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Top 10 things to do in Madrid

Updated on March 24, 2011

Top 10 things to do in Madrid

When people think of visiting Spain, what springs to mind is sand, sun and beers by the pool. Whilst that is true, there's another side to Spain which you can especially find in it's capital. There are plenty of things to, a lot of which involve enjoying beers and tapas on one of the hundred of terraces.

But there are also plenty of cultural activities to indulge yourself in: the beautiful arquitecture of the Gran Vía, the amazing works of art in the Museo del Prado or the many beautiful gardens of el Retiro. In an attempt to offer you a "best of" list, here are our "Top ten things to do in Madrid". Enjoy.

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Cristal Palace at Retiro
Cristal Palace at Retiro

#1 Parque del Retiro

Also known as Madrid's lungs.

Probably my favourite Madrid spot. A massive 1.2 squared kilometres, this park is also known as the "lungs of Madrid" due to the surface it covers. But it's not just green, there are plenty of other activities to do here; a boating pond, kids playgrounds, Casa de Vacas (theatre and art gallery), the Crystal Palace (another exposition gallery), street artists, tarot readers, etc, etc, etc.... If you want to pick a day, Sunday is probably your best choice, because it's when you'll find it the liveliest.

Tip: If you're in to photography, you'll love el Retiro.

Las Meninas
Las Meninas

#2 Museo del Prado

Some of the best art in the known universe.

Candidate for the best art museum in the world? If it's not, it should be. Here you'll find some of the greatest paintings ever created, like Goya's "La Maja Desnuda" or Velazquez's "Rendición de Breda". But not only is it home to Goya and Velázquez, Spain's painting superstars, you'll also find other masters in here like Rubens, el Greco, Caravaggio, Tiziano or Rembrandt . Honestly, if you visit Madrid and don't go to el Prado, you're missing out on one of its best attractions.

Gran Vía
Gran Vía

#3 Gran Vía

Enjoy the arquitecture of Madrid's main artery.

One of Madrid's main arteries. It has recently turned 100, and it's looking as good as ever. If you're in to architechture you'll love these 1.3km, where you'll find a wide variety of interesting buildings (many are very similar to what you'd find in Manhattan).

In the golden age of cinema, this was the place where all the big premieres were held, and still today this is the case (though there aren't that many picture houses left). There are still a lot of traditional theatres though, and every year this is where the big musicals are staged.

Good for a stroll or a bit of shopping, at night it turns into a completely different atmosphere (not bad, just different).

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor

#4 Visit the "Rastro" and enjoy the cuisine

Try a "squid sandwich" in the Plaza Mayor

Definitely one of Madrid's favourite pastimes. Every Sunday morning (til 2pm), stretching south from the Plaza Mayor across the neighbourhood of Lavapiés, this open air market congregates thousands of people. Down the main isle you'll find all types of stuff (t-shirts, souvenirs, bags and purses, etc...), but if you adventure into the side streets, you can find some real hidden treasure: antiques, old paintings, etc... and to finish off the morning, enjoy a typical "squid sandwich" (Bocadillo de Calamares) and a few beers at the Plaza Mayor.

Palacio Real
Palacio Real

#5 Palacio Real and the Jardines de Sabatini

Experience the royal palace and its surroundings.

Right in the heart of Madrid, you will find the Royal Palace. Surronded by beautiful gardens (Campo del Moro to the west, Jardines de Sabatini to the north, and the Plaza de Oriente to the east), this is one of the most spectacular places to find a bench and get out of the heat. The surrounding streets are also very interesting, as it gives you an idea of the old Madrid.

From here, you can head towards the Plaza de España and the Templo de Debod.

