Most travelers don’t have to look far to find a lot of great things to do in Madrid, Spain.
When you think about Madrid you most likely think of fiestas, tapas, and wine. And while it has all of these things in abundance Madrid also offers curious explorers countless hours of discovery.
Madrid’s rich cuisine, historical architecture, and vibrant nightlife make it stand out as one of Europe’s most energetic and fascinating cities. Although it doesn’t have the allure of some of the more grandiose cities in Europe like Paris or London, Madrid perfectly exemplifies Spanish culture at its finest. It definitely shouldn’t be omitted from any European travel bucket list.
Madrid is one of Europe’s busiest and best cities for art and culture. There’s always something creative going on in this city, from incredible exhibitions to parades to fantastic fiestas. The bustling streets of Madrid offer so many museums, parks, plazas, restaurants and nightclubs that it’s impossible to run out of things to do!
We’ve come up with a list of some of the best things to do in Madrid based on our own experiences. We’ve also noted a few recommendations for places to stay in Madrid at the bottom of the article to help you guys find a hotel or hostel in Madrid without busting your budget.
You’ve got a long list ahead of you, so focus your mind and prepare your stomach…here are the things you should do in Madrid!
Table of Contents
Things to Do in Madrid
Drink a Cafe con Leche in One of Madrid’s Plazas
Spanish people value the time they spend eating, drinking and socializing at lunch. That’s why people take 2 hours in the middle of the day to relax and siesta, and then return to work.
There’s no rushing anywhere in Spain! In fact, in some places the concept of a takeaway coffee is ludicrous! A great way to take in the atmosphere of Madrid is to sit back and relax like a local.
People often congregate in the plazas, to meet friends and drink a caña or share tapas. There are plenty of plazas dotted about the city, and a cafe con leche and a plate of churros make the perfect people-watching combination.
Plaza Mayor is the city’s main plaza. An equestrian statue of Felipe III imposes itself over the square. It’s stunning symmetrical architecture features 237 balconies that look into the square.
Just a short walk away is the Puerta del Sol, another plaza where you’ll find the El Oso y el Madroño, or The Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree. You might have to queue for a photo with the bear though, he’s pretty famous in these parts.
Other quieter plazas to sit back and relax in include Plaza de Olavide and Plaza de la Villa.
Sitting in a plaza and watching people go by was one of our favorite things to do in Madrid. Truth be told, it’s one of our favorite activities just about everywhere we go, but Madrid’s atmosphere makes it all that much more fun.
The Golden Triangle of Art Museums
The Museo del Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza form Madrid’s famous “Art Triangle”. If you’re an art history buff or simply like looking at the pretty pictures then exploring these museums is the perfect way to spend a day in Madrid. It’ll take you at least a day to get through them all, trust us.
Each museum offers free visits at certain times and on particular days of the week, so if you’re really on a budget you can find a time to visit without opening your wallet.
Here’s a rundown of what each of these great museums in Madrid has to offer.
Great Museums in Madrid, Spain
Museo del Prado: Works by some of the world’s most influential artists line the decadent halls of The Prado. Home to canonical works dated between the 11th-19th centuries, the eclectic collection is incredible to behold. The Prado has the most comprehensive collection of Spanish art in the world. Here, you can find paintings by Velázquez, Murillo, El Greco, and whole galleries dedicated to Goya. Then there’s the collection of Italian art featuring work by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Titian, Caravaggio… the list goes on. The Prado is free for people under 18, and for students between 18-25.
You can also visit for free on Sundays between 5-7 pm; and Monday to Saturday from 6-8 pm.
Reina Sofia: The Reina Sofia is Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art. It’s located close to the Prado, near Atocha. Here you can find iconic works by Francis Bacon, Salvador Dali and countless Picasso’s. The star of the show is of course, Guernica. One of Picasso’s most famous works, Guernica depicts the pain and suffering of the victims of the bombing of Guernica in 1937. It’s an experience in itself to see this imposing mural in real life.
You can visit the Reina Sofia for free on Sundays between 1:30 and 7 pm on weekends. On weekdays the free hours are between 7 pm and 9 pm.
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: The Thyssen is the third in the Golden Art Triangle, and it doesn’t disappoint. Over 1600 masterpieces are housed in the permanent collection, and they represent a myriad of genres from the past centuries. Caravaggio, Monet, Van Gogh, Lichtenstein… There’s plenty to keep you busy.
Visit for free between 12 pm and 4 pm on a Monday!
As you can see museum lovers will find all sorts of things to do in Madrid. There are, of course, many other museums in Madrid you should check out, but definitely start with these three!
