Our list of things to do in Madrid highlights the Spanish capital's extensive variety of history, art, food, fashion, and nightlife. The city has one of Europe's finest collections of Spanish and Latin American art, spread throughout its museums and galleries. Its many open-air squares host plenty of Beaux-Arts-style buildings, unique statues, and old-fashioned theatres dating back to the 18th century.

    Madrid is also a great place to enjoy vibrant festivities such as Christmas, Madrid Pride, and Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve). It’s relatively easy to explore the city centre on foot, thanks to wide footpaths and lush gardens serving as rest stops in between. Check out our guide of activities, food, and places Madrid are most famous for, which caters to first-time visitors looking to enjoy the city’s unique offerings.

    What are the best things to do in Madrid?

    1

    Plaza Mayor

    Madrid's famous square

    Plaza Mayor is one of the grandest open squares in Madrid, featuring 9 entrance ways, 17th-century frescoes, and a bronze statue of King Philip III in the middle. This meeting place also offers lively events throughout the year – some of the most popular things to do in Madrid include exploring Plaze Mayor's vibrant Christmas market and celebrations for San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid. 

    If you’ve worked up an appetite, there are plenty of cafés and sandwich joints serving coffee, beer, and Madrid’s quintessential bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich).

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    Location: Plaza Mayor, 28012 Madrid, Spain

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    2

    Madrid's Art Triangle

    World-famous art at Paseo del Prado's museums

    Museum-hopping at in Paseo del Prado's Art Triangle is one of the best things to do in Madrid.  This leafy avenue comprises 3 notable museums, namely Museo del Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Reina Sofia. There are masterpieces by Picasso, Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco Bosch on display at these museums. 

    You can save time and money by getting the Paseo del Arte pass for about €40, which gives you a 20% discount on entrance fees to all 3 museums. In between visits, be sure to snap photos of notable landmarks such as the Astronomical Observatory, Fuente de Neptuno, Fuente de Cibeles, and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

    Location: Paseo del Prado, s/n, 28014 Madrid, Spain

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    3

    The Royal Palace

    See the changing of the guard ceremony

    The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official home of the Spanish royalty, but you won’t be bumping into a family member during your visit – though it would be a cool thing to do in Madrid. Commissioned by King Philip V during the 18th century, this grand structure is a mix of Neoclassical and Baroque architecture. There are 3,000 rooms in total, which includes a throne hall, an armoury, and a well-preserved royal kitchen. 

    Art lovers can find exquisite paintings by renowned artists such as Luis Morales, Goya, Juan de Flandes, Caravaggio, Velázquez, and Federico Madrazo.

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    Location: Calle de Bailén, 28071 Madrid, Spain

    Open: October-March: daily from 10 am to 6 pm. April-September: daily from 10 am to 8 pm.

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    4

    Gran Via Street

    Madrid's high street

    Gran Via is one of Madrid’s upscale shopping streets, offering a mix of high street, luxury, and local designers. El Corte Inglés, Spain’s largest department store, is located here, and you can find renowned brands such as Red Valentino, Hugo Boss, and Armani Exchange inside. 

    There are plenty of interesting things to do in Madrid's upmarket shopping avenue – Beaux-Arts-style buildings and old-fashioned theatres offers postcard-worthy cityscapes. Make sure to pay a visit to the iconic Edificio Metrópolis building, Madrid’s prime example of elegant Beaux-Arts architecture.

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    Location: Calle Gran Vía, 28013 Madrid, Spain

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    5

    Temple of Debod

    Sunsets from an ancient Egyptian shrine set on a hilltop

    • History
    • Photo

    The Temple of Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple from the 2nd century BC. The shrine is part of a scenic water feature in the Parque del Oeste, a 10-minute walk west of the Plaza de España. Its beautiful setting allows for some fantastic photo opportunities, especially at sunset.

    How does an Egyptian shrine end up in Madrid? The Egyptian government donated it to Spain in 1968 as a sign of gratitude for Spain’s help in saving the Abu Simbel temple, plus other monuments and archaeological sites, from being buried during the construction of the Aswan dam.

