Madrid is a great capital to visit and perfect for a city break. It is a vibrant city with a busy nightlife and amazing architecture worth seeing. Some of the highlights include the Royal Palace of Madrid, beautiful central squares including Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, Gran Vía street (the “Spanish Broadway”) and Madrid’s most famous park El Retiro Park.
Below we have outlined the top places to visit in Madrid and things you shouldn’t miss whilst in the city. We were in Madrid for a weekend, so you can certainly fit all these attractions and tourist highlights in two days. Enjoy!
Madrid is the capital and most-populous city of Spain. With a population of 3.4 million and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.7 million, this is one of the biggest cities in the European Union.
Madrid lies on the River Manzanares in the centre of both the country and the Community of Madrid region. In addition to being the capital city of Spain and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. It is located in the middle of Spain, with Puerta del Sol (Km 0) being the very centre of Spain.
The city has a continental Mediterranean climate. The time zone is GMT+1. As in most European countries, the local currency is the euro (EUR).
Travel and Accommodation in Madrid
The main airport in Madrid is Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD), located on the northeast of Madrid. The airport is conveniently located, only 12 kilometers from Madrid city centre.
You can get to the city by bus, train, metro, or taxi. Buses will take you to different points of the city in around 40 minutes and if you take the metro to Nuevos Ministerios station, you can reach the city in 20 minutes.
Flights from London to Madrid can vary by price but they can be around £70 return per person. Whilst on this topic, be sure to read our top tips for booking flights article explaining how you can save some money on your trips. We would recommend you stay at least a weekend (or a long weekend) to allow you to visit all the major points of interest.
We stood in a studio flat in central Madrid. Although we read the reviews (as we always do), the photos didn’t really match the reality and we were rather disappointed. Not even worth mentioning the place but if you are interested to know where not to stay, leave a comment or drop us a line.
Top Things to do in Madrid
There are so many things you can do in Madrid and so many beautiful places to see. It’s a pleasure to explore the Spanish capital and enjoy the architecture and beautiful streets. If you ask yourself “What to do in Madrid?” or “What to see in Madrid?“, here are our top recommendations.
If you don’t have enough time, you might consider Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Tour to cover the main attractions.
The Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish royal family at the city of Madrid. These days it is used only for state ceremonies but definitely worth a visit.
The palace has 135,000 square metres of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms. It is the largest functioning royal palace and the largest by floor area in Europe.
Whilst there, you can also see or visit Almudena Cathedral with its Baroque exterior matching the older Royal Palace.
Definitely visit the palace and check out centuries worth of paintings, furniture and armour. We were really impressed! Thinking back, we would recommend getting your tickets in advance, to avoid staying on the queue for hours.
Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s grand central square and offers a combination of imposing architecture, picturesque buildings and vibrant street life. In the past, it has been the scene of everything from coronations to bullfights and beheadings.
Today, there are bars and restaurants offering visitors great views whilst enjoying a drink or a meal.
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol, also known as kilometre zero (Km 0), is actually the very centre of Spain. One thing you won’t miss is the famous statue of the bear and the strawberry tree, the official symbol of Madrid.
El Retiro Park
Another place you should visit is El Retiro Park – Madrid’s most beautiful park! It is the ideal place to spend a lazy afternoon or enjoy a picnic.
The park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. With more than 15,000 trees, El Retiro Park is a green oasis in the heart of the city.
You will definitely notice the cypress trees inside the park, sculptured in a interesting way – excellent photo opportunity! You will also notice lots of people on rowing boats on the lake
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For some shopping, or just strolling the streets of Madrid, go on Gran Vía (“Great Way”). This street, sometimes referred to as the “Spanish Broadway”, is one of the city’s most important shopping areas, with a large number of hotels and movie theatres, although many of these theatres have been replaced by shopping centres. Nonetheless, perfect for an evening walk and great for some shopping.
Whilst in the area, we also visited Azotea del Círculo rooftop bar for the best panoramic view of the capital. Went there for a coffee but would certainly go there anytime of the day to enjoy the views!
Temple of Debod
Did you know that there is an Egyptian temple in Madrid? Well, there is one – the Temple of Debod. The temple was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government to save it from floods and was moved, piece by piece, in the early 1970s. They say it is one of the best places to watch the sun set in Madrid but we didn’t wait until the sun set.
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
We couldn’t see a bullfight when we were there but admired Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, the largest bullfighting ring in Spain.
Some of the other places we saw include Palacio de Cibeles, the home of Madrid City Council and formerly the city’s main post office and telegraph and telephone headquarters. Also including photos of some interesting buildings we passed by along the way.
Watch a Flamenco show
One evening we enjoyed dinner with a flamenco show in Madrid, which was a nice experience after a busy day sightseeing. Flamenco is an art form based on the various folkloric music traditions of southern Spain.
Although Flamenco is often associated to the Gitano ethnicity who have contributed significantly to its development, its origin and style are uniquely Andalusian and Flamenco artists have historically included Spaniards of both gitano and non-gitano heritage.
Enjoy the video below and if this is your cup of tea, then book a dinner and a flamenco show; it won’t break the bank.
Other Things to Do in Madrid
When it’s time for some tapas, make sure to check out Mercado de San Miguel. This is probably the most popular market in Madrid since it is located in the centre of Madrid, within walking distance from Plaza Mayor.
This is a gourmet tapas market, with over 30 different vendors selling a wide variety of freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, baked goods and some interesting seafood.
There were some great recommendations about churros at San Ginés, so we had to give this a try and we didn’t regret it! When in Madrid, you have to try churros con chocolate (deep-fried dough sticks, drenched in sugar, eaten with hot chocolate) from Chocolatería San Ginés, which has been serving since 1894.
The churros were delicious and the chocolate was rick, thick and smooth. The queue was long but it was definitely worth the wait.
Madrid is a great destination and perfect for a city break. You can easily visit and see the top attractions in a weekend. It’s an easy city to fly to with hand luggage only and very easy to get around.
There might be nicer cities in Spain to see but this is definitely an European capital worth visiting. It’s great for families, couples or solo travellers and a lovely city to explore.
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