6 Things to Know Before Traveling to Madrid

This blog post was originally posted on August 12, 2016 and was updated on March 17, 2017.

Like all great cities, Madrid has its secrets. But with a little help, you’ll be able to unlock the mysteries of this vibrant metropolis!

From unraveling the intricacies of the siesta to finding the best tapas in town, let us help! Read on for our list of things to know before traveling to Madrid.

Just outside the Prado, a beautiful staircase and church. No visit to Madrid is complete without a trip to the Prado. Buying tickets online is one of our tips for what to know before traveling to Madrid

Photo credit: Son of Groucho

1. The siesta is real

When we talk about the siesta, we’re not just talking about a little nap after lunch. The siesta also affects when businesses open and close. One of the things to know before traveling to Madrid is that many shops aren’t open between 2:00 pm and 5:00 pm. Madrid is changing, but many businesses still operate on the traditional timetable when family-run establishments closed down while the workers ate a long lunch and then relaxed a bit at home.

Offices of all sorts also close down between these hours as well. When in Madrid, make sure to get everything you need in the morning or in the afternoon after businesses open up again. Larger shops and supermarkets, especially in the city center, typically stay open all day. Things are changing but be aware of closing times to avoid unnecessary delays!

Insider’s tip: Beyond the siesta, there are other opening-hour quirks in Madrid. Banks are typically only open from 9:00 am–2:00 pm and smaller shops close Saturday around 2:00 pm and re-open on Monday morning.

2. The olives with your drink are free!

In Madrid, when you order a drink, you’ll usually get a little bite to eat. Typically this can be olives, potato chips, nuts or even a piece or cheese or a slice of cured meat! The tapa, or snack that comes with your drink, is a Madrid tradition. If you want to eat something more substantial, you can order raciones which are shared plates of hot or cold food. Think platters of cured ham or aged Spanish cheese, crispy rings of breaded calamari, sliced tomatoes dressed with olive oil and sea salt and much, much more!

A bowl of olives is the perfect complement to a glass of wine or been and in Madrid, the olives are on the house! The fact that olives come with your drink is one of the things to know before traveling to Madrid.
A little bowl of olives and a nice glass of Spanish wine—what could be better?

3. Buy tickets for the Prado Museum online

No trip to Madrid is complete without a visit to the Prado museum! The great works of Velazquez, Goya, Bosch and more make for an unforgettable art experience. But one of the things to know before traveling to Madrid is that purchasing tickets in advance will keep you from having to wait in a long line to get in! The museum’s website is easy to use and you’ll glide past the lines for easy entrance.

Insider’s tip: To avoid art fatigue, grab a map at the information desk and make a plan of what you’d like to see. The collection is so massive that it can feel a bit overwhelming. Some of our favorites are Goya’s Black Paintings, Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and, for foodies, there are spectacular still lifes bursting with fruit, vegetables, meat and period serving pieces!

It’s easy to wander the Prado for hours without seeing everything you want to. Make the most of your time by joining us on our Behind-the-Scenes Botin Lunch & Prado Museum Tour. You’ll skip the line at the Prado and our art expert will lead you on a guided tour of 20 of the museum’s most important works. After an aperitif at a century-old tavern, we’ll sit down for a leisurely three-course meal where you’ll enjoy the house specialty at the oldest restaurant in the world.

The outside of the Prado museum in Madrid. Buying tickets online before your visit is one of our things you should know before traveling to Madrid.
With a little planning you’ll be able to breeze into the best art experience in Madrid!

4. Lunch is late and dinner is later

In Madrid, a city that seems to never sleep, lunch typically starts around 2:00 pm and dinner can start as late as 11:00 pm. One of the things to know before traveling to Madrid is that restaurants usually open for lunch around 1:30 pm and close around 4:00 pm. Then dinner service starts at about 8:00 pm and kitchens close at about 11:30 pm.  If you’re feeling peckish between lunch and dinner, you can always grab a late afternoon snack. You can get a merienda, the Spanish word for a sweet afternoon bite, at bakeries and cafés all over the city. These places typically serve food throughout the day. If you’re not up for churros and chocolate first thing in the morning, merienda is the perfect time to try this sweet Madrid treat!

