As one of the largest cities in Europe, Madrid offers an array of attractions like no other city in Spain. The world-famous museums in the city’s artistic Golden Triangle, the 16th-century squares, and the delicious little dishes called tapas make Madrid more than a destination with depths of culture and history.
A two-hour flight from London and just under an eight-hour flight from New York City, and with 70 airlines flying into Madrid Baracas International Airport (MAD), Madrid is the gateway to Spain for travelers from all over the world.
Wondering where to start and what to do when in Madrid? Here are our top things to do in Madrid:
1. Join a food tour
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to food in Madrid. It is hard to know where to start and what to eat. So, we recommend starting your trip with a guide on a four-hour food walking tour. Indulge in Madrid’s most delicious and historic neighborhoods. Most guided tours include a behind the scenes tour of a classic “mom and pop” restaurant, an opportunity to learn about the incredible dishes and taste a wide range of specialty foods unique to Madrid and Spain.
Consider the daytime Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour or the evening Tapas, Taverns and History Tour with Devour Madrid.
2. Visit art museums and palaces
Madrid is home to world-renowned art museums – Museo del Prado (Prado Museum), Museo Thyssen-Bornemsiza and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Reina Sofia Museum).
See the works of Spanish painters, Goya, Velazquez and El Greco and European art from the 12th to the 19th centuries in Prado Museum. At Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, enjoy the works of Durer, Frans Hals, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Kirchner – works from the early 13th to the late 20th centuries. At the Reina Sofia Museum, check out Miro, Dali and Picasso’s masterpieces. One of the main attractions in Reina Sofia is Picasso’s Guernica.
Other museums worth considering are CentroCentro, Caixaforum, Naval Museum and National Museum of Decorative Arts.
The “Los Austrias” Hapsburg dynasty from 1516 to 1700 in Madrid left the city with beautiful Baroque squares, palaces, churches, and monuments. 18th century Madrid brought about Neo-classical architecture like the famous Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and Catedral de la Almudena (the cathedral across the street from the palace).
You can watch the ceremonial changing of the guard on the first Wednesday of every month at noon at the main entrance of Palacio Real. A tour of the palace is a must for an architecture aficionado and art enthusiast. The palace has artwork by Goya, Velazquez, Rubens, El Greco, and Caravaggio.
3. Stroll in El Retiro Park
El Retiro Park is a sprawling 350-acre park in the center of Madrid. Inside you’ll find the Crystal Palace and the fountain of the Fallen Angel, gardens, waterfalls, lakes, monuments, sculptures and galleries. Just like Central Park in New York City, El Retiro offers plenty of space for cycling, strolling, resting and a lake for boating.
4. People watching in Plaza Mayor
Grab a bocadillo de calamares for under 3 Euros at one of the small eateries along the sides of Plaza Mayor or find a seat under the large umbrellas at one of the restaurants inside the plaza. And enjoy the large open square while you eat, and people watch.
Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s important landmark, a square in the city center since 1620. You can get into the open area through its three arches.
5. Shopping at The Golden Mile
Fashion conscious traveler should make room in their suitcase to load up on the latest and best designer clothes, shoes and bags in Madrid. Milan, Paris, and London are not the only European cities to have one-of-a-kind fashion wear.
From Gran Via and Hapsburg Madrid to Chueca and Salamanca District, there is a style that will suit your taste. We recommend Salamanca District, also known as The Golden Mile for Madrid’s flagship stores and international fashion houses. These boutiques and flagship stores are along Serrano, Jose Ortego y Gasset, Goya, Lagasca and Jorge Juan streets.
If you like flea markets, check out El Rastro Flea Market along Ribera de and Plaza de Cascorro on Sunday mornings from 9 am to 3 pm. It’s Europe’s oldest and largest open-air markets with over 3,500 stalls.
Have you been to Madrid? What were your favorite things to do? Let us know.