10 Best Things To Do In Madrid – Spain’s Capital
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Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a special city. I traveled to Madrid with high expectations because of the great memories I had from the other Spanish queen – Barcelona. However, a few days in Madrid were enough to see that there is no comparison here. Madrid is beautiful and fun on its own. With unique vibes, great shopping, crazy nightlife, and delicious food, Madrid was an amazing European experience.
Madrid is the second-most populous city in Europe, but it doesn’t give you the feeling of a big metropolitan. The streets of the city’s center are full of both locals and tourists, but the pace is different here. It’s much calmer than I expected, and I loved strolling in the streets and between the squares. Madrid also had a good selection of vegan foods – from local cafes and American burgers to the famous Spanish paella and tapas.
If you are thinking now about what to do in Madrid, keep on reading! Here are the best things to do in Madrid:
Visit The Royal Palace
Even though the Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish King and the Royal family, they actually chose not to live here. They reside in a different palace right outside of Madrid and use the Royal Palace for special ceremonies only. The benefit of that goes to us, the visitors, who can tour some of the 3418 rooms of the palace, and see the royalty with our own eyes.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest functioning royal palace in Europe, and it is indeed very impressive. Already from the outside, you get the sense of how big and wide this palace is. Then, when you get in and walk between the halls, the royal armory, and even the royal pharmacy, you have that wow feeling escorting you the entire time.
Tip: There is usually a long line to get into the Palace. The earlier you get here, the less time you need to wait in lines.
Chill at Parque del Buen Retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro in Spanish means the Park of Good Retreat and that’s what this park was created for in the 1700s. First, it was used exclusively by the royal family, but in the late 19th century it opened to the public, and now everyone can enjoy it.
The 350 acres park, which is often compared with NYC’s Central Park, is the green oasis of Madrid. You can easily spend half a day here, starting with a morning picnic and then strolling around. You can rent a rowing boat in the man-made lake, right under the monument of King Alfonso XIII. If you feel like seeing more of the kings of Spain, take a walk on Paseo de las estatuas.
Just explore the trails in the park, between fountains, gardens, and statues, and enjoy this peaceful place.
Tip: Palacio de Cristal in Retiro park is part of the Reina Sofia Art Museum. It was built in 1887 in a unique Spanish Architecture. The entrance is free – don’t miss it!
Visit Bernabéu Stadium
The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is a must-visit site in Madrid even if you are not a serious football fan. After visiting Camp Nou in Barcelona, I knew I wanted to visit the football stadium of Madrid as well, as both football clubs are an unseparated part of the cultural experience of their cities.
The Bernabéu Tour takes you through the history and heritage of the club. It starts with a view from the highest floor of the stadium and then goes into the museum. The exhibition includes the famous players, the trophies, the uniforms, and more. The museum is well designed and gets you in the spirit, even if you are not a fan. Don’t be surprised if you start humming the clubs’ songs in the next few hours after your visit.
Tip: Book your discounted tickets online in advance on the Real Madrid Website.
Admire The Architecture at Plaza de la Cibeles
Plaza de la Cibeles, or Cibeles square, is one of the icons of Madrid. It is at the intersection of Calle de Alcala, Paseo Del Prado, and Paseo Del Recoletos, and it hosts some of the famous and beautiful buildings in Madrid. In the middle of the square stands one of Madrid’s landmarks – the statue of the Greek goddess Cybele in her cart, led by two lions.
The buildings around the square are the Bank of Spain, Palacio de Buenavista, Palacio de Linare, and the Cybele Palace. The latter, which is the most impressive one, used to be the main post office and nowadays it is where the city council of Madrid is.
Some of the rooms of the Cybele Palace are open to visitors, and you can also go up to the terrace to get a great view of the city. There’s a bar and restaurant up there as well if you want to make that view taste better.
Tip: This plaza is also where Real Madrid and other local sports clubs come to celebrate big wins. Maybe you will get to join the celebrations.
Take a Coffee Break at Plaza Mayor
Dates back to the 15th century, Plaza Mayor is one of the famous landmarks of Madrid and Spain. The plaza that you see here today, was constructed by King Phillip III in 1619, and his status on a horse is now standing in the middle of the square. Plaza Mayor, in its centric location, was used for many public events, like coronations, bullfights, executions, and others. It also suffered 3 big fires in the 17th and 18th centuries, but it was restored and renovated and maintained its high importance in the lives of the people of Madrid.
Nowadays, the wide square is a well-known touristic stop between the narrow streets of Old Madrid. It has souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants – all provide pricy food, but you pay for the unique experience.
Next to Plaza Mayor, stand Mercado de San Miguel, the place for foodies in Madrid. This food market offers local delicatessen and wine, and it’s a great place to take a short midday break.
Stroll and Shop on Gran Via
Gran vía is the main street of Madrid, and its existence (and many name changes throughout the years) are part of the history of the city. The street goes from Calle de Alcala on one side to Plaza de España on the other side. The buildings here are in a classic European style (Beaux-Arts), and among them two of the famous landmarks of Madrid. On the Corner of Calle de Alcala stands the Metropolis Building, and from Plaza de Callao you can see the Carrión building with the famous Schweppes logo.
Today, Gran Vía is the Broadway of Madrid, with many local theatres. You can also find here restaurants and bars, but what you can’t miss is the shopping. The biggest retailers have huge stores here, including the world’s second-largest Primark store.
