Madrid, without a doubt, is one of the great European capitals. An extraordinary city to travel and explore with intriguing history, amazing culinary scene, and a laid back atmosphere that separates it from the more distant Barcelona. If you plan to travel to the Spanish capital, make sure you have enough days to visit the museums, experience the local cuisine, and stroll Madrid’s charming neighborhoods. There are a plethora of amazing things to do in Madrid, Spain.
Visit the Royal Palace
This gorgeous baroque palace is Madrid’s most majestic building. Plaza de la Armeria — the huge square in front of it, allows you to view the Royal Palace from the right distance and admire it in all its grandeur.
Inside, you will find some of the most elegant and luxurious chambers you’ve ever seen, many of which have a theme. You’ll have the chance to see exquisite furniture, invaluable paintings, and even a unique collection of four Stradivariuses.
Save for the luxurious quarters, the palace’s kitchen also bears great interest and is accessible to visitors at certain hours of the day.
Admire the Work of Masters at Prado Museum
Some people say that Prado is the best art museum in the world, and there are more than a few good reasons supporting this. Sure, there are many museums around the globe hosting famous paintings, but this one not only features a great number of masters but also big bodies of their work.
In Prado, you don’t only see the works of Goya, El Greco, and Velasquez, you get to see how these painters changed and evolved through time.
I can think of at least a dozen paintings that would be the centerpiece in any museum around the globe, but in Prado, they are just one more painting in its vast collection, that says a lot.
Take a Walk in Buen Retiro Park
This is Madrid’s second-biggest park and by far the most beautiful. A hundred and twenty-five hectares of trees, exquisite gardens, elaborate fountains, a beautiful pond, and two magnificent buildings — the Glass palace and the Velasquez palace, both used as exhibition spaces.
Madrilenos go to El Retiro to walk, do sports, relax, or just to hide from the relentless Spanish sun for a bit. The monument of Alfonso XII on the park’s pond is the most imposing in Madrid.
Mingle in Puerta del Sol
This might not the biggest square in Madrid, but it is definitely the most popular. Puerta del Sol is the place where locals usually meet downtown.
The iconic clock tower of the post office across the street is one of Madrid’s most famous landmarks, and the statue of the bear and the strawberry tree, one of the city’s icons. This square is buzzing with people around the clock. In the daytime, you’ll find many street artists performing, usually surrounded by tourists.
Later, when the sun goes down and the famous neon sign of Tio Pepe lights up, the youth of Madrid meets there to hang or plan a night out.
See Guernica at Sofia Reina Museum
A great museum of modern art with its building being as impressive as the art it’s housing. Sofia Reina hosts many works of Pablo Picasso including Guernica, his most famous painting.
Guernica is a small Basque town that was bombed to the ground by the Nazis during the Spanish civil war. The great cubist portrayed the tragedy on a huge canvas, almost 8m long.
Today, undisputably, it’s the centerpiece of Sofia Reina museum. Besides Picasso, visitors have the chance to admire the works of Dali, Miro, Gris, and several other modern and contemporary artists.
Paella is the most famous Spanish food in the world. This tasty rice dish is prepared in a paella — a kind of shallow pan from where its name derived.
In Madrid, the classic paella is made with fresh seafood, but you can also have chicken, beef, or a mix of all the aforementioned ingredients. You will find paella almost everywhere in Madrid, but it’s really worth seeking a good restaurant, especially for the fresh seafood one.
A good paella will be unforgettable with the saffroned rice melting in the mouth and the delicious seafood balancing it perfectly with its strong taste and texture.
Try the Tapas in La Latina
Tapas is not a specific food, but rather small portions of several different foods served together.
A tapas dish can be anything from half a toast with ham and cheese, to a piece of Spanish omelet, or something more complicated involving fish or meat. It’s a great way to be introduced into Spanish cuisine, and one of the best places to taste them is Barrio de La Latina — one of Madrid’s most colorful neighborhoods with the large squares and the small alleys.
There, you’ll find the most scenic little shops and tapas bars in town. Despite its proximity to the center, it’s more of a locals’ place than a tourist trap.
Stroll Around Plaza Mayor
It’s not easy to describe the grandiosity of this huge square in the center of Madrid. Plaza Mayor is a huge rectangle square, enclosed with old buildings, that can be accessed through 9 archways.
It is a surprisingly open space in the heart of Madrid’s most densely built area — the old town. Right in the middle, the horse-mounted statue of Philip III and the four huge lanterns surrounding it are the only structures on the square.
Get a bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich) and enjoy it while sitting on a bench and watching the stream of people passing by.
Shop in Gran Via
The most beautiful and commercial avenue in Madrid is Gran Via — a road lined with all kinds of shops, theatres, bars, and some of the most beautiful modern era buildings in Madrid.
Callao cinema and Carrion building with the iconic Schweppes neon sign are two of Madrid’s most famous art deco buildings. On the other end of the avenue, on the corner with Calle de Alcala, is one of Madrid’s most photographed spots, the Metropolis building.
No matter if you want to shop or not, you should definitely walk the Gran Via from one side to the other.
Have Dinner in Malasana
Malasana is the hip side of the city and has many excellent restaurants to dine. Even though it’s not far from the center, this neighborhood has an alternative crowd and an artistic scene that sets it apart from the rest of Madrid.
Get lost in its narrow alleys and explore all the little cafes and restaurants that are almost in every corner of this cozy neighborhood.
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Taste Churros at Chocolateria San Gines
Churros are sweets made from fried dough that you dip into hot chocolate, and believe me, it tastes as good as it sounds. The most famous Chocolateria in Madrid is that of San Gines, just across the Plaza Mayor.
It serves churros and porras (the same thing, but thicker) 24 hours a day and has an exclusive collection of hot chocolates to match them with. Don’t be surprised if you encounter a long queue going out of the door.
Wander Around the Market of El Rastro on a Sunday Morning
Every Sunday and on national holidays, a street market under the name El Rastro takes place in Madrid, and it’s a great way to mingle with the locals and shop some very cool stuff.
El Rastro is rooted back to the 15th century, and there, you’ll find everything from clothing and crafts to antiques and Jamon Iberico. It’s a great place to start your Sunday and explore Madrid by doing what the locals do.
See the Temple of Debod
You probably didn’t know but Madrid has a whole Egyptian temple lying on a park called Parque del Oeste. How did it get there? The Egyptians donated it to Spain since it would be covered with water or get destroyed after the Aswan dam would be completed.
It is set on a beautiful location on the top of a small hill and is surrounded by a shallow pond. I can’t think of a better place to see the sunset in the Spanish capital.
Visit Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
Even if you are not a fan of Real Madrid, you should definitely visit the team’s home, the imposing Santiago Bernabeu.
Built in 1947, this football stadium has seen numerous glory days and more than a fair share of historical clashes with Real Madrid’s arch-enemy, the detestable Barcelona.
Under the stadium, is a state-of-the-art museum with interactive screens, the team’s trophies, and even a team bus maquette. If you are looking for something more intense, and book tickets well in advance, you can watch a match and experience the blazing atmosphere of Santiago Bernabeu from the stands.
A City of Irresistible Charm
Madrid has something for everyone. Above all, it has a very distinctive character that will be forever imprinted on your mind, making you fall in love with this magnificent city. The parks, the museums, the theatres, and especially the hospitable Madrilenos themselves, are all an essential part of Madrid’s heart and soul, and this soul will win you over.
About the Author: Chrisostomos Kamberis
A travel writer by profession and an adventurer at heart, Chris loves hiking long trails and climbing mountains as much as exploring metropolises and tasting street food in some of the most obscure places in the world.