With so many tapas to taste, museums to visit and wonders to see, choosing what to do in Madrid can be very overwhelming! Here are 23 beautiful must-see places in Madrid.
Madrid is a city that requires a lot of energy. While I would recommend at least four days to really get to know the city, don’t let time constraints and a long Madrid must-do list scare you away. Take a look at this guide to must-see places in Madrid to see how to spend your time exploring and eating your way through the heart of Spain.
To ensure you get the most out of your Euros, I strongly recommend buying the Madrid Tourist Card. This card gives you free entrance to more than 50 Madrid museums and sights plus, priority access which mean no queuing, plus a myriad of other free services. Below I’ve noted which places are included on your Madrid Card.
While you can purchase card for a period of 24h, 28h, 72h or 120 hours I recommend organising your time in such a way that you visit all the paid locations within a 24 hour period. The period begins from the moment you activated the card. Many items on this list are either free or included in the Madrid Tourist Card.
1. Get Dunking at Chocolatería San Ginés
No trip to Madrid would be complete without a visit to San Gines Chocolateria. Popular with locals, tourists, and celebrities, this cute café has been serving chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros) since 1894.
The hot chocolate is served Spanish style – thick, dark and strong while the churros are deep fried, similar to a light, crispy, linear doughnut, and cut to length by the staff. They are served hot and freshly cooked, ready for dunking. Yum!
It is also surprisingly cheap and the portions are huge, so if you are going solo get the mini portion for 2€. This place is open 24 hours so no excuses!
2. Sunset Drinks on top of the Palacio de Cibeles
Designed and built by Antonio Palacios and Joaquín Otamendi as the headquarters of the Spanish Post Office and Telegraph Company, it was inaugurated in 1909 and since 2007 it has housed the offices of the Madrid City Council.
Just enter the building and take the elevator to the top. Grab a seat by the railing to watch as cars circle the roundabout.
If you can’t make it to drinks then head up to the eighth floor for views over the whole of the city centre and the Salamanca district. Visits take place every 30 minutes but prior reservations are required at the ticket offices. This is another cheap item at on 2€ for adults and 0.50€ for children under 12 years. There are also tours are which are free every first Wednesday of the month. Opening hours are Tuesday-Sunday 10:30 am to 1:30 pm and 4 to 7 pm.
Free with your Madrid Tourist Card and 25% off all activities.
3. Visit the Beautiful Edificio Metrópolis Building
On the corner of Calle de Alcala and Gran Via (Madrid’s major shopping strip) is the beautiful Metropolis building, a famous landmark in Madrid.
Inaugurated in 1911, this building has a French, Beaux-Arts style, which was quite unusual at the time.
The rounded tower is covered with 30,000 leaves of 24 carat gold and adorned with a statue of the mythological Phoenix and Ganymede sitting on its wing.
For 4€ you can go to the rooftop of Círculo de Bellas Artes for a stunning view overlooking the building and the Madrid skyline.
4. Enjoy a Gourmet Lunch with a View at El Corte Inglés Shopping Center
Located in the Gourmet Food Section you can grab something and sit at any one of the numerous tables either inside and outdoors and enjoy the view of Royal Palace and Catedral de la Almundena.
5. Take a Photo at 0km in Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol (Spanish for “Gate of the Sun”) is a busy and well-known shopping hub in Madrid. Originally, it was the site of one of the city’s gates, which faced the east and was adorned with an image of the sun, hence the square’s name.
Located in the square outside of the Casa de Correos is a stone plaque on the pavement marking Kilometre Zero – the official starting point for Spain’s 6 National Roads.
In addition to signalling the basis of numbering in the Spanish road system, the symbolic nature of the plaza ensures that it is the site of many rallies and protests, particularly against violence and war.
Also in the square you’ll find a statue of El Oso y el Madroño (Spanish for “The Bear and the Strawberry Tree”) which is the symbol for Madrid. This statue depicts a bear swiping at a small tree called a madrono. It is similar to a strawberry bush and when the fruits get too ripe, they ferment, so bears would get drunk from eating the fruits.
It’s origin is uncertain but it seems that there used to be many bears in the fields around Madrid. Although, the original symbol was supposed to be a female bear (osa) and the strawberry tree seems to have actually been a hackberry tree (almez), which was once in abundance around Madrid.
