Millions of visitors visit Madrid every year to experience the Spanish culture, see the historical monuments and enjoy the vibrant nightlife. Madrid is a city that offers something to please everyone, whether they’re looking to party or soak up the art and history of the town. No matter what you’re looking to do, you’ll find an activity that suits your preferences. This article lists the ten best things to do in Madrid to enjoy the city and create memorable experiences.
1. Visit Plaza Mayor – Best things to do in Madrid for First Timers
Plaza Mayor is a historic square located at the heart of Madrid. It is one of the most famous and iconic landmarks of the city. Visiting Plaza Mayor is definitely one of the best things to do in Madrid, especially if you are a first-time visitor.
The square’s construction started in 1617 by the order of King Philip III. The square was built to be around 129 meters in length and 94 meters in width, with visible motifs from the Habsburg period architecture. When the construction was completed in 1619, the square was named “Plaza del Arrabal.” Since then, the square’s name has been changed many times, but it is called Plaza Mayor today. Due to its historical ties, it is also called Madrid de Los Austrias or the Madrid of the Habsburgs.
Over the last four centuries, the square has been actively used for various purposes, such as traditional bullfights, festivals, and markets. It also hosted numerous historical events like the proclamation of kings and national celebrations.
Today, Plaza Mayor is one of the most vibrant locations in Madrid, with various cafes, shops, and restaurants. With its colorful frescoes, one of the most eye-catching buildings in Plaza Mayor is the Casa de la Panaderia, which translates as the “Bakery House.” The Plaza Mayor is located at a very easily accessible location. Therefore, it is always full of people and often hosts various cultural events and performances at the center.
2. Take a Walk in El Retiro Park
El Retiro Park is one of Madrid’s largest and most busy parks. The park is located at the heart of the city and covers around 1.4 square kilometers. There is no doubt you’ll find yourself on either end of the park if you are walking around Madrid to explore the city. When you do, we strongly recommend you walk in. Walking in El Retiro Park is one of the best things to do in Madrid to enjoy the serenity of nature.
El Retiro Park has massive trees, beautiful gardens featuring flowers, tree-lined pathways, and an artificial lake. While walking by the lake is very relaxing, you can also rent the necessary equipment to row on the lake. The park also has numerous sculptures, fountains, and statues. While all these are essential highlights of El Retiro Park, the venue stands out with the iconic Palacio de Cristal or the Crystal Palace. The Palacio Crystal is a glass pavilion that hosts art shows, exhibits, weddings, and other special events. It is one of the park’s main attractions.
Another park landmark is the monument of Alfonso XII, a Spanish King who died in 1919. Over 20 sculptors crafted the monument, and it took three years to complete. It is located near the lake, and it is possible to see it with the whole of its glory when rowing in the lake.
The park is a popular destination among locals and tourists alike. Therefore, it maintains a lively vibe all day long. Especially during siesta time in Spain, locals come to the venue to relax and unwind. The park also hosts various events, concerts, and festivals throughout the year. If you encounter any of these events, joining in will definitely be one of the best things to do in Madrid.
3. Best things to do in Madrid for Party Lovers: Visit Chueca and Malasaña
Suppose you’re looking to experience nightlife in the city to the fullest. In that case, visiting the neighborhoods of Chueca and Malasaña is one of the best things to do in Madrid for you.
Malasaña is an area located at the heart of Madrid, and it is known for its hipster vibe. The neighborhood was named after a young girl who got killed by the French army in 1808. Malasaña is known for its narrow, lively streets, colorful murals, and traditional taverns. The area has a youthful and creative energy, attracting artists, musicians, tourists, and free spirits who like the vibe. It is one of the neighborhoods that offers a vibrant and memorable nightlife experience in Madrid.
Chueca neighborhood is another lively and trendy area in Madrid that offers excellent options to have fun at night. The region is known for its vibrant atmosphere and diverse community. Chueca neighborhood is known for its LGBTQ+ friendly attitude and thriving nightlife. The area also hosts numerous LGBTQ+ events throughout the year, including the Madrid Gay Pride Parade, which attracts millions of visitors worldwide every year. Overall, these two neighborhoods are at the center of Madrid nightlife.
4. Visit Palacio Real
The Palacio Real is the official residence of the Spanish royal family. Also known as the Royal Palace, the venue is only used for state ceremonies today. Taking up 135,000 square kilometers and containing 3,418 rooms, the Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest royal Palace in Europe.
The Royal Palace is one of the most well-preserved royal residences in Europe. The Palace displays a mixture of Baroque and Classical architecture, with luxurious rooms, grand halls, and lavish decoration. One of the landmarks of the Palace is its grand stairs, or the Escalera Principal, which showcases excellent marble and stucco work. Another important part of the royal Palace is the Royal Armoury, which displays an impressive collection of historical weapons and armor.
