11 Top Attractions and Things to Do in Madrid, Spain

Madrid Palacio de Comunicaciones

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)

Rowboats in Buen Retiro Park pond in Madrid

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)

Palacio de Cristal in Madrid, Spain, with the pond in front

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.

Suggested Reading: The Perfect Spain Itinerary for 10 Days

Plaza Mayor (Main Square)

Plaza Major and Phillip III statue in Madrid with lots of people

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 in Madrid

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

Madrid Royal Palace and 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

Girl standing near El Oso y el Madroño statue in Madrid

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

Palacia de Comunicaciones in Madrid with Spanish flags

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)

Fundación Telefónica building on Gran Via in Madrid Spain

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)

Templo de Debod during sunset in Madrid Spain

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)

Plaza de España in Madrid

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)

Puerta de Alcala in Madrid Spain

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

Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid

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!

Prado Museum

Prado Museum entrance in Madrid Spain

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

Churros con chocolate and porras from San Ginés Chocolatería in central Madrid

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

Kilómetro 0 plaque in Puerta del Sol in Madrid

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

The front of Botin Restuarant in Madrid Spain

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

Catedral de la Almudena in Madrid Spain

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!

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Madrid travel plans soon? This Madrid Spain travel guide walks you through the best things to do in Madrid Spain. From Plaza Mayor to Palacio Real, you'll know exactly what to do in Madrid.


  • Farrah
    February 15, 2021 at 9:45 AM

    I’ve never been to Madrid but you’re making me really want to visit! I’d love to try out the food there + check out the museums! <3

    • That Travelista
      February 21, 2021 at 3:04 PM

      I hope you love it when you do go!

  • Pink Luggage Abroad
    February 11, 2021 at 1:18 PM

    Oh I miss Spain so much. The people, the food – it’s definitely #1 on my list when the pandemic is over.

    • That Travelista
      February 21, 2021 at 3:03 PM

      Me too! I definitely need to see more of Spain!

  • Sarah Arnstein
    February 11, 2021 at 9:23 AM

    This post makes me miss Europe so much! I can’t wait to go back and explore Spain – thank you for sharing!

    • That Travelista
      February 21, 2021 at 3:02 PM

      I miss Europe so much too! 🙁

  • kwarren29
    February 10, 2021 at 7:20 PM

    I enjoyed seeing all the plazas I missed when I visited Madrid in your photos. I loved the museums–especially on the free nights. My favorite was Reina Sofia.

    • That Travelista
      February 21, 2021 at 3:01 PM

      Ah that’s good to know! I didn’t make it there on my visit, but I am trying to move to Madrid so I’ll have to check it out.

  • Daphna
    February 10, 2021 at 3:20 PM

    Your pictures are gorgeous! This is a great list of things to do in Madrid- saving for when we make it to Europe!

    • That Travelista
      February 21, 2021 at 3:00 PM

      Aw, thanks so much, Daphna!


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