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16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Madrid

Written by Lisa Alexander
Updated Jan 16, 2021

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Full of energy and packed with cultural attractions, Madrid is a modern metropolis that offers a taste of the real Spain. Wide avenues are congested with traffic, but beautiful parks break up the urban sprawl.

Madrid doesn't have the traditional charm of Andalusia or the beauty of Barcelona, instead, it is a hub of social life with a happening café culture and bustling nightlife. The city is constantly buzzing with activity and there are so many things to see and do that tourists will be spoiled for choice.

The world-class Prado Museum displays an endless array of masterpieces created during the Golden Age of Spain, and the 18th-century Royal Palace rivals the Château de Versailles in France.

Visitors should be sure to experience Madrid in the evening, when the city really comes to life. Madrileños love going out on the town, and the paseo por la noche (evening stroll) is a cherished ritual.

If possible, it's best to avoid visiting during summer when the heat is oppressive. Savvy travelers come to Madrid during the springtime or autumn to take advantage of more mild weather.

Spain's capital city, Madrid boasts an impressive array of historical monuments and art museums, as well as pleasant gardens and public plazas. Find the best places to visit and things to do with our list of the city's top attractions.

See also: Where to Stay in Madrid

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Prado Museum

Prado Museum
Prado Museum

A truly world-class museum, the Prado Museum has a collection of more than 8,000 paintings and 700 sculptures. Among its extensive assortment of artworks are many masterpieces, including celebrated paintings that rival the most famous works of the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The Prado Museum displays around 2,300 pieces of the collection in more than 100 rooms on three floors. Trying to see it all in one visit can be daunting, but it's possible to focus on a specific itinerary of masterpieces. The Prado suggests "routes" (self-guided tours) of specific works.

Spanish paintings from the 12th century to the early 19th century form the majority of the collection. The assortment of paintings by Francisco de Goya comprises a remarkable 140 works. Also not-to-be-missed is Las Meninas, a depiction of the Spanish royal family of Felipe IV created by Velázquez in 1656. Other must-see works in the Spanish Painting collection include The Annunciation by El Greco, Jacob's Dream by José de Ribera, The Third of May by Goya, and The Immaculate Conception by Murillo.

Part of the Prado Museum's exhibition space includes a contemporary building and the renovated 16th-century cloister of the San Jerónimo el Real monastery. These galleries display a noteworthy collection of 17th-century Spanish religious paintings.

Tourists will also appreciate the museum's gift shop and the café with a pleasant outdoor terrace.

Get the most out of your time at the Prado by joining a Skip the Line: Prado Museum Tour in Madrid, avoiding the long lines and going directly to the most interesting galleries. On the 90-minute tour, your official museum guide provides an overview of the museum's must-see masterpieces, while providing historical context to help you understand the artworks.

Address: Paseo del Prado, Madrid

Official site: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/

2. Explore Buen Retiro Park and the Crystal Palace

The Crystal Palace at Buen Retiro Park
The Crystal Palace at Buen Retiro Park

The Buen Retiro Park (Parque del Retiro) is an oasis of peace in the heart of Madrid. This lush and beautifully manicured park offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The park encompasses more than 140 hectares and is shaded by over 15,000 trees.

Created for the Count-Duke of Olivares in the 17th century, the historic park has an elegant ambience with its lovely landscaping and tree-lined paths. During the reign of Isabella II in the 19th century, the landscaping of the park was enhanced. The Parque del Retiro was owned by the Spanish royal family until the 19th century; since then it has been a public park.

From the main entrance at the Plaza de Independencia, visitors arrive at the pool in the center of the park. From here, paths lead to the enchanting La Rosaleda (Rose Garden), the formal French Jardín de Don Cecilio, and the Andalusian-style Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez.

Built in 1887, the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) is a splendid cast-iron and glass pavilion that houses art exhibitions. The Crystal Palace looks out onto a graceful fountain and reflecting pool. Visitors will find other interesting fountains at Buen Retiro Park including Los Galápagos (The Turtles), El Ángel Caído (The Fallen Angel), and La Alcachofa (The Artichoke).

