Madrid is a popular tourist destination for good reason. The city has over 3 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. As one of the largest cities in the European Union, it has a wide range of attractions for visitors. In this post, you will learn more about some of the top things to see and do in Madrid, Spain.
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14 Things To See and Do in Madrid
Whether you’re in Spain’s central capital for a weekend or a week, you’ll find plenty to see and do. Known as being the ‘Golden Triangle of Art’, Madrid has more than 40 varied museums. It is a must for culture vultures interested in art, architecture, and good food. Its elegant boulevards, plaza’s, and expansive manicured parks also provide plenty of sightseeing opportunities for those who prefer exploring outdoors.
If you want to get an overview of the city, consider taking this free Madrid walking tour.
#1 Plaza Mayor
This historical portico-lined-square was once the center of Old Madrid. Built during the reign of Philip III it is now a gathering place for locals and tourists alike. It’s a great place to people-watch. Grab a seat at one of the street cafes and take in the street performers who gather around the bronze equestrian statue of King Philip III as well as the architectural beauty of the red-brick 4-story Casa de la Panaderia with its twin angular towers.
#2 Royal Palace of Madrid
One of the largest palaces in Western Europe, the Palacio Real building that we see today dates back to 1764 and is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family though it is used only for state ceremonies today. A true symbol of the city, the palace contains 3,418 rooms with guided tours and audio tours offered inside. Visitors can see the jaw-dropping Hall of Columns and Hall of Mirrors along with the King Charles’ Room and other elegant rooms.
If you’re on a budget, you can still enjoy this white palace from the outside. Behind the entrance to the palace, you’ll find the neoclassical Sabatini Gardens which are a must-visit and on the east side, at Plaza Oriente, you can see the statues depicting the past 44 Spanish monarchs.
#3 Museo Nacional del Prado
The National Art Museum of Spain known affectionately as ‘El Prado’ is 200 years old and contains more than 8,000 paintings plus more than 700 neo-classical sculptures. It includes works of art from the Spanish, Italian, and Flemish masters including Valazquez’s ‘Las Meninas and The Triumph of Bacchus’ Goya’s ‘The Naked Maja’Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Delights’ and El Greco’s ‘The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest’ to name just a few.
#4 El Retiro Park and Palacio de los Cristales
Whatever the season, enjoy a stroll through El Retiro Park as you take in the monuments and sculptures, watch the peacocks in the enclosed Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez, and explore the exhibition halls of the old palaces which now contain modern art exhibitions. One such place not to be missed (especially as it’s free entry!) is the iconic Crystal Palace (so called because it’s a huge conservatory made from glass with iron structures) which overlooks the picturesque boating lake.
#5 Mercado de San Miguel
If you’re a foodie, a mooch around the famous indoor food market known as Mercado de San Miguel is a must. Though it’s more of a high-end gastronomy experience for tourists rather than a traditional local farmer’s market, the many stalls selling everything from tapas to churros, sushi to sandwiches make this a great place to stop for lunch as you take in all the sights, sounds, and delicious smells.
#6 Temple of Debod
This temple, dedicated to the goddess Isis, is the only piece of Egyptian architecture in the whole of Spain. Dating back to the 2nd century BC it was moved from Aswan in Egypt to Madrid’s Parque del Oeste in the 1960’s. The best time to admire this temple is at sunset, when the sky puts on its own performance and the temple is lit up. Viewed during the day, it just doesn’t have the same magical effect!
#7 Puerta del Sol and the Bear Statue
This large square bustles with activity and is the perfect place to people watch as you rest your tired feet at one of the street cafes or one of the public benches. Surrounded by historic architecture and monuments with an equestrian statue of King Carlos III and the red and white architecture of Casa de Correos (the Royal House of the Post House), the real attraction of Puerta del Sol is the 20-ton bronze statue of a bear and a strawberry tree called El Oso y El Madroño. The bear is the city’s official symbol yet no one can quite remember why, perhaps because there used to be bears in the fields and forests that once surrounded Madrid!
