During a visit to Madrid, you will always find endless things to do. There are essential tours to the city’s historic gems and its emblematic corners, both in the city itself and in its suburbs. But there are other plans you can’t miss that will let you enjoy the traditions and intense cultural offerings of the Spanish capital
Madrid is a city full of life 24 hours a day, so we have chosen only the most interesting plans so that you can get the most out of the city. We begin with the places you’ll see within the capital.
What to see in Madrid?
Madrid is a city full of places to discover, and although there are hundreds of sites to see and visit, we have selected the Spanish capital’s most important monuments, attractions and places of interest.
For your greatest comfort, we always recommend that you visit all of these landmarks accompanied by official guides who can show you the sites while telling you about their history and relating anecdotes about each place. If you are interested, we have prepared more detailed information about each point of interest in our section on tours in Madrid.
1.- Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol (Sun of the Gate) is the true epicentre of the capital. When you visit this landmark, you won’t find huge monuments, but you will see some of the most representative images of Madrid.
For example, the Bear and the Strawberry Tree sculpture is located here, which is the community’s emblem. There is also Spain’s most famous clock, whose bells ring in the new year. Moreover, this square represents kilometer 0 for all Spanish roads.
2.- Plaza Mayor
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is itself one of the city’s most important monuments. This is due to its Herrerian architecture that transports us to the imperial times of King Felipe II. It’s also famous due to the harmony of the plaza, where each detail integrates perfectly with the entire monument.
But above all, it is one of the capital’s best monuments because it is teeming with life. It is the urban space where the residents of Madrid and its visitors have congregated for centuries in order to have fun or shop.
3.- Puerta de Alcala
The monument that best represents the Hapsburg dinasty in Madrid is Puerta de Alcalá. It is a spectacular place that shows us how big the city was during the time of Carlos III, the king who commissioned its construction. It’s essential to take a walk here and contemplate the monument’s neoclassical architecture.
4.- Plaza de Cibeles
Cibeles is one of Madrid’s most charming places. You will see there the facade of the Banco de España, the eclectic design of the Palacio de Comunicaciones, the elegance of the Casa de America, the gardens of the Palacio Buena Vista, and in the centre, the fountain of the goddess Cibeles, the plaza’s namesake.
5.- Temple of Debod
An Egyptian temple in Madrid? Yes, it was brought stone by stone from the land of the pharaohs and carefully rebuilt in Parque del Oeste (Western Park). This temple from the first century was a gift from the Egyptian government to Spain for its collaboration in safeguarding the heritage of that distant country. Upon returning to build it in Madrid, the temple was reconstructed in order to maintain the same orientation that it had in its original location.
6.- Plaza de España
One of the other large plazas in the capital is Plaza de España, The country’s first skyscrapers were built there in the mid-20th century, the most notable of which is Madrid Tower. However, that massive building looks small today next to newer buildings. But this does not mean it’s not worth visiting, especially if you want to pay tribute to one of Madrid’s most illustrious residents, Miguel de Cervantes, since there are sculptures of his two most celebrated characters: Don Quijote and Sancho.
7.- Plaza de Colon
Plaza de Colon is one of Madrid’s most beautiful places to take an afternoon stroll. This is not only because lively cafes and bars are located here, but also because you can take the opportunity to visit the Cera Museum or attend a show at the Fernán Gómez Theatre. And you can also discover the different sculptures located around the plaza.
8.- Court Palace
On San Jeronimo Street rises one of Madrid’s most important buildings. In fact, it could be said that it is one of the most important buildings in all of Spain. There you will find the Congreso de los Diputados or the Palacio de las Cortes (Court Palace). With its columns and stairs, this building looks like a great classical temple, but inside there are no gods being venerated, but rather the proceedings of a democracy.
9.- Prado Museum
The Museo del Prado is one of the best gallerys in the world, and without a doubt, it is an essential place to visit in the capital. Inside there are thousands and thousands of works to contemplate. If you’re not already familiar with art or if you do not have much time, we recommend going on a guided tour to the Prado Museum in order to enter without waiting in the queue to see masterpieces from great artists like El Bosco, Titian, Velázquez, Murillo or Francisco de Goya.
