Before I arrived in the bustling Spanish capital, I anticipated a long list of things to do in Madrid. But even with all my preparation, I wasn’t quite ready for the diverse array of activities I found in the city.
Madrid is easily one of the best places to visit in Spain. Here you’ll find some of the best museums in the world, delectable food, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The problem is, with limited time to explore, seeing everything is a lot easier said than done.
Luckily, I’m here to help! In this article, we’ll dive into the very best things to do in Madrid to make the most of your time in Spain.
Table of Contents
- 25 Best Things to Do in Madrid
- El Retiro Park
- Palacio de Cristal
- Royal Palace of Madrid
- Mercado de San Miguel
- Plaza Mayor
- Puerta del Sol
- Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
- Plaza de Cibeles
- Museo Nacional del Prado
- Paseo del Prado
- Temple of Debod
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
- Chocolateria San Ginés
- Matadero Madrid
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
- Calle Gran Vía
- Teatro Real
- Corral de la Moreria
- Salmon Guru
- Parque de la Quinta de los Molinos
- Mercado San Antón
- Estación Madrid – Puerta de Atocha
- Platea Madrid
- FAQs About What to Do in Madrid, Spain
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25 Best Things to Do in Madrid
El Retiro Park
Wander this enormous park from the 19th century to see its gardens, art galleries, and boat-filled lake.
Parks are such a peaceful peek into the local life of a city, and Madrid’s El Retiro Park is perfect for catching a glimpse. This place is huge and was once enjoyed as a getaway for Spanish kings.
Today, it’s one of the largest public parks in Madrid and there are plenty of activities. Visitors flock to the park’s bountiful rose garden and the Velazquez Palace art gallery. Alternatively, if you want a more hands-on activity, you can rent a row boat and set off on the park’s lake.
Plus, if you haven’t booked your accommodations yet, this neighborhood is one of the best places to stay in Madrid.
👉 Pro Tip: There are lots of welcoming, chill green spaces in the big city of Madrid. After you visit El Retiro, check out Casa de Campo and Campo del Moro if you’re a park fanatic like me.
Palacio de Cristal
Stop by this totally transparent structure in El Retiro that occasionally hosts art exhibitions.
Out of all the interesting things to see and do at Retiro, Palacio de Cristal was the thing that sticks to my mind like honey. I didn’t even get the full experience because I just visited on a random afternoon, but I was still in awe. The Glass Palace was just so unique all on its own.
However, if you’re more planning-savvy or lucky than me, you can catch one of the rotating art exhibits here. The Reina Sofia Museum puts on shows inside this mammoth piece of window-filled architecture from time to time.
Royal Palace of Madrid
Gain access to the official residence of the Spanish royal family and its rooms full of art.
You can see how the other side lives when you buy a ticket to the Royal Palace of Madrid. This opulent castle was built for King Philip V and is still the residence of the Spanish royal family on paper. However, these days, it’s only really used for state ceremonies and groups of eager tourists.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is actually the largest Royal Palace in western Europe. You will never guess how many rooms this insanely large palace has. 47? 205? 700?
Nope. There are over 3,000 rooms inside this giant estate. Just wrap your mind around that for a second. Of course, guests can’t explore every single one, but the places they can see are packed with irreplaceable antiques and artwork.
👉 Pro Tip: This Madrid Walking Tour and The Royal Palace with Skip the Line Tickets is definitely the best tour to see the palace. You get quick access to this super busy tourist attraction and they give you a rundown of the city streets, too.
Mercado de San Miguel
Grab tapas at this over 100-year-old market.
Wandering around the equivalent of a grocery store to many people doesn’t really jump off the page as an exciting activity in Madrid. But, if you’re looking for me in a major city like Madrid, I’m probably at the market. They are a fun way to get involved with the local culture that comes with some delicious food.
In Madrid, there are several cool markets, but I think the best is San Miguel Market. This place has been serving up tapas for well over 100 years and there’s a reason it’s still bursting with patrons.
There are 30 different stalls with top-notch gourmet tapas here. It’s a blast to try a handful of them instead of going to one restaurant for dinner.
