While in the heart of Madrid’s tourist center, get closer to the culinary side of the Spanish capital and its history by visiting Mercado de San Miguel. Located just steps away from the city’s Plaza Mayor, or main square, it’s the perfect spot to take in some culture while you refuel on good eats at this restored, old-fashioned covered market.
The mercado, or market, has roots dating back to the early 1800s, when it was first created as an open-air market on the site of a former church of the same name. Later converted to a covered market, it was finally renovated and restored in 2003. What you’ll find there today is a wide selection of tasty items, ranging from fresh market goods to ready-to-eat delicacies such as paella, olives, cheese, and the city’s favorite drink, fresh-from-the-tap vermouth.
The Prado and the Reina Sofia are must-see museums when in Madrid, but the often overlooked Museum of Lázaro Galdiano has been called “the best kept art secret” in the city. The elegant mansion housing the collection was once the home of José Lázaro Galdiano, a 19th-century Spanish publisher, entrepreneur, and art collector. Galdiano gifted his exquisite collection of almost entirely Iberian art — including works by Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, Zurbarán, and Murillo — to the state upon his death in 1947.
Today it is an impressive display of more than 13,000 works of art ranging from sculpture and furniture to jewelry and ceramic, among some of Madrid’s finest paintings. You’ll also find the work of French, Italian, and English painters on the second floor. The room dedicated exclusively to Goya’s work is particularly special, though the house itself with its fresco ceilings and magnificent ballroom is worth a visit alone.
Shopping, sightseeing, and elegant architecture are all good reasons to head to one of the Spanish capital’s most famous neighborhoods, Barrio de Salamanca. This posh pocket of Madrid is where you’ll find the famous Puerta de Alcalá, the massive and path-filled Retiro Park, and the world’s largest Spanish flag, which waves proudly in Plaza de Colón.
It’s also the ideal destination for shoppers keen to hit up high-end boutiques as well as budget-friendly stops, such as the giant and many-floored Zara store (which, along with some of the area’s biggest shops, is located on Serrano Street). Foodies can find a bit of tasty heaven here, too, visiting places such as the traditional market, Mercado de la Paz, or the theater-turned-gourmet-food-court, Platea, and even the rooftop Gourmet Experience found at the country’s biggest department store, El Corte Inglés.
This historic Madrid structure was once home to one of Spain’s most celebrated writers, Félix Lope de Vega Carpio, who spent the last 25 years of his life here. Lope de Vega is Spain’s most famous playwright, sometimes referred to as ‘the Shakespeare of Spanish literature.’ In his lifetime he wrote over 2,000 plays. It is also one of the few three-story houses that still remains from the 16th century. The home now functions as a museum, telling not only the story of Lope de Vega’s life and work but also of everyday life in Spain’s Golden Age of Literature. Period features such as whale-oil lamps and historic furniture bring the past to life. The bedrooms, his study, kitchen, and prayer room have been carefully preserved restored. Visitors can also see the courtyard and gardens where he would often sit to write.
There isn’t much that’s more Spanish than bullfighting, and visitors to the country are often curious about the gory, controversial sport. What better place to learn and form your own opinion than in the country’s national Bullfighting Museum, which features a collection of memorabilia and works to tell the story of bullfighting in Spain. Arranged chronologically, there is a variety of art — sculptures, drawings, paintings, and portraits of bullfighters, as well as matador costumes. Perhaps the most famous bullfighting outfit is the ‘traje de luces’ or suit of lights, and the museum has one worn by bullfighting legend Manolete on display.
The museum provides a glimpse into the interesting subculture of bullfighting and its history and tradition. Many of the items shown have been donated by famous figures in bullfighting. Don’t miss the collection of Goya’s depictions of the sport. The museum is set within the largest bullring in Spain.
Once a large slaughterhouse and now a center for the arts, the Madrid Matadero was one of the most important architectural transformations for the city in the 20th century. It operates as a living laboratory for cross-disciplinary artistic forms, pushing the boundary of culture and creativity while honoring the structure of the past.
The city has transformed one of its largest agricultural markets into a center for the arts. Ranging from music and drama to dance and theater, it encourages experimentation and alternative forms of expression and creation. Its facilities (stages rehearsal rooms, and classrooms) are open and available to all artists.
Frequent exhibitions of the best in modern fashion, design, cinema and literature make this series of open and covered spaces one of the most fascinating cultural spots in Madrid. Some consider it to be one of the most important contemporary art centers in all of Europe.
With two levels of more than 400 wax statues of historic figures, the Madrid Wax Museum is an excellent introduction to periods of history and those who impacted the world at that time. An incredible range of wax figures from all eras is on display, from Napoleon, Cleopatra and Christopher Columbus to modern day celebrities like Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas. The museum is constantly updated with figures of the world old and new.