10.- Reina Sofia Museum
The Reina Sofia Museum was built in an old hospital that was completely transformed in order to house one of the best collections of contemporary art in all of Spain. It is a collection in which names like Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and of course Pablo Picasso stand out.
11.- Thyssen Bornemisza Museum
The truth is that we could say that an essential place to go in Madrid is its Golden Triangle of museums. We have already talked about two of them, the Prado and the Reina Sofia. And now we will turn to the third member of this elite club: the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum. You can find there works from many of the periods that do not appear in the other galleries, such as impressionist art. Therefore, the three form one of the world’s most important and complete artistic complexes on the planet.
12.- The Royal Palace of Madrid
The Palacio Real de Madrid is the largest palace in all of Western Europe and probably the most spectacular building due to the history, beauty and immense treasures guarded inside. Entering the Royal Palace is like entering a museum that tells us how the Spanish monarchy has lived over the centuries, surrounded by valuable works of art, carpets, tapestries, exquisite furniture, clocks, grand chandeliers, etc.
If you don’t want to wait in long lines queues at the ticket office to enter and explore the palace, we recommend that you book a guided visit of the Royal Palace.
13.- Real Madrid Museum
Football fans visiting Madrid have to include a trip to the Real Madrid Museum in their plans. This is one of the most decorated football clubs in history and proudly displays its trophies in the museum. But entrance also includes a tour of Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, which gives a complete experience.
14.- Retiro Park
In the heart of Madrid, in its congested downtown area, there is a green space that has become the city’s lungs. We are talking about Parque del Buen Retiro, one of Madrid’s most charming sites and a great place to relax and enjoy its pond, buildings, cultivated gardens and its interesting collection of sculptures, statues and fountains.
15.- Parque del Oeste
One of the best green areas in Madrid is Parque del Oeste (Western Park). This lush space has more than a century of history, since it was constructed in the beginning of the 20th century in order to serve as an area of rest for the residents of Madrid. And it continues to be so, although visitors can also enjoy it. In fact, it is very interesting, and not only because of the aforementioned Temple of Debod. It’s interesting to see the old bunkers from the Civil war, since this place was once an intense battlefield.
16.- Sabatini Gardens
Even older are the Sabatini Gardens located next to the Palacio Real. This garden was designed by the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini and is a monument in itself, plus one of the most attractive places in Madrid. Don’t forget to tour the gardens if you enter the Royal Palace, because seeing this manicured landscape is the perfect complement to that visit.
17.- Calle Serrano
Calle Serrano (Serrano Street) and the surrounding neighborhood of Salamanca is one of the capital’s most select locations. In fact, the commercial offerings on this street are so exclusive that it is known as Madrid’s Golden Mile. In other words, if you are a fan of the big-name fashion brands, Calle Serrano will be one of the most attractive places in Madrid for you.
18.- Gran Vía
The commercial offerings on Gran Via are different. The commercial character of Gran Via is more in line with entertainment. Cafes and restaurants dominate here, as do theatres that show the best dramas, comedies or musicals in the country. Therefore, attending one of these theatres can be great motivation for making a trip to Madrid.
19.- Calle Preciados
In the area of Puerta del Sol is another one of the capital’s most popular shopping districts. We are talking about Calle Preciados (Preciados Street), which runs from Puerta del Sol to Plaza de Callao. It is a pedestrian street that never, ever lacks people. And of all those people, the vast majority are carrying shopping bags. You could do the same!
Cities and Places to Visit Near Madrid
There are many tourist sites to visit near Madrid that can be a wonderful complement to your holiday in the Capital of Spain.
All of these sites are very close to the city’s downtown area, at least 2.5 hours away. Therefore, we propose a wide variety of excursions from Madrid to different cities and monuments, including a combination of different excursions or destinations for the same day.
