As Spain’s vibrant and colorful capital, Madrid is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Europe.
There is something to explore everywhere you turn – from the charming family-run tapas bars to the imposing palaces and historical monuments.
Why is Madrid worth visiting?
Madrid may have the most character of any European city, making it an absolute must-see for any traveler. The historic city is filled with culture, delicious food, and energetic nightlife, all while incorporating its natural beauty throughout the city. Not to mention the soccer.
But don’t take our word for it.
Visit Madrid for yourself and see first-hand why this fascinating city makes an unforgettable journey for all types of travelers.
The Beautiful Architecture
Walking through the streets of Madrid is like walking through an outdoor museum.
Although Madrid is a modern city, it has retained its old-world vibe thanks to the myriad of exquisite palaces, century-old monuments, and Gothic-style buildings.
Your first stop should be Plaza Mayor.
The Herrerian-style square is home to 17th-century buildings with wrought-iron balconies and arched gates.
You can also see many spectacular buildings in Parque del Buen Retiro.
In between the 350-acres of lush green space, you’ll find the iconic glass Palacio de Cristal pavilion.
The Metropolis Building is a French, Beaux-Arts-style office that sits at the intersection of Calle Alcalá and Gran Vía, two of Madrid’s busiest streets.
When it was built in the early 1900s, it was one of the tallest buildings in the city.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is another highlight.
This former home to the Kings of Spain contains over 3,400 rooms and an impressive collection of historical artifacts.
The breathtaking neo-Gothic The Almudena Cathedral sits nearby and is also worth visiting if you’re in the area.
Madrid also has its fair share of contemporary buildings as well.
Just look at the sky-high Las Cuatro business area, the elliptical BBVA bank headquarters, or the leaning twin Gate of Europe towers.
It’s a Shopper’s Paradise
Madrid is one of the fashion capitals of the world.
No matter if you’re looking for vintage goods or high-end fashion, you’re guaranteed to find what you’re looking for in one of the many shopping districts in the city.
One of the biggest shopping areas in the city center is around Gran Via. Here, you’ll find popular Spanish brands as well as several department stores, including El Corte Ingles. This iconic store also features restaurants, an epicurean grocery store, and a rooftop bar.
Most high-end designers can be found on Goya or Velasquez Streets.
If you wander along the smaller streets to the side, you’ll also find an array of locally owned boutiques.
For more affordable fashion, head to Fuencarral.
This neighborhood is lined with quirky boutiques, international brands, and tons of fun and lively restaurants when you need a break.
The Delicious Foods
Madrid isn’t the place to start your diet.
Between the wide array of tapas, mouthwatering street foods, and gourmet fine dining restaurants, you’ll want to eat your way through the entire city.
Tapas are very common in Madrid.
Popular tapas include patatas bravas (potatoes with spicy tomato sauce), gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), and callos a la madrileña (tripe, sausage, and bell pepper).
It’s tradition to spend the early evening bar hopping, trying a different selection of tapas as you go.
Other beloved Madrid dishes include bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich), cocido madrileño (chickpea stew), and jamon iberico (Spanish ham).
Don’t forget that Spaniards tend to eat dinner very late (anywhere from 9 pm to 12 am).
If you have a sweet tooth, then make sure to pop into a Spanish churro shop. They’re usually dipped into a thick pudding-like bowl of chocolate and eaten as an afternoon snack (although Chocolateria San Gines is open 24 hours if you’re hungry in the middle of the night!).
For fine dining, Madrid also has 19 Michelin-star restaurants.
The most famous restaurant (and the only one to achieve a three-star rating) is DiverXO.
The menu is almost as eclectic as the décor, making it a wonderful treat for any foodie.
The Amazing Nightlife
Madrid is a party city 365 days of the year.
With multi-story nightclubs, bustling cocktail bars, or laid-back flamenco dancing venues, there’s something here for every type of traveler.
Calle Huertas is right in the center of the city.
This neighborhood is known for its lounge bars and late-night discos.
The 7-story Teatro Kapital is the largest club in the city, with a rooftop bar, karaoke stage, and movie theater.
You can also head to the Malasana neighborhood for a variety of niche pubs, bars, and music venues.
Although the crowd here tends to be on the younger side, it’s still one of the best areas if you’re interested in live music
The bars in Princesa, Argüelles, and Moncloa are also popular with students (or anyone looking to score cheap drinks).
If you’re looking for something more laid back, then you might enjoy an evening at one of the tapas bars in La Latina.
Although the locals flock here before heading to the clubs, it’s still a fun place if you prefer a quieter night in the city.
While most bars close around 2 or 3 in the morning, nightclubs can stay open well until the morning (around 7 am).
To See Flamenco
Although flamenco originated in the Andalusia region of Spain, Madrid is the de facto capital, home to some of the best venues, festivals, and dance schools in the country.
The city is dotted with numerous tablao, or flamenco venues, where you can see this form of art come to life.
During the show, you’ll listen to live music (usually a guitar player and singer) while different dancers grace the stage before you.
A lot of tablao in Madrid can be quite touristy, although there are some authentic places that are well regarded in the flamenco industry.
Corral de la Moria is an upscale tablao with an ever-changing program of dancers, singers, and shows.
