20 Ultimate Things to Do in Madrid
With its impressive roster of world-class museums, royal palaces, and scenic parks, here's everything to do and see in the Spanish capital of Madrid.
Known for its history, art scene, and incredible culinary delights, Madrid is a must for any traveler. When you’re not eating and drinking your fill (or indulging in a much-needed siesta), get inspired by visiting one of the many murals, rooftop bars, parks, and museums the city offers. Most of Madrid’s main attractions sit within walking distance from one another, so with a little determination, you can tackle them all in just a few days. Tapas bars, busy plazas, outdoor markets, and hidden hotspots, taking in all Madrid has to offer can be daunting, especially if you plan to dabble in the city’s other major claim to fame: sundown-to-sunup nightlife. From people-watching at the world-famous Plaza Mayor to prestigious art at Museo del Prado and exquisite tapas and unmissable rooftop bars, these are the 20 things you won’t want to miss on your next trip to the sunny capital. INSIDER TIPIf you’d like to get a glimpse of most of the major sites but don’t enjoy crowds or wandering around, grab your camera, purchase a ticket on the Hop-on/Hop-off double-decker bus and try to grab a seat on the top deck. It’s a great option if you’re traveling with family, older people, or children. It will also help you get your bearings before you venture out on your own. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you start to recognize places.
Feast on Tapas
If you’re looking for a bar jam-packed with locals, fun-loving staff, tapas, and strong drinks too, look no further than El miniBar. La Pasa Gin Bar is proudly Afro-Latino owned, and this vibrant bar serves up fantastic cocktails and comfort food. Bar La Campana serves up the best bocadillo de calamari (fried squid sandwich)–kick it up with a few splashes of hot sauce.
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Visit the Mercado de San Miguel
Located in the heart of Madrid, this ritzy marketplace that opened around 1916 is hard to pass by. Although the wares are priced a bit steeper than most local establishments, the quality of the cuisine and the gorgeous atmosphere are absolutely unmatched. Here, you’ll find stalls and kiosks serving up classic and fusion gastronomy from the Mediterranean with influences from all around the world. Be mindful that the opening times tend to fluctuate as restrictions tighten and ease due to the compact space in the historical building.
Go for a Walk in a Major Park
Madrid has some of the most beautiful and unique parks sprinkled throughout the city. If you enjoy boating, birds, and people-watching, then the Parque de Buen Retiro would be the perfect option for you. El Retiro, as the park is known in Madrid, boasts trails, outdoor cafés, and French gardens—right in the city center. Though the park teems with runners and athletes of all types, you don’t have to work up a sweat to enjoy its key landmarks. One of these is the Palacio de Cristal, a soaring greenhouse that serves as one of the country’s best specimens of iron and glass architecture. After perusing whatever contemporary art exhibition happens to be on display, make your way to the estanque , the central lake and promenade, where you can rent a rowboat and admire the massive Monument of Alfonso XII, a colonnade surrounding an equestrian statue of the triumphant king. Exit onto the Plaza de la Independencia to see the Puerta de Alcalá, a neoclassical monument that once served as a guarded entryway into the medieval city.
If you’re in the mood to explore further, head to the Madrid Rio Park, for spectacular views. Or the Parque del Oeste, which is full of rose gardens and fountains–although the main attraction is the 2,200-year-old Templo de Debod, a reconstructed ancient Egyptian temple.
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Shop or Stroll the Puerta Del Sol Plaza
Locally known as Sol, the plaza is a great location for shopping, pub crawls, and people-watching. It can also serve as a standard and well-populated meeting place–just tell your friend to meet you at the statue of the oso (bear) nuzzling a berry tree. Due to its popular location, it’s also swarming with pickpockets and scammers, so mind your personal items and keep your wits about you.
Since the area is ultra-touristy, avoid it for dining but focus on sightseeing, nightlife, and shopping like El Corte Inglés, Spain’s largest department store. If you do want to dine out near the Puerto Del Sol, head to the sophisticated La Caníbal Vinos for an array of natural wines on tap and craft beer.