Let’s see where to go from Madrid:
20.- Segovia: more than its famous aqueduct
Without a doubt, the great symbol of Segovia is its magnificent Roman aqueduct that still crosses Segovia’s imposing downtown area. Its raised arches are formed by rocks that do not have any type of cement to hold them together, but they have remained this way for 2,000 years. It’s an impressive sight. It’s worth making a tour from Madrid to Segovia just to see it.
But when you’re here, you must take the opportunity to visit other places of interest in Segovia. In its downtown area, you should visit its cathedral and some of its Romantic churches, or photograph the famous Casa de los Picos. In front of the city, you can see its second most famous monument: the Alcazar, a palatial castle that is said to have inspired Walt Disney to create his logo.
You can combine a Toledo and Segovia day trip from Madrid in order to get to know these two UNESCO World Heritage cities.
21.- Avila: the walled city
The city of Avila is very close to Segovia. For this reason, there are day trips to Avila and Segovia from Madrid to visit these historic cities. But the heritage and tourist attractions in Avila are plentiful, so you may also want to dedicate an entire day to its streets. Above all, the most celebrated monuments are the city’s walls.
The walls of Avila were built in the 11th century and are unique in their class. The walls are several kilometres long and encircle the streets of the town. You can see them from outside but you can also walk through their even more spectacular gates. Inside, a monumental complex awaits you with numerous palaces,monasteries, convents and churches. There is a special spirituality in the air, which the most famous resident of Avila would have also experienced: Saint Teresa.
22.- Salamanca and its University
Another one of the great jewels of Spain´s heritage is the city of Salamanca, just 2,5 hours away on a Salamanca day trip from Madrid. If you have already visited Madrid, you must have seen its spectacular Plaza Mayor. Well, when arriving in Salamanca, you should head directly to its own Plaza Mayor. Which is more beautiful? It’s difficult to say. Both are two great works of art in their own right.
But there are many other masterpieces in Salamanca, including its cathedral with its famous sculptures, the Casa de las Conchas, and all of the University buildings. The University of Salamanca is one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious. In fact, thousands of young people continue to pursue their studies there every year. They are the reason Salamanca’s streets are always so animated, making it one of the most fun cities to go to college.
23.- Toledo: traces of the Three Cultures
Toledo was the Spanish capital before Madrid. Toledo’s nickname is City of the Three Cultures, which refers to its history and rich heritage. Important monuments of the three major religions coexist in Toledo: Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Which of these monuments are the most significant? The grandiose gothic Cathedral of Santa María, the reconverted Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, and the Transito Synagogue built in the 14th century. Walking through the charming streets of Toledo, you will come across these exceptional monuments. But you can also follow the footsteps of one of the great creators in art history: El Greco. He lived here and created many of his works in this city, including the spectacular Burial of Count Orgaz in the Church of Santo Tome.
24.- San Lorenzo del Escorial Monastery
Very close to Madrid is one of the most monumental complexes you can visit in all of Spain. It’s the San Lorenzo del Escorial Monastery, a construction dreamt and promoted by King Felipe II. It was this same monarch who moved his home and court to Madrid. But right now we’re talking about the Escorial, a masterpiece that requires several days in order to see it in depth due to its immense size. It is a palace, basilica, library, monastery, pantheon and college all in one.
Even though you can’t see it all during an Escorial day trip from Madrid, it’s possible to see the most significant parts, which are also the most attractive. That’s because great artists worked here, including El Bosco and Titian. But it’s also necessary to name the architect, Juan de Herrera, who was entrusted by the king to build El Escorial. He made it his masterpiece. He also created a new style, called Herrariano Art.
25.- Valle de los Caidos (Valley of the Fallen)
Up until now, we have suggested charming places near Madrid whose attractions are based on a long history or in the artistic jewels that they treasure. However, a trip to the Valley of the Fallen is a bit different. This is a monument with only a few decades of history behind it.
It refers to a relatively recent period in Spanish history: the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Despite its grandiosity, it’s clear that this is neither the most beautiful nor the most attractive monument in the country. However, if you wish to get to know the history of 20th century Spain, perhaps you should do an excursion to this place so close to Madrid.
