What Not to do in Madrid: Avoid Doing These 15 Things

Planning a trip to the Spanish capital and wondering what NOT to do in Madrid so you don’t look like fail tourists? You’re in the right spot.

Caleb and I have been to the city almost 10 times, and the first couple of times, we did it totally wrong. We should have just got matching shirts that said: “Hi, we’re a COUPLE of tourists, laugh at us,” and we did not experience Madrid to its full potential.  

Now that we’ve learned what TO DO, we’re so in love with the city that we’re planning to move there! In this guide, we’ll help you side-step all the common mistakes, like only eating at one restaurant, drinking sangria, eating paella and having dinner at the wrong time, so you don’t look like a COUPLE of tourists, too.

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The couple puns. I crack myself up.

1. Eat at only one restaurant for dinner.

On our first 7 trips to Madrid, we made this mistake until our food tour guide told us that is not how locals eat. They view dinner as a time for being very social, and they want to extend the night by going to multiple places, like bar-hopping along the famous Calle de Cava Baja.

 Doing this CHANGED THE GAME for our travel and made us love Madrid even more. I mean, more food? Pull our leg.

Do Instead: visit a minimum of 3 tapas bars over the course of the evening, ordering 1 or 2 things at each spot.

2. Eat dinner before 8 pm. 

Spanish people eat dinner LATE, and if you go to a restaurant before 8 pm, you may as well wear a flashing sign that says, “I’m a tourist; look at me!”

TAYLOR’S TIP: We have found that if a restaurant opens before 8 pm, it’s also usually a tourist trap. So, avoiding these spots makes you look less like a tourist and gives you better food.

Do Instead: Eat dinner NO EARLIER than 8pm. But, for the most local experience, go after 9pm.

A rustic table setting featuring a slice of crusty bread topped with vibrant red tomatoes, accompanied by a beer and a coffee, basking in the warm glow of a Madrid café.

3. Order eggs for breakfast

I know, I know. We also love a runny egg moment in the morning, but if you see eggs on the menu, you’re *likely* in a tourist area. Don’t worry, Spaniards typically eat eggs for dinner so you guys can still make egg magic happen…just later, okay?

Do Instead: Try our local favorite breakfast: pan con tomate! It’s just bread with crushed tomato and olive oil, and it will honestly blow your taste buds off your head.

TAYLOR’S TIP: Our favorite is at Ojala. Yes, this spot IS pretty touristy, but their Pan con Tomate with Iberico ham is always our first breakfast when we get to Madrid.

a tourist trap restaurant menu in Madrid with photos

4. Eat at restaurants with photos on the menu.

Avoid, avoid, avoid…*turns off echo machine.*

But, in all seriousness, local people KNOW what the food on the menu is by reading; they don’t need to see pictures. If you see photos, this is 11/10, guaranteed to be a tourist spot with crappy food and crappy prices. 

Do Instead: Find restaurants without photos and, if you want a *truly* authentic experience, a menu only in Spanish. Look at you being an adventurous couple!

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People sitting and enjoying a drink in plaza mayor in Madrid

5. Eat calamari sandwiches at Plaza Mayor (or eat anything there in general)

Plaza Mayor is pretty, and all, but Caleb and I would tell you to avoid the restaurants there like the plague, which sounds dramatic, but it’s not.

All the spots here have photos and are stupidly expensive. You’ll also see A LOT of photos with the famous “calamari sandwich” here. DON’T DO IT.

Do Instead: Walk literally 2 minutes to Bar La Campana, where the locals eat this famous sandwich. You can’t miss it with the line at 2 am. If you know, you know. 

6. Drink Sangria or Eat Paella 

I know, you’re like, why are these listed under what not to do in Madrid when they’re so Spanish?! Contrary to what you’ve heard, Spanish people don’t really drink sangria. Did I just burst your bubble? While we do LOVE the sangria at Taberna El Sur in Madrid and think you should try it once, you should venture into the world of other amazing Spanish drinks for a local experience.

The same goes for paella. The hometown of paella is Valencia, and while you can get some decent ones in Madrid, we suggest you avoid it and try our favorite Madrid tapas bars instead.

Do Instead: Drink Tinto de Verano (red wine with 7up), which is the local version of sangria. Or try our favorite thing to drink and bring home from Spain: vermouth or Spanish red wine!

TAYLOR’S TIP: you gotta get some vermouth at Taberna La Concha. It’s the first drink we get any time we visit Madrid.

