Tourism 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 hire one of the excursions that can be made from Madrid to places like Toledo, El Escorial or Segovia. These are the 20 things you can not miss on your trip to Madrid.
1. Soak up history with a guided tour through the center of Madrid
The most authentic experience of any city is to walk around 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 mythical bars of the city on 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
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 lung of the center of the capital, is cared for.
Personally, what I like most is to sit with my friends on the stairs in front of the 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 in one of its kiosks or outdoor bars (although the food is quite expensive and not especially high quality, you will appreciate a good refreshment if you visit Madrid in summer). Also, if you go to Madrid with children you will find more than one free children's show for them.
3. Go in search of the Crystal Palace
This impressive glass palace is for me one of the best kept jewels of Madrid. It is within 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 livening up the atmosphere and several peacocks bathing in the small lake at the entrance.
4. Take a trip back in time in the Prado Museum
It is the most important museum in Spain and its collection of paintings and sculpture brings together works from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Among the best paintings of the Prado Museum are those of artists such as Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, El Greco, Rubens and El Bosco.
I advise you to consider the possibility of visiting El Prado with a guided tour because each of his paintings hides behind not only the technique that you can perceive aesthetically but a message and a story framed in an era and a particular context. In this article you have information about the prices of the Prado Museum.
Getting to the Prado Museum is easy, as it is located within walking distance of the famous Retiro Park in Madrid. I advise you to consult this list of restaurants near the Prado Museum if you plan to eat out after your visit, as this way you can save a few euros that you can invest in the Prado Museum store, where you will find fabulous things.
5. Get culturized at the Reina Sofía Museum
If El Prado houses one of the largest collections of classical art in Europe, those who visit the Reina Sofia Museum will be able to see one of the best collections of contemporary art. The jewel in the crown of this museum is Picasso's Guernica, but you will also find among the best works of the Reina Sofia Museum some 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 make the most of your visit to one of the best museums in Madrid. I also recommend that you carefully check the opening hours of the Reina Sofia Museum before your visit to see if you can take advantage and eat at the Reina Sofia Museum restaurant or stop by the Reina Sofia store, as both places are worth a visit.
6. Immerse yourself in royalty by visiting the Royal Palace
Taking a guided tour of the Royal Palace of Madrid is like stepping back in time and placing yourself inside a period film. 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, the interior of the Royal Palace of Madrid keeps fairytale rooms and valuable objects. If you are planning a visit to the surroundings, check the opening hours of the Royal Palace and take the opportunity to see this monument.
7. Marvel at the Segovia Aqueduct
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, presided over by its famous stone aqueduct and known for the suckling pig served in their restaurants (booking in advance). Getting to Segovia from Madrid will take you no more than an hour.
Visiting Segovia on an organized tour will also take you, if you wish, to other nearby cities. 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
Getting to Toledo from Madrid is also quick and easy. Toledo is located an 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 to 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. Experience Spanish culture with an authentic flamenco show
The art of flamenco is part of Spain's cultural heritage and Madrid is one of the places with the greatest 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 you book your tickets online in advance.
10. Tour the streets of Madrid comfortably in its tourist bus
Madrid is a huge city and walking around it in a few days is an exhausting experience. In addition, in each of its areas you have a different store to explore, a restaurant with a terrace where you can have an aperitif, 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 on a sightseeing bus.
11. Stroll through the neighborhoods of Madrid
Surely in the tour through the center of Madrid (either guided or individually) you will already discover the most emblematic places and monuments of the city, but you will still have a very important part: its neighborhoods. This is where you will find its true essence, and that is why I recommend you:
- Attend a theater performance in Gran Via.
- Visit the trendiest stores in Malasaña.
- Eating in the trendy restaurants of Chueca and if you spend the night in Madrid then go out partying in the neighborhood.
- Go for a beer in Lavapiés
- Visit the luxury stores in Barrio de Salamanca
- Go on a Sunday to the Rastro de La Latina
- Visit the stalls of the Plaza Mayor if you go to Madrid at Christmas time.
12. Step on the Bernabéu's playing field
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 Santiago Bernabeu stadium itself organizes a tour with panoramic views of the stadium, exclusive access to the locker rooms and the dugouts, entrance to the pitch and a tour of the trophy cabinets, the press room and the presidential box.
13. Taste Madrid's gastronomy in its markets
There is no doubt that there are spectacular restaurants in Madrid, but if you really want to try the authentic local cuisine, the best kept secret of the city are its neighborhood 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 has not lost an iota 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 will not find so many crowds and you can enjoy one of the best beers in the city with some wrinkled potatoes, croquettes, and international delicacies. You also have the possibility to book one of the wine and tapas tours available in Madrid.
14. Enjoy the exhibitions at the Matadero
Don't be scared, as cruel as its name sounds, the Matadero is a cultural space in the mythical 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 in its Cantina, and take a walk along the river. A perfect option to spend a Sunday morning.
15. Renew your Instagram feed at Ikono
Ikono Madrid is an installation art gallery 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 many more things that will delight your smartphone camera.
16. Go shopping on Gran Vía
In the famous Gran Via in Madrid 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 on the Gran Vía
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 mythical works such as The Lion King.
If you don't feel like spending the afternoon watching a musical, there are also other options such as going to a funny monologue at the mythical Chocita del Loro. There are musicals all year round, but if you go to Madrid in winter you will find Christmas premieres and it will also be a perfect plan to take shelter from the cold.
18. Take a stroll through the Capricho Park
The Capricho Park, in 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. Especially recommended if you visit Madrid in autumn.
It opens during very specific hours and not throughout the year, so before you go make sure you can visit.
19. Attend a play at the Canal Theaters
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 neighborhood of Chamberí, where you can also stroll after the performance and discover the trendy bars of Ponzano street.
20. Visit the surroundings of Madrid
As we have already seen, you don't need to leave Madrid to see different places (although with nearby cities like Avila, Toledo, Segovia or Salamanca the temptation is great). You can explore the surroundings of the capital on a guided day trip from Madrid, 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.
If you have to choose, I recommend going to El Escorial from Madrid, because besides visiting the Escorial Monastery, you will be surrounded by nature and great restaurants to eat. There is a lot to see in El Escorial, so I leave you this article about the best tours in El Escorial in case you prefer an expert guide to show you around.
Plan your visit to Madrid
In a capital city like Madrid, there are things to do all year round. The months of July in Madrid, August in Madrid and September you will find the city with few people as the high temperatures deter the locals, but if you go to Madrid in October, November or December you will see that the streets are full of people especially during the weekend. So I recommend you to take advantage of Saturday or Sunday to make an excursion to the surroundings.
If you stay more than 3 days in Madrid you will have time to see the city and visit other areas of Spain. I leave you different itineraries so you can plan in detail your visit. Of course I recommend that if you are going to spend only a few hours in Madrid take a look before the transfers from Barajas airport so that on arrival you know where to go saving time and making the most of your visit.