5. Paella is a dish best served for lunch

Speaking of lunch… While Valencia is the city most famous for paella, we have fantastic places for this iconic rice dish in Madrid. But one of the things to know before traveling to Madrid is that paella is served for lunch rather than dinner. If you’re looking for the perfect place to indulge in this Spanish classic, take a look at our list of great places for paella in Madrid and enjoy an unforgettable lunch!

Paella may be of Valencian origin, but if you're looking for gourmet gifts in Madrid, there are plenty of places to get amazing rice and saffron - this bright bowl of tasty seafood paella is in your future! One of the things to know before traveling to Madrid is that paella is a food for lunch, not dinner.
Rice dreams come true at some of our favorite places for paella in Madrid. Just make sure it’s for lunch!

6. The city center is extremely walkable

Put on your walking shoes and hit the streets! Most of the historic sights in Madrid are easy to explore on foot and are close enough together that you can make a day out of strolling between them. Try visiting the Plaza Mayor, Royal Palace, Plaza del Oriente, Puerta del Sol, Plaza de la Villa, and Mercado San Miguel and then wander through the historic La Latina neighborhood. Another great route is to visit the Prado Museum, walk along the Paseo del Prado, stroll through Retiro Park and check out the Puerta de Alcalá. For dinner, embrace tapas culture by walking from bar to bar until you’ve had all the delicious Spanish food and wine that you can handle!

One of the things to know before traveling to Madrid is how to eat like a local! We show you how on our food tours.
To eat tapas like a local, go from bar to bar and try the specialty at each one!

For a historic walking tour of the city center, join us on our Tapas, Taverns & History Tour. We’ll show you some of our favorite places and give your tons of tips for how to do tapas like a local. You’ll eat a delicious dinner of Madrid’s best foods while learning about the history of the city and getting to know the people who make the eateries of Madrid run!

As the daughter of a barbecue master and a pseudo-vegetarian, Amy’s culinary obsessions run deep. She spent time in Galicia before settling down in Madrid, where you’ll usually find her browsing the bottles of a local bodega or ogling the produce at the weekend farmer’s market.

33 Comment

  1. Lynn says
    May 12, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    I was in Madrid last month and kinda wish I’d read these tips earlier! I definitely did partake in the siesta tradition, though. [Mainly in Buen Retiro park.]

    Reply
    1. Katie Stearns says
      May 16, 2017 at 5:53 pm

      Now you know for next time! 🙂

      Reply
  2. eiliyah says
    July 3, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Thanks so much ! Really glad you love Madrid ! It’s an incredible city to visit isn’t it!

    Reply
  3. Sally Susan Smith says
    August 7, 2017 at 3:46 am

    Going in 3 months. These tips are invaluable!

    Reply
  4. Charles says
    August 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Lovely city.

    Reply
  5. Charles says
    August 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Lovely city.

    Reply
    1. Devour Madrid says
      September 22, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      Isn’t it?? We couldn’t have picked a better home city!

      Reply
  6. Roberto Leal says
    May 23, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    Going to Madrid in addition to other areas Spain. Thanks for the tips. Were all excited to visit Spain for the first time.

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      May 28, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      Awesome, Roberto, so happy to hear it! You’re going to love Spain 🙂 We have blogs for 6 other Spanish cities too, so take a look!

      Reply
  7. Luis Schmidt says
    June 15, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    We’ll arrive tomorrow noon, thanks for your advices.

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      June 16, 2018 at 3:15 pm

      Wonderful! We hope you love Madrid as much as we do!

      Reply
  8. Madrid says
    June 18, 2018 at 8:16 am

    The siesta is not rea!!! . Still, small shops may be closed from 2 to 5. Enjoy the night as well.

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      June 18, 2018 at 11:26 am

      Big name stores/grocery stores stay open but small shops do close, which is good for people to know 🙂 Here in our Madrid office we often find ourselves wanting to pick up a loaf of bread from Moega at 3 pm.. and then we remember that they’re closed until 5!

      Reply
      1. Susana Metka says
        September 26, 2018 at 7:47 am

        That’s right! But it doesn’t mean that we are all at home “durmiendo la siesta”.
        For a small business doesn’t make sense to remain open from 2 to 5pm. Most people go shopping from 5 until 8pm, that is why they close, not to sleep siesta…

        Reply
        1. Katie Stearns says
          September 26, 2018 at 1:50 pm

          Very true—while not everyone goes home to actually sleep, it’s still good to know that many small shops close during those hours. There’s nothing worse than going somewhere you expect to be open, only to find it closed!