6. Go Shopping Along the Beautiful Gran Vía
Starting at Plaza de Alcalá square leading across the city to the expansive Plaza de España this Great Way, as its name translates, is home to hundreds of businesses – shops, stores, hotels, banks, restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres – making this perhaps one of the most important commercial districts in the city.
There are numerous beautiful and impressive buildings located along the street which are lavishly decorated and often possess large statues, sometimes precariously perching on the ledge of the roof. Such buildings include the Edificio Metrópolis (mentioned earlier) and the Telefónica building at number 28 which is 88 metres tall and was Madrid’s tallest skyscraper until 1953.
7. Marvel at the Biggest Flag You’ll Ever See at Plaza de Colón
Located in Plaza de Colón are several interesting buildings including the National Library and Archaeological Museum, the Wax Museum (great for children), and the Centro Cultural de la Villa or Cultural Centre.
Originally called Plaza de Santiago, (St. James Square) in 1893 it was decided to rename the square to Plaza de Colón in honour of Christopher Columbus (in Spanish, Cristóbal Colón).
In the centre of the plaza is a statue of Christopher Columbus which was erected in 1885 to commemorate the forthcoming 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to the West Indies. The figure is standing, looking west with an outstretched pointing arm, showing the way to the New World of the Americas. Located to the east is the immense Spanish flag which flutters in the wind. Wait for the wind to pick up to see its enormity.
The square also features gardens, mainly on the north side, which are called, Jardines del Descubrimiento, meaning Gardens of Discovery.
8. Take a Photo in Front of Puerta de Alcalá
However, this gate was not to the taste of Carlos III. When he came to the throne of Spain one and a half centuries later, he entered Madrid in great style on December 9th, 1759. He was not at all pleased with this city gate, thinking it quite unsuitable for an important royal appearance.
He demanded that a much more flamboyant gate should be built, and called for architects to present their proposed plans. In 1764 the original Puerta de Alcalá was demolished and work started on the grand new gate. The new Puerta de Alcalá which you see today was completed in 1769 and its official inauguration took place in 1778.
9. Eat Tapas at Plaza de Santa Ana
The Plaza de Santa Ana, together with the nearby small streets which make up the Huertas district, is one of Madrid’s most lively and vibrant areas, with hundreds of tapas bars, terrace cafes, pubs, restaurants and Irish bars all within a relatively small area.
The square was originally the site of the Convent of Santa Ana, founded in 1586 but was demolished in 1810 during the reign of José Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother). In its place, the Plaza was created around 1848.
Located here is The Roof Bar (pictured), which for 8€ will buy you a cocktail and access to the rooftop bar overlooking the piazza. Tip: head here for sunset.
Bordered to the east by the Teatro Español and to the west by the Hotel Reina Victoria with its magnificent façade. Make sure you stroll around this area known as Barrio de las Letras (Spanish for “District of Letters”).
10.Stroll Around the Beautiful Gardens at El Parque de Retiro
Madrid’s main park, El Parque de Retiro, is a popular and magnificent place for a stroll. Home to several sculptures, monuments, and a boating lake, it also presents an annual book fair, and there are free concerts throughout the summer.
During the 17th-century, this was a private park to the royal family who hosted pageants, bullfights, and mock naval battles. Only a century later did it open to the public, but even then visitors had to be formally dressed to enter.
The park takes its name from King Felipe IV’s 17th-century royal palace that once stood on this site.
Here you’ll also find the 19th century Crystal Palace (“el Palacio de Cristal”), built in 1887 to hold the Philipines Exhibition and once home to exotic plants, but now used for temporary exhibitions.
Don’t miss the a half-moon colonnade by the lake with a monument to King Alfonso XII, with his equestrian statue facing the park.
11. Hug a 220-year-old Tree at the Royal Botanical Garden
Inaugurated in 1781 and designed by the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini, the Real Jardín Botánico features 20 acres of gardens contain plants from five continents, with an especially large number originating from South America and the Philippines.
Neatly laid out beds, medicinal plants and herbs, and several types of trees including one which is 220 years old, and shrubs make up the rest of the variety of flora. In total, it is estimated to contain about 30,000 plants and flowers, and 1,500 trees.
Especially attractive are the wild roses of many hues and varieties, and the Classical Romantic Garden with a duck pond.
The public entrance to the Garden is by Murillo Gate, in front of the Prado Museum. 200 year old tree.
