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20 Madrid Attractions You Need to Visit Before You Die

Madrid skyline | © iteijeiro/Flickr
Picture of Jessica Jones
Updated: 5 March 2019
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Madrid might not have the status of Rome or Paris in terms of sights, but the Spanish capital is a pleasure to explore. From historical gems and world-class art, to an incredible food scene and picturesque parks, we take a look at the top attractions in Madrid to visit.

Plaza Mayor

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 to stroll and sample one of the city’s famed foods: a calamari sandwich (bocadillo de calamares) from one of the bars surrounding the square.

Royal Palace

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.

Madrid’s Royal Palace

Retiro Park

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.

The Crystal Palace in Madrid’s Retiro Park

Templo de Debod

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.

Madrid’s Templo de Debod Egyptian temple

KIO Towers

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 Vía

Madrid’s most iconic 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.

Madrid’s Gran Vía

Rooftop bars

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

Puerta del Sol

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 bear and the strawberry tree on Puerta del Sol

The Golden Triangle of art galleries

Madrid is home to some 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.

Madrid’s Prado Museum

Palacio de Cibeles

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

Madrid’s Palacio de Cibeles

Calle de Cava Baja

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. Some of our favourite spots are La Perejila, Txakolina and El Tempranillo.

Sobrino de Botín

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 Doré

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).

Madrid’s Cine Doré

Plaza Dos de Mayo

This square is in the heart of the hip neighbourhood of Malasaña and is surrounded by a host of excellent bars, restaurants and shops. One of Madrid’s best nightlife spots.

The Rastro

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.

Madrid’s Rastro market

Almudena Cathedral

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.

Madrid’s Almudena Cathedral

Literary Quarter

Barrio de Las Letras 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 quirky bars and restaurants. Make sure to look down once in a while; the streets are peppered with famous literary quotes.

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Atocha train station

Madrid’s main train has a very unusual feature – its very own indoor rainforest, home to dozens of turtles.

Matadero

This former slaughterhouse (‘matadero‘ in Spanish) 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 Ginés for churros

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.

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

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