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Downtown Madrid

Things to do in  Madrid

Welcome to Madrid

From its royal palace to art museums to tapas bars, Madrid offers plenty to discover while wandering its boulevards. Sitting near the geographic center of the Iberian Peninsula, the Spanish capital is the seat of not only the country’s government, but also of much of its culture, food, history, and art. With so much to do, it can be hard to exhaust Madrid’s many attractions, ranging from Buen Retiro Park to the Prado museum. But make sure to leave time to explore farther afield, where historic sights including El Escorial, Toledo, and Segovia make for perfect day trips.

Top 15 attractions in Madrid

Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid)

Madrid's Royal Palace (also known as the Palacio Real or Palacio de Oriente) is a beautiful baroque structure with some 3,000 rooms, making it one of Europe's largest castles. Although the royal family no longer lives here, the Palacio Real still serves as the king and queen's official residence, a venue for state ceremonies, and a place for tourists to get a peek into the royal history of Spain.More

Prado Museum (Museo del Prado)

The Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) houses one of the finest art collections in the world, specializing in European art from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Thousands of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art are on display throughout its halls, and they represent merely a fraction of the total collection. Highlights include works by Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and El Greco. Perhaps the most famous paintings are Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) by Velázquez, Goya's "Black Paintings," and The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych from Hieronymus Bosch.More

Plaza Mayor

Today this central square is a popular meeting place for tourists and locals, but Plaza Mayor’s history goes back to the early 17th century during King Felipe III's reign. The central statue is a nod to the king’s role in overseeing the project's completion. Forming the outer walls are a series of 3-story buildings with balconies overlooking the center.More

Almudena Cathedral (Catedral de la Almudena)

King Alfonso XII laid the first stone of the Almudena Cathedral (Catedral de la Almudena) in 1883, yet the neoclassical structure, built atop an old church that itself was built atop the city’s first mosque, wasn’t consecrated until 1993. Compared to Europe’s other major cathedrals, this one is uniquely modern, with touches like pop art–stained glass windows.More

San Miguel Market (Mercado de San Miguel)

One of Madrid’s most picturesque and popular markets, San Miguel Market (Mercado de San Miguel) is also the city’s oldest. Built in 1916 and recognizable for its wrought-iron and glass facade, the market now houses tapas restaurants, wine bars, bakeries, and other tempting eateries.More

Puerta del Sol

It’s fitting that the name Puerta del Sol (“gate of the sun” in English) evokes light and warmth, because this central Madrid square is an energetic hub. A must for first-time visitors to Madrid, the area is packed with hotels, cafés, souvenir-selling vendors, and barhopping locals.More

Cibeles Fountain (Fuente de Cibeles)

The Cibeles Fountain is one of Madrid’s most famous monuments. Crowning the end of the Paseo del Prado in the middle of the city it’s a landmark for locals and a must-see for visitors.More

Reina Sofia Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia)

The Reina Sofia Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia) is Madrid's premier modern art gallery featuring mostly works by Spanish artists. Among them isGuernica, a political statement on the Spanish Civil War by Pablo Picasso, as well as a room devoted to Joan Miró's paintings and a collection of about 20 Salvador Dalí pieces.More

Corral de la Morería

Although southern Spain is known as the hub of flamenco performance, Madrid visitors can still find traditional venues—called tablaos—to see this timeless art. Corral de la Morería is one of the best. With more than six decades of history, this restaurant and venue is known for its flamboyant, energetic shows from world-renowned dancers.More

Alcalá Gate (Puerta de Alcalá)

The neoclassical Alcalá Gate (Puerta de Alcalá), in Plaza de la Independencia, is one of Madrid’s most recognizable monuments. Designed by Italian architect Francesco Sabatini and erected in 1778, the triumphal granite gate once served as one of five main entrances to the city. The statues on top represent the cardinal virtues.More

Madrid Plaza de la Villa

Situated within strolling distance of Plaza Mayor, tranquil Plaza de la Villa is a prime example of a medieval Madrid square, circled with many of the city’s oldest buildings, including Casa de la Villa. Formerly a prison and the city’s Town Hall, Casa de la Villa is a delight both inside and out, decorated with frescoes and enhanced by stained-glass windows.More

Retiro Park (Parque de El Retiro)

Retiro Park (Parque de El Retiro), often referred to simply as El Retiro, serves as the Spanish capital’s green lung. Dotted with ornate fountains, formal gardens, marble monuments, and plenty of space to relax, these former grounds of the Spanish monarchy became public in 1868 and have become a beloved spot for Madrilenos.More

Plaza de Cibeles

Strolling the Paseo del Prado you'll likely pass Plaza de Cibeles, a tiny square in the center of a roundabout featuring a grand, marble fountain depicting the goddess Cybele. Stop here for unbeatable views of the Cybele Palace (Palacio de Cibeles or to celebrate a Real Madrid football win—the local fans are known to congregate here.More

