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Best Things To Do in Madrid

This big European city has its fair share of hustle and bustle, but that doesn't mean it skimps on providing visitors with an authentic Spanish experience. The Prado Museum features works by some of Spain's most famed artists, including Velázquez and Goya. The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) is open to the public and the El Rastro flea market or the upscale shops in Salamanca provide hours of shopping. But if you're drained from a long day of sightseeing, you might want to rest at an open-air cafe, especially the ones that skirt Plaza Mayor. Once your energy is restored, enjoy sampling some choice specialties at a tapas bar before hitting the club.

How we rank Things to Do.

#1

#1 in Madrid

Free
To the east of central Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro(Retiro Park) can be translated as "Park of the Pleasant Retreat," and that's what it is – a sprawling swath of lush greenery filled with formal gardens, lakes, cafes, playgrounds and more. This 300-some-acre park previously housed Felipe IV's palace and gardens, and didn't become open to the public until the late 19th century.
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Parks and Gardens Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Retiro Park (Parque del Retiro)
To the east of central Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro(Retiro Park) can be translated as "Park of the Pleasant Retreat," and that's what it is – a sprawling swath of lush greenery filled with formal gardens, lakes, cafes, playgrounds and more. This 300-some-acre park previously housed Felipe IV's palace and gardens, and didn't become open to the public until the late 19th century.
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#2

#2 in Madrid

Free
This square, located in the heart of Madrid, is more a must-experience attraction than a must-see one. Surrounded by cafes and bars, Plaza Mayor practically begs passersby to take a seat, order a coffee or glass of wine (depending on the time of day) and people-watch. Not only do throngs of tourists pass through, but multiple street performers plant their feet here to entertain. The square starts getting busy around 2 p.m. and will grow increasingly busy as night falls. If you find yourself in Madrid during the holidays, locals recommend visiting the holiday markets held in the plaza. 
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Neighborhood/Area Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Plaza Mayor
This square, located in the heart of Madrid, is more a must-experience attraction than a must-see one. Surrounded by cafes and bars, Plaza Mayor practically begs passersby to take a seat, order a coffee or glass of wine (depending on the time of day) and people-watch. Not only do throngs of tourists pass through, but multiple street performers plant their feet here to entertain. The square starts getting busy around 2 p.m. and will grow increasingly busy as night falls. If you find yourself in Madrid during the holidays, locals recommend visiting the holiday markets held in the plaza. 
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#3

#3 in Madrid

One of Madrid's most famous museums, the elegant Museo Nacional del Prado is consistently touted by travelers as a must-see. Opened in 1819 at the encouragement of Queen Maria Isabel de Braganza (King Ferdinand VII's wife), the museum contains 8,600 paintings and more than 700 sculptures, featuring Spanish, Italian and Flemish styles of art. Among the most famous works featured include Velazquez's "Las Meninas," Goya's "The Third of May 1808," El Greco's "Adoration of the Shepherds." Travelers note that sometimes it can be difficult to get close to these famous paintings, recommending that visitors come early or late for the best chance of seeing these works without hordes of others. 
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Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado)
One of Madrid's most famous museums, the elegant Museo Nacional del Prado is consistently touted by travelers as a must-see. Opened in 1819 at the encouragement of Queen Maria Isabel de Braganza (King Ferdinand VII's wife), the museum contains 8,600 paintings and more than 700 sculptures, featuring Spanish, Italian and Flemish styles of art. Among the most famous works featured include Velazquez's "Las Meninas," Goya's "The Third of May 1808," El Greco's "Adoration of the Shepherds." Travelers note that sometimes it can be difficult to get close to these famous paintings, recommending that visitors come early or late for the best chance of seeing these works without hordes of others. 
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#4

#4 in Madrid

Free
The true center of Madrid – kilometer zero – Puerta del Sol fills with spurting fountains, shops, restaurants and lots of people. If you're looking for a place to rest your feet after a long day of touring, or a quiet place to stay, Sol is not the place. The area is always crowded, especially at night when the city comes alive with people passing through the square looking to party at some of Madrid's hottest bars and nightclubs (many of which are situated in Sol). However, it is the best place to taste Madrid's life and vibrancy, so even if you're going out to dinner, don't pass up the opportunity to walk through and take in the area. 
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Sightseeing Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Gateway of the Sun (Puerta del Sol)
The true center of Madrid – kilometer zero – Puerta del Sol fills with spurting fountains, shops, restaurants and lots of people. If you're looking for a place to rest your feet after a long day of touring, or a quiet place to stay, Sol is not the place. The area is always crowded, especially at night when the city comes alive with people passing through the square looking to party at some of Madrid's hottest bars and nightclubs (many of which are situated in Sol). However, it is the best place to taste Madrid's life and vibrancy, so even if you're going out to dinner, don't pass up the opportunity to walk through and take in the area. 
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#5

#5 in Madrid

This royal palace housed the kings of Spain from the mid-1700s to 1900s. Although the royal family does not currently live in the palace, it is still considered their official residence. It is also thought to be the largest royal palace in Western Europe with a total of 3,000 rooms, only some of which are open to the public, including the popular armory room and royal pharmacy. 
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Castles/Palaces Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real)
This royal palace housed the kings of Spain from the mid-1700s to 1900s. Although the royal family does not currently live in the palace, it is still considered their official residence. It is also thought to be the largest royal palace in Western Europe with a total of 3,000 rooms, only some of which are open to the public, including the popular armory room and royal pharmacy. 
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#6

