Madrid is the capital city of Spain and is home to a seemingly endless variety of history, art, food, fashion, and nightlife. The city has one of Europe's finest collections of Spanish and Latin American art, spread throughout its museums and galleries. Its many open-air squares host plenty of Beaux-Arts-style buildings, unique statues, and old-fashioned theatres dating back to the 18th century.
Madrid is also a great place to enjoy vibrant festivities such as Christmas, Madrid Pride, and Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve). It’s relatively easy to explore the city centre on foot, thanks to wide footpaths and lush gardens serving as rest stops in between. Check out our 11 best things to see, do, and try in Madrid, which caters to first-time visitors looking to enjoy the city’s unique offerings.
Stroll Along Gran VíaShop for fashionable clothing at Gran Via’s high-street and luxury boutiques
(Photo via Marc Kjerland/Flickr)
Gran Via is one of Madrid’s upscale shopping streets, offering a mix of high street, luxury, and local designers. El Corte Inglés, Spain’s largest department store, is located here, and you can find renowned brands such as Red Valentino, Hugo Boss, and Armani Exchange inside. There are many Beaux-Arts-style buildings and old-fashioned theatres, offering you postcard-worthy cityscapes. Make sure to pay a visit to the iconic Edificio Metrópolis building, Madrid’s prime example of elegant Beaux-Arts architecture.
- Location: Calle Gran Vía, s/n 28013 Madrid
Plaza MayorTry Madrid’s famous calamari sandwich after exploring the square
(Photo via M a n u e l /Flickr)
Plaza Mayor is one of the grandest open squares in Madrid, featuring 9 entrance ways, 17th-century frescoes, and a bronze statue of King Philip III in the middle. A popular tourist attraction, Plaza Mayor offers lively events throughout the year, including a vibrant Christmas market and celebrations for San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid. If you’ve worked up an appetite, there are plenty of cafés and sandwich joints serving coffee, beer, and Madrid’s quintessential bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich).
- Location: Plaza Mayor, 28012 Madrid
Explore Madrid's Art TriangleCheck out Picasso’s world-famous Guernica at Reina Sofia Museum
(Photo via Rubén Vique/Flickr)
Madrid’s Art Triangle is located in Paseo del Prado. This avenue comprises 3 notable museums, namely Museo del Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Reina Sofia. There are masterpieces by Picasso, Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco Bosch on display at these museums. You can save time and money by getting the Paseo del Arte pass for about €40, which gives you a 20% discount on entrance fees to all 3 museums. In between visits, be sure to snap photos of notable landmarks such as the Astronomical Observatory, Fuente de Neptuno, Fuente de Cibeles, and the Royal Botanical Gardens.
- Location: Paseo del Prado, s/n, 28014 Madrid
Mercado San MiguelShop like the locals at Mercado San Miguel
(Photo via WeI-chieh Chiu/Flickr)
Mercado San Miguel is a historical market that’s been attracting food lovers since 1916. Located just next to Plaza Mayor, there are over 30 stalls selling fresh seafood, cured meat, wines, beers, pastries, and chocolate. It opens every day from 10am until midnight (1am on Fridays and Saturdays). Head to a tapas bar (or five) within the market to indulge in some fresh oysters and classic Spanish delicacies such as patatas bravas (potato cubes in a spicy, tomato sauce) and gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp).
- Opening Hours: Sunday – Thursday: 10am to 12am, Friday & Saturday: 10am to 1am
- Location: Plaza de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid
- Tel: +34 915 42 49 36
El Oso y el MadroñoTake a photo of the famous bronze statue
(Photo via Victor Torres/Flickr)
El Oso y el Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree) is a bronze statue in Madrid’s central square, Puerta del Sol. Inaugurated in 1967, the sculpture is the work of Antonio Navarro Santafé, meant to represent the coat of arms of Madrid. Expect a crowd trying to take the perfect shot when you’re visiting El Oso y el Madroño. It’s a popular meeting point for lost tourists in Madrid, thanks to its significance in the city and central location.
