Madrid is a city filled with history, art, culture, parks, and great food. The Dreams Abroad team has collectively spent years in Madrid teaching, studying, and getting to know this wonderful metropolis. In this Madrid guide, 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.
Historic Landmarks and Museums
Go inside and walk around to take in the size of this palace. The Royal Palace of Madrid has over 3,000 rooms and is the official residence of reigning monarch Felipe VI, his wife, Queen Letizia, and their two daughters. With 135,000 square meters of space, it’s the largest palace in Europe. Photography is not allowed inside but is permitted outside the building. The Royal Palace was constructed on the site of a ninth-century Moorish fortress that burned down and took 17 years to build. The project started in 1738 and concluded in 1755. The Palacio Real reflects the Franco-Spanish architecture of the Bourbon dynasty and the exterior of the palace has a façade of white limestone and grey granite. The main architects of the palace were Italian: Filippo Juvarra, Giambattista Sacchetti, and Francesco Sabatini.
Templo de Debod is one of the only Egyptian architectural monuments outside of Egypt. Built sometime between 250-150 BC, the structure was a chapel dedicated to the god Amun and the goddess Isis. Spain assisted the Egyptian government in saving the Abu Simbel temples from flooding caused by the construction of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s, and Egypt donated the temple to Spain as a gift of appreciation. The monument is best experienced at sunset.
The Spanish capital’s cathedral maintains a cool interior even in the heat of a summer day. This beautiful venue hosted a fairytale wedding on May 22, 2004, as King Felipe VI, then Spain’s Crown Prince, married Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. There is no entrance fee, but you are encouraged to make a voluntary donation to help pay for the cathedral’s upkeep. Tourists are welcome to attend services, and many visitors like to light a candle for a loved one during their tour.
In January 1937, exiled Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, was commissioned by the Spanish Republican 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 April 26 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 the museum.
The Prado features Spain’s most famous works of art. Make sure to see 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 you shouldn’t miss. The Prado is one of the largest museums in Europe and Goya, Velazquez, and El Greco are some of the other famous names to look for here.
This elegant museum was once the highly desirable residence of Valencian portrait and landscape artist Joaquín Sorolla and his family. It was converted into a museo after the death of his widow, Clotilde Garcia del Castillo, in 1929 and opened to the public three years later. Joaquín met his wife while apprenticing with her photographer father. In addition to works of art by Sorolla, there are also sculptures by his daughter, Elena, on display.
Take an American business school alumnus, combine with a Danish entrepreneur, and add a French chef with Michelin kitchen experience to guarantee a recipe for success at this Madrid restaurant. This group joined forces to create relaxed eateries across Madrid that feature locally sourced produce with a fast-food philosophy. A retro soundtrack plays as you order from the counter and wait for your seasonal selection to be delivered to your artfully designed stone table.
2. Café Federal
If you are a homesick American craving pancakes, head to this cozy place in Universidad barrio or the second location in Conde de Barajas. Either venue is a perfect post-breakfast, pre-lunch destination. You can even find plant-based options for your vegan companions. Breakfast and brunch are served until 1 PM on weekdays. The schedule extends to 4 PM on Saturdays and 2 PM on Sundays.
This great little restaurant in Ibiza features homemade Spanish omelets (tortilla de patata). They are thick and traditionally made with potatoes and onion, but you can order off a long list of specialized omelets. A favorite is the toscana with sun-dried tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and basil.
4. Chocolateria San Ginés and 1902
Chocolateria San Ginés is the first place in Madrid to sell churros con chocolate, crunchy dough fried in olive oil that is served with lukewarm chocolate dip instead of hot. They have been serving these treats since 1894. Chocolateria San Ginés is open from 8 AM to 11:30 PM every day. 1902 is another popular churreria in Madrid that is still family owned and operated. They pioneered the first gluten-free churro and are located centrally around the corner from Plaza Mayor.
This restaurant opened in 1725, earning it a Guinness World Records entry as the world’s oldest restaurant. The interior has not changed since its 18th-century origins and neither has the kitchen’s firewood oven. The house specialties are lamb and suckling pigs imported from Segovia. Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene used the Botín as a dramatic background in their novels. Hemingway favored a corner table on the first floor. The cellar stores wine according to three types of classification based on age: Roble, Crianza, and Reserva. The cellar’s 14 to 18 degree Celsius temperature is ideal for housing these red wines.
