10 Things To Do In Madrid, Spain

10 Things To Do In Madrid, Spain

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Madrid, steeped in tradition and history, yet at the same time modern, is an exciting place to visit. Relive the times of kings and court artists in one of Madrid’s many museums; Sample the spicy, complex Spanish cuisine; sip a glass of Sherry at a corner cafe Madrid has something for every taste. Here are the top ten things to do in Madrid:

Things to do in Madrid

Madrid is the capital and most populous city of Spain. The city has almost 3.4 million inhabitants and a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.7 million. It is the second-largest city in the European Union (EU), surpassed only by Berlin in its administrative limits, and its monocentric metropolitan area is the second-largest in the EU, surpassed only by Paris.

The municipality covers 604.3 km2 (233.3 sq mi) geographical area. Madrid lies on the River Manzanares in the central part of the Iberian Peninsula. Capital city of both Spain (almost without interruption since 1561) and the surrounding autonomous community of Madrid (since 1983), it is also the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. The city is situated on an elevated plain about 300 km (190 mi) from the closest seaside location. The climate of Madrid features hot summers and cool winters. The mayor is José Luis Martínez-Almeida from the People’s Party.

10 Things To Do In Madrid, Spain

The Prado

One of the world’s most important museums, The Prado houses an extensive collection of works by Goya, El Greco, and Velazquez. The core of this collection is the royal art collection amassed over hundreds of years by the Spanish Hapsburg and Bourbon kings. The building itself is awash in natural light, a perfect foil for the dark-hued, Spanish works of art. The museum also has a sizable exhibit of Flemish art, including works of Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Durer.

Plaza Mayor

This centrally located square was built in the 17th century during the reign of Philip III. Originally, the square was the center of commerce and city life as well as the scene of such ceremonial occasions as the coronation of a new king, bullfights, and canonisation of a new saint. Today, the square is a pedestrian district lined with cafes. In December, the Plaza Mayor is home to the Christmas fair with its brightly-lit rows of vendors selling ornaments, nativity sets, and other seasonal decorations.


Leather goods (boots, jackets, belts, and purses), shoes (all shapes and sizes, all very fashionable), hand-painted pottery, and copperware are all specialties of Spain. The Calle de Preciados, between the Puerta del Sol and the Gran Via, is home to Madrid’s large department stores and high