17 Unmissable Things To Do In Madrid

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Madrid is the Capital of Spain and is a city of elegance, vibrancy, and luxury. Its streets are lined with expansive parks, bustling markets, boulevards full of art galleries, and designer stores.

It’s a place where art lovers can get inspired by world-class European art, or be dazzled by the baroque architecture of the Royal Palace and Armory.

View of Buen Retiro park, lake and boats Madrid Spain
View of Buen Retiro park, lake and boats

There are so many unmissable things to do in Madrid, that it can be tough knowing what attractions to add to your itinerary.

To help you out, we interviewed Lauren Aloise from Spanish Sabores, who has been living in Madrid since 2012. Lauren has shared with us her insider tips on the best attractions in Madrid and places to visit, including where to eat, sleep, drink, shop, and explore.

Let’s take a look…

Why Visit Madrid?

a historic building
beautiful Madrid architecture

Madrid is a city that has something for everyone, and you’ll feel like you belong from the very first day.

Offering world-class museums, shopping on every budget, incredible cuisine, and gorgeous architecture Madrid keeps tourists coming back year after year.

It is a big city, but feels more like many small towns, as every neighborhood has a very distinctive character.

It’s a place where people-watching is fun, you can order a beer at any time of day, and it is impossible to run out of things to explore and discover.

Are 2 days enough for Madrid?

If you’re not sure how many days to spend in Madrid, I would say allocate two full days at the minimum. This is the least amount of time you need to see all the highlights.

If you can, stretch your trip over three days so you don’t have to rush to see it all in.

Things to Do in Madrid

Now you know why you should visit and for how long, it’s time to introduce you to the top attractions in Madrid! Make sure you add some of these to your itinerary.

1. Marvel At Amazing Art at Prado Museum

Outside of prado museum with columned foyer and statues

Everyone who visits Madrid must visit the Prado Museum, art lover or not. It is overwhelmingly big, but you can take advantage of the free entry hours (Monday – Saturday, 6 PM – 8 PM, and Sundays and public holidays, 5 PM – 7 PM) to get just a taste of what’s inside.

And there is a reason why it’s one of the most famous museums in the city!

The Prado opened in 1819 and houses a collection of over 8,600 paintings and 700 sculptures. It mostly features Spanish, Italian and Flemish artwork, plus other European masterpieces.

The most notable works in the museum include Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” Goya’s “The Third of May 1808,” and El Greco’s “Adoration of the Shepherds.” There is also a vast collection of paintings by Hieronymus Bosch.

This is one of the top things to do in Madrid and so you can expect a lot of people. Be sure to get your skip-the-line ticket beforehand to avoid standing in long queues.

2. Have a Picnic In Retiro Park

a structure next to a lake
Retiro park

I also take my visitors to Madrid for a walk through the lovely El Retiro Park, a great place to bring a picnic when the weather is nice.

It’s the largest urban park in Madrid and features a lake, manicured lawns, and flower gardens. The park once belonged to the Spanish Monarchy but was given to the public in the late 19th century.

In 2021, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site combined with the nearby Paseo del Prado. 

One of the main reasons to visit Retiro Park is for the events. Every year, the park hosts everything from Book Fairs to fireworks displays. During every holiday, you’ll want to come to the park to see what entertainment it has in store.

And best of all, it’s free to enter. If you’re looking for free things to do in Madrid, this is your number one place.

3. Watch a Flamenco Show

ruffled skirt and flemenco shoes dancing

Some of the best flamenco dancers in the world perform in Madrid, so if you enjoy the arts, a flamenco show is a must.

If you’re not familiar with flamenco, it’s a form of folk dance from Southern Spain, that has been a huge part of Spanish culture since the late 1700s.

You’ll find many venues offering flamenco performances, but one of my favourites is the historical Torres Bermejas Tablao. It opened in the 1960s and has a stunning, ornately designed interior inspired by Arabic influence.

