What to see in Madrid? The city has so much to offer, from a wide range of museums, squares, monuments to plenty of bars and restaurants, it can be hard to choose. Here’s a guide to Madrid with 15 of the best things to do in the city. If you can’t get to all the sights in Madrid, you can always come back.
Updated May 2021
1. Walk down Gran Vía
Cars and people in droves rush back and forth on Madrid’s main tourist artery, Gran Vía, most of the day. Madrid’s answer to Broadway, Boulevards is packed with big chain stores and best of all – impressive, iconic buildings.
The Gran Vía runs from the famous Metrópolis building, with a bronze statue of Victoria the Victorious on its dome, on Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de España. The major, famous architectural works along Gran Vía date from the early 20th century and include the impressive Telefónica building, several cinemas such as the Capitol, Palacio de la Prensa and Callao, the Lope de Vega and Compac theatres and hotels such as the Hotel de las Letras. At the end, by Plaza de España, you’ll find the iconic Torre de Madrid and Edificio España buildings.
Walking down the boulevard is one of the must-do things to do in Madrid. Here you’ll find plenty of beautiful architecture and a crowd of locals and tourists alike.
2. Visit art museums
Madrid’s world-famous art museums are a must in any guide to Madrid. Madrid’s art triangle consists of the three museums Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza, the first two of which are an absolute must for art lovers.
The largest, the Prado Museum, offers an impressive and important collection of works, mainly Spanish, but also European paintings from the 12th to the 20th centuries. Highlights include Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (The Courtiers), Francisco Goya’s El dos de mayo (May 2) and El tres de mayo (May 3) and El Grecos La Trinidad (Trinity).
At the Reina Sofia you can explore Spain’s largest collection of 20th-century modern art – not least the world’s most famous painting – Guernica by Pablo Picasso. In addition to Picasso, the collection consists mainly of other Spanish artists such as Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró.
You can skip the queues and buy a one-way ticket to the Prado Museum here and the Reina Sofia here.
If you’re interested in a guided tour of the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen Bornemizsa, you can buy a five-hour guided tour of all three museums here (promotional links)
3. Madrid’s plazas
Madrid has a wealth of both big famous and small cosy plazas (squares). Explore the city’s neighbourhoods and find your favourites, but these famous plazas are not to be missed:
Plaza de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles is the most symbolic square and a famous landmark in Madrid. The centre of the square is the fountain, Fuente de Cibeles, around which Real Madrid fans celebrate the team’s victories. In the middle of the fountain, the Roman fertility goddess Cibeles (Kybele) sits on a chariot pulled by lions. She has sat here since 1782. The square is surrounded by large buildings such as the Casa de América (centre for Latin American culture), the Banco de España (Spanish bank) and the Palacio de las Comunicaciones, which houses the city hall and the Centro Centro cultural centre and was formerly the main post office. At the top of the building you get a great view of the city and there are always interesting exhibitions.
Amusements, tourists and locals gather in Madrid’s main square, Plaza Mayor, which has in the past played host to royal coronations, executions and bullfights. Sit under one of the cosy vaults of one of the many bars and restaurants and sip a coffee while you study the folklore. Skip the food. Prices are high and the food tastes better in many other places. In the middle of the square stands a statue of Felipe III, who built the Plaza Mayor during his reign (1598-1621). Here you will also find the city’s main tourist information.
Puerta del Sol
Madrid City Hall Square, located in the heart of the city, is the capital’s busiest square and always good for a demonstration. On the pavement by the government building, Casa de Correos, with the bell tower by which the locals toast in the New Year, you’ll find the Zero Kilometre Stone, which is the starting point for the Spanish roads. Most famous is the statue, El Oso y El Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree), which has become Madrid’s landmark and the world’s most photographed bear. Here, tourists queue up to get a selfie for Instagram.
Plaza de Oriente
Also stop by Plaza de Oriente with the Royal Castle and the city’s Almudena Cathedral right next door. The royal castle, which is not inhabited by the royal family, can be visited. If you’re not royal, stay outside and enjoy the beautiful view.
