Free Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid, Spain

grand white building with pillars in front of a wide square- the royal palace of Madrid

Madrid is a wonderfully grand and proud city – it’s a pleasure to walk around its elegant streets.

Unlike some capital cities in Europe, Madrid’s city centre is fairly compact and it is possible to explore a lot of it without using public transport.

Follow my self-guided walking tour of Madrid to see how you can discover the main sights and attractions on foot.

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About This Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Madrid

What You’ll See In This Madrid Walking Tour:

  • The Royal Palace
  • Plaza Mayor
  • Puerto Del Sol
  • El Retiro park
  • Museo Nacional del Prado
  • Almudena Cathedral
  • Mercado De San Miguel
  • Gran Via
  • Plaza De Cibeles
  • Los Austrias & the Royal Theatre
  • The tapas bar-lined streets of Calle de Cadiz & Calle Barcelona
  • An optional detour into the old neighbourhood Barrio De La Latina

How Long Is The Madrid Self-Guided Walking Tour?

If you were to walk this route non-stop it would be around 7km, or 4.3 miles, and would take you 1.5 hours. But, of course, you’ll be stopping many times along the way, so I suggest you give yourself at least half a day to do this route. In fact, my ideal suggestion is to start late morning and end in the early evening – so close to a whole day. This way you go at a comfortable pace and have plenty of time to do justice to all the stops. With this in mind, I’ve built in lunch and dinner stops into the route. After all, you can’t go to Madrid without trying some tapas!

Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Madrid – In Detail

1. Almudena Cathedral

Our Madrid walking tour starts at Almudena Cathedral or Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena. This impressive cathedral looks gothic and old, but in European cathedral terms, is relatively modern, having been built over a protracted period from 1879 to 1993.

i,posing grey cathedral front with two towers seen from below in Madrid
Almudena Cathedral

The architectural style is a mix of Neoclassical, Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque. Several kings and queens of Spain are buried here and the crypt houses a 16th-century image of the Virgen de la Almudena.

And there’s very little walking to do to get to the next stop because Almudena Cathedral is just across Plaza de la Armeria from the Royal Palace.

2. Royal Palace

How could you visit the capital of Spain without seeing the official residence of the Spanish Royal family, Palacio Real De Madrid? Visiting it is one of the top things to do in Madrid.

grand white building with pillars in front of a wide square- the royal palace of Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid

There’s been a palace on this site since there was a fortress constructed by Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba in the 9th century. The current baroque-style palace, though, was built in the 18th century.

Palacio Real is the largest functioning royal palace and the largest by floor area in Europe – 15,000 m2!  You can admire its scale and grandeur from the exterior, including from Plaza de la Armeria or Sabatini Garden – but you can also get tickets to tour the interior.

3. Plaza Oriente, The Royal Theatre & Los Austrias

Once, you’ve had your fill of the palace, head east into a small tidy plaza called Plaza Oriente, which contains statues of 44 Spanish kings from the medieval period. In the centre is a large monument to King Philip IV.

statue of man on a horse in between trees with a large white palace behind
Plaza Oriente

At the eastern end of the plaza, you’ll find the Royal Theatre or Teatro Real, an opera house inaugurated in 1850.

Head south and slightly east, into the heart of Madrid de Los Austrias. This area is so named because it was built during the time of the Habsburg dynasty (Casa de Austria) in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The walk from the Royal Theatre to the next stop is approx. 5 minutes. As you walk, look out for the statue of a fallen angel on top of one of the buildings Calle de Los Milaneses.

statue of a fallen angel visibile on top of a pink building in Madrid
A fallen angel

4. Mercado De San Miguel

Soon you’ll come to a great place to refuel and get refreshed during the walking tour. 

Mercado de San Miguel was built in 1919 as a wholesale food market, but today it is a place to eat tapas and grab a drink. Within the covered market, there are around 20 stalls with a wide range of small-plate tapas foods, including fresh seafood, Iberian ham and Spanish cheeses. There’s also plenty of sangria on tap – literally!

It’s a popular place, though, so you might have to be savvy to spot a free table. If you don’t, you’re likely to be able to find space at one of the standing spots around the edge of the market.

5. Detour Into Barrio De La Latina

From Mercado De San Miguel, you could take an optional detour down Calle de Cuchilleros into Barrio de la Latina, another old part of Madrid.