As you watch the beautiful dances, you get to dine on traditional Spanish food, whilst watching the performance of a live band with singers, guitarists, and clappers.

4. Explore the Neighborhoods in Madrid

art on a sidewalk
Go shopping in Salamanca

One of my favourite things to do in Madrid is to just wander around the neighborhoods and get lost. There is no better way to experience the charm and vibrancy of a city than to wander down its streets and see what’s up.

Here are some neighborhoods I suggest you check out:

  • El Centro (the center) of Madrid is crammed with history and things to see and do. Highlights include the Plaza del Sol area and the Mercado de San Miguel.
  • Barrio de las Letras is another historic neighborhood where literary icons such as Hemingway used to spend their days bar hopping. You can find some of the city’s best bars and a great nightlife scene too.
  • Malasaña is the city’s up-and-coming alternative neighborhood. You’ll find lots of little stores and artistic shops, as well as plenty of non-Spanish restaurants.
  • Lavapies is the place to go to find some inexpensive ethnic food and artsy community centers.
  • Chueca is where you’ll find some of the city’s most exciting nightlife, rooftop bars, and trendy restaurants.
  • Retiro is a nice neighborhood to take a leisurely walk and check out the lovely park.
  • Salamanca neighborhood is an absolute must for those who like to shop, it’s home to all the best designers.

Want to explore Madrid in a unique way? Check out this E-Bike Tour of Madrid!

5. Try Some of the Local Cuisine

plate of pimintos de padron
Yummy Pimientos de Padrón

The great thing about Spain is that everywhere you go, there is a unique regional dish to get stuck into. It’s not all about paella and gazpacho! Some of the most delicious Spanish food can be found here, in the capital of Spain.

So don’t visit Madrid without trying…

  • A runny tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelet)
  • Pimientos de Padrón (small green chiles fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt)
  • Chocolate con churros (piping hot churros with hot chocolate)

Now you may be wondering where is good to eat? Don’t worry, here are some of my favourite restaurants in the city:

For traditional Madrileño, head over to Docamar is a bit further out of the center (15 minutes by metro) but serves Madrid classics like Calamari sandwiches and an incredible Spanish omelet at low prices.

A plate of food on a table
Basque-style pinchos

For Pinchos, Juana la Loca is the place to go for creative Basque-inspired tapas (called Pinchos) and has both a busy bar and a more exclusive restaurant.

If you’re interested in Tapas, try Calle Cava Baja near the La Latina metro stop (or a five-minute walk from the center). Almost anything on this busy street full of bars and restaurants is good – though prices vary so see the menu first!

If you are pressed for time, try a Madrid Food Tour. Their tasting tour offers you the best of Madrid’s traditional foods in only four hours.

Hot Tip! Madrid is a menu-of-the-day type of city, and lunchtime is full of some great deals all around town. One of my favorites is Mercado de la Reina, a nice restaurant in busy Gran Vía with a fantastic three-course menu for about 12-16 euros!

A plate of food
hot croquettes are a great tapa

6. Explore the Nightlife in Madrid

Madrid is just as vibrant at night as it is during the day. You’ll find many bars and clubs, as well as some unique places to drink. Here are some of my favourite places…

1862 Dry Bar: The place in Madrid to have a gin and tonic (the city’s cocktail of choice). It is a show just to see the bartenders working, they know their stuff! A drink will set you back at least 10 euro for their expertise.

Café de la Luz: This small café is the perfect place to go for inexpensive (but delicious) cocktails and coffees.

Chicote: One of the city’s most famous and historic bars, Museo Chicote is a must for anyone who wants to drink elbow-to-elbow with the city’s elite.

La Sureña: If you want to go out in Spanish student style, try La Sureña, a chain you’ll find all over the city. Here you can order a beer bucket with five small bottles for three euros!

