Upon entering Spain’s capital, I was immediately immersed in a world of unfamiliar sights and sounds. Colorful tarps strung high above the streets greeted me by shielding the hot July sun from my face while flamenco style street music filled the air. With my luggage in tow, I was ready to take on all that Madrid had to offer. Here are, in my opinion, the top things to do in this wonderful city.
Mercado de San Miguel
- Mercado de San Miguel
- Spend the day at Parque del Retiro
- Check out the Palacio de Cristal
- Peruse through the Royal Palace
- Catedral de la Almudena
- Marvel at the Prado Museum
- Pop over to the San Jerónimo el Real
- Watch street performers at Plaza Mayor
- People watch at the famous Puerta del Sol
- Stroll through Gran Via Street
- Have drinks on top of the Palacio de Cibeles
- Wander around and see what you find!
Start your day with a café con leche at Madrid’s largest and most famous market. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, it’s basically a miniature version of the Mercado de La Boqueria. Fruit lovers should make a point to try the cherries or peaches. They look and taste worlds better than they do in America! Of course, the tapas are to die for as well.
Spend the day at Parque del Retiro
This is without a doubt my favorite place in all of Madrid. It’s basically the Central Park of Spain, full of beautiful gardens, marble monuments, and even a huge lake where you can take a row boat out for a spin. There are so many must-sees within the park, that you could easily make a day or two out of visiting.
Check out the Palacio de Cristal
An absolute must-see in the Parque del Retiro is the Palacio de Cristal. I’m so in love with it, that I decided it deserved its own paragraph. This stunningly beautiful structure is made entirely out of metal and glass and houses temporary art exhibitions. I was lucky enough to visit while this tent made of bold tapestries was up. It was pretty magical to say the least.
Peruse through the Royal Palace
Also known as Palacio Real, this enormous structure is drenched with frescoes, gold moldings, crystal chandeliers and tapestries, which cover every square inch of its 2,000+ rooms. Photography is prohibited inside, but if you google it, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Each room has a distinct look and color scheme. The dining room, complete with a table fit for 144 guests, is easily my favorite of them all! Come back at night to see the exterior completely lit up. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the same phenomenal harp player that was there during my visit.
Catedral de la Almudena
Right next door to the Royal Palace is this gorgeous baroque-style cathedral. It took more than a hundred years to complete due to a little thing called the Spanish Civil War. The interior is full of pops of color like the beautiful square cupola and chapel pictured below.
Marvel at the Prado Museum
So, I’m really not a fan of too many museums, but this one blew me away! I mean, those Spaniards truly have the whole ‘art’ thing down. With that being said, this place is freaking huge! I took a break in the coffee shop downstairs (which has free wifi) half way through my four hour visit. Be sure to check out Las Meninas by Velázquez and of course, the Picasso and Goya works.
Pop over to the San Jerónimo el Real
Right beside the Museo del Prado is this adorable 16th century church. Even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth checking out and snapping a picture in front of.
Watch street performers at Plaza Mayor
This large meeting place (which once held bull fights) is basically a huge rectangle full of people surrounded by beautiful red-toned buildings. In the evening, it’s full of costumed characters from Hello Kitty to Spiderman. One of the most iconic characters is the tinsel goat, who makes a clacking noise while whipping its body from side to side. It sounds strange, but you’ll recognize it when you see it! There are tons of places to grab dinner around the square. One of my favorites is Los Galayos.
People watch at the famous Puerta del Sol
This is one of the most iconic spots in all of Madrid. Similar to Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol is the perfect place for people watching. There is a lot of hustle and bustle, but if you grab a seat beside one of the large fountains, you’ll find yourself feeling right at home. A highlight of my trip was watching a team of rollerbladers amp up the crowd as they jumped over stacked boxes and a row of six girls.
Stroll through Gran Via Street
Some would say Puerta del Sol is the Times Square of Madrid, but I think the area near the Schweppe’s advertisement is. The bright lights and billboards draw you in, and the surrounding shops make you want to stay. Just try not to get lost in the sea of people!
Have drinks on top of the Palacio de Cibeles
Adding this to this list is almost like giving away a well-kept secret. Believe it or not, this building is actually a post office. At night, it turns into a kaleidoscope of colors that you can’t help but stare at. When my brother took a closer look, he saw people near the top. So obviously, we had to be up there too! Just enter the building and take the elevator to the top. Grab a seat by the railing to watch as cars circle the roundabout.
Wander around and see what you find!
My last piece of advice is to wander around and see what you stumble upon. Below are a couple of pictures pictures I snapped while meandering through the beautiful streets of Madrid.
What would you add to this list of top things to do in Madrid? Let us know in the comments!