Madrid is one of the most elegant and sophisticated cities in Europe. Internationally renowned for its prestigious art galleries home to some of the finest masterpieces ever created and emblematic architecture unlike anything else in the world, Madrid is a place of true beauty.
The vibrant culinary scene that combines age-old techniques with modern ingredients will thrill any foodie, while those who love to party will have a tough time keeping up with Madrid’s non-stop nightlife! Lengthy shopping avenues bursting with boutiques will keep shopping-lovers busy, while those who want something a bit more laid-back will find just what they’re looking for in Madrid’s sprawling green parks.
Throw into the mix unabashedly extravagant palaces, world-famous soccer grounds, constantly bustling plazas, remarkable theatrical shows, and endless wining and dining opportunities and you’ll never be stuck for fun things to do in Madrid!
With so many amazing things to see and do in Spain’s capital, it can be tricky to know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Madrid. Add these fun activities and attractions to your Madrid bucket list, and get ready for one of the most incredible getaways you’ve ever had!
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The Top 15 Things to Do In Madrid
1. Explore the Golden Triangle
Madrid is home to some remarkable art museums. The three most impressive form the Golden Triangle: the Museo del Prado, the Museo Reina Sofía, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Within these three prestigious locations lies some of the most valuable art collections in the world!
Inside the Prado, you’ll find works by several Spanish masters. The most famous piece people travel to see is Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. It’s considered one of the most important paintings in Western art.
The Reina Sofía is dedicated to 20th-century art. Here you’ll find fantastic creations from Dalí and Picasso, including Picasso’s internationally-acclaimed Guernica anti-war oil painting.
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza was once a private art collection. Today it’s home to almost 1,000 pieces of art spanning the 13th to the 20th century. Here you can discover works from some of the most celebrated American and European artists from history.
Even if you’re not an art lover, it’s worth visiting at least one of these incredible museums!
2. Eat the Best Churros in the World
One of the must-do things in Madrid is to start the morning off with “churros con chocolate.” The iconic breakfast dish is made up of crispy, golden churros that you dunk in the thickest, most decadent hot chocolate you’ve ever had. It’s more like hot chocolate pudding than hot cocoa!
The best place to try churros is Chocolatería San Ginés. This hugely popular breakfast spot has been open since 1894 and is the first place any local will recommend when you ask for the best churros around. Despite its massive and deserved popularity, the prices are still very reasonable and competitive compared to other cafes.
Chocolatería San Ginés is open from first thing in the morning until late into the night. So whether you need something to wake you up at the start of your day or something to soak up the alcohol at the end of your night, they’ve got you covered!
Indoor and outdoor seating is available, but the place gets packed. You might be best off ordering your churros to-go and enjoying them close by on a bench.
3. Watch a Flamenco Show
For one of the best things to see in Madrid, head to a flamenco club for a live flamenco show. Although the Spanish dance originated in Andalucía, Madrid is filled with clubs where you can watch dancers show off their best moves dressed in classic flamenco outfits.
To help you get into the spirit and discover more of the culture, most flamenco shows serve traditional Spanish meals, tapas, and drinks alongside the show. Expect giant dishes of paella, plates of cured ham and cheese, and bottles of local wine to be offered throughout the performance. You can easily spend your entire night at a flamenco club and only feel like you’ve been there a few minutes!
There are tons of places to watch a flamenco show in Madrid. Cardamomo and Teatro Flamenco are two of the most well-known venues, but they can be a bit touristy. For something more authentic, check out Las Tablas. It may be small, but it attracts some of the biggest flamenco artists in Spain.
4. Explore Palacio Real
Spain’s king and queen no longer live in Madrid’s dignified palace. Although it’s still the official residence of the Spanish monarchy, the Palacio Real is also a remarkable art gallery that’s open to the public.
The palace was built in the mid-1700s on the site that previously housed the Moorish Alcázar fortress-palace before it burned down in the early 1700s. Today the building is the largest royal palace in Western Europe and boasts a captivating blend of neoclassical and baroque styles.
Step inside, and you’ll be amazed by all of the royal art collections. Here you’ll find pieces by Velázquez, Caravaggio, and Goya, in addition to sublime frescoes, delicate watches, beautiful tapestries, detailed porcelain, and sparkling silverware.
If you time your visit right, you’ll be able to watch the changing of the guard ceremony. This regal event happens each Wednesday and Saturday. It takes place between 11 am and 2 pm in the winter and between 10 am and noon in the summer.
