If you’re visiting Madrid, you’re in for a treat. You may already associate Spain with things like flamenco, paella, sangria, and siestas. In Madrid, which is Spain’s cultural and historical heart as well as its capital, you’ll certainly find plenty of those things along with much more! If you plan on visiting this magnificent city, there are a few things you absolutely cannot miss.
Here are the top 10 things to do in Madrid:
1. Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s city center, and is the plaza that connects you to several other main attractions, such as Plaza del Callao and Plaza Mayor. This area is a main hub for shopping, bars, restaurants, art galleries, and general madrileño culture. Madrid has an excellent metro and bus system which have many pickup points around this area as well.
2. Parque del Retiro
In Spain, life moves a bit slower and is generally more relaxed. Spending time here will teach you how to slow down and live in the moment, and there’s no better place to do that than Madrid’s Parque del Retiro! Full of gardens and monuments like the Palacio de Cristal (crystal palace), El Retiro is the perfect place for locals and tourists alike to spend the day walking, biking, and even taking out rowboats on its picturesque lake. There is never a shortage of live music and street performers, making Retiro a favorite Madrid destination.
3. Experience The Vibrant Nightlife
The nightlife in Madrid is unparalleled. Start your night around 9pm with dinner and tapas. Around 10 or 11 you’ll switch to a local terraza or tapas bar, such as the rooftop terrace at Círculo de Bellas Artes or El Tigre (if you want to be really touristy), for some more serious drinking, and finally head over to the nightclubs around midnight, though don’t expect them to become crowded until at least 2am. You’ll likely want to stay out and party with the locals until well after the sun comes up and the metro starts running again at 6am. Some of Madrid’s most infamous nightclubs include Teatro Kapital, Joy Eslava, and Gabana 1800.
4. Visit Madrid’s Malasaña Neighborhood
Perhaps the most lively area in all of Madrid is Malasaña. Filled with hip bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, and boutiques, this trendy neighborhood has something for everyone. Take a walk through the bohemian streets or stop at an outdoor terraza for churros con chocolate. Some great places to try here are Mercado San Anton and La Bicicleta cafe. This neighborhood is located near many of the city’s other main attractions as well.
One of the best things about Madrid is the food! Typical foods that are hard to miss here include patatas bravas, croquetas, jamón, tortilla de patata, and tinto de verano, among many others. For a cheap meal, order a bocadillo at 100 Montaditos, one of Spain’s best tapas bar and cervecería chains, or grab a bite at the trendy Mercado San Miguel. Most restaurants close around midday during the siesta period and reopen later in the afternoon. Typically people won’t go for dinner until about 9pm or later, so plan accordingly.
6. Templo de Debod
The Temple of Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple which was disassembled and rebuilt in Madrid in the 1970s. Besides its interesting history, the temple and surrounding Cuartel de la Montaña Park offers a calm place to relax with friends and take in gorgeous views of the city. Come to the temple just before sunset to catch the structures’ beautiful reflection in its surrounding pools.
6. Take A Day Trip
Madrid’s extensive train network can take you anywhere you want to go, and fast! Madrid is an excellent base for taking day trips to surrounding towns and cities. From Madrid, some of the best day trips include the towns of Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, and El Escorial. Sevilla and Barcelona are also not far by train, but you will likely want to spend a bit more than just a day there!
7. Palacio Real
Take a tour of the Royal Palace, known in Spanish as el Palacio Real. It is the official home of the Spanish Royal Family and is located in the heart of Madrid. Explore the palace from the inside or enjoy the panoramic view of Madrid’s countryside from the courtyard outside its gates. Either way, the Palacio Real is definitely a can’t-miss destination while in Madrid.
8. Go Shopping
It would be a crime to visit Madrid without checking out the fantastic shopping scene! Here you’ll find chic Spanish and European fashions for relatively cheap prices. Some of the best places for shopping are in the Puerta del Sol, Malasaña, and Gran Vía areas. Make sure not to miss Madrid staples, such as Zara, Pull & Bear, and Corte Inglés!
9. See A Fútbol Match
An essential part of the culture in Spain and in Madrid in particular is, of course, fútbol! Madrid’s two teams are Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid, both with very enthusiastic fans, making any fútbol match an exciting (and somewhat overwhelming) experience. This is a great way to get a feel for the energy of the city and is sure to be unforgettable!
Visiting Madrid’s museums is the perfect way to get in your dose of culture between all the tapas and sangria! Madrid is home to some of the best museums and galleries in the world. Don’t miss the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen, among many others.
Next time you’re in Madrid, make sure to greet your madrileño friends with a kiss on each cheek and enjoy a three-hour-long meal. From strolling through the streets of Malasaña to catching up with friends over sangria at a local tapas bar, you’ll never be lacking for things to do in this dynamic city. With much to see and explore, Madrid is an excellent choice for your next adventure and a great starting point to experience all that Spain has to offer. ¡Viva España!
Learn a bit more about Sophie!
My name is Sophie Mendel, and I’m an American wanderluster, currently residing in Chicago, Illinois, USA. I have traveled to over 40 countries, lived in 5 countries, am fluent in English and Spanish (and am always in the process of learning more languages), and I absolutely live to travel. Read more about my adventures on my blog: www.theunboundedtraveler.com