- Location: Plaza Puerta del Sol, s/n, 28013 Madrid
The Royal PalaceSee the changing of the guard ceremony every Wednesday and Saturday
(Photo via Italian Lasagna/Flickr)
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official home of the Spanish royalty, even though you won’t be bumping into a family member during your visit. Commissioned by King Philip V during the 18th century, this grand structure is a mix of Neoclassical and Baroque architecture. There are 3,000 rooms in total, which includes a throne hall, armoury, and Europe’s oldest well-preserved royal kitchen. Art lovers can find exquisite paintings by renowned artists such as Luis Morales, Goya, Juan de Flandes, Caravaggio, Velázquez, and Federico Madrazo.
- Opening Hours: Daily 10am to 8pm
- Location: Calle de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid
ChuecaEnjoy the fabulous party atmosphere in this gay-friendly neighbourhood
(Photo via Barcex/Flickr)
Chueca is a lively Madrid neighbourhood that is home to the city’s gay community. It’s home to some of the best bars, bistros and nightclubs in the city, where you can enjoy cheeky drag shows until late. If you’re visiting Madrid between June and July, the annual Gay Pride Festival is a must see. Costume parades and live music can be enjoyed in popular areas throughout the city, but Chueca is arguably the best place to be during that time of the year.
- Location: Plaza de Chueca, 33, 28004 Madrid
See A Flamenco Show in MadridVisit a tablao to watch Spain’s most famous dance
(Photo via BluEyedA73/Flickr)
Flamenco is a vibrant dance style paired with singing and clapping of hands, as well as the use of guitars and castanets. Theatres all over Madrid often hold grand performances throughout the week, but tablaos (flamenco bars) offer a more laidback and intimate setting. You can also enjoy a filling meal while watching talented dancers performing Spain’s most famous dance.
Corral de la Morería is Madrid’s oldest tablao, where you get to enjoy a special degustation menu during the flamenco show.
- Opening Hours: Daily 6:30pm to 1:30am
- Location: Corral de la Morería, Calle de la Morería 17, Madrid
- Tel: +34 913 65 11 37
Great Bargains at El Rastro Flea MarketShop for vintage fashion and second-hand goods at El Rastro Flea Market
(Photo via sk/Flickr)
Exploring the entirety of El Rastro Flea Market is no small feat as this open-air marketplace hosts about 3,000 stalls. Attracting huge crowds every Sunday between 9am and 3pm, you can find just about everything here, from vinyl records, books, and clocks, to preloved clothes, handbags, and jewellery. El Rastro Flea Market is surrounded by quaint cafés and bars, where you can enjoy a pre-lunch aperitivo of vermouth and tapas after you’ve done shopping.
- Opening Hours: Sunday 9am to 3pm
- Location: Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, 28005 Madrid
- Tel: +34 915 29 82 10
El Retiro ParkWander down the Paseo de la Argentina in El Retiro Park
(Photo via Dmitry Dzhus/Flickr)
El Retiro Park is a vast garden in Plaza de la Independencia. One of its most popular attractions is the Statue Walk, a pathway that’s lined with 18th century statues of Spanish royalty. There’s a manmade lake next to a monument of Alfonso XII, where you can rent a paddleboat for a few euros. Another must visit in El Retiro Park is the Palacio de Cristal, a greenhouse-like pavilion that was built in 1887.
- Location: Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid
Feast on ChurrosEnjoy freshly made churros with coffee at Chocolatería San Ginés
(Photo via Tnarik Innael/Flickr)
It’s almost a crime to miss out on churros when visiting Madrid. These pastries are crispy on the outside and fluffy inside, and best eaten hot and dipped in thick chocolate sauce. Almost every café in Madrid serves churros, some even filled with dulce de leche, chocolate, or cream. Chocolatería San Ginés is widely known as the best place in the city for churros and hot chocolate. Located in an alleyway between Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Ópera, this iconic café has been using the same recipe since 1894. The dipping chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés is made to order, and you can even add a shot of liqueur to if you fancy.
- Opening Hours: Daily 24 hours
- Location: Pasadizo de San Gines, 5, 28013 Madrid
- Tel: +34 913 656 546