👉 Pro Tip: You’ll definitely want to visit this market around Christmas time. It’s one of the best times to visit Spain in general. In December, Mercado de San Miguel goes full-out into the Christmas spirit with lots of seasonal specialties.
Go people-watching at this bustling city square that used to be the venue for executions.
Plaza Mayor is probably the most photographed and well-known place to visit in Madrid. The town square does have a very eyebrow-raising history as the grounds for public executions back in the day.
In the modern era, the events around Plaza Mayor are much less traumatizing. It’s a quiet, chill spot to do some people-watching, snap a photo of the statue of King Philip III, and maybe grab a coffee at one of the surrounding cafes.
Puerta del Sol
Peruse this well-known town square where many of Madrid’s famous streets intersect including Mayor and Arenal.
Travelers on a budget in Europe won’t have to spend a dime at Puerta del Sol – and they’ll get to see one of Madrid’s top attractions! It’s a clean, spacious town square that puts up a real spectacle of a Christmas tree for the holidays.
There are also a few landmarks in the plaza, the most famous being Kilometer Zero. This spot is notable because it’s the starting point, AKA Kilometer 0, of Spain’s 6 major roads. You can also see the Clock of Puerta del Sol and the 20-ton El Oso y El Madroño statue at this famous square.
Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
Experience the home stadium of 14-time Championship winners, the Real Madrid team.
Whether you’re an avid footballer or completely unfamiliar with the sport, you still probably know the Real Madrid team. Football is huge in Spain, it’s truly a part of the country’s culture, and seeing a match is one of the most iconic things to do in Spain. One of the teams that represent that culture the most is Real Madrid.
You can learn about their path to winning 14 championships at their home stadium, Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. This huge stadium was built with Real Madrid’s millions of fans in mind as it holds 81,000 raging visitors. Here you can check out the team’s trophies and take a tour to hear all of the stadium’s hidden history.
Plaza de Cibeles
Check out this royal-looking town square with a century-old palace that’s home to Madrid’s City Hall.
Plaza de Cibeles is one of the most elegant and elaborate squares in Madrid. This might be thanks to the astonishing Palacio de Cibeles taking up most of the background.
The palace was built over 100 years ago, and today, it’s the site of the Madrid City Council. The plaza also has a very grand fountain that looks very regal in a photograph.
Museo Nacional del Prado
Take a gander at work by El Greco, Velazquez, and more renowned masters at one of Spain’s most prestigious art museums.
Spain is a country that’s distinguished for its art and famous artists. You can get to know these two parts of Spanish society by visiting one of its most respected museums in the world, The National Museum of Prado in Madrid.
It’s one of the most-visited museums in Spain. The Prado Museum displays foreign and Spanish art by geniuses like Diego Velázquez, El Greco, and Francisco Goya. Even though this museum has some of Spain’s most precious artwork inside, you don’t have to pay the same price to see it all. The Prado Museum is only around $16 for adults and free for anyone under 18.
Paseo del Prado
Take a walk along a famous avenue in the city center that’s lined with 100-year-old trees and top cultural attractions.
When you’re done with the artwork at Prado Museum, there is plenty more to see along Prado del Prado, the street it’s located on. There is something innately charming about this unassuming street in the city center.
Along this stretch of the tree-lined street are some of Madrid’s best attractions, including:
- Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
- Palacio de Cibeles
- The Naval Museum
So you’ll probably end up along this famous street at one point or another while you’re in Madrid.
Temple of Debod
Catch the sunset at this ancient Egyptian temple and museum that was rebuilt in a Madrid park.
I’m a sucker for closing a long day of traveling with a red-hot, satisfying sunset at a scenic location. The Temple of Debod is one of the more ancient places I’ve discovered for watching the day dip away.
This piece of historic architecture was a present from the Egyptian government to Madrid. The Temple of Debod is located in a quaint park and provides uniquely historic scenery, especially at dusk. Plus, it’s a totally free stop to add to your itinerary for Madrid.
Catch a glimpse of one of the best European art collections in Spain.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is a total gem for art lovers. It boasts a collection of more than 1,600 painted masterpieces from different eras in history. The artwork spans over 700 years, making it one of the best collections of European art in the country.