In other rooms, a collection of Spanish monarchs and Catholic leaders brings history to life. There is a section dedicated to children’s figures such as Snow White, the Simpsons, and Harry Potter. Those interested in a scarier experience will appreciate the ‘Terror Train’ journey through a dungeon of figures such as Dracula and Freddy Kruger. Beyond the wax figures, there is even a Simulator ride that takes visitors on a journey through modern space, and a telling of the History of Spain by an animatronic Emperor Charles I.
Once a seasonal home and hunting lodge for the royal family of Spain, this ornate palace dates back to the 15th century when its construction was ordered by King Enrique III of Castile. Its location was initially selected due to the amount of wildlife suitable for hunting in the nearby woods. It was expanded and transformed in the 16th century by architect Luis de Vega, lost in part to a fire shortly thereafter and then repeatedly renovated again in the 18th century by Carlos III. The structure doubled in size during its most recent renovation in the 20th century.
The interior is decorated with chandelier lighting as well as frescoes, tapestries, and paintings by Spanish artists. There is also original 18th century furniture still being used. General Francisco Franco famously lived here after the Spanish Civil War. Today it functions a residence for visiting heads of state. Elegant manicured gardens and small fountains line the entrance to the palace.
Translated from Spanish, “ La Casa Encendida” means the House of Fire — and it is here that social, cultural, and artistic flames are lit. Founded by the nonprofit organization Fundacion Montemadrid, the building encourages and showcases a range of local performing arts, including films, concerts, activities, and exhibitions. Though the building once housed a bank, it has become a hub for modern Spanish art and operates in support of emerging artists.
Programs at the center revolve around four themes: education, culture, solidarity, and environment. There are often live performances and film screenings taking place here. Sustainability is a priority, and there is a small orchard atop the building’s rooftop (with excellent views of the city!) There are also libraries and multimedia labs available for use, along with classrooms, a cafe, a fair-trade shop, and activities for children.
Madrid is full of beautiful museums with both classic and modern art on display, but the outdoor Museum of Public Art showcases another side of the Spanish art scene. The open-air museum, uniquely situated under a bridge in the middle of the city, features 17 pieces of abstract sculpture by (until now) undiscovered artists. It is a public space used both for recreation and for the discovery of unique local art. Two generations of Spanish avant-garde artists are represented, from Joan Miró, Julio González, and Alberto Sánchez in the 1920s and '30s to the pre-Civil War artists such as Eduardo Chillida.
Groundbreaking art blends seamlessly into the existing structure of the city and is accessible to anyone and everyone, which makes this unique museum particularly notable. Aside from the sculptures, be sure to check out the murals, gardens, and waterfall that make up this beautiful outdoor space.
Featuring unique exhibits in zoology, paleontology, evolution, biodiversity and geology, this is a wonderful place to get a sense of our natural world while in Madrid. With over 6 million objects on exhibit, there is not only a wide collection of species from around the globe but also an excellent representation of the plant and animal life in Spain and the Mediterranean.
Founded by King Charles III, the museum dates back to the 18th century. Since then it has been promoting environmentalism and groundbreaking scientific research in Spain. The permanent collection on museums and fossils includes impressive dinosaur skeletons, while tools, arms, and artistic objects from all continents and periods of history represent humanity’s presence. A walk in the Mediterranean garden allows for an understanding of the local habitat. The Stone Garden composed or rock and petrified trees is particularly unique.
Independence Plaza (also known as the Plaza de la Independencia) is one of the most popular and busiest squares in Madrid and one of the most important symbols of the city. Opened in 1778 during the reign of King Carlos III, the plaza is found at the intersection of several major streets: Calle de Alcala, Calle de Alfonso XII, Calle de Serrano, Calle de Salustiano Olozaga and Paseo de Mexico. Standing at the center of the square is the Puerta de Alcala, a neo-Classical monument built in the 18th century. The huge monument consisting of several arches replaced a smaller city gate from the 16th century and functioned as the main entrance to the city. Designed by architect Francesco Sabatini, the current shape of the square dated back to 1869 and it is surrounded by buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 2001, several gardens were added to the square and lights were added to the Puerta de Alcala, all in honor of Madrid being named the World Book Capital.
You can return to the age of the Romantics in Spain via this impressive 18th-century palace-turned-museum. Functioning both as a look at 19th century daily life and a commentary of the Romanticism movement in Spain, a trip to the museum is a cultural and artistic immersion that transports you back in time.
Under the reign of Queen Isabella II, the arts and literature thrived and social norms relaxed. In the house you can find paintings of the royal family and public figures from the era, period furniture, decorative objects, and a well-tended garden, which reflects this shift in values. Famous writers at the time would often gather in the mansion’s ballroom for literary readings, and to this day the home maintains a room dedicated to Romantic essayist Mariano Jose de Larra. In terms of art, the works by Goya, Madrazo and Antonio Esquivel can all be found lining the walls.
