Madrid, the capital of Spain, offers infinite activities. Great food, wine, tapas, night and day life, traditions, happy locals, plus many people visiting the city throughout the year. As a local, to make sure you have an unforgettable experience, no matter the length of your stay, I´ve built this article with the top things to do in Spain on your upcoming trip.
The Best Things to See and Do When in Madrid
When people think Spain, they often think of Barcelona and this is mostly because of the beaches – I get it! That said, Madrid is the capital of Spain and is rich in culture. Not only that, but the city is a great centrally located destination when traveling to Sevilla & Granada in the south, the Rioja wine region in the north, or even Barcelona in the east. Here are the top things to do in Madrid (and nearby!) that you’ll want to add to your itinerary.
16. Have lunch in Casa de Campo
Casa de Campo is the largest public park in Madrid sprawling over 1530 hectares. Initially, the park was a private estate created for the Royal Family, and it was officially opened to the public in the 1930’s. This is the perfect place to escape urban life and you will have the chance to go hiking or biking in nature.
Locals and tourists alike usually sit by the lake to have lunch surrounded by the serene natural landscapes. You can bring your own picnic or savour the Spanish cuisine from Urogallo, a restaurant located by the lake.
15. Visit the National Archaeological Museum
If you are a history lover, the National Archaeological Museum of Spain is the place to get a masterclass of Spain’s history without leaving Madrid. Located next to the district of Serrano, near Retiro, the recently renovated museum houses treasures and artworks from different parts of the world that narrates Spain’s history and presence in the Iberian Peninsula and beyond.
You will have the chance to contemplate famous Iberian sculptures, Egyptian mummies, Roman mosaics found all over Spain, Greek vases, Visigoth votive crowns, or Islamic ivories.
14. Swim in a pool with views
A very typical activity from May to September is sunbathing on roof terraces around Madrid. One of the most exclusive ones is located in Gran Vía, at Hotel Emperador. The terrace has a cocktail bar, restaurant, and a big pool to relax and socialize.
The terrace offers unparalleled views of the famous Gran Vía. I highly recommend visiting at sunset to observe spectacular views of this part of the city. It also makes for a great photo opportunity!
13. Visit Segovia
A trip to Segovia is the perfect option to get a different taste of Spain. The city is about 70 km to the north of Madrid and is famous for its three main touristic attractions. The fully preserved Roman aqueduct will make you thrill.
Contemplating this monument will teach you how the Romans mastered engineering and architecture. Segovia’s Gothic cathedral and Medieval Castle will make you feel the main character of a historic tale. The visit to Segovia cannot end without tasting the most traditional meal in the city: suckling pig –cochinillo asado-. I highly recommend to stop by José María Restaurant and try the varied offer they have.
12. Visit Toledo
Madrid is very close to one of the most historical cities of Spain: Toledo. I highly recommend setting a day aside and to get lost in it’s narrow streets. The Romans founded the city, which was afterward the capital of the Visigoths in the Iberian Peninsula.
Today, Toledo shows the imprints of the Arab, Jewish, and Christian communities that inhabited its cityscape from the Middle Ages until the capital was transferred into Madrid. Visiting the city will take you back to a period where cathedrals, castles, synagogues, and mosques shaped the identity of this millenary city.
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11. Sunset with the pharaohs
The Temple of Debod is an original Egyptian building dating back to the 2nd century BC. It is located in the Cuartel de la Montaña Park, between Plaza de España and Parque del Oeste. The temple was donated in 1969 to Spain by the Egyptian authorities, who saved it from the floods after the construction of the Aswan Dam.
A visit to this spot will take you on a magical journey through Egyptian art and architecture. I recommend visiting the park in the afternoon, just before the sunset, and enjoying the viewpoints behind the temple. From there, you will experience an unforgettable sunset, observing the Royal Palace and part of Madrid’s city center.
10. Touch Madrid’s skies
If you lived in Madrid for a while then you’d know about De Madrid al cielo. When visiting Madrid, don’t forget to gaze upon the unique skies that cover the cityscape throughout the year. The Azotea del Círculo is one of the best places to experience a complete 360º panoramic view of the city.
Visitors will have the chance to explore a different Madrid, observing the contrast between the skies and infinite rooftops while enjoying a curated cocktail or exquisite meal in one of the private cultural centers of Europe.
If you want to go higher, then visit the Rooftop Bar 360º at Hotel RIU, in Plaza España. Hotel RIU’s glass walkaway, found on top of the building, has recently become one of the main attractions in the city.
9. Have the best Madrid stew
If you want to taste something that’s not only Spanish, but also a must-have from the history of Madrid, the cocido madrileño is a must during your visit. The origins of this traditional stew date back to the Middle Ages, when it was mainly eaten by humble people.