The museum has a permanent collection of pieces and a rotating series of exhibitions. If you plan on visiting Thyssen-Bornemisza, then check their website to see what limited-time exhibits are available.
Chocolateria San Ginés
Treat your tastebuds to thick, luxurious hot chocolate and churros at this historic 24-hour cafe.
When I was visiting Madrid, I spent a good chunk of time eating my way through all the dessert offerings. One of my favorites was the hot chocolate and fresh churros from Chocolateria San Ginés in central Madrid.
This isn’t your ordinary, everyday hot chocolate. It’s a piping hot cup of basically pure, melted chocolate. The type of thing that’s so rich, you can only have it once a year. Nonetheless, you’ll want to sip this cup of chocolate-y decadence.
Catch a film, art exhibit, or live show at this slaughterhouse-turned-contemporary art center.
It’s not every day you stumble across a performing arts center that’s located in the repurposed remains of an old slaughterhouse. As creepy as that sounds, that’s the elevator pitch for Matadero.
This place hosts all different sorts of events. There are modern art exhibitions exploring the theoretical metaverse. Along with dramatic readings of an Italian play. Matadero is definitely a bit of a trippy place to visit in Madrid, but it’s something you won’t forget any time soon.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Get familiar with masterpieces from artists like Salvadore Dali and Pablo Picasso at this massive museum.
By now, I think we can all agree that Madrid is an out-and-out hub for prestigious art museums. Well, I’m sorry, but I have one more of those for you. This isn’t one you want to miss either – Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
This National Museum holds works from an impressive assortment of famous 20th-century artists. The work of big names like Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró. Even if you’re not a huge art fanatic, just about every traveler will know or at least appreciate the stuff at Reina Sofia.
Calle Gran Vía
Party the night away at this famous nightlife street that’s filled with notable buildings.
If you’re looking for a place in Madrid where you could still find a good time with a blindfold on, then head over to Calle Gran Vía. This iconic Madrid street cuts right through the city center and has oodles of places to go nuts with shopping. That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Calle Gran Via, though.
It’s a party hotspot with rooftop bars like La Terraza de Macarena and cocktail bars like Joséalfredo. The area offers occasional street performers to entertain you as you wander.
Plus, a few of Spain’s super famous buildings are on Calle Gran Via such as the Telefónica Building and the Metropolis Building.
Take a tour or even catch a show at an opera house that’s been in business for 173 years.
Teatro Real is one of the most famous theaters in Spain, especially regarded for its lengthy 173-year history. Imagine how much history happened at an opera house that was founded all the way back in 1850. Those walls have seen some stuff.
Even today, you can be a member of the audience at this historic theater or just take a tour of the grounds.
Corral de la Moreria
Have a 5-star dinner with a show at this fancy Flamenco theater, or Tablao.
Did you even visit Spain if you don’t see one of its signature Flamenco dance performances? Maybe – but you’re severely missing out! Flamenco is a key part of the whole Madrid experience and one of the best places to experience it is at Corral de la Moreira.
This type of cozy, Flamenco theater is known as a Tablao and Corral de la Moreria is the oldest of its kind. It’s even recognized with the Award for the Best Flamenco Tablao in the World. The Flamenco show is accompanied by creative Spanish dishes that will leave you just as awe-struck as the performance.
Try the eye-catching drinks and inventive Spanish tasting menu at this industrial-style restaurant.
If you’re a foodie, you will run amok in Madrid and one of the places that are bound to be a favorite is DSTAgE. This is one of the most popular Madrid restaurants. It is on the fine end of dining, so you’ll want to save it for your mega splurge night. However, the remarkably original dishes are well worth the price.
I recommend you opt for one of their two ‘DXPERIENCE’ tasting menus with 15 courses and the option to add wine pairings. It’s the definition of treating yourself.
Sip down mind-blowingly beautiful cocktails at the #15 best bar in the world as of 2022.
Whenever you have the opportunity to party at one of the best bars in the world, you take it. So don’t forget the name of this famous Madrid cocktail bar (not that you could): Salmon Guru.
