What to do in Madrid?
Real artistic showcase of Spain, Madrid is too long and unjustly remained in the shadow of Barcelona. However, the Spanish capital radiates in Europe thanks to its great cultural richness, and really deserves the detour during a circuit in Spain.
There are plenty of good reasons to spend a few days in Madrid, especially since this city is easily accessible from home by train or plane: in the low season, you can get away with a round trip less than 30 €!
Whether you choose to visit Madrid as a couple, as a family, for a day, a weekend or a longer stay, I give you all my good tips for your visit to be for the better.
But to begin, I give you my top 20 things to do and see in Madrid, to miss anything of the places of interest of Madrid. In our Madrid guide you will then find a selection of the best hotels to know where to stay in Madrid, itinerary ideas, neighborhood descriptions and city maps.
Day 1: Take a walk in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid
Built in 1690, the Plaza Mayor is the heart of Madrid, the main place of interest, where people love to hang out and make an appointment. The square is surrounded by buildings whose architecture is particularly interesting, not to be missed:
- The Bakery House
- The Boucherie’s house
- The Bow of the Cutlers
The numerous arches also contribute to the charm of the square, and in its center stands the statue of Philip III on horseback.
In summer, the Plaza Mayor is invaded by the terraces of cafes and restaurants, the whole city rushes to enjoy the unique surroundings. Madrid people are also there in winter to enjoy the magic of Christmas.
2. The Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real in Spanish) is one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe. Built in the XVII th century, this majestic palace will amaze the little ones as the greatest. There are guided tours that allow you to discover the most interesting rooms: the Hallebardiers lounge, the Columns room, the King Charles III room or the Mirrors room.
Do not forget to visit the gardens of Sabatini and Campo Del Moro, included in the price of the visit. A pleasant nature break after discovering the palace!
3. The Teatro Real
Another place of interest in Madrid, the Opera Theater, Teatro Real for the Spaniards, sits on Oriente Square, opposite the Royal Palace. Built between 1817 and 1850, it is one of the best operas in Europe thanks to its exceptional acoustics. If I enjoyed spending an evening at the opera, it will take the price to enjoy: the cheapest seats do not offer a complete view of the stage! Make sure you know before booking your tickets.
The Teatro Real in Madrid hosted the greatest opera singers and programming varies often fly high, do not hesitate to go for a ride on their website to view the program, rates and book your place online.
Address : Plaza Isabel II, s / n, 28013 Madrid
4. Visit the Prado Museum
The Prado Museum (Museo del Prado in Spanish) is one of the largest in the world. It houses a vast collection of paintings, mostly of European origin, the XIV th to the XIX th century. The great masters Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez and Hieronymus Bosch are also in a good position. For the amateurs, know that this museum also exposes 6400 drawings and 3000 prints, what differentiates it from the classic museums proposing only pictorial works.
Address : Paseo del Prado, s / n, 28014 Madrid
For details of prices and additional information in French, you can visit the Prado Museum’s web page
The museum is free for minors, and free for everyone from 18h to 20h on weekdays and from 17h to 19h on Sundays. A good reason to take a culture break! The best is to take a cut-line ticket, very useful in high season for those who do not enjoy free.
5. The Royal Botanical Garden
Located right next to the most famous museum in the city, the Prado Museum, the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid is home to hundreds of trees, shrubs and flowers from around the world, botanical enthusiasts will be delighted with walk there to discover new species.
But this haven of greenery in the heart of the capital also allows everyone to enjoy a well-deserved break in beautiful surroundings.
Do not miss : the greenhouse which houses rare and exotic species.
6. Reina Sofía National Art Center Museum
Second representative of the trilogy of the prestigious Madrilenian museums, the Reina Sofía National Art Museum (Centro de Arte Reina Sofia) is distinguished by the works it exhibits: a large collection of Spanish and international art from the 19th century. century to the present day. It is here that is exposed the famous painting Guernica Pablo Picasso.
Address : Calle Santa Isabel, 52 28012
You can find the detailed schedules and prices of the Queen Sofia Museum on this website
Like the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía National Museum of Art encourages visitors to come and discover it by offering various forms of free admission : from 7 pm to 9 pm during the week (except Tuesdays), from 1.30 pm to 7 pm on Sundays, as well as as certain days as April 18, May 18, October 12 and December 6.
7. The Thyssen Bornemisza Museum
Along with the Prado Museum and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum is one of the must-see places for art lovers to visit during a tour in Madrid. There is also an advantageous pass combining the entrance to these three museums, to be used within six months.
