There is a ton to do in Madrid, but in the end, you’ll probably only have time for a few things that are a priority during your visit. Therefore, it is best to plan your activities before you get to the city. In addition to visiting its urban and monumental heritage sites, you might want to experience some of these other activities:
Theatre: Madrid is the main center of the spectacles of Spain to which much of the country flocks. In the capital, you’ll find everything from dramatic plays in intimate spaces to musicals on huge stages. We recommend booking your tickets in advance if you want to go to any shows.
Art and Exhibits: In the capital of Spain, you’ll find the largest concentration of international art museums in Europe. For those who will be in Madrid for a few days, take a look at our selection of museums where we highlight the times when you can get into the museum for free. If you don’t have enough time to go to a museum, you can always take a walk around the Paseo del Arte.
Walking around Madrid is a real pleasure because the city has a layout and atmosphere like none other. The best way to see the city is to pick certain places and try to interpret their significances. Since this city was founded by the Muslims on top of a small plateau oriented to the Manzanares River, we recommend booking a guided tour of the original city (in which you’ll see the Royal Palace and the oldest buildings). We also suggest you visit the main vein of the city, Gran Vía, as well as the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor (two legendary spots).
After lunch, you can take a rest in one of the most romantic spaces in the city. Then you can go to one of the main places in the capital or take a unique tour of the Madrid of Cervantes. If you’re a Modernist or history fan, you can take this opportunity to admire the ceramic decorations by Daniel Zuloaga on the most emblematic buildings of the city (we advise bringing binoculars to really see the details), among which are the Palacio de Cristal, in Retiro Park, where you can take a leisurely walk.
When it gets dark, occult enthusiasts with strong hearts can choose to visit the scenes of famous crimes, tortures, and paranormal experiences.
Food: In Madrid, you can find markets where you can enjoy gourmet food and fine wine. The restoration of markets, like that of the Mercado de San Miguel, has transformed these spaces, making them major attractions in Madrid. We recommend the Mercado de Motores for a less touristy market.
Jewelry: In the Prícipe de Vergara (from Calle Alcalá to María de Molina, the área near Calle Serrano), you’ll find the best jewelry in the capital. Keep in mind that the Royal Family and the nobility of old proved to be a booming market for jewels, bringing an extraordinary offering of jewelry to Madrid. Apart from the international brands, it is possible to buy leather directly from their artisans scattered through the city at a decent price.
Collectibles and Artistic Objects: The capital of Spain serves as one of the main artistic markets of Europe, offering a wide variety of art galleries. This is also the place where many artists live and work, and you can buy directly from them. The music fans can find artisans who make musical instruments. There are also antique bookstores, artistic antique shops, and shops for stamp and coin collectors. A list of artistic bookbinders and paper craftsmen can be found in this page.
Designers of Haute Couture and High Fashion: One of the most interesting things you can buy in Madrid in this category are the headdresses and hats made in the city.
Self-Care: As in any big city, there are lots of places for self-care (hairdresser, makeup artists, masseuses, nail artists…). Madrid also offers many establishments selling perfume and soap.
Madrid Capital: For those of you who want to go to a museum and be able to return to a reasonably-priced hotel for a nap should consider booking your stay in the Paseo del Arte. An alternative is to stay in the area of antique dealers, the nearby and bohemian Barrio de las Letras. Big groups of tourists usually stay in the Madrid de los Austrias to be closer to the Royal Palace and the area of the nobles of old. Couples who come to the city to see shows and movie premiers usually choose a place on the Gran Vía or near the Puerta del Sol. The professionals and fans of luxury should stay near the famous Calle Serrano. The most important international and business hotels are in the Castellana area. Families looking for well–priced hotels usually prefer the hotels in the neighborhoods of Argüelles and Monclao as well as the traditional area of Conde Duque and Malasaña. People in the LGBTQ+ community tend to flock to neighborhoods like Chueca and Las Salesas, while low–budget visitors stay in Lavapiés and La Latina (near the Puerta del Sol).
Nearby Urban Centers: There are also lots of great places to stay right outside the city, and you can get there by public transportation or by car. El Pardo is a romantic place where the residence of the rulers of Spain is located, and it boasts romantic hotels for couples. It is a beautiful place, and it is well-connected to the city. You can take the metro form this place to the Monclao station in Madrid. The residential villages of Boadilla del Monte and Villaviciosa de Odón have continuous trains and busses that run directly to and from Madrid. These are more economical, and you can park here for a low cost or, if you can find the right place, for free.
Lunch and Dinner: If you’re looking for a good place to eat lunch or dinner, take a look at our guide of the restaurants and cuisine of the different areas of Madrid. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, we have compiled a list of the best restaurants for this type of food in the capital here.
Tapas: Madrid is one of the cities with the highest density of bars and taverns, which is why there is a tradition of eating dinner by visiting a few of these. One of the best things to do in Madrid is to eat tapas. There are even places where you can eat tapas for free (as long as you buy a drink)! And don’t forget the fried calamari sandwich, a Madrid institution, creating competition among the bars. We have made a list of the most reputable here.
Ice Cream: Since Madrid tends to get hot during much of the year and it is popular to walk around, the Madrileños are very fond of ice cream. We have compiled a list of the best ice cream parlors here.
Royal Sites: Very close to the capital is the Palacio de El Pardo, which you can get to by bus in no time. The it is possible to get to the impressive Monasterio de El Escorial by car or train in less than an hour. Nearby, you’ll find the no-less-shocking Valley of the Fallen (which also has the title of a National Heritage monument, but it is not one of the Royal Sites). In the heart of the Segovian mountains, you’ll find the palaces of La Granja and Riofrío. To the south, you’ll find the Palacio de Aranjuez, with its beautiful gardens and canals. Another option for the spring or fall is to go to the Atocha station and travel from there to Aranjuez on the Strawberry Train. Among the day trips you can make form Madrid, we advise you consider the beautiful towns of the sierra. To do this, take the A-1 highway to Buitrago de Lozoya and then break off to get to Rascafría. The same highway leads to the town of Patones.