7. Get Lost In The Markets in Madrid

A sign on the side of a building
San Miguel market

You should also check out the historic San Miguel Market, located in the center of the city. Here you can go from stand to stand, trying delicious Spanish foods like stuffed olives, Spanish omelet, and acorn-fed Iberian ham.

For food shopping (the best souvenirs in my opinion) check out the different stands at the Mercado de la Paz in the Salamanca neighborhood.

For big-name designers stay in Salamanca and check out the side streets for lesser-known, up-and-coming Spanish designers.

masks on display
Strange selections at El Rastro

For trendy shopping and vintage boutiques head over to the Malasaña neighborhood, and for one of the biggest flea markets in Europe, a stop at the El Rastro on Sunday mornings (metro La Latina) is obligatory.

For food, the Mercado de San Miguel is great for trying a bit of everything and is where people go for their pre-meal aperitif.

8. Enjoy One of The Top Festivals in Madrid

Madrid has many holidays and festivals throughout the year, and the smaller towns surrounding Madrid have even more!

If your Spanish is decent, try the website Madrid Diferente for their cultural agenda, and, if not, Cheap in Madrid notifies you about all the up-and-coming budget events.

Here are some yearly festivals I love attending:

Christmas Lights: Every December the city comes alive with the Christmas spirit as beautiful Christmas lights adorn the city center.

The Christmas tree in the Plaza del Sol is the main event and a great place to take a picture. I prefer walking (and stopping every now and then for hot chestnuts) but there is also a special bus to see all of the lights around town.

light decorations on a city street
Christmas lights

Las Uvas on New Year’s Eve: On the 31st of December, the people crowd into the city’s central square, the Plaza Mayor to bring in the new year. The tradition in Spain is to eat one grape (una uva) for each of the twelve seconds prior to midnight. Tricky, but definitely possible!

A bowl of grapes
12 grapes for new years eve

La Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos: This big parade on January 5th shows off the Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men), what Spain traditionally celebrates instead of Santa Claus. The three men throw candy to the crowds, and the greediest spectators catch the candy in an inside-out umbrella.

San Isidro: San Isidro is Madrid’s patron saint, and the Madrileños don’t take his festival lightly. There are traditional costumes, pastries, stews, and dances that everyone likes to partake in during these days, the 11-15 of May.

Madrid Orgullo: Orgullo means pride, and Madrid’s gay pride celebrations (called mado) are among the biggest in the world. 2013’s festivities take place July 3-7 and are sure to be a really fun time.

9. Take a Day Trip from Madrid

arched walls of segovia
Segovia

Madrid has the incredible advantage that if you tire of the big city, there are plenty of small towns nearby, just waiting to be explored. Here are my picks for some lovely day trips from Madrid:

  • Toledo: On the top of everyone’s list and with good reason. Toledo is a gorgeous and very historic city, with fantastic architecture and views. It is easy to see Toledo on a budget too.
  • Alcalá de Henares: This small city is one of my favorite day trips from Madrid. Tapas here are free (included in the price of a drink) and the pastries are to die for. See here for where to go for tapas in Alcalá– as a major foodie, I come here often! The town is also the birthplace of Cervantes and has some beautiful monuments and plazas.
  • Aranjuez: This was where Spanish royalty had their summer palace and you can take a tour of the impressive site in Aranjuez. The town is also a gorgeous place to spend a leisurely day strolling around, especially in its pretty park and Royal Gardens.
  • Segovia: is a historic city that contains centuries-old historic landmarks, including the old medieval walls, Romanesque churches and Gothic Cathedral, and the former royal palace. Don’t miss the striking Roman aqueduct with 160 arches!

10. Learn About The History of Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu is the home of the Real Madrid football team and can hold over 80,000 spectators, making it the second-largest stadium in Spain and the third-largest football stadium in the world.

If you’re a football fan, you’ll want to take a visit here to see behind the scenes, as well as learn about the history of the team at the Bernabéu Stadium museum.