Most of the main staircase, the Royal Armoury, and most of the grand halls and rooms are open to the public. Visitors can also see the historic Royal Pharmacy and the Royal Library. The Palace also showcases a rich collection of pieces from famous painters like Goya, Velázquez, and Caravaggio. If you want to see the Spanish royal history in its full glory, visiting the Royal Palace will be one of the best things to do in Madrid.
The Palace overlooks the Campo del Moro gardens. It is located at the heart of Madrid, next to the Plaza de Oriente. Until 1734, the Alcázar of Madrid was located at this exact spot. However, it was burnt down in 1734. The construction of the Palace started in 1738 under the rule of King Philip V. By the time the construction was over in 1764, King Charles III replaced King Philip V.
5. Best Things to do in Madrid in New Years: Visit Puerta del Sol
Another famous square in Madrid is Puerta del Sol, which translates into English as the Gate of the Sun. Visiting this square is nearly inevitable for tourists and locals since it is a significant public transportation hub. Given its central location and connectivity, Puerto del Sol is a meeting point for many. Therefore, the square is always lively, which makes visiting this venue one of the best things to do in Madrid.
The Puerta del Sol is considered Kilómetro Cero, or the Kilometer Zero of Spain, which marks the beginning point of the whole country’s road network. The square displays a plaque embedded in the ground that marks the Kilometer Zero milestone. This is the point of reference when Spanish road distances are measured.
The square also includes an important landmark of Madrid, the monument of King Charles III. The statue displays the King on his horse and is located at the center of the square. Moreover, the venue carries a historical significance. During the 15th century, the square had one of the main gates to Madrid, surrounded by walls at the time.
In addition to being the heart of transportation, the square is home to a lot of restaurants, bars, shops, and cafes. The Puerta Del Sol remains vibrant and lively throughout the day. The square also hosts annual New Year celebrations. Participants gather in front of the clock on the Casa de Correos building located on the square. Once the clock hits midnight, the crowd eats grapes as a part of a Spanish New years tradition. If you visit Madrid around new year’s Eve, joining the celebrations at the Puerta del Sol will be one of the best things to do in Madrid.
6. Soak Up the History in Plaza de la Villa
Located next to the Calle Mayor, Plaza de la Villa is an urban square in Madrid. The venue is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city. If you are curious about the historical architecture, visiting Plaza de la Villa is one of the best things to do in Madrid. The square has several well-preserved buildings from the medieval era, each featuring a different architectural trend from history.
Casa de la Villa is one of the most famous landmarks of the square. Also known as the Casa de Cisneros, the Casa de la Villa’s history dates back to the 16th century. The house was built in 1537 upon the request of the nephew of Cardinal Cisneros. The building was remodeled in 1910 and restored again in 1909 when the city of Madrid gained ownership. Throughout its long history, the building also serves as a city hall in Madrid.
Another important building from the venue is the Casa de los Lujanes. The building dates back to the 15th century. It displays one of the rare examples of civil Gothic architecture in Madrid. Casa de los Lujanes’s Torre de los Lujanes attachment tower is also a significant sight. It is said that the French poet François Villon lived in the tower during his exile in Spain.
The square is a top-rated destination among visitors and architecture enthusiasts. It carries many important landmarks from the Spanis history and has been serving as a central square for centuries. It was so famous that it even made it into some medieval paintings.
7. Take the Art Walk in Paseo del Arte
Visiting the Paseo del Arte is one of the best things to do in Madrid if you want to immerse yourself in art. Also known as the Art Walk or the Golden Triangle of Art, Paseo del Arte is home to some of the world’s best art museums. The three main museums in the area are the Museo del Prado (Prado Museum), Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum), and Museo Reina Sofía (Reina Sofia Museum).
The Prado Museum mainly displays European artists that were active between the 12th and the early 20th century. The museum is considered to own one of the richest European art collections in the world. It is possible to see the original work of famous artists like Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens Titian, and Hieronymus Bosch.
On the other hand, the Reina Sofia Museum is known for its concentration on modern and contemporary art. The venue has a particular emphasis on Spanish artists and owns the largest collections of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Its most famous piece is Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, which was painted in 1937 and is considered to be the most powerful anti-war painting in the world’s history.
Finally, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum fills the historical gaps the other two museums leave and completes the golden triangle of art. The venue is best known for its impressive private art collection, which includes pieces from famous painters like Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, and Rembrandt.
8. Shop at El Rastro
El Rastro is the most popular open-air flea market in Madrid. If you are looking for a fun way to spend a Sunday in the city, visiting El Rastro is one of the best things to do in Madrid. The market only opens on Sundays and displays thousands of different merchandise, from hand-crafted goods to clothing, accessories, souvenirs, as well as second-hand goods.
The heart of the market is placed in the Plaza de Cascorro. However, it spreads to the nearing streets and squares, including Calle Embajadores and Plaza de General Vara del Rey. El Rastro is one of the oldest and largest flea markets in Europe. Its history dates back to the 18th century.
