Ten Things To Do In Madrid

Discover the cultural heritage of Spain's capital

Cosmopolitan, permeated in culture, diverse and never-resting, the Spanish capital has been one of the most loved destinations in Europe for decades for a reason. A modern and inclusive hub, Madrid boasts an ancient historical past attested by the numerous landmarks, museums and UNESCO World Heritage sites you will find while wandering around the city. Whether you are looking for a sightseeing holiday, full immersion in art, quaint towns to discover or a unique gastronomic experience, Madrid awaits you for an unforgettable stay. Delve into Spain’s artistic heritage at the El Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, enjoy luxury shopping in the renowned Gran Vía, relax in the beautiful Parque del Buen Retiro, and browse the colourful stalls of San Miguel Market: whatever your holiday style is, Spain’s capital will not let you down. Read further our tips and discover ten unmissable things to do in Madrid.
Search Hotels

Explore Madrid's Old Town and Plaza Mayor

As always, we suggest you start your tour from the heart of the city. Madrid’s historic centre encompasses several iconic squares and monuments attesting to its cultural and artistic heritage. Also known as ‘Madrid de los Austrias’, the old town area includes the emblematic Plaza Mayor, one of Madrid’s most popular landmarks, located just a few metres from Puerta del Sol. Like other main European squares, such as Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux or Grand Place in Lille, Plaza Mayor features a rectangular shape which emphasizes the homogeneousness of the square’s architectural style. Among the most notable buildings and architectural elements surrounding Plaza Mayor are the Casa de La Panaderia, the former bakery house now turned into a municipal and cultural building, the restored Casa de la Carnicería (“Butcher House”), a fascinating although scarcely documented building once used as a general meat store, and the nine arches corresponding to the gates of the square. After checking out Plaza Mayor, continue exploring the Austrias neighbourhood’s treasures with a visit to the Neo-classical Almudena Cathedral and the nearby Royal Palace of Madrid. Dating back to the 18th century, the Palace used to be the house of the Spanish royal family, while nowadays it serves as a location for official state ceremonies and solemn acts. Like Versailles Palace in France, is one of the largest and most sumptuous royal palaces in the world.

Admire the Palace of Communication in Plaza de Cibeles

From Plaza Mayor, reach the nearby Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s most central and crowded square and the radial centre of the Spanish road network. Originally one of the gates protecting the city - its name literally means “Gateway to the sun”- Puerta del Sol hosts some remarkable buildings and monuments, such as the old Royal House of the Post Office, currently serving as the office of the President of the Autonomous Community of Madrid, and the 20th-century statue called ‘The Bear and the Strawberry Tree’, representing the Coat of Arms of Marid. The Calle de Alcalá connects Puerta del Sol with another unmissable landmark, the beautiful Plaza de Cibeles. Boasting a magnificent complex of Neo-classical sculptures and a fountain that has become one of the symbols of Madrid, the square is delimited by four main buildings: the Bank of Spain Building, the Palacio de Buenavista, the Palace of Linares (Palacio de Linares), and the Cybele Palace (Palacio de Cibeles). The latter, formerly known as “the Palace of Communications” and “the Palace of Telecommunications”, is a complex including two buildings with Neoclassical facades, and today hosts Madrid City Council, serving as the city hall, and a public cultural centre called CentroCentro.

Stroll in the beautiful Parque del Buen Retiro

A pleasant walk from Plaza de Cibeles along the majestic Paseo del Prado, one of the city’s arterial boulevards, will lead you to the most beautiful green area in Madrid. The Parque del Buen Retiro, Retiro Park or simply El Retiro, is a favourite of both locals and tourists visiting Madrid and, together with Park Güell in Barcelona, one of Spain’s most recognizable parks. El Retiro includes a large artificial pond located at the park’s entrance, a beautiful rose garden inspired by the one in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, several sculptures and statue complexes, and the remarkable building of the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal), a glass pavilion inspired by the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in London. With the Paseo del Prado lane, the Parque del Buen Retiro is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Visit El Prado Museum and the Gold Triangle of Arts

Madrid is undoubtedly one of Europe’s cultural hubs, paralleled by other giants such as Frankfurt, London and Paris. With over 80 museums, ranging from history to modern and contemporary arts, Spain’s capital offers almost illimited sources to delve into its rich historical heritage. An unmissable stop in your cultural trip is the so-called “Golden Triangle of Art”, the UNESCO-designated museum complex including the El Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Museo Reina Sofía. Located at the end of the Paseo del Prado, the museums offer a broad overview of Spanish artworks from the 12th century to the 20th century.

  • The El Prado Museum is one of the most visited sites worldwide and features over 20,000 artworks among drawings, paintings, and sculptures. The collections include masterpieces of iconic artists like Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Diego Velázquez.
  • The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Queen Sofía National Museum Art Centre; MNCARS), known as Museo Reina Sofía, is dedicated to modern art, featuring artworks of 20th-century masters such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalì. Picasso’s ultimate masterpiece Guernica is the collection’s main highlight.
  • The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum boasts a precious collection of paintings and sculptures spanning eight centuries (from the 12th century to the end of the 20th century). It features paintings by the Italian masters of the 13th and 14th centuries, works of the early Flemish and Dutch painters, and an extensive section dedicated to modern art ranging from Impressionism to Cubism and Expressionism.

