Things to Do in Madrid
Not only is Madrid the Spanish capital, it is also a cultural capital for all of Europe. No matter what time of the year you visit Madrid, you will find plenty of amazing things to do. There is an inexhaustible variety of art, food, culture, and entertainment.
As you walk down the busy streets, you’ll come across all kinds of restaurants and bars. Some are authentic and historical while others are modern and diverse. And that is the beauty of Madrid. It is a welcoming, cultural center that embraces people of all cultures. Yet, at the same time, the city still offers a vibe that is uniquely Spanish.
13 Things to Do in Madrid
Although I highly encourage you to explore the city yourself, let me help you get started on your adventure in Madrid. Here are the 13 best things to do in Madrid.
Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s central square, and it is found in one of Madrid’s oldest and most charming neighborhoods. It was built on the former Plaza del Arrabal, where Madrid used to hold its most popular market. But the plaza was redesigned in the early 17th century under Philip III. The design focused on a more uniformed look, and allowed ample space for coronations, bullfights, and other events.
The grand plaza is full of shops and restaurants with sunny terraces. And the center of the square features a statue of Philip III, around which street musicians often play. But Plaza Mayor comes especially alive on a number of occasions. Come during December for the Christmas markets or during Easter for the drum parade.
El Retiro Park
If you’re looking for a touch of nature to escape the buzz of the city, head to El Retiro Park. The expansive, green park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021 in recognition of its incredible blend of nature, culture, and science.
El Retiro Park is a perfect place for a peaceful stroll, but there are a number of notable sites inside the park worth visiting. To name a few, there is the Rosaleda rose garden, the Glass Palace, and the large, artificial lake. The park also features a statue of the Fallen Angel, the only sculpture in the world dedicated to the devil. Supposedly, the statue stands at 666m above sea level.
The Prado Museum is the main Spanish national art museum, and it is one of the most necessary things to do in Madrid. Considered one of the finest art collections in the world, the museum houses European art from the 12th century to the early 20th century. It also happens to be one of my favorite art museums.
Inside you’ll find masterpieces by famous artists, such as El Greco, Titian, and Hieronymus Bosch. But the biggest draw at Prado is the works of Francisco Goya. His Black Paintings are especially moving for their expression of panic, fear, and terror. You may recognize the famous painting Saturn Devouring his Son.
Regardless, the Prado Museum is certainly a must see. I recommend buying your tickets ahead of time to avoid the lines. You can do so through the museum’s website.
Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum
Another must see art museum in Madrid is the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum. The museum houses nearly a thousand paintings from the 13th to the 20th century. Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Monet, and O’Keeffe are just a handful of the amazing artists featured here.
The Thyssen is part of the “Golden Triangle of Art”, which also includes the Prado and Reina Sofia national galleries. The Thyssen works in harmony with these other galleries by filling in the historical gaps left by each of them. In so doing, this gives the museum a more rounded and all-encompassing presentation of art.
Take a look at their website to learn more about your visit. But I encourage you to visit the museum on Monday when entry is free.
Royal Palace of Madrid
A visit to Madrid would not be complete without stopping at the Royal Palace of Madrid. The opulent abode is the official residence of the Spanish royal family (even though it is only used for state ceremonies). The palace was constructed on top of a Muslim fortress from the 9th century, so even the foundations are soaked in history. But the palace itself was built in the late 1700s in a style reminiscent of Italian architect/sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
Exploring the Royal Palace of Madrid will give you a taste of extravagance. From the designs to the decorations, everything is refined. There are intricate rooms adorned with gold and porcelain, chambers with several suits of armor, and a collection of paintings by greats, such as Goya and Caravaggio.
Purchase tickets ahead of time with Get Your Guide. Skip the line and avoid the stress.
Mercado de San Miguel
Not far from Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel is Madrid’s finest gourmet market. The market brings together the best products from around the country. Among the stands and restaurants, you’ll find top-quality meat, delicious cheeses, natural ice creams, artisan baked goods, and more.
The real magic of Mercado de San Miguel comes from its skilled chefs. Paella’s Rodrigo de la Calle has one Michelin star to his name, and Rocambolesc’s Joan Roca has three! The others surely deserve their own accolade because every morsel in this market is delicious.
If you really want to experience Spanish cuisine, visiting Mercado de San Miguel is one of the best things to do in Madrid.
