What to do in Madrid – 12 of the best things to see and do

What to do in Madrid – 12 of the best things to see and do

When it comes to things to do in the Spanish capital you’re simply spoilt for choice. Madrid is a feast for the eyes, brain and belly – there truly is something for everyone whether you’re a foodie, football fan or culture fiend.

You’ll only ever be able to scratch the surface of what Madrid has to offer in one trip, but to get a good feel for the city we put together our top 12 recommendations for visitors.

We managed to squeeze most of these in during our first three-day visit to the city, and when we return (and we will!) we’ll fill in the gaps and probably go back and re-do several on this list too!

So let’s inspire you to visit Madrid – you won’t regret it!

Free walking tour madrid

UKBA

1 – Take a free walking tour

As I’ve said time and again, a walking tour is one of the best ways to introduce yourself to a new city. The majority of destinations now have free walking tours available – several of the LWT team members have gone on free walking tours in cities including Oslo, Tallinn, Reykjavik and Berlin.

Often guides are local students looking to make some money in tips (you can choose to tip as much or as little as you feel the tour was worth as thanks to your guide) and they share amazing stories and insights into the city you’re visiting.

In Madrid we used Free Walking Tours Madrid, and our guide Marina was brilliant. Not only did she tell us all about the city’s history, we had fun along the way, learning some basic flamenco moves and also getting some good tapas tips.

2 – Wander the streets

If you don’t want to do a guided tour, then why not hit the streets yourself?

Just wandering through the old city’s streets and squares is a joy in itself, as the buildings, tiles and street art are all so beautiful!

Wandering around the literary district was my personal favourite. Here you’ll find beautiful buildings like the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians and the Teatro Español, Europe’s oldest working theatre, which has been holding shows since the 16th Century.

3 – Take the Madrid City Tour bus

If you’d prefer a more restful tour – maybe you have ill health like me, or are crazy enough to visit in the heat of August like we did, then the Madrid City Tour bus is a good choice.

Plug in your headphones to get a little info on the buildings you pass, or simply use it as a good way of getting from one attraction to another. The Madrid City Tour Bus has two separate routes – the historical route, which loops around the old part of the city, and modern Madrid, which takes you further out to see the city’s newer architecture, as well as also the Bernabéu football stadium.

It’s a good way to have a sit down, but don’t use it if you’re in a rush – Madrid traffic means the bus takes its time to get anywhere!

At time of writing, a ticket costs €21 for an adult and €10 for a child (7-15) for one day and €25/€ for a two day pass. A one day family pass costs €54. However, if you buy your tickets online you get a discount that can save you between €1-5 per ticket.

What to see and do in Madrid

4 – See an Egyptian temple

Yep, you read that right. In Cuartel de la Montana Park, just a short walk from the Royal Palace and Cathedral, stands the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod.

Not the kind of thing you’d expect to see in the Spanish capital, but worth a visit nonetheless. It’s actually a true Egyptian temple, dating back to 2nd century BC, and was donated to Spain in thanks for the country’s help building the Aswan Dam back in the 1960s.

For some great insider tips on what to see and do in Madrid, it’s well worth picking up a copy of the Madrid Marco Polo Pocket Guide. Here we discovered lots of great tips, including a recommendation to come here just before sunset as the temple is bathed in the last of the day’s light and is one of the best sunset spots in the city.

What to see and do in Madrid

5 – Visit the Faro de Moncloa

El Faro, which actually means lighthouse, is a former transmission tower built by architect Salvador Pérez Arroyo in 1992, the year Madrid was named European Capital of Culture. Standing 92 metres high, its observation deck looks like a flying saucer and gives some amazing views out over the city.

Not for the faint of heart, the journey up to the tower is in a glass lift. Make sure you stand by the doors if you want a good view on your way up or down.

What to see and do in Madrid

6 – Eat tapas and churros

Embrace the Spanish way of life and dine on tapas throughout your stay in Madrid!