Experience Luxury on the Gran Via
Gran Via gives off 5th Avenue and Champ De Elysees vibes for those who enjoy luxury shopping and experiences. You’ll find iconic buildings, luxurious hotels (like the Vincci Via 66), upscale restaurants, and stylish people at every turn. Head to Picalagartos Sky Bar and Ella Sky Bar for drinks, food and, panoramic views. You’ll also find luscious parks, easy access to public transportation, and beautiful roundabouts in this area. Walk along the Esplanade to find the stops for the double-decker bus tours, as well as gorgeous, green spaces.
For a better experience, try to avoid restaurants where workers desperately try to entice you to enjoy the menu of the day, the food tends to be overpriced and underwhelming. Head to Restaurante Ikigai for Japanese food with a flare and Cafe de la Luz for pastries.
Head to the Madrid-Atocha Train Station
This sprawling station sports an indoor botanical garden consisting of more than 7,000 plants and trees from about 260 species, likening it to a mini-forest. Once you get past the beauty of this hidden gem, you can peruse the local shops, dine at the restaurants, or head to the metro or medium-long distance Renfe train. The Spanish public transportation is easy to navigate, affordable, reliable, and clean. This station is an easy connection to the airport, as well.
Visit the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Even if you’re not a soccer fan, you’d be in good company cheering for Real Madrid. Known as some of the most loyal fans in the world, the stadium is a great source of pride for the city. Perhaps you’ll even catch a glimpse of some players or feel inspired to play a game while you’re in town.
Visit the Largest Zara Store in the World
Although the Spanish clothing titan was born in Galicia, Spain, the largest Zara store is actually located in the Financial District on Paseo de Castellana in Madrid. It’s been serving affordable fashion since the mid-70s and even Queen Letizia is known to sport looks from the clothing powerhouse. How unexpected and cool is that? You’ll also be in the most prime location to witness and get inspired by the unique, Spanish style in the heart of Spain.
Spend the Day Exploring the Prado and Other Museums
Museo Nacional del Prado is one of the most visited museums in Europe and a must-see when visiting Madrid. It houses some of the world’s most universally recognizable works of art from 12th- to 19th-century Europe. You could spend an entire afternoon here browsing through the palatial halls and lingering over masterpieces of the great Spanish painters Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya, and El Greco. But regardless of your schedule, be sure to spend some quality time with the Prado’s most prized artwork, Las Meninas by Velázquez.
If museums are really your thing, then be sure to also visit the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Museo Reina Sofía . Buy a Madrid City Pass to mitigate costs as you explore or you can check which days and times the museums are open for free. You can use the money you save to splurge on other experiences, like heading to a local art gallery or buying a piece from a local artist in the parks or streets.
Eat Where the Locals Dine on Calle de Ponzano
Eat and drink your fill at one of the many seafood (marisquería ), tapas bars, wine bars/shops (bodegas ), and more on Calle Ponzano, where you’ll find traditional Spanish delights as well as fusion cuisine. To get to Calle de Ponzano, get off at Metro Stops Iglesias or Alonso Cano. Some must-try bars and restaurants are Sala de Despiece , for tapas with a flare; Fide , a traditional seafood bar; and El Sainete for craft beers and modern cuisine.
Head to the Neighborhoods of Malasaña and La Latina
These two areas give off serious hipster vibes. You can walk around Malasaña and be enticed at every turn. Here you’ll find scores of bohemian and thrift shops, restaurants, and tapas bars. One of our favorites is Taberna Malaspina, which is known for affordable, larger-than-life portions of tapas, friendly service, and strong drinks. If you’re interested in cannabis/CBD or some sort of “herbal refreshment,” head to the Flower Farm.
Equally as hipster as Malasaña but not as well known, La Latina is where the locals go. The neighborhood is about a 10-minute walk from Sol, Plaza Mayor, and Lavapiés. Wander Calle de la Cava Baja, which is a street best known for its excellent and diverse range of tapas and wine. If you were to venture on the ultimate “tapas crawl” then your best bet would be to start here. Get inspired by the murals and other street art at El Mercado de la Cebada while you’re touring around. Plus, all that walking and excitement will help you make more room for more delicious food.
