Madrid is one of the coolest cities I have travelled to and has most things in abundance so hopefully my ‘what to do in Madrid’ will help you plan your trip. Historic architecture, some of the best collection of paintings in the world, the world’s richest football club in Real Madrid and some of it’s most fanatical fans, tapas on tap, beautiful parks, plazas and streets, live music, the list goes on. If you visit Spain then Madrid should definitely be on your to do list.
As you walk around the city you can imagine the life and the wealth back in the heyday of the Spanish empire as the Latin American riches flowed towards Madrid. Many of the buildings and Plazas are spectacular. With the restaurants and bars at Plaza Mayor you could waste an afternoon admiring the surrounds and goings on as the sunset changes the light by the minute.
Time to Do: All the sites here should be able to be done in 2 days, a full weekend
Hopefully the list below will give you a guide to the best attractions and sightseeing spots that Madrid has to offer
What to do in Madrid – Plazas
If there is one attraction that you will notice about Madrid it is its plazas, huge and spectacular to remote and friendly. Not all plazas are squares, some are roundabouts and parks. From just walking around on your adventure you will pass through some but here are the main one’s that should be on your list and are all around the city centre. It may seem like a lot but most are only a short walk from each other:
- Plaza Mayor: The essential Spanish square that will make you fall in love with Madrid. Pull out a chair and take a break from the surrounding cobblestone streets. First built in the 17th century its grandeur is obvious and in the mean time it has held many gatherings from bull fighting to royal celebrations to executions of heretics. Nowadays things are a little quieter with restaurants and cafes along the perimeter below the many apartments that are above. Oh to live in one of those! Nearest metro station: Sol
- Plaza de Neptuno (Plaza de Canovas del Castillo): Not so much of a square as a fountain and the centre point of Royalty. Neptune, the god of the sea, is the centrepiece of the fountain which has spectacular company. Two of Madrid’s most exclusive hotels, the Palace and Ritz look across it, while the beautiful art galleries Museo del Prado and Museo Tyssen Bornemisza do likewise from the other angles. Plaza de Neptuno knows how to live it up. Nearest Metro: Banco de Espana
- Plaza de la Cibeles: Another roundabout come plaza but this one is the most spectacular of the roundabout type. The roundabout has the goddess Cybele at its centre since the 18th century but the backdrop of the Palacio de Communicaciones is stunning. Built only in 1917 this is not the oldest in Madrid but when you combine this with the other palacio’s surrounding La Cibeles it is definitely worth a visit. Nearest Metro: Banco de Espana
- Plaza de la Puerta de Sol: The official centre point of Spain. All road distances are calculated from this spot at ‘Kilometre Zero’. This is outside the Casa de Correos from the 18th century. Not much of an attraction really but you will definitely be in the vicinity. Also located in this square beside the statue of Carlos III is the symbol of Madrid (and Atletico Madrid), a bear eating a strawberry tree. Nearest Metro: Sol
- Plaza de Oriente: If you go the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) the head to the front to see the Plaza de Oriente. This is what was supposed to be the Spanish equivalent to the gardens of Versailles and although not as grand it is well worth visiting. Situated between the equally impressive Royal Palace and Royal Theatre (Teatro Real) the statues and designer pattern of the shrubs are a good place to watch the sun go down on the city. Nearest Metro: Opera
- Plaza de Espana: Not one of the best one’s but has a good statue of Spain’s best known writer Cervantes and his best known characters Don Quijote and Sancho Panza at his feet. Nearest Metro: Plaza de Espana
What to do in Madrid – Art Galleries
I would be rude to travel to Madrid and not visit an art gallery. With Picassos most famous painting Guernica housed here as well as works from local Goya as well as any international star you can think of Monet, Van Gogh, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Rubens, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin etc etc.
All galleries offer some free admission at off-peak times or certain days. See below for details.
There are many galleries and depending on your taste you can pick your favourite type:
- Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: The Thyssen is a private collection of mainly who’s who of European art. The easy floor plan of 3 floors with the oldest on top and contemporary on the bottom it is almost foolproof. Too many artists and painting to go through but a lot of people’s favourite art gallery. Openings: Tues-Sun 10:00-19:00. Admission €9 for Permanent collection and €15 for permanent/impressionism/open air. Free entry on Mon 12:00-16:00. Website: http://www.museothyssen.org
- Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: Spain’s premier collection of contemporary art as well as housing the huge Guernica (Picasso’s most famous painting and 3.5mtr x 7.8mtrs) as well as others from Picasso, Dali and Miro. Houses mainly Spanish artists. Opening: Mon-Sat 10:00-21:00, Sun 10am-19:00. Admission €8 with extra €2 for Dali exhibition. Free admission on Mon and Wed-Sat from 19:00-21:00, Sun 15:00-19:00. Website: http://www.museoreinasofia.es/
- Museo Del Prado: One of the world’s best art galleries housed in a stunning building. With over 1500 paintings on show and the highlights of Velazquez, Goya, Rembrants, Rubens, Rafael among others it is one of the best art attractions in Madrid. Velazquez’s Las Meninas (Maids of Honour) is his main work and what brings in the crowds. Open: Mon-Sat 10:00-20:00. Sun 10:00-19:00. Admission €14. Free admission Mon-Sat 18:00-20:00, Sun 17:00-19:00 and on 19th Nov and 18th May. Website: http://www.museodelprado.es
What to do in Madrid – Go to a Football Game
Spain has always been football crazy and Real Madrid have always been one of the biggest teams in the world. Right now they are the richest club in the world and they hold the most European Cups, world’s most prestigious club competition, with 9. They also supply Spain with many of the members of the first ever international team to win three major competitions in a row in winning 2 x European Championships and a world cup one after the other.