You can’t walk more than 500m without spotting a tapas bar, so do as the Spanish do and stop off for a drink and a pinxto or two before moving onto the next spot. Many bars are known for their own specialities, so keep your eyes open for something that takes your fancy – or perhaps what the locals are eating!

If you’re looking for tapas on the go, why not visit one of the city’s food markets? Mercado de San Miguel is one of the most popular and is a great place to ‘window’ shop even when you’re not hungry!

For those with a sweet tooth, you’ll love the churrerias and chocolaterias scattered throughout the city. Dunking your delicious deep fried pastry sticks into thick, chocolate sauce is heaven!

7 – Spend your Sunday at El Rastro

El Rastro is Madrid’s biggest flea market. Taking place every Sunday, streets are overtaken by more than 1,000 vendors selling both new and second-hand items, from undies and tourist t-shirts through to antique coins, furniture and creepy looking dolls.

It’s a great way to spend a Sunday morning, and I dare you to leave without buying something!

What to see and do in Madrid

8 – Visit one of the many museums

Madrid has an abundance of amazing museums to visit, from classic and contemporary art galleries through to museums on archaeology, naval history, and waxworks.

Some of the biggest have to be the Prado and Reina Sofia Museums and it’s well worth noting that many offer free admission at certain times (another useful tip in the Marco Polo Guide!)

There’s something for everyone and it’s well worth taking the time to at least visit one during a trip to the city. The issue is deciding which!

What to see and do in Madrid

9 – Drink Tinto de Verano on a rooftop bar

Forget sangria, the locals go for tinto de verano, which translates to ‘summer red wine’. It’s actually very similar to sangria but simpler – its made of red wine, lemonade and sparkling water. It’s oh so drinkable, but be warned, the alcohol sneaks up on you!

The best places to enjoy a drink in the city of Madrid, are of course, rooftop bars. It’s not a cheap option, as most charge an entry fee, a minimum spend if you want to reserve a table (with a good view) and drinks come at a premium. However, it’s really gotta be done once.

Recommendations include the Terraza Cibeles on the roof of the Plaza de Ciebles and the rooftop bar at Circulo de Bellas Artes.

What to see and do in Madrid

10 – Tour the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium

Home to football team Real Madrid, named FIFA’s best football club of the 20th century, sports fans will love touring the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

You’re guided through the stadium, including stops at the changing rooms, press room, down to the pitch side and the very impressive trophy room.

What to see and do in Madrid

11 – Chill in El Retiro Park

Reminding me of London’s great parks, El Retiro is a historic garden associated with the former Buen Retiro Palace.

You could easily while away half a day (or more!) here as there’s so much to see. Late 19th century monuments are scattered throughout the grounds, making it an outdoor sculpture museum, then there’s the spectacular glass palace and the opportunity to take a rowboat out onto the lake.

What to see and do in Madrid

12 – See opulence at the Royal Palace

The Royal Palace may be the official residence of the King of Spain, but it’s only used by the royals for state ceremonies – the rest of the time the palace is a museum open to the public.

If you’re after some decadent splendour this is the place to go as room after room glitters with gold or chandeliers. There’s not much information around in English though, so if you’d like to know about what you’re looking at I recommend picking up an audio guide.

Also be warned that photos are only allowed in the first few halls and rooms of the palace. It’s not particularly clear where and when you can’t take pictures as we only saw one sign at the beginning, but guards are constantly on the look out and in most rooms we heard them shouting at tourists for attempting to take a quick shot!

12 of the best things to see and do in Madrid

So there you have it – our top 12. Has this whet your appetite? Or perhaps you’ve been to Madrid and have your own recommendations to add?

