The city of ‘cocido’, calamari snacks, ‘chulapos’ and partying until dawn. Madrid is an experience for all of the five senses. Here are 33 recommendations for things you can’t miss.
“From Madrid to heaven and from heaven a little window to look down on Madrid”, goes the famous saying. Today, a huge billboard with this quote welcomes anyone driving into the Spanish capital along road M-30.
Home to some of Europe’s most important museums, Madrid is an energetic city brimming with history around every corner. Losing yourself in the city’s streets is delightful. You’ll find yourself surrounded by buildings adorned with balconies and amidst historic squares and taverns. It’s been said that you can never really get to know Madrid, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Here are 33 things to see and do to immerse yourself in the city’s essence.
1. Take a few minutes to visit Puerta del Sol
The city’s main square, always full of life, is one of the most iconic places in the city. Make sure not to leave without snapping a selfie in front of the famous statue of the bear eating from a strawberry tree. Also, don’t forget to photograph your feet beside ‘Kilometer 0’, a plaque that marks the meeting point of Spain’s radial roads.
2. Take a stroll on Gran Via
If possible, head to this street at sunset to admire the festival of lights beaming from the theaters of the busy boulevard, reminiscent of New York City’s Times Square. Two of Madrid’s most photographed buildings are also located here: the Metropolis Building, with its dome crowned by the bronze statue of the Victoria Alada; and the Carrión Building, with the legendary Schweppes neon sign.
3. Snack on some calamari
How can something so simple be so tasty? Find out for yourself from one of the bars near Plaza Mayor. Tip: Don’t go to a ‘trendy’ place; the more authentic-looking, the better.
4. Explore El Retiro
This huge park is Madrid’s most famous ‘green area’. Weather permitting, rent a small boat and take a spin around the lake. For fun, search for the statue of the Fallen Angel, which can be eerily found at 666 feet above sea level. Otherwise, head for a stroll through its gardens, especially Parterre and the Rose Garden. And, of course, don’t leave without visiting the Crystal Palace.
5. Marvel at the works of the Prado Museum
Spend a few hours immersing yourself in Prado’s amazing collection of paintings, where you will recognize some of the finest works by prominent artists such as Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Rubens, and Titian. Some of the most outstanding paintings are: Las Meninas, The Garden of Earthly Delights, and The Three Graces.
6. Make a stop along the way at Chocolatería San Ginés
Open since 1894, it is one of the best places to enjoy delicious ‘churros’ drizzled with warm chocolate. Its white marble tables and tiled counter will take you back to the end of the 19th century Madrid.
7. Climb to the roof of Círculo de Bellas Artes
The Circulo de Bellas Artes is an important private culture center located on Calle Alcala. From its rooftop, over 180 feet high, you can enjoy some of the most stunning city views. To make your way to the rooftop, you can take the glass doored elevator on the top floor.
8. Travel back in time to Ancient Egypt by visiting the Temple of Debod
The Egyptian government donated this second-century temple to Spain in 1968 as a way to thank them for the help to save Nubian monuments in the mid-20th century. The aim of the campaign was to prevent this temple, and others, from being buried because of the Aswan High Dam construction. Today, it is one of the most emblematic places of the capital.
9. Admire Guernica
Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, is one of the jewels of the Reina Sofía Museum. The museum, inaugurated in 1992, houses an impressive collection of contemporary art. Some of the works included are by prominent artists like Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Juan Gris, Georges Braque, and many others.
10. Lose yourself in the narrow streets of Lavapiés
Explore the multiculturalism found in every corner of the Lavapiés district, considered one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world. Go to the Plaza de Agustín Lara to see one of the few remaining corralas in the capital, the Corrala del Sombrerete (House of Sombrerete), declared a National Monument. And don’t leave without taking a picture of the Cine Doré’s beautiful modernist facade.
11. Visit the Royal Palace
Although it is labeled the official residence of the Spanish monarchy, the kings currently reside in the Zarzuela Palace. It has more than 3,400 rooms and during guided tours, you can visit some of the most striking rooms such as the Throne Room, the Gasparini Room, the Royal Armoury or the Royal Chapel.
12. Go shopping on Calle Preciados and its neighboring streets
This famous street that runs from Puerta del Sol to Plaza de Callao is a real paradise for fashion lovers. Here you will find the most popular clothing chains, such as Zara, H&M and Mango, but also department stores such as El Corte Inglés. If you prefer designer brands, it is better to go to Calle de Serrano.
13. Get close to the most iconic skyscrapers of the Madrid skyline
Take the metro to Plaza Castilla to look at the huge Kio Towers and the soaring Cuatro Torres. The two Kio Towers, over 375 feet high, have an inclination of more than 14 degrees, defying the law of gravity and forming a kind of door. Hence their nickname, “Gateway to Europe”. In addition, a fifth skyscraper, the 590-foot-high Caleido, popularly known as the Fifth Tower, has recently been added to the four enormous skyscrapers in the Cuatro Torres Business Area business park.
14. Experience the art of flamenco in a Madrid tablao
Although Andalusia is the birthplace of flamenco, the Spanish capital has plenty of options to discover and enjoy this art. The Corral de la Morería, where artists such as La Chunga and Diego el Cigala have performed, has been recognized as the “Best Flamenco Tablao in the World”. Another fantastic option is the Sala Torres Bermejas.