The other major team in Madrid is Atletico Madrid but in and around Madrid there are also Vallecano and Getafe.
The football season runs from August to May so take a look at who is at home when you are there to visit the Bernabeu or the Vincente Calderon Stadium
Real Madrid: http://www.realmadrid.com/
Atletico Madrid: http://en.clubatleticodemadrid.com/
What to do in Madrid – Tapas
Tapas may be bite size but are essential to the ‘madrileños’ lifestyle and it’s possible to sample the entire Iberian menu in one sitting by trying your hand at everything. Tapas are a great way to start a night out as the tapas should be washed down with a drink, usually wine, cider or sherry. Some of the locals do a tapas bar crawl by getting the bar’s speciality and washing it down with a drink before heading to the next tapas bar and getting their speciality and so on and so forth. This is also a great way to sample many different types of food in Spain. The intricate cobblestone streets around Plaza Mayor are packed with tapas bars especially Called de la Cava Baja and is a great place to start. Mercado de San Miguel just to the west of Plaza Mayor is more of a market but also a great place to try a variety of tapas.
What to do in Madrid – Parque del Buen Retiro
Just behind the Palacio de Communicaciones this stunning park is worth a visit anytime, whether you want some quite during the week or some entertainment at the weekend. I think any tourist sightseeing must spend a few hours here. The park is beautifully manicured and has marble monuments and statues, gorgeous gardens, glorious glasshouses, cool terrazas and plenty of buskers to listen to. The artificial lake in-front of the gaudy but imposing statue of Alfonso XII is a must for sunset as the orange light sets on the marble. It is possible to rent row boats on the lake to join the many ducks.
Nearest Metro: Retiro, Ibiza, Otocha, Principe de Vergara.
- Palacio Real: The royal palace is a stunningly imposing building and provides the backdrop to the Plaza de Oriente. Open 10:00-20:00 Apr-Sept, 10:00-18:00 Oct-Mar. Admission €10. Free admission Wed-Thur 17:00-20:00. http://www.patrimonionacional.es/.
- Teleferico: Although not very high this relaxing cable car ride gives good views over the city and Parque del Oeste. Admission: return journey €5.75. Open 12:00-21:00 May-Sept, 12:00-20:00 Oct. Closed Nov-Apr. http://www.teleferico.com/en/
- Museo de Cerralbo: A mansion just of Plaza de Espana, this museum houses a vast collection of private vices from Marques de Cerralbo. It contains paintings, suits of armour, carpets and musical instruments among others. Admission €3. Open Tues-Sat 9:30-15:00, Thurs 17:00-20:00, Sun 10:00-15:00. Free admission Sun, Sat 14:00-15:00. http://museocerralbo.mcu.es/
What to do in Madrid – Map of Madrid
Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain
|Plaza de la Puerta del Sol|
Plaza Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Spain
|Plaza de Neptuno|
Plaza Cánovas del Castillo, Madrid, Spain
|Plaza de la Cibeles|
Plaza Cibeles, Madrid, Spain
|Plaza de Oriente|
Plaza Oriente, Madrid, Spain
|Plaza de Espana|
Plaza España, Madrid, Spain
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain
|Centro de Arte Reina Sofia|
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Calle de Santa Isabel, Madrid, Spain
|Museo del Prado|
Museo Nacional del Prado, Calle Ruiz de Alarcón, Madrid, Spain
|Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Real Madid|
Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Avenida de Concha Espina, Madrid, Spain
|Vincente Calderon Stadium, Atletico Madrid|
Vicente Calderón Stadı, Madrid, Spain
|Mercado de San Miguel|
Market of San Miguel, Madrid, Spain
|Parque del Buen Retiro|
Parque del Retiro, Madrid, Spain
Teleférico, Madrid, Spain
Practicalities – About Madrid
- Spain uses the euro. €1 = $1.30
- Language – Spanish. English widely spoken
- Flights – Can fly to Madrid from most cities in Europe and possible from the Middle East, Americas and Asia. www.iberia.com
- Transport around City: The metro is extensive and runs frequently. Maps are available in all stations. http://www.metromadrid.es/en/
- Accommodation – €50 per night for an average double room
- Population: 3.25million