Sabatini Gardens (Jardines de Sabatini)

The neoclassical Sabatini Gardens (Jardines de Sabatini) provides the perfect place for a rest on a busy day exploring Madrid. The gardens feature an impressive sculpted hedge maze, as well as fountains, statues, and a pond. Sit on a bench beneath one of the leafy trees to nibble a jamón sandwich with views of the Royal Palace.More

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (Estadio Santiago Bernabéu)

Football fans won’t want to miss a visit to the magnificent Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (Estadio Santiago Bernabéu) , home to the legendary Real Madrid football team. Despite boasting a capacity of 81,000 spectators and reaching a 5-star rating as a UEFA-classified Elite Stadium, Santiago Bernabéu is actually Spain’s second-largest football stadium, after Barcelona’s Camp Nou.More
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Trip ideas

Top activities in Madrid

Toledo, Segovia, Optional Avila: Majesty of Medieval Spain Tour
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Flamenco Show & Special Menu at Torres Bermejas in Madrid
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Flamenco Show at Corral de la Morería in Madrid with Optional Dinner
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Madrid City Tour Hop-On Hop-Off

Madrid City Tour Hop-On Hop-Off

Welcome Tour to Madrid in Private Electric Tuk Tuk
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Historical Madrid Tour in Private Electric Tuk Tuk
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El Prado Museum and Madrid Royal Palace Guided Tour (tickets included)
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Private Tour to Toledo from Madrid with Guide and Private Driver
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Full Day Tour to Toledo & Segovia
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Full Day Tour to Toledo & Segovia

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All about Madrid

When to visit

Spring kicks off in Madrid with the Festival of San Isidro, but it’s World Pride week in June that draws the biggest—and most colorful—crowds. Balmy summer nights mean plenty of options for alfresco dining and entertainment, but be aware that many businesses close down in August as locals escape the city's heat for the coast.

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A local’s pocket guide to Madrid

Lara Sanchez

Lara was born and raised in Madrid. You’ll find her exploring the world, tasting all sorts of local food, and playing with clay in her spare time.

The first thing you should do in Madrid is...

hit the bars (or San Miguel Market) and try some tapas. Start with patatas bravas at Las Bravas, then head to Plaza Mayor for the best squid sandwich in La Campana.

A perfect Saturday in Madrid...

starts with churros and chocolate for breakfast at San Ginés, includes a museum (both the Prado and Reina Sofia are fantastic), and ends with some shopping in the Salamanca neighborhood.

One touristy thing that lives up to the hype is...

renting a rowing boat at the lake in Retiro Park.

To discover the "real" Madrid...

take a walking tour to learn about the most historic neighborhood, Madrid de los Austrias. Then, recharge your batteries with tapas in the La Latina neighborhood.

For the best view of the city...

head to the Faro de Moncloa Observation Deck, or catch the sunset on either the Círculo de Bellas Artes or Cibeles Palace terrace.

One thing people get wrong...

is that paella is not the official dish in Madrid. Two authentic Madrid dishes are cocido (the best version of this garbanzo-based meal is served at Malacatín) and callos, a traditional beef tripe stew.

People Also Ask

What is Madrid known for?

Madrid is known for its art galleries, architecture, royal palaces, buzzing nightlife, and its famous fried calamari sandwiches. People often flock to see the Golden Triangle of Art—an area that’s home to three art museums; the Prado Museum, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Is 2 days enough in Madrid?

Yes, a 2-day trip is a perfect introduction to Madrid. Take a stroll through Plaza Mayor; visit Mercado de San Miguel to feast on tapas and wine; admire artistic masterpieces at the Prado Museum; and if the weather’s nice, visit Retiro Park or Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid.

What food is famous in Madrid?

Madrid is famous for its bocadillo de calamares, or calamari sandwiches, made with deep-fried squid in a crusty baguette. It’s also known for cocido madrileño (a traditional chickpea-based stew), decadent donut-like churros with chocolate sauce, and its tapas scene as a whole. Be sure to visit Cava Baja—Madrid’s tapas street.

What do locals do for fun in Madrid?

Madrid’s continental Mediterranean climate means a lot of favorite local activities center around spending time outdoors; such as meeting up at Retiro Park. Madrileños (Madrid locals) also live and breathe tapas culture, and it’s perfectly acceptable to sit outside and enjoy tapas and drinks at pretty much any time of day.

What is the most visited place in Madrid?

The most visited attraction in Madrid is the Prado Museum, a world-renowned art museum that’s home to paintings and sculptures by European artists such as Botticelli and Bosch. Puerta del Sol—one of Madrid’s most famous squares—is one of the most visited outdoor spaces and a popular meeting point.

Is Madrid dangerous?

No, Madrid isn’t dangerous. It’s seen as a safe city, but just like other European capital cities, pickpockets operate in crowded and touristy areas. Be sure to keep your belongings close to you and watch out for pickpockets in busy areas such as Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, and Gran Via.


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