50 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.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Retiro Park

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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Calle De Cava Baja

Bar, Restaurant, Tapas

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.

11. 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.

12. El Rastro

Market

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.

13. Almudena Cathedral

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.

14. 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.

15. Barrio de Las Letras

Historical Landmark

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.

16. 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!

17. Matadero

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.

18. Go for tapas in La Latina

Architectural Landmark

Tapas is, without a doubt, one of the first things that come to mind when one thinks of Spain. Head to La Latina area for great restaurants and bars, and do as the locals do: order a drink and you will usually get a free tapa, then head over to the next bar. You will not only discover the neighborhood but you will also be able to taste a great variety of Spanish drinks and tapas at an affordable price! Recommended by Sonia Cuesta.

19. Ernest Hemingway's favourite hangouts

Cathedral, Building, Museum, Historical Landmark

Ernest Hemingway was fascinated with Spain and Spanish culture after becoming utterly enamoured while working as a reporter during the Civil War. Many of his favourite spots in the country were in Madrid and some still exist to this day. Begin with Sobrino de Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant, and try the suckling pig. It’s so good that Hemingway mentioned it in his novel The Sun Always Rises. Treat yourself to a beer or two in the Cerveceria Alemana, a cocktail at Museo Chicote and check out the second floor breakfast room at Tryp Gran Via to see photos of ‘Don Ernesto’. His love for bullfighting, meanwhile, is almost as famous as his written works, so be sure to check out the Las Ventas Bullring and Bullfighting Museum. Recommended by Paul Gibbins.

20. Maravillas and San Miguel Markets

Cheesemonger, Market, Spanish

Croquetas - Mercado San Miguel, Madrid
Andrés Alagón / Unsplash

There’s an old saying in Madrid that “whatever you’re looking for, go to Maravillas Market. If you don’t find it, it doesn’t exist.” Stocking perhaps the largest range of traditional market food in the city, Maravillas offers the full gamut of sights, sounds and smells. No trip to Madrid, however, is complete without a visit to San Miguel Market. Housed in its original iron structure, the market is home to 33 stalls selling the very best Spanish street food. Recommended by Paul Gibbins.

21. CaixaForum

Architectural Landmark

Wherever there’s a CaixaForum in Spain, it’s guaranteed to be one of the best attractions in the city, and the Madrid version is no different. Built in an old power station, the museum is an architectural wonder in itself, appearing to levitate from the ground as you approach it. The luscious vertical garden on the exterior walls, has also made the venue a talking-point. Once inside you’ll find multimedia exhibitions of art, music, poetry, photography, as well as a number of events including debates, conferences and workshops for families and professionals alike. Recommended by Paul Gibbins.

22. Plaza Dos de Mayo

Historical Landmark

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.

23. 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.

24. 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).

Biblioteca Nacional

This beautiful building houses more than 30 million books and is over 300 years old. The National Library is one of the most interesting and unique places to visit in Madrid. Take one of the guided tours and learn about the history of the building, how its books are preserved and visit its beautiful rooms. If by the end of the tour you still want to spend more time in the library, you can finish the visit on your own and explore it at your own pace. Recommended by Sonia Cuesta.

Sala Equis

Sala Equis is one of Madrid’s most beloved independent venues. What was once an erotic cinema has been converted into an arts space, complete with regular exhibitions of visual arts, screenings of films and more. While it is largely family-friendly these days, its history is still a proud part of its make-up. A neon red X adorns the screening room (‘Equis’ is Spanish for X) and old-fashioned lettering is used for the names of exhibitions on display. Recommended by Paul Gibbins.

El Imparcial

El Imparcial was a Spanish newspaper which ran from the late 1800s until 1933. These days, the elegant manor house which was once the newspaper’s head office houses a restaurant, shop and bar. Here you’ll find traditional Spanish classics with a modern twist, as well as international items like burgers, pizzas, poke bowls and tacos. Monday to Friday there is a lunch menu, and on Sundays there is a classic brunch menu on offer too. In the bar you’ll find local and artisanal beers, all at great prices. Spread across two floors, the various spaces of El Imparcial change to be used at different times of the day, but the décor and upholstery in every room is truly a sight to behold. Recommended by Paul Gibbins.

