Madrid Attractions You Need to Visit Before You Die

One of the best photo spots in Madrid is where Calle de Alcala meets the Gran Via
One of the best photo spots in Madrid is where Calle de Alcala meets the Gran Via | © LucVi / Getty Images
Jessica Jones

Madrid might not have the status of Rome or Paris in terms of sights, but the capital of Spain is a pleasure to explore. From historical gems and world-class art, to an incredible food scene and picturesque parks, Culture Trip takes a look at the top attractions in Madrid to visit.

Did you know that Culture Trip now does premium bookable trips? Not only that, but they’re packed with authentic local experiences, unique activities and one-off accommodations. You’ll love them.

Plaza Mayor

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark

Empty tables and blurry figures walking through Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain, at dusk
© Benedek / Getty Images

Madrid’s main square holds centuries of history in its cobbles, and has been the scene of everything from coronations to bullfights and beheadings. These days it’s a nice place in which to stroll and sample one of the city’s famed foods: bocadillo de calamares (a calamari sandwich) from one of the bars surrounding the square.

Royal Palace of Madrid

Building, Historical Landmark

The impressive columned facade of the Royal Palace of Madrid, with gardens and trees out front
© LunaMarina / Getty Images

The official residence of Spain’s royal family is these days used for official ceremonies only (King Felipe and Queen Letizia live in the more modest Zarzuela Palace just outside Madrid). Members of the public can visit the palace and check out centuries worth of paintings, furniture and armour.

Retiro Park


People rowing in the pond next to the Monument to Alfonso XII of Spain, in the Retiro Park (Parque del Retiro) in Madrid
© Mauro Repossini / Getty Images
Madrid’s most beautiful park is the ideal place to spend a lazy afternoon enjoying a picnic and messing about in a rowing boat on the lake.

After a visit to Madrid, explore more of Spain on Culture Trip’s four-day Mini Trip to Andalucia – highlights include seeing the Alcazaba in Malaga and the Alhambra in Granada.

Temple of Debod

Archaeological site

The ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod, surrounded by water, in Madrid
© Sergeyryzhov / iStock

Madrid’s very own Egyptian temple was bestowed on the country by Egypt and moved, piece by piece, in the early 1970s. It is one of the best places to watch the sun set in Madrid.

KIO Towers

Architectural Landmark

Leaning towers of Madrid (Puerta de Europa), two modern towers of glass and steel, and one of stone in the middle
© Ljupco / iStock

The seemingly gravity defying KIO towers in Madrid’s Financial District lean at a 15-degree angle, and were the first leaning skyscrapers in the world.

Gran Via

Architectural Landmark

Cars and people along Gran Via lit up at night at sunset in Madrid
© Basiczto / Getty Images

Madrid’s most famous street has a cinematic scope that has seen it star in Abre Los Ojos (the original Spanish-language movie of the 2001 Tom Cruise remake, Vanilla Sky). Head to the top of the Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience for a great view of the street’s famous Schweppes sign.

Spain is littered with unmissable cities – and after you’ve ticked off Madrid, Seville should be next on your list. Our four-day Mini Trip to the city takes in a visit to the stunning Royal Alcázar, and the Santa Cruz neighbourhood.

Rooftop bars in Madrid

Bar, Cocktails

Tables and chairs on the rooftop terrace of Circulo Bellas Artes, overlooking the city
Courtesy of Circulo Bellas Artes

Head to one of Madrid’s rooftop bars for an unforgettable view over the city’s rooftops. We recommend Circulo de Bellas Artes for the best panoramic view of the capital.

Puerta del Sol

Historical Landmark

Crowds walking around Puerta del Sol in Madrid
© LucVi / Getty Images

All roads in Spain lead to the Puerta del Sol, known as kilometre zero and the very centre of the country. It is also home to the famous statue of the bear and the strawberry tree, the official symbol of Madrid.

The Golden Triangle of Art

Art Gallery, Museum

The exterior of the Museo del Prado, with columns and statues along the facade, and green lawns
© Jorg Greuel / Getty Images

Madrid is home to a collection of the world’s best art galleries, and the three most famous are handily located close to each other in a triangle. The Prado (classical paintings), The Reina Sofia (modern art) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza (a little bit of everything) are full of artistic riches well worth exploring.

