Getting off the beaten path may be difficult in a capital city such as Madrid and saving some money means you are better off planning your vacation during winter. But , it’s still possible to get an indie experience in Madrid:
  • Visit El Rastro Flea Market. Every Sunday , rows of clothes, antiques and accessories are displayed and are available for sale. It’s the best place to buy some unique souvenirs. Or just walk in the market and take photos.
  • A picnic in Retiro Park. The park is free to enter and you can take a breath of fresh air after all that sightseeing you’ve been doing.
  • Take a bike tour in city. It’s an active, exciting way to see the city. This type of tour appeals to young, active travelers but there’s absolutely no age restriction. Prices depend on the company, of course. For the free option, put on your walking shoes and see the city.
  • Take a day trip to Segovia. Trains take 2 hours to get there from Madrid and you can spend the day walking on cobblestone streets and visiting the spectacular palace. Toledo is even closer to Madrid and is famous for the city walls.

Why you should add Madrid to your RTW travel list

Of course Madrid wouldn’t be complete without seeing the impressive sights the city is famous for. Here are some ideas on what to do if you’ve never been there or plan on staying for a while:
  • Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid. Entrance is free on Wednesdays for EU citizens and you can check out many rooms open for the public.
  • Shop or do some people watching in Puerta del Sol. It’s one of Madrid’s main public squares and offers an interesting choice for people watching. Or shopping. Or just walking.
  • Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s main square and is a good place to sample some wine. Be careful that the costs really add up.
  • Visit Madrid Cathedral , started in 1883 but completed only in 1993. The neoclassical exterior contrasts with the Gothic interior and the neo-romanesque crypt.
  • For a bird’s eye view of the city, take the Cable Car above the city’s parks. It runs every day from April to September and over the weekends during the rest of the year.
  • See a flamenco dancing show. Eating tapas, enjoying some drinks and watching a flamenco dance is a must when you visit Madrid. Ask the hostel or hotel to recommend a place.
  • Indulge in ham. There are plenty places around town where you can try this incredible food. Ask for various types of ham.
  • For those into art , Prado Museum is a must-visit. It’s the country’s most popular tourist attraction and can be visited for on certain days and at certain hours.

Why you should not add Madrid to your RTW travel list

  • Madrid is a very popular city among travelers, which means you are bound to bump into them pretty much all the time. To avoid the crowds, plan your visit in winter. Good options are also early spring and late fall, but avoid the summer months when most of the Europeans are on vacation.
  • The public transportation is a good option to get around but the costs add up. So , invest in a day card (or choose multiple days options if you stay longer).
  • While English is spoken in major touristy places, it’s best to know at least some common phrases in Spanish.

Overview

Madrid is the largest city in Spain and its capital, but it’s also a great introduction to Spain if you are combining it into a larger tour. It’s relatively friendly and not as overwhelming as some other cities of this size. Madrid is truly one of Europe’s nightlife capitals and the action starts very late. This is easier for the Spanish due to the fact that they still very much observe the siesta rules of shutting nearly everything down for a few hours in the afternoon for a meal and perhaps even a nap. If this is your first stop in Spain it will be a bit shocking, but you can adapt to it as long as you are aware of it in advance.

What To Do

The Prado Museum is one of the finest collections of art in the world. Many classics by Spanish artists are housed here, but there are notable works from masters from throughout Europe. The Reina Sofía National Museum and Art Centre is just across the street and it houses an excellent collection of modern art, including many of the more famous works of Picasso.

The Palacio Real (royal palace) is another sight not to be missed. This enormous structure houses many treasures from throughout Spain’s history and also a separate armory palace that has fascinating displays of medieval weapons and armor. And try your best to stay up late enough to sample the nightlife. The action begins after midnight and lasts until dawn, but things are going on all over town so it’s easy to join in even for first-time visitors.

Madrid, like much of Europe, is mad about football, and about its famous local side Real Madrid. In May 2010, the city will host the Champions League final, so there's no better time for a football fan to make the trip.

Getting There

Madrid is in the center of the country so it’s a major transportation hub, particularly for the trains. But cities in Spain are spread out and the new competition among discount carriers often means that you can fly from places like Barcelona for less than the train fare. You can book a flight into Madrid’s Barajas International Airport from cities nearby and of course also from abroad. The airport is on the subway line so it’s cheap, fast, and easy to get into town from there.

Where To Stay

There are many hostels in Madrid and of course quite a variety of hotels in Madrid in all price ranges. It’s possible to save a bit of money by booking a place out of the center, but especially if you’ll be out late it may be worth it to pay a bit extra for a central location.