On most of our tours of Spain, you’ll spend a few days in Madrid, the country’s capital city. Madrid is Spain’s most populous city, so you know it’s full of energy. The elegant boulevards and parks, and of course the rich collection of European art, make this Spanish city a must-see.
One of our travel tips for Madrid is to hop on the city’s metro. It’s the best way to see what this beautiful city has to offer in a short amount of time! Here’s our list of the spots you’ll have to see when traveling to Madrid.
Whether you want to explore the city squares, view historic art pieces in the museums, sip regional wine, or eat delicious Spanish food, this is our list of the top things to do when you visit Madrid.
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor dates back to the 16th century and is surrounded by balconies (237 of them to be exact!), which face toward the square’s center where there’s a statue of King Philip III and his horse. What was once a joining place for public executions and town meetings is now the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the scenery around you while sipping a coffee or beer.
Not far from Plaza Mayor, you’ll find the pedestrian-only Puerta del Sol. Both tourists and residents hang out around this popular meeting point at all hours of the day. The plaza is famous for the Tio Pepe sign that is on top of one of the square’s buildings, as well as a statue of a bear eating from a tree. You’ll also see the clock tower, which goes off at midnight on January 1 to ring in the new year.
The next city square to explore is Plaza de España. This large square is located in central Madrid and covers over 397,000 square feet, making it one of Spain’s largest city squares. A great spot to take photos and people-watch, this square is home to many restaurants, theaters, and stores that are worth exploring. The center of the plaza features a monument to the Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, which overlooks two other sculptures representing his characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza from his famous novel Don Quijote de la Mancha. Here, you will also find Torre de Madrid, which once held the honor of being Madrid’s tallest skyscraper.
The Prado Museum, which just celebrated its 200th anniversary last year, is a world-class art museum and one of the gems of Madrid. This 18th-century museum houses works from many great European masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, and Bosch.
Before stepping into the museum, you’ll want to research what you want to see as there are over 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures on-site. Their website suggests itineraries for you, especially if you are on short time! One can’t-miss piece? Velazquez’s Las Meninas. The painting shows Princess Margarita and her two ladies-in-waiting, alongside the artist himself with a paintbrush and palette in hand.
After visiting the museum and immersing yourself in Spanish art history, you’ll want to grab a bite to eat! We recommend swinging by the Old Town to visit San Miguel Market. The market is more than 100 years old and the exterior highlights the city’s popular iron architecture. Staffer Kate said, “the abundance of delicious Spanish food does not disappoint,” and that’s exactly why this spot is the place to enjoy a tapas-style lunch of Spanish foods.
Throughout San Miguel Market you’ll find contemporary cuisine, as well as the classic Spanish flavors. Who are some of our favorite vendors you ask? Well, you can’t go wrong with stalls selling Iberian ham or fresh seafood, which is sourced from the coastal Galicia region. We also recommend trying the Mediterranean rice dishes and cheeses from the Castile, Asturias, and Basque Country regions.
Read our staffer Rebecca’s recommendations on what to eat in Madrid while exploring the market on tour.
After enjoying dinner at one of the many restaurants in Madrid, make sure to get a ticket to a flamenco show. Although Madrid is not the birthplace of flamenco (southern Spain holds that honor), some of the most historic flamenco tablaos were established in the Spanish capital and continue to flourish. This traditional Spanish dance is sultry, sassy, and known for the energy and passion dancers bring to the stage.
Learn about the art of flamenco from home on a live, interactive Online Escape!
If the question of what to do in Madrid crosses your mind on the morning of day two, we’ve got you covered. Today is all about discovering the history behind the city’s iconic sites, while also indulging in a few culinary sweets. Did someone say churros?
Step inside Madrid’s Royal Palace and you’ll begin a journey through the history of Spain. Although this building is no longer home to the royal family, it remains their official residence. The design of the palace was inspired by sketches drawn by Bernini and is built in the form of a square overlooking a large courtyard.
There are over 3,000 rooms and a Sabatini-designed grand staircase with over 70 steps. Other notable rooms include the Throne Hall, which features ceiling paintings by Tiepolo, and the Royal Chapel, which is home to a collection of string instruments made by the legendary Antonio Stradivari.
Here, you’ll also find the Royal Armory, which holds weapons and armor worn by the Kings of Spain since the 13th century. You’ll be able to see a large number of artistic treasures in the painting gallery. Did you know the palace is also home to one of the oldest, most well-preserved kitchens in European royal history?
Madrid travel tip: Visit on a Wednesday or Saturday to see the Changing of the Guard.
While exploring the ever-so-energetic city of Madrid, you’ll want to make sure you see the Temple of Debod. It’s located near the Royal Palace, so you won’t need to travel too far to visit.
This Egyptian temple was transported to Madrid’s Cuartel de la Montaña Park and dates back to the 2nd century BC. It was donated to Spain from the Egyptian government in order to preserve it from the floods that occurred after the construction of Egypt’s Aswan Dam. Go Ahead staffers recommend going here to watch the sunset and see breathtaking views of the city of Madrid.
After the sun officially sets, head to Restaurante Botin for dinner. This restaurant is considered the oldest in the world according to the Guinness Book of Records! It’s a staple spot for some of Madrid’s best traditional meals. The two specialties of this restaurant are the suckling pig and the Castilian-style roasted lamb. While they’re different than other foods you may have seen on menus during your time in Spain, we highly recommend ordering them. I mean, you wouldn’t be fully immersed into Spanish culture if you didn’t, right?
Fun fact: Many literary personalities have eaten at Restaurante Botin including Ernest Hemingway, Benito Pérez Galdós, Graham Greene, and María Dueñas. The restaurant has even been featured as a backdrop in many of their novels.
A sweet treat is well-deserved after exploring the marvelous city of Madrid in such a short amount of time. Visit Chocolatería San Ginés, our favorite spot in Madrid to satisfy a sweet tooth. Their churros are fried to perfection and lightly coated with sugar. Be sure to dip them into the delicious, thick hot chocolate.