Taste extraordinary tapas and fresh products at San Miguel Market

Foodies visiting the Spanish capital will not be disappointed by the varied and rich local culinary scene. Madrid gastronomy includes close-to-infinite delicatessen, including meat and fish-based dishes, as well as many specialities suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets. Like in Barcelona, we suggest you try at least once a selection of typical tapas: patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), calamares fritos (fried squids), the cocido Madrileño (Madrid stew), paella, and as many variations on bocadillos (sandwiches) as you can think are only some of the mouthwatering options. You can taste tapas in most bars and restaurants around the city, but if you want to eat like a local in Madrid, we suggest you head to the popular and colourful Mercado de San Miguel. Located in Plaza de San Miguel, a few metres from Plaza Mayor, the market, similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona, offers an assortment of fresh vegetables and fruit, plus numerous stands selling freshly-prepared dishes and incredibly tasteful tapas. The Mercado de Antón Martin, in the nearby Lavapiés quarter, is a fantastic spot for shopping internationals and Spanish delicatessens such as Málaga olives, jamon iberico, aged Manchego or sushi and Italian specialities. For an exclusive local experience, head to the Vallehermoso Market. Located in the northern neighbourhood of Chamberí, known for its thriving culinary scene, the market offers a wide choice of fresh products and gastronomic stands where you can try traditional and creative international dishes.

Indulge in luxury shopping in the Gran Vía

One of Madrid’s central arteries connecting Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de España, the posh Gran Vía is the most exclusive commercial, financial and entertainment area of the Spanish capital. Characterized by a distinctive 20th-century revival architecture, the Gran Vía features some of the most remarkable buildings in Madrid, such as the Metropolis Building (or Edificio Metrópolis) designed to host the insurance company La Unión y el Fénix in 1911 and today home to several offices, the Edificio Grassy, hosting Grassy Jeweler's since the ‘50s and a clock museum in its basement, and the Telefónica Building hosting the Telefónica Foundation, a Telecommunications Museum and an auditorium. Indulge in a day of exclusive shopping: browse the numerous boutiques and vintage shops of the Gran Vía and treat yourself to excellent cuisine at the many restaurants you will find along the boulevard.

Browse Madrid's famous flea market El Rastro

For a more affordable and unconventional shopping experience in Madrid, we recommend you visit El Rastro. Renowned for its transient flea market held every Sunday and on festive days (although not as extensive as the Braderie de Lille, it is one of the most appreciated open-air markets in Europe), the central El Rastro encompasses a sizzling shopping area open every day of the week. Dating back to the 18th century, the flea market is held in the proximity of Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores and offers a colourful, varied range of vintage clothing, handicrafts, books, accessories, kitchenware and many original items. On the first and third Saturday of each month, El Rastro hosts Madrid’s oldest, most traditional and emblematic leisure fair. Saturdays at El Rastro is held in Plaza del General Vara del Rey and features a unique assortment of antiques, vintage furniture, auction houses, collectors’ items, gastronomy and entertainment venues.

Take scenic shots of the Templo de Debod

A one-of-a-kind Madrid attraction you do not want to miss is the peculiar Templo de Debod. Donated to Spain by the Egyptian government, the temple dates back to the 2nd century B.C. and, in an attempt to preserve it, was deconstructed stone by stone, sent to Spain, transferred and reconstructed in its current location in the Parque de la Montaña, behind Plaza de España, in 1972. Originally, the shrine was built in Nubia to honour the gods Amun and Isis and, for its historical value and unique location, is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site. You can visit the inside of the temple, learn about its history and take incredible shots at the spectacular sunset scenery.

Enjoy a one-day trip to Segovia

Thanks to its central location and excellent railway network, Madrid is the perfect gateway to explore historical towns and cities in the Castile and León region. Located less than 100 kilometres northwest of the Spanish capital, picturesque Segovia is a fantastic option for a one-day trip. Its ancient, eventful past is still attested by the different architectural styles of its buildings and monuments, all included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. Segovia combines historical and medieval charm with a modern entertainment and dining scene, making it a perfect destination for a relaxing sightseeing day. During your excursion, we recommend you visit:

  • The Roman Aqueduct: dating back to the 1st century A.D., the perfectly preserved aqueduct was in use until the ‘70s. It is estimated to be one of the most massive aqueducts built under the Roman Empire and is among the most stunning examples of hydraulic architecture worldwide.
  • The Catedral de Segovia: the majestic Gothic cathedral is located in the main square of Segovia, dominating the cityscape from a hill. It is part of the Old Town and one of the symbols of the city.
  • The Alcázar of Segovia: the imposing 12th-century castle adjacent to the cathedral is among the oldest medieval fortresses in the world and the most renowned castles in Spain.
You can travel from Madrid to Segovia in around 30 minutes by high-speed train.

Visit Toledo, the 'City of Three Cultures'

Situated in the Castilla-La Mancha community, 72 kilometres southwest of the Spanish capital, quaint Toledo is a must-see if you stay in Madrid for some days. The city, a crossroad of the Jewish, Christian and Arabic cultures, boasts a wealthy historical past and landmarks that attest to its multicultural history- once the capital of Spain, Toledo is known as “The City of The Three Cultures” for its numerous medieval monuments. Make sure that your city tour includes:  

  • The Alcázar of Toledo: the massive stone fortification dominates Toledo from its highest hill with its four 60-meter-high towers, all crowned by the distinctive Madrid spire.
  • The Mezquita Cristo de la Luz: located close to Puerta del Sol, the square-shaped mosque was built in 999 and still preserves its original shape. When Toledo was conquered by the Christians in 1085, they converted the mosque into a Catholic church. Mezquita Cristo de la Luz is situated.
  • The El Greco Museum: dedicated to the great artist El Greco, who spent most of his life in Toledo, the museum is located in the Jewish Quarter and includes two buildings, a beautiful courtyard and a garden. Besides an extensive collection of paintings by El Greco, the museum features artworks by other 17th-century Spanish artists, furniture and ceramics.