You can make a whole night of it by booking dinner in the lounge before the show starts.
Another popular venue is Torres Bermajas, which is known for its excellent performers and unique setting.
Located in this historical center of Madrid, this tablao is adorned in colorful Arabic tiles and carved wooden ceilings (its beauty might be just as mesmerizing as the show itself!).
The Art and Culture Scene
As one of the biggest cultural capitals in Europe, Madrid is famous for its world-class art museums and cultural centers.
It’s widely known as being the home to the Golden Triangle of Art, a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of three world-class art museums.
They include the Prado Museum, Reina Sofia Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
The Prado hosts one of the largest collections of historic Spanish and international art.
You’ll find numerous works from Francisco Goya, Diego Velasquez, El Greco, and Titian.
The Reina Sofia Museum is mostly focused on contemporary Spanish artists, including two of the county’s most famous artists – Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
And finally, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum contains an eclectic collection of impressionist, expressionist, and early European works.
After hitting the big three, you can wander the city in search of smaller art museums and galleries.
Caixa Forum, the Max Estrella Gallery, and the Blanca Soto Gallery are just a few spots showcasing young, local talent.
But Madrid isn’t just known for art.
You can also visit the National Archaeological Museum, the Naval Museum of Madrid, or even the Railway Museum.
The Lively Markets
Shopping at one of Madrid’s markets is a great way to get a taste of the local culture.
Not only will you get the chance to hunt for unique or handmade treasures, but you’ll also be supporting local artisans, farmers, and producers from the region.
The Mercado San Miguel is the ultimate destination for foodies.
It originally started as an open-aired fish market in the mid-1800s, although it has since expanded to include other types of fresh and seasonal products.
If you prefer your food already cooked, head to Mercado Ildefonso in the Malasada neighborhood.
Here, you’ll find food stalls, hip eateries, and gastro bars where you can eat and hang out.
Other popular food markets in the city include Mercado de San Fernando, Mercado de la Paz, and Mercado San Antón.
If you’re in town on Sunday, then stop by the El Rastro flea market.
With over 3,500 stalls of antiques, vintage clothing, and souvenirs, it’s one of the best places for shopping.
The Mercado de Motores is the place to go for artisan goods
It takes place every second weekend in the beautiful Railway Museum.
The Parks and Green Spaces
Madrid is a big city, and it can be overwhelming to spend so much time surrounded by large buildings and crowds of people.
Thankfully, there are plenty of green spaces where you can escape and enjoy a quieter, more peaceful side of the city.
Parque del Buen Retiro is probably the first place that comes to mind when you think of Madrid parks.
Before it opened to the public, the park belonged to the Spanish monarchy.
Between the manicured gardens, historical statues and monuments, and the Palacio de Cristal, the park still maintains a royal-like atmosphere.
The Royal Botanical Gardens is another beautiful spot in the city, home to three different greenhouses containing more than 90,000 types of flora.
You can also see English-style rose gardens at the Parque del Oeste in the Moncloa neighborhood.
The Casa de Campo is another must-see attraction.
Covering over 4,200-acres of Madrid terrain, it’s the largest park in the entire city.
In between the grassy hills and holm oak forests, you’ll find an amusement park, the Madrid Zoo, and a lake lined with cafes, restaurants, and bars.
The Insane Sports Scene
Any soccer (football) fan knows that Madrid is home to one of the most prestigious clubs in the world – Real Madrid. They’ve won 13 European Cups, 34 league championships, and 19 Copa del Rey titles, earning them the status as FIFA’s best team of the 20th century.
Tickets to their matches at the Santiago Bernabéu can be pricey and hard to come by.
If you do manage to score seats, you’ll be blown away by the sheer size of the 85,000-seat stadium (a pilgrimage site for football fans on its own).
Basketball, while not as popular as football, is still a beloved sport in Madrid.
Real Madrid Baloncesto and Estudiantes are two highly-rated teams in the Spanish basketball league.
Madrid is also known for its tennis, handball, and cycling events that are held throughout the year.
Bullfighting is still legal throughout Spain, and it’s especially popular in Madrid.
The city is home to the Las Ventas arena, which is the largest bullfighting ring in Spain and the 3rd-largest ring in the world.
Although it’s considered a national sport, bullfighting has garnered harsh criticism over the years due to the treatment and welfare of the animals.
It’s Affordable (for a European City)
Although Madrid isn’t as cheap as places in Asia or South America, it’s relatively affordable compared to most other European cities.
If you want to stay active but not make too big of a dent in your wallet, then Madrid is an excellent place to visit as a tourist.
Accommodation varies wildly in the city.
If you’re on a budget, you can find a shared dorm room in a hostel for less than 20 EUR a night.
Mid-range hotels in the city center can also be affordable, costing anywhere from 50 to 100 EUR.
The food prices in Madrid can also be quite reasonable.
Although you’ll find your fair share of upscale restaurants or fine dining experiences, there are also many cheap options where you can fill up for just a few Euros.
You can also save money by eating at a bar that serves free tapas with the purchase of a drink.
Madrid is a walkable city, which means you won’t have to spend too much on transportation costs.
If you do want to travel further distances, you can take the metro or bus.
A one-way journey costs 1.50 EUR, making it an affordable way to navigate the city.