If Barcelona is an architectural feast for the eyes, our private four-day Mini Trip is an all-you-can-see buffet. From the brilliant madness of Gaudi’s constructions, to wandering the Gothic Quarter with our Local Insider, it’s all served up on a platter for you.

Palacio de Cibeles

Architectural Landmark

The fountain with a statue of a chariot at Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid, lit up at night
© Kasto80 / Getty Images

This grand building was, amazingly, the headquarters of Madrid’s post office until 2011. Today it is the home of Madrid City Council and a visitor attraction because of the incredible views from its observation deck.

Calle De Cava Baja

Bar, Restaurant, Tapas

A tapas bar, La Chata, heavily decorated with tiles in the calle de la Cava Baja in Madrid
© Peter Eastland / Alamy

The ideal spot for a tapas crawl, Cava Baja is Madrid’s famous ‘tapas street’ and on an evening is teeming with people enjoying a drink and a bite. Highly recommended are La Perejila, Txakolina and El Tempranillo.

Sobrino de Botin

Restaurant, Spanish

The wood-panelled exterior of Sobrino De Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world
© Samuel de Roman / Getty Images

Madrid is home to what is officially the oldest restaurant in the world – it has the Guinness World Record certificate in the window to prove it. Sobrino de Botín was founded in 1725 and has been going strong ever since. Its speciality is roast suckling pig and it appears in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

Cine Dore

Building, Cinema, Movie Theater

The peach and beige ornate exterior of Cine Dore Cinema, with elaborate columns at the entrance
© iStock Editorial / Getty Images Plus

This old cinema shows classic Hollywood and modern films from around the world for a bargain €2.50. Its tumultuous history saw it bombed during the Spanish Civil War, but today it is home to the Filmoteca Española, which restores and preserves old films as part of Spain’s Ministry of Culture. It appears in Pedro Almodóvar’s Hable con Ella (Talk to Her).

Plaza Dos de Mayo

Historical Landmark

Monument to Luis Daoiz and Pedro Velarde, heroes of the Spanish war of independence, in Plaza dos de Mayo
© Peter Eastland / Alamy

This square is in the heart of the trendy neighbourhood of Malasaña and is surrounded by a host of excellent bars, restaurants and shops – a great location for nightlife in Madrid.

El Rastro


People at the famous El Rastro market in the La Latina / La Ribera neighborhood in Madrid
© Page Light Studios / Getty Images
Madrid’s famous flea market is held every Sunday morning, when the streets come to life with stalls, bars open out onto the streets and locals and tourists alike enjoy the fiesta atmosphere around the area of Lavapiés.

Almudena Cathedral


People walking around the square in front of the majestic Cathedral of Madrid at sunset
© LucVi / Getty Images

Madrid’s cathedral was consecrated by Pope John Paul on its opening in 1993. Its Baroque exterior matches the older Royal Palace next door, and it was where King Felipe and Queen Letizia married.

Barrio de Las Letras

Historical Landmark

The colourful, tiled exterior of Viva Madrid restaurant, with outdoor seating at the entrance
© Wiskerke / Alamy
Barrio de Las Letras (Literary Quarter) is one of Madrid’s most beautiful and coolest neighbourhoods. It was the home of Spanish literary giant and Don Quixote author, Miguel de Cervantes, and these days is full of eccentric bars and restaurants. Make sure to look down once in a while; the streets are peppered with famous literary quotes.

Atocha Train Station

Monastery, Train Station

Palm trees and other plants in the station hall at Atocha train station in Madrid
© Eloi Omella / Getty Images
Madrid’s main train has a very unusual feature – its very own indoor rainforest, home to dozens of turtles.


Art Gallery

A woman walking along the street outside Matadero Arts Center
© Alberto Manuel Urosa Toledano / Getty Images
This former matadero(slaughterhouse) – situated along the River Manzanares – was converted into an arts centre in the early 2000s. It has its own cinema and exhibition spaces and holds regular performances and food markets.

San Gines

Bar, Cafe, Restaurant, Dessert Shop, Candy Store, Spanish, Dessert

Tables and chairs, with customers, outside Chocolateria San Gines with its neon sign in Madrid
© Serge Yatunin / Getty Images
You cannot possibly leave Madrid without trying churros con chocolate (sugar-drenched deep-fried dough sticks with hot chocolate) from San Ginés, which has been serving since 1894. It is open all night long, so is a great pitstop on the way home from a night on the town.

For more attractions visit our article things to do in Madrid, Spain.

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