Spain’s capital city is such an incredible destination. World-renowned culture, tasty food, top class sport, rich history and so much more. Really the only thing Madrid doesn’t have is a beach, and even then there are alternatives. Whether you want to check out the most popular sites and activities, or you’re looking to see Madrid off the beaten path, you’ll find something for you. To help choose the best way to spend your stay in the city here’s a look at 20 places to visit in Madrid.
Getting around Madrid
Madrid is a big city but it’s also relatively flat, making it easily walkable. On top of this it has one of the best metro systems in Europe, helping you make your way from one part of the city to another. Aside from the metro, Madrid has many bus routes, rentable city bikes and taxis, as well as Cabify (which works just like Uber). If you prefer to drive yourself, ZITY are an electric car sharing company and their vehicles can be used from anywhere using their app.
Royal Palace and gardens
Home to the Spanish royal family when they’re in the city, Palacio Real is a great place to visit. Not only can you tour the palace itself (entrance is €12), but alongside is the Catedral de Almudena with its striking basilica and a viewpoint looking out towards Casa de Campo. Down below you can see Campo del Moro, one of two gardens around the palace.
Campo del Moro is a vast grassy park area with shady tree-lined paths. The view looking up at the palace is equally impressive, highlighted by the central fountain and colourful range of plants.
To the side of the palace you’ll find the Sabatini Gardens. The landscape royal garden is decorated by water features and statues of past members of the royal family and is a nice place to relax away from the nearby hustle and bustle of Madrid.
Enjoy a drink and a view with the locals
Just a short walk from Madrid’s palace is Jardín de las Vistillas. There are several small bars located on the street just around the corner, however from the grassy hillside it’s more relaxed and you get a view of the cathedral.
Make sure to come prepared with a few cold drinks, find a spot in among the locals and sit back with your friends for an hour or two. The best time to come is just before sunset so you can enjoy the changing colours of the sky as the day ends.
Explore the neighbourhoods of Madrid
Madrid is made up of many neighbourhoods, each with their own unique qualities and mix of cultures. La Latina is a lively area and every August it’s home to the La Paloma festival. Stalls are set up around the maze of narrow lanes as people come to enjoy live music and tasty food.
Malasaña meanwhile is located more in the centre of the city and is filled with many hipster style cafes, bakeries and the like. The evenings bring a whole host of lively nightclubs and bars to choose from with live music often featured among the wide range of musical flavours on offer.
Lavapiés has been gradually replacing Malasaña as the popular place to live in Madrid. Historically it was home to people from all parts of the world as it was cheaper than other areas of the city. This brought a mix of cultures which is still visible today. Make sure to check out the ever-changing exhibits at Tabacalera.
El Retiro Park
If you want to relax, take in some sun or find a shady spot away from the heat, Madrid has many beautiful parks to choose from. The most popular and arguably the best of which is El Retiro on the east of the city centre. The green lawns, fountains, footpaths, flower gardens and boating lake cover an impressive 1.4km², meaning you can always find your own little spot to while away the afternoon.
A couple of points to check out are the Fallen Angel fountain to the south and the Palacio de Cristal in the centre, which is used for exhibitions.
Getting to El Retiro is easy as it’s surrounded by metro stations on all sides.
Templo de Debod
Did you know Madrid had an Egyptian temple? Located close to the Royal Palace, Templo de Debod was presented as a gift to Spain in the 1960s when it was dismantled from its original site beside the River Nile and reassembled in the centre of Madrid. Entrance to the temple is free and it’s open every day except Monday (as is the case for many museums in Madrid).
The temple is found in Parque del Oeste, a popular small park for joggers and families enjoying the generally good Madrid weather. On the opposite side of the park to the temple is a viewpoint overlooking the rear of the Royal Palace and the dense forested area of Casa de Campo to the north.
One of the most popular spots in the country. As the name suggests Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s main square, a name used in many other cities around Spain such as Valladolid and Salamanca. The terraces of the many restaurants to be found in the portico lined square are usually full with tourists and locals alike. Despite the busy nature of Plaza Mayor it’s a nice spot to go for a drink, something to eat or “a relaxing cup of café con leche”.
Puerta del Sol
The centre of Madrid and the place to go for any celebration in the city. Whether it’s New Year’s Eve or another successful tournament by the national football team, Puerta del Sol is always at the centre of everything going on in Madrid.
It’s also home to two of Madrid’s icons; the Tio Pepe neon sign and city’s symbolic statue of a bear climbing a tree.
Below the square is one of Madrid’s busiest metro stations with access to lines 1, 2 and 3, making it one of the most popular stops for people heading into the centre.
Go shopping on Gran Vía
Like many major cities around the world Madrid is very popular for shopping, particularly on Gran Vía. It’s where you’ll find many famous brands and stores, and it’s always packed with people. Especially at the weekend.
But it’s not just about shopping. Further down Gran Vía towards Plaza España are many theatres showcasing international plays or local acts including comedians and live music. There are also a few bars and restaurants in this area, although there are tons of better sites to enjoy a drink around Madrid than the side of a busy road.
See Madrid from above
To check out Madrid from up high, head to Circulo de Bellas Artes on Calle de Alcalá. Entrance to the viewing deck is €5, where you’ll also find a bar. It’s a great place to hang out with friends while enjoying the views over the rooftops of Spain’s capital. The entrance fee also grants you access to the regularly changing art exhibits in the same building.
The viewpoint is a popular spot however, so for an alternative location try either the nearby Palacio de Cibeles or the indoor terrace at El Corte Inglés department store overlooking Plaza Callao. Entrance to the palace is around €4 while you can see the view at El Corte Inglés for free.
Check out the markets
Madrid has many markets to explore, each offering something different. Whether it’s food, a relaxed drink, clothes or a souvenir to take home, Madrid’s markets have it all covered.