A pleasant pastime among locals is going for a spin on a row boat at the park's tranquil lake. Other favorite things to do include taking the kids to a puppet show at the Teatro de Títeres, taking walks on the scenic tree-lined paths, and basking in the sun or relaxing in the shade at one of the park's outdoor cafés.

For stargazers, the park has an observatory that was built in 1790.

3. Royal Palace and Gardens

Royal Palace and Gardens
Royal Palace and Gardens

This grandiose palace is the Spanish version of Versailles, a royal court designed to impress. However unlike Versailles, which is now just a museum, the Royal Palace of Madrid is still the official residence of a monarch (the King of Spain) and continues to be used for official State events.

The palace was commissioned by Philip V in the 18th century. The majestic Neoclassical facade is crafted entirely from granite and white Colmenar stone. The facade's Ionic columns and Doric pilasters are based on drawings that the sculptor Bernini originally intended for the Louvre in Paris. The balustrade features statues of Spanish kings.

The most striking aspect of the interior is the imposing staircase at the entrance hallway, with a fresco of The Triumph of Religion and the Church, that leads up to the main floor. Throughout the palace, masterpieces of art decorate the walls: paintings by Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco, and Caravaggio, and exquisite Flemish and French tapestries.

The King Charles III apartments are among the most beautiful rooms in the Royal Palace. These rooms are adorned with refined decor of the Enlightenment era.

A masterpiece of Rococo style, the Salón del Trono (Throne Room) is adorned with frescoes by Tiepolo including The Greatness of the Spanish Monarchy, one of his finest works. Still used for State ceremonies, the Throne Room is clad in sumptuous red velvet and decorated with valuable tapestries, mirrors, furniture, and chandeliers.

History buffs will want to visit the palace's Royal Armory, which contains 3,000 exhibits dating back to the Middle Ages. On display are the armor and weapons that have been used by Spain's kings over the centuries.

Visitors should save time to explore the Jardines del Campo del Moro. These delightful historic gardens were created during the reign of Phillip II and are landscaped in a formal French style with fountains and avenues. The 20-hectare gardens provides a haven of tranquility in the center of Madrid. It's a wonderful place for relaxation and scenic strolls.

Address: Calle Bailén, Madrid

Madrid Royal Palace - Floor plan map
Madrid Royal Palace Map (Historical)

4. Wander through the Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor

This elegant 17th-century plaza was built during the reign of Philip III and used as a center of commerce and municipal life, as well as the scene of ceremonial events such as the proclamation of a new king and the canonization of saints. The square also served as a venue for bullfights, dramatic performances, and knightly tournaments.

The Plaza Mayor took on its present appearance after a fire in 1790, when the corners were enclosed and the nine entrance arches were constructed, linking it to Calle de Toledo, Calle Mayor, Calle Postas, and others.

Today, the Plaza Mayor continues to be an important gathering place in Madrid. The expansive cobblestone square is a pedestrian area, surrounded by outdoor cafés and atmospheric restaurants shaded by its arcades. In the evenings, the square takes on a lively ambience and is a popular hangout spot for both tourists and Madrileños.

5. Puerta del Sol: The Heart of the City

Puerta del Sol: The Heart of the City
Puerta del Sol: The Heart of the City

The Puerta del Sol was named after the sun emblem on the old city gate, which formerly stood here. This spacious town square aligns with the rising sun. Besides being a hub of public transportation (with several bus stops and Metro entrances), the Puerta del Sol is also the "Kilometer Zero" point from which all distances on the Spanish national road network are measured.

The Puerta del Sol has been the scene of many historic events, including the Spanish resistance to Napoleon on May 2nd 1808, and in 1931, the Second Republic was proclaimed here.

Nowadays the square is a place to hang out and enjoy life. Lined with shops and cafés, the Puerta del Sol is still one of the liveliest squares in Madrid.

Just off the Puerta del Sol is Madrid's largest department store, El Corte Inglés, which sells everything from clothes, shoes, and swimsuits to traditional Spanish fans. Also nearby is La Violeta, an old-fashioned confection shop that offers the Madrid specialty of violet candies.

6. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía | Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / photo modified

Opened by Queen Sofía in 1986, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is Madrid's avant-garde center for contemporary art. The sleek modern building was created by the architect Antonio Fernández Alba and has features that recall the Pompidou Center in Paris, especially the three glass towers that house the elevators on the outside of the building.

