The Coolest Things to Do in Madrid
Madrid is the most visited city in Spain, and it’s not hard to see why: the capital is bursting with interesting history, renowned art and sculpture, wild nightlife, and a perfect balance of green space and urban bustle, to name just a few of its draws. Planning a trip? There’s enough here to keep you entertained for months, but if you only have a few days, we’ve got you covered. Below, the can’t-miss places to check out in this vibrant city.
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Catch the best views
First thing’s first: for a bird’s-eye view of the city you’re about to explore, head to the rooftop of Circulo de Bellas Artes. The terrace offers some of the most spectacular sights of Gran Vía (the upscale shopping street in the city center), the Sierra de Guadarrama (the mountain range to the north), the Cerro de los Ángeles (the hill topped with religious monuments to the south), and everything in between. While the bar can get crowded, it’s worth it for a glimpse—and maybe a quick photo op—of the impressive scenes below.
Dine at some of the oldest restaurants and taverns in the world
Forget brand-new eateries. Madrid is home to restaurants that have put in their time, and they’ll be well worth yours, too. For tasty gastropub bites (think piquillo peppers filled with organic veal, monkfish fingers with spicy tomato sauce and aioli, and more than 75 other Spanish recipes), check out Taberna La Carmencita, the second-oldest tavern in Madrid. Opened in 1854, the old-school neighborhood joint was frequented by famous poets and artists, and its free-thinking vibe continues today. Go for a few glasses of wine and a midnight bite—the kitchen’s open until 1 a.m.
If you want to go back in time even further, make your way to Restaurante Botín, the oldest restaurant in world. Founded in 1725, the Guinness World Record winner offers a guided food tour, but we suggest making a regular reservation to try some of the generations-old specialty dishes or the famed roast suckling pig for yourself.
Explore beautiful parks
You’ll find no shortage of gorgeous greenery in Madrid’s many parks and public outdoor spaces. At Parque del Retiro, a oasis right in the middle of the city, you can row a boat around the lake, stroll through gardens, and see the Palacio de Cristal—a beautiful glass palace overlooking a pond. The Palacio Real should also be on your sightseeing list, but first, take your time in the Jardines de Sabatini, known for its box hedge mazes and statues. Lesser known is Parque de El Capricho on the city’s outskirts. Commissioned by the Duchess of Osuna in 1784, the historic garden features whimsical architecture, tree-covered walkways, a romantic gazebo, a rose garden, and even a hidden war bunker from the Spanish Civil War, which can be seen through a guided tour.
See one of the world’s largest art galleries
Home to one of the largest art collections in the world, the 200-year-old Museo Nacional del Prado is an enriching way to spend a few hours (or more than a few) in Madrid. Art history buffs will love seeing renowned works by Goya, El Greco, and Raphael, while more casual viewers can find their own niche across several easy-to-recognize themes, including its portfolio of royal portraits.
Watch a flamenco show
One of the most unique activities to take advantage of in Madrid? Flamenco at Las Tablas. There’s a reason even locals flock to this stage for entertainment. The artists are known for being the best in the area, and the combination of song, guitar, dance, and food—the venue serves yummy tapas—will immediately transport you into a Spanish headspace.
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Shop the markets for a souvenir
You can’t leave a cool city without scoring something even cooler to remember your trip by. That’s where Madrid’s flourishing flea markets come in. Don’t miss El Rastro, a buzzing open-air market filled with inexpensive clothing, antiques, and craft goods. Pro tip: skim through the main street quickly so you have enough time to peruse the interesting side-street stalls, where you’re more likely to find unique pieces. Another must-see market? Mercado de Motores, where you can shop for quirky souvenirs alongside old trains and steam engines. Located in the Railway Museum, the pop-up market occurs one weekend a month, often surrounded by food trucks, live music, and vintage show booths.
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