Barrio de la Latina is a triangular area between Calle de Segovia, Calle de Bailen and Calle de Toledo. At the heart of it are Plaza los Carros, Iglesia de San Andres Apostle and the Museum of San Isidro. Calle de la Cava Baja is known for its tapas bars.

street with old-looking tall buildings with slightly sloped walls - seen walking in Madrid
Calle de Cuchilleros

6. Plaza Mayor

Whether or not you do the detour into Barrio De La Latina, your next stop is the main square in old Madrid and the centre of Los Austrias, Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor was built during the reign of Philip III in the 16th century.

As you enter the plaza through one of nine handsome archways, the spectacle will open up before you: tall red buildings line the square, which has a cobbled with a grid pattern; porticoes provide some shade at ground level, and in the centre is a proud a statue of King Felipe III.

archway with yellow ceiling through which a square with red buildings is visible
Plaza Mayor
cobbled squarre with a statue on a horse and grand red buildings
King Felipe III in Plaza Mayor

It’s a must-see sight in Madrid, but I don’t recommend you stop for a drink or food here. Like most major tourist sites around the world, the cafes on the square can be rather overpriced.

On your way to the next stop, you could take a minor detour via Palacio de Santa Cruz, a baroque building that was built in the 17th century and used as a jail until the reign of Philip IV. It was then transformed into a palace and now houses the Spanish Foreign Ministry. Alternatively, go the more direct route via Calle Mayor, which has been a major street in Madrid for centuries and is rather lovely!

7. Puerto Del Sol

About 5 minutes from Plaza Mayor, you’ll find Puerto Del Sol. If Plaza Mayor was the centre of old Madrid, Puerto del Sol is the centre of modern Madrid: is a bustling square, often filled with people until late in the evening.

red and white building with a bell tower againat a peach-coloured sky at sunset
Puerto Del Sol at sunset

It is a significant space, the location of public meetings and demonstrations for centuries.  The square contains the clock whose bells ring in the New Year and mark the Spanish tradition of the eating of Twelve Grapes.

Other landmarks in Puerta del Sol include the Royal House of the Post Office which now serves as the office of the President of Madrid; a commemorative plaque for the neighbours of Madrid who rose up against the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808; and another for the victims of the Madrid terrorist attacks in 2004. On its south side, there’s a mounted statue of King Charles III of Spain and on the east side, you can find the statue of The Bear and the Strawberry Tree (el Oso y el Madroño), which represents Madrid’s coat of arms.

The square is named ‘Puerto’, which means ‘gate’ because it was once one of the gates in the city wall that surrounded Madrid in the 15th century. And ‘del Sol’ is because it faced eastward towards the rising sun.

8. Gran Via

For your next stop on this walking tour of Madrid, head north-east along Calle de la Montera for 5 minutes until you come to Gran Via, at which point, head right, east-wards.

The ornate buildings along this well-to-do shopping street may look really old, but this street was actually built in the 20th century and most of the architectural style is revival architecture.

There’s plenty of spectacle along this road, but the star is the Metropolis building, which sits at the eastern end of Gran Via, at the junction with Calle de Alcala. This spectacular Beaux-Arts-style building was inaugurated in 1911. The domed cupola is covered with 30000 leaves of 24-carat gold.

9. Plaza De Cibeles

Leaving Gran Via behind, carry on Calle de Alcala for 5 minutes, heading east and you’ll see your next stop ahead of you: an impossibly ornate cluster of neo-classical buildings surrounding a roundabout.  

intricately ornate buildings seen down a street in Madrid
A glimpse of Plaza De Cibeles

This is Plaza De Cibeles, named for the central fountain of Cybele, a Phrygian goddess. The fountain is the place where Madrid’s football team, Real Madrid, celebrate their team victories.

The four grand buildings on the square are the Bank of Spain, the Palacio de Buenavista, Palacio de Linares and Palacio de Cibeles. The last one is the most ostentatious-looking and behind the white façade is Madrid City Council and a restaurant.

10. El Retiro

Another 5 minutes beyond Plaza De Cibeles, you’ll come to another fancy junction: Plaza de la Independencia, featuring Puerta de Alcalá, a Neo-classical gate once part of the walls around Madrid. Here you’ll find the entrance to your next stop, and somewhere you can rest your feet if they’re getting weary by this point.

Parque del Buen Retiro (or El Retiro for short) is a large, attractive park east of Madrid’s city centre. In the 16th century, it was a royal garden. It was opened to the public in the late 19th century and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021.

The 350-acre park is split into different sections, with a mix of ponds, gardens, walkways, monuments and palaces. Feel free to have a wander: don’t stick to the route indicated on the map for this walking tour – explore as much as you want.