5. Stay Up All Night at Noche en Blanco
Noche en Blanco is one of the biggest Madrid activities that takes place in the fall. Held in September or October each year, the cultural extravaganza celebrates everything to do with art, literature, movies, theater, dance, music, crafts, and any other form of creativity.
For one night only, almost everything in the city stays open for 24 hours. From art galleries, museums, and theaters to shops, bars, and restaurants, practically everything remains open to keep the vibrant atmosphere alive all night. Pop-up art galleries appear in the streets, live dance performances happen where you’d least expect it, temporary markets are set up along the roads, and countless concerts are held all across the city.
It’s an amazing party unlike any other that you really won’t want to miss out on! Activities, locations, and times change every year. To find out what’s going on during your visit, look out for posters throughout the city listing the schedule.
6. Take a Stroll along Gran Vía
For some of the best sights in Madrid, take a walk down Gran Vía. The most famous street in the city, Gran Vía was built in the early 1900s to make getting around easier. Since then, it’s become more like a tourist attraction and is constantly buzzing with an intense and vibrant energy.
The single street stretches on for almost one mile and is packed with shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. The diversity here is incredible!
You can buy a complete outfit with the change in your pocket from a small fashion store or blow your entire vacation budget on a pair of shoes from a designer boutique. You can grab a cheap snack from a small cafe or take your taste buds to new heights at an award-winning restaurant. The options are endless!
One of the most impressive things about Gran Vía is the architecture. Even though many of the stores and dining venues are trendy and modern, the buildings are still 100+ years old. They look just as astounding today as when they were first built.
7. Go on a Tapas Crawl
One of the coolest things to do in Madrid for foodies is to go on a tapas crawl. This is a popular way for locals to spend their evenings and is a great way for you to get to know Madrid’s food scene, too. A tapas crawl involves skipping dinner and hopping between different bars and tapas restaurants, sampling all kinds of local drinks and small dishes.
As tapas are super small you can try a bunch of different things without filling up too fast. Share dishes with your travel buddies, and you can enjoy even more bites of deliciousness without ending up with more food than you can handle.
Some of the most common tapas dishes include jamón íberico (Iberian ham), tortilla española (Spanish omelet), queso Manchego (Manchego cheese), aceitunas marinadas (marinated olives), calamari (fried squid rings), and croquetas (potato croquettes with various fillings). They’re most often served with a glass of wine, small beer, or glass of vermouth.
8. Tour Madrid’s Soccer Stadiums
If you’re a soccer fan, one of the best things to do in Madrid is to take a tour around the city’s soccer stadiums. Soccer is a big deal in Spain, especially in the capital city, with Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid (the city’s two major soccer teams) having won the World Cup and the European Championships several times.
The most basic tours take you inside the stadium, where you can get a panoramic view. You’ll get to walk through the players’ tunnel, sit in the press room, check out the locker room, and sit in the presidential box. Most standard tours also include a walk through the museum where you can admire the team’s trophies and thousands of pieces of memorabilia.
9. Get High-Speed Thrills at Parque Warner Madrid
Just a short trip from the city center lies one of the best theme parks in Europe – Parque Warner Madrid. Here you’ll find all kinds of high-speed roller coasters, as well as a range of themed shows, stores, and restaurants. If you’re not a total adrenaline junkie, there are plenty of middle-of-the-road attractions that will suit you.
If you’ve got the time, we definitely recommend that you spend an evening at Parque Warner Madrid. Going on the rollercoasters after dark is a totally different experience than going on them during the day. It’s so much fun, and you’ll definitely regret it if you don’t.
If you visit during the summer, you’ll also get the chance to check out Parque Warner Beach. This incredible water park is right next door to the theme park and is guaranteed fun for the whole family! From super-scary slides where the floor disappears below your feet to chilled-out lazy rivers and fun zones just for kids, there’s something for everyone here.
10. Dine at the Oldest Restaurant in the World
For one of the most unique things to do in Madrid – as well as the rest of the world – head to Sobrino de Botín. Here you can enjoy a meal in the longest-running restaurant on the planet. Madrid’s Sobrino de Botín has been serving hungry diners for almost 200 years and is still open to foodies today!
Confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest operating restaurant in the world, Sobrino de Botín first opened its doors to visitors in 1725. Back then, diners had to bring their own ingredients, which would be cooked onsite. Today things are very different.
Now, Sobrino de Botín is a gourmet treat where you can try all sorts of Spanish delicacies. From classic Madrid stews and clams done in the special Sobrino de Botín way to delicate roasted meats and exciting vegetarian dishes, there’s a lot to choose from.
