Madrid, Spain’s vibrant capital city, is one of Europe’s most historic cities. Did you know the first mention of Madrid was in 865?
The megacity is home to Europe’s greatest art museums, two world-famous football clubs, and it's the third biggest city in Europe behind London and Berlin with 3.4 millionLink opens in a new tab inhabitants. Although Madrid is a modern city by global standards, it’s managed to keep its historic neighborhoods and streets.
And although Barcelona tends to overshadow Madrid as a tourist destination, travelers enjoy Madrid for its eclectic nightlife and scrumptious Spanish cuisine. Madrid didn’t gain global prominence until the Middle Ages when various armies conquered the city, which explains the city’s rich cosmopolitan diversity.
Here are the best things to do in Madrid:
1. Visit the Royal Palace
The Royal PalaceLink opens in a new tab is simply stunning. Builders began construction on Madrid’s Royal Palace in 1735. It was home to Spain’s royal family until the 1930s, although it still stands as the official home of the Spanish royal family. It’s also one of the few seats of a Head of State that’s open to the public.
The palace is Western Europe’s largest and one of the world’s largest. You can take a guided tour (which we would recommend) or explore the historic grounds yourself. However, make sure you set aside good time out of your day because this palace has 3,400 rooms, and it’s 1.4 million square feet.
Address: C. de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid, Spain
2. Witness the Madrid Cathedral
Europe is home to the world’s greatest cathedrals, and the Madrid cathedral is up there with the best. First opened in 1993, the Catedral de la AlmudenaLink opens in a new tab is Madrid’s primary cathedral. The architects built the cathedral in an old Gothic Revival style. Subsequently, historians believe they built it as an ancient mosque.
Furthermore, the cathedral offers stunning—yet completely natural—views of Madrid. You can witness daily mass take place at 12, 7, and 8 pm every day. Admission to the cathedral is free, which is superb if you’re budgeting.
Address: C. de Bailén, 10, 28013 Madrid, Spain
3. Explore Plaza Mayor
Plaza MazorLink opens in a new tab is the heart of Madrid’s old quarter. The square dates back to the 15th century when King Felipe II’s court moved to Madrid after Madrid became Spain’s new capital city. The builders created the square where the old market was.
Today, it’s a wonderful place for locals and tourists to relax, eat, and shop throughout the year.
Moreover, Plaza Mayor offers excellent concerts and events during the summer months. It’s also great for people watching due to the hectic nature of the area in summer.
Address: Pl. Mayor, 28012 Madrid, Spain
4. Eat and Drink at the Mercado de San Miguel
It’s hard to find a better place to grab some food in Madrid than the Mercado de San MiguelLink opens in a new tab. The area is only a short walk from the Plaza Mayor, and it’s home to over 20 tasty food stalls and restaurants. You can find affordable tapas and drinks at all the venues.
The Mercado de San Miguel first opened its doors more than 100 years ago. Since then, the historic building has stood out as one of the world’s top gastronomic markets. Make sure you check out the incredible cheeses from Castile, Asturias, and the Basque Country.
Address: Pl. de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid, Spain
5. Watch Real Madrid Play Football
If you didn’t already know, Spain adores football. The national team has won various major tournaments in the previous 20 years. Madrid is home to Real Madrid, arguably the world’s greatest football team.
They play their home matches at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, which has an impressive 81,000 seater capacity. If you can’t manage to watch a match during your stay, you should get a stadium tour because the history and the stadium are both equally impressive.
Address: Av. de Concha Espina, 1, 28036 Madrid, Spain
6. Observe Art at the Prado Museum
A visit to Madrid isn’t complete until you visit an art museum. After all, Madrid is one of Europe’s—if not the world’s—greatest artistic cities. The Prado Museum initially opened in 1819, and it’s home to around 20,000 works by various great Spanish artists.
These include Goya, El Greco, and Velázquez. What’s more, you can observe excellent works from Botticelli, van Dyck, Rubens, and Dürer. Admission to the museum is 15 EUR, but it’s worth it if you enjoy cultural experiences.
Address: C. de Ruiz de Alarcón, 23, 28014 Madrid, Spain
7. Marvel at the Temple of Debod
The Temple of Debod dates back to the second century BCE. The temple was originally located near Aswan in Upper Egypt. However, the Egyptian government dismantled it and gave it to the Spanish government in 1968.
The Egyptian government did this because they wanted to thank the Spanish government for helping to relocate monuments from the Aswan Dam site. You can now find the temple in Cuartel de la Montaña Park. Tourists aren’t allowed to enter the temple’s interior, but they’re fully entitled to walk alongside it and take epic photos.
Address: C. de Ferraz, 1, 28008 Madrid, Spain
8. Rest in Retiro Park
Madrid is such a bustling megacity, yet it’s home to some marvelous green spaces. Retiro Park is precisely that. The park is home to beautiful luscious trees and elegant gardens. Paddling alongside the Grand Pond next to the monument of Alfonso XII is great fun for the entire family.
Furthermore, the iron and glass pavilion beside the Philippine Exhibition in 1887 is beautiful. The city’s oldest tree is in the park. The tree—which is a Montezuma Cypress—dates back to 1633. How’s that for a bit of history?
Address: Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain
10 Fascinating Facts About Madrid
- Madrid has more cloudless days than any other European city
- Madrid is one of Europe’s greenest cities
- The city is the highest capital in Europe
- Madrid is home to Warner Brothers Movie World, which is Spain’s version of Disney World
- Real Madrid FC was the world’s most successful football club during the 20th century
- Madrid is one of four of Europe’s richest cities
- Madrid has one of Europe’s largest metro systems
- Sobrino de Botín, the world’s oldest restaurant, is located in Madrid
- Madrid is the second-biggest city in the EU
- Madrid was founded in 860 A.C.
Spain is home to many incredible destinations. People often overlook Madrid for coastal vacations. However, if you want a genuine feel of Spanish heritage and the impact it’s had on the world—Madrid is an excellent destination for you.
We recommend you visit in the spring and fall months because it’s hot during the summer due to its central location in Spain. Either way, Madrid is a cosmopolitan megacity that won’t let you down if you love sunshine, history, food, nightlife, culture, and art.