101 things to do in Madrid before you die

Templo de Debod
Templo de Debod

#6 Visit the Templo de Debod

Enjoy the sunset and beautiful views

A step away from the Royal Palace and the Plaza de España, this open air monument was donated to Spain in 1968 by Egypt to thank them for their help in saving various temples in Nubia. It turns out that the place where this two thousand year old temple has been placed, is one of the nicest spots to watch the sunrise over Madrid. From here, you have spectacular views of the Plaza de la Armería, the Cathedral of la Almudena and San Francisco el Grande. ¿Best of all? It's completely free.


#7 Museo Reina Sofia

Experience some of modern art's greatest artists.

Probably less known than the Museo del Prado, but not neccesarilly less interesting. One of Picasso's greatest works is on permanent show here, filling the room and transporting you to the crying agony that is Guernica. Other interesting contemporary artists like Dali or Miró are also on show here, which help to give you a good general sense of the spanish modern art scene.

Super Tip: Between 19:00 and 21:00, Saturdays after 16:30 and Sunday mornings, entrance to the museum is free.

Santiago Bernabeu (photo credit: Sebastián Calle)
Santiago Bernabeu (photo credit: Sebastián Calle)

#8 Santiago Bernabeu

Home to the greatest football team in the world.

Madrid is home to one of the best football (soccer) teams in the world: Real Madrid. Nominated by FIFA as "the best team of the 20th century", they are the proud winners of 8 European cups, 2 UEFA cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups, 27 Leagues, 17 Spanish Cups and 4 Spanish Supercups, which makes visiting the "Bernabeu" one of the favourite attractions in Madrid. You can visit the trophy room(s), changing rooms and even sit on the bench for a pretty reasonable admission fee, but the best way to live the experience is on a match night, so make sure you take this into account when planning your trip.

La Cibeles
La Cibeles

#9 Cibeles and the Puerta de Alcalá

Two emblematic Madrid landmarks.

Paris has the "Arc de Triomphe", Berlin has the "Brandemburg Gate", and Madrid has the "Puerta de Alcalá". It may not be as well-known as the previously mentioned, but it is definitely worth a quick snap on your way out of el Retiro park. If you continue down that same street, you will also encounter the fountain of Cibeles (greek goddess of mother nature), which is where Real Madrid (and their thousands of fans) go to celebrate their major victories.

Don Quijote
Don Quijote

#10 Feel Madrid's lifeblood

Quijote and Sancho Panza can show you the way

Madrid has a pulsating energy that you can feel all around you. It's in the streets, in the buildings but especially, it's in the people. If you take a walk around Madrid on any given day, you will feel the sense of purpose, of direction. Thousands of people running from one place to another, the city feels alive. One of the nicest places to sit back (on a bench or on the grass), is at the Plaza de España: in the centre, a huge monument to Cervantes and his two most important characters, Quijote and Sancho Panza. A place to relax and take consciousness of this living city.

I would love to hear what you think about this lens. Would you have left something out or added something completely different? Why don't you let us know in the comments?

I hope you've enjoyed this Top 10

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    • Anime-e profile image

      Anime-e 5 years ago

      These pictures are outstanding! I love them and theres so much to do there!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I want to see Parque del Retiro!

    • ltraider profile image

      ltraider 6 years ago

      I would love to see Real Madrid play in that stadium. I have a couple of friends who went last year and could not stop talking about it.

    • pixelposy profile image

      pixelposy 6 years ago

      Hmmm this makes me want to book a trip to Madrid. Thanks for the mini tour.

    • LaurieKristensen profile image

      LaurieKristensen 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading the descriptions of the top ten things to do in Madrid, and hope I get to visit some day. The Parque del Retiro sounds a bit like New York's Central Park, another spot I hope to take in at some point!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Loved the pictures, thought your lens had lots of great information:) Thanks

    • jaimepuxxle profile image

      jaimepuxxle 6 years ago

      @mariaamoroso: Thanks for always being so kind with your comments! I'm glad that it brings back memories. xxx

    • mariaamoroso profile image

      irenemaria 6 years ago from Sweden

      Yes Darling! The Squid cast worked so well and I who lived in Madrid for a while have lots of memories thanks to you!