Emily in Madrid: An Insider's Guide
Viator's team of travel insiders is obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere we travel (and live). From traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, we scour the options and find the coolest activities—which is fun for us, and helpful for you! See below for tips, insights, and hand-selected things to do from one of our travel experts.
**The Traveler:**Emily Kellner, Marketing Copywriter
Describe your time in Madrid.
I lived there for two years and worked as an English teacher, blogger, and translator.
What are three things a first-time visitor can't miss?
1. The art.
Madrid boasts three major museums that make up the so-called Art Triangle: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you only have time for one, I'd pick The Prado, the largest of the three and an impressive tribute to Spanish art through the ages. The city also has many smaller collections worth visiting, but don't make the same mistake I once did: Museo del Jamón is a restaurant chain, not a ham museum.
2. The food.
Eating and drinking are central to Spanish culture, and for good reason: the cuisine is delicious. My favorite of the many food markets is the Chueca district's Mercado de San Antón, which combines fresh produce stalls and food court-style tapas vendors with a trendy sit-down restaurant and a popular rooftop bar. Beyond the markets, you'll definitely want to eat lots of tapas, and I strongly recommend booking a tour so you can find the best spots and easily navigate Spanish bar culture.
3. The history.
Whenever a friend visited me in Madrid, I sent them on a walking tour while I was at work. Every time, they came back gushing about the city's amazing history, from 400-year-old Plaza Mayor to the sprawling Royal Palace. Whether you explore by bus, Segway, or on foot, you'll definitely appreciate the sites more with insights from a guide.
What is the best day trip destination from Madrid?
Madrid is a unique mix of old and new, but if you want a little more of the old, visit Toledo. In less than an hour, you can be transported from the capital to the winding cobblestone streets of medieval Toledo. The city is a well-preserved peek into Spain's multicultural past, complete with a 12th-century synagogue, a Gothic cathedral, and a fortress with 10th-century Moorish roots. You could easily spend a whole day there (be sure to try the famous marzipan!), or combine it with nearby destinations such as Segovia, El Escorial, and Valley of the Fallen.
What's the best Insider Tip you can offer future visitors to Madrid?
Make time for Malasaña, my former stomping grounds. In the late '70s and early '80s, the neighborhood was home to the Movida movement, a countercultural "coming out" of Madrid's youth after the repressive Franco era ended. With its bohemian vibe and quirky bars and boutiques, it's a great place to wander, shop, or grab a drink.