Madrid – the cultural and economic hub of Spain. If you are traveling to Iberia and not visiting Madrid, it almost counts as a sin. Spain’s capital has so much to offer – delicious food, tasty wine, pretty squares, and so much beautiful architecture.
Here are some must-sees in Madrid.
1. Palacio Real Royal Palace
As the name might indicate, this is the royal palace of Madrid. Even though the royal family only resides here during official ceremonies, it it nonetheless worth a visit. The palace does look pretty impressive, and you can even visit it (the queues are usually endlessly long!).
2. Jardínes de Sabatini Sabatini Gardens
This garden is part of the Palacio Real and thus adjacent to it. If you visit the palace, don’t miss out on the Sabatini Gardens, because they look absolutely stunning – you can find a lot of hedges aligned in geometrical patterns, small statues, fountains, even a labyrinth. From the gardens you also have a great view of the palace.
3. Plaza de Cibeles Cibeles Square
This square is absolutely typical for Madrid – and not only because this is where Real Madrid celebrates their victories. Here you can also find the Palacio de Cibeles, where the City Council is located, but also many other stunning buildings from the 18th to 20th century.
4. El Retiro Retiro Park
An absolute must. In the end it’s just a very large, very beautiful park with stunning monuments and even a lake, but this is where all the Spaniards go to have siesta (yes, they sleep in the grass), make out (don’t go there if you’re not prepared to see some pre-sex action), or to just hang out and skate. Many also come here to get a little tan, however make sure to read the signs because you are officially only allowed to undress within a specific region of the park.
If you just want a quiet day or you feel like you need an hour of sleep, this is the place to go.
5. Puerta del Sol Sun’s Gate – Square
This is one of the busiest places in the city and one of the most centrally located squares. From here you can easily get to the Gran Vía within minutes of walking, but you can also find shopping streets and on the other side walk towards Atocha. Puerta del Sol is home to demonstrations on a regular basis, but also hosts one of the biggest public parties during the Orgullo (Pride Parade).
6. Plaza Mayor Main Square
This square is very close to Puerta del Sol but more shielded from the outside. It has nine entry-ways, and a total of 237 balconies. You can find many restaurants here but if you want cheap food (or even regular priced food), this definitely is not the place to go. It is nice for relaxing, but remember that there are no benches, so if you want to sit, you have to find a place on the rim of one of the crammed fountains.
7. Mercado de San Miguel Market of San Miguel
This is one of the markets Spain is famous for. It is a market hall with actual restaurants and small tapas bars, but really, you can find anything here – from sea food to macarons to fresh fruit or tortilla. San Miguel is usually very full (during the day it’s mostly tourists, but if you come after 8pm, you’ll find yourself amongst Spaniards going out for dinner).
8. Museo del Prado Prado Museum
This is the Spanish national museum of art – here you can find any kind of art from any kind of time period, it’s all there.
TIP: Free entry from Tuesday to Sunday, 6pm to 8pm/Sunday from 5pm to 7pm – but the queues are endless, so make sure to be there very early. If you are a student, you are always allowed to enter for free – on these days, you can even skip the line.
9. El Rastro Rastro Flea market
This is held every Sunday and is the most popular and biggest flea market in Madrid and definitely worth a visit! Here you can find anything for a couple of euros – old clothes, new clothes, bras, underwear, band tees, wooden boards, second hand books, furniture, but even weird things like cages or clown puppets. It is always an adventure.
10. Templo de Debod Temple of Debod
This is one of the stranger things in Madrid – it is an Egyptian temple that was given to Spain as a present. Because of the heat, it sometimes misses water in summers, but even without the water features, it is fun to look at. Also, it is located on a small hill, so you have a stunning view from the top.
11. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía Reina Sofía Museum
This museum features art from the 20th century and is even home to one of Picasso’s paintings. It is very close to both Atocha and El Retiro, and – if you’re into art – one of the highlights of Madrid.
12. Estación de Puerta de Atocha Atocha train station
Yes, it is only a train station, but an extraordinary one. In the main departure hall you can find a small botanical garden or almost a rainforest. Atocha also thus has a very high humidity and is home to quite a lot of birds and turtles. It is only a 3 minute walk from El Retiro, so make sure to stop by Atocha if you visit the park.
13. Gran Vía “Great Way” – Main Street
This is the main street in Madrid and also where you can find the most expensive hotels, chains like H&M, Primark or Stradivarius (best cheap clothes in Iberia!), and beautiful white buildings. It is almost impossible to visit Madrid but to not cross the Gran Vía, but either way – you should definitely check it out.