You’ll get to explore the stands, the pitch, the trophy room, and locker rooms, as well as learn about legendary players and events in the museum. The museum also contains some of the kits, boots, and equipment that have been used by the team over the years.

11. Check Out The Royal Palace of Madrid

courtyard and extravagant palace of madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family and the largest royal palace in Western Europe.

Although the family doesn’t live here anymore and only uses it for state ceremonies, the palace is still an important part of Spanish heritage.

Visitors can explore the grounds and galleries, and some of the most important rooms in the palace (you can’t see them all, there are 3,418 of them!

The museum contains a huge collection of furniture and upholstery, as well as other items used by the royal family such as porcelain and antique clocks. It also has a huge collection of armor and weaponry, and of course, many pieces of historical artwork including paintings by Goya and Velázquez.

You’ll be able to see the private rooms where the royal family lived, the throne room, the royal dining rooms, and the mirror room of Charles IV and the Royal Chapel.

Don’t miss a chance to wander around the beautiful Plaza de Oriente on the east side of the palace.

12. Eat Chocolate and Churros at Chocolatería San Ginés

This is probably the most famous chocolate shop in all of Madrid! It was founded in 1894 and is most famous for its chocolate and churros.

What’s special about this chocolate shop is that it’s open 24 hours!

The building itself is stunning, with two floors decorated with ornate 19th-century detailing. From the traditional white marble tables to the mirrored walls, it’s a true piece of decadence in the heart of Madrid.

If you’re looking for somewhere for breakfast, you can find delicious pastries and coffee here, and on a warm summer morning, you can sit outside and watch the world go by as you eat.

13. See More Art at The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia Museum

person looking at art on the walls

If you’re still hungry for more art, you’ll want to explore more art museums in the Madrid “Golden Triangle of Art” – they are the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia Museum, or just Reina Sofia for short.

The Reina Sofía contains works of 20th-century art and opened in 1992. It houses more than 21,000 pieces, including works by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and of course, the most famous Spanish painter of all time, Pablo Picasso.

The most famous piece in the museum is Picasso’s “Guernica”.

Be sure to allow a couple of hours to explore the entirety of the museum as it is huge! You can also avoid the queues by purchasing a skip-the-line ticket beforehand.

14. Check Out Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol

statue of man on horse in front of red buildings
Plaza Mayor

If you’re looking for relaxing things to do in Madrid, then you might want to check out some of the most famous town squares and plazas in Madrid.

The most famous plaza is Plaza Mayor, which is a huge public space that marks the once centre of Old Madrid.

It was first built during the reign of Estatua de Felipe III, who is depicted on a statue in the middle of the square sitting on a horse.

Just a short walk away is another famous plaza in Madrid, the Puerta del Sol. This plaza connects to many small side streets full of high street stores, cafes and restuarants. If you want to do some shopping, the area around here is a good place to do it.

15. Watch an Opera at Teatro Real

people walking up to the teatro real
Teatro Real (Royal Theatre) is a major opera house located in Madrid

The Teatro Real is a stunning opera house on the Plaza de Oriente, near the Royal Palace. It’s considered one of the top theatres in the country for musical and performing arts in the country and is one of the most prestigious opera houses in Europe.

If you’re looking for things to do in Madrid at night, then a visit to the Opera is surely a memorable experience.

16. Check Out The Temple of Debod, An Ancient Egyptian Temple

ancient teple surrounded by water

I bet you weren’t expecting to be taken back to ancient Egypt on your trip to Madrid! This ancient Egyptian Temple was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid in 1972. The move was part of the International Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia.

This 2,000-year-old structure was at risk of being destroyed after the construction of the Aswan High Dam. It was the decision of UNESCO and the Egyptian government to move the site to save its historical legacy.

The temple is a small, one-room shrine that was built to worship the Egyptian god Amun. Today it sits in the Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace of Madrid.

17. Take the Cable Car to Casa de Campo

The view from the Casa de Campo Cable Car
The view from the Casa de Campo Cable Car

If you’re looking for stunning views of the city, you will want to make sure you take the cable car up to Casa de Campo.