Once you’ve grown weary of traipsing up and down corridors of paintings and sculptures (if that’s possible), then make your way over to El Retiro park where you can relax in the shady gardens, or sit by the lake with a glass of sangria. This beautiful park is one of the largest in Madrid. It is also home to the famous landmark statues of Alfonso XII and the Fallen Angel.
The lake in the middle of the park is popular with tourists and locals. You can hire rowing boats for romantic Bridget Jones-style moments, or just sit on the banks and watch people almost capsizing each other.
Located in the center of El Retiro, just next to the lake, is an imposing and magnificent glass palace modeled on London’s Crystal Palace. Palacio de Cristal del Retiro is a beautiful structure that resembles a giant greenhouse, however, it’s currently used for art exhibitions.
A visit to El Retiro is one of the best things to do in Madrid on a sunny day, and we highly recommend making use of good weather to spend an afternoon in the sun relaxing, or taking in a picnic.
Tapas Crawl around La Latina
No trip to Madrid is complete without sampling some of Spain’s best tapas. La Latina is the best neighborhood to do it in, in our opinion.
For those who don’t know, a tapa is a small portion of food, much like a snack or appetizer, in Spanish cuisine. They can be hot or cold and nowadays have become a more sophisticated type of cuisine. The best thing about tapas is that you can try so many different foods in one setting! And they’re really cute! Usually, when you buy a drink in Spain you get given a tapa for free along with it. However, restaurants usually offer tapas-style dinners, where you can sample various dishes and flavors of the incredible Spanish cuisine.
La Latina is filled with bars offering tapas and great spots to sit and drink a nice cold beer.
El Viajero is a great place with a rooftop, where you can enjoy the evening sun while munching on a tapa of patatas con salsa mojo.
Calle de Cava Baja is definitely the street you want to find yourself on if you can feel your stomach rumbling. Filled with tapas bars, you’ll be spoiled for choice here.
Lastly, while you’re in La Latina you may as well visit Sobrino de Botín. It was founded in 1725 and is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. What’s even cooler is that Goya worked here as a waiter while he was waiting to be accepted into art school! Oh, and they do delicious tapas too.
El Rastro Flea Market
If you want to meet the whole population of Madrid in one go, then we recommend visiting El Rastro flea market on a Sunday. The market runs from 9 am-3 pm and, as with most things, it’s better to arrive early to avoid the crowds. It’s the oldest flea market in Madrid, and it’s always bustling with people. You’ll most likely find yourself caught in a torrent of people packed like sardines, trying to get through the crowds.
El Rastro is the oldest flea market in Madrid and apparently the largest in Europe. Wandering through the crowds and stalls, and soaking up the atmosphere is a great way to spend an otherwise quiet Spanish Sunday afternoon (unless you’re claustrophobic). Located in the Embajadores neighborhood, the closest metro stop is La Latina.
You can find anything here, and we mean ANYTHING. All the typical market stock, like cheap clothes, tacky souvenirs, and knock-off DVDs is plentiful. Along the main strip you’re unlikely to find anything particularly interesting, but it’s a great place to buy all the necessities like underwear, t-shirts, shoes etc. Instead, explore the winding side streets and hidden plazas in the area. There you’ll find cozy antique shops and stalls selling all sorts of weird and wonderful objects. Don’t settle for a t-shirt with the Spanish flag on it as your souvenir from Madrid, but wade through the antiques and bric-a-brac at El Rastro and find something more original!
We understand you’re on a budget and shopping probably isn’t high on your list of things to do in Madrid, but El Rastro is definitely a must-see. The atmosphere here is fantastic, and you’ll often find live music and street performers putting on a show. There are also plenty of places to grab some typical Spanish food once you’re ready for a break from the crowds. Sit in the gardens with a traditional bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich) or a plate of grilled sardines, and take in the sights and sounds around you.
Visiting El Rastro is definitely one of the things you should do in Madrid, even if you aren’t a thrift head.
The Palacio Real, or The Royal Palace, is the official residence of the Spanish royal family. It also just so happens to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Spain, go figure. It’s the largest palace in Europe by floor area, and contains an astounding 3418 rooms.
The palace was built during the 18th and 19th centuries to replace the medieval Alcázar which was burnt down in 1794. The lavish interior was built to suit the taste of Charles III, and features decadent halls, banquet rooms, and toilets that are probably worth more than your entire house.
Much of the Palace is shut off to the public, however there’s enough to explore to keep you busy for an afternoon.