Another wonderful surprise to visitors is the charming garden in the inner courtyard filled with imaginative sculptures.

The Museo Reina Sofía contains over 23,000 artworks in its collections. In its thorough representation of Spanish modern and contemporary art, the collection includes remarkable masterpieces such as works by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Alexander Calder. The artworks are displayed in various rooms spread out in a vast exhibition space of 39,000 square meters.

The museum also has a bookstore, souvenir shop, and two café/restaurants.

Address: 52 Santa Isabel, Madrid

Official site: http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en

7. Fuente de Cibeles and Gran Via

Fuente de Cibeles and Gran Via
Fuente de Cibeles and Gran Via | Larry Wentzel / photo modified

Standing in a major traffic intersection, the Fuente de Cibeles (Cybele's Fountain) is one of the most emblematic monuments in Madrid. Lifelike statues depict the Roman Goddess Cybele riding a lion-drawn chariot. The fountain was created in 1782 by Francisco Gutiérrez and Roberto Michel with the original purpose of providing water for public use.

Behind the fountain is the Palacio de Cibeles that houses the CentroCentro cultural center, which hosts art exhibitions and workshops, conferences, and concerts. The Centro Palacio de Cibeles has two restaurants: the Colección Cibeles café and the Palacio de Cibeles restaurant on the sixth floor, an elegant dining establishment with spectacular city views. Visitors can also admire panoramic vistas from the Mirador observation deck on the building's eighth floor.

Nearby (via Calle de Alcala) is one of Madrid's most popular shopping streets, the Gran Vía. Tourists will find many restaurants, hotels, and theaters on this bustling street. Just off the Gran Vía on Calle de Jovellanos, the famous Teatro de la Zarzuela presents ballet performances and classical music concerts, including renowned performances of zarzuela - a unique type of satirical opera with songs accompanied by classical Spanish guitar music.

Address: Plaza de Cibeles, Madrid

8. Temple of Debod: An Ancient Egyptian Temple

Temple of Debod: An Ancient Egyptian Temple
Temple of Debod: An Ancient Egyptian Temple

In La Montaña Park (close to Plaza de España), visitors can discover an ancient Egyptian temple. A gift from Egypt, in thanks for Spain's help in saving the Abu Simbel temples during the building of the Aswan Dam, the Debod Temple was brought to Madrid in 1968.

The temple was built for King Adikhalamani in the 2nd century BC and was dedicated to the Egyptian God and Goddess, Amun and Isis. Well-preserved original decorations are found inside the temple, which is rare for an archaeological site.

Peaceful gardens surrounding the monument feature reflective pools and a fountain, creating a magical effect.

Address: Parque de la Montaña, Calle de Ferraz, Madrid

9. Goya Frescoes at Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida
Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida

Perhaps the least visited of Madrid's major art treasures are the stunning frescoes painted by Francesco Goya that fill the Hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida. The little chapel, along the banks of the Manzanares River behind the Royal Palace, hosts an annual festival in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua on June 13th, but it's the interior that has become a place of pilgrimage for art lovers.

Among Goya's finest works, the frescoes illustrate the theme of the miracle performed by Saint Anthony, while also depicting scenes of everyday life in Madrid. The frescoes reveal Goya's boldness of artistic style and revolutionary painting techniques. They were painted at a turning point in Goya's career and are considered a precursor of modern painting.

The chapel is designated as a National Monument and is no longer used for religious services to protect the frescoes.

Address: Glorieta San Antonio de la Florida, Madrid

10. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Fine Arts Museum

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Fine Arts Museum
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Fine Arts Museum | Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / photo modified

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum presents an overview of European art from the 13th century to the late 20th century. With nearly 1,000 paintings on display, the collection covers medieval religious art, Renaissance-era portraits and biblical themes, the Baroque period, Rococo, Romanticism, Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, modern art, and Pop Art. The museum also has an excellent collection of 19th-century American paintings.

This prestigious collection includes renowned masterpieces such as Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Venus and Cupid by Peter Paul Rubens, The Annunciation by El Greco, Young Knight in a Landscape by Vittore Carpaccio, Jesus among the Doctors by Albrecht Dürer, The See-Saw by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Dancer in Green by Edward Degas, and Les Vessenots in Auvers by Vincent van Gogh.