However, throughout time, this dish became very popular across all social classes. I highly recommend trying the cocido from Lhardy, one of the first restaurants in Madrid that opened in 1839.
You will taste the cocido madrileño in the traditional way, that is, in two vuelcos – or in two parts. The first vuelco consists of the stock of the stew, with noodles, whilst the second vuelco contains chickpeas, vegetables, and meat. Lhardy restaurant has conquered thousands of hearts across three centuries, standing as one of the most historical and preferred options chosen by locals and tourists.
8. Enjoy churros with chocolate
You cannot stroll Madrid city center without tasting the famous churros con chocolate from San Ginés. This bar is the most traditional stall selling churros in the city since 1894, and still maintains an interior setting characteristic of the late 19th century. I highly recommend a stroll in Puerta del Sol, stopping by San Ginés, and walking up to Plaza Mayor.
7. Go out in Chueca
Madrid is a very gay-friendly city, and the traditional neighborhood of Chueca is the epicenter of the LGBTQ+ community. Once a marginal district with a reputation for drugs and prostitutes, the area has since taken on a new lease of life with a vibrant reputation found nowhere else in the city. This cosmopolitan neighborhood was named after the Spanish composer Federico Chueca.
Tons of rainbow flags welcome visitors in a vibrant, safe space to enjoy arts, restaurants, and clubs. Don’t forget to queue in La Pollería -the Cockery- and taste its perfectly-sized and flavored muffles.
6. Try the most popular tortilla of Madrid
Spain is known worldwide for its omelet or, as we locals call it, tortilla de patatas… and Casa Dani serves the best one in Madrid. This family-owned restaurant opened in 1991 in the heart of the Salamanca neighborhood and is famous for having the best tortilla in the capital. No matter the length of your visit, this restaurant has a variety of dishes from traditional Spanish gastronomy at a very affordable price. This is a perfect choice for lunch or tapas when visiting the nearby park of El Retiro.
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5. Drink and eat at Mercado de San Miguel
One the most popular gastronomic markets of the city is the Mercado de San Miguel. It is located just a stone’s throw from Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, inside of an elegant building. It is home to more than twenty stands offering visitors an authentic taste of Spain’s flavors. I highly recommend its unique wines, Iberian ham, and fresh fish if you want to embark on an authentic and unforgettable gastro-tour.
4. Shop at El Rastro Flea Sunday Market in Madrid
Sundays and public holidays are famous in Madrid for the El Rastro flea market. The market is located along Plaza de Cascorro and Ribera de Curtidores, in the city centre. El Rastro means “the trail” and is named after the Medieval tanneries located in this area.
Thousands of stands offer visitors an infinite variety of products: from antiques to clothing, artworks, photography, and more. After El Rastro, if it’s tapas you’re after, I recommend having a wander around the nearby neighborhoods of Lavapiés and La Latina.
If you love collecting coins and stamps, your place is Plaza Mayor. The principal square of Madrid is well-known for its philately and numismatic businesses. On Sundays, these shops display stands and sell numerous bargains to curious visitors and antique lovers.
3. Discover Reina Sofía Museum
The Museum Reina Sofía is located next to Atocha Train Station. It opened in 1990 and, since then, holds the biggest modern and contemporary art collection of Spain. The recently rearranged exhibition offers a new curated tour from the origin of the vanguards in 1881 to the present.
You will experience how art has been an active contributing factor in social issues and global challenges. This museum has part of its collection exhibited in El Retiro Park, so make sure you have a stroll through there!
2. Relax at El Retiro Park
El Retiro Park is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of busy city life. Situated in the heart of Madrid next to Puerta de Alcalá, the park spans more than 125 hectares and is home to thousands of trees and plants. Its diversity allows visitors to experience nature in personalized and unique ways.
From running to mindfulness, from boating in a vast lake to enjoying art exhibitions, a stroll through El Retiro Park has everything you need. What’s more, and you probably didn’t know, it also has one of the few statues of the Fallen Angel in the world.
1. Visit Prado Museum
A trip to Madrid cannot end without a visit to the Prado Museum, the most famous museum of Spain, and one of the finest collections of European art in the world. Its artworks principally date from the 12th century to the early 20th century, although the museum also houses sculptures from Greece and Rome.
The building, designed by the architect Juan de Villanueva in 1785, was finally opened as the National Museum of Paintings and Sculptures in 1819.
The museum houses thousands of paintings and its permanent exhibition guarantee a visual journey through European and Spanish history like no other. Across artworks, you will encounter the style and personality of artists such as Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, and Hieronymus Bosch, among others.