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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.