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.
Updated June 13, 2019
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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.
Recent travelers acknowledge the touristy nature of Plaza Mayor – the souvenir shops, the less-than-gourmet yet overpriced restaurants, for instance – but for most travelers, Plaza Mayor still affords a lovely ambience. If you want to learn more about the history behind Plaza Mayor, which dates back to 1617, reviewers suggest you sign up for a walking tour. One of the city's most emblematic pieces of public art, the statue of Philip III on horseback, can also be found here.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Madrid2.7 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2.7 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
To the east of central Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro (El 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.
Today, you can still rent a rowboat to the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), which holds regular art exhibitions or stop and smell the roses in the Rosaleda (Rose Garden), which has more than 4,000 roses. Plus, for those traveling with little ones, the Teatro de Titeres hosts puppet shows most weekends.
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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.
There are often lines outside the Prado, so plan on getting there early and make sure to wear comfortable shoes. The Prado charges an admission fee of 15 euros (about $17.50) for adults (visitors younger than 18, and students 18 to 25 get in for free with a paying adult). If your itinerary allows, try to visit during the museum's free hours (usually the last two hours of the evening). However, if you consider yourself an art aficionado, heed the advice of past visitors and allot at least half a day to tour the museum.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Madrid2.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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.
Recent travelers said it's a great destination to people-watch considering the concentration of street performers. And if you're visiting over the New Year, you'll find Puerta del Sol is Spain's Times Square. Step off the Sol metro stop, and you'll be right in the thick of things. Access is free 24/7.
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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.
The majority of visitors were wowed by the luxuriousness and the grandeur of the palace, but many also complained about the long lines to get in. If you want to beat the crowds, make sure to get there early.
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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.
Most recent visitors enjoyed their time at the museum, especially the way its design leads visitors through a progression of art movements, from the classical periods on. Travelers also commend the museum's cafe. Reviewers offered mixed opinions on which museum was superior – this one or the Prado – but all were impressed that these pieces came from one family.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Madrid1.6 miles to city centerShopping, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND1.6 miles to city centerShopping, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
If you find yourself surrounded by designer stores and elegant restaurants, you've probably stumbled into Madrid's Salamanca neighborhood. Salamanca is one of the most elite areas of the city, and its main streets – Calle de Serrano, Calle de Goya and Calle de Velázquez – are some of the most expensive. Often compared to New York City's Fifth Avenue or London's Bond Street, Calle de Serrano has been nicknamed the "Golden Mile" because it's studded with posh brands.
Calle de Serrano begins near the corner of Buen Retiro Park next to the Puerta de Alcalá monument and ends in the Plaza de la República de Ecuador. The street is home to international names like Gucci, Prada, Armani and Cartier as well as locally born luxuries like Loewe. The street is not without smaller boutiques though; visitors will find Sita Murt, Renatta&Go and NAC, among other Spanish favorites.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Madrid2.7 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.7 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Mercado de 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.
Recent visitors loved the vast selection of food offered, as well as the fun, vibrant atmosphere and described the market as a "must-see," especially for foodies. Some travelers, however, felt the market was too expensive and too touristy, lacking the character found at other markets, such as Mercado de San Anton in Chueca. Others warned of pickpockets and reminded future visitors that you'll need to present a receipt from a vendor to use any of the restrooms free of charge.
- #9View all PhotosfreeGran Vía#9 in Madrid2.4 miles to city centerShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND2.4 miles to city centerShopping, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Madrid's bustling Gran Vía is at the heart of the city, and it's a prime spot for avid shoppers and architecture buffs. Built in the early 1900s to make traveling to and from the city center easier, Gran Vía spans nearly a mile and is jampacked with shops and restaurants. Try a traditional bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich), buy a new outfit from the second largest of all Primark chain clothing stores in the world or catch a show at Teatro Lope de Vega, all while admiring the street's ornate buildings.
Start your journey down Gran Vía where the street intersects Calle de Alcalá. There you'll find Círculo de Bellas Artes, a cultural center best known for its sweeping rooftop views. You'll have to pay 4 euros (about $4.50) to get to the top, but once there, you can enjoy a drink while soaking in a sunset over the Metropolis Building– one of the most famous buildings in Madrid. You may have to wait in line, but previous visitors agreed the views are worth it.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Madrid0.1 miles to city centerSportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.1 miles to city centerSportsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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).
Should you want to take a tour, you'll have to pay 25 euros (about $29) for an adult ticket and 18 euros (about $21) for kids 14 and younger. You can also book a tour with an audio guide for 5 euros extra. Tour hours vary by season and the team's schedule, but recent travelers said the tours are worth the time and money. They recommend wearing comfortable shoes and carving out at least two hours for the tour. For more information, visit the stadium's website. You can find the venue off the Santiago Bernabeu metro stop.
- #12View all PhotosfreeCasa de Campo#12 in Madrid4.1 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Zoos and Aquariums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND4.1 miles to city centerAmusement Parks, Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Zoos and Aquariums, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
- #13View all Photos#13 in Madrid3.1 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND3.1 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
As is the case with other modern or contemporary art museums, travelers say you'll especially enjoy Queen Sofia if you appreciate modern art. If you're not a huge fan, you might want to spend your time at the Prado or Thyssen-Bornemisza.
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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.
Visitors are allowed in select areas of the palace, including the observation deck, which affords panoramic views of the city. And what's more, it costs only 2 euros to get in. But travelers should note that the palace is currently undergoing renovations and is closed to the public.
- #15View all Photos#15 in Madrid44.8 miles to city centerSightseeing, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND44.8 miles to city centerSightseeing, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Once you've soaked up Madrid's sights, consider escaping the bustling city with a daytrip to nearby Toledo. It takes just 30 minutes to reach the "city of three cultures" from downtown Madrid, and it's a worthwhile visit for anyone looking for history, world-renowned architecture or just a photo op in front of the picturesque city.
An ancient Roman city once thought to be the holiest place in Spain, Toledo has been ruled by Christians, Muslims and Jews. The city was always known as a place of tolerance, and its diversity is showcased through buildings like the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, which was built by Islamic architects for Jewish use under a Christian ruler.
- #16View all PhotosfreeEl Rastro Market#16 in Madrid3.2 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND3.2 miles to city centerShopping, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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.
Recent visitors' reactions to El Rastro varied: some loved the atmosphere, especially the live music, and others found the market to be mediocre, with very few bargains or finds. Some travelers warned of pickpockets, also saying that because of the crowds, it's not the best place for children or the elderly.
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