The neighborhood of La Latina is rapidly becoming the “place to be” due to locals believing that Malasaña has become too mainstream and overrun with hipsters. That being said, Malasaña is still worth exploring. Lavapiés has a diverse and energetic crowd where you’ll find loads of international restaurants and shops. Get inspired by the murals and other street art and be prepared to laugh at the awkward conversations you’ll overhear. Most importantly, expect to feel at ease and at home as you aimlessly wander around. Whichever of these neighborhoods you choose, you’re bound to have a long day (or night) that’s worth remembering.
Visit Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor boasts beautiful views so take them all in. But avoid blowing your budget on dining here. Consider having a glass of wine, beer, or a cup of coffee instead. Or even better, enjoy a churro with a cup of hot, thick, Spanish chocolate. Watch the people pass by and take in the architectural splendors from a nearby bench or one of the rooftop spaces.
Enjoy a Bowl of Cereal at the Cereal Hunters Cafe
Cereal lovers can rejoice that Madrid has a place where you can enjoy a bowl of cereal, even at odd hours during the day or evening. Located on a busy street and walking distance from the Mercado de San Miguel, the Cereal Hunters Cafe is a truly interesting and surprising spot to find in Madrid. Just look for the large windows and countless familiar boxes of famous cereal brands. It’s also fun to see the nostalgic and curious smiles of passersby as you chow down.
Visit the Parque de Atracciones
The Parque de Atracciones is a small amusement park that’s located near the zoo. It’s a great escape for singles or the entire family. You’ll find water rides, roller coasters, and more than 30 kiosks, plus cafes and restaurants selling international snacks and cuisines. There are two entrances/exits and parking is offered nearby. Nestled at the back end of the theme park, you’ll find the Nickelodeon Land section, featuring SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, Paw Patrol, Dora the Explorer, and more. You’ll also find two water parks, shopping areas, and cafes. You can easily spend a few hours here while embracing your inner kid and trying international brands with a Spanish flare. The theme park is accessible, offering discounted tickets for people with disabilities, priority entry to rides, and a free ticket for one companion.
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Celebrate Pride in the Heart of Madrid
One of the most endearing qualities of Spain is how safe people feel while living or visiting here. Madrid in particular is a very LGBTQIA+ friendly city and home to some of the best live music venues, bars, nightclubs, and a plethora of entertainment in the world. For an authentic look into how inclusive the city is, head to the neighborhood called Chueca (all you have to do is start from the Plaza de Chueca).
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Purchase Cookies From Silent Nuns at the Hidden Monasterio del Corpus Christi
Save some room for dessert and prepare yourself for one of the most adventurous and unique cookie runs imaginable. This experience is so well protected that many Spaniards don’t even know about its existence.
The Monasterio de Corpus Christi is a hidden bakery run by nuns called “Las Carboneras,” the Coal Women. The church is on Plaza del Conde de Miranda, where you’ll need to locate the brown double doors and press the button that reads “Monjas” (“nuns”) on the call box. Make a left at the “Torno” (“turntable”) sign and head through another brown door–here you’ll discover the price list (9-20 euros, cash only) and a Lazy Susan. The nuns are silent, so to order, you’ll need to wait for the Lazy Susan to spin–then you’ll see the available boxes of cookies. Put your money on top of the box you’d like. The Lazy Susan spins again and you’ll receive your bag of cookies (plus any change).
The bakery is typically open 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
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Head to the Ritzy and Glamorous Barrio Salamanca
Located two minutes away from Retiro Park, Salamanca is a gorgeous neighborhood that’s stacked with high-end apartments, hotels, houses, shopping, and dining. The neighborhood truly glows at night, completely alight with glamorous people dining at fancy restaurants drinking expensive champagne and vermouths. This is definitely the scene for indulging and the place to be “seen.” Here you’ll find brands like Chanel, Hermès, Louis Vuitton, and Versace, as well as four Michelin Star restaurants including La Taqueria by chef Javier Estévez and Ramón Freixa Madrid at the Único Hotel. So put on your best duds and treat yourself, a friend, or a loved one to something special.