As the capital city of Europe’s second-most visited country, there’s no shortage of things to do in Madrid. Unlike Barcelona, which often feels suffocated by tourists, Madrid feels livable while still remaining entertaining. Between its lively atmosphere, delicious foods, and comfortable weather, I’m sure Madrid will win you over.
Parque de El Retiro (Buen Retiro Park)
Buen Retiro Park (also simply called El Retiro) is one of Madrid’s largest parks. It sits right in the center of the city and is a popular place for locals and tourists alike. El Retiro is the perfect spot in Madrid to workout, relax with friends, or rent a rowboat out on the artificial lake. I highly recommend renting a boat and getting out on the lake, which should set you back €6 on weekdays and €8 on weekends. I also personally love the Jardín del Parterre within the park. I recommend either entering or exiting El Retiro park through this garden.
Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace)
While in Buen Retiro Park, be sure to find the gigantic greenhouse in the middle of the park called Palacio de Cristal, or Glass Palace. It was built in the late 1880s as a greenhouse for plants and fauna from the Philippines, which was a colony of Spain at the time. Shortly after, the glass building went on to become the site of one of Europe’s many human zoos. Igorot people were brought from the Philippines and made to live and fish in a village replica while visitors could look on. To see some photographs and sketches of the human zoo, definitely check out this post.
Today, the building often hosts small exhibitions, which are free to enter. You might just have to wait a few minutes if there happens to be a line when you stop by. Otherwise, take a lap around the little pond and enjoy the scenery around the building.
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Plaza Mayor (Main Square)
Plaza Mayor, which translates into “Main Square,” is a large public space located in the heart of Madrid. This plaza is a very lively and popular spot, lined with porticos and cafes on all sides. In the middle, you’ll find a statue of Philip III, during whose reign the Plaza Mayor was built. The plaza is also a popular place to try one of Madrid’s specialities – bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich).
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol is another famous plaza in Madrid, and it’s just a few blocks away from Plaza Mayor. This bustling plaza is the junction point of many of Madrid’s busiest streets. It holds the Casa de Correos building, whose famous clock ushers in each New Year with twelve chimes at midnight. It’s a Spanish tradition to eat twelve lucky grapes to these twelve chimes!
Palacio Real de Madrid & Gardens
The Palace of Versailles in Paris might be the largest palace complex in Europe due to its gardens, but Madrid’s Royal Palace is actually Europe’s largest palace itself. It’s the Spanish royal family’s official residence, though they don’t actually live there. You can enter the beautiful palace by purchasing tickets for €13, which you can do on the official site. If you can time your visit to be the first Wednesday of the month (except January, August, and September), you can experience the Solemn Changing of the Guard ceremony outside the palace. Otherwise, the normal Changing of the Guard is every Wednesday and Saturday between 11:00am and 2:00pm.
El Oso y el Madroño
This famous statue of The Bear and the Strawberry Tree is a symbol of Madrid. It is located in the Puerta del Sol, but is so iconic that it deserves its own spot on this list of Madrid things to do!
Related Reading: Best Things to Do in Barcelona
Plaza de Cibeles
The Plaza de Cibeles houses the Fuente de Cibeles and Palacia de Comunicaciones. Since watching the Spanish national football team drive between this iconic fountain and beautiful building during their 2010 victory parade when I was a teenager, this has always been the most emblematic symbol of Madrid to me, personally.
Gran Via (Great Way)
This busy street runs from close to the Plaza de Cibeles all the way to the Plaza de España. It’s name translates to “Great Way,” and it’s home to several shops, restaurants, bars, and more. The most recognizable building on Gran Via is the Edificio Metrópolis, so make sure to keep an eye out for that. Other famous sites on this street include the Fundación Telefónica (pictured above), and the Schweppes Sign on Edificio Carrión.
Templo de Debod (Debod Temple)
This ancient Egyptian temple, dating back to around 200 BC, was dismantled, brought to Madrid, and rebuilt there. Entry is free, so all you have to do is wait in the line outside the temple before stepping back into ancient Egypt.
Plaza de España (Spain Square)
This popular square is one of the largest in all of Spain. It recently just completed a redesign to make it more pedestrian friendly! It’s now the perfect intersection between Gran Via, the Royal Palace, and the Temple of Debod. Across the square also happens to be the largest Zara in the world, for any fans of the store.
Puerta de Alcalá (Gate of Alcalá)
The Puerta de Alcalá in Plaza de la Independencia stands nearby the entrance to Buen Retiro Park. It was once the main entrance to the city of Madrid, which gives you an idea of just how much the city of Madrid has grown over the centuries!
Mercado de San Miguel
Make sure to stop by this indoor food and drink market in the heart of Madrid on an empty stomach! You’ll find lots of local goodies in a bit more elegant of an atmosphere than your typical food market. Some of its food stands have even been granted some food stands have even been awarded Michelin stars!
The Prado Museum houses an impressive collection of Spanish paintings. It’s the most famous art museum in the country. Tickets are €15 and can be purchased in advance online at the official site. Entry is free during the last 90 minutes (online it says the last two hours, but you must leave the building 30 minutes before close time). You should still book the free entry online to secure your time slot (they book out).
Chocolatería San Ginés
There are a couple theories on where churros originated. Some say Portuguese sailors brought it from China to the Iberian Peninsula. Others claim that Spanish shepherds invented it. But whatever you believe, the Chocolatería San Ginés in central Madrid is practically synonymous with the concept of churros con chocolate.
This world-famous chocolatería began serving the quintessential Spanish dessert in 1894 and is open every day of the year. So you have little excuse not to stop by during your time in Madrid!
I personally like Spanish porras more than Spanish churros, so consider ordering a ration of porras as well, for some variety.
Kilómetro 0 de Las Carreteras Radiales de España
In front of the Casa de Correos building, you might find a small crowd of people taking pictures of their feet. They’re probably standing on the Kilómetro 0 plaque in the ground! This plaque marks the starting point of the six national radial highways, which head from Madrid towards the Basque Country, Catalonia, Valencia, Andalusia, Extremadura, and Galicia.
Restaurante Sobrino de Botín
Did you know the oldest restaurant in continuous operation in the world is in Madrid? Restaurante Botín was founded in 1725 and continues to serve traditional cuisine today. Apparently, Francisco de Goya (whom you’ll see a lot of in the Prado Museum!) worked there as a waiter before heading to Royal Academy of Fine Arts. And Hemingway was also known to frequent the restaurant. You can read more about the restaurant’s history on the restaurant’s website. You’ll also need to head to that site at least around a month before your intended visit in order to book a reservation.
Catedral de la Almudena
This beautiful cathedral sits across from the Royal Palace. Admission is free, but the cathedral requests a donation of €1. After taking in the the cathedral’s colorful ceiling and the rest of its interior, exit and head to the side of the building facing the palace. You can relax on the cathedral steps that face the palace gates, where there’s a good chance you’ll catch a street musician performance.
Mirador de la Cornisa del Palacio Real
In between the Catedral de la Almudena and the Royal Palace, you’ll find this lookout area. Take a few minutes to enjoy the views over west Madrid and, of course, snap some pretty pics!
What Do You Think about these Things to Do in Madrid?
I’m sure these things to do in Madrid will keep you entertained during your visit! Have you visited Madrid? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!