Madrid is a city that has plenty to offer to visitors looking to get an authentic taste of Spanish culture. Travelers making their way to the Spanish capital will have no problem finding fun things and activities to do; from the incredible museums and historic buildings to the city’s tapas bars and public spaces.
Although you can’t go wrong when exploring this lovely Spanish city, there are simply some places here that are too good to miss. To help you plan your trip, we’ve narrowed the options and created the ultimate guide to must-see attractions in Madrid. Don’t forget to make your trip convenient and hassle-free by temporarily storing your bags at a luggage storage service in Madrid.
Top Madrid Attractions You Shouldn’t Miss
Widely regarded as Madrid’s most important museum as well as one of its most popular, the Museo del Prado hosts an impressive collection of over 5,000 paintings, rivaling the likes of the Louvre in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Commissioned by King Carlos III in 1785, the museum is home to an assortment of art works, primarily Spanish masterpieces created between the 12th and 19th centuries.
Some of the highlights found in the museum include Francisco de Goya’s The Third of May 1808, the Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, and Hieronymus “El Bosco” Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Don’t forget to stop by the Church of San Jeronimo el Real, which is situated just behind the museum and exhibits a stunning collection of Spanish religious paintings from the 17th century.
Known in English as the Royal Palace, this opulent building once served as the residence of the Spanish monarchy and now functions as a museum and tourist attraction. While it is still the official home of the royal family in the city, the building is now used only for state ceremonies. The palace, which was commissioned during the 18th century by King Philip V, features a Neoclassical façade that was inspired by Bernini’s original design for the Louvre.
Palacio Real boasts 3,000 individual rooms, which are notable for the different works of art present in each. In fact, the building houses paintings and frescoes from prominent artists such as Caravaggio, Francisco de Goya, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and Diego Velazquez.
While there are many plazas around the Spanish capital, there’s not one that’s more famous than the Plaza Mayor. Constructed during King Philip III’s reign, the Plaza Mayor is a public square that was once the municipal and commercial center of Madrid. Over the years, the plaza has hosted several events and functions – from bullfights and knightly tournaments to executions. At present, it’s still a significant venue for events and gatherings; it is also lined with restaurants and cafés where both locals and tourists hang out.
If you’re interested in seeing one of the most impressive collections of contemporary art in the world, then you should definitely stop by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia when in Madrid. Opened in 1986 by Queen Sofia herself, this modern art institution was designed by Spanish architect Antonio Fernandez Alba and has on display an array of Spanish and international contemporary art. Some of the artists whose works are featured in the gallery include Salvador Dali, Juan Miro, and Pablo Picasso.
Making up one-third of Madrid’s famous “Golden Triangle of Art” (along with the Museo del Prado and Centro de Arte Reina Sofia), the Thyssen Bornemisza National Museum is one of Madrid’s most significant galleries with an emphasis on European art.
Also referred to simply as the Thyssen, this museum has over 1,000 different art works across various periods on display, including the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Impressionism, Pop Art, and more. Some of the gems you will find at the Thyssen include El Greco’s The Annunciation, Dancer in Green by Edward Degas, Venus and Cupid by Rubens. and Vincent van Gogh’s Les Vessenots.
Templo de Debod
Not far from the Royal Palace is one of Madrid’s most unique and unexpected attractions – the Templo de Debod in Parque del Oeste. This ancient Egyptian temple might seem out of place in the Spanish capital but it actually has an interesting history. The temple was originally built in Aswan, Nubia. When the Aswan Dam was constructed, Egypt gave the Debod Temple to Madrid as a token of appreciation for their help in saving the Abu Simbel temples. Today, this Nubian treasure serves as a major tourist spot in the city.
Puerta del Sol
Located right in the heart of Madrid, the Puerta del Sol (which translates to “gate of the sun”) is a broad crossroads that’s become one of the city’s most beloved public spaces where both locals and travelers flock to stroll, people watch and admire some historic architecture. One of the most recognizable buildings in the area is the Casa de Correos, which is the government seat of the Community of Madrid. Puerta del Sol is also home to the statue known as El Oso y el Madroño (which means “The Bear and the Strawberry Tree”), which serves as one of the icons of Madrid since the Middle Ages.
Parque del Buen Retiro
Also known as El Retiro, this public park covers 120 hectares of land and is arguably the most prominent public park in Madrid. Built in the 17th century for the Count-Duke of Olivares, the park is a favorite hangout spot for the locals and tourists who want to escape the busy city life. Aside from the lush greenery and manicured trees, El Retiro also has a host of monuments and landmarks that are worth checking out while you’re in the area, including the Palacio de Cristal, Rosaleda (Rose Garden), and the Jardin de Don Cecilio.
Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Whether or not you’re a football fan, you shouldn’t leave Madrid without visiting the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, one of the world’s most renowned football stadiums and the home of Real Madrid. The stadium has a seating capacity of over 80,000 and draws football fans from all over the world. Real Madrid fans can also take a tour of the stadium and its museum, where trophies and other memorabilia are put on display. You can book a tour of the stadium online here.
Carry on planning your trip to Madrid with our other articles on the Spanish capital: