Everything to Know About Madrid
Here's how to plan the best possible trip to this easy-to-love European capital.
Madrid is an unpretentious, outgoing city with miles of parks, plazas, and restaurant patios conducive to Madrileños’ favorite pastime, lingering outdoors. No two neighborhoods are alike: Bearded-and-bunned trendsters flock to bohemian Malasaña and multicultural Lavapiés, while yuppies and well-heeled families gravitate toward posh Salamanca and stately Barrio de Las Letras. The historic center (Centro) is an international melting pot of tourists and locals of all ages.
When to Go
The city’s continental climate (think sweltering summers and bone-chilling winters) makes shoulder season the best time to visit. Spring is high season, thanks to Semana Santa (Holy Week) and spring breakers, and fall is nearly as popular, thanks to Madrid’s dry weather and long, temperate days. Try to avoid visiting in August—many shops and restaurants close for vacation.
Madrid’s most popular verbena (traditional street party), La Paloma, takes place in the La Latina neighborhood in mid-August; music blares, boozy limonadas are poured, and hot churros abound. Summer also ushers in the raucous Gay Pride festivities—some of the best in the world—and a number of famous music festivals, including Dcode and Mad Cool.
What to Eat
Madrid, despite being landlocked, is known for its pristine seafood. Feast on delicacies like razor clams brushed with garlic oil, briny steamed percebes (goose barnacles), and paprika-dusted octopus. To sample old-school Castilian cuisine, tuck into a cocido madrileño, a soul-satisfying stew of braised meats and chickpeas, or mix and match tapas like patatas bravas, “angry” potatoes blanketed with red pepper sauce; callos a la madrileña, tripe stewed with sofrito; and ibérico ham and bechamel croquetas.
Souvenir to Take Home
The handmade espadrilles from Antigua Casa Crespo, a creaky shop founded in 1863, are surprisingly affordable and come in a variety of colors and styles. Those with a sweet tooth should make a beeline for Confitería Rialto, a bakery specializing in chocolate-dipped almond-toffee wafers called moscovitas. (They keep for a week or two, but they won’t last that long.)
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Sustainable Travel Tip
Vacation rental services like Airbnb are driving up rents across the city and forcing lifelong residents of certain neighborhoods to move elsewhere. It’s best to stay in a (preferably independently owned) hotel such as The Hat, Tótem, or Gran Hotel Inglés.
Cerro del Tío Pío, known colloquially as “Park of the Seven Tits” for its succession of rounded hills, is far enough from the center to be blissfully off the tourist track. Grab a hunk of manchego, a bottle of Rioja, and a fresh baguette and enjoy a sunset picnic with the backdrop of the Madrid skyline and snow-capped Guadarrama Mountains.