Stylish Ibiza is the ideal location for this chill eatery that showcases work from up and coming artists alongside signature dishes, including raw plant-based lasagna with macadamia ricotta and Brazil-nut parmesan. The owners, Fabrizio and Julie, are the guardians of this tranquil spot and its colorful menu. Julie even has a salad named after her with arugula, macadamia cheese, orange wedges, cardamom, and beetroot dressed in a vinaigrette.
7. El Paraguas
Central but tucked-away, Salamanca is the barrio where the celebs feel relaxed enough to eat out. Join the likes of Real Madrid stars (legendary left-back Marcelo was spotted there on a recent visit) and satisfy your hunger with some modern riffs on Asturian classics at this stylish eatery. The amuse-bouches provide a bite-sized intro and conclusion to your meal.
Parks and Sports
This is Madrid’s Central Park, and it’s so large you can spend the whole day there and still have more to see. Challenge yourself to find the famous statue of the Fallen Angel, rent a rowboat at the lake, take advantage of “the bars” for outdoor workouts, and check out the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal).
“La Casa Blanca” is the stadium nickname 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 grants you access to changing rooms frequented by club legends such as Alfredo Di Stéfano, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Raúl, and Sergio Ramos. When Real Madrid plays at home, you’ll find that it’s easier to buy tickets for a game against one of La Liga’s smaller teams rather than El Clásico versus its fierce rival, Barcelona.
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, they offer a stadium tour when the team isn’t playing at home. However, if you want the full Spanish soccer experience, try to visit on a match day. The Atlético fans are passionate, and proudly sing club-related songs and enthusiastically shout out chants.
Sightseeing and Shopping
Just four euros buys you a ticket to the 100 meter high Faro de Moncloa, a former transmission tower with an observation deck in the Princesa neighborhood. It’s open from 9:30 AM to 8 PM, Tuesday through Sunday. On a cloudless day, you can see for miles (up to 100 kilometers away). You can easily make out the campus of the Universidad de Complutense, which opened in the 13th century in nearby Alcalá de Henares. Residence halls are color-coded by the home countries of students. Off in the distance is El Pardo is the royal palace where King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia spend most of their time. The palace originally served as a hunting lodge and is surrounded by a forest.
2. Market Shopping
Mercado de San Miguel is right around the corner from Plaza Mayor. Explore the market and 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 tapa options 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.
3. Gran Vía Shopping
All the region’s main stores are located along Gran Vía. As you explore, you’ll stumble across Plaza de Callao where there is an El Corte Inglés store with a top floor full of restaurants that is worth a detour. Also, consider walking down Fuencarral, a shopping street closed to cars that branches off Gran Vía.
You’ll find Madrid’s city emblem at Puerta del Sol: a statue of a bear with a strawberry tree. Kilometer Zero is also located here at the exact center of Madrid, which is the point which all distances in the city are measured from. Without reservation, the best chocolate pastries in Madrid are located in nearby La Mallorquina. Order the napolitana de chocolate.
For a nocturnal vista, Círculo de Bellas Artes has the best rooftop bar. A line usually forms before the bar opens, so arrive early to get the best seat. Dress up to feel like a star in one of Madrid’s most exclusive venues. The Círculo de Bellas Artes is a cultural center and it costs five euro to reach the rooftop with access to the La Pecera cafe. However, the place to be seen is the Azotea del Círculo. Order the signature Azotea cocktail with Chivas Mizunara blended Scotch whisky, lemon, cranberry, and ginger ale, and take in the view.
When the DJ pumps up the volume, you may think you’re dining in a club. This restaurant is in a converted stately home in Salamanca, but it has the relaxed feeling of a local favorite. To start, order their neat twist on patatas bravas, which are tempura potato sticks accompanied with smoky paprika flavored salsa.
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 complimentary nuts and bijou tapas, such as mini Korean burgers.
Keep This Madrid Guide Handy
Whether you’ve already planned your trip to Madrid or are considering it as your next destination, keep this Madrid travel guide close by as you map your itinerary.