On our first visits to Madrid, Spain, we were on quick, 24-hour layovers. Both times, we dashed through the city to see the sights of Madrid as quickly as we could. Our Madrid sightseeing was done haphazardly – and it was more of a sprint than a Madrid Walking Tour.
However, when we returned to the city for a longer stay with friends, we were anxious to show them the best sights in Madrid. We compiled a list of the top Madrid landmarks, grabbed a Madrid tourist map and designed a Walking Tour Madrid Route that provided the perfect introduction to the city.
To help other travelers navigate their way to the top Madrid sights, we are sharing our Madrid tour for free!
Our Self-Guided Free Walking Tour Madrid
Our self-guided, free walking tour of Madrid is perfect for travelers who are limited on time (or funds!) and like to explore at their own pace.
Budget travelers, independent travelers and those simply short on time can use our outlined self-guided walk as a free tour Madrid. We’ve outlined 10 sights to see in Madrid – including plazas, churches, markets and museums – in the form of a Madrid Self-Guided Walking Tour. For step-by-step directions, use our Walking Tour Madrid Map and provided link to Google Maps directions.
We include the top sights in Madrid on our walk; for each sight, we include information about the point of interest, a link to Google Maps so that you can easily find your way and other pertinent details of the attraction.
To better use this guide as a Madrid Trip Planner, we have included a Madrid Walking Map at the end of the post, as well as additional Madrid sightseeing advice and tips.
1 Day in Madrid Sightseeing
Our walking tour of Madrid Old Town is 4.5km (less than 3 miles) in length and can be completed in about 1 hour. However, visitors can plan a full day of sightseeing in Madrid, Spain by entering the top attractions highlighted in our walk. The top sights in Madrid to visit (which are on our route) are the San Miguel Mercado, Almudena Cathedral, Royal Palace and Prado Museum. We include more information about visiting these sights in our walking tour.
On our most recent trip, we had 2 days in Madrid to see the city and sights. Visitors who have one day in Madrid – or one week in Madrid! – can use our walk for the best place to start city exploration.
Madrid Tour: What You Will Need
Before you set off on your Madrid walk, make sure you are prepared!
Madrid is a walkable city, but only with the right shoes! For our Self-Guided Madrid Walking Tour, we recommend wearing comfortable city walking shoes. I like these by Columbia – and Kris wears Merrell shoes for city walks.
Madrid is a beautiful city! Rather than using your camera phone to capture the sights, we recommend upgrading to a real camera. We use a DSLR Canon Rebel, which is a great starter camera (and, even better, it comes in a complete kit!).
Summers in the city are sunny and warm. Bring sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat on your walking tour of Madrid. We also recommend carrying a refillable water bottle; this collapsible water bottle is perfect for travelers!
WiFi Connection (or Paper Tourist Map of Madrid)
To be able to follow our Free Walking Tour Madrid (and the walking directions provided in the Google Maps link), you will need an internet connection. We travel with a GlocalMe Mobile WiFi Hotspot. It allows us to connect up to five devices at one time (which makes it ideal for families or groups traveling together) and it doubles as a portable charger. However, what we love about GlocalMe is that we can purchase data plans online or use a SIM card…so we can be connected from the moment we touch down!
Visitors traveling without WiFi can print our Map of Madrid Tourist Attractions and Walking Route. However, for a more detailed map, we recommend purchasing a Map of Madrid City Center – like this one! – in advance of your trip.
Walking Tour Madrid
Ready to start your Madrid Free Walking Tour? Lace up your shoes and let’s go! Begin touring Madrid at the lively Puerta del Sol. Use this link to Google Maps for Walking Directions.
#1: Puerta del Sol
MAP. Start your city tour Madrid in the bustling Puerta del Sol, a hub of activity in the city center. Marking the 0 km point for six roads in Spain, the square is home to Madrid’s iconic clock tower – which is the centerpoint of the city’s New Year celebrations. The name of the square, Puerta del Sol, translates to ‘Gate of the Sun’ – as city gates featuring the sun used to stand on the site.
The square is a busy one: business men rush through, tired tourists rest and street performers – everything from people dressed up as Disney characters to Egyptian living statues – work for tips. It’s quite the spectacle.