The Casa de Campo is the largest public park in Madrid and was once a royal hunting estate. It was built in the early 16th century but was opened to the public in 1931.

The park is a huge green space with a lake that you can go boating on, plus several walking trails around the huge space. It’s also where you’ll find the Parque de Atraccciones amusement park, as well as the Zoo Aquarium, which has animals from every continent.

For a unique experience, take the cable car over the city to the park. The ride takes around 11 minutes each way.

Best Time to Visit Madrid

September and October are usually gorgeous, and April and May can be quite beautiful too.

Winter gets very cold, although sunny days are common and it can be wonderful as long as you are bundled up.

Summer can be brutally hot, and I’d avoid visiting Madrid in July and August.

food for sale
a typical Spanish market

Getting To and Around Madrid

Iberia has lots of direct flights to and from the US and the Spanish trains (RENFE) are wonderful when traveling from one part of Spain to another, although the high-speed trains are definitely pricey.

Low-cost airlines such as Ryanair also fly in and out of Madrid, making it a very cheap option to visit from other European cities.

a flag of buill
Spanish pride

When it comes to getting around Madrid, the public transport has been excellent, however, recent budget cuts have definitely slowed things down.

Nonetheless, the metro is reliable and comfortable and runs often during the day.

Buses are equally dependable, and there are special night buses that continue service all night after the normal buses and metros stop running.

Your best bet is to buy a 10-pass transportation ticket (€12.20) that you can use on the metro and buses. But my preferred means of transportation is definitely by foot.

Madrid is extremely walkable and the only excuse to rely on public transportation is when traveling outside of the city center.

Where to Stay in Madrid

Madrid is full of great places to stay, and you can find something at every price point. I prefer staying in the center, to be able to fully enjoy Madrid on foot.

That said, there are some great deals to be found when you go further out. Here are some specific recommendations:

Budget: Centrally located, but tucked away on a quiet side street Cat’s Hostel is a legend in Madrid. I recommend it above all for the location and friendly staff.

Mid-Range: If you are happy with the basics, try Alojamiento Jaén. It’s located in the center of the city in the always lively Barrio de las Letras. Rooms are very comfortable and include free wifi.

Luxury: Urban Hotel Madrid is where you should definitely stay if money is not an issue. From its tempting rooftop bar to its gorgeous art deco style, I haven’t stayed here myself, but it is highly recommended!

Scroll through the list below for more Madrid accommodation options.

Tips for Visiting Madrid

I recommend just getting lost in the city and stumbling upon the city’s hidden gems. But here are a few off-beat suggestions I think are worthwhile:

  • The city’s cable car is really cool and offers a unique view of the city.
  • The city’s bull ring (Las Ventas Plaza de Toros) is a bit out of the center but worth a look for the impressive architecture, and the tour is also really interesting. After, you can try any of the neighborhood bars for stewed bull’s tail or, if you’re lucky, delicious bull’s tail croquettes.
  • My other advice for active travelers is to try to run a 5k or 10k while visiting. They close down the center streets for many races and you get a truly unique look at the normal traffic-filled streets of Madrid.

Don’t miss these top selling tours and attractions in Madrid.

Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Madrid

I love Madrid, it’s an incredibly complex and beautiful city with a lifetime of things to do and see, and incredible food and people too!

I hope this guide helped you to plan your trip to Madrid and gave you some ideas of what to add to your itinerary.

As you can see, there are so many great attractions in Madrid, it can be hard to narrow down what to add to your to do list.

Bio: Lauren is a food and wine obsessed girl currently exploring her passion for Spain’s incredible cuisine in delicious Madrid. When she’s not out eating and drinking, she is usually traveling, writing, or planning her next food project. You can find her blogging at Spanish Sabores and Teach and Travel Spain, or over on Twitter @SpanishSabores and on Facebook too.

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