one of the best I’ve seen and for long distances it is worth it, but using it too much will take away the true charm of exploring this city by foot!
An interactive map of the route can be found below. Click on the markers for more information about the different stops.
Stop 1 & Starting point: Opera Metro Stop
Also known as Plaza Isabel II
*Depending on where you are staying, begin your tour by walking or catching the metro to the Opera metro stop. (line 2-red)
Plaza de Oriente
In order to make your way from Opera to the Royal Palace you will pass through Plaza de Oriente. “In a city that never sleeps where hustle and bustle is an integral part of everyday life, Plaza de Oriente is a haven of peace and tranquillity.” source With 44 past Spanish kings lining this rectangular plaza, it serves as the perfect entrance way to the Palace.
Royal Palace of Madrid- Palacio Royal
The Royal Palace of Madrid is not only the biggest building in Madrid, but also the largest Palace in Western Europe! The inside of the palace is definitely adorned with regal decorations and extravagant details, but personally I prefer to admire it from outside. If you’d like to enter the Palace, there is a basic rate of 10€, with certain reductions and add-ons available.
*Call ahead of time or ask your hotel concierge if the Palace will be open on your chosen day. Although the palace is open year round, it closes for certain holidays and events.
Jardines de Sabantini
To the north of the Royal Palace are the palace gardens known as “Jardines de Sabatini.” They are open to the public and there is no entrance fee. This quite recently completed peaceful garden (1970’s) is set up in a geometrical pattern lined with fountains and statues of past Spanish Kings. It also presents another spectacular view of Madrid’s majestic palace.
Cathedral de la Almudena
This Cathedral is right across from the Royal Palace and when in the area is definitely worth a peak. It is free to enter, although a small donation is requested for maintenance. This cathedral is also the site where the current King and Queen of Spain held their wedding ceremony.
*Depending on whether or not you want to enter the castle spend 1-2 hours in this area
Stop 2: Plaza Mayor
10 minute walk from Cathedral
The stunning Plaza Mayor is a historical pedestrain plaza in the center of Madrid dating back to the late 1500’s. It was constucted during King Phillip III’s reign, so of course, you will find a big regal bronze statue of him smack in the middle of the plaza. Today is it surrounded by residental buildings with over 200 balconies looking over the plaza, tourist shops, retaurants and cafés. Once used to view bullfights and public executions, the plaza is now used for more ‘calm’ events such as Christmas markets and expositions.
There are nine different majestic archways leading to the Plaza Mayor and each of the entries will direct you towards different neighborhoods within the city. Be sure to explore, but be careful not to get lost!
As this area is visited by thousands of tourists a year, everything you will find here is pretty damn expensive. Still, if your wallet is willing to take the hit, take a seat at one of the many terraces and indulge in one of Madrid’s priciest cafés, people watching from afar.
Plaza Mayor, 27
Also in Plaza Mayor you will find a pretty extensive tourist office where you can pick up maps and enquire about different tours, activities and day trips. It is open 365 days a year, from 9.30am to 8.30pm.
Stop 3: Puerta de Sol
5 minute walk from Plaza Mayor
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol or ‘Gate of the Sun’ is the most central point in all of Madrid and where all of the city’s roads stem from. Lined by shops, hotels and restaurants (also on the pricey side), this square not only serves as an obvious tourist destination, but also one of Madrid’s major public transportation hubs. It is always a buzz with locals and tourists alike and has remained an important meeting place among friends. Here you’ll find street vendors and performers as well as a few ‘madrileño’ trademarks which you can read about below!
Calle Mayor, 2
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Madrid’s famous pastry shop, La Mallorquina. This shop has been around since the late 1800’s and, as far as I’m concerned, is a required stop on any trip to Madrid. Sure it’s in the busy tourist center, but it’s affordable and worth the short wait. Depending on the season their selection will vary, but you can never go wrong with one of their notorious Napolitanas. Order a Napolitana de crema (cream) or a Napolitana de chocolate and allow your taste buds to rejoice. Not a sweets person? Go for a Napolitana de jamón y queso (ham and cheese) instead!
