Madrid is a regal city, with breathtaking architecture at every turn and an electric vibe that never seems to dissipate. With some of the tastiest tapas and most revered art in the world, Madrid is often forgotten about by visitors that head to Barcelona or Seville without a second thought.
But Madrid is indeed worth a visit, and you’ll immediately become enamored with the easy way of life there as you stroll past manicured gardens, through magnificent plazas and by smiling locals. While you’ll never tire for activities in Spain’s capital city, these are some of the most authentic things to do in Madrid and the essential must-see things you can’t leave Madrid without first experiencing.
- Wander the Markets
- The Mercado de San Miguel
- San Antón Market Rooftop
- Mercado de Maravillas
- Mercado de San Ildefonso
- Mercado de la Cebada
- Mercado de la La Paz
- Admire the Art
- Drink Rooftop Cocktails
- Stroll The Retiro Park
- Visit the Plaza Mayor
- Explore the Royal Palace of Madrid
- See The Many Monuments
- Take in a Flamenco Show
- Drink Wine
- Visit the Puerta del Sol
- Tour the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
- Snack On Chocolate and Churros
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Best Things to Do in Madrid
Tapear is the verb meaning ‘to eat tapas‘ in Spanish. Hopping from bar to bar ordering small plates of food paired with beers or wine is an excellent way to experience the Madrileño culture. If you get lucky, you may even stumble upon a bar which gives you a free tapa when you order a drink.
One of the best areas to bar hop for tapas is along Calle Cava Baja, one of Madrid’s most historical and famous streets. We include a list of some of our favorite tapas bars in Madrid below. Alternatively, you can book a tapas crawl with a local from Gourmet Madrid to get a true taste of the city during happy hour and well beyond.
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Wander the Markets
Food markets are at the top of the Madrid must-do list. There’s a market for everyone: a tourist-catered San Miguel, the chic rooftop of San Anton or the glamorous Platea. Watch locals do their daily shopping at stalls overflowing with fresh produce at the local Mercado de Maravillas or have a beer at the hipster Mercado de San Ildefonso. Hang out at the underground Mercado de la Cebada or wander the chic stalls at Mercado de la La Paz.
Visit as many markets as you can while in Madrid, as each one has an entirely different vibe and clientele. We dive a little deeper into each of these below.
The Mercado de San Miguel
Pl. de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid, Spain
The Mercado de San Miguel, located in the heart of Madrid, is a culinary paradise where food lovers can immerse themselves in the city’s rich gastronomic culture. Housed within an exquisite 20th-century iron and glass structure, the market offers a tantalizing array of fresh produce, gourmet delicacies, and mouthwatering tapas from a variety of vendors. As you wander through the bustling market, you’ll encounter fragrant aromas and vibrant colors, with each stall showcasing the very best of Spanish cuisine.
San Antón Market Rooftop
C. de Augusto Figueroa, 24, 28004 Madrid, Spain
Perched atop the trendy San Antón Market in Madrid’s bustling Chueca neighborhood, the chic rooftop terrace offers a stylish oasis in the heart of the city. With its inviting ambiance, contemporary decor, and lush greenery, this urban retreat provides the perfect setting to unwind with friends over exquisite cocktails and delicious tapas, all while enjoying breathtaking panoramic views of Madrid’s skyline. As the sun sets and the city’s lights begin to twinkle, the rooftop’s atmosphere comes alive with laughter, music, and lively conversation.
Calle de Goya, 5, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain
The Platea Market, situated in the bustling Salamanca neighborhood of Madrid, is a luxurious gastronomic haven that transforms an old cinema into a spectacular culinary stage. Spread across several floors, this gourmet food market and entertainment venue seamlessly blend world-class dining, contemporary design, and lively performances, creating a truly unique and immersive experience for visitors.
With a diverse array of food stalls, bars, and restaurants, Platea caters to a wide range of tastes and preferences, offering everything from traditional Spanish tapas and sushi to gourmet burgers and delectable desserts. As you explore the vibrant space, you’ll be captivated by the sounds of live music, DJs, or even comedy shows echoing through the market, adding a delightful touch of excitement to your gastronomic adventure. Platea Market is the perfect destination for those seeking an unforgettable fusion of culinary delights, stylish ambiance, and lively entertainment in the heart of Madrid.
