Madrid is a vibrant and bustling city with lots of things to see and do. From world-renowned art galleries to flamenco dancing to beautifully landscaped parks, managing to fit the city’s top attractions into a few days is no easy feat. Ensure your stay is as alive as the city streets by using our guide below to pinpoint the sights you will see upon leaving your city center accommodation each morning.
View fantastic architecture from above and below
The best way to admire Madrid’s stunning architecture is to take a stroll along Gran Vía. Whilst walking in and out of shops in one of the city’s most important shopping areas, visitors should take the time to stop and admire the lavishly decorated, large buildings surrounding them. Other exquisite buildings can be found on the squares of Plaza del Callao and Plaza de España. Two additional noteworthy places offering spectacular views of Madrid are the rooftop terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes building and the lookout point at the Basílica de San Francisco el Grande.
Visit Madrid’s world-renowned art galleries and museums
No trip to Madrid is complete without visiting at least one of the 44 museums which call the city home. Some of the bigger museums in Madrid are not just considered a must-see, but a life changing experience. The Prado Museum is prized as Madrid’s top cultural sight, as well as one of the world’s greatest art galleries. Due to the sheer volume of work the museum holds, it is recommended that visitors go early in order to have enough time to see everything from Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” to Goya’s “The Naked Maja” to “The Garden of Delights” by Bosch. Located near the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is another art museum worth a wander around. Named after Queen Sofia, the Reina Sofia Museum is Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art. Beyond anything else, it is worth heading here to view Picasso’s “Guernica”, arguably Spain’s single most famous artwork. Another top recommendation is the CaixaForum Madrid Museum and Cultural Center.
While it is the bigger museums mentioned above which are also the most popular, Madrid does have a number of small museums worth spending a few hours in. The Sorolla Museum is a little-known gen concentrating solely on the work of artist Joaquín Soroll. The Geology Museum at the Institute of Geology and Mining has an abundance of information on architecture and geology. Perhaps the most interesting of the lot is the Museo del Romanticismo, a mansion built in 1776 to see how rich folks lived during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Enjoy the sun while strolling around a park
While the bitterly cold winters may be the ideal time to visit the city’s museums, visitors to Madrid should certainly take advantage of its hot summers by checking out some of the beautiful parks it has to offer. An entire day is needed to truly explore Casa de Campo, a park 5 times the size of New York’s Central Park. Within its wonderfully landscaped grounds, visitors can find a trade fair area, an amusement park, Madrid Zoo and the Teleférico cable car.
Retiro Park is another of Madrid’s large parks worth a visit. Belonging to the Spanish Monarch until the late 19th century, it is filled with sculptures, monuments, galleries and serene lakes. It also hosts a number of events throughout the year. Those looking to escape the bustling city center for a while should head to the western fringes of Madrid and spend some time at Parque del Oeste. A terrific space with a large lawn and shady trees, the main attraction is probably the Egyptian temple, Templo de Debod. An early Nubian structure dating to the 2nd century B.C., it was gifted to the Spanish in the 1960s as a thank you for their participation in a campaign to salvage an important archaeological site in Egypt.
Shop and dine at Madrid’s markets
It is an unwritten rule in Madrid that a few hours of each weekend should be dedicated to scouring the city’s markets. Start with El Rastro which takes place every Sunday and public holiday. While it once just sold second hand items, its 3,500 stalls now offer a selection of both old and new goods. Visitors to El Rastro should walk down the side streets to find great value items. Bargain hunters will also love rooting through the treasures laid out at the Puerta de Toledo flea market (Toledo Gate Market). A former fish market, afternoons can be blissfully spent analyzing antiques, strolling around art galleries and inspecting brass and ceramic goods. Several bars and restaurants are available when a pit stop is needed. Visitors looking for markets a bit more specialized can take a trip to the historic Mercado de San Miguel culinary market, the stamp and coin market at Plaza Mayor Square and the scale model flea market at the Madrid Railway Museum.
Eat your way around Madrid
Visitors looking for a more authentic dining experience in the tourist-heavy area of Puerta del Sol Square need look no further than Casa Toni, a tapas bar serving classic cuisine. The chefs at Casa Toni waste no part of the animal when creating their dishes. A top recommendation here is a crispy zarajo, which is basically fried lamb guts wound around a vine. Bodegas Ricla is a typical case of not judging a book, or in this case restaurant, by its cover. Established in 1867, this family run establishment is a good place to sample some tripe stew. It would be a shame to waste time not outside enjoying the beautiful Spanish sunshine – even at dinner time. Boasting a prime position perched atop a ruined chapel in arty Lavapiés, Gau & Cafe is the perfect spot to enjoy some al fresco dining. A selection of Spanish and international dishes are offered, as well as a nice view of an area streaming with traditional apartment blocks. Naif is a great choice for visitors who want to take a break from tapas and traditional Spanish food. Instead, Naif serves delicious burgers and sandwiches. It is also a good place to go and have a drink.
Let your hair down and party
Those who work hard should play hard, and Madrid is the perfect place to do so. In terms of the different barrios, visitors should try out Malasaña for something trendy and affordable, and Chueca for an open, tolerant barrio with drag shows and upscale lounges. However, it is often the case that several types of entertainment can be found in just one establishment, let alone an entire barrio.
Fulanita de Tal really does offer something for everybody. Visitors can head there one night to hit the dancefloor to Spanish and international hits, another night to belt out top karaoke tunes, and yet again to enjoy live music, live comedy or important local football matches. Seven-storey Kapital also presents various entertainment options from cocktail bars and karaoke to dance, salsa and hip hop music. It also has a dedicated area for Spanish music. The longest running goth club in Madrid, Dark Hole plays a selection of industrial and dark 80s hits. Those who wish to mingle with the stars can head to Museo Chicote on Gran Via where celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Frank Sinatra have once drunk from a 100+ cocktail list invented by the owner. Another top recommendation is Cardamomo where Flamenco dancing honoring great performers can be appreciated. Dancing enthusiasts can take part in basic classes at 10:30 pm each night, and there is a well-stocked bar for those who need a helping hand getting out on the floor.
What are your must-see places when visiting Madrid? Share in the comments section below.
(Header photo by losminios via FlickrCC.)