Chamberi metro station

One of Madrid’s first eight metro stations, Chamberi was designed and built in 1919, inspired by the look and feel of the metro lines in Paris. Eventually, the station became redundant, due to the proximity of other nearby metro stations and was closed in 1966. Since then, it was preserved due to the entrances being bricked up, and eventually lovingly restored in 2006. These days, it acts as a glimpse into the past of the ghost metro station, with a platform viewpoint where you can see the modern metro roar past, from more antiquated surroundings. Recommended by Paul Gibbins.

The Best Things to Do in Madrid in Spring, according to Jessica Jones

25. Kill the night

Wine Bar, Wine

Renowned Madrid fan Ernest Hemingway famously said that nobody goes to bed in Madrid “until they have killed the night”, and spring is a good time to experience Madrid’s nightlife. The nights are longer and warmer, ideal for sampling the city’s best bars, clubs and concert venues.

26. Watch a football match

Stadium

Capacity crowd watching a Real Madrid night game at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium
Vienna Reyes / Unsplash

Football fans should try to get tickets to see one of Madrid’s biggest teams: Real Madrid or Atlético de Madrid. Spring is getting to the end of the La Liga season, so could be the time for dramatic matches that could decide who wins Spain’s top football league. If you don’t manage to get tickets, you can visit the home of Real Madrid, the Santiago Bernabéu stadium, for a tour.

See the cherry blossom

Madrid’s cherry blossom bursts into life every spring, and there is no better place to see the trees in all their glory than the Quinta de los Molinos park, to the northeast of the city centre. Take line five of the Metro and get off at Suanzes station, just opposite the park gates.

Join in the San Isidro celebrations

Madrid’s patron saint is celebrated from May 11 to 15 every year in religious events, traditional dancing, bullfights, concerts, street parties and more. It’s a great time to experience Madrid’s fun-loving party spirit and learn about some of the city’s famous traditions.

Easter

If you happen to be in Madrid over Easter, don’t miss the parades that snake around the city. Dozens take place every Holy Week, attached to different churches. Penitents wear dramatic, cone-shaped hoods (they have nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan, despite their unfortunate resemblance), while men carry huge statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary and women in traditional lace mantillas follow.

The Best Things to Do in Madrid in Summer, according to Jessica Jones

27. Day trip

Natural Feature

Rocky, arid landscapes in Sierra de Guadarrama, Madrid, Spain
Alejandro Piñero Amerio / Unsplash

It’s no secret Madrid can get pretty stifling during the summer, so if the temperatures are pushing 40°C why not do a day trip to the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, just north of the city? Temperatures are guaranteed to be lower, and the mountains are also home to some stunning natural swimming pools – great for a dip!

28. Swim

Aquarium, Park, Zoo

Whether it’s one of Madrid’s popular public outdoor pools or a glamorous rooftop pool, there is no better feeling during the city’s sweltering summer than plunging into refreshing water and cooling off. Lago, a public two pool complex in the Casa de Campo park, is one of the most popular spots in the city, just prepare for a bit of a queue at the weekend.

29. Open-air cinema

Architectural Landmark

There are lots of different places across the city that set up open-air cinemas in the summer. Catch a flick on the beautiful rooftop of La Casa Encendida, a cultural centre, or watch a new release in the courtyard of Cibeles Palace, the grand headquarters of Madrid’s City Council.

30. Enjoy the air con

Museum

Vintage film camera at Reina Sofía Museum, Madrid, Spain
Rodrigo Ramos / Unsplash
You’ll never realise how much you appreciate air conditioning until you visit Madrid in summer. Enjoy the cool atmosphere at one of the city’s cinemas – the Cine Doré, a 1920s art house cinema in the Lavapiés neighbourhood, is home to the Filmoteca Española, which is dedicated to preserving old Spanish films. It shows films from around the world, as well as movies in English with Spanish subtitles, for a bargain €3. Alternatively get your air con fix at one of Madrid’s famous art galleries; the Prado and Reina Sofia both offer free admission during the last couple of hours of the day.

Hit the waterpark

Aquopolis, on the outskirts of Madrid, is a fun water park for all the family. It will keep kids entertained all day long and is a good chance to escape the busy streets of the city, if only for a few hours. You can take the cercanías commuter train from Madrid to the water park, located in San Fernando de Henares, in about 30 minutes.

Pride

Madrid’s gay pride celebrations are among the biggest in the world and take place at the end of June-beginning of July every year. The city takes on a welcoming and inclusive party atmosphere, hosting a huge LGBT parade and several concerts across different neighbourhoods.