As the first anthology museum opened in Spain, the National Anthropology Museum has led the way in preserving and bringing in items from all over the world to Spain. Founded by King Alfonso XII in 1867, it was initially a museum of anatomy. The work of physician Pedro González Velasco (who funded much of the museum’s construction) was its first collection. It has since expanded to present various cultures of the world, highlighting their similarities and differences. The museum seeks to provide context and understanding and promotes a global cultural vision and message of tolerance.
Many of the prehistoric items presented are connected specifically to the history of Spain. Items from everyday life in Asia, the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Oceania show the rituals and beliefs that take place all over the world, including those related to clothing, art, war, and religion. There is also a lecture hall which allows for live performance of global traditional music and dance.
Platform 0 offers visitors to Madrid the chance to experience travel at the time of the inauguration of the Madrid metro in 1918, when many major European cities were first opening these types of public transportation. The station where Anden 0 is located has been out of service since 1966, when its location rendered in unable to expand to accommodate more passengers. Now it is home to a transportation museum that tells the history of the metro system in Madrid, including original ceramic tiled billboards, antique furniture, and hand-painted metro maps.
A visit to the abandoned station is almost like a visit back in time, complete with a vintage ticket counter and signs that evoke a sense of nostalgia. There are also various informational displays that tell the story of the metro and the history of the city.
With more than 60 rooms on five floors of a historic palace, the National Museum of Decorative Arts houses some of the finest furniture, decorative arts, glassware and ceramics in Spain. Elaborate tapestries, carvings, and figurines from primarily the 16th and 17th centuries are featured throughout. Its noteworthy 18th-century kitchen features more than 1,500 tiles depicting local life at the time. Though the majority of the objects are Spanish, there is some Asian art from China and Japan as well.
It is a great place to get a sense of the changes in everyday objects and design over time, with objects dating as early as the 14th century. Though much of the collection is Baroque in style, you can also find modernist pieces from the Art Nouveau movement. Chests of drawers, rugs, cabinets, and desks are seen as important works of art that reflect their period in history. A stroll though the elegant museum displays and you’re sure to share that sentiment.
The Museum of the Americas ringing together pieces of history and culture from across the American continents, including collections of prehistoric, colonial, and ethnographic items. There is a range of artifacts — from pre-Columbus Peru and Guatemala to contemporary indigenous cultures from the coast of North America. Together the exhibits aim to tell the story of the Americas over 12,000 years of history, from anthropology to religion to arts. Many of the historic items were brought back to Spain from explorers who left for the continents in search of gold, and the majority of the artifacts are from South America. Permanent exhibitions are organized into five categories or themes: awareness of America, reality of America, society, religion, and communication. A few items are particular note are the Viracocha head and the Quimbayas Treasure, and the Tudela codex which details the Aztec code of law from the 16th century.
Just 30 minutes from downtown Madrid, Las Rozas Village is a shopper’s nirvana – a designer outlet village crammed with over 100 shops and boutiques. One of nine Chic Outlet Shopping malls in Europe, Las Rozas Village not only offers an impressive array of luxury brands and local designers, but shoppers can enjoy discounts of up to 60%, plus tax-free shopping for non-E.U residents.
International designers at Las Rozas Village include Armani, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Versace and CH Carolina Herrera, as well as top brands like Diesel, Timberland and Pepe Jeans, jewelry boutiques like Swarovski, and Spanish favorites like Desigual and Custo Barcelona. There’s also a range of cafés and restaurants on-site and a play area for kids.
A striking monument to those who lost their lives during the Spanish Civil War, the Valley of the Fallen, or Valle de Los Caidos, is a poignant dedication to the 40,000 victims whose remains lie buried beneath. The immense structure features a basilica and tomb complex set in a mountain valley north of El Escorial and is topped by an enormous 500-foot-tall stone memorial cross – allegedly the tallest monument of its kind in the world and visible for miles around.
The impressive site is an admirable achievement, but one not without controversy. In fact, many dispute the nature of a monument that only commemorates two names – the Nationalist dictator General Francisco Franco who commissioned the monument and José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Fascist Falange – believing the monument to be a one-sided tribute to the victorious, rather than a sign of post-civil war reconciliation.
Spain has always been known for its naval history and accomplishments, from military to exploration. The Royal Museum of Feluccas showcases several large barges used by the royal family to navigate the Tagus River. The ships utilized by Spanish royalty, ornately decorated royal feluccas, can be seen just outside of the Spanish capital at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Aranjuez. Visitors can view the boats of Charles IV, Ferdinand VII and Elizabeth II, as well as a beautiful gondola that once belonged to King Philip V.
The long, narrow boats are gloriously detailed and were used in ports and on rivers. Most date back to the 17th century. There are also small historic items and old photographs of the era, marking a fascinating glimpse back in time. Be sure to explore the expansive royal gardens that surround the museum.