I loved my time in Madrid! The Spanish capital may not offer a lot of sightseeing, but you can still have fun with street art, all kinds of day trips, and an endless choice of restaurants. Done with the tapas, for example? Then go to a Colombian, Vietnamese, Senagalese, or Indian restaurant. It was all within a 1-kilometer radius of my hotel. I spent six days in the capital and never got bored. In this blog post, I will tell you about a few lovely things to do in Madrid.
Madrid things to do
1. Admire the frescos at Plaza Mayor
Let’s start with Madrid’s bustling heart: Plaza Mayor. The rectangular-shaped and fully walled main square. Precisely because of the closed-off character, the number of visitors here can quickly add up. Luckily, there are up to 9 entrances so not everyone enters at one point. But anyway, enough with the complaining because it is also a beautiful place. The most photogenic side of the square is Casa de la Panadería. Named after the bakery that was once located on the ground floor. The front is painted with beautiful frescoes of mythical figures such as Cupid.
How to get here by metro: line 1, 2 or 3 – get out at Sol.
2. Stroll through El Retiro on a Sunday
A park on this list of Madrid things to do? Yes, because El Retiro park is much more than a green area. First, it’s big. Open the map of Madrid and you will see a large green lot next close to the train station. Moreover, the park offers a few sites to visit such as the Glass Palace, Velazquez Palace, and all kinds of monuments. And there is also a lake with a rental of small rowing boats. To experience El Retiro in all its glory, I recommend visiting it on a Sunday. On this day the lake is filled with rowing Madrileños, you will come across food stands, and most likely live music will be played.
How to get here by metro: line 1 – get out at Estación Del Arte, line 2 – get out at Retiro or line 9 – get out at Ibiza.
3. Have a look at the Royal Palace
Madrid is also the city where the main seat of the royal family is, even though nowadays it is only used for ceremonies. In reality, the king lives and works out of the Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid. The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest one in Europe and is actually built on a ruined ninth-century fortress of the Emirate of Córdoba.
Entry costs 13 euros, but if you’re an EU or Latin American citizen and you time your visit right you can enter for free. From Monday to Thursday, citizens from the EU and Latin America have free access between 17:00 and 19:00 (April – September) or 16:00 – 18:00 (October – March). I did not know this during my visit, otherwise, I would certainly have used it!
How to get here by metro: lines 2 and 5 – get out at Ópera.
4. Capture the classy Madrid architecture
Who hasn’t seen the Netflix series La Casa de Papel? It is filmed in the majestic Banco de España. At least that’s what the series says because in reality it was filmed in a different building. The creators could not get permission to film in the real Spanish bank.
Banco de España is a beautiful building, just like the other buildings in this area. Personally, I found the nearby Palacio de Cibeles really impressive. Also, the corner Metropolis building is usually quite picturesque, but during my trip, it was covered up due to reconstruction.
How to get here by metro: line 2 – get out at Banco de España or line 1 and 5 – get out at Gran Vía.
Want to explore Madrid with a local? Check out this 100% customizable walking tour and see only the places you want to see.
5. Organize a DYI food tour at Madrid’s market halls
No shortage of food options in Madrid. In addition to the large variety in restaurants, the Spanish capital also has food markets. Traditionally, it is not strange to see a market hall in a Spanish city. Almost every larger city has an indoor hall to sell fresh fish, vegetables, and fruit. In Madrid, you will find several. Some are a bit older and more authentic, and others are aimed at tourists. I visited these food markets:
- Mercado de San Miguel (at Plaza de San Miguel, closest metro station is Sol): certainly the most touristy market. It can get very busy and the prices are also a bit higher.
- Mercado de San Antón (at Calle Augusto Figueroa 24, closest metro station is Chueca): this market has two layers: the bottom section is for everyday products such as cheese, bread, and fish. The 1st floor offers various stands and a bar.
- Mercado Antón Martín (on Calle de Sta. Isabel 5, closest metro station is Antón Martín): similar in name to the previous one, but has a smaller size. And on the front, there is a cool mural.
6. Check out the street art
Speaking of murals, you will also find quite a bit of street art in Madrid. Most of them are located in the hilly Lavapiés district. Start at La Tabacalera (an old tobacco factory) and walk up the street towards the La Latina metro station. Along the way, you will see some big murals and smaller pieces. Also keep an eye out for the tiled shops in Centro, beautiful! Read here more about my street art hunt in Madrid.
How to get here by metro: line 3 – get out at Embajadores.
7. Plan a day trip: Segovia & Toledo
Finally, Madrid’s central location makes it an ideal base for day trips. Take a trip to the province of Castilla de la Mancha and visit Toledo. Not only is it a beautiful fortified town, but this region formed also the inspiration for the 17th-century fictional story ‘Don Quijote’. One of the most important historical novels for Spain. Another easy day trip from Madrid is Segovia in Castilla y Leon. The city is known for its stunning aqueduct. Click here for my blog post on things to do in Toledo and Segovia.
Bus to Toledo: departs from Plaza Elíptica, can be reached with metro 6 or 11.
Bus to Segovia: departs from Moncloa, can be reached with metro 3 or 6.
Where to eat in Madrid?
After spending almost a week in Madrid, I have my favorites regarding restaurants and cafes. Save them for your next trip:
Breakfast: Scarlett, Plántate, Nomade Cafe, and Plenti.
Lunch/dinner: Falafelaria (love their vegan shawarma bowl), Santa y Pura, Distrito Vegano (huge tiramisu), Mad Mad Vegan, Viva Burger, Distrito 1 Restaurante Vietnamita and Sanissimo. A special shout-out to Takos Al Pastor. This place was recommended by a local with a warning: there is always a line. That’s how popular it is. Admittedly, the menu is heavily meat-based, but vegetarians can go for the taco “Nopal con Queso” (cactus leaves with cheese).
Want to make sure you eat where the locals eat? Join this food tour with up to 10 stops.
Where to stay in Madrid?
I stayed in the Lavapiés district at the CC Atocha hotel. I have to say, not Madrid’s prettiest neighborhood. No worries, it is totally safe, but it can be raw sometimes. However, it has a multicultural vibe, lots of restaurants nearby, and street art. If you would rather sleep in the classier part of Madrid, keep an eye on the area of Malasaña, just above Centro. The Social Hub looks like an awesome place to stay with a rooftop pool and a Royal Palace view. Another great area to check out is Chueca.
Click here for an overview of accommodations in Madrid.
how to use the Madrid metro
The metro is a great and efficient way to explore the city. You can buy a single ticket (every station has ticket machines) for €1,50 – €2,00, prices depend on the number of stations you pass. However, if you’re planning to use the metro a lot you are better off buying the 10-trip card (around €12). You can quickly check in, the price per trip is cheaper, and you can share the card with others. By the way, these prices apply to zone A travel only, which covers all tourist attractions.
Madrid metro works with plastic rechargeable cards which cost €2,50 with the initial purchase. Lastly, there are also 1-day and multiday tourist cards that can be used on the metro, bus, and a number of cercania trains (suburban trains).
What are your favorite things to do in Madrid?
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