Verbenas

In August, Madrid is home to three local fiestas, or verbenas, when locals dress up, restaurants set up outdoor stalls and the streets are decorated with colourful bunting. The biggest fiesta, La Paloma, takes place from August 12-15 and is a great opportunity to see Madrid’s local colour in all its glory.

Veranos de la Villa

Every summer, Madrid’s City Council hosts a series of cultural events under the umbrella of Veranos de la Villa, or Summers in the City. From open-air cinema nights and theatre performances to concerts by some of the biggest names in pop, rock and indie, make sure to check the listings if you are planning a summer trip to Madrid.

The Best Things to Do in Madrid in Winter, according to Jessica Jones

Ride the Christmas Bus

Every December, Madrid lays on a special NaviBus (‘Christmas bus’) that takes passengers on a festive tour of the city’s incredible Christmas lights. Wrap up warm, take a seat on the top deck and prepare for a big dose of Christmas cheer as you take in the creative displays, which are made by different designers each year. The bus runs from December 1 to January 6 and tickets must be booked online in advance. It leaves from Calle Serrano in the Salamanca neighbourhood.

Shop at the Christmas Market

Madrid’s best Christmas market is on the city’s Plaza Mayor, where stalls sell everything from nativity characters and baubles to wigs and funny glasses. These are donned by Spaniards on December 28 for the Day of the Innocents, the country’s version of April Fool’s Day.

Cool, quirky and unusual things to do in Madrid

31. Do your own DIY literary tour of Madrid

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Madrid is perfect for literature buffs. Home to one of the largest libraries in the world, the Biblioteca Nacional as well as the stomping grounds for famous writers like Hemingway and Cervantes, you should definitely take the time to get to know the literary history of Madrid. Do your own mini-tour by visiting the birthplaces of many famous writers, and take a stroll through the literary quarter of Madrid, Barrio de las Letras. Recommended by Lori Zaino.

32. Take a street art tour

Art Gallery

Three large murals across buildings in Marqués De Vadillo, Madrid, Spain
Jonathan Kobylanski / Unsplash

There’s no better way to explore Madrid’s street art scene than by a walking tour on a sunny day. Tours usually include a visit to La Neomudejar, a contemporary arts center, and walks through neighborhoods like Malasaña and La Latina. Recommended by Lori Zaino.

Parque Europa

While there’s so many amazing parks to hit up in Madrid, the Parque Europa is the quirkiest of all, thanks to the fact that it has several European monuments within the park. You’d be hard-pressed to find another park where you can experience the Eiffel Tower, Trevi Fountain, Tower Bridge, Lisbon’s Tower of Belem and Brussels’ Atomium all in one spot! The park is located just a few miles outside the city center in the suburb of Torrejón de Ardoz and best of all, it’s free to enter. Recommended by Lori Zaino.

33. Círculo de Bellas Artes

Cocktail Bar, Bar, Spanish

If you’re looking for a place bursting with atmosphere, head for the Circulo de Bellas Artes. In its building on the beautiful Calle del Alcalá it not only hosts wonderful art exhibitions of all schools and styles, but it also has a lovely café on street level, decorated with antique-themed sculptures, as well as a breathtaking rooftop terrace with a stunning view over the roofs of Madrid. Recommended by Laura Kauffmann.

34. Escape Rooms

Amusement Park

Real-life escape room games are non virtual adventures, in which the daring participants are locked into a room, given a mission and clues and are only allowed to use their brain cells and nerve to escape. So what are you waiting for? Grab your friends and test your brains. Establishments such as The Exit-Game, Enigma Express, The Rombo Code offer outrageous scenarios also available in English! Recommended by Laura Kauffmann.

35. Secret Gardens

Museum

The existence of many hidden gardens right in the bustling center of Madrid often goes unnoticed. The Huerto de las Monjas, for example, once a pristine retreat for nuns of the convent it belonged to, now lies hidden behind inconspicuous apartment buildings. If you are looking for refreshment, the café on the patio of the Museo del Romanticísmo will allure all your senses with delicious homemade cakes and tarts in an almost surreal atmosphere of quiet contemplation. Recommended by Laura Kauffmann.

Microteatro Por Dinero

How about you give the Microteatro por Dinero a try? Every day, five ‘micro-plays’ are staged simultaneously, every 15 minutes. You will be in an audience of around 15 people, watching a play which usually stars two actors, performing for no more than 20 minutes. Even if your Spanish isn’t perfect, this experience will be worth taking the linguistic plunge for. Recommended by Laura Kauffmann.

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