So, you’re looking for a walking tour of Madrid, to see and explore the best the Spanish capital has to offer by foot? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
I’ve lived, on-and-off, in Madrid for the past 5 years and recently moved back to call this city home. Fun fact: I even have Madrid’s latitude and longitude coordinates tattooed on my side! 😬Needless to say, I kind of love this place.
Anyway, I’ve decided to create a series of posts as a comprehensive Madrid Guide, including my suggestions for what to do and see in Madrid, where to go, what to eat, etc. This way I can share exactly what it is about this city that keeps me coming back!
This post outlines a DIY self-guided and free walking tour of some of the Madrid’s central sights and is the perfect way to get to know the city as a first-time visitor. There are a few other DIY walking tours of Madrid online (you can find the links below) and even a few free guided walking tours offered here in Madrid, but none of them seemed to cover all of my favorite Madrid sights, so I designed my own.
Who is this walking tour of Madrid for?
I’m a very independent traveler. I like to see and do things on my terms, at my speed. I’m also not a huge museum person or someone that likes to wait in long lines to enter exhibits or touristy attractions and I usually travel on a pretty strict budget. So, if you can relate to those to things, then this walking tour is for you.
If you’re looking for something more, like a an in-depth history tour or detailed information about Madrid’s architecture, then one of the guided tours below may be more your speed.
How long will this walking tour take?
The time you’ll need to complete this walking tour of Madrid is around 3-4 hours. That is without stops and following the map closely.
I’d budget half a day, and take your time. Also, don’t be afraid to wander off my set path a bit and stop for a coffee or snack along the way. 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 here is just wander around while taking in the inevitably good weather and seeing where my curiosity leads me.
**When visiting Madrid, don’t let the public transportation system suck you in. As clean, modern, and affordable as the Madrid metro is, walking is a much better way to get to know the city. Don’t get me wrong, the metro here is one of the best I’ve seen and for long distances it is more worth it, but using it too much will take away the true charm of exploring this city by foot!
An interactive map of my walking tour of Madrid:
Thankfully, Madrid is a very walkable city. Everything is s a lot closer than it may seem when looking at a map. I created this interactive map of the walking tour route that you can bring along with you. You can also click on the markers for more information about the different stops along the way.
Stop 1 & walking tour starting point: Opera Metro Stop
Also known as Plaza Isabel II
*Depending on where you are staying, begin your walking tour of Madrid by walking to or catching the metro to the Opera metro stop. The Opera stop is on Metro 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.
The 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.
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 budget around 1-2 hours in this area
Stop 2: Plaza Mayor
A 10 minute walk from Cathedral
Location: Plaza Mayor, 28012 Madrid
The stunning Plaza Mayor is a historical pedestrian plaza in the center of Madrid dating back to the late 1500’s. It was constructed 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 residential buildings with over 200 balconies looking over the plaza, tourist shops, restaurants 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
A 5 minute walk from Plaza Mayor
What you’ll see and do here: Explore the “Sun Gate” plaza, taste a treat from La Mallorquina, and see some of Madrid’s infamous landmarks: Tío Pepe, “El Oso y El Madroño,” and KM 0.
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!
Location: 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!
Location: 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 minutes walking from Puerta del Sol
Palacio de Cibeles
Location: Plaza Cibeles, 1
Palacio de Cibeles or Cybele Palace is, in my opinion, one of the most magnificent buildings in Madrid. It’s a must on any walking tour of 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 minutes walking from Plaza Cibeles
Puerta de Alcalá
Location: 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.
This is where your self-guided walking tour of Madrid ends, so take your time in Retiro. You can rent and take out a small row boat on the lake, attend one of the many available art exhibits on show, or simply do as the Spanish do and “dar un paseo” (take a stroll). I like to take a towel or blanket along with me to Retiro, and pick up some snacks along the way. Then simply sit, people watch and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
If you’re going to be walking around the center of Madrid, make sure to check out my “7 Sneaky Pickpockets to Watch Out for” post and learn how to be smart and protect your stuff in Madrid’s pickpocket breeding ground.
Visiting or moving to Madrid? Be sure to check out my other guides!
Some of my most popular Madrid posts:
One Day in Madrid– How to get the best out of Madrid with only 24 hours.
Instagram Worthy Spots in Madrid– Where to capture Madrid’s beauty through photography.
Madrid’s Best Brunch Spots– My favorite spots for brunch and breakfast in Madrid.
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!
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 of Madrid:
If you prefer a guided tour, Sandleman’s New Madrid offers a great tip-based, 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!
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