The museum collects works of various painters of the XIV th to the XX th century. It houses the collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, which gave its name to the place. Try to go early in the morning or late afternoon, you can admire the works more calmly than in the middle of the crowd, gathered between 10 am and 15h. If you’re in a hurry, you can also do the same as me and buy a fast-track ticket, so you do not queue up at the museum entrance.
Address : Paseo del Prado, 8, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Detailed rates and opening times are available on this web page
The Thyssen Bornemisza Museum also has a free period: Monday, from 12h to 16h.
Day 2: The Cathedral of Almudena
Here is another remarkable monument, and easy to access for large families or small budgets: the remarkable Cathedral of Almudena, with a symbolic entrance fee of € 1.
This cathedral was built according to two styles in force at the time: its interior is Gothic, while the exterior refers to classicism. The result is a curious, original monument, not to be missed during your stay in Madrid. Interesting fact: the Cathedral of Almudena was consecrated in 1993 by Pope John Paul II!
Address : Calle de Bailén, 10, 28013 Madrid
9. Stroll in the Retiro Park
At the time of its creation in the XVIII th century, the Retiro Park (Parque El Retiro) was reserved for the exclusive use of the King. Since then, it has been democratized and everyone can come and enjoy the exceptional setting of this park, the green lung of Madrid.
During the walk, several places deserve your interest:
- The Velázquez Palace
- The Crystal Palace
- The monument to Alfonso XII
- Do not forget to admire the many statues and lakes that beautify the garden.
If you come for a weekend picnic, hurry up and choose your favorite place, as many others may have the same idea as you.
10. The temple of Amon (Debod)
For a little more scenery, head for the African continent, right in the heart of Madrid: the temple of Amon, also called Temple of Debod presents Egyptian remains of 2200 years old, reconstituted in the state. This curious monument is one of my favorites, for several reasons: the entrance is free, the place is very photogenic (especially at dusk) and you will bring back beautiful memories, especially the temple of Debod gives an overview of the Egyptian civilization to the curious who do not have the possibility to go there!
11. The arenas of Las Ventas
These arenas, the largest in Madrid and the third largest in the world, were built in 1930. They can accommodate up to 24,000 people, they are the scene of bullfights, these famous Spanish bullfighting shows. Although this tradition is criticized for obvious ethical reasons, the inhabitants of Madrid still gather there today, mainly on two occasions: the Feria de la Comunidad in May, and the Feria de San Isidro in June.
The arenas of Las Ventas are open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday from 10h to 14h. The entrance costs € 3.
12. Visit the Zoo Aquarium of Madrid
If you have children or if you are passionate about biology and animals, do not hesitate to spend an afternoon visiting the large Zoo Aquarium in Madrid. This zoo is one of the largest and most complete in the country. It is home to dozens of animal species and offers entertainment with animals, around care or meals for example. There are even giant pandas!
Coupled with a large aquarium, it is the ideal exit to do in Madrid with young children, who will be able to discover animals coming from the other end of the planet, in a well arranged establishment and concerned with the animal welfare.
And since it’s never funny to have to wait a long time with young children, I advise you to buy your tickets in advance and thus, ensure a stress-free day!
13. Attend a match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium
The Bernabeu stadium was inaugurated in 1947 and belongs to the famous Real Madrid club. Mythical place, the stadium can be visited during the day, but the most interesting thing is to go and watch a match! In the evening, you will finally be able to admire some of the best players in the world, in an exhilarating atmosphere that sums up the Spanish nightlife so well.
14. Palace of Cybele
The palace of Cybele (Palacio de Cibeles), formerly “Palace of Communications” is one of the most impressive monuments of Madrid because of its incredible architecture. It is now the seat of the town hall but it also houses the “CentroCentro” a cultural center that offers free exhibitions. Do not miss the crystal gallery, a room topped by an impressive glass vault.
On the sixth floor, you can even climb onto the terrace and enjoy a 360-degree panorama of the entire city of Madrid.
The palace of Cybele is located in the Paseo del Arte district on the square of Cybele, one of the most animated and famous of Madrid thanks to its famous fountain, so you will not be able to miss it.
Go on the roof at sunset, you can take pictures and have a drink. The price of the entrance ticket is deducted from that of consumption.
Day 3: Vibrate to the rhythm of flamenco
I can only advise you to attend a flamenco show during your stay in Madrid. Inscribed on UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage, flamenco is a traditional dance whose capital is Madrid.
Choose a “tablao”, the venue that hosts flamenco performances, and let yourself be thrilled by the captivating and passionate rhythm of dance and singing.
Avoid very touristy places and try instead to find a small tablao in a quiet lane, frequented by locals: it is the guarantee to attend a show of quality.