4. Sipping drinks at the top of Madrid
The Circulo de la Bellas Artes cultural centre offers a treasure trove of film and theatre performances, concerts, lectures and art exhibitions – and on top – a rooftop terrace with spectacular views. That’s why it’s also a popular place to hang out over morning coffee and evening drinks and concerts. Enjoy Madrid’s unforgettable skies, which have inspired countless artists, and views of monumental buildings and the surrounding neighbourhoods. Sip a drink at a café table or lounge in one of the lounge areas and soak up the atmosphere. Access to the roof terrace costs 3 euros.
Azotea Circulo de la Bellas Artes, Calle de Alcalá 42
5. Take on the tapas crawl
You don’t have to walk far in Madrid before you run into a tapas bar, and the locals love to tapar before dinner. In the neighbourhood of La Latina, close to Plaza Mayor, you will find the largest concentration in the area, called the tapas maze.
The area is charming with narrow streets and small colourful squares. In the area’s central street, Calle Cava Baja, you can zigzag from bar to bar, eating and drinking until you’re blue in the face. Although the street appears in every guide to Madrid, there are also many locals among the tourists.
Stop by La Perejila at number 25. Behind the garish green facade hides a cave, filled with Martian finds and allotment garden atmosphere. The waiters are top notch and you get really good tapas. Try their Albondigas (meatballs) and mussels. Also visit the El Tempranillo wine bar at No 38, which has the best selection of local wines and great tapas, including black-footed ham.
Tapas Street, Calle de Cava Baja
6. Relax in a green oasis
Runners, dog walkers, kissing lovers and picnicking families criss-cross the city’s central park, El Retiro. The 125-hectare park is a wonderful green oasis worth discovering in Madrid. Here are over 15,000 trees along the many paths, playgrounds, puppet theatre, the beautiful, fragrant rose garden, La Rosaleda, as well as famous monuments such as The Fallen Angel. You can also hop in a dinghy and sail on the artificial lake in front of the monument to Alfonso XII, and drop by the beautiful Palacio de Cristal glass pavilion, one of Spain’s finest examples of iron architecture.
Buen Retiro Park
7. Puerta de Alcalá
At Plaza de la Independencia, next to Retiro Park, you’ll find the majestic city gate to Madrid, which runs across Calle de Alcalá. The neoclassical Alcalá Gate, a national monument, was created by the Italian architect Sabatini in 1778. Carlos III commissioned the gate as a triumphal arch to celebrate his arrival in the city. Traffic prevents you from getting close to the 19-metre-high gate with its decorative friezes, reliefs and sculptures, so you’ll have to study it from a distance. And do it after dark, when the illuminated gate is at its most beautiful.
Puerta de Alcalá, Plaza de la Independencia 1
8. Go hunting for fleas
Open every Sunday and public holiday all year round, El Rasto is located along Plaza de Cascorro and the main street Ribera de Curtidores to Ronda de Toledo, and is Madrid’s largest and most popular outdoor market. Although the flea market is mentioned in every travel guide book, including this guide to Madrid, the experience is greater than the range of actual flea finds, as there are more new items (especially clothes, jewellery and bags) than second-hand, in addition to some toys. But if you explore the side streets, there’s a treasure trove of interesting antique shops and hawkers open for business. Here you can find everything a flea heart could desire – and also soak up the lively and local folk atmosphere.
El Rasto, Ribera de Curtidores
9. Sunset at the Egyptian Temple
In the Parque del Oste, the Templo de Debod (Temple of Debod) is located on an elevated site overlooking the park and the monuments of Plaza de España. The Egyptian temple was saved when water rose in Lake Nasser in Egypt during the construction of the Aswan Dam. Spanish archaeologists took part in the rescue, and in 1968 Spain received the temple as a gift, and it was moved and rebuilt in Madrid. Bring a picnic basket and stay for the sunset, which shows its best orange side here.
Templo de Debod, Calle Ferraz 1
10. Eat at the city’s hippest food market
Madrid has several food markets with quality products. The most famous is the Mercado San Miguel, whose architecture alone makes it worth a visit. The building dates from the beginning of the 20th century. Located in the oldest part of the city, it is unique because it is built on a metal structure. The facade is still original, but inside everything has been modernised. San Miguel is a mix of market and gastrotek. Sit at one of the long tables and enjoy some tapas – from savoury to sweet – and a glass of sherry, cava or wine. The prices are not the lowest in town, but the quality is top notch.
Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza de San Miguel 3
11. A passionate flamenco concert
Despite Andalusia being the cradle of flamenco, there is plenty of star class flamenco in Madrid. Most famous flamenco dancers have passed through Madrid before hitting the world’s big stages. Also the award-winning Danish/Spanish flamenco dancer, Selene Muñoz, who has lived and worked in the city for many years.
The Corona restrictions, with long closures in the city, have unfortunately meant that some of the most renowned flamenco venues have had to turn their backs. These include the legendary Casa Patas in the Lavapiés district and the city’s oldest tablao from 1911, Villa-Rosa, which was especially loved by tourists. Still, stop by Vila-Rosa to see the historic and impressive facade still intact. You will find it at Plaza Santa Ana 9.
Luckily, Madrid still has plenty of small, interesting places where you can spend the evening in the company of rhythmic haymakers, passionate flamenco singing and seductive Spanish guitars in a boiling atmosphere.
If you go to Cardamomo in Madrid’s Huerta district, you’re guaranteed an evening of young talent. The famous flamenco dancer Joaquin Cortes and the late singer Enrique Morente performed here before they became world famous. Book tickets in advance as it’s always packed.
12. Las Ventas Bullring
Whether you’re for or against bullfighting, it’s hard to miss in Madrid, where the art is extremely popular and matadors challenge bulls every Sunday during the season from March to October. During the San Isidro Festival in May and June, bullfights are held daily. The world-famous bullring, which opened in 1931, is a stunning piece of neo-Mudejar (Moorish) architecture with hand-painted tiles, and has capacity for 23,800 spectators.
You can take a tour of the arena or just study the impressive spectacle from the outside.
If you want to experience a bullfight, book tickets well in advance.
Las Ventas, Calle de Alcalá 237
13. Shopping things for the suitcase
In Madrid, you can shop for Spanish and international brands until your credit card runs out. Clothes, home decor and shoes, shoes and more shoes – including hip espadrilles in all kinds of styles. There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Calle Carretas (off Puerta del Sol), Calle Preciados and Gran Vía. Also check out the hip Calle Fuencarral in the Chueca district, with unique shops selling young Spanish fashion and brands such as Adidas, Levis, Calvin Klein, Diesel and American Vintage. In the neighbourhood, you will also findCalle Augusto Figueroa , with good outlet stores. If you have a lot on your credit card, shop in and around Calle de Goya and Calle Serrano in the Salamanca district. Here you will find international and Spanish high-end designers such as Gucci, Manolo Blahnik, Max Mara, Carolina Herrea and Louis Vuitton.
14. Dip churros in chocolate at San Ginés
Every self-respecting guide to Madrid passes by the iconic San Ginés café. The white-clothed waiters stylishly swing metal trays with layers of cups of rich, intense, liquid chocolate and plates of churros (deep-fried dough tubes) around between the packed tables at San Ginés, which serves the best chocolate con churros in town. And they have been doing so in a cosy little corner since 1894. Although the sweets are traditionally eaten for breakfast, you can drop by whenever you like. The café is open 24 hours a day. Remember to drink the chocolate that your churros haven’t soaked up. You can buy the house chocolates and other sweets to take home in the shop next to the café.
Chocolatería San Ginés, Pasadizo de San Gines 5
15. Paseo de la Castellana – from top to bottom
On Paseo de la Castellana, running through the city from north to south along Paseo del Prado and Paseo de Recoletos, you’ll find Madrid’s financial centre, plenty of upmarket hotels and shops and the famous Santiago Bernabéu stadium, home to Real Madrid. Interesting attractions along this endless avenue are also Plaza Castilla with the huge obelisk in front of the leaning office towers, KIO Torres, also called Puerta de Europa (Gateway to Europe). At the northern end you’ll find the famous financial complex with the four skyscrapers, Las Cuatro Torres. The tallest tower, Torre de Cristal , at 249 metres, is Spain’s tallest. Not many tourists take the Paseo Castellana, but I think it deserves a place on the list of great experiences in Madrid.
The journey to Madrid
There are daily direct flights to Madrid from Copenhagen. Flight time is three hours. Check flight times and prices
Hotels in Madrid
If you’re looking for a great hotel in Madrid city centre, read the guide to the Madrid hotels I’ve tested and recommend.