#2 Plaza Mayor
MAP. The second stop while city sightseeing Madrid is Plaza Mayor, a vibrant square, which is enclosed by a three-story building featuring picturesque iron gated balconies (237 of them!). The perimeter is lined with cafes, each with outdoor seating (and inflated prices – although, they are still difficult to pass by!).
Street performers roam the square finding a variety of ways to entertain the very international crowds. In the winter, Plaza Mayor is occupied by a Christmas market with decorations dangling overhead.
#3: Mercado de San Miguel.
MAP. Stop #3 on the free walking tour Madrid is the modern, upscale marketplace, Mercado de San Miguel. Featuring fresh produce, meat and fish and tasty prepared delicacies, the market is busy throughout the day.
Spend time squeezing your way through the crowds to peer into the cases of fine cheeses, divinely crafted desserts and beautifully displayed fruit. If something is too mouthwatering-good to pass by (like the goat cheese and sauteed onion creations at the tapas stall), stay for a bite before continuing your Madrid tour.
Pro Tip: For a real taste of Madrid, consider joining a culinary tour that explores the best gastronomy of the city – and includes a stop at Mercado de San Miguel.
#4: Town Hall: Casa de la Villa
MAP. Continue your self-guided walking tour of Madrid to the Plaza de la Villa. The quaint square features the 17th century Town Hall building, which takes up an entire side of the square and is fronted by a pretty, fenced garden.
#5: Almudena Cathedral
MAP. Next up on your Madrid city walk is the massive, but relatively modern, Almudena Cathedral. More impressive than the size is that it took 100 years to build – and was only just completed in 1993. The Madrid Cathedral was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. The large church is topped with a dome that measures 65-feet across.
Pro Tip: The cathedral is open to visitors, but requires a small entry fee (6 euros).
#6: Royal Palace and Sabatini Gardens
MAP. Sitting next door to the cathedral is the grand Royal Palace , which is the next stop on our Walking Tour Madrid. The Royal Palace, which seems to go on forever, is one of the top Madrid landmarks. It is the largest palace in Europe with 2,800 rooms and almost 1.5 million square feet. The palace is open to visitors (for a fee).
The Sabatini Gardens on located on the north side of the palace and are open to the public (for free!). The meticulous gardens are an easy escape from the sightseeing trail. The gravel walkways, laid out in a grid, pass by fountains and provide stellar views of the Royal Palace.
Pro Tip: If you want to visit the palace and are trying to see Madrid in a day, be aware that there are often long lines to get inside. Be sure to purchase Skip-the-Line tickets in advance.
#7 Plaza de Oriente
MAP. Stop #7, Plaza de Oriente, is just across the street from the palace. The square was designed in 1844 and is lined with statues, trees, shrubs and a fountain in the center. Plaza de Oriente is a great place for relaxing, people-watching and taking a quick break from walking around Madrid.
#8: Gran Via
MAP. All Madrid walks should include the city’s most famous street, Gran Via, which is why we included it on our Madrid Self-Guided Walking Tour! Walking along the wide Gran Via just feels classy. The street is known for its early 1900s architecture and boasts many upscale shops – but it is also referred to as Spanish Broadway for its exciting Madrid nightlife.
#9: The Prado Museum and Retiro Park
MAP. The next stop is one of the best museums in Madrid: The Prado. Founded in 1819, the Prado Museum features a grand collection of renowned artwork – most notable is Las Meninas by Velazquez. Many consider the Prado to be one of the greatest art museums in the world.
There is an admission fee to enter the museum (we recommend purchasing a Skip-the-Line ticket!). However, some of the money-saving city sightseeing cards – like the iVenture Card – include entry into the Prado. Visitors short on time who want to see the museum highlights can join a Prado Museum tour. Pro Tip: The Prado has free entry from 6-8pm Monday-Saturday and from 5-7pm on Sundays and holidays.
Behind the museum is Retiro Park – one of the best parks in Madrid! The 300-acre park was originally designated for royalty, but has been open to the public since the 18th century. The grand Retiro Park features a variety of gardens, paths, ponds and statues. In addition to the impressive statue-lined walkway and the Great Pond, it is lovely to just spend time wandering the paths (and well worth a detour from our Madrid city tour!).
#10: Plaza de Santa Ana
MAP. The final stop on our walking Madrid tour is Plaza de Santa Ana – a square that quickly became our favorite square in Madrid. The Santa Ana Plaze is home to the 17th century Teatro Espanol, the oldest theater in Madrid. Yet the cafe-lined square has a quaint, neighborhood feel to it. In the winter, a large illuminated Christmas tree cast a blue, wintry hue over the square at night.