Free entrance with your Madrid Tourist Card.
12. Visit the Vertical Garden at CaixaForum
CaixaForum is Madrid’s latest cultural and architectural star. It is one of those sites where the building is as much of an attraction as the content found in the interior, with its exuberant façade featuring a vertical garden by the French botanist Patrick Blanc.
Consisting of 15,000 plants from 250 species is attracts large crowds that then proceed to the exhibitions and other events inside.
Once through the doors visitors are then drawn to another curious sight, a staircase that could easily be mistaken for a Gaudi creation found in Barcelona. In reality however, the entire extraordinary building is by the famous Swiss duo Herzog and De Meuron, best known for designing the Tate Modern in London that led to their Pritzker Award win.
Exhibitions here change regularly, during my visit I was lucky to see one on Joan Miró and another on French painter Charles Le Brun, who painted the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles and the missing Staircase of the Ambassadors.
30% off entrance with your Madrid Tourist Card.
13. See Picasso’s Propaganda Piece at Reina Sofia Museum
The “Guernica” was commissioned by the Spanish government for a Paris exhibition as a Civil War protest and hung in a New York gallery until 1981, fulfilling Picasso’s wish that it should not be shown in Spain until democracy was established. It was then exhibited at the Prado Museum in Madrid, and moved to this permanent home in 1992.
Besides “Guernica”, another highlight is “Woman in Blue” also by Picasso. Miró and Dali are two other influential artists well represented in the collection, with Miró’s enigmatic “Portrait II” being another standout in the museum for its Surrealist elements. Salvador Dali’s “Landscapes at Cadaqués” is the artists’ showpiece here, painted in the summer of 1923 during his visit to the town of Cadaqués.
Be sure to not miss José Solana’s “The Gathering at the Café del Pombo”, depicting a gathering of intellectuals at a Madrid café. Also of note are works by international artists such as Francis Bacon’s “Reclining Figure”, and a serene sculpture by Henry Moore.
Free entrance with your Madrid Tourist Card.
14. Search for the ‘Real’ Mona Lisa at Museo del Prado
Its dazzling display of works by the great European masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, and Bosch (among other major Italian and Flemish artists), is housed in an 18th-century Neo-Classical building.
One of the most interesting and lesser known pieces if that of the Mona Lisa. In January 2012 Museo del Prado announced that it had discovered and almost fully restored a copy of the painting by a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, very possibly painted alongside the master. The copy gives a better indication of what the portrait looked like at the time, as the varnish on the original has become cracked and yellowed with age.
The museum’s name derives from the district where it is located, formerly an area of market gardens known as the “prado” or meadow. The Spanish queen at the time had been impressed with the Louvre in Paris and wanted to showcase an enormous collection in her own country. The result is several thousand works at the present time, with a recent modern extension allowing more of them to be displayed.
Perhaps the collection’s most famous painting is Velazquez’s “Las Meninas,” showing princess Margarita and her two ladies-in-waiting as well as the artist himself with paintbrush and palette in hand. Another of his famous works, “The Triumph of Bacchus,” shows the god of wine with a group of drunkards.
The other major artist of the collection is Goya, whose depiction of nudity in the painting “The Naked Maja” led him to be accused of obscenity. His works make up such a large part of the museum, that his statue stands outside the main entrance.
Another outstanding painting in the history of art is “The Garden of Delights” by Bosch, whose several other works are also represented at the Prado, as he was one of King Filipe II’s favourite artists.
Also look out for Rubens’ “The Adoration of the Magi” and “The Three Graces,” depicting three women (the Graces or the daughters of Zeus), dancing and representing Love, Joy, and Revelry.
Free entrance with your Madrid Tourist Card.
15. Visit San Jerónimo el Real a 16th Century Church
The Iglesia Parroquial de San Jerónimo el Real (Parish Church of Royal St. Jerome) was founded in Madrid in 1503 during the time of Queen Isabella I, and is popularly known as “Los Jerónimos.”
16. Visit the Train Station that Doubles as a Turtle Sanctuary
The Atocha Train Station is not just a transportation hub, it’s also home to an indoor botanical garden and turtle sanctuary! Opened in 1992, rows of tropical trees and plants stretch out over 13,000 feet of space beneath the station’s arched roof.
