21 Things to Do in Madrid Before You Leave

21 Things to Do in Madrid Before You Leave

Madrid is a city filled with history, art, culture, parks, and great food. Collectively, our team has spent years in Madrid teaching, studying, and getting to know this wonderful metropolis. In this guide to Madrid, we collate our recommendations for bars, restaurants, and things to see and do in the Spanish capital. Whatever you choose, we know you’ll love Madrid! 

1. See How the Royals Live at Palacio Real de Madrid

Go inside and walk around; it’s HUGE! The Royal Palace of Madrid has over 1,000 rooms. With interior measurements of 134,999 square meters, it’s the largest palace in Europe. Photography is allowed outside the building and around the entrance, by the stairs, when you pass inside.

2. Get Your Five a Day at Honest Greens

Take a North American Business School alumnus, a Danish entrepreneur, and a French chef with Michelin kitchen experience and you get Honest Greens. Combine with locally sourced produce and a fast-food philosophy to create a growing number of relaxed eateries. A retro soundtrack plays as you order from the counter and sit down to wait for your seasonal selection delivered to an artfully designed stone table.

3. Visit North Africa Without Leaving Europe by Dropping by Templo de Debod

This is one of the only Egyptian architectural monuments outside of Egypt. Built in 150-250 BC, Templo de Debod was a chapel where many Egyptians honored the god Amun and the goddess Isis. Spain assisted the Egyptian government in building a dam that helped stop the destruction of famous sites. Egypt donated this temple as a thank you for their help. It’s best to see it at sunset!

4. Beat a Retreat From the Madrid Heat at Catedral de la Almudena

The Spanish capital’s cathedral maintains a cool interior. This beautiful venue hosted a fairytale wedding on 22nd May 2004 as King Felipe VI, then Spain’s Crown Prince, married Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. There is no set entrance fee, but you are encouraged to dig deep in your pockets and make a voluntary donation to help pay for the cathedral’s upkeep. Many visitors like to light a candle for a loved one while there.

5. Join the Brunch Bunch at Café Federal

If you are a homesick American craving pancakes, head to the cozy Café Federal in Universidad barrio. This is a perfect post-breakfast, pre-lunch destination. You can even find plant-based options if you or your brunching companions are vegan.

6. Play Hide and Seek in Parque del Retiro

Parque del Retiro is Madrid’s Central Park. It is so large you could spend the whole day here and still have more to see! Challenge yourself to find the famous statue of the Fallen Angel, go to the lake where you can rent a rowboat, take advantage of “the bars” for outdoor workouts, and check out the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal).

7. Savor the Flavor of Spain at Francesca’s Clueca

Francesca’s Clueca is a great little restaurant in Ibiza with homemade Spanish omelets (tortilla de patata). They are thick and traditionally made with potatoes inside, although you order off a long list of specialized omelets. A personal favorite of ours is the toscana with sun-dried tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and basil.

8. Pay Homage at Madrid’s White House, the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

La Casa Blanca is a nickname for the stadium of Spain’s (and possibly the world’s) most famous soccer club: Real Madrid. On non-match days, you can take a stadium tour. The tour allows you to enter the changing rooms that were frequented by club legends like Alfredo Di Stéfano, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Raúl, and Sergio Ramos. When Real Madrid plays at home, you will obviously find it easier to buy tickets for a game against one of La Liga’s smaller teams rather than for, say, El Clásico versus fierce rivals Barcelona.

9. Learn About Spanish History at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reína Sofía

In January 1937, the exiled Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, was commissioned by the Spanish government to create an eye-catching mural. This would be displayed at Paris’ Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life). Upon learning about the 26th April bombing of Guernica, poet Juan Larrea traveled to Picasso’s home to encourage him to make the aerial attack the focus of the mural. Picasso was further inspired by reading George Steer’s on-the-ground account of the Nazi-led onslaught and produced Guernica. Picasso’s mural and several of Salvador Dalí’s works can be found on the second floor of this museum

10. Dunk the Original Donuts

Chocolateria San Ginés is the first place in Madrid that sold churros con chocolate, crunchy dough fried in olive oil, which you dip into lukewarm rather than hot chocolate. They have been serving them since 1894. Chocolateria San Ginés is open from 8:00 am to 11:30 pm every day of the week. Despite opening eight years later than San Ginés, 1902 claims to be the oldest churreria in Madrid. However, it has pioneered the first gluten-free churro and is located centrally, just around the corner from Plaza Mayor. 

