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Best things to do in Madrid

Madrid is a city that not only has monuments and museums: the cultural and entertainment offer of this city is among the top ones in Spain and here it is impossible to get bored. Take note of what you can not miss!

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

Sep 9, 2021 • 9 min read

Best things to do in Madrid

Metrópoli building on Madrid's Gran Vía | ©Florian Wehde

Sightseeing in the Spanish capital ranges from a visit to the Prado Museum or the Royal Palace to a tour of its streets and squares to a flamenco show or an excursion in the surrounding area. These are the 20 things you can't miss on your trip to Madrid.

1. Course through history with a guided tour through the center of Madrid

Plaza Mayor | ©mgphotography.uk
Plaza Mayor | ©mgphotography.uk

The most authentic experience of any city is to walk through it. This is the most effective way to get close to the charm of the city and to know its history through its squares, buildings, and monuments.

You can discover the historic center, the Barrio de las Letras, or the iconic bars of the city in a tour accompanied by an expert guide who will tell you interesting stories and give you tips for your trip.

2. Stroll through the Retiro on a sunny morning

Estanque del Retiro | ©Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie
Estanque del Retiro | ©Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie

El Retiro is probably one of the most beautiful parks in Spain. Each of its areas is different, but all of them have in common the delicacy and order with which this park, which is, in turn, the green heart of the capital, is cared for.

Personally, what I like the most is to sit with my friends on the stairs in front of its pond, letting the hours pass while I see families and couples going up by boat to have a good time. I also encourage you to have a drink at one of their kioscos or outdoor bars (although the food is quite expensive and not particularly good quality, you will appreciate a good refreshment in summer).

3. Go in search of the Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace | ©Sjaak Kempe
Crystal Palace | ©Sjaak Kempe

This impressive glass palace is for me one of the best kept jewels of Madrid. It is inside the Retiro Park itself, but for me, it deserves a separate mention because it is a little away from the central area of the park, so not all tourists come and it is a real wonder for all the senses. There is always a musician entertaining the atmosphere and several peacocks bathing in the small lake at the entrance.

4. Take a trip back in time at the Prado Museum

Museo del Prado | ©Emilio
Museo del Prado | ©Emilio

It is the most important museum in Spain and its collection of paintings and sculptures gathers works from the 16th to the 19th century by artists such as Velázquez, Goya, Rafael, El Greco, Rubens, or El Bosco.

I advise you to consider the possibility of taking a guided tour of El Prado since each of his paintings hides behind it not only the technique that you can perceive aesthetically but a message and a story framed in a particular time and context.

5. Get cultured in the Reina Sofia Museum

Entrance to the Reina Sofía Museum | ©Rubén Vique
Entrance to the Reina Sofía Museum | ©Rubén Vique

If in El Prado is one of the largest collections of classical art in Europe, in the Reina Sofía is one of the best of contemporary art. The crown jewel in this museum is Picasso's Guernica, but you will also find works by artists such as Miró, Dalí, Juan Gris, Delaunay, Yves Klein, or Francis Bacon.

To avoid waiting, it is best to book your tickets online or take a guided tour of the Reina Sofia Museum which will allow you to get more out of your visit.

6. Immerse yourself in royalty by visiting the Royal Palace

Royal Palace | ©Maxim B.
Royal Palace | ©Maxim B.

To take a guided tour of the Royal Palace of Madrid is like stepping back in time and placing yourself inside a historical movie. If on the outside the surroundings of the palace, located opposite the Plaza de Oriente and with the Campo del Moro and Sabatini gardens next to it (free admission to both gardens) is already majestic, its interior holds fairytale rooms and valuable objects.

7. Marvel at the aqueduct of Segovia

Aqueduct of Segovia | ©MarinoCarlos
Aqueduct of Segovia | ©MarinoCarlos

In addition to the advantages that Madrid has as a city, its geographical location makes it the perfect starting point to explore nearby cities and one of them is Segovia (just over an hour from Madrid), presided by its famous stone aqueduct and known for the cochinillo they serve in their restaurants (booking in advance).

Visit Segovia on an organized excursion will also take you, if you wish, to visit other cities nearby. In either case, you can go and come back in one day and discover a medieval city with places of interest such as the aqueduct, the cathedral, or the Alcazar.

8. Discover Toledo

View of Toledo on the banks of the Tagus River | ©Greg Clarke
View of Toledo on the banks of the Tagus River | ©Greg Clarke

Toledo is located one hour away from Madrid and attractions such as its impressive cathedral make it one of the most visited cities in Spain. The charm of taking a guided tour of Toledo is to walk through its narrow stone streets (most of them uphill) and observe in each of its corners the traces of the three cultures that formed the city: Christian, Muslim and Jewish.

9. Live the Spanish culture with an authentic flamenco show

Flamenco Show | ©Flavio~
Flamenco Show | ©Flavio~

The art of flamenco is part of Spain's cultural heritage and Madrid is one of the places with the most variety of venues to enjoy a show. Flamenco is performed with guitars, singers, and dancers in the famous tablaos and many of them are located in restaurants where you have the option to order drinks and food during the show.

Tickets for flamenco shows sell out quickly, so I recommend booking your tickets online in advance.