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    Location: C. de Ferraz, 1, 28008 Madrid, Spain

    Open: Tuesday–Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +34 913 66 74 15

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    6

    Puerta de Alcalá

    Check out a neoclassical gate

    • History

    Puerta de Alcalá is a 19.5-metre-high neoclassical granite and limestone gate completed in 1778. When you visit this gate, you'll find yourself surrounded by a lot of history. You can still see where a bit of cannon shrapnel hit the gate years ago.

    If you look closely at the gate, you'll notice that each side has a unique design, including one sporting war trophies and one with an ornate royal coat of arms. You'll find the gate in the middle of Pl. de la Independencia, about a 10-minute drive from the city centre.

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    Location: Pl. de la Independencia, s/n, 28001 Madrid, Spain

    Open: 24/7

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    7

    Palacio de Cristal

    A beautiful glass structure modelled on London's Crystal Palace

    • Couples
    • History
    • Photo

    Palacio de Cristal, aka Crystal Palace, is an imposing glass-and-steel building on the edge of a lake in Buen Retiro Park in central Madrid. The glass palace was built in 1887 as a greenhouse to house exotic plants from Southeast Asia. Today the venue is used for art exhibitions.

    Early-bird walkers and joggers can enjoy morning solitude here. Black swans on the lake will keep you company. And although the palace is beautiful to visit any time of the year, it is especially impressive in autumn. That’s when the surrounding trees turn orange and red, and the low, golden autumn sunlight shines through the glass.

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    Location: P.º de Cuba, 4, 28009 Madrid, Spain

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +34 917 74 10 00

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    8

    Mercado San Miguel

    Madrid's historical market

    Mercado San Miguel is a historical market that’s been attracting food lovers since 1916. Located just next to Plaza Mayor, there are over 30 stalls selling fresh seafood, cured meat, wines, beers, pastries, and chocolate. It opens every day from 10am until midnight (1am on Fridays and Saturdays). 

    A popular thing to do in Madrid is to enjoy delicious tapas, and Mercado San Miguel has several bars to choose from. Head to a tapas bar (or 5) within the market to indulge in some fresh oysters and classic Spanish delicacies such as patatas bravas (potato cubes in a spicy, tomato sauce) and gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp).

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    Location: Plaza de San Miguel, 28005 Madrid, Spain

    Open: Sunday–Thursday from 10 am to midnight, Friday–Saturday from 10 am to 1 am

    Phone: +34 915 424 936

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    9

    El Retiro Park

    Wander down the Paseo de la Argentina

    El Retiro Park is a vast garden by Plaza de la Independencia. One of its most popular attractions is the Statue Walk, a pathway that’s lined with 18th century statues of Spanish royalty. Some of the best things to do in Madrid's beautiful park include picnicking, boating, and cycling with views of historical monuments within the grounds. 

    There’s a manmade lake next to a monument of Alfonso XII, where you can rent a paddleboat for a few euros. Another must visit in El Retiro Park is the Palacio de Cristal, a greenhouse-like pavilion that was built in 1887.

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    Location: Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain

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    10

    Cibeles Fountain

    An impressive landmark with marble sculptures

    Cibeles Fountain or Cybele's Fountain stands in the centre of the Plaza de Cibeles and is one of Madrid’s most famous landmarks. The stone structure depicts Cybele, the Great Mother of the gods and Roman goddess of fertility, astride a lion-drawn chariot. The fountain is surrounded by 4 magnificent buildings – Linares Palace, Cibeles Palace, Buenavista Palace, and the Bank of Spain.

    The Cibeles Fountain is also famous to sports fans as the place where Real Madrid fans go to celebrate when their team wins a trophy. To reach the fountain, take the red metro line 2 and get out at Banco de España.