26.- The beautiful royal site of Aranjuez
The Spanish monarchs went on trips near Madrid in order to escape their day to day lives. And one of the places they went was Aranjuez. It is a town that was converted into a Royal Site, so making an Aranjuez tour will make you feel like a king. Awaiting you there is a beautiful town and a palace with a guided tour that you cannot miss.
The finely decorated palatial rooms shelter authentic works of art, in addition to furniture and decorations of incalculable value. Also of incalculable value is the collection of royal feluccas, the boats in which the monarchs would sail up and down the nearby Tajo River. However, this trip from Madrid also offers a walk through the celebrated Gardens of Aranjuez, a place capable of inspiring anyone.
We propose several plans for sampling Madrid’s typical cuisine.
27.- Go out for a drink and tapas
There are many places to go, such as in the central district of La Latina. But it’s also good to visit the San Miguel Market. With more than 100 years of history, it has more than 20 stalls geared toward Spanish cuisine and quality tapas.
28.- Taste Madrid Stew
Madrid’s most emblematic dish, and certainly also the strongest cuisine from the capital city, is Cocido Madrileño, or Madrid Stew. Many restaurants offer it. However, since you’ll want to taste the best of the best with this delicacy based on soup, garbanzo beans, vegetables, meats and sausages, it’s best to eat it at places like Casa Carola, Malacatín or La Gran Tasca.
29.- Have chocolate with churros in Madrid for breakfast or a snack
It’s almost a religion in Madrid. Countless cafés and coffee shops offer this pleasant combination. But here’s an idea: try it at the Chocolatería San Ginés, open since 1894.
30.- Eat broken eggs
Another gastronomic tradition of Madrid conceived from humble products is broken eggs. They are simply fried eggs and potatoes with olive oil. The most well-known are served at the restaurant Casa Lucio, cooked in a carbon kitchen and served without a drop of grease.
31.- Have lunch or dinner in the oldest restaurant in the world
In Madrid there are endless taverns, cafés, restaurants, bars and any other definition that comes to mind. But none of those places has a history as long as the restaurant Sobrino de Botín, which opened in 1725. After all, it is the oldest restaurant in the world.
32.- Get coffee at Café Gijón
Another place with a long history is Café Gijón, which opened at the end of the 19th century. Since then, intellectuals and tourists have gathered here. Why not you?
33.- Eat a calamari sandwich
Madrid is several hundred kilometres from the sea, and yet some of the best calamari sandwiches in Spain can be found in this city, especially in the bars around Plaza Mayor.
34.- See a football match
Madrid has two of the best football teams in Spain and Europe: Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. Take advantage of your stay in the Spanish capital to watch a game for the national or European leagues.
35.- See a bullfight
Go see a bullfight in Plaza de las Ventas bullring. This square is one of the great temples of bullfighting, and any bullfighter craves triumph in this arena. If there are no shows during your trip to Madrid, you can always take a guided tour of the Plaza and enter its museum.
36.- See a play or musical
Madrid’s Gran Vía and its surroundings have always been the Spanish Broadway. Any self-respecting production seeks to premiere here and stay on the bill. When you travel to Madrid, check the billboard and enjoy its shows.
37.- Enjoy a flamenco show
The best-known tablaos in Madrid are the Corral de la Morería, considered the cathedral of flamenco, and Torres Bermejas, where Camaron de la Isla sang.
Unusual things for tourists to do in Madrid
38.- Go shopping at the Rastro
The Rastro is an open-air market. Originally, second-hand products were offered here, and that remains the essence of this market. It’s a good way to buy anything cheap.
39.- Buy a book in Madrid’s oldest bookstore
Another highly recommended shopping experience is going to the San Ginés bookstore, opened in the alley of the same name in the 17th century. It is a place emblematic of Hapsburg Madrid.
40.- Get your hair cut at a centenary barbershop
Although surely the goal of your visit to Madrid is not to cut your hair, in Madrid there are 4 hairdressers that have been open for more than 100 years.
In short, few cities can boast such a variety of options. Madrid has it all: a dazzling historical heritage, unique museums, traditions going back centuries, shows, delicious cuisine … what more could you want?