Try chocolate con churros at the world famous San Ginés
San Gines is a quaint chocolatier located in a hidden alley between Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Ópera which first opened its doors over a century ago. Now it’s one of the most popular spots in the city. Therefore it has a constant crowd of delighted customers outside its doors. The walls are covered with photos of celebrities who had a craving for some churros themselves.
You’ve probably tried churros before, but here they taste much better – we promise! Just in case you have been deprived your entire life and don’t know – churros are delicious sticks of fried bread, which are usually served with a warm and creamy chocolate dipping sauce. Probably not something which should be eaten every day, but when in Spain… The recipe has been used since 1894, and it’s served them pretty well up until now. We wonder how many people would notice if they suddenly changed it.
Walk around Malasaña and Chueca
No city is complete without its slightly edgy, hipster districts, and Madrid’s are definitely Malasaña and Chueca.
Chueca is famous throughout the world for its nightlife. If you want to experience a great night out in Madrid then this is the place to go! It’s known as Madrid’s gay neighborhood and has a vibrant atmosphere that comes alive during the night. People gather in Plaza de Chueca, and you can find many places to enjoy some tapas or drink a sangria or two. We highly recommend the San Anton Market, where you can find delicious traditional food.
Malasaña exudes a bohemian vibe. Filled with trendy cafes and vintage shops, it embraces Madrid’s youthful and lively character. Filled with numerous cafes, restaurants and bars, it’s the perfect area to visit to escape the tourists in the center and experience the local nightlife. The streets are filled with weird and wonderful graffiti and street art, which give the neighborhood its quirky character. Take a stroll through these neighborhoods and experience the true culture and atmosphere of Madrid.
Take a Day Trip from Madrid
One of the best things to do when visiting Madrid to take a day trip outside of the city. Seems a bit counterintuitive, right? Trust us there are many excellent towns and locations within easy striking distance from Madrid, and you should absolutely consider visiting one or two of them.
Have a look at our article on day trips from Madrid to read about some of our favorites!
When to Visit Madrid
No matter what time of year you are sure to find something happening in Madrid.
In the winter the weather in Madrid can get pretty chilly (you will need a coat!) and the streets quiet down. If you want to explore a more subdued version of Madrid visit between January to March. You’ll still be able to have most of your espressos outside, and your chances of running into swarms of tourists are greatly reduced.
Late Spring and early Autumn are great times to visit the city when the temperature is more sunny and mild while crowds are still not at peak levels.
The summer heat in Madrid can become stifling, but there are countless fiestas to take your mind off it! Basically, every weekend during the summer will have a party scheduled. The Spanish sure know how to live! In the middle of July is the Virgen del Carmen which is important in barrios of Puente de Vallecas, Villaverde Alto, and Chamberí. And August celebrates the patron saint of La Latina with the Verbena de la Paloma.
Madrid is well known for hosting one of the biggest and best Gay Pride events in the world. The streets are crammed with people reveling, drinking and watching the incredible Pride parade pass by. Afterward, head to Chueca to continue the fiesta! It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience, and if you time your visit to Madrid well then you’re in for a treat! Gay Pride takes place at the end of June or the beginning of July.
The reality is that anytime is a great time to visit Madrid, if you ask us!
Where to Stay in Madrid
Best Hotels in Madrid – Only You Hotel Atocha
- Address: Paseo de la Infanta Isabel, 13, Retiro, 28014 Madrid, Spain
- Independent Reviews: Booking.com
If you want to splash out a bit more on accommodation then Only YOU Hotel in Atocha is one of the best boutique hotels in Madrid. Situated next to El Retiro park this hotel is perfectly located. Rooms are modern and provide everything you need. There’s a great restaurant with fantastic views over the city too!
Best Hostels in Madrid – Bastardo Hostel
Bastardo Hostel is one of Madrid’s newest hostels, and it’s certainly earning itself a reputation as one of the best hostels in Madrid. Bastardo is situated between Chueca and Malasana, just two minutes from Tribunal metro station. The hostel offers comfortable and modern dorm or private rooms. Each guest has their own safety locker, charging facility, privacy curtain and reading light. Each room has a private bathroom, which means no long queues for the showers in the mornings! T
he best thing about Bastardo is the fantastic atmosphere. The bar and restaurant downstairs are great common spaces for meeting people. If what you’re looking for in accommodation is affordability, comfort and a social atmosphere then Bastardo ticks all the boxes.
Check out our list of the best hostels in Madrid for more options.
If you are looking for a more luxurious rental have a look at our article of the best boutique hotels in Madrid!
So there you have it guys, our guide to things you should definitely do in Madrid. We hope to have given you some inspiration to visit Madrid, and we hope to see you all on the road! Happy travels everyone!
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