7. Eat dinner at a flamenco theatre.

If you see a flamenco theatre offering a dinner with the show, chances are VERY high that it is a tourist spot and not very authentic. A GOOD flamenco show is about the show and not the food.

Another pro tip is to look for a show where they don’t use microphones. *Good* performers don’t need that!

Do Instead: Look for a small theatre that doesn’t include dinner and doesn’t use microphones.

TAYLOR’S TIP: our favorite flamenco show is at Cafe Ziryab. Yes, they have some SMALL food options (think toast), but dinner is not a built-in part of the show. 

8. Be worried about drinking alcohol at pretty much any time of the day.

Feel like a glass of vermouth at lunch? DO IT. A beer for brunch? Sign you up. Spaniards won’t give you any judgment, and you’ll probably look more like a local.

Spain, we love you.

Do Instead: Enjoy your incredible Spanish drinks without stressing!

TAYLOR’S TIP: This is not an excuse to get drunk – always practice moderation at any time of the day. You don’t want to be “that tourist” who drunk flamenco dances down the street and ends up as a meme.

9. Only Visit Mercado San Miguel

This market is a fun place to walk around, but Caleb and I would tell you to do just that: walk around and then jet. Don’t order anything to eat here because it’s really more for tourists.

The food options aren’t authentic, and we found them to be more expensive than other markets – sometimes as much as double!

Do Instead: Check out our top local market picks: Mercado de le Cebada (and their hidden-gem pop-up seafood party you can go to if you’re in Madrid on a weekend) or Mercado de Anton Martin.

10. Avoid Tapas Bars Packed with People Standing

I know you’re overwhelmed by the sea of humans inside (we were too when we first started looking for these places specifically), but the “sea of humans” situation is a main marker of a good spot that locals like!

Do Instead: Go on in and embrace the craziness and awkwardness of standing around and waiting for a table. You’ll have better food and more fun if you do!

People walking into the metro at Madrid airport

11. Take a cab/ride share from the airport.

You’ll spend way more money than you have to, AND it’ll take WAY longer because driving in Madrid’s traffic can be painfully slow.

Do Instead: Take the metro right from the airport (it’s in Terminal 2, floor one.) We recommend taking the Pink Metro Line 8 To its terminus at Nuevos Ministerios Station and then changing there based on where you’re staying.

An uber in madrid

12. Use Uber

While Uber exists, Caleb and I have found that you usually get just a cab driver and pay cab prices. No bueno. We recommend you NOT be afraid to take public transport as it’s one of the best ways to get around in Madrid!

Do Instead: The best ride-sharing app in Spain is Cabify. Download it before you go, so you don’t need to mess with data and roaming.

13. Assume you’ll be able to spot pickpockets.

Yes, some are pretty obvious, but a lot of them dress strategically to look like tourists. We saw a large group all dressed in khakis with binoculars and backpacks congregated around Plaza del Sol.

Do Instead: Stay vigilant about your security and bring things like our favorite travel bags, which have kept Caleb and me from being pickpocketed during all our travels!

A picturesque view of a historic street in Madrid, with vibrant orange and yellow facades, ornate balconies, and pedestrians enjoying a sunny day.

14. Expect everyone to know English.

While people do speak English, especially around the “tourist areas,” remember that you are in THEIR country, not vice versa. Please don’t be a rude tourist and just expect people to communicate with you. Caleb and I typically see Americans guilty of this, and (as Americans ourselves) it’s so cringey.

Do Instead: Learn some basic phrases like “hello,” “thank you,” “please,” “where is the bathroom,” etc.

15. Only stay in the city center.

While the city center is great because it’s super walkable and has lots of the main “tourist spots,” some of the best things you need to check off your bucket list are outside the city center. Our personal favorite? A tapas crawl down Calle Ponzano like a local.

Do Instead: Explore the outside neighborhoods, such as Chamberi, to experience Madrid wayyyy more authentically. 

Now That You Know What To Avoid Doing in Madrid…

Avoiding some of the “usual” tourist mistakes like those endless photos of paella or sangria or eating dinner at “American” times will ensure that you guys experience the real Madrid that Caleb and I say is so worth visiting! 

Now that you know what not to do, it’s time to figure out what you SHOULD do, and we’re here to help! We put all our favorite activities and foodie spots in this epic 4-day itinerary, so you don’t have to do any planning work. You’re welcome.

Which of these did you not realize was a total tourist fail?

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A couple stands embracing while looking at the Almudena Cathedral during sunset in Madrid, with the grand architecture and clear skies in the background

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