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Even though it is the capital, visitors frequently opt for Mallorca’s beaches or cities such as Barcelona and Seville instead of traveling to Madrid.
However, the lively capital of Spain offers an abundance of cultural landmarks, historical significance, and traditional charm, along with a plethora of unique attractions that other cities can only aspire to match.
Madrid offers an abundance of world-renowned artworks, beautiful green spaces, and grandiose architecture from bygone eras for those seeking a city getaway.
Its historic landmarks illustrate Spain’s rich history, while distinctive neighbourhoods retain a sense of the past while carving their own reputations in the present.
Madrid offers a wide range of experiences, including traditional tapas bars, historic drinking establishments, and a diverse array of entertainment options such as theater, music, and sports events.
Not sure where to begin? We have compiled a list of the top attractions and activities.
Explore the historic heart of Rome.
The charming district of Madrid’s historic center is often considered the most delightful area of the city. It spans from the bustling Puerta del Sol, a popular public square, to the Royal Palace. The palace serves as the official home of the royal family and offers guided tours for €24, lasting two hours. Many visitors also enjoy strolling through the beautiful gardens of Campo del Moro park.
Amidst the city, there are numerous broad roads intersecting with quaint cobblestone pathways and impressive plazas like the Plaza Mayor, a well-known landmark. Take a moment to relax and enjoy a beverage while admiring the 17th-century ochre-colored buildings and frescoes in this bustling hub of Madrid’s culture. Afterwards, make a brief visit to the Almudena, the iconic cathedral of Madrid, and its underground chamber.
Learn more about traveling in Spain.
Enjoy a meal at a nearby market or at the world’s oldest restaurant.
Why not indulge in a meal while exploring the charming historic district? Dining at the glass-fronted Mercado de San Miguel is a popular pastime among locals and guarantees a delicious treat for your taste buds. With over 30 stalls offering a variety of dishes, from delectable desserts and sandwiches to mouthwatering paella and a dedicated croquette stand, you’ll be spoilt for choice. The prices are reasonable and the portions are just right, allowing you to try multiple dishes before feeling satisfied. Make sure to take a stroll around before making your decision.
You should definitely make a stop at Sobrino de Botin, which holds the record for being the longest-running restaurant in the world according to Guinness World Records. This famous establishment, mentioned in Hemingway’s books and once visited by artist Francisco de Goya, is located underground and is commonly known as ‘Botin’. It serves a variety of classic meat and fish dishes, many of which have been prepared using the same techniques since 1725, without any sense of arrogance.
View the most impressive art collections of Spain.
The El Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza galleries are collectively referred to as the Golden Triangle and house some of Spain’s most renowned artwork, including pieces by other acclaimed artists. These galleries are all within a 10-minute walking distance from each other, and visitors can purchase a combined pass for €32 to visit all three.
The Prado is a highly acclaimed museum which features galleries dedicated to renowned Spanish artists such as Goya and Velazquez. It also showcases pieces from various Italian, French, and Flemish artists. The Reina Sofia specializes in Spanish artwork and has a collection of 20,000 pieces, including masterpieces by Miro, Dali, and Picasso like “Guernica”. The Thyssen-Bornemisza displays a wide range of Western art with 775 works in its collection, spanning from Van Gogh to 1960s Pop Art.
Take a leisurely walk in Retiro Park.
After exploring the Golden Triangle, consider strolling through Buen Retiro Park. It is located only five minutes from the Prado and spans almost 300 acres of land that was once exclusively for the royal family.
This vast space of landscaped gardens contains a number of alfresco cafes and a large boating lake often filled with couples and friends enjoying a relaxing row. The highlight is probably the Palacio de Cristal, an eccentric glass and metal palace built in 1887. El Retiro’s most photographed sight, it overlooks its own smaller lake, teeming with local birds and ducks, and sometimes hosts exhibitions.
View the Egyptian Temple in Spain.