The market also includes stalls that sell traditional Spanish snacks and drinks. Street performers, musicians, and dancers also appear in the market, contributing to the lively and vibrant environment. El Rastro provides a vivid and fun activity on Sundays. Therefore it is as popular among the locals as it is among the visitors.
It is worth noting that the market opens early in the morning and stays open until 3 pm. If you want to get good deals and avoid the crowd, we advise you to arrive at the market during the early hours.
9. See the Almudena Catedral
Also known as the Santa María la Real de La Almudena, the Almudena Catedral is an important landmark of Madrid. The Cathedral is located at the heart of the city and is also the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid.
The Cathedral was dedicated to the Virgin Mary under the title of “Almudena,” which is the patron saint of Madrid. The construction of the Cathedral started in 1873 and lasted until 1993 because it had to stop due to various reasons throughout history. Since it took too long to finish it, the Cathedral displays a mix of architectural styles. It predominantly displays Neo-Gothic for the exterior and Neo-Romanesque for the interior, with some elements from Neo-Classical and Neo-Renaissance styles.
The Cathedral welcomes the ones who enter with a massive main altar that is surrounded by grand stained glass windows and numerous chapels. The venue also displays several paintings from notable artists. The Cathedral is open for public visits and daily Mass. Given its religious importance and central location, the Cathedral is a busy area in Madrid. Seeing this glorious landmark is one of the best things to do in Madrid, especially if you are a first-time visitor to Madrid.
10. Walk Through Madrid Río: Best things to do in Madrid in Summer
Things Madrid can offer are not only historical. If you’re looking for a more contemporary experience, visiting Madrid Río is one of the best things to do in Madrid.
The Madrid Río is an urban park and recreational area that stretches alongside the Manzanares River. It takes up around 10 kilometers. The project was part of an urban renewal project in Madrid. However, it became a popular destination for tourists and locals after completion. The project plan won the international ideas competition in 2005, and the construction of the area started in 2006.
The park features sustainable functions, such as the use of recycled material and bolstering natural vegetation. The venue is also equipped with a variety of amenities, including paths for walking and cycling, playgrounds for the children, sports areas, and gardens. It also includes several pedestrian bridges connecting different neighborhoods and city areas. The park became a popular destination among tourists and locals due to its connectivity and rich amenities.
11. FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
1. Is there anything fun in Madrid?
As Spain’s capital, Madrid offers many fun activities to do, regardless of your description of fun. You’ll find something to your taste in Madrid whether you’re a party-goer, art-lover, or history enthusiast. Madrid offers numerous fun activities that suit all tastes.
2. What not to miss when visiting Madrid?
Madrid is most known for the Paseo del Arte, also known as the Golden Triangle of Art. The area includes three museums, each considered one of the best worldwide. They have the original artwork of some of the most famous painters, like Picasso, Van Gogh, and Salvador Dali.
3. Is Madrid an expensive city?
No. Compared to the other capitals in Europe, Madrid is a very affordable city for tourists. However, it must be noted that there are other coastal cities in Spain that are much cheaper than Madrid.
4. How many days is enough for Madrid?
Three days are long enough to experience Madrid to the fullest and see all the landmarks. However, if you want to soak up the culture and spend enough time examining the art and history Madrid offers, we recommend sparing at least a week to visit Madrid.
5. What is a good month to visit Madrid?
The best months to visit Madrid are September, November, March, and May. These months are close enough to the summer months, which means that the weather will not be too hot but have a pleasant warmth. Also, since they are not included in the busiest season in Madrid, you can enjoy relatively lower prices and less crowded tourist destinations.
6. Is Madrid a walkable city?
Yes. Most of the tourist destinations and landmarks are close to each other, making Madrid a very walkable city. However, Madrid also has a very effective public transportation system that makes moving around the city much easier.
7. What are the cheapest months to go to Madrid?
November to February are the cheapest months to visit Madrid because these months are the least preferred months by tourists worldwide. However, Madrid is a popular destination during Christmas, which might increase the prices a little in January.
8. What is the coldest month in Madrid?
The coldest month in Madrid is January. Even though Spain has a relatively warm climate all year, temperatures in January can be as low as 6 degrees Celsius (43F) in Madrid.
9. What is Madrid famous for?
Madrid is famous for its tourist attractions, including the Paseo del Arte, neighborhoods of Chueca and Malasaña, the historical Plaza de Villa, and the largest flea market in Europe, El Rastro.
10. What is Madrid’s most visited place?
The Paseo del Arte and the Plaza Mayor are the most visited places in Madrid. While the former offers the original copies of some of the world’s most famous artwork, the latter is located at the heart of the city.
If you are looking for more information on the city, you can take a look at Madrid’s official Tourism website. Also, you can read about the best Traditional Spanish Food in Madrid or plan Day Trips from Madrid to enhance your experience in the city.