Tip 1: Go to El Corte Ingles on Plaza Del Callao. The big department store has a terrace on its top floor, where you can get a wine and enjoy an amazing view of the city from above. The bottom floor is a supermarket with great vegan options of cheeses – the perfect snack with a glass of wine.
Tip 2: I stayed in Hotel Santo Domingo near Gran Via. It is in a perfect location, close to the old center, the Palace, Plaza de España and the subway station. The room was in decent size, they provided great service and they have a rooftop swimming pool! Recommended!
Travel To Ancient Egypt in Templo de Debod
The Temple of Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple, that dates back to the second century BC. Originally it was built near Aswan, in the south of Egypt. The construction took a few hundred years, and It was the Roman Empire that actually completed it after the annexation of Egypt. The temple was sealed off in the 6th century and abandoned for the next 1400 years.
In 1968 the Egyptian government gave the temple as a gift to Spain, as a gratitude for Spain’s help in saving other temples from floods, while the Aswan dam was built. It was dismantled and rebuilt in its current location stone by stone.
The Temple is now at Park West, close to Plaza De España and The Royal Palace. The entrance is free and you can walk around it and learn more about the history and the amazing process of moving it from Egypt to Spain.
Hang out at Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol is one of the most famous sites in Madrid, and it is also one of the busiest. Originally, this area was a gate (Puerta) in the old city walls of Madrid, and as it was facing east, the sun (Sol) painted it with light every morning. Throughout the years the place has been a central meeting area for locals and visitors and remained as such until today.
The square is surrounded by famous buildings, like the old post office that is now the headquarters of the Madrid regional government. On top of the building is the famous clock that people gather to watch and countback the minutes on New Year’s Eve. There are several statues in the square, like the Bear and The Strawberry Tree, which is one of the symbols of Madrid.
One of the most famous spots here is the Kilometer Zero, which is marked with a plaque on the ground. It is the starting point for all major radial roads in Spain, hence it is the symbolic center of the city.
Puerta Del Sol is like the Piccadilly of London or Times Square of New York. You can’t visit Madrid without passing through here.
Tip 1: The surrounded area has many restaurants so it’s great to stop for a lunch break or even dinner. I had good vegan burgers at Bacoa Burger.
Tip 2: 5 minutes walk from the square will take you the most famous chocolate shop of Madrid – Chocolateria San Ginés. You can get a coffee, chocolate and Churros in this place, that has a legacy of more than 100 years!
Address: Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, 28013 Madrid
Visit an Art Museum
Madrid loves art, and artists love Madrid. This is why a visit to Madrid is not complete without visiting at least one of the several art museums of the city. The “Art Triangle” along Paseo Del Prado, consists of three museums: Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza
The Prado is the biggest and oldest one, dates back to 1819. The exhibition consists of works from the last 500 years, collected by the kings of Spain. The museum is huge, and a few hours might not be enough. Be sure not to miss the famous masterpieces, and plan well your visit.
The Reina Sofía National Art Museum
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is focused on works from the last century, with dedicated rooms for Picasso, Miró, Julio González, and Dali. This museum is the home of the famous Picasso’s Guernica and with over 20,000 pieces and the largest art library in Spain, this place is unique and impressive.
Thyssen Bornemisza Museum is the third part of the Art Triangle. It is a relatively new addition, that opened to the public in 1992. It presents 775 paintings from the private collection of the late Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, which includes works from Medieval times to the last century. With Pieces of Van Gogh, Goya, Cézanne, Dali, Picasso, and others you know it is going to be interesting!
Eat Local Food at La Latina
Tapas are the Spanish way of eating and I loved it. Filling up the table with smaller plats gives the pleasure of tasting more and experiencing more of the local flavors. And there’s a lot to taste when it comes to Spanish cuisine. Add to that a glass of sangria and you have the perfect meal!
Tapas are available all over Madrid, and La Latina is the well-known neighborhood for a tapas crawl. Mercado de la Cebada, right next to La Latina subway station, is another place to stop and explore local foods. If you are looking for vegan options, know that they are not always available in the markets. Viva Burger, located in a beautiful and quiet square in La Latina, has some vegan tapas for starters and very interesting burgers. Another good place for vegan tapas is Pura Vida Vegan Bar, about 15 minutes walk from La Latina subway station.
Mercado de la Cebada – Plaza de la Cebada, S/N, 28005 Madrid
Viva Burger – Costanilla de San Andrés, 16. 28005 Madrid
Pura Vida – Calle de Santa Isabel, 27, 28012 Madrid
Chueca and Salamanca are the places to explore the nightlife of Madrid. The Spanish style is to start late, and clubs might not be open before midnight. Chueca is the Gay Neighborhood with bars, dance-bars, drag shows, and clubs. It gets busy and fun on the weekend, so prepare yourself to party!
Some of the museums offer a free entrance in the last hours of the day. Check about the specific one you want to go to and plan your visit accordingly.
If you are looking for a day trip outside of Madrid, Toledo or Segovia are great options. Both Medieval cities are about 30 minutes away from Madrid (in different directions) and are easy to reach by train.
Madrid is an easy-going city, with cool vibes. Many people compare it to Barcelona, but I think it’s a bucket list destination on its own, for many unique reasons. You get the Spanish feeling of Tranquilo, delicious cuisine, lots of art, and interesting history. Madrid is not a big city, so 3-4 days would enough to take all the city has to offer (not including day trips).
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