Address: 8 Paseo del Prado, Madrid

Official site: http://www.museothyssen.org/en/thyssen/home

11. Estadio Santiago Bernabéu: Real Madrid's Stadium

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu: Real Madrid's Stadium
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu: Real Madrid's Stadium

Not all of Madrid's tourist attractions revolve around art. One of its most-visited museums draws football (soccer) fans to the stadium of the city's home team, Real Madrid.

Visitors can take a tour of the stadium, as well as the museum with displays of trophies, team artifacts, and temporary exhibits. Tours also give fans a chance to enjoy the view of the field from the top of the stadium.

Address: Avenida de Concha Espina 1, 28036 Madrid

Official site: https://www.realmadrid.com/

12. Basilica de San Francisco el Grande

Basilica de San Francisco el Grande
Basilica de San Francisco el Grande | ctj71081 / photo modified

The Basilica of San Francisco el Grande was built by Carlos III in 1761 for a Franciscan friary. The church was designed by Francisco Cabezas, who modeled the Neoclassical architectural plan on the Church of Santa Maria in Campitelli in Rome. The construction was completed in 1784 by Francisco Sabatini.

The interior features an inspiring 58-meter-high dome that is larger than the dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral in London. Magnificent paintings adorn the chapels of the basilica, including masterpieces by the Spanish Old Masters.

In the first chapel on the left are Goya's San Bernardino, and Velázquez's Saint Bonaventure and The Appearance of the Virgin to Saint Anthony. The church also contains a painting of Saint Bonaventure by Zurbarán.

The church museum in the cloister displays a variety of religious art and artifacts.

Address: Plaza de San Francisco el Grande, Madrid

13. Museo Sorolla

Patio of the Museo Sorolla
Patio of the Museo Sorolla

This charming museum is dedicated to the work of Joaquín Sorolla, the most famous Spanish Impressionist painter. More than 1,200 paintings and drawings by Sorolla are displayed in the artist's house and studio, which has retained its original decor. The extensive collection includes a broad representation of Sorolla's works.

Visitors should also be sure not to miss the museum's garden patio. Designed by Sorolla, this exquisite tree-shaded outdoor space is adorned with a gurgling fountain and Andalusian-style decorative tile work.

Address: 37 Paseo del General Martínez Campos, Madrid

14. National Archaeological Museum

National Archaeological Museum
National Archaeological Museum | Luis GarcA­a / photo modified

The National Archeological Museum (Museo Arqueológico Nacional) was founded by Queen Isabella II in 1867 and has a rich collection of artifacts from prehistoric times to the 19th century. Exhibits feature archaeological finds, ethnography, decorative arts from antiquity, and ancient coins.

Highlights of the permanent collection include Egyptian mummies, Hispano-Roman and Islamic archaeological finds, Visigothic crowns, and Mudéjar ceramics. One of the most prized possessions of the collection is the bust of the Lady of Elche.

Address: 13 Calle de Serrano, Madrid

15. Lázaro Galdiano Museum

Lázaro Galdiano Museum
Lázaro Galdiano Museum | Ricardo Ricote Rodríguez / photo modified

The Lázaro Galdiano Museum displays the exceptional private collection of financier Lázaro Galdiano housed in his mansion, Parque Florido. The museum has an extensive collection of around 9,000 artworks exhibited in 30 rooms.

From armor, coins, and medals to jewelry, Baroque crystal, and tapestries, the collection is extremely diverse. Be sure to see the 16th- to 17th-century Spanish paintings by famous masters, including El Greco, Goya, Velázquez, Zurbarán, Ribera, Pereda, and Murillo.

Among the masterpieces are El Aquelarre by Goya, San Francisco en éxtasis by El Greco, Meditaciones de San Juan Bautista by Hieronymus Bosch, Cabeza de Muchacha by Velázquez, El Salvador Adolescente by Giovanni Boltraffio, and La Tienda by Luis Paret.