10. Tour the streets of Madrid comfortably in its tourist bus

Tourist bus through the streets of Madrid | ©Son of Groucho
Tourist bus through the streets of Madrid | ©Son of Groucho

Madrid is a huge city and walking around it in a few days is an exhausting experience. Besides, in each of its areas, you have a different store to explore, a restaurant with a terrace where you can have a snack, or a square where you can sit and relax. To see all that Madrid has to offer without getting exhausted, the best thing to do is to take a tour in a bus with panoramic views.

11. Stroll through the neighborhoods of Madrid

Barrio Salamanca | ©PromoMadrid
Barrio Salamanca | ©PromoMadrid

Surely, in a tour of the center of Madrid (either guided or individually) you will discover the most emblematic places and monuments of the city, but you will still have to explore the places where its essence lies: the various neighborhoods of the city. This is where you will find its true essence, and that is why I recommend you:

  • Attending a theater performance in Gran Via.
  • Visiting the trendiest stores in Malasaña
  • Eating in the trendy restaurants of Chueca
  • Go for a beer in Lavapiés
  • Visit the luxury stores in Barrio de Salamanca
  • Going on a Sunday to the Rastro in La Latina

12. Step on Bernabeu's playing field

Santiago Bernabeu Stadium | ©Vienna Reyes
Santiago Bernabeu Stadium | ©Vienna Reyes

Whether you are a Real Madrid fan or not, having the opportunity to visit the stadium of one of the best soccer clubs in the world is something you can't do in every city.

The stadium itself organizes a tour with panoramic views of the stadium, exclusive access to the dressing rooms and the dugouts, entrance to the field, and a tour of the trophy cabinets, the press room, and the presidential box.

13. Taste Madrid's gastronomy in its markets

Mercado de San Miguel | ©Joy
Mercado de San Miguel | ©Joy

There is no doubt that there are spectacular restaurants in Madrid, but if you really want to try authentic local gastronomy, the best-kept secret of the city are its local markets.

The well-known Mercado de San Miguel is a delight to the eye and taste, with many options for gourmets, and despite having become a tourist attraction it has not lost any of its authenticity.

However, if you want something totally genuine stop by the Mercado de La Cebada, in the heart of La Latina neighborhood, or my favorite, the Mercado de San Antón in Chueca, where you won't find so many crowds and you can enjoy one of the best beers in the city with some papas arrugadas, croquetas, and international delicacies.

14. Enjoy the exhibitions of the Matadero

Entrance to the Matadero | ©Fred Romero
Entrance to the Matadero | ©Fred Romero

Don't be scared, as cruel as its name sounds the Matadero is a cultural space in the neighborhood of Legazpi, next to the river in Madrid. There you can see unique exhibitions, music concerts, have a snack or eat in one of its occasional food trucks or its Cantina, and take a walk along the river. A perfect option to spend a Sunday morning.

15. Pump up your Instagram feed at Ikono

Ikono style gallery | ©Shaira Dela Peña
Ikono style gallery | ©Shaira Dela Peña

Ikono Madrid is an art gallery of installations where everything you see is interactive. You can dive into a pool of blue balls, get lost in a room of infinite mirrors, dance under confetti and neon, and much more that will delight your smartphone camera.

16. Go shopping on Gran Via

Tiendas Gran Via | ©alevision.co
Tiendas Gran Via | ©alevision.co

On Madrid's famous Gran Via you will not only see the most luxurious hotels in the capital, but you will stop at each of its spectacular shop windows. Whether you feel like indulging yourself or if your thing is low-cost shopping, you will find things for all tastes and budgets.

It is also a good place to buy souvenirs in one of its historic kiosks. Discover it from top to bottom and finish the walk in the beautiful Retiro Park.

17. Enjoy a musical, also in the Gran Vía

Teatros Gran Via | ©Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias
Teatros Gran Via | ©Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias

Whether you are a theater fan or not, Gran Via's musicals are guaranteed to be a different experience. For several hours you will forget the hustle and bustle of the capital and you will not be able to take your eyes off the incredible costumes, dances, and musical numbers of legendary plays such as The Lion King.

If you don't feel like spending the afternoon watching a musical, there are also other options such as attending a comic monologue at Chocita del Loro.

18. Take a walk through the Capricho Park

Parque del Capricho | ©itorres
Parque del Capricho | ©itorres

The Capricho Park, on the Alameda de Osuna, is a romantic fantasy in the style of European foliés like the Park of the Monsters in Bomarzo. Inside you will see small palaces, promontories with sculptures inspired by Greek mythology, and a fairytale atmosphere.

It is open during very specific hours and not all year round, so before you go make sure you can visit.

19. Attend a play at the Canal Theatres

Teatros del Canal | ©PromoMadrid
Teatros del Canal | ©PromoMadrid

One of the modern theaters in Madrid, where you can see contemporary dance and theatrical performances. Its cycles are some of the best in the city, and its tickets are much more affordable than most shows in other European cities. It is located in the heart of the Chamberí neighborhood, where you can also stroll after the performance and discover the trendy bars of Ponzano street.

20. Visit the surroundings of Madrid

Palacio de Aranjuez | ©manuel m. v.
Palacio de Aranjuez | ©manuel m. v.

As you can see, it is not necessary to leave Madrid to see different places (although nearby cities like Avila, Toledo, Segovia, or Salamanca are quite difficult to resist). You can explore the surroundings of the capital in a guided tour, and discover places like the Monastery of El Escorial, the Valley of the Fallen, the Palace of Aranjuez, or the Granja de San Ildefonso among others.

Things to do in Madrid