16. Assist the changing of the guard
For a dive in the Royal Madrid, go to the Royal Palace of Madrid on the first Wednesday of the month. You will have the privilege of attending an amazing spectacle: the passage of more than 400 men and 100 horses, symbolizing the changing of the guard. Spearmen and halberdiers wander under the amazed eyes of spectators, accompanied by musicians, fifers and drums. This is an original activity that I recommend, if you have the chance to be in Madrid at the right time.
17. Visit the San Miguel Market
The San Miguel Market (The Mercado de San Miguel in Spanish) former traditional market has become a trendy place of local gastronomy, thanks to an innovative concept: for free or for less than one euro, you can taste the products before deciding to buy them . Cheese, fruits, vegetables, sausages, seafood and sushi, but also ice creams, chocolates and fresh fruit juices…
The building has a glass structure, which allows the rays of the sun to reach the stalls and give the market a special atmosphere. If you have shopping to do, think of the San Miguel Market !
18. Getting high at the Bells Artes Circular
If you want to climb and have an overview of Madrid, go to the Círculo de Bellas Artes. This place, in addition to housing interesting works, has a panoramic roof accessible to the public, known for being the best view of the city. You will have a breathtaking view of the rooftops of the capital while sipping a drink in the sun!
19. Go shopping in Madrid
Madrid is a cultural capital, but also a fashion mecca. To renew your wardrobe, go to the neighborhood of Salamanca. You will be able to lick the showcases of dozens of shops, especially gathered around Serrano Street : major clothing brands, shoe stores and jewelery shops. These stores, usually looking very neat and attractive windows, on the other hand risk to lighten your wallet accordingly.
20. What to do in Madrid at night
In Madrid, the day does not end with the sunset! In the evening, the terraces of bars and restaurants fill up. Join the Madrilenians who have sip a Sangria accompanied by some tapas, and you will discover the soul of the city.
If you are not tired, the nightlife possibilities are not lacking: the neighborhood of Chueca in particular, is home to several discotheques in the relaxed atmosphere that will allow you to let go and dance until the end of the night.
21 – Bonus! Enjoy a Chocolate Churros (chocolate con churros)
For gourmands, this Spanish specialty should please you: the famous Chocolate Churros is a real institution, a must for Spanish street food! The thick and hearty chocolate in which one diets hot and golden churros leaves delicious sweet memories.
If you are in Madrid and want to taste the best of the best, do like me and go to the San Ginés chocolate factory : since 1894, this place open 24/24 offers the best chocolate con churros of the city. Arm yourself with a good dose of patience, as places are rare as the place is popular with locals and tourists alike.
Address : Pasadizo de San Gines, 5, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Other places of interest to visit in Madrid
For this TOP 20 things to do in Madrid, I had to make some choices, so here is a list of some other monuments to see and places of interest to visit in Madrid:
Landmarks / Places
- Gate of Alcalá
- Spanish Steps
Museums to visit
- Sorolla Museum
- Lázaro Galdiano Museum
- Cerralbo Museum
- National Archaeological Museum of Madrid
- Basilica of St. Francis the Great
- Church of San Manuel y San Benito, north of the Retiro Park
Do not miss outside Madrid
L’Escurial : I can not not mention in this guide the royal site of Saint-Laurent-de-l’Escurial, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and located in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 45km north west of Madrid. A visit to do absolutely!
The districts of Madrid
To help you find your way around the city, know that Madrid is divided into several neighborhoods. Feel free to pick up a paper plan at the tourist office, your travels will be facilitated !. Here are the characteristics of the main neighborhoods:
Centro (Sol – Gran Via)
The nerve center of tourism in Madrid, it is from this area that many tourist routes start. It is also the “point 0” of the country, which is located in Puerta del Sol, one of the liveliest places in the city. It is, from a symbolic point of view, the kilometric point 0 of all the Spanish roads and therefore the center of Spain.
This is the central district, where the Plaza Mayor is located . This is where the atmosphere is the most lively at night, with its many bars crowded with young people from Madrid. Do not miss in the district of los Austrias :
- The Plaza Mayor
- The Royal Palace of Madrid
- The Monastery of the Incarnation
- The Cathedral of La Almudena
- The Teatro Real
During the day you will discover the narrow streets of medieval origins that crisscross the La Latina district, its pleasant squares and its many buildings with interesting architecture. This is where the Rastro, the city’s most famous flea market, is located, and the area is also famous for its tapas bars.