One of the most distinctive landmarks in Madrid, and in all of Spain, is a temple honoring the Egyptian deities Amun and Isis. It is a rare example of an ancient Egyptian monument located outside of Egypt, with a history dating back 2,200 years.
The Egyptian government gave this temple to Spain as a gesture of gratitude for their assistance in restoring other temples. It is located near Gran Via and allows free admission for up to 20 minutes. The temple is surrounded by calm pools and gardens, and visitors can explore the interior rooms, such as the Adijalamani Chapel, which is the oldest section adorned with relief sculptures.
Go shopping on the Gran Via
Gran Via is the beating heart of modern Madrid: a grand boulevard lined with impressive early 20th-century architecture, including some of the city’s most well-known buildings, such as the Edificio Carrion and the Telefonica building. Always filled with locals and souvenir- or bargain-hunting tourists, it gives a great insight into daily madrileno life, with a dose of Oxford Street-esque grandeur and busyness.
This is the most commercialized section of the city, hosting a variety of international brands and beloved Spanish favorites. It’s the perfect spot for indulging in some retail therapy. This area also boasts exceptional hotels, rooftop bars, cultural events such as theatre and flamenco performances, and a diverse selection of restaurants ranging from well-known chains to charming tapas bars.
Explore the neighbourhoods
To gain a better understanding of the lifestyle of Madrid residents, try to explore the neighborhoods of Malasana, Chueca, Lavapies, or La Latina, all of which are located within a 15-minute radius of the city center.
Chueca is one of Madrid’s most popular neighborhoods, known for its vibrant nightlife scene. The Plaza Dos de Mayo is at the heart of this area, with a multitude of clubs and bars surrounding it. In addition, Chueca is a LGBTQ-friendly neighborhood and hosts a pride festival every summer. Its labyrinthine streets are filled with outdoor cafes and terraces, all eventually leading to the Plaza de Chueca.
Lavapies is Madrid’s most cosmopolitan barrio, where tapas bars sit alongside restaurants that offer all sorts of world cuisine and the streets are filled with colourful street art and the odd live music or dance performance throughout the day. La Latina, just southwest of the centre, is the city’s oldest neighbourhood, where labyrinthine medieval streets house characterful tapas bars and watering holes.
View the top soccer team in the world.
While England has a strong historical connection to football, Spain can also be considered its current home. This is primarily attributed to the prominent role of Real Madrid, which is not only the most successful football club in the world, but also a longstanding figure in the world of sports. When a renowned player leaves, they are quickly replaced with two more and visitors to the city between August and May have the opportunity to witness the emergence of new players who are making their mark in football history with each Champions League trophy they earn at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
Experience the top sights of the city
There are numerous options for enjoying a beautiful perspective of Madrid. You can visit various rooftop bars for typical city views or take a ride on the Teleferico, a cable car 40 meters above ground, to witness breathtaking vistas. The journey spans 2.5km from Parque del Oeste and offers views of the eastern side of the city.
Some popular spots to take in the scenery are Montana del Principe Pio, which offers stunning views of the Royal Palace and sunsets. For a fee of €3, visitors can also enjoy a great view of the surrounding area and Retiro Park from the viewing deck at Plaza de Cibeles, which is currently used as the city council’s headquarters.
Furthermore, there are numerous rooftop bars that offer stunning vistas of the city center. Located on or near Gran Via, the rooftops of El Corte Ingles Callao and Circulo de Bellas Artes offer expansive views of some of the city’s most notable landmarks (and the added perk of being able to enjoy a cocktail while taking in the scenery).
Explore the El Rastro flea market.
The most renowned and largest market in Europe is held every Sunday from 7am on the Ribera de Curtidores, showcasing a variety of goods including trinkets, handicrafts, vintage clothing, jewelry, and photographs.
If you are willing to wait, there are great deals to be discovered everywhere – if not, it wouldn’t be such a popular destination – but several guides caution against pickpockets while hunting for bargains.
Take a look at our evaluations of the top hotels in Spain.