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Keri

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

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26 Comments

  1. October 1, 2018 / 9:09 am

    That summer red wine in a rooftop bar sounds perfect! I visited Madrid last when I was inter-railing and had no money. I’d love to return and enjoy some of the finer things the city has to offer, oh and some churros too! #Mondayescapes

    • Keri
      Author
      October 12, 2018 / 7:18 pm

      Ah yeah the rooftop bars are amazing but very expensive! If you can afford it though it’s a nice treat…

  2. October 1, 2018 / 9:56 am

    I’ve never visited Madrid but this post has certainly inspired me!! I wasn’t expecting to see an Egyptian Temple on the list!! #MondayEscapes

    • Keri
      Author
      October 12, 2018 / 7:18 pm

      It was a surprise for me too – very cool though…

  3. Mama Travels Earth
    October 1, 2018 / 7:44 pm

    I second Annabel, that rooftop bar looks dreamy! And so does the sound of summer red wine! I’ve never been to Madrid, so have pinned this for future reference! #MondayEscapes

    • Keri
      Author
      October 12, 2018 / 7:19 pm

      Try that wine, it’s my fave thing ever!

  4. October 2, 2018 / 5:18 pm

    Fantastic ideas! I’ve only been to Barcelona… looking forward to visiting Madrid. #citytripping

    • Keri
      Author
      October 12, 2018 / 7:19 pm

      I hope you get to go soon, it’s such a great city.

    • Keri
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 8:09 am

      It was wonderful – and thanks for all the tips on your website! x

  5. October 3, 2018 / 9:01 am

    Madrid looks amazing, I’ve never been and am desperate to visit! My boys are desperate too, but mainly for football related reasons!! I love the sound of the Faro de Moncloa and El Rastro flea market sounds fab.
    Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

    • Keri
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 8:10 am

      Yeah its a great city for football lovers. We have a little tradition now when we visit a city as a family – the boys go and do a stadium tour while the girls go and do something more cultured! 😉

  6. October 4, 2018 / 8:55 pm

    Madrid is such a wonderful city, so much to see and do and a great place to party! #farawayfiles

    • Keri
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 8:10 am

      I totally agree!

  7. October 5, 2018 / 8:17 am

    Madrid’s such a great city, often overshadowed by Barcelona but very unfairly I think. Maybe it’s better – helps keep the rif raf out. Those tapas!

    • Keri
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 8:13 am

      Ha ha, I like your thinking! 😉

  8. October 7, 2018 / 3:52 pm

    Madrid is somewhere I would like to visit but maybe not in the heat of summer! Spring me me I think! And my mouth is watering thinking about Tapas – we made a lot of our own this summer, perfect food for when it is so hot. #Citytripping #farawayfiles

    • Keri
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 8:15 am

      I can imagine spring and autumn being the best times to go weatherwise, August was definitely sweltering! :s

  9. October 8, 2018 / 10:57 am

    Madrid looks like such an incredible city, I’ve never visited before but after reading this post and seeing how much there is to do I am very much inspired to visit some day! #citytripping

    • Keri
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 8:11 am

      Do it – you won’t regret it! 😉

  10. October 9, 2018 / 4:37 am

    Yes! Love Madrid! I did my college semester abroad there and had the absolute best time. So much energy, and as you show here, so many great things to see and do! Thanks for linking up with #farawayfiles

    • Keri
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 8:12 am

      A pleasure! Glad you liked Madrid as much as us, bet it was amazing studying there.

  11. October 12, 2018 / 9:02 pm

    Madrid looks absolutely lovely!! I love to wander the streets and take in the colours, buildings, and street art, and I have a real love for doors!! DrinkingTinto de Verano on a rooftop bar also sounds wonderful! Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes

    • Keri
      Author
      October 13, 2018 / 8:15 am

      Then this is a city you’ll definitely enjoy! 😉

  12. October 15, 2018 / 9:39 am

    This is a nice friendly reminder that we haven’t been back to Madrid in years. Been spending a lot of time exploring other parts of Spain but forgot how much we enjoyed our trips to Madrid. Might be time for a quick weekend trip. Thanks.

    • Keri
      Author
      October 27, 2018 / 1:59 pm

      my pleasure – have a great visit!

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