Temple of Debod
An ancient Egyptian temple is the last thing you’d expect to see in Madrid. But lo and behold Temple of Debod is a temple from 2nd century BCE Egypt. Given to Spain as a gift from the Egyptian government, Debod was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid.
Entry into the temple is completely free. For that reason, there is generally a long line. But it may be worth waiting to see the stunning halls and chapels preserved inside.
Barrio de Salamanca
Barrio de Salamanca is one of Madrid’s most high end neighborhoods. There are numerous posh stores and restaurants for those with luxury in mind.
Calle de Serrano is one of the main streets in the Salamanca neighborhood. Like Fifth Avenue in New York City, the street is lined with luxury brands from around the world, such as Gucci and Prada. But you will also find some local companies and smaller boutiques as well. So it’s worth a visit if you want to shop.
Plaza de Cibeles
The title of Madrid’s most famous plaza belongs to Plaza de Cibeles. Tourists mostly flock here to admire the Cibeles Palace with its stunning architecture and panoramic views of the city. The palace was once a post office but now serves as the city hall.
Also noteworthy is the plaza’s fountain, which features the Roman goddess Cybele (“the Great Mother”). Although the goddess represents fertility, she has been adopted by the city’s fútbol team, Real Madrid. When Real Madrid wins a title, they parade through the city and tie the team’s flag to Cybele.
Another one of the best things to do in Madrid is walk along Gran Vía, the city’s most famous street. It leads from Calle de Alcalá, near Plaza de Cibeles, to Plaza de España. And all along the way, you’ll see a myriad of charming shops and restaurants.
Architecture buffs will appreciate the street for its stunning display of 20th century revival architecture. The most prominent building on Gran Vía is the Metropolis Building. Although just a simple office building, the exterior is beautiful. And I hear the views from the top are breathtaking.
Day Trip to Toledo
Just 30 minutes from Madrid is the ancient Roman city of Toledo. Dubbed the “City of Three Cultures”, Toledo has been ruled by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. As you might expect, the result is a welcoming city with a unique blend of cultures and a rich history.
Perched atop a hill, Toledo is an incredibly picturesque city with charm hiding around every corner. Historical fortresses, gothic cathedrals, and beautiful mosques all make for wonderful photos. But in between photos, you should definitely try Toledo’s most famous food products: Manchego cheese and marzipan. They’re unbelievably delicious.
Watch a Fútbol Game
Fútbol (soccer) is big in Spain, and Madrid has some of the best teams in Europe. The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is one of the most famous fútbol venues and home to the legendary team, Real Madrid. You can also head to Metropolitano Stadium to watch Atlético Madrid.
Spain takes fútbol quite seriously. So if you choose to go, you’re in for an experience. Just get your tickets ahead of time because tickets to these game are always in high demand. The easiest way to get them is on the Real Madrid website or the Atlético Madrid website.
Experience Spanish Cuisine
Spanish cuisine is one of the best in the world. So, naturally, one of the best things to do in Madrid is eat as much as you can. The Madrid culinary scene is vibrant and ever changing.
Trendy, upscale restaurants are always pushing the boundaries and exploring new flavors. But no matter where you wander in the city, there always restaurants serving traditional dishes. Madrid even claims to have the oldest restaurant in the world.
I recommend trying all the Spanish classics like paella, tortilla de patates, and jamón ibérico. But to complete your journey to Madrid, try some of these local dishes:
- Roast Suckling Pig: This regional specialty takes a lot of time and preparation. But when it’s given the proper love, suckling pig is mouthwateringly good. El Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world, is constantly churning out this dish. So they are definitely a dependable option.
- Chocolate con Churros: Fried dough dipped in hot chocolate. What more is there to say? It is a simple and irresistible pleasure.
- Bocadillo de Calamares: Fried rings of squid served on a crusty roll. It’s a tasty bite if done right. But squid can be tough if done wrong, so make sure you get it fresh.
- Callos a la Madrileña: Okay. This definitely isn’t for everyone. Callos a la Madrileña is stewed tripe, which is cooked over low heat for hours until it’s tender. It’s an acquired taste, but if you’re adventurous, give it a shot.
If you’ve fallen in love with Madrid, you’re not alone. But you might be interested in some of the other great locations Spain has to offer. To get your trip started and explore new cities, check out my Spain Travel Guide for more.