11. Enjoy a Birds’-Eye-View of Madrid

Just 4€ buys you a ticket to the 100-meter-high Faro de Moncloa in the Princesa neighborhood. It’s open from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm, Tuesday to Sunday. On a cloud-free day, you can see for miles and miles (up to 100km away). For a nocturnal vista, Círculo de Bellas Artes is the best rooftop bar to visit. Without a doubt, arrive early to get the best seat. A line usually forms before opening.

12. Take Stock of the Markets in Madrid

Mercado de San Miguel is right around the corner from Plaza Mayor. We like to walk past the seafood vendors to see the giant fish they put out daily. Malasaña’s Mercado de San Ildefonso has three floors, three cocktail bars, and plenty of tapas options to help you keep your footing if you’re on a booze cruise. Mercado de la Paz is a historic market that opened in 1882 in Salamanca. This is a great place to stock up on nibbles such as cold cuts, cheese, and olives, along with seasonal fruits and veggies.

13. See Mona Lisa’s Double at the Museo Nacional del Prado

The Prado features Spain’s most famous works of art. Make sure you make it to the Prado Mona Lisa by the artist group, Leonardeschi. This is a painting with the same subject as Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa. It has been on display since 1819. Pablo Picasso’s Las Meninas is another piece that you shouldn’t miss. The Prado is one of the largest museums in Europe. Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco are some of the other famous names to look out for here.

14. Bite into History at Restaurante Botín

Restaurante Botín, the world’s oldest restaurant, opened in 1725. This feat has earned the eatery a Guinness World Records entry. The interior has not changed here since its 18th-century origins and neither has the kitchen’s firewood oven. The house specialties are the suckling lambs and pigs imported from Segovia. Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene have used the Botín as a dramatic background in their novels.

15. Shop Until You Drop in Gran Vía, Madrid’s Oxford Street

All the main stores are located here. Along Gran Vía, you’ll stumble across Plaza de Callao. There is an El Corte Inglés store with a top floor full of restaurants. It’s worth a detour! Also, consider walking down Fuencarral, a shopping street closed off to cars that branches off Gran Vía.

16. Go Local at La Máquina Jorge Juan

When the DJ pumps up the volume at La Máquina Jorge Juan, you may think you’re dining in a club. This is a converted stately home in Salamanca, but it has the relaxed feeling of a local fave. To start, order their neat twist on patatas bravas, which are tempura potato sticks accompanied with a smoky, flavorsome salsa.

17. Get Your Bearings in the Heart of the City

At Puerta del Sol, you can find the city emblem, which is a statue of a Bear with a strawberry tree. Kilometer Zero is also located here, which is the exact center of Madrid. Without reservation, the best chocolate pastries in Madrid are located in nearby La Mallorquina. Order the napolitana de chocolate. Soooooo mouth-watering!

18. Take a Wander to the Wanda Metropolitano

This is the home of the Spanish capital’s second most popular soccer club, Atlético de Madrid. Just like their cross-city adversaries, Real Madrid, Wanda Metropolitano offers a stadium tour when the team isn’t playing at home. However, if you want a fuller flavor of Spanish soccer, try to visit on a matchday. The Atlético fans are passionate, proudly singing their club-related songs and shouting out chants.

19. Restore Your Inner Equilibrium at Levél Veggie Bistro

Stylish Ibiza is the ideal location for this chilled eatery that showcases upcoming artists alongside signature dishes, such as raw plant-based lasagna with macadamia ricotta and Brazil-nut parmesan. The owners, Fabrizio and Julie, are the guardians of this tranquil spot with its colorful menu which panders to your taste buds. Julie even has a salad named after her with rocket, macadamia cheese, orange wedges, cardamom, and beetroot dressed in a vinaigrette with a base of organic doughnut peach.