If you’re a fan of pork, you’ve got to try the roast suckling pig. It’s one of the best things you’ll ever taste, and it’s the dish the restaurant is known for.
11. See an Egyptian Temple without Leaving Spain
One of the most unusual Madrid attractions can be found in the city center, in Parque de la Montaña. If you visit this unassuming park, you’ll discover an ancient Egyptian temple that dates back to the 2nd century BCE.
The astonishing monument was created to honor the god Amun and the goddess Isis. It was given to Spain by Egypt as a way of saying thanks for helping with the restoration of the Abu Simbel temples and protecting it from the floods from the Aswan Dam.
While the temple is impressive at any time of day, the best time to visit is at sunset. This is when the sun gently dips into the horizon, giving the temple an eerie golden glow. The surrounding water reflects the temple and the light, making it look even more mystical and enchanting.
It’s worth hanging around until after sunset, too. When the darkness sets in, the temple is illuminated with artificial lighting. It looks so out of place in the city that you could easily forget you’re in Madrid and think you’re in Ancient Egypt instead!
12. Devour an Iconic Bocadillo de Calamares
When the hunger pangs kick in, do what the locals do and grab a bocadillo de calamares. This Spanish staple is a small, crunchy baguette loaded with crispy, deep-fried calamari rings. The best ones come with the bread smothered in creamy garlic mayonnaise.
There are countless places in Madrid to pick up this dish, some of which are definitely better and more affordable than others. Bar la Campana is one of our favorites. This tiny spot is just off Plaza Mayor, making it a great spot to stop off at when you’re sightseeing.
There’s usually a line, especially around lunchtime, but it’s definitely worth it! With so many people to feed, all the calamari is freshly cooked and tastes wonderful.
If you’re in the mood for a full meal, you’ll be glad to know Bar la Campana also offers up a decent tapas menu with loads of little plates. But considering it’s so busy, you’ll have to be very lucky to get a table!
13. Awaken Your Senses at Ikono
An art gallery unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, Ikono invites you to experience art with all of your senses. Here you can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear your way around the exhibits, connecting with art in a totally unique way.
The interactive art gallery is found just in front of the Museo Reina Sofía and offers a more light-hearted experience if the previous gallery was a bit heavy for you. It will provide you with so much content for your Instagram feed you’ll be hitting publish for years!
You can take as many photos as you like. But for a professional look, take advantage of the gallery’s onsite photographer. They’ll send you the top-quality photos they took of you for free.
Go swimming in a pool filled with blue balls, get lost in a room fit to burst with mirrors, and find yourself in a twist on The Last Supper, created by contemporary artist Ricardo Cavolo. From rooms filled with luminescent neon lights to spaces with countless pink bubbles and colorful confetti, there’s so much to explore here!
14. Take It Easy at Parque Buen Retiro
When all the Madrid sightseeing gets to be too much for you, take the chance to relax at Parque Buen Retiro. The most well-known park in the city, Parque Buen Retiro was once exclusively for the use of Spanish royalty. Today, it’s totally free for everyone to enjoy.
From sprawling lawns, tree-lined pathways, and manicured flowerbeds to flowing fountains, pretty gazebos, and plenty of statues, you can take it easy and simply enjoy your surroundings here. Follow one of the many walking routes, have a relaxed picnic on the grass, and rent a boat to row across the lake.
One of the most obscure Madrid landmarks can be found in Parque Buen Retiro – the Fallen Angel. This statue is one of the few of Lucifer in the world. Here you’ll also find the oldest tree in Madrid, which was planted in 1633, as well as the Palacio de Cristal – a gorgeous palace made of iron and glass.
15. Gobble 12 Grapes at Nochevieja
One of the best things to do in Madrid if you visit over the holidays is to take part in the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Known in Spain as Nochevieja, New Year’s Eve is a huge event in Madrid, with bell ringing, live entertainment, street parties, and the ritual of the 12 grapes.
As the bells strike 12 times for midnight, it’s tradition to eat a grape for each strike. If you manage to eat 12 grapes before or on the final toll, you’ll have good luck for the new year.
It sounds a bit silly, but you’ll see loads of people doing it in the street. In the last week of December, you’ll even see individual tins of 12 grapes on sale in grocery stores, which are put together specifically for this tradition.
The best place to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Madrid is Puerta del Sol. This is where most people gather, and it’s where you’ll find the biggest, liveliest parties!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Madrid. What’s your favorite thing to do in Madrid?
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