15. Enjoy some Sunday cañas (beer) and tapas (traditional Spanish snacks) in Calle Cava Baja
This street in the Latina district is filled with bars, taverns, and restaurants, so it might be hard to choose where to start. La Taberna Txakolina and Casa Lucio are a sure hit.
16. Discover the Liria Palace, residence of the Dukes of Alba
Also known as “the younger brother of the Royal Palace”, the Liria Palace is one of the most exquisite private residences in the capital. Walk through the different rooms and marvel at the complete art collection housed inside. Outstanding works include The White Duchess by Goya.
17. Don’t miss out on the San Isidro festivities
During the San Isidro festivities, held every May in honor of San Isidro Labrador, the streets of Madrid are filled with chulapos and chulapas (locals dressed in traditional costumes). Celebrations take place in many parts of the city, including Palza Mayor, Las Vistillas, and the Pradera de San Isidro.
18. Lose yourself in Rastro
From antiques to furniture and clothing, you can find just about everything in the famous open-air market. Taking place on Sundays and holidays, a stroll through the area and its 1,000 vendors is quite the experience.
19. Visit the Cibeles Fountain
One of the symbols of the city and where Real Madrid celebrates its titles, the fountain consists of the goddess Cibeles in a chariot being pulled by lions. Situated in Cibeles Square, the fountain is surrounded by striking buildings such as the Buenavista Palace and the Linares Palace. The nearby Neptune Fountain is associated with Atlético Madrid.
20. Admire the collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum
Its huge collection, which has almost 1,000 works, traces the history of Western painting from the 13th century to the present day. If you like Dalí, Roy Lichtenstein or Edgar Degas, this museum is for you.
21. Have the time of your life at the Parque Warner
During your visit to Madrid, enjoy a fun-filled day at Parque Warner, one of the most famous amusement parks in Europe. It is located 25 km from the city, but believe us, it’s worth it! And, if you go during the summer, take the opportunity to also visit Warner Beach Park.
22. Experience the alternative nightlife of Malasaña’s pubs and bars.
What was the heart of the Movida madrileña in the 1980s, is still one of the liveliest areas of the city, with a multitude of bars, pubs and nightclubs. Places like La Vía Láctea or Tupperware are already part of the city’s history.
23. Visit the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
The Real Madrid stadium, with capacity of more than 80,000 spectators, is the second largest soccer field in Spain. If you like this sport, make time to visit the Bernabeu. In addition to admiring the numerous trophies won by the club, you will be able to see the dressing rooms, the players’ tunnel, the presidential box, and more!
24. Savor a tall cup of coffee at the historic Café Comercial
A place where well-known Spanish writers such as Antonio Machado or Camilo José Cela used to hang out. The place, which preserves the bohemian spirit of the past, is the perfect place to take a break between your visit to the city’s monuments.
25. Take a ride in a cable car to see Madrid from a different perspective.
The cable car has two stations: the Rosales station, located near the Arguelles metro station, and the Casa de Campo station. Climb into one of its 80 cabins and enjoy panoramic views of the city.
26. Let yourself be tempted by the sweets at La Mallorquina’s shop window
Napolitanas, truffles, doughnuts… If there is a place in Madrid that will tempt you, this is it! This place is part of the gastronomic history of the city since 1894, when the first store opened in Puerta del Sol. Today, it has two other branches, one in Velázquez and the other in Glorieta de Quevedo.
27. Visit San Lorenzo de El Escorial
The Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, considered the Eighth Wonder of the World, is located about 32 miles from Madrid, but the trip is well worth it. The huge complex covers an area of more than 33,000 square meters and houses numerous places of interest, such as the basilica, the library and the Hall of Battles.
28. Taste all kinds of delicacies at the wrought-iron-and-glass San Miguel Market
Madrid’s most emblematic gastronomic market is sure not to disappoint. Inside the now famous iron structure that houses the market you can savor a host of Spanish gastronomic specialties, including Iberian ham.
29. Search for Civil War bunkers in Parque del Oeste.
The Parque del Oeste, located near the Plaza de España, is a huge green space of about 100 hectares. It is well known, among other things, because the Temple of Debod is located here. But what many may not know is that there are also three bunkers from the Civil War here. If you want to see them, go to the area between Avenida Seneca and Paseo de Ruperto Chapi.
30. Enter the Almudena Cathedral to gaze at the colorful stained-glass windows.
The Almudena Cathedral is located in the center, specifically in the Madrid de los Austrias, next to the Royal Palace. If you wish, you can head up to the dome or visit the museum inside.
31. Take a relaxing break in Parque del Capricho
Capricho Park is one of the most beautiful and lesser known parks of the capital. It is located in the district of Barajas and has gardens of three different styles: French, English and Italian. Stroll among fountains, statues and temples, look for the Civil War bunker or admire the palace of the Dukes of Osuna.
32. Stand in front of Puerta de Alcalá
An important symbol of the Spanish capital that was once one of five royal gates along the ancient walls. Think about the song that was made popular by Victor Manuel and Ana Belen in honor of this monument.
33. Take the opportunity to visit another city
If you have time, take advantage of your trip to Madrid and make an excursion to another city. There are plenty of options! You can do a half-day visit to Toledo, known as the City of Three Cultures, or San Lorenzo de El Escorial and the Valley of the Fallen. Other popular alternatives are the full-day excursions to discover Segovia and Toledo and the wine tours in Ribera del Duero.