I really loved this park. It is big enough for the sounds of the city to disappear and there’s so much variety within it. Some of my favourite parts of this park include:

  • Estanque Grande de El Retiro – a large lake in the middle of the park, featuring a monument to Alfonso XII, the King of Spain in the 19th Century.  I liked watching people row boats around the lake and there was a busker playing the saxophone along the walkway.
  • A wilderness section where the plants had been left untouched to encourage wildlife to flourish
  • Palacio De Cristal: an astonishingly pretty glass palace inspired by the Crystal Palace in London.  It looks out over a small lake with a fountain. It’s so picture-perfect!
  • Parterre Garden: an ornate and symmetrical garden with fountains, sculpted trees and a monument to the Nobel-prize-winning dramatist, Jacinto Benavente.

11. Museo Nacional Del Prado & Barrio De Les Letters

On the way to the final stop, you could visit Museo Nacional del Prado, which is the main Spanish national art museum, containing a collection of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century.

The final stop on this self-guided walking tour of Madrid takes you back into the city centre, in search of some tapas!

Tapas is small plates of food served with drinks, and it’s a great way to try Spanish specialities. Classic tapas dishes include patatas bravas, croquettes, Iberian ham, chorizo and calamari – but you’ll find all sorts of food combinations available these days. Sangria or beer are common accompaniments, but lots of places offer cocktails, too.

Madrid is renowned for its tapas bars and I found the biggest and best concentration of tapas in Madrid in Barrio de Les letters and on and around Calle de Cadiz and Calle Barcelona.

For a full rundown of all the tapas bars in Barcelona that I tried – the good and the bad – check out my post on tapas bars in Madrid. However, in the walking tour rout emap, I have marked a couple of my favourites that you could check out:

  • Revoltosa: a chilled-out tavern with some tables outside and plenty of space inside. It is about 15 minutes walk from El Retiro to Revoltosa
  • Rosi La Loca: this alice-in-wonderland-inspired place has some small dishes on the menu, including delicious tuna Tataki. Great cocktails, too!

Self-Guided Walking Tour Of Madrid FAQs

Is Madrid Easy To Get Around On Foot?

Yes, it’s pretty easy to walk around Madrid. Like I said before, it’s not a huge city like London or Paris, so the main Madrid attractions are fairly close together. And another bonus is that the streets are very attractive and pleasant – with lots of handsome buildings and café terraces on the pavement.

How Dangerous Is Madrid To Walk Around?

It’s difficult to answer questions like these. On the one hand, there are stats which suggest Madrid is relatively safe, compared to other cities: check out the crime stats on Numbeo, for example.  And my experience in Madrid certainly felt pretty safe. Madrid doesn’t have a reputation for street crime like Spain’s second city, Barcelona, does, for example.

However, I wouldn’t want anyone to think it is entirely risk-free to walk around Madrid.  All cities carry some risk of crime, so I’d urge you to maintain a sensible outlook on this walking tour of Madrid:

  • Keep your wits about you and don’t leave belongings unattended
  • Don’t wander around with your phone or camera on display – or anything else of value either
  • If you carry a bag, consider a cross-body version that can’t be easily grabbed off your shoulder
  • Keep anything of value closed away under a zip or equivalent enclosure.

When Is Best To Visit Madrid?

Like a lot of southern Europe, the peak season of summer (June-August) can be really hot and busy. The shoulder seasons of spring and autumn can be a good option.

I visited in mid-September and that seemed really lovely: it was sunny and warm, but not oppressive. And the crowds were not too bad, either.

avenue lined with trees of green and orange
Walking in Madrid in September was divine!

What Gear Do You Need For This Madrid Walking Tour?

The following will be helpful on this walking tour:

  • Sneakers / trainers or comfortable shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of steps!
  • Sunhat & sunglasses, unless you’re doing this in winter
  • Depending on your weather forecast, a compact rain jacket could be useful to have with you, just in case
  • A camera – but as I said, make sure you have a safe place to stow it when you walk
  • Some water in a reusable bottle. To keep you hydrated all the way
  • A theft-roof bag, such as this Travelon one, which I use, could be good 

Check out my guide to my favourite travel gadgets.

Map: Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid  

Here’s a route map for this Madrid walking tour, showing all the key stops and sights along the way:

How To Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one.  If you click the star next to the map’s title, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’ or ‘Saved’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.

Where To Stay For This Madrid Walking Tour

I stayed in the Hotel Preciados, which was centrally located on a smart street, not far from the start of the tour. However, don’t book a single room here – they don’t have external windows, which is a bugbear of mine! The double room I switched to was fine, though.

The Last Word

I hope you enjoy this self-guided walking tour of Madrid!  Do check out my guide to tapas bars in Madrid, also – you will have worked up a good appetite by the end of this walk!

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