#8 Catedral de la Almudena
This imposing Catholic Cathedral was only completed in 1993 despite its construction beginning in 1879. Located directly opposite the Royal Palace, visitors can gaze up at the cathedral from the palace gates or step inside to admire the neo romanesque crypt and the image of the Almudena Virgin that dates from the 16th century.
#9 Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Containing 1,000 paintings that date from the middle ages right up to the 20th century with a mix of Spanish, Italian, German, and Flemish painters, the Thyssen museum (as it’s shortened to) contains one of the largest private art collections in the world. Masterpieces include Ruben’s ‘Venus and Cupid’, Cézanne’s ‘Portrait of a Peasant’ Van Gogh’s ‘Les Vessenots in Auvers’ and Dali’s ‘Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee’.
#10 Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
The football stadium of Real Madrid is a treat for all football fans, not just Real Madrid fanatics! Step inside and learn the history of the club and the history of this elite stadium at the interactive museum before walking in the footsteps of some of the world’s top footballers as you see inside the changing rooms and make your way down the tunnel out onto the sidelines. You’ll also get to see the trophy room, the press room, and sit in the presidential box.
#11 Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
If you’re hungry for more art, Spain’s National Museum of 20th-century art completes the ‘Golden Triangle of Art’. Filled with more than 21,000 pieces from Spanish contemporary artists including Dali, Miro, and Picasso you could easily spend the whole day here. It’s best to do some research before you visit and focus on either seeing a few key pieces or exploring one floor in full rather than trying to tackle the entire museum in one go!
#12 Eat churros con chocolate at St Gines
Open 24/7 (truly!) this historic chocolateria has been serving up traditional Spanish churros (long thin strips of fried-dough) and hot chocolate (literally a cup of hot melted chocolate) since 1894 and still retains many of its original features. If you think your sweet tooth is up to the challenge of churros and chocolate, queue up amongst the locals and tourists and experience a slice of historic Madrid at its best.
#13 Watch a Flamenco Show
Though not the birthplace of this expressive art form, if you’re only visiting the city of Madrid, rather than heading south to do a tour of Andalusia, you can’t leave without taking in a flamenco performance! Torres Bermejas is a great place to watch a show whilst enjoying lunch or dinner and boasts the best singers, guitarists, dancers, and clappers in a room that resembles the magnificent Alhambra in Granada.
#14 Make a Day Trip to Toledo or Segovia
Whether you make your own way on the train or take an organized coach tour, getting out of Madrid to visit one of Spain’s UNESCO World Heritage Cities is a must.
Toledo is a Medieval walled city located 75 km south of Madrid that will take your breath away. The place where Arab, Jewish, and Christian cultures merged, there’s plenty to keep culture vultures busy with the Gothic cathedral, Alcazar, and Moorish Mudejar style city gates that lead out to the must-visit Mirador del Valle viewpoint.
Segovia is located 94 km northwest of Madrid and is another Medieval walled city filled with architectural gems including the iconic boat-shaped Alcazar, the 15 km Roman aqueduct with more than 160 arches, and Gothic cathedral, and that’s just for starters!
Where to Stay in Madrid
When you visit Madrid, try to find accommodation in a central location. Most of the top attractions and museums will be just a walk away if you find accommodation in the heart of Madrid. In the Centro neighborhood, you will also find a varied selection of restaurants around Plaza Mayor. Just south of Centro, you will find the La Latina neighborhood which has Madrid’s largest flea market (on Sundays) and some excellent tapas bars.
If you prefer, there are also plenty of options on Airbnb. Check them out here.
Is Madrid Worth Visiting?
Yes. No matter whether your heart sings when it sees art, architecture, or tasty tapas, Madrid offers something for everyone and is well worthy of adding to your travel bucket list!
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Last Updated on March 12, 2021