This completes our Walking Tour of Madrid! Now, give your feet a rest and enjoy a glass of local wine at one of the cafes on the plaza.
Madrid City Tour Map & Walking Directions
Use our Map of Madrid City Center to route your way to the attractions highlighted in our Walking Tour. This link to Google Maps can be used for step-by-step Walking Directions. Pro Tip: Our Walking Tour Madrid Attractions Map Route can be printed; click on the image to enlarge it, right-click outside of the image and select Print.
Interactive Madrid Walking Tour Map
This interactive Tourist Map Madrid features the highlights of each attraction listed in our walking tour. Simply click on any of the markers to expand the side bar for more information.
Our Top Tips for Your Trip To Madrid
Now that you know what sights to see in Madrid, we have a few more tips for your trip!
Madrid Guided Tours
While we enjoyed sightseeing Madrid on our own, there are many guided tours in Madrid that can help lead the way! Consider one of these highly-rated guided tours for your trip to Madrid:
- Small-group Madrid Tour and skip-the-line Palace entry – Book now!
- Retiro Park and skip-the-line Prado entry – Book now!
- Private tours for the Best of Madrid (Book here) and Secrets of Madrid (Book here!)
- Book a Guided Madrid Free Tour (tips expected) with New Europe Tours.
As an alternative to seeing the city on foot, visitors to catch a ride on a Madrid sightseeing bus, like the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, or explore the city on two wheels on a Segway Tour or a popular Bike Tour.
Money-Saving Sightseeing Cards
Some of the sights on our Madrid Self-Guided Walking Tour require an entry ticket. To save money, consider purchasing an iVenture Card that includes entry to top sights and attractions in Madrid, as well as other discounts.
Madrid Sightseeing Tips
There are many options when it comes to visiting Madrid – as there is so much to see and do in the city! In addition to the sights, there is Flamenco dancing, tapas tastings and soccer matches. Visitors can also get off the beaten path and navigate through the city south to Parque Rio Madrid Arganzuela, a riverside park of paths, bridges and cafes.
Planning a Madrid Itinerary
With sights located within easy walking distance, tourists can see a lot with just 1 day in Madrid. That said, we don’t think one day in Madrid is enough! We recommend spending at least two days in Madrid.
We have outlined the top things to do in Madrid in 2 days in our One Week Spain Itinerary. If you are wondering what to do in Madrid for 3 days, we suggest taking a day trip from Madrid (see options below!).
Madrid Day Trips and Multi-Day Tours
Multi-Day Tours from Madrid include top Spanish cities (Barcelona, Seville and Cordoba to name a few!). Intrepid Travel offers several tours from Madrid, including an 8-day Spain Highlights Tour and 15-day Best of Spain Tour.
Already have travel plans to Barcelona? Use our detailed 3-Day Barcelona Itinerary to plan your time in the city!
Where To Stay in Madrid
During our visit to Madrid, we stayed in an Airbnb Apartment. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) We have found that staying in apartments is often less expensive than hotel rooms – with the added benefit of a kitchen and, usually, more space.
Madrid Hotels & Hostels
However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Madrid hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Take a look at these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip: Only YOU Boutique Hotel, Gran Melia Palacio de los Duques, Catalonia Las Cortes.
Getting To Madrid
Madrid can be reached by plane, train, bus or car. We have arrived by flight to the Madrid Airport – as well as by train to the Atocha Train Station. Madrid is well-connected by a public transportation system that includes the Metro, Rail and Buses, but the city is also extremely walkable.
Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!) and when we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner.
To get from city to city when flights are not possible, we usually rely on public transportation and take trains or buses. In Europe, we use Eurail to find train tickets and our preferred bus company is FlixBus – as it is economical, clean and comfortable with on-board wifi and usually a toilet, too. We aren’t keen on driving abroad, but renting a car can often save time and money (especially when traveling with more than two people) – and it allows for greater discovery.
We think travel insurance is essential! It can come in handy during flight delays or in the unfortunate event of lost luggage. However, it can be imperative if travelers fall ill or get injured abroad. If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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We want to know: What are your favorite Madrid sights? Is there anything you would add to our Self-Guided Free Madrid Walking Tour? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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