Located in a stylish glass building close to Plaza Mayor is Mercado San Miguel, the place to go to try some of the local specialities. Among the many stalls you’ll find all kinds of food options, allowing you to grab a bite here and there as you stroll through. Stopping a little longer at those offering something extra tasty.
In the Lavapiés neighbourhood you’ll find Mercado San Fernando. A popular meeting point in this area of the city, San Fernando is a more down to earth market. Whether it’s fresh fruit and vegetables, butchered meats or a few drinks with friends. The closely packed stalls offer something for everyone.
Faro de Moncloa
Among the many viewing areas in Madrid, the one in the Moncloa neighbourhood gives you the best perspective from outside the city centre. From the top of the tower you can see all that that Madrid has to offer, including many of its more prominent landmarks such as the palace and El Retiro park.
The viewing platform has information boards pointing out places of interest, making it easy to get your bearings and plan what you want to visit. Entrance is €4 where an elevator is waiting to take you all the way to the top.
Get cultural in Madrid’s many museums
As a European capital city and one of its major cultural hubs, it’s no surprise Madrid has many museums to choose from. The art galleries of Prado and Reina Sofia are known the world over for good reason. The Reina Sofia is Spain’s national museum of 20th century art, including many of the works of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Among them is Picasso’s powerful 1937 painting Guernica. Enough reason alone for the €10 entrance price.
In the same area is Museo del Prado. With a heavy focus on Spanish art, the museum is said to have one of the finest collections in the world with over 20,000 works of art on display. Headline exhibitions change regularly and entrance is €15.
Aside from artwork, Madrid is also home to the Naval Museum (a curious location for a city that is as far from the coast as it’s possible to be in Spain) and the National Archaeological Museum. Located by Plaza Colon and sharing the building with the National Library, the Archaeological Museum has many permanent exhibits covering Spanish and human history. Entrance is just €3 and begins with a replica of the Cave of Altamira.
Ride the Teleférico
I had no idea Madrid had a cable car lift until recently when I lived there. The line was opened in the late 60s and runs all the way from Parque del Oeste near the palace to Casa de Campo.
It’s around a 10–15 minute ride with tickets costing €4.50 or €6 for a return journey. On the way you can enjoy the view looking back to the city centre until you reach the forested parklands of Casa de Campo.
Casa de Campo
If you want to get out of the city centre without going too far, then Casa de Campo is the place to head. The former royal hunting estate is a vast woodland area with plenty of picnic spots to spend an afternoon with friends and family.
The best way to get there is ride the Teleférico from Parque del Oeste and walk back to the city along the many trails. From the cable car station you can also see Madrid’s theme park to the south, hidden away among the trees.
In the east of the area, closest to the city, is a large lake. Imaginatively called Lago de la Casa de Campo. It’s a good alternative to the generally busier El Retiro Park if you want to spend a few hours relaxing by the water.
As you’ll find in many cities around Europe, the streets of Madrid offer many impressive examples of street art. From local artists to those from further afield, every neighbourhood has something different to offer. Whether it’s a famous work of art on a prominent street, or some hidden gem down a narrow, unseen alley or tucked away in a quiet square.
Among the many different styles are some from Spanish artist Okuda. The Santander native has his own unique style and examples of his work can be found around the world, including many more within Madrid and the rest of Spain.
South of the city centre is Madrid’s ‘beach’. This may sound strange for a city that is in the middle of the country and around a 4-hour drive from the nearest coastline. However, Madrid Río is a large stretch of urban park, similar to the Turia Park in Valencia. There has been a lot of recent renovation work carried out on the park and now it’s a popular place for families and groups of friends, with many distractions aside from the inviting grassy areas.
There are several access points to the park but the best is by Puente de Toledo, a baroque style bridge dating back to the 1700s.
While Madrid has many permanent markets, El Rastro is only open on Sundays. The open-air flea market is spread over several streets with stalls selling anything and everything. If you need something, chances are you’ll find it at El Rastro.
The origins of the market date back to medieval times and the hundreds of stalls offer many unique items you won’t find anywhere else. The market is open from 9am until 3pm, with most of the crowds arriving around 11am until early afternoon when they drift off in search of a drink or something to eat.
Football is the most popular sport in Spain and it’s no different in the capital. City rivals Real and Atlético are two of Europe’s biggest and most successful football clubs, but they’re not the only teams in town. Getafe, Leganés and the alternative fans’ favourite Rayo Vallecano are all based around the outskirts of the city centre.
Matches are generally reasonably priced and tickets are readily available, depending on the level of the opposition. A Madrid derby or a game against Barcelona is much more expensive and more difficult to find a ticket for. Stadium tour prices are €14 for the Santiago Bernabéu (Real Madrid) or €19 for the Wanda Metropolitano (Atlético Madrid). Both have metro stops close by.
Watch the sunset
At the end of a long and enjoyable day exploring one of the best cities in Europe, take it easy, sit back and watch the sunset. Two of the best places to do that have been mentioned above; Templo de Debod and Jardín de las Vistillas. Located in the West of the city with great views, they’re popular sites to end the day before Madrid’s bustling nightlife takes over.
Rainfer Primate Sanctuary
Most people wouldn’t expect to find a primate sanctuary in Spain’s capital, but on the outskirts of the community is Rainfer. Located close to the small town of Fuente el Saz de Jarama, the sanctuary offers a home to primates who have suffered abuse or poor living conditions.
Guided tours are available on weekends for €12 where you can learn more about the lives of the residents (information is only in Spanish at the moment). They also accept volunteers, with several options available to suit your plans.
Rainfer is best reached by car, but it’s also possible by public transport. Bus lines 197 and 184 go from Plaza de Castilla, with a walk once you reach the nearby town.