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Madrid holidays: Have a Madrid city break to remember

Even with its status as Spain's capital city, Madrid may often be overlooked in favour of the country's big beach cities and gorgeous islands. But don't let that stop you - Madrid is full of charm, excellent food and fascinating history, making it an ideal destination for a busy city break.

Whether you're interested in a summertime city break or a group trip that's heavily focused on Madrid's famous nightlife scene, this city has such a wide range of things to do that it's bound to tick all your boxes no matter what sort of trip you're after.

A city that's equally intriguing and vibrant during the daytime and after the sun sets, our guide breaks down everything you need to know to get the most out of your Madrid holiday. From the best time to go to the top areas to stay in and things to do, check out all the inspiration below.

When is the best time to visit Madrid?

Due to its location in the interior, Madrid has distinct seasons, with extremely warm summers and cold winter months. But, as the saying goes, there's no right or wrong time to visit a destination - it all depends on what you'd like to do while you're in Madrid!

A classic city break

For much of the year, namely from May to October, you'll experience warm, comfortable weather in Madrid. This is the ideal time to take in all the sights that Madrid has to offer, and being able to maximise your outdoor time in the city's squares and parks. If you're not too keen on really hot weather, it's best to avoid July and August, which can reach highs of 33°C.

An alternative ski holiday

Admittedly, Madrid may not be the first place that comes to mind when you plan a ski holiday. But there are some lovely slopes near Madrid; Valdesquí and Puerto Navacerrada are top-rated resorts that will satisfy any of your ski or snowboarding desires.

Madrid at a glance

Flight duration (from London): 2.5 hours

Main airport: Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport

Population: 3.3 million

Language: Castilian Spanish

Currency: Euro (€)

Socket type: Type C and F (adapter required)

Time zone: Central European Time (CET); 1 hour ahead of the UK

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Getting to Madrid

A quick flight is the number-one way to get to Madrid from the UK. The flight is short, clocking in at just under 2.5 hours from London direct. If you're looking to keep costs down, a number of low-cost airlines fly from the UK to Madrid, including Ryanair, easyJet and Vueling.

Just keep in mind that Madrid is a popular city break during the summer months and this is when flight prices will be highest. Always try to book in advance for the best early bird deals.

Getting around Madrid

Once you're in Madrid, the Metro is by far the most popular - and the cheapest - way to get around the city. With almost 300 stations, you can use the Metro to get just about anywhere in Madrid. To save even more money, consider getting a 10-journey ticket or - better yet - a Tourist Ticket. The latter can be purchased in increments from one to seven days, allowing you unlimited use of the Metro during that time; you can buy tickets at Metro ticket machines or stations.

Just keep in mind that the Metro only runs until 1:30 AM, which means that you'll have to consider taxis or buses for late-night journeys.

If you, like us, enjoy exploring a new place on foot, you'll be happy to hear that Madrid is an extremely walkable city, with many of the city's main sights clustered together. If this is the way you'd prefer to explore, make sure that you base yourself in a central location. We recommend some of our favourite Madrid areas to stay in below.

The best areas to stay in Madrid

Whether it's your first trip to Madrid or your sixth, this is a large city where you can always discover something new and unexpected. But, as with any big destination, it may feel a bit overwhelming when trying to decide where you should base yourself.

The answer depends on what you'd like to do in Madrid, as well as who you're travelling with - are you exploring as a couple, as part of a group or are you on a family holiday? Read on to find out about our recommendations for where you should stay while in Madrid.

First-time visitors to Madrid

If it's your very first time in Madrid - or if you want a city break that's packed with sightseeing - we have one recommendation for you: stay central! Madrid's Centro area consists of the streets that radiate from Plaza Mayor, the city's most iconic square, but also the area around Puerta del Sol reaching up towards Gran Via, Madrid's main shopping street.

Staying central ensures that you're within walking distance to Madrid's main sights, including its squares, the Royal Palace of Madrid, the botanic garden and several museums. You'll also be ideally situated near key Metro stations, which gives you access to the rest of the city and its many sights.

Those staying in Madrid's city centre have a wide range of accommodation types to choose from, such as hostels and apartments to budget-friendly, mid-range and luxury hotels. The only thing to note: book in advance, especially during summer, for the best prices and availability!