    Location: Plaza Cibeles, 28014 Madrid, Spain

    Open: 24/7

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    11

    Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid

    Enjoy the vibrancy of a botanical garden

    The Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid is a vibrant botanical garden with an extensive array of greenery and colourful domestic and exotic plants. You'll find 7 outdoor sections and 5 greenhouses with 90,000 plants and 1,500 trees.

    One of the most iconic aspects of these gardens is the herbarium, which is among the largest of its kind in the country and features more than a million specimens from around the world. You can see it all for yourself just southeast of the city centre and north of the Estación del Arte metro station.

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    Location: Plaza de Murillo, 2, 28014 Madrid, Spain

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 8.30 pm

    Phone: +34 914 20 30 17

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    12

    National Archaeological Museum

    A well-organised museum to learn about Spanish ancient history

    The National Archaeological Museum is the most important archaeological museum in Spain. Founded by Isabel II in 1867, the museum strives to preserve Spain’s cultural, historical, and archaeological legacies. Greek vases, coins, and Spanish Islamic ivories are displayed, among other finds.

    Highlights of the collection include the Treasure of Guarrazar, which is the best surviving example of Visigoth goldsmith work. And the Lady of Elche, a limestone bust from the 4th century BC. Entrance to the museum is free with the Madrid Card and from 2 pm and Sunday mornings on Saturdays.

    Location: Calle de Serrano, 13, 28001 Madrid, Spain

    Open: Tuesday–Saturday from 9.30 am to 8 pm, Sunday from 9,30 am to 3 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +34 915 77 79 12

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    13

    Plaza de España

    One of the largest plazas in Madrid

    The Plaza de España is a popular destination in the centre of Madrid where visitors can get a first-time feel of the city. You can take a stroll through the large square and admire the stone Cervantes Monument in the middle or snap photos of the Torre de Madrid or the Neo-baroque style Edificio España. Sit on a bench and people-watch or visit one of the restaurants, shops, or theatres nearby.

    The area around this plaza has been pedestrianized following several years of renovations and construction. There are car-free walking paths connecting the Plaza de Oriente, the Sabatini Gardens, the Campo del Moro, and Madrid Río. You can also go for fun bike rides along its 3 km of dedicated cycling paths.

    Location: Plaza de España, 28008 Madrid, Spain

    Open: 24/7

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    14

    Santiago Bernabéu Stadium

    Home of Real Madrid FC

    • Photo
    • Group

    The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is home to Real Madrid, Europe’s most successful football team. The players wear all-white uniforms, which results in their nickname “Los Blancos”. The club made history in 2014 when they won their 10th Champions League. The team is also famed for buying the world’s best players at extravagant fees, who in turn have high pressure to deliver stylish football on the pitch at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

    It's possible to buy tickets for most Real Madrid games unless you want to watch the match against fierce rivals FC Barcelona – a match known as El Classico – when tickets are snapped up weeks ahead of the fixture. Built in 1947, the 81,000-seater stadium has an air of prestige throughout. This is best felt on a stadium tour, when you can visit the trophy room and player’s dressing rooms. To reach the stadium, take metro Line 10 to Santiago Bernabéu station.

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    Location: Av. de Concha Espina, 1, 28036 Madrid, Spain

    Phone: +34 913 98 43 00

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    15

    Madrid flamenco shows

    Visit a tablao to watch Spain’s most famous dance

    Flamenco is a vibrant dance style paired with singing and clapping of hands, as well as the use of guitars and castanets. Watching an authentic flamenco show is a common thing to do in Madrid, and theatres all over the city often hold grand performances throughout the week. 

    Tablaos (flamenco bars) offer a more laidback and intimate setting, as you can enjoy a filling meal while watching talented dancers performing Spain’s most famous dance. A popular spot to enjoy flamenco is Corral de la Morería is Madrid’s oldest tablao, where you get to enjoy a special degustation menu during the show. 

    Location: Corral de la Morería, Calle de la Morería 17, Madrid, Spain

    Open: Daily from 5.30 pm to midnight

    Phone: +34 913 61 137

    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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    Attractions and experiences recommended in our guides may be affected. Please check local guidance before you travel.

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