Rooftop of Puerta del Sol, 11
Good ol’ Tio Pepe is one of the most recognizable symbols of Madrid. This historical illuminated sign was recently restored and reinstated (close) to its rightful place after 3 years of storage exile. Thanks to 50,000 online signatures collected to petition his safe return, we can once again enjoy his presence among Sol’s skyline.
The sign reads “Tío Pepe, Sol de Andalucía Embotellado” or Andalusia’s sun in a bottle and advertises Gonzalez Byass wine distributors. It depicts a humanlike sherry bottle dressed in a short bullfighter’s jacket and wide brimmed hat balancing a guitar.
El Oso y El Madroño
Another iconic symbol, if not the iconic symbol, of Madrid can be found just to the right of Tío Pepe. El Oso y El Madroño, or the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, is a 20 ton statue of a bear snacking on some fruit for a tree. No one seems to really be sure of the true meaning of this statue, although there are many theories(link). All I know for sure is that this little guy appears on most Madrid postcards, calendars, T-shirts, etc so be sure to snap a picture with this famous little guy!
Kilometer 0 is a little plaque and mile marker where all of Spain’s roads stem from. You can find this little stone marker in the pavement right outside of the Casa de Correos or the House of the Post Office.
Stop 4: Plaza de Cibeles
10-15 minute walk from Sol
Palacio de Cibeles
Plaza Cibeles, 1
Palacio de Cibeles or Cybele Palace is, in my opinion, one of the most magnificent buildings in Madrid. My suggestion is to first admire it from across the plaza, taking in its impressive size and then get up close and personal to appreciate its many details. The palace is also free to enter, if you’d like, and contains several exhibition stations, a library, a restaurant, an auditorium and even a comfortable place to relax and read or study! There is also a terrace on the top floor and observation deck, but you often have to wait in line or make a reservation ahead of time.
Fuente de la Cibeles
The Cybele fountain can be seen right in front of the palace in the middle of the busy roundabout. This dramatic marble design portrays a goddess nobly sitting atop a chariot drawn by a pair of lions. Unfortunately you will not be able to get close to this fountain and will have to settle for marveling at it from afar.
Stop 5 (Last Stop): Puerta de Alcalá & Retiro
5 minute walk from Plaza Cibeles
Plaza de la Independencia
Puerta de Alcalá is one of the five gates that used to give access to the once walled city of Madrid. This neoclassical granite structure sits adjacent to Madrid’s Retiro Park and in the middle of a busy intersection.
Read about this gate in more detail here.
Parque del Buen Retiro
1 minute from Puerta de Alcalá
This park, literally meaning “Park of the Pleasant Retreat,” once hogged by the royal family, is now thankfully open to the public. Found right in the middle of the city, this popular park is home to alluring galleries, extraordinary monuments and sculptures, a tranquil manmade lake, an exquisite crystal palace, intricate gardens and a variety of fountains. Here you can take out a small row boat on the lake, attend one of the many available exhibits, or simply do as the Spanish do and “dar un paseo” (take a stroll).
Walking around the center of Madrid? Check out my “7 Sneaky Pickpockets to Watch Out for” post and learn how to protect yourself in Madrid’s pickpocket breeding ground.
Some of my other Madrid guides:
The Perfect La Latina Sunday– If you happen to find yourself in Madrid on a Sunday, check out my guide to the perfect Madrileño Sunday!
24 hours in Madrid (coming soon)
Malasaña Getting Thrify– Looking to do some unique vintage shopping while in Madrid? This guide’s got it all!
6 Rainy Day Activities in Madrid-If you’re unfortunate enough to catch a rainy day in Madrid, No fear! There are still plenty of things to do!
Other options for DIY Walking tours in Madrid:
- National Geographic
- Two Bad Tourists
- Of course, if you perfer a guided tour, Sandleman’s New Madrid offers a great free tour
Have you ever been to Madrid? If so, which were your favorite attractions?
If you’re heading to Madrid- be sure to check out Devour Madrid Tours! I’m a big fan of exploring a new place through my tastebuds- I mean is there really any better way to get a true feel for a new culture? These local experts will take you off the beaten path to experience the best of Spanish culture and cuisine. I used to intern for them, and could not recommend their tours enough!