The Best Things to Do in Madrid
Madrid is extremely charming. It’s full of life and culture, it’s so welcoming. Home to some of the best museums in Europe, Madrid truly holds its own with its European counterparts and has cemented itself high on the list of must visit European cities, thanks to its art, its nightlife, its food, it’s architecture and its charm.
The Spanish capital is well renowned for its impressive collection of art, its elegant boulevards and middle of the city parks. Its overflowing with energy, and the best part is that is quite affordable in terms of Western European standards.
There are so many things to do and see in Madrid that the opportunities are endless, but these are those things that you just can’t miss. I recommend allowing yourself atleast 2 or 3 full days, if not more, to truly explore the city, enjoy the night life and simply take it all in.
You could easily spend a week if you are an art lover without getting bored, so tailor you trip to suit your interests. Let’s get in to the top 7 things you can’t miss in Madrid! P.S. I always recommend the Lonely Planet travel guides for in depth travel recommendations and planning tips.
Cool and Unusual Things to Do in Madrid
1. Spend the morning admiring art at The Prado
The Prado is one of the best and most popular art museums in all of Europe and is absolutely essential when visiting Madrid, even if you aren’t that big on art.
Featuring a huge collection of artworks from the Spanish Romanticist Goya, the museum also features the works of Bosch, Botticelli and El Greco, to name a few. The museum is huge, and you could easily spend a whole day here, however a morning is enough for a novice art lover. Tickets are 15Euro.
2. Enjoy a meal in Plaza Mayor
A visit to Plaza Mayor is a must when visiting Madrid. The renaissance square features 3 storey residential buildings, all lined with café’s, restaurants and shops on the bottom level of the square, with a 400 year of statue of King Phillip III standing in the centre.
Although it may be overpriced, sitting for a meal, a drink or even a coffee in one of the terraces of Plaza Mayor is necessary because of the location, and you can watch the action around you as you admire the square’s beauty. Opt for a paella or maybe a sangria to truly feel at home.
3. Shop on Gran Via
Madrid’s most popular street, Gran Via is a buzzing hub of shopping and entertainment. The architecture of some of the buildings is impressive, and it’s a good spot to start if you want to get a feel for Madrid.
Shopping opportunities are endless, ranging from a huge Primark and Zara to boutique high end stores. As the day wears on the crowd of shoppers turns to people are a little more dressed up, heading to the theatre or a movie, and even later the nightlife scene comes alive.
4. Wander through El Retiro Park and relax in the sun
Just a few minute’s walk from The Prado, El Retiro Park is the heart of Madrid featuring elegant gardens, a grand pond and glass pavilions. There are endless options of ways to spend some time in El Retiro Park, whether it be just wandering the lush gardens, paddling on the lake or having a picnic.
5. Admire the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace of Madrid was built in the mid 1700’s, and is the largest Royal Palace in the whole of Western Europe. Although the royal family no longer live here, it is still their official residence. Opt to buy tickets and head inside for the full experience, or admire the palace and nearby gardens from the outside.
6. Pick up some local eats at Mercardo San Miguel
Just around the corner from Plaza Mayor & the Royal Palace, is a stunning marketplace which dates all the way back to 1916. With local eats and Spanish specialities on offer, there is also a huge variety of tapas bars serving just about anything you can imagine. The atmosphere is friendly and lively, and it’s definitely worth a visit just to take in the experience even if you aren’t up for some market eats or tapas.
7. Indulge in chocolate at Chocolateria de San Gines
Madrid’s famous chocolate shop serves the favorite breakfast option of the city – hot chocolate and churros. Open 24 hours a day with an extremely authentic feel, this is the go-to place to try one of those extremely thick and decadent Spanish hot chocolates. Also, situated extremely close to Plaza Mayor, it’s the perfect spot to stop for a sweet dessert if your appetite allows it.
What Do I Need to Know About Traveling to Madrid Spain?
Looking for a place to stay?
With a huge selection of accomodation ranging from luxury hotels to party hostels, you will never be short of options. Here a few of my top recommendations in Madrid.
- For a high class stay, try Novotel Madrid Centre
Located close to a metro stop, the Novotel Madrid Centre is a great choice for any kind of traveller. Featuring a delicious buffet breakfast, an onsite restaurant, rooftop bar, pool and gym, the comfy beds and rooms are the perfect fit after a long day of sightseeing.
- For a budget bargain, try Hostel One Madrid
A centrally located hostel featuring both dorms and private rooms, the staff are known to be friendly and the atmosphere great. Offering nightly ‘family dinners’ and a huge range of day trips, you are bound to have a great experience here.
Eating & drinking in Madrid
First things first, be prepared for late lunches and late dinners. Time runs differently in Madrid (and most of Spain for that matter), and you can’t expect to eat lunch at noon or dinner at 7. It can be hard to adjust, but most places won’t even open for lunch until 1pm, and dinner until 8 or 8:30pm.
The norm for locals seems to be around 2 or 3 for lunch, and 9 or 10 for dinner. If you are like me and aren’t used to that kind of schedule, at least try to hold of for lunch until 1pm and dinner until 8:30pm.
One of the most famous tapas bars in Madrid, this cool and casual bar serves up some incredible tapas, and is definitely worth a try while in Madrid.
A cute cafe spot and classic spot located centrally near Atocha station. Stop by for a sandwich and beer for lunch, or a quick local eat for dinner.
Circulo de Bellas Artes
Located on the 7th floor of a cultural centre overlooking Gran Via, this bar features 360 vistas from its rooftop. Relax with a cocktail while watching the sunset over the city or visit during the day for a refreshing drink and a great view.
What to pack?
It can be stressful knowing what to pack for a big Europe trip. Check out this ultimate backpacking Europe packing list for everything you need to know!
Getting to Madrid
Fly direct to Madrid from several European cities, or expect a connecting flight somewhere along the way if you are flying long distance. For the best deals on flights, check out Skyscanner, which checks all of the major flight deals online to find you the best price.
If you are heading from Barcelona or any other major Spanish city, the fast trains are the way to go.
Getting around Madrid is fairly simple. The metro is extremely simple to use, with tourist passes available making it more affordable, or 10 trip passes for short stays. I found this the easiest and most affordable way to get around while in Madrid. More info on the metro here. Taxi’s can also be hailed from just about anywhere and are quite affordable.
- Remember Siesta Time! Many small and family owned shops, bars and restaurants close between 2 and 5pm. Generally this doesn’t apply to bigger restaurants, shops and bars in the main tourist areas, but is still worth considering.
- See if museums have free visiting hours. If you are travelling on a budget, this is a life changing tip. Museums such as The Prado (as mentioned above!) and Reina Sofia offer free visiting hours between 6pm and 8pm on weekdays, so check all museums deals before you go!
- Take the metro! I know already talked about this, but the metro is a quick, cost effective and efficient way to get around Madrid and will safe you a whole lot of time, money and hassle.
You’ll find you will quickly fall in love with everything about Madrid once you get there, the food, the art, the cobblestoned streets and the friend ly locals. It’s the perfect stop on your European travel itinerary before or after visiting Barcelona (read the top things to do in Barcelona here!).