#6 in Madrid

The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, named for the family from which the collection was bought, is housed in the intimate Villahermosa Palace. The museum has nearly 1,000 works of art, ranging widely in style, from German Expressionism to Russian Constructivism and 19th-century American art. Artists featured include Dürer, Titian, Rembrandt, Renoir, Van Gogh and more.  
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Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, named for the family from which the collection was bought, is housed in the intimate Villahermosa Palace. The museum has nearly 1,000 works of art, ranging widely in style, from German Expressionism to Russian Constructivism and 19th-century American art. Artists featured include Dürer, Titian, Rembrandt, Renoir, Van Gogh and more.  
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#7

#7 in Madrid

Free
Mercado San Miguel, a market built of beautifully ornate glass and cast iron, is a popular stop for tourists to Madrid, especially since it is located right outside of Plaza Mayor. Here, visitors can purchase some wine, grab a cocktail, juice or coffee, snack on a variety of ready-to-eat tapas, or pick up some ingredients for lunch or dinner from the fruit, seafood and meat stalls. 
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Shopping Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
Mercado San Miguel
Mercado San Miguel, a market built of beautifully ornate glass and cast iron, is a popular stop for tourists to Madrid, especially since it is located right outside of Plaza Mayor. Here, visitors can purchase some wine, grab a cocktail, juice or coffee, snack on a variety of ready-to-eat tapas, or pick up some ingredients for lunch or dinner from the fruit, seafood and meat stalls. 
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#8

#8 in Madrid

The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, located north of central Madrid, is the city's main fútbol (or soccer) stadium and the domain of the city's most popular team: Real Madrid. Fútbol is an integral part of Spanish life, and the stadium's sheer size is example of this (its capacity is 81,044). 
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Sports Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Bernabéu Stadium (Estadio Santiago Bernabéu)
The Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, located north of central Madrid, is the city's main fútbol (or soccer) stadium and the domain of the city's most popular team: Real Madrid. Fútbol is an integral part of Spanish life, and the stadium's sheer size is example of this (its capacity is 81,044). 
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#9

#9 in Madrid

The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is Madrid's 20th-century art gallery and along with the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, makes up the city's trio of great museums. The museum contains more than 21,000 works of art, including pieces from Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró but probably the most famous work is found on the second floor. Picasso's "Guernica" is the museum's crowning jewel. 
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Museums Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
Queen Sofia Arts Center (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is Madrid's 20th-century art gallery and along with the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, makes up the city's trio of great museums. The museum contains more than 21,000 works of art, including pieces from Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró but probably the most famous work is found on the second floor. Picasso's "Guernica" is the museum's crowning jewel. 
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#10

#10 in Madrid

Free
Plaza de Cibeles is considered to be the most famous plaza in Madrid. Located at the intersection of Calle de Alcalá (which leads into Sol) and adjacent to Paseo del Prado/Paseo de Recoletos, the plaza and its stunning architecture are big draws for tourists. The main building in the square, the Cibeles Palace, was formerly a post office but now serves as Madrid's City Hall. The plaza's fountain features the Roman goddess Cybele, "the Great Mother" who represents fertility. The goddess has unofficially been adopted by the city's fútbol (soccer) team, Real Madrid. When Real Madrid, or the Spanish National team, win a title, the city holds a parade that ends in Cibeles with one of the players fastening the team's flag to Cybele. 
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Sightseeing Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend
Plaza de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles is considered to be the most famous plaza in Madrid. Located at the intersection of Calle de Alcalá (which leads into Sol) and adjacent to Paseo del Prado/Paseo de Recoletos, the plaza and its stunning architecture are big draws for tourists. The main building in the square, the Cibeles Palace, was formerly a post office but now serves as Madrid's City Hall. The plaza's fountain features the Roman goddess Cybele, "the Great Mother" who represents fertility. The goddess has unofficially been adopted by the city's fútbol (soccer) team, Real Madrid. When Real Madrid, or the Spanish National team, win a title, the city holds a parade that ends in Cibeles with one of the players fastening the team's flag to Cybele. 
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#11

#11 in Madrid

Free
Exit the La Latina metro station and wander down Calle de las Maldonadas to one of Spain's most popular flea markets, El Rastro. Dating back to the 15th century, the market starts at Plaza de Cascorro and is primarily concentrated on Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, ending at Ronda de Toledo. The streets, also including Calle San Cayetano, are lined with hundreds of merchants selling everything from kitschy souvenirs to art and antiques and even everyday household items. 
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Shopping Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
El Rastro Market
Exit the La Latina metro station and wander down Calle de las Maldonadas to one of Spain's most popular flea markets, El Rastro. Dating back to the 15th century, the market starts at Plaza de Cascorro and is primarily concentrated on Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, ending at Ronda de Toledo. The streets, also including Calle San Cayetano, are lined with hundreds of merchants selling everything from kitschy souvenirs to art and antiques and even everyday household items. 
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Free
Monuments and Memorials Type
Less than 1 hour Time to Spend

Sightseeing Type
2 hours to Half Day Time to Spend
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Historic Homes/Mansions Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend
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