Madrid is jam-packed with history, culture and incredible food. Here’s how to discover it all on your own, from historical sites to our favorite bars and bites!
With so much to see and do in Spain’s capital city, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But as you’ll find out, the vast majority of its must-see sites are located smack dab in the center. They’re perfectly walkable from one another—which means a self-guided walking tour of Madrid is the perfect way to get to know this incredible city.
You know what makes a walking tour a whole lot more fun? Food! One quintessential piece of Spanish culture you can’t miss out on is cuisine. And trust us: there’s no shortage of amazing dishes that you have to try here. We’ll share some of our favorites!
10 Stops to Visit on a Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid
This self-guided tour combines the best of both worlds: the iconic, can’t-miss sites, plus the most delicious and emblematic Madrileño dishes and drinks to sample along the way.
Let’s get going!
1. Start with something sugary at La Mallorquina
You’re in for a long day of exploring, and you’ll want to fuel up before you get started. There’s no better place to do this than La Mallorquina (Puerta del Sol, 8), an iconic Madrid institution right in the center of the city.
La Mallorquina has been baking up Madrid’s favorite pastries since 1894. They’re known for their napolitana de chocolate, a to-die-for, flaky, buttery and chocolate-filled pastry that makes for the sweetest and most satisfying breakfast. You can either take your pastry to go, enjoy it at the bar or take it to the upstairs parlor if you’d rather sit down.
Now, let’s go see some sights! Head down Calle Arenal toward the Royal Palace. On the way, you’ll pass by Plaza de Isabel II, where you’ll find the Teatro Real (royal opera house).
2. Plaza del Oriente
This big, beautiful plaza consists of a series of small gardens, with a giant equestrian statue and fountain as the focal point. The statue is of King Philip IV, one of the last Hapsburg kings of Spain who wanted to show off with an elaborate and one-of-a-kind statue.
At the time, a statue of a man on horseback with the horse’s two front legs reared up had never been done before. The sculptor in charge, Pietro Tacca, was so perplexed by the challenge that he wrote to a trusted friend of his, Galileo Galilei, who was on house arrest at the time. He agreed to help—so now we have this statue thanks to Galileo himself!
Continue past the statue toward the palace, turn left and go down Calle Bailén until you come to a large plaza between the palace and the cathedral.
3. The Royal Palace
Madrid’s Palacio Real is the largest still-functioning palace in the Western world, with approximately 2,800 rooms. The King and Queen don’t actually live here, but this is where they host official events and welcome important figures. You can always tell when they’re at the palace, because a red flag will be flying right beside the Spanish flag.
The structure you see today isn’t the original palace. That building mysteriously burned down in 1734, and the one that was rebuilt was modeled after Versailles, as the first Bourbon King to ascend to the Spanish throne had grown up in the famous French palace.
4. Almudena Cathedral
This cathedral, located across from the palace, is dedicated to La Almudena, one of the patron saints of Madrid. While it may seem quite old, it actually wasn’t finished until 1993, after 114 years of construction! Because it took so long to build, it has two totally different styles; the exterior is neoclassical and the interior is Gothic Revival.
Insider’s tip: Backtrack a few steps to the stairs that lead to Calle del Factor. This beautiful little back street provides an incredible panoramic view of the palace, the cathedral and Casa de Campo, the King’s personal hunting grounds turned public park.
5. Plaza de la Villa
This quaint plaza was Madrid’s central city square at the height of the Spanish Empire! Being in this plaza is like stepping back in time. Here you can find the oldest standing building in Madrid, Casa y Torre de los Lujanes, which pays tribute to Spain’s Moorish past.
The building at the back of the plaza was built shortly after Madrid became the capital of Spain in 1561, and the building on the right served as City Hall until 2007! It was built by the Hapsburgs, which explains its Austrian style.
Insider’s tip: Plaza de la Villa is especially beautiful when it’s empty and illuminated at night.
Continue down Calle del Codo, which is called “elbow street” due to its shape.