Paseo Del Arte
It is, as its name suggests, the heart of the cultural life of the Spanish capital. The 3 main museums of the city are there, as well as an architectural jewel of Madrid. To see in the Paseo del Arte:
- The Prado Museum
- The Thyssen Bornemisza Museum
- The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
- The Palace of Cybele
- The Naval Museum of Madrid
- The Kingdoms Fair
It is the cosmopolitan and popular area of Madrid. Animated at any time, this friendly neighborhood immerses you in the daily life of the locals, who talk at their doorstep, extend their laundry to their balcony or play ball in the streets. At the catering level, the Lavapiés district concentrates international establishments: African, Turkish, Chinese, Italian, etc. Some pickpockets can crack, keep an eye on your valuables.
Little brother of the baba-cool neighborhoods of Soho in New York or Camden Town in London, The hippy and popular Malasañ neighborhood offers great shopping opportunities, and its relaxed atmosphere is definitely worth a visit.
This is the gay neighborhood of the city, with several specialized nightclubs. But the district of Chueca is also a place of celebration for all, with its many bars and night clubs, where young people come to meet once the sun is down.
Argüelles / Moncloa
These are the student districts of Madrid, because close to the Ciudad Universitaria. They include a large concentration of nightclubs, whose particularity is that they are most often in the basement.
Visit Madrid with your family
Madrid is perfect for a family visit with your little ones. To do this, try to reconcile these two elements: cheap visits, not to flambé the wallet if you are many, and enjoy the children.
Some ideas: the big Zoo Aquarium of Madrid of course, which will please your offspring. Also think of El Retiro Park, where you can take a boat trip, or the temple of Debod, which will amaze you with its magical atmosphere.
If your boys are soccer fans, take them to the Bernabeu stadium, it will leave them with an unforgettable memory. And finally, let them discover the Museo del Prado, free for minors, and the Cathedral of Almudena, a beautiful visit whose entry price of 1 euro is symbolic. So, for a reasonable budet, your children will not be bored, and their thirst for discovery will be quenched.
How many days to visit Madrid?
The visit ideas are not lacking in Madrid, so you can stay a week without going around in circles. I propose below some program ideas to occupy your stay, whether you choose to spend in the Spanish capital one, two, three, four or five days.
These itineraries are of course suggestions, if you decide to stay several days, it may be wiser for example to group the museums on a day, since they are very close to each other (even if it means not to not be able to enjoy the free period for all).
If you only have a few days in Madrid, I also strongly recommend that you take your ticket in advance.
1 Day in Madrid
If you only have one day in Madrid, you will have to go to the basics. Here is a program idea:
- Do some shopping at the Mercado de San Miguel
- Discover the majestic Plaza Mayor
- Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid
- Relax at the Retiro Park
- Enjoy free hours to admire the works of the Museo del Prado
- If you have time, go and admire the architecture Palais de Cybèle
- End the day with tapas in the lively bars of La Latina
Visit Madrid 2 days
If you have chosen to go for a weekend in Madrid, you can resume the day described above, and add these visits:
- Attend a flamenco show on the first night
- The next morning, take a tour of Puerta del Sol and the central district.
- Visit the magnificent Cathedral of Almudena
- To taste it, stop eating chocolate churros
- Enjoy the sunset watching the Temple of Debod, which reveals all its splendor to the savvy photographers
- In the evening, to end your weekend in beauty, treat yourself to a gourmet dinner at the restaurant Maitia (see “Where to eat in Madrid?”)
3 Days in Madrid
In 3 days in Madrid, you can afford to take your time to tame the beautiful Spanish. Take back the program of a weekend in Madrid by strolling between the various visits, and add these elements:
- The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, not to be missed if you are an art lover
- The visit of the Palace of Cybele, architectural masterpiece, also in the Paseo del Arte
- A trip to the Malasaña district, hippy-chic haunt of the city
- A passage through the Parroquia Santa Bárbara, very beautiful Baroque church, which is on your route
- A few hours of shopping in the Salamanca district
- Return to the Paseo del Arte district and take a glass on the terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes to enjoy a magnificent panorama of the city at the end of the day
4 Days in Madrid
Lucky you are, I would have liked to spend 4 days visiting Madrid ! Be inspired by the recommended visits in 3 days, but lift your foot even more to soak up the nonchalant and lively atmosphere of the capital.