It was officially ranked as the 15th-best bar in the world in 2022. Though you might be a little bit sad to sip down their masterfully created drinks because they’re practically a work of art.
Parque de la Quinta de los Molinos
Stop by this public park in the springtime to see the bubblegum pink flowers on the almond trees bloom.
Parque de la Quinta de los Molinos was once a classy estate, but now, it’s one of the most photogenic public parks in Madrid. This particular Madrid attraction comes with a major caveat: it’s only really worth visiting during the springtime.
During the brief window from February through March, the almond trees bloom and it looks like it’s plucked straight from an oil painting. They look a lot like the cherry blossoms in Japan.
The rest of the year, this park is still nice, but it’s not nearly as exciting as its prime.
Mercado San Antón
Indulge in gourmet foods or buy local groceries for a homemade dinner at this 3-story market.
Want to try some of the city’s best tapas bars or buy fresh grocery fare to whip up your own dinner? You can accomplish either mission at Mercado San Anton. This market is kind of a combination of all types of mercados.
It has gourmet vendors and a terrace bar. But, it also has regular groceries. In my opinion, though, the coolest part of San Anton Market is that it has cooking shows of traditional Spanish and international cuisine.
Estación Madrid – Puerta de Atocha
Take photos and relax at this lush, tropical garden located in one of Madrid’s train stations.
This is another one of those attractions that, initially, leave you scratching your head wondering why I would recommend it. But stick with me here. Puerta de Atocha train station is special. It has a giant, succulent tropical greenhouse.
If you’re into photography like me, this place makes for some enchanting photos that will have everyone asking where you got the shot.
Dive into a gastro-experience in a huge venue with gourmet food, cocktails, and live music.
One of the more peculiar things to do in Madrid is to spend an evening at Platea. It’s a massive food and music venue, but at the same time, it’s tough to nail down exactly what you’re in for on any given night here.
It describes itself as ‘the largest gastronomic leisure center in Europe’, which is just ambiguous enough to be enticing. There are live performances, an elevated food court, and plenty of Instagram-worthy cocktails at Platea.
Satisfy the urge for sweets with horchata milkshakes, hand-crafted cakes, and ice cream at this quaint dessert shop.
If you’re looking for a place to grab dessert and seal your day in Madrid, then stop by Acquolina in the Malasaña neighborhood. This adorable little cake shop is a sanctuary of sweetness. Anything you order is sure to be a hit, but I’d recommend a slice of their red velvet cake.
👉 Have More Time in Madrid? Check out our list of the top Madrid day trips for exploring the surrounding region.
FAQs About What to Do in Madrid, Spain
What is Madrid best known for?
Madrid is known for being an epicenter of history, culture, and the arts. In Madrid, visitors will find countless historic buildings and museums around every corner. There are many activities for people who aren’t history buffs, too. Such as the iconic Madrid food markets, unique cultural centers, and expansive parks.
Is it cheap in Madrid?
Madrid is one of the most expensive destinations in Spain. However, compared to other major European cities it is still considered fairly cheap. There are many affordable hotels, restaurants, and activities. Madrid can definitely work for budget travelers who want to explore a capital city without putting a painful dent in their wallets.
Is Madrid worth visiting?
Madrid, the capital and largest city in Spain, is absolutely worth visiting. There are a variety of things to do in Madrid. Ranging from trying Spanish food to getting familiar with top-tier historic sites and museums. Visitors can pack their bags for Spain and stay entertained in Madrid for anywhere from 5 days to a month or more.
Are there castles in Madrid?
There are several castles in Madrid. Some of the most popular castles to visit in Madrid include the Castle of La Mota, Aulencia Castle, and Castle Manzanares el Real. Technically, two of Madrid’s most popular tourist attractions – Palacio de Cristal and the Royal Palace of Madrid – are also castles of sorts. However, these castles have a very different, more touristy feel to them.
Thanks for reading my article on the best things to do in Madrid! If finding a place to stay is next on your planning list, don’t miss my guide to the best time to visit Spain. Happy wandering!
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