Commuters can relax under the leafy palms, or watch the turtle pond while waiting for their next train.
The original station dates to 1851, and it was rebuilt in 1892 after a fire. Sprawling underneath a lengthy skylight, the indoor garden occupies the area that used to house the old train landings prior to Atocha’s expansion.
For the best view, take the escalators up to the top level.
17. See How the Royal Family Live in the Royal Palace
Not only is the Palacio Real Madrid’s largest and possibly its most beautiful building it is also the largest royal palace in Western Europe. It was built on the site of the old Alcázar a Moorish castle destroyed by fire in 1734.
The palace was initially designed by Filippo Juvarra to accommodate the court of Felipe V, a total of more than 3,000 courtiers!
The palace itself contains furniture, tapestries, paintings and ceramics as well as other important works of art and frescos by Tiépolo.
Velázquez, Goya, Giordano and Mengs are all represented here amongst the dozens of valuable tapestries and paintings, making the palace one of Europe’s most important museums and receiving more than 880,000 visitors in 2006.
The palace remains open to the public almost year round except on the days of official ceremonies and receptions, although the public can only access certain areas.
Don’t miss the stunning Royal Chapel (Real Capill).
Free entrance with your Madrid Tourist Card.
18. Soak up the Sun at Madrid’s Urban Beach
In January 2008, the Madrid Río project (el Plan Especial Madrid-Río) was unveiled by the Lord Mayor of Madrid. Along the Manzanares River 820 hectares along have been converted into a long park, including an urban beach, rowing lanes on the river, walks, bicycle paths, kiosks, cafés and restaurants, terraces, cultural and sports facilities, areas for pensioners and children’s play areas.
This is the perfect spot to relax on a hot day and cool off in the fountains. Walk back to the station via the Arganzuela footbridge.
19. See Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s Main Square
Also located here is the Casa de la Panadería building, supposedly named after the bakery it replaced. The present building of the Casa de la Panadería stands at number 27 on the north side of Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, just behind the central statue of Felipe III.
The original building was a wooden construction designed by Juan Gomez de Mora and completed in 1619. It was destroyed by fire in 1670 and was rebuilt by Thomas Roman. Claudio Coello and Jose Jimenez Donoso were responsible for the façade frescoes and interior decoration. For the best entrance to the piazza enter via Arco de Cuchilleros.
Avoid paying elevated prices in the piazza, instead head to Mercado De San Miguel located on Calle de los Cuchilleros, 7 for a range of fresh food from paella to tapas.
20. Dine at the World’s Oldest Restaurant
Containing four floors and frequented by both tourist and locals is was also a favourite of Ernest Hemingway who frequently ate here.
Don’t miss their tasty Gazpacho soup!
21. Unwind in Plaza de España
At the end of your shopping excursion on the Gran Via head to Plaza de España and relax on the park benches or grass.
Admire the large fountain and a monument to Cervantes, the great figure of Spanish literature known for writing “Don Quixote”.
Awe two of the city’s largest buildings found adjacent to the plaza, the Torre de Madrid (with its height of 142 metres, for a while the tallest concrete structure in Europe) and the “Edificio España”, both dating from the 1950s.
22. Climb the Dome at Almudena Cathedral
The cathedral is consecrated to Santa Maria de la Almudena, a name which has Arabic origins: al mudayna, means “the castle”. Legend has it that in the 8th-century, when the Moors invaded the fortress where Madrid now stands, the people hid an image of the Virgin in the city walls, and only when the city was reconquered in the 15th century did a wall crumble to reveal her presence once again. Some versions suggest that the legendary el Cid found the image on the wall, and the Virgin helped him to retake the city.
For another perspective over Madrid climb dome via the museum.
Free entrance with your Madrid Tourist Card.
23. Visit Templo de Debod, a 2000-Year-Old Egyptian Temple
Built in Egypt in the days of Ptolemaic Dynasty in the 4th century B.C. close to the island of Philae, Templo de Debod was presented to the city of Madrid in 1950.
The temple was a gift from the Egyptian government in gratitude for Spain’s collaboration in moving priceless monuments during the construction of the Aswan Dam. It was brought stone by stone from the lower Nubian region.
This site is the best place in the whole city to watch the sun go down. If you time it right you can also head inside the temple to see hieroglyphics.
Over to you!
Have you visited any of these places in Madrid? What else would you recommend?
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