20. Eat Out at an A-lister Hideout, El Paraguas

Central, but tucked-away, Salamanca is the barrio the celebs feel relaxed enough to eat out in. Join the likes of Real Madrid stars (we saw left-back Marcelo there on our last visit) and satisfy your hunger for modern riffs on Asturian classics at stylish El Paraguas. The amuse bouches provide a bite-sized intro and outro to your meal.

21. Sip on High-End Cocktails at Pictura

Los Jerónimos is where it’s at if you’re craving exclusivity. This upscale neighborhood is where you’ll find the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, one of Madrid’s most luxurious hotels. Their Pictura is a dress-to-impress cocktail bar with a complimentary nut tree and bijou tapas, such as mini Korean burgers. 


51 thoughts on “21 Things to Do in Madrid Before You Leave

  1. This is a great guide to Madrid and I have to go some day. I love that palace and the parks and markets are second to none.

    1. We put a lot of time and effort into this, Melissa. It’s so reassuring to hear you think the guide is great. The palace, parks, and markets are three of our favorite places to head to.

  2. What some amazing things to do and see in Madrid, I have to admit it isn’t somewhere I had really thought of going before but now I would like to.

    1. Thanks, Sarah. Perhaps the likes of London, Paris, and Rome are more popular European destinations. But a trip to Madrid won’t disappoint at all.

  3. Madrid looks so pretty! I’ve only been to Barcelona in Spain but would love to go back and visit other cities. The food especially looks delicious in Madrid.

    1. Madrid and Barcelona are both fine cities, Stephanie. However, they are so very different. We hope you get to Madrid soon.

  4. So many amazing things to do in Madrid. This is a great list. That food is calling my name, especially the Spanish Churros!! Ha ha! Spain is definitely on my bucketlist!

    1. You are going to really enjoy yourself there, Tasheena. It was so much fun putting together this guide. Glad you like it.

  5. What a neat city to explore. I’ve never been to Europe but this would be a great city to check out and see the different sights.

  6. Oh wow, so many beautiful things to do in Madrid. I want to do them all. My mother has been to Parque del Retiro and she said that it’s really amazing.

    1. Madrid has so much history but it never stands still, Nyxie. You will recognize it but there will be some refreshing new additions you will notice too.

    1. Madrid looks amazing and is amazing. Hope you get there sooner rather than later. Let us know what you like best on our list.

  7. Madrid isn’t some place I’d actually dreamt to travel to but your post makes me want to go there. It looks beautiful.

  8. Those churches, the paintings and intricate ornates are one of the reasons Spain is on my ultimate bucket list. Madrid is definitely a great place to visit. Hopefully I can witness all it beauty someday. Thank you for this virtual tour.

    1. There is so much history to appreciate in Madrid, Milton. But it’s a forward-looking city with a bright future as well.

    1. You’re very welcome, Lynndee. We hope you can work your way through our list at your leisure shortly. Best of luck on that front.

  9. Thank you so much for this fabulous travel post. Madrid, Spain is my top destination for my next getaway as I am dying to get there. I will make sure to visit these spots as they all sound amazing and the pictures are beautiful!

  10. I haven’t been in Spain yet. What I really want to do is eat good food and explore the authentic Spanish gastronomy. Great photos! I hope I can travel there soon.

    1. Spain is one of the best destinations for foodies, Emman. You will certainly eat well there. Particularly in the likes of Madrid.

  11. Wow, I went to Madrid in 2018 and I didn’t do any of these things I don’t think. Now I know what to do for next time. Great post.

  12. Just love the vividness of the photos. It’s like we are there. Thanks for always bringing a smile to our faces with this excellent way to see the world through the Dreams Abroad lense!

  13. I definitely need to return to Madrid. I can’t believe that I overlooked so many interesting places. Reading this article made me feel like I’ve never been there before. Fantastic guide !

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