Don't know what to do in Madrid? Check out 16 must-see tourist attractions and discover the main sights of the capital of Spain
Madrid is a welcoming city, full of life and a lot of partying – therefore, a fantastic choice for a holiday.
There are also other things that make Madrid memorable, whether it's a café au lait in an imposing square, drinks at a rooftop bar or a stroll through Retiro or Casa de Campo on a sunny day.
The Prado Museum features works by some of Spain's most famous artists, including Velázquez and Goya. The Royal Palace is open to the public and the El Rastro flea market or the luxury shops of Salamanca offer hours of shopping. But if you're drained from a long day of sightseeing, you might want to unwind at an outdoor cafe, especially the ones off the Plaza Mayor.
16 attractions to see in Madrid
If you'd like to get a feel for the city, a tour of Gran Vía is an excellent place to start. This is Madrid's entertainment, shopping and cultural hub, an avenue full of life until dawn. By day, it swarms with shoppers stopping by the many malls, high street stores like H&M and Zara, and luxury boutiques.
At night, there are couples with their arms crossed, who go out to the movies or to a musical. And after dark, the street pulsates with the best nightclubs in town.
Absolutely essential, the Prado is one of the best and most popular art museums in the world. There is an overwhelming collection of masterpieces by Renaissance and Baroque masters.
Spain is represented by Velázquez and El Greco, the Netherlands by Rembrandt, Brueghel, van Dyck and Rubens, while Titian, Caravaggio, Botticelli and Tintoretto form the Italian contingent. Among the many must-see works are Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights and Caravaggio's David with the Head of Goliath.
Built in the mid-1700s for King Felipe V, the Royal Palace sits on the site of Madrid's Moorish Alcázar fortress.
This is the largest royal palace in western Europe and has a mix of Baroque and Neoclassical styles.
In addition to the impressive architecture, the palace houses works by Goya, Caravaggio and Velázquez, as well as impressive displays of clocks, tapestries, porcelain and silverware. You can see the only Stradivarius instrument quartet in the world, and the royal arsenal that includes the personal weapons used by Charles V in the 16th century.
The green heart of Madrid is full of elegant gardens. Parque do Retiro is just steps from the Prado and was a royal property until the late 19th century, when it was opened to the public.
If you're visiting the park with the little ones, paddling the Grand Pond next to the Alfonso XII monument is a fun option on a sunny afternoon.
The magnificent iron and glass pavilion built to house the Philippine Exposition in 1887 is another must-see. The oldest tree in the city is nearby: It is a Montezuma Cypress planted in 1633 and ringed by an iron fence.
Another Madrid “must”, Plaza Mayor is a beautiful Renaissance square, built in 1600. There are nine entrances to the square and inside the porticos at the back of the buildings there are several cafes.
Sip a coffee at an outdoor table and watch Madrid in action for a few minutes. After that, you could stroll over to the 400-year-old bronze statue of King Felipe III, who was in power at the height of the Spanish empire.
Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
Whether you're a fan of the club or not, the truth is that Real Madrid are the most successful football team in Europe, with a record 11 European Cups to their name. Therefore, any fan of the game should consider a pilgrimage to its gigantic 85,000-seat stadium, where history has been made many times over the seasons.
A tour will give you panoramic views of the stadium, you will enter the dressing room, visit the knights and see all sorts of interesting pieces, including the trophy collection, the press room and the presidential box.
Archaeological Museum of Spain
With priceless pieces gathered from all over Spain, this museum is a journey through the country's rich history. What may surprise you is the wealth of magnificent pieces that predate the Roman period.
One of the most popular pieces is the Iberian treasures and sculptures that look almost new despite being at least 2,500 years old.
San Miguel Market
An easy walk from Plaza Mayor is this beautiful art nouveau market that dates back to 1916. It's basically a fresh produce market and more of a foodie destination to buy the best that Spain has to offer, like cava and saffron.
There are also a number of tapas bars serving all the favorites like patatas bravas, gambas al ajillo and boquerones. Mercado San Miguel is considered the largest municipal market in Europe, with 200 stalls.
El Rastro is Madrid's biggest flea market and it gets quite busy, so it's always a good idea to show up early. Even taking place on Sundays, the market has its antique shops always crowded.
This verdant garden opened in 1992. The Atocha Greenhouse fills an abandoned section of the building that was once the former Atocha train station before the transportation hub was expanded to include its high-speed train links.
The expanding garden contains 7,000 plants from over 260 species. In the arboretum section, you will find many plants native to tropical forests. Among them are coconut palms from Polynesia, royal palms and mahogany trees from Cuba, rubber trees from Brazil, banana trees from the Philippines, palm trees from the critically endangered Indian Ocean islands and an impressive travel tree from Madagascar.
Fallen Angel Fountain
Located in the gardens of the extensive Parque del Buen Retiro, this statue is 666 meters above sea level. The Fallen Angel (Ángel Caído) is placed on a marble pillar in the middle of a fountain decorated with sinister demonic entities and some reptiles.
Lucifer is depicted as he is cast out of heaven, as inspired by a passage in John Milton's Paradise Lost. Sculptor Ricardo Bellver cast the statue in bronze for the third World's Fair in Paris, after which the piece was acquired by the Museo del Prado. The statue was later donated to the city of Madrid and inaugurated in its current location in 1885.
Madrid Walk of Fame
In 2011, the Academia Española de Cinema took the initiative to pay tribute to Spanish actors, actresses and filmmakers, incorporating stars with the names of the most renowned of them on the sidewalks. The place chosen was Martin de los Heros, a street where several Arthouse cinemas are located.
On June 27, 2011, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Academy's founding, 25 stars were installed (one per year) with such great names in the history of Spanish cinema as Luis Buñuel, Pedro Almodóvar, Fernando Rey and Antonio Banderas, among others.
Madrid is full of architecturally impressive apartment blocks, but among them is a truly distinctive building, rising like a massive postmodern LEGO project.
The building is the Mirador Building (“Lookout Building”), a 21-story, 208-foot-tall structure with a large rectangular opening recessed about 131 feet above the ground. It was designed by MVRDV, a Dutch architectural and urban design practice, and completed in 2005.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Museum
If you still have an appetite for art after the Prado, head to this museum, which is also part of Madrid's “Golden Triangle of Art”.
Thyssen-Bornemisza has works from the English and German schools by artists such as Hans Holbein, Hans Baldung Grien and Albrecht Dürer. These are accompanied by works by other Renaissance masters such as Tintoretto, Veronese, Rembrandt, van Dyck and many others. There is also a large collection of American Abstract Expressionism, and a number of Impressionist and Post-Expressionist pieces by figures such as Monet, Renoir and Degas.
Drink beer at a rooftop bar
In summer, many of Madrid's bars and restaurants dot the destination's sidewalks and squares. This is an essential part of going out and socializing in the city.
A great option is to choose a bar located on a rooftop to observe the wonderful skyline of Madrid during the sunset.
Close to Plaza Mayor is The Hat is a great option, well located and with a laid-back atmosphere.
Watch a Flamenco performance
Flamenco is a dance originally from Andalusia and even though it is not strictly native to Madrid, the city has some of the most famous tablaos in the country.
These are special halls that emerged in the 60s, where you can watch a show about a candlelit meal.
It's a beautiful way to kill two birds with one stone: experience the country's rich cuisine while seeing one of the country's most famous art forms, expressed by some of the best dancers in the flamenco world.
» Discover the main museums in Madrid
» Agency in Madrid offers free virtual tour of the Prado Museum
» Train itinerary in Spain: 10 days through Barcelona, Madrid and the south of the country
» Places to discover in Madrid
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