A local's guide to Madrid, Spain

Local expert and Insight Guides trip planner for Spain Eric shares his knowledge on Madrid, to help you avoid the tourist crowds and see the authentic side of this beautiful capital city
Cathedral Santa Maria la Real de La Almudena in Madrid. Photo: Fotolia
Cathedral Santa Maria la Real de La Almudena in Madrid. Photo: Fotolia

Cathedral Santa Maria la Real de La Almudena in Madrid. Photo: Fotolia

When should we plan our holiday to Madrid and why?

You can visit Madrid all year round. The climate is continental, which means dry and hot in summer and cold in winter. Note that November and March are the wettest months, while August is the warmest.

Where would you recommend we stay?

In one of the Petit Palace Hotels (a modern hotel chain founded in 2001), which usually occupy emblematic buildings situated in the city centre. They are affordable with good value and above all, they suit every type of traveller. Don't miss my suggested itineraries for Insight Guides, which include stops in Madrid, for more hotel suggestions. 

Where is a great place for dinner?

Sala de Despiece on Ponzano Street (within the Chambery district) provides a truly original way to eat. One of the city's uber-trendy restaurants, Sala de Despiece has a cool, contemporary setting with a carnivorous menu. Arrive early: this place is small and fills up quickly.

Is there a ‘must-try’ dish while we’re in this city?

Cocido Madrileño (or Madrid stew) is unmissable. The hearty, warming stew bubbles away in a vast cauldron all day, which creates a flavour-packed dish. First, you have soup with noodles. This is followed by chickpeas, accompanied with potatoes and vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, turnips, and leek. Veal, marrow bones, bacon, serrano, and chorizo are popular additions for a more meaty meal too.

Is there an ‘unmissable’ experience while we’re here?

An architectural tour, as included on my Made in Madrid suggested holiday itinerary, is a must. Madrid is home to a wealth of fascinating buildings and centuries of architectural styles, which you can learn about in the company of a local expert. 

Where is the most romantic spot in Madrid?

A stroll through the Buen Retiro park (the city's biggest since 1868) with its 19th-Century Crystal Palace and pretty peacock's garden will do the trick. 

Crystal Palace (Palacio de cristal) in Retiro Park in Madrid. Photo: FotoliaBuen Retiro Park's Crystal Palace makes for a romantic stop. Photo: Fotolia

Where can we hang out with locals?

Each of Madrid's colourful districts has its own unique atmosphere. Simply choose one to match your mood. Lavapies is the old Jewish quarter, between Anton Martin, la Tabacalera (previously a snuff factory transformed into a cultural centre) and the San Fernando market.

La Latina is known for its colourful narrow alleys, tapas and tavern. While Las Letras, located just a few steps from the sun square, represents the golden century of Spain. It is a meeting place for famous writers, musicians and artists.

Malasaña still lives in the spirit of la movida (the creative cultural movement) with its lively pubs, restaurants, art galleries and shops.

Do you have any additional ‘insider’ tips?

If you can time your trip right, go to the Matadero (a former slaughterhouse converted into a contemporary arts centre) and wander through the engine market (Mercado de Motores). Hosted once a month and situated inside the site's old railway museum, it makes for the perfect place to eat street food, listen to local music, try and buy from the flea stalls, and of course, contemplate the trains.

Madrid is a lively city and famous for its events, festivals and parties. You'll find one for every type of traveller. A few of my favourites include:

MadrEat: a deliciously feisty street food market held on the third weekend of every month; MasQueLibros: a book fair situated in the library of the Buen Retiro park usually during May or June; Suma Flamenca in June, which presents some of the best names in dance and guitar; the electric Festival JazzMad in November; and much, much more...

Ready to create your perfect city break to Madrid with the help of our local expert? 

Browse Insight Guides' suggested itineraries online or submit a trip request now