Mercado de Maravillas
C. de Bravo Murillo, 122, 28020 Madrid, Spain
Mercado de Maravillas, nestled in the diverse neighborhood of Cuatro Caminos in Madrid, is a lively and authentic food market that offers visitors a true taste of local Spanish culture. Spanning an impressive 8,000 square meters, this bustling market is a veritable treasure trove of fresh produce, meats, seafood, cheeses, and other culinary delights, showcasing the best that Madrid’s local suppliers have to offer. As you meander through the market’s vibrant aisles, you’ll be greeted by the friendly faces of vendors who are eager to share their passion for food and provide a glimpse into the city’s rich culinary traditions.
Mercado de San Ildefonso
Calle de Fuencarral, 57, 28004 Madrid, Spain
The Mercado de San Ildefonso, located in the trendy Malasaña district of Madrid, is a modern and hipster take on the traditional Spanish market. This vibrant, urban space features a diverse array of food stalls, bars, and communal seating areas that come together to create a dynamic atmosphere that resonates with the creative energy of the surrounding neighborhood. As you explore the market’s lively offerings, you’ll discover a delicious fusion of international cuisines, innovative tapas, and craft cocktails, all served in a chic, industrial-style setting.
Mercado de la Cebada
Pl. de la Cebada, S/N, 28005 Madrid, Spain
The Mercado de la Cebada, in the vibrant La Latina neighborhood of Madrid, is an eclectic, underground market that offers visitors an authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience of the city’s local flavors. Housed in a colorful, graffiti-covered building, this bustling market boasts a diverse array of stalls, where you can find everything from fresh produce, meats, and seafood to artisanal cheeses and baked goods. As you navigate the maze of stalls, you’ll encounter a lively and welcoming atmosphere, where friendly vendors proudly showcase their passion for food and the rich culinary traditions of Madrid. In addition to its gastronomic offerings, the Mercado de la Cebada frequently hosts cultural events, pop-up shops, and art exhibitions, further cementing its status as a dynamic and unconventional hub of the community.
Mercado de la La Paz
Cl. de Ayala, 28B, 28001 Madrid, Spain
The Mercado de La Paz, situated in the upscale Salamanca district of Madrid, is an elegant and charming food market that transports visitors to the heart of Spanish culinary traditions. This historic market, established in 1882, is housed in a beautiful, wrought-iron and brick building that showcases an air of timeless elegance. Within its inviting interior, you’ll find a delightful assortment of stalls offering a plethora of high-quality ingredients, ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to premium meats, fish, and artisanal cheeses.
As you meander through the inviting aisles of Mercado de La Paz, you’ll be met with a warm and friendly ambiance, where local purveyors are eager to share their knowledge and passion for their offerings. Indulge in the tempting array of gourmet bites and savory tapas available in this vibrant marketplace, and immerse yourself in the genuine essence of Madrid’s culinary heritage.
Admire the Art
Madrid’s golden triangle consists of three of the most famous art museums in the world. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía features famous modern masterpieces by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, the Museo del Prado is home to some of the most important classical paintings in the world by Francisco Goya and Diego Velázquez and the private collection at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza has a bit of everything.
Seeing these museums when visiting Madrid is a must, but don’t forget about the smaller museums or more contemporary ways to see art in Madrid. Visit the Museo de Sorolla, a collection of Joaquin Sorolla’s paintings housed in his former mansion. Or, search for a few impressive ‘larger than life’ statues by Colombian artist Fernando Botero scattered about the city. You can always do a street art tour to see some of Madrid’s coolest graffiti designs. We go into more detail into these incredible Madrid museums below.
Visit the Reina Sofia Museum
The Reina Sofia Museum, nestled in the heart of Madrid, is a premier destination for art enthusiasts with a penchant for modern and contemporary creations. Housing an impressive collection of Spanish and international artworks, the museum showcases masterpieces by influential artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miró, among others. These iconic works span a wide range of artistic movements, from Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the evolution of 20th and 21st-century art.
As you explore the museum’s vast galleries, you’ll encounter some of its most renowned exhibits, including Picasso’s anti-war masterpiece, “Guernica,” which powerfully conveys the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Dalí’s surreal and enigmatic paintings also captivate visitors with their dreamlike imagery and thought-provoking themes. The Reina Sofia Museum is not only a testament to artistic genius but also a space where one can engage with the social, political, and cultural contexts that shaped the modern art world.
Visit the Prado Museum
A visit to the Prado Museum, situated in the heart of Madrid, is an unforgettable journey through the pages of art history. As one of the world’s most prestigious art institutions, the museum boasts a breathtaking collection of European masterpieces from the 12th to the 19th century. Prepare to be mesmerized by the incredible works of renowned artists such as Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and El Greco, whose creative genius has left an indelible mark on the world of fine art.