          Reply
  9. Jana PM says
    June 30, 2018 at 6:14 am

    I’m from Madrid and 1. The Siesta is real for babies and toddlers. we’re usually working at that time except weekends for sure. And almost all the the shops are open between 2 to 5 at least in downtown.
    Paella is for lunch because is a heavy food. But if you’re in Madrid have to eat Cocido Madrileño.

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      July 2, 2018 at 10:52 am

      Thanks for your comment, Jana! Like it says in the post, when we say siesta, we aren’t talking about a nap, we’re talking about smaller shops being closed 🙂 We live and work in Madrid, too, and we’re definitely in our office until 6 pm—even on Fridays in the summer!! Absolutely agree with you about cocido—you can find it in our typical foods to eat in Madrid post: http://madridfoodtour.com/typical-foods-in-madrid/

      Reply
  10. Eve says
    July 8, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    I traveling to Madrid in Sept. 10 years after my last trip. This time I’ll be traveling with my husband and my 3 YO son. Do you allow kids in the Tapas, Tavern and History tour?

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      July 9, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      Hey Eve! We’ll send you an email! Hope to see you soon 🙂

      Reply
      1. Los Ramirez says
        July 18, 2018 at 12:25 am

        Hi Devour, we’re on our way to Spain now. We have a 10 and 4 year old. Can you send us into for them in Madrid? He loves dinner and we’re visiting the stadium. Any secret tours were could look into? ¡Gracias!

        Reply
        1. Devour Tours says
          July 18, 2018 at 7:37 am

          ¡Bienvenidos! Here’s a starter for visiting Madrid with kids: http://madridfoodtour.com/madrid-for-kids/. We’ll send you an email with more! Kids love our Madrid for Kids Tour and our Huertas Neighborhood Food & Market Tour!

          Reply
  11. Mirasol says
    August 3, 2018 at 6:03 am

    We travel to Madrid, on agost, thanks for this tips.

    Reply
    1. Katie Stearns says
      August 6, 2018 at 1:29 pm

      You are so welcome! Enjoy Madrid!

      Reply
  12. Miriam says
    August 4, 2018 at 5:47 pm

    We are leaving in two Day we are from age [email protected] could somebody gave us so information we are from jersey

    Reply
    1. Katie Stearns says
      August 6, 2018 at 1:31 pm

      Hi Miriam! Thanks so much for reading our blog. If you’ve got any specific questions or feedback, we’d be happy to help!

      Reply
  13. Ron Wynne says
    August 20, 2018 at 12:24 am

    Love the feature….certainly lots to do in Madrid….we’re so looking forward to our trip next week….I was wondering is there antiques market or district in Madrid we could visit on a particular day?

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      August 20, 2018 at 6:50 pm

      There sure is! The Rastro on Sundays in the La Latina neighborhood is Madrid’s antiques heaven: http://madridfoodtour.com/el-rastro-tips/.

      Reply
  14. Bic Thai says
    September 16, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    Hi ,

    My husband and I will be heading to Spain end of September for our honeymoon . We landing at Barcelona first and be heading to Madrid SEP 29th. He a vegetarian so any tip of which places to go for tapas and meals that vegetarian friendly !?

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      September 17, 2018 at 6:42 pm

      Absolutely! Here you are: https://madridfoodtour.com/complete-vegan-and-vegetarian-guide-to-madrid/

      Reply
  15. Beatriz says
    September 17, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    I disagree about the first point. I recommend you to look for more information about that.

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      September 18, 2018 at 6:04 pm

      Hi Beatriz! Thanks for your comment! Like it says in the post, some small shops close between 2-5 pm.

      Reply
  16. October 3, 2018 at 9:44 pm

    Leaving for Spain November 1st…staying at the ayre gran colon…..arriving at 12 pm….can you tell us what is close to buy groceries

    Reply
    1. Devour Tours says
      October 9, 2018 at 12:17 pm

      Hi Sandi! Looks like your closest grocery store will be this one: https://goo.gl/maps/kD6Szdcx4sk. For a local neighborhood market, you’ve got the Mercado La Estrella and Mercado de Ibiza nearby.

      Reply

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