Address: 122 Calle de Serrano, Madrid

Official site: http://www.flg.es/your-visit-to-the-museo-lazaro-galdiano

16. Puerta de Alcalá

Puerta de Alcalá
Puerta de Alcalá

This grand Neoclassical triumphal arch was commissioned by King Carlos III to celebrate the arrival of the monarchs to Spain's capital city. The monument was designed by Francesco Sabatini and built between 1769 and 1778.

Nearly 30 meters high, the elegant granite entrance gate makes a grand impression. The facade is adorned with sculptures, capitals, and decorative reliefs.

Just below the monument, at 54 Calle de Alcalá, is Madrid's fanciest patisserie shop Pastelería Vait, which offers exquisite cakes, cookies, pastries, chocolate candies, and hot chocolate.

Address: Plaza de la Independencia, Madrid

Where to Stay in Madrid for Sightseeing

Anywhere between the Royal Palace and Buen Retiro Park, an area that includes both the Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, is ideal for sightseeing. Most major tourist attractions lie in these neighborhoods, with the greatest concentration of art museums along Paseo del Prado, the famed Mile of Art, paralleling Buen Retiro Park. These highly rated hotels in Madrid are all in this central area:

Luxury Hotels:

  • Catalonia Las Cortes is found between the Plaza Mayor and the Prado Museum. This four-star hotel occupies a renovated 18th-century palace with original architectural details. The spacious, elegant guest rooms feature modern amenities such as flat-screen televisions and coffee machines.
  • The Hotel Atlantico is located on the Gran Via in the heart of Madrid's shopping district and an easy walk from all the major attractions. This four-star hotel has two cafés, one of which is on the rooftop terrace that affords superb views. Guest rooms feature classic decor and are outfitted with modern amenities.
  • An emblematic landmark near Madrid's top museums, The Westin Palace Madrid occupies a Historic Monument dating to 1912 that was commissioned by Alfonso XIII. This opulent five-star hotel is one of the most luxurious places to stay in Spain. Services include three restaurants, a fitness center, spa treatments, and a hair salon.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • The NH Madrid Nacional occupies a Historic Monument opposite the Real Jardín Botánico (botanical gardens) on Paseo del Prado, near the Atocha rail station. This modern four-star hotel is located in Madrid's "Art Triangle" just steps away from the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
  • Artrip Hotel gets rave reviews for its thoughtfully designed contemporary-style guest rooms, cozy atmosphere, and concierge service. The hotel is located about a 10-minute walk from the Reina Sofía Museum and a slightly farther walk to the Prado Museum.

Budget Hotels:

  • Just a short walk away from the Prado Museum and the Plaza Mayor, the three-star Ibis Styles Madrid Prado offers comfortable guest rooms decorated in whimsical style. Some rooms feature balconies; many rooms have city views. This modern hotel provides a 24-hour front reception desk.
  • Between the Royal Palace and Puerta del Sol, the two-star Hotel Francisco I benefits from a quiet location on a pedestrian street. Tourists will appreciate that the area is brimming with shops and restaurants.
  • Near the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol, the Mayerling Hotel offers comfortable guest rooms decorated in sleek minimalist style. This two-star hotel provides a 24-hour front desk and concierge services.

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Madrid

See the Highlights of Madrid in a Day:

  • Many first-time visitors enjoy seeing the sights on the Hop-on Hop-off Madrid City Tour. This tourist-friendly experience offers 15 or 20 stops on two different routes, which include top attractions such as the Royal Palace, the Puerta del Sol, and the Cibeles Fountain.

Take a Spin around the City:

  • For an exhilarating way to see the sights, consider the Madrid Segway Tour. This small-group excursion includes a safety briefing, helmet, and an English-speaking guide. There is a choice of three different itineraries.

Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

  • The full-day Avila and Segovia Day Trip includes a tour of the two UNESCO World Heritage-listed cities near Madrid. More history and culture awaits on the Toledo Half-Day or Full-Day Trip, where you can admire masterpieces of painting by El Greco, stroll the city's medieval streets, and visit amazing historic monuments.

Experience a Serene Spiritual Site:

  • Discover another remarkable UNESCO World Heritage site on the El Escorial Monastery and the Valley of the Fallen tour. This five-hour day trip from Madrid includes round-trip transportation, a guided tour of the 15th-century monastery, and a visit to a monument honoring fallen soldiers of the Spanish Civil War.
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