The moment you step inside the Prado Museum, you’ll be transported into a realm of unparalleled artistic brilliance. Witness firsthand the iconic “Las Meninas” by Velázquez, a captivating piece that continues to inspire debate and analysis. Gaze upon Goya’s masterful paintings, including the haunting “Black Paintings” and his striking portrayals of Spanish royalty. As you navigate through the museum’s vast galleries, you’ll uncover hidden gems and lesser-known works, each with its own unique story to tell.
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, nestled in the vibrant city of Madrid, stands as a testament to the beauty and diversity of art from various eras and styles. This extraordinary museum houses the impressive private collection of the late Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his family, boasting over 1,000 artworks that encompass eight centuries of European art. From the medieval period to the modern age, visitors can explore a myriad of masterpieces by celebrated artists such as Titian, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh, to name a few.
As you wander through the beautifully curated galleries of the Thyssen-Bornemisza, you’ll embark on a fascinating journey that traverses time and artistic movements, engaging with the evolving perspectives and techniques that have shaped the art world. Witness the vivid colors and emotional depth of the Renaissance, the elegance and grandeur of the Baroque period, and the dreamy, evocative landscapes of Impressionism.
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Drink Rooftop Cocktails
Madrid’s rooftop scene is exploding, and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see the sun set over the city’s never-ending tiled rooftops. The most famous of all is the Círculo de Bellas Artes (C. de Alcalá, 42, 28014 Madrid, Spain), which charges a small Euro charge to head up, but we promise the 360° views are worth it.
Many of Madrid’s hotels are opening rooftops too — check out the Nice to Meet You Sky Lounge at the Dear Hotel, Hyatt Centric’s Jardin de Diana. Or, visit one of the sky-high newcomers, Picalagartos in the NH Collection or the Gingko Restaurant at the VP Plaza España Design.
Stroll The Retiro Park
One of Europe’s most beautiful parks, the Retiro, combines nature which Madrid’s classical architecture for a mix of monuments, fountains and statues surrounded by hanging trees and manicured shrubs. The park, which was once a private garden for royalty, features a serene lake where you can rent rowboats and a palace made almost entirely of glass. Have a picnic on the grass or head to the Retiro’s recently renovated Florida Park bar for an aperitif.
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Visit the Plaza Mayor
If you’ve read Wine Traveler’s post on Europe’s most beautiful squares, the Plaza Mayor should already be on your list. The square, which dates back to 1619 has lived through three fires and several renovations, surviving hundreds of years. The 237 balconies throughout square exist in a perfect symmetric harmony, culminating in the center with a statue of Felipe the III. Street performers and tourists roam the square today, but it’s still easy to imagine what the square once was: a place where important town events were held such as public executions, Spanish inquisition trials and bullfights.
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Explore the Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid, a breathtaking 18th-century architectural masterpiece, stands as the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. While the royal family no longer resides here full-time, they still use the palace for state ceremonies and official events. This impressive structure invites visitors from all over the world to experience a taste of Spain’s royal history and rich cultural heritage.
As you step inside the palace grounds, prepare to be amazed by the sheer opulence and grandeur of the building, which showcases the work of prominent architects and designers from the Baroque period. With over 3,000 rooms, the palace is a treasure trove of art and historical artifacts that tell the story of the Spanish monarchy.
While touring the palace, you’ll encounter magnificent artworks from renowned painters such as Velázquez, Goya, and Caravaggio, which add an extra layer of charm and sophistication to the palace’s sumptuous interiors. One of the main highlights of the palace is the Royal Armory, a remarkable collection of medieval weaponry and armor that was once used by the Spanish kings and queens.
As you wander through the palace’s stately halls and lavishly decorated rooms, such as the Throne Room and the Hall of Mirrors, you’ll gain a unique insight into the lives of the Spanish royals who once inhabited these spaces. Imagine the grand feasts, diplomatic receptions, and glittering balls that must have taken place within these walls.
Don’t forget to explore the picturesque gardens that surround the palace, including the beautiful Sabatini Gardens and Campo del Moro Gardens. These lush green spaces, adorned with fountains, sculptures, and well-manicured flower beds, provide a tranquil retreat from the bustling city and offer a stunning backdrop for photos to remember your visit.
See The Many Monuments
While Madrid may not have one standout architectural wonder like Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, it has a number of important monuments. The Puerta de Alcalá was once the door to the city center. You can still see gouges in the stone arch from bullets dating back to the Spanish Civil War. Cibeles square features the magnificent Cibeles building and a fountain with a Greek goddess and her chariot, and the city’s many squares are worth visiting too. Madrid’s Palacio Real and Almudena cathedral are sights to behold, especially on a sunny morning.
