There are few things more exciting than visiting a European capital. And Madrid is up there as one of the best. In a city brimming with culture, good food, and history, there’s something for everyone among the sunny streets.
Madrid is a welcoming city with lots going on throughout the days and nights. Whether you’re in the mood for sangria in the evening or you’re looking for a beautiful park to enjoy your morning coffee, you’re sure to find just the thing here.
In this guide, we’ll run you through some of the best things to do in Madrid. From world-class museums to unique eateries and family attractions, you’ll struggle to get bored with these recommendations in tow. Let’s dive in. It’s time to make the most of your trip to Madrid!
Explore Casa de Campo
Top of our list is a visit to Madrid’s largest park. Casa de Campo has it all. Whether you’re in the mood for a laid-back picnic, a trip to the zoo, or a day of adrenaline at the amusement park, you’re sure to find something exciting here.
The vast park started life as the hunting ground for King Phillip II. The King also built a hunting house on the land, giving the area its name, Casa de Campo, which means country house.
You can get to Casa de Campo on foot from the city centre by strolling towards the River Manzanares. You can walk into the park, but most visitors choose to arrive by cable car. You’ll arrive at a high point in the centre of the park. From there, enjoy your visit and stroll back to the city at leisure.
Stroll through Parque del Buen Retiro
Another day, another park. Madrid is home to lots of beautiful gardens, so it would be a shame to miss out on these during your visit. Head to El Retiro Park for a few hours of relaxation before you jump back into the bustle of the city.
This is another once-royal park in Madrid, which initially served as a retreat for the Spanish royal family. The large artificial lake is the focal point, where visitors can enjoy boating and drinks in the sun. Be sure to check out the glass palace, enclosed peacock gardens, and many impressive statues during your visit too.
Eat at Mercado de San Miguel
You absolutely must visit this food market while you’re in Madrid. Mercado de San Miguel is the perfect place for lunch or dinner, with unbeatable food and a memorable atmosphere to boot.
The San Miguel Market is the most beautiful of its kind in the city, with plenty of tables spread out beneath unique 20th-century glass walls and ceilings overhead. Visitors can buy food to take home from one of the many market stalls, though we recommend you grab a table and let the one-of-a-kind vibe transport you.
Order plates of tapas, cured meat, cheese, pickles, and sweet delights from a selection of vendors. What you’ll get is an authentic taste of Madrid. Throw in a little sangria, vermouth, or plain-old cerveza, and you’ve got yourself an ideal setup. Whether you visit solo or with friends, family, or a partner, this is one of the best experiences in the city.
Visit Museo Nacional del Prado
Madrid is packed with excellent museums and galleries, which means you might struggle to see them all if you’re only in town for a short break. Whatever you’re into, let Museo Nacional del Prado take pride of place on your schedule.
This national art museum is home to the most impressive collections of Spanish paintings in the world. Not to mention masterpieces from European artists you’re sure to recognise.
Many pieces in the Prado Museum come from once-royal collections which have since been dedicated to the public. It was usual for royals to buy paintings from their favourite artists, regardless of the composition.
Thanks to this attitude, the museum is home to some unusually large collections of single artists’ works. In some cases, you can see hundreds of paintings by the same master. The Prado is home to the most extensive collections of El Greco, Velázquez, and Francisco de Goya in the world.
See Plaza Mayor
Who doesn’t love a European square? The perfect place for drinks, photographs, or just passing through, these beautiful sunny expanses are the backbone of some of the world’s most beautiful cities. And Plaza Mayor is one of the best in Madrid.
Plaza Mayor is a portico-lined square in the heart of Hapsburg, the charming old part of the city. Look out for the statue of Phillip III on horseback, which sits at the centre of the square. It’s one of the most valuable pieces of art on the streets of the city.
Hungry? You’ll find lots of traditional restaurants and take-out spots around Plaza Mayor. Not to mention plenty of bars with terraces spreading out into the square. Sit for a while and soak up the atmosphere. This is one of the most historic and picturesque parts of the city.
Explore Puerta del Sol
While you’re hitting up the city’s main squares, be sure to head to Puerta del Sol. It’s one of the liveliest places in Madrid, where lots of main roads meet, and plenty happens throughout the days and nights.
The square is home to the most famous symbol of Madrid – a 20-tonne statue of a bear, eating fruits from a tree. The city’s original name, Ursaria, means ‘Land of the Bears’ in Latin. The bear and tree have represented the city since medieval times when legend tells us there were large numbers of bears in forests nearby.
Check out the Royal Palace
Feast your eyes on this. Madrid’s Royal Palace is open to visitors throughout the week. And entry is free, making this one of the fanciest budget-friendly experiences in the city.
The Royal Palace is, of course, the official residence of the King of Spain. From Charles III to Alfonso XIII, visitors can explore the history of the Spanish monarchy while walking in their footsteps through the beautiful hallways here.
The breathtaking building is made up of over 3,000 rooms. These include the Throne Hall, with a ceiling painted by Tiepolo, The beautiful floral Gasparini Room, the Royal Chemists, and the Royal Chapel. The Palace’s kitchens are one of the best-preserved in Europe and make a memorable part of the tour for foodies and historians.
See Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
Don’t miss Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, the home of Real Madrid. The stadium officially opened in 1947 and has been welcoming fans and rivals ever since. Whether you grab tickets to an electric home game or book a stadium tour, this is an experience sports fans will never forget.
Look at the Temple of Debod
The Temple of Debod might be the most unusual monument in Madrid. This ancient temple has roots in the 2nd century BC and was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government to protect it from flood damage. The structure was transported and rebuilt, stone by stone, in its current location in Parque del Oeste. Enjoy a stroll through the park and visit the Temple of Debod along the way. It’s unlike anything else in the city.
Dive into the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is our final must-visit while you’re in Madrid. The Thyssen is home to one of the most exciting European art collections in the world. Immerse yourself in a variety of artistic styles, from classical paintings to contemporary looks. Keep an eye out for the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh, and Dalí as you wander through light-filled galleries.
Visiting the Best Restaurants in Madrid
All that exploring is hungry work. Lucky for you, Madrid is packed with excellent eateries, which means something tasty is never far away. Whether you’re in the mood for something fast, traditional, or Michelin Star, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for without too much fuss.
But with so much to choose from, where should you start? Well, these are our top ten restaurants in Madrid.
- Mercado de San Miguel
- El Paraguas
- Dos Cielos Madrid by Hermanos Torres
- Café Comercial
- VERDEJO Taberna Artesana
- La Bien Aparecida
- Le Bistroman Atelier
We’ve hand-picked each one of these restaurants, so you don’t have to. Perfect for lunch or dinner, every spot on our list is sure to serve up something you’ll love.
Shopping in Madrid
It should come as no surprise that there are lots of fantastic shopping spots in Madrid. From long leafy boulevards to glimmering department stores, there are plenty of ways to enjoy retail in the Spanish capital. Need to narrow down the search? Here are some of our favourite areas to head for a little indulgence.
- Gran Vía – This is one of the most popular shopping areas in Madrid and the city’s main thoroughfare. Expect world-recognised Spanish brands like Zara, Massimo Dutti, and Stradivarius, and much more.
- Calle de Preciados – This pedestrian-only street boasts lots of small boutiques and tapas bars.
- Salamanca – Visit this picturesque neighbourhood for lots going on. Head to Calle Serrano for high-end shopping and the likes of MiuMiu, Chanel, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton.
- Calle Fuencarral – Think Adidas, New Balance, Levi’s, and other well-known brands. There are lots of vibrant bars and restaurants around here, too.
- El Rastro – A local flea market where you can pick up clothes, accessories, jewellery, and lots more treasures.
- San Miguel Market – This is the historic covered food market close to Plaza Mayor. Head here for a meal or just to buy produce. Either way, you’ll leave feeling satisfied.
- La Latina – Here we have an atmospheric neighbourhood packed with independent shops. There are some fantastic bars and restaurants around here too, so stay for a while and enjoy the vibe.
- Chueca – For affordable boutiques, homeware, bookstores, and vintage shops.
Discovering Famous Madrid Museums
Let’s take a further look at some of Madrid’s most famous museums. There are lots of world-class collections to discover in the city. So whether you’re interested in art, architecture, archaeology, or history, you’re sure to find something that piques your interest. These are some of the best museums in Madrid.
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía – This impressive museum focuses on 20th-century Spanish art, with collections on the Spanish Civil War and feminism.
- National Archaeological Museum – Here you’ll find collections of decorative art and archaeological objects that used to belong to the Spanish royals.
- Museo Naval – The Naval Museum is home to a variety of objects and artefacts collected throughout Spain’s maritime history.
- Museum of The Americas – Interested in the evolution of the Americas during and after interactions with Spain? Head here for more than 25,000 objects to explore!
- Museo Sorolla – The house-museum of Joaquin Sorolla is home to tens of colourful landscape paintings.
- Museo Cerralbo – This is another house-museum, set inside the old stately home of the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo. Explore the family’s collections when you visit.
- Museu Lázaro Galdiano – Explore a large portion of the Spanish art collector’s paintings, sculptures, textiles, and more when you visit this unique museum.
- House-Museum of Lope de Vega – This house-museum is dedicated to Golden Age Spanish writer Lope de Vega.
Some of these museums are a little lesser-known. Be sure to make time to visit the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum when you’re in Madrid. These are the city’s two most famous and visited museums, each boasting its own collection of impressive Spanish art.
Whatever way you spend your time in Madrid, we’re sure you’ll fall in love with this one-of-a-kind destination. With so much to fit in, we won’t blame you for booking a return trip before you’ve left the city!
Taking the train to Madrid
Thanks to the efficient service run by Renfe – Spain’s national train company – it’s easy to reach Madrid by train. High-speed AVE trains can get you from Barcelona to Madrid in 2h 30m on the fastest services, Valencia to Madrid in 1h 40m and Seville to Madrid in 2h 30m. Trains to Madrid arrive into one of the city’s two main stations – Madrid Atocha or Madrid Chamartín; look out for the botanical garden if you arrive into the former!
Want to learn more about travelling by rail in Spain? Read our guide to trains in Spain, your one-stop-shop for all things rail. Our Renfe page also gives you the lowdown on Spain’s national train operator, including how to find the cheapest tickets.