Our Favorite Things to do in Madrid, and More
There are so many great things to do in Madrid, that it’s no surprise it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Europe. Over the past few years living in Spain, we’ve visited Madrid several times. Each time, we discover and experience more of Spain’s capital city. Whether it’s your first time visiting Madrid, or a return visit, here are our favorite things to do there, along with other recommendations that we’re sure will give you a great experience of this amazing city.
Things to do in Madrid, Made Easy
We have organized the recommendations below according to the tourist areas, which mostly coincide with the actual neighborhoods of Madrid. Click here to download the convenient map of Madrid’s Tourist Areas from Madrid’s Official Tourism Website.
Maximize Your Time & Energy with the Tour Bus
Take the City Tour Madrid open top, double-decker tour bus, which you can hop-on, hop-off as much as you like. It’s a great option for seeing more in less time and getting around the center easily.
Tickets are only 19€ each for a one-day. This is especially helpful if you’re showing friends around Madrid, like we did at the beginning of our Spain itinerary with visiting family.
The main ticket stand is located between the Prado Museum and the Hotel Ritz Madrid.
Things to Do in Letras (Barrio de las Letras)
Explore the Barrio de las Letras by foot and stop to eat or have tapas along the Calle de las Huertas. This popular street is primarily pedestrian and has poems of the historical local poets inscribed on the street. The area is also referred to as the Huertas neighborhood.
This is our favorite neighborhood in Madrid’s center and where the famous poets Cervantes, Quevedo and Lope de Vega lived for a time.
We recommend staying here because it’s very historic, in the center of it all, and close to the Atocha Train Station. It also has a great live jazz music scene in several bars.
Above Image – The amazing vertical garden on the side of the Caixa Forum building, on the edge of the neighborhood.
To connect even more with its poetic history, visit the Lope de Vega museum, the former house of poet Lope de Vega, located at Calle Cervantes 11.
Hang out for a drink and tapas in the charming Plaza Santa Ana. This large open square is full of cafes and lined with restaurants. It’s popular at all times of day.
When in the Sol Neighborhood
Visit the Puerta del Sol, the very center of the Iberian Peninsula. It actually means kilometer zero, because it’s where all of Spain’s building numbers and highways extend from.
You can take a picture of yourself with the renown Tio Pepe billboard in the background.
Go shopping and eating along the various pedestrian streets that extend out from the semicircle plaza. As touristy as it may seem at first, there are some hidden gems of authentic restaurants and bars here, like Casa Labra.
Get Local in Conde Duque
In this trendy, hipster part of town, is the impressive Conde Duque Cultural Center, which is a great place for a more modern-day local experience. The charming building is composed of historical 18th-century barracks with a beautifully preserved facade and modern interior design.
There is a magnificent open-air courtyard, which regularly has gastronomical and live music events. Further within the building, is a public library, a musical library, and historical library, as well as a theatre.
In the Historical Austrias
Visit the famous and historical Plaza Mayor, which is Madrid’s oldest district. Here you can admire the architecture and picturesque restaurants and shops that line its inner square.
Eat lunch or dinner at Restaurante Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world. This is also where Hemingway used to eat. It is located just outside the Arco de Cuchilleros, which is one of the oldest gates into the Plaza Mayor.
Visit the Royal Palace. You can take the tour of the inside or just admire the outside architecture and its surrounding parks and gardens.
See a show and/or tour the Teatro Real, Madrid’s Royal Opera House, located just across from the Royal Palace.
Enjoy strolling through the Plaza de Oriente, a historical garden that is just between the Royal Palace and the Royal Opera House. It has a monument of Philip IV and is full of other impressive statues of the Spanish Kings over the centuries.
The Princesa Area
Admire the impressive Temple of Debod, a unique Egyptian temple that dates back to the 2nd century B.C.. It was dismantled and reassembled in Madrid’s Cuartel de la Montaña park, which is also a beautiful area to walk around.
Make sure to enjoy the splendid views from here, which show the nearby Casa de Campo park, another great park to visit in Madrid.
The Area of Paseo de Arte & Parque de el Retiro
Visit El Retiro Park and enjoying walking or riding bikes here to see the various fountains and statues. There are a lot of parks in Madrid and this is by far our favorite one. Here, you can relax in a small boat on the large pond of the Estanque Grande del Retiro. The monuments are so impressive and make you feel like you’ve gone back in time.
We especially recommend that you also see the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) and its nearby Palacio de Velázquez that are located in El Retiro Park. Both gorgeous buildings often have local art exhibits and installations on display for free.
Have a picnic in El Retiro Park. There’s something special about nibbling on freshly baked bread, cured meats and cheese, in the natural beauty of the Retiro Park. However, if you’re thinking of sipping on Spanish wine while picnicking, think again.
Helpful Travel Tip
It used to be that you could drink on the streets and in public areas in Madrid, a custom sometimes referred to as botellón. But an alcohol sale and consumption law was introduced some years ago that now prohibits this.
We’ve seen for ourselves police officers on horseback in El Retiro Park checking if people are consuming alcohol in public, and if so they have to get rid of it and can be fined up to €3,000!
Visit the Prado Museum, especially if you’re interested in seeing art. This is also worth visiting just for seeing the outside and walking around the building which is beautiful. It’s conveniently located in the very middle of the historic center, just in between the Barrio de Las Letras and El Retiro Park.
Other Tips for Things to do in Madrid
When visiting Spain, Madrid is such an ideal place to start and/or end your trip. But at whatever point you find yourself in this attractive city, consider the following tips for having a great time.
Madrid has two major train stations, so make sure to double check your ticket for which station your train departs from.
The Atocha Station is in the very center, just below the Barrio de las Letras and near the Prado Museum and El Retiro park area. Train routes heading to the southern part of Spain leave from here.
Then there is the Chamartin Station, which is in the Chamartin neighborhood in the northern part of the city. The trains heading to destinations in the north of Spain, leave from here.
All throughout Madrid, there is spectacular street art, even in the historic districts. So be on the lookout and have your camera ready.
When going out to eat in Madrid, remember that the times they eat are later, and that can go for all meals. There’s plenty of tourist-options that are open all day, but a more authentic experience will stick to the traditional times.
Lunch starts at 1pm or 1:30pm and closes around 4pm – 5pm for a break before opening again at dinner time. Dinner times range between 7:30pm or 8pm and tend to go till midnight or slightly later.
For breakfast, it’s similar, with more authentic places not opening till 8:30am or later. Mornings can be really interesting in Madrid, with the historic areas being quiet and empty until well after 9am.
Along the Calle Mayor, especially near the Puerta del Sol, there are more places that are contemporary and open earlier and/or throughout the day.
Places to Eat in Madrid
Of course, one of our all-time favorite things to do in Madrid, is experiencing the gastronomy. While we mentioned a couple restaurant recommendations in this post, there are way more that we love and enjoy.
We’ll be sharing those with you in one of our next posts featuring places to eat in Madrid. Subscribe to get it in your inbox, or follow us on social media to not miss out on this and other great news.
The Bottomless Treasure Chest of Things to do in Madrid
What are some of your favorite things to do in Madrid?
Since we’re always discovering more places in Madrid, we keep this list growing. If you have some great things to do in Madrid that you’d like to share with us, please do so in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
Written by Amalia & Eric
Founders & Producers of Move to Traveling
We’re Amalia and Eric – a traveling couple who are living a traveling lifestyle. Do you love to travel? Perfect! Come along…