Take in a Flamenco Show
Although flamenco hails from southern Spain, the best flamenco is in Madrid as the most coveted artists move to the city to share their art with the world. Book a show at famous spots like Corral de la Morería or Casa Patas. Or, visit a bar like La Taranta over the weekend and hope to see some spontaneous flamenco action. Either way, immerse yourself in the dance and song — a passionate world of stomps, claps and soulful melodies.
Visit Madrid’s Wine Bar Scene
Obviously, here at Winetraveler, we recommend you indulge in one of our favorite pastimes: drinking wine. While you can do this in every city, town or village in Spain, Madrid has an excellent wine bar vibe. But don’t expect a menu of options or in-depth tastings where people gargle and tout wine vocabulary. Madrid’s wine scene is delightfully unpolished, and you simply order your wine by color.
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When you tell the waiter vino rojo, you’ll be gruffly offered Rioja or Ribera, and white, Verdejo or Albariño. If you want just a few more options, head to Angelita or La Fisna. These spots offer more varieties by the glass.
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Go Wine Tasting Outside of Madrid in the Countryside
We should also mention that Madrid is a wine region in and of itself. If you felt like getting outside of the city for the day, you can take a full-day Spanish wine tour of the surrounding Madrid countryside, which includes visits to 3 of the Madrid DO’s most prestigious wineries.
Visit the Puerta del Sol
The Puerta del Sol, which translates to “Gate of the Sun,” is the vibrant heart of Madrid and one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. This bustling square serves as a central meeting point for both locals and tourists alike, offering a unique glimpse into the daily life and spirited atmosphere of the Spanish capital.
As you stroll through the Puerta del Sol, you’ll quickly discover that it’s an ideal place to immerse yourself in Madrid’s lively culture. Take a moment to people-watch as you sit at one of the many outdoor cafes or restaurants lining the square, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city while savoring some delicious Spanish cuisine or a refreshing drink.
Shopping enthusiasts will find plenty to delight them in the area surrounding Puerta del Sol. From trendy boutiques and international brands to charming souvenir shops and traditional Spanish markets, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.
While you’re exploring the square, make sure to keep an eye out for some of its most famous attractions. One such notable landmark is the iconic “Kilometer Zero” plaque, which marks the starting point of Spain’s national roads. This symbolic spot is a popular meeting place for locals and a must-see for visitors.
Another prominent feature of the square is the historic Tio Pepe neon sign, a symbol of Madrid’s nightlife and urban landscape. Additionally, you’ll find the impressive equestrian statue of King Charles III, who was instrumental in the development and modernization of the city during his reign.
If you’re a fan of photography or simply wish to capture your memories of Madrid, Puerta del Sol provides plenty of stunning backdrops for your snapshots. Whether it’s the vibrant crowd, the majestic architecture, or the iconic landmarks, you’ll find no shortage of Instagram-worthy moments.
In the evening, Puerta del Sol truly comes alive as people from all walks of life gather to enjoy the lively atmosphere, partake in street performances, or simply share stories and laughter with friends. The square’s energy is contagious, and you’ll soon find yourself swept up in the excitement of Madrid’s beating heart.
Tour the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
Touring the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is an exhilarating experience for any sports enthusiast, especially those who admire the artistry of football. As the home ground of Real Madrid, one of the world’s most successful and iconic football clubs, the stadium holds a special place in the hearts of millions of fans globally.
The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, named after the club’s legendary president who oversaw its construction in the 1940s, boasts a seating capacity of over 81,000 spectators. This impressive arena has not only hosted numerous domestic and international football matches, but has also been the site of historic events, such as the 1982 FIFA World Cup and multiple UEFA Champions League finals.
Snack On Chocolate and Churros
One of Spain’s most famous breakfasts, desserts or midnight snacks, sample churros and chocolate. Dip the long sugary sticks of dough into the piping hot, thick chocolate and enjoy! While San Gines may be the most famous place to order them, Valor’s are just as delicious and often have less lines and tourist hordes.
Getting To and Around Madrid
You can fly nonstop from several cities in the US to Madrid on airlines like Iberia, Delta, United or American. Keep an eye out in off-season for airfare deals. You can sometimes find fares for as little as a few hundred dollars roundtrip.
Once in Madrid, the city’s underground metro system is easy, affordable and safe to use. The EMT bus system may be a little more complicated, but connects you to even more spots. Although you can easily get an Uber, Cabify or taxi, Madrid’s city center is best explored on foot. You can also rent bikes or scooters to get around.