20 Madrid Attractions You Need To Visit Before You Die

Downtown Madrid, Spain, where the Calle de Alcala meets the Gran Via.
Downtown Madrid, Spain, where the Calle de Alcala meets the Gran Via. | © LucVi / Getty Images
Photo of Jessica Jones
6 May 2020

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, Culture Trip takes a look at the top attractions in Madrid to visit.

Plaza Mayor

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Plaza Mayor in Madrid Spain
© 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
Map View
Madrid Palacio de Oriente monument
© 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.

Gran Via

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Madrid city skyline gran via street twilight , Spain
© 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.

The Golden Triangle of Art

Art Gallery, Museum
Map View
Museo del Prado
© 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.

Sobrino de Botin

Restaurant, Spanish, $$$
Map View
'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
Map View
Cine Dore Cinema
© 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).

Barrio de Las Letras

Historical Landmark
Map View
Famous restaurant Viva Madrid in the Barrio de las Letras or Literary Quarter. Dating back to 1856 it's also a tapas and cocktail bar. Madrid Spain.
© 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.

San Gines

Bar, Cafe, Restaurant, Dessert Shop, Candy Store, Spanish, Dessert
Map View
Chocolateria San Gines in Madrid, Spain
© 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.

These recommendations were updated on May 6, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.