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Chloe’s Ultimate Travel Guide to Madrid and Toledo

Cover photo showing pictures of a balcony and the plaza mayor in Madrid

Planning a trip to Madrid doesn’t need to be stressful. You can visit Madrid in 1 day or spend a full week there. So, keep reading for things to do in Madrid but, if you have some extra time, consider taking a day trip to Toledo as well. 

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Main language spoken: Spanish (or Castilian Spanish) in addition to languages spoken in autonomous regions (such as Catalan in Catalonia, a region largely associated with Barcelona). 

Currency: the Euro

Voltage and plug adapter: Spain runs on 230V and uses the round pin plugs. Stock up on some adapters handling voltage range between 220 – 240V. (See my post on Essential Items to Pack in your Carry-on for tips on what plug adapters to buy.)  

Major Train Station: Madrid Atocha Railway Station (download the Renfe app to buy train tickets on the go).

Major International Airport: Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport

Getting There 

It’s easy planning a trip to Madrid as there are usually lots of direct flights to Madrid from other major cities. Madrid is also a great central hub for day trips to nearby cities. Catch the high-speed trains from Madrid Atocha railway station to Toledo, or even Segovia, to escape the city for the day. Consider using the Renfe app to easily buy train tickets or the Alsa app to buy bus tickets as another transportation option. 

Best time to visit Madrid

The best time to visit Madrid is around April to May or September to November. The weather is still relatively cool, but warm, and festival season usually starts around April. Planning a trip to Madrid around those months means you’ll see some beautiful, traditional costumes.

Where to Stay 

Hostel Gala

This place has single rooms (though labeled a hostel) and it’s located right in downtown Madrid. It’s in a prime location but (and a big “but”!) beware of staying there during festival season (which is mostly in April but partying seems like the norm every night in Spain). The streets were noisy as heck in the middle of the night when I was there in April 2019. Let’s just say the music didn’t stop until 6 AM. 

Even though I didn’t paint the prettiest picture of the neighbourhood around the hotel, the hotel itself is clean and comfortable and is located in the centre of town with easy access to transportation.

What to See and Do 

Touring the Madrid Cathedral 

The Madrid Cathedral is designed with an interior of a forest of columns similar to the cathedral in downtown Milan. It’s a sacred space inspiring piety and humility. What I love about this cathedral is that it’s a contrast to some of the super baroque churches you’ll find all over Europe. Most of the baroque churches, the moment you walk in, is like an attack on the senses, but the Madrid Cathedral inspires calm and is just as impressive without being too ornate.

interior of the Madrid cathedral
Inside the Madrid cathedral. It’s an impressive cathedral without being overly ornate.

Visit the Plaza Mayor 

The Plaza Mayor is the main square in Madrid filled with shops, porticos, and other architectural gems. Spend a day strolling here and trying out the restaurants. You might even catch a few live bands playing. 

Plaza Mayor in Madrid
Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Lots of charming shops and vendors selling artwork.

Admire the art in the Prado Museum (Museo del Prado)

Original art by Spain’s national treasures (such as Francisco de Goya) is shown in the Prado. There is also a beautiful botanical garden right next to it if you prefer to stroll while your travel companions visit the art museum. 

Relax in the Royal Botanical Gardens 

The Royal Botanical Gardens are right around the corner from the Prado Museum. During the hotter months, you’ll find a wondrous display of real bonsais outdoors. The garden is separated into 3 main tiers each showcasing an impressive collection of flora. There’s also a library filled with stunning botany books for academic and personal research. Don’t forget to stroll through the lovely greenhouses as well for more opportunities to learn about botany research. 

Take a day trip to Toledo 

The Renfe high-speed railway gets you from Madrid to Toledo in under an hour. During the Middle Ages, Toledo was a place where Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities lived together side-by-side. You’ll find impressive cathedrals, synagogues, and mosques all built closely together here. It’s definitely a city you’ll want to visit if you love history and architecture. 

View of the walled city of Toledo.
The walled city of Toledo.

Visit the Cathedral of Toledo

Definitely visit the Cathedral of Toledo. However, you might be a bit cathedraled-out by the time you hit Toledo but this one is spectacular and not to be missed. 

Hike around the walled city and have a little lunch at one of the bar restaurants. Unfortunately I don’t have the name anymore of the restaurant I stumbled upon, but stumbling around and bumping into a good restaurant is a great way to find some unexpected good eats. Regardless of where you end up, try to taste fried bacalao (fried cod), pasta aglio e olio (pasta with garlic and olive oil), croquetas, pan con tomate (bread with tomatoes and garlic), and finish off with some coffee. 

Painted ceiling inside cathedral in Toledo.
Painted ceiling inside the Cathedral of Toledo.

Visit a Toledo Guitar Shop 

I bumbled into a wonderful, almost magical luthier store selling classical
hand-made guitars. I believe the one I visited was Daniel Villamor luthier, Calle del Gral. Martí, 9, 45005 Toledo, Spain. It was a charming little store with classical guitars of all styles hanging on the walls. Even if you don’t play guitar, you can still admire the craftsmanship that goes into creating each one. It’s just another great way to appreciate culture. 

Where to Eat 

Mesón del Champiñón 

Even though they call themselves the house of mushrooms, this joint only had 1 mushroom dish when I visited in 2019. It was a stuffed mushroom dish and absolutely delicious. It’s a charming restaurant located in what looks like a former wine cave of sorts. Come here for some great, traditional tapas, just don’t expect to have lots of mushroom plates if you love mushrooms like I do, but it’s still a tasty and fun restaurant to visit. 

Casa Baranda 

Definitely one of my favourite restaurants in the couple of days I was in Madrid. Order the shrimp drenched in garlic and olive oil and don’t forget to try the lamb kabobs. Blistered Shishito peppers are also a great treat to balance out the protein dishes, and you must taste the rolled crepes stuffed with cream cheese and rolled in toasted brown sugar. Absolutely divine. 

Restaurant Casa Baranda
Casa Baranda restaurant. Famous for great food and its historical significance.

Chocolatería San Ginés 

You are obligated to visit San Ginés if you’re a lover of churros. Do not skip this joint while planning a trip to Madrid! This place serves the BEST churros on the planet. The churros are perfectly deep fried; it’s got a heavenly crisp, chewy, soft texture, perfectly pillowy, and sublime. The churros come with a cup of heavy, thick, dark chocolate to dunk the churros in. It is scrumptious. You risk mighty disappointment if you dare skip this place! 

San Gines chocolate shop.
San Ginés churros restaurant.
Churros with dark chocolate on the side.
The best churros on the planet.

Cafe de la Luz 

C. de la Puebla, 8, Centro, 28004 Madrid, Spain

There are great cafes and bars everywhere in Spain serving fantastic cups of coffee and draught beer. Stroll down any avenue and take a seat at any terrace and order yourself a cup of coffee or a pint anytime. Spain is great for simply grabbing a seat at any restaurant when you need a break from all that walking and need a refreshment to recharge. 

An adorable joint I walked into was the Cafe de la Luz where I had a nice coffee and croissant. It had a vintage decor and a welcoming atmosphere; it was simply a great spot to visit in the morning for breakfast before heading out to explore for the day. 

Planning a trip to Madrid whether it’s for 1 day or a week shouldn’t be stressful or time-consuming. Strolling through the gardens, sipping good coffee, eating some great food are all great things to do in Madrid if you’re short on time.

Spending a bit more time in Spain, however? Check out my guide on how to spend 2 epic days in Granada


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1 Comment

  1. […] Check out some of my other guides to Spain, such as Chloe’s Guide to Planning a Trip to Madrid. […]

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