6. Secret sweets at Convento de las Carboneras
It’s easy to miss this place’s door, but once you find it, you won’t be disappointed! The building housing the Convento de las Carboneras dates back to the early 17th century. The cloistered nuns that live here, like many others in Spain, have a longstanding tradition of baking and selling cookies to the public.
Here’s the twist: since they’re cloistered, you buy the cookies without having any physical contact with them. It’s a very curious and unique experience—you’ll have to visit to see for yourself! Get the pastas de almendra if available; they’re delicious! (Open from 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 – 6:00 p.m.)
Local’s tip: Supplement your self-guided walking tour of Madrid with more off-the-beaten-path hidden gems!
Walk toward Plaza Mayor via Plaza Conde de Barajas. If you’re ready for a drink, stop at La Botijería, a tapas bar that specializes in Spanish wines from small producers. Their tortilla española is amazing. Grab a spot on the terrace!
7. Plaza Mayor
This bustling central plaza was constructed in 1619. It’s seen its fair share of action over the years, as the site of bullfights, operas and markets. During the Spanish Inquisition, 50,000 people used to gather here to watch public trials. Today it’s a touristic focal point; here you can find the Tourism Office as well as a wide variety of souvenir shops and eateries.
While Plaza Mayor is lined with restaurants, we wouldn’t recommend having a meal here. However, there is one thing that can’t be missed: the bocadillo de calamares, or fried squid sandwich. Nearly every bar on the plaza sells them, but our favorite comes from La Campana (Calle de Botoneras, 6), a little hole-in-the-wall on a nearby side street. No tour of Madrid is complete without sampling this specialty!
Heading away from Plaza Mayor, follow Calle de la Bolsa to Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, then on to Plaza de Santa Ana.
8. Plaza de Santa Ana
Plaza de Santa Ana is the gateway to the neighborhood of Huertas, also known as Barrio de Las Letras, or the Literary Quarter. For the last 400 years, Spain’s greatest literary figures and artists have roamed these very streets.
You’ll find quotes from these figures engraved below your feet, streets named in their honor, and the homes of the authors and artists themselves. The most famous resident of Huertas was Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote de la Mancha. He lived in four different apartments in the neighborhood, and is even buried here!
Insider’s tip: Take your time in this area, as it’s full of trendy boutiques, galleries, flamenco shops, cafes and bars. And if you’re looking for local products to take home, try Real Fabrica Española. Our advice is to get lost exploring!
Make your way to Calle de Cervantes, and follow the street to the end until you reach Calle de Jesús.
9. Tapas at Taberna La Dolores
After all that walking, it’s time for a well-deserved caña: a small, expertly poured draft beer. This street is famous for tapas bars like La Dolores (Plaza Jesús, 4), many of which specialize in tostas!
A tosta is a piece of bread with something on top. It’s the ultimate finger food, and perfect to enjoy right at the bar. Take a look at what they’ve got on display, or just ask the bartender for a recommendation! Their boquerones en vinagre, or marinated anchovies, are great as well.
If you want to have an authentic “tapeo” and jump from bar to bar, check out nearby favorites like Cervecería Cervantes (Plaza Jesús, 7) and Los Gatos.
Walk through Huertas and cross Paseo de la Castellana. Next you’ll head to Madrid’s most iconic park, passing by the world-famous Prado Museum on the way.
10. Retiro Park
Last but certainly not least is El Parque del Retiro. This gorgeous, manicured park is the perfect place to sit down and relax after a long day of exploring. Find a spot in the sun, break open those nuns’ cookies and watch the world go by.
While you’re here, be sure to visit La Rosaleda, a beautiful rose garden with over 4,000 roses; Los Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez, a hidden garden in the back end of the park filled with families of peacocks; and of course, the central lake where you can rent a rowboat… or just sit and enjoy a coffee or caña at one of the surrounding cafes.
Want to upgrade your experience by exploring Madrid alongside an expert guide? Join our Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour to discover local secrets and sample more of the city’s best bites!