Where families should stay in Madrid

The same rule applies as first-time visitors; if you've never been to Madrid before, it's a good idea to stay central, even for families. But if the central area is a bit too lively and noisy for you, then Retiro is a highly rated area for families.

A quieter, leafy neighbourhood, these are the streets that surround El Retiro Park, the city's massive green lung that's famous for its gardens and boating lake. You'll still be able to find eateries and attractions here, just on a smaller scale compared to the city centre.

For something a little different

If the main focus of your trip is slightly different, then you may be drawn to other areas of the Spanish capital. Malasaña is an up-and-coming area, often referred to as a hipster haunt, while Chueca is the place to be for nightlife and LGBTQIA+ venues. For excellent food and markets, you won't find anywhere better than La Latina.

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Madrid nightlife

For Spaniards, a night out starts much later than for us. It's practically unheard of to arrive at the club before 11pm during the week. On the weekend, the parties only really start at midnight. Find out more about Madrid's unique nightlife scene below.

A night out in Madrid

A true Madrileño starts their night out in a tapas bar. One of our favourites is La Mancha en Madrid, which has a large selection of small snacks and a memorable atmosphere.

By 11pm, it's time to leave the tapas bars and make your way towards the clubs. One of the most recommended clubs is Pacha, a club that specialises in mainly heavy techno music and is popular with locals. If you want to mingle with Madrid's high society, Palacio de Gaviria is a great choice. Another good club is Gabana, where you can occasionally rub shoulders with celebrities.

No matter where you end up, expect the party to continue until the early morning hours. And when the sun comes up? Do as the locals do and show up at Chocolatéria San Ginés between 6 and 7 in the morning. Pick up a serving of chocolate con churros, which is a hot dipping chocolate served with famous cinnamon-sugar Spanish pastries. After that, it's time to get your beauty sleep to prepare for another night out in Madrid.

Flamenco venues in Madrid

With its origins in Andalusia, you may be surprised to hear that Madrid has become known as the capital of flamenco. Some of the most famous flamenco dancers come to perform in Madrid and, if you're going to be in the city, it would be a shame to miss out on this unique dance style and nightlife experience. While many one-off performances take place in theatres and concert halls, there are venues that host regular flamenco performances in Madrid.

Torres Bermejas is a top choice. Founded in 1960, this venue has hosted the Queen of Spain and many other esteemed guests. The show is, as expected, very polished, where the performance and meal are included in your ticket; tickets are reasonably priced from 50 Euros upwards, dependent on your meal choice.

Other highly rated flamenco venues include the centrally located Casa Patas, which also houses a prestigious flamenco school, and Café de Chinitas, which boasts stunning Andalusian-inspired decor and architecture.

Things to do in Madrid

Grand palaces, world-class museums, the oldest restaurant in the world, the capital of flamenco... Madrid is known for all of these and much more. And perhaps this is exactly why so many visitors end up loving Madrid; there's just so much to do in this special city, much of which is completely unique to Madrid too!

Although this list could be far more extensive, here are some of our favourite things to do in Madrid.

  1. Marvel at the opulence of Madrid's Royal Palace

  2. Have a feast at Mercado de San Miguel

  3. Hop on a boat at El Retiro Park

  4. Go on a tour at Santiago Bernabéu stadium, home of Real Madrid

  5. Spend the day at family-friendly Casa de Campo

  6. See world-famous art at the Prado Museum

  7. Eat churros from Chocolatéria San Ginés

  8. Experience a completely different sight at Templo de Debod

  9. Delve into Madrid's history at the National Archaeological Museum

  10. Indulge in a shopping spree along Gran Via

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Top dishes to try in Madrid

Tapas restaurants are everywhere in Madrid, and it would be a shame to not try as many as humanly possible! Some of our favourites include gambas al ajillo, patatas bravas, croquetas (of which there'll be many varieties) and jamón ibérico. Olives and Spanish cheeses such as cabrales, tetilla or manchego should not be missed. For a filling snack between meals, try the ever-popular and thick egg-and-potato tortillas.

Madrid is also a top spot for seafood; make sure you sample fish-based dishes or anything with octopus or calamari. Other fish-related classics include paella and hearty fish stews.

If you have a sweet tooth, churros shouldn't be missed; these crunchy long doughnuts are served with a helping of molten chocolate for dipping. Other delicious sweet treats are barquillos, bartolillos, pestiños and - a favourite in winter - chocolate a la taza.