- If you like art, plan to visit also the Reina Sofía National Museum of Art, to discover Picasso’s famous Guernica
- Take the time to immerse yourself in the Spanish bullfighting culture in Las Ventas Bullring
- If you have a family, spend the afternoon visiting the Zoo Aquarium de Madrid
- Enjoy the serene atmosphere of the Royal Botanical Garden
5 Days in Madrid
In 5 days in Madrid, you will have time to visit all the places mentioned in our top things to do in Madrid. Add to the program planned for 4 days these last visits:
- A tour of the Lavapiés district to taste the popular Madrid atmosphere
- A memorable evening with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu stadium
- A night of madness in one of the discotheques of Chueca party district
- If you’re lucky enough to be in Madrid on the first Wednesday of the month, watch the changing of the guard in front of the Palacio Real
- One Sunday, go for a morning walk to the Rastro flea market
Accommodation in Madrid
- OK Hostel Madrid : Hostel located 700 meters from the Plaza Mayor and 200 meters from a metro station. Bed in dormitory from 16 € per night, breakfast at 3 €. Most: ideal location, very friendly, clean and modern dormitory, possibility to have a meal for 10 €. In short, nothing wrong is our heart stroke report benefit / price! Note that the hostel also offers double rooms from 75 € per night.
- Ibis Madrid Centro Las Ventas : Located next to Madrid’s famous bullring and 100 meters from a metro station. Spacious and modern room from 60 € per night and breakfast in addition to 7.95 €. Most: view of the bullring from the rooms, breakfast buffet very rich.
- B & B Hotel Puerta del Sol : Ideally located 100 meters from the Puerta del Sol and 400 meters from the Plaza Mayor. Very quiet and comfortable room from 89 € per night with a breakfast bag (water, fruit and chocolate breads) included every morning. Pros: Free provision of drinks and fruits 24h / 24h, great location and lovely staff.
- Only YOU Hotel Atocha : Located right next to El retiro park. Comfortable double room, spacious and design from € 190 per night, breakfast € 21. The plus: the beautiful hotel, the staff available and attentive, the huge choice at breakfast, the location (10 minutes walk from the center and airport shuttle 5 minutes), the decor, the atmosphere. It’s the best choice for a luxury stay in Madrid!
Where to eat in Madrid?
- Dstage : this Michelin-starred gastronomic restaurant is one of the most popular in Madrid. If you want to feast without limit of budget, book (well) in advance a table and you will not be disappointed! The 10 or 14 course menus with assorted drinks (about 90 €) are a real delight, the genius of the chef is hidden in each plate and it will make you turn the head with associations of flavors and textures unpublished.
- Maitia : this other gourmet restaurant is much more intimate than the first. In a cozy and warm atmosphere, ideal for a romantic evening, the boss comes to personally present his dishes to customers. Its cuisine is acclaimed by all, for an excellent price-quality ratio (40 € 3-course menu). I was convinced!
- Cerveceria Gandario : this is surely one of the favorite budget restaurants for tourists and locals alike. This cerveceria offers delicious tapas at a reasonable price, a sangria to die for, all in very copious portions. Ideal to eat on the go between visits, the setting is very pleasant and the service impeccable. It is on the other hand a little eccentric.
- CalidaDe : this is the last restaurant that I will advise in this article. The cuisine is excellent, very cheap (5 € for a sandwich filled), and does honor to the Spanish culinary traditions. Add to that a charming welcome, a well-appointed room and a varied menu, and you have a restaurant worth seeing!
Madrid Tourist Map
Here is the tourist map of Madrid as well as the list of the main monuments and museums with the schedules, very useful to locate you and easily organize your stay in the Spanish capital!
Another more stylized version:
Map of Madrid Metro
The map of the Madrid Metro can also be useful:
Address of the Madrid Tourist Office
Once there, I recommend you go to the tourist office of Madrid, to get the latest information on places to visit and things to do in Madrid.
As Madrid is a big city, there are of course many in the city. Here are 3 of them:
- Oficina de Información y Turismo of the Comunidad de Madrid: Calle Duque de Medinaceli, 2, 28014 Madrid
- Tourist Information Plaza de Cibeles : Cibeles Palace, Plaza Cibeles, 1, 28014 Madrid, Spain
- Centro de Turismo Plaza Mayor : Plaza Mayor, 27, 28012 Madrid, Spain
If you are planning to visit Madrid, I also recommend that you download the official Madrid guide in PDF on the website of the tourist office.
Here is the direct link to this guide
My impressions of Madrid
My stay in Madrid for a few days left me with an excellent impression. There is a lot of things to do in Madrid, a warm, lively city, combining modernity and tradition, has charmed me day after day. I loved walking in its cobbled streets, discover here and there a church, a park, a palace…
So I can only advise you to give a few days to visit the Spanish capital. The cultural richness of this city unjustly despised by tourists pleased me a lot, and the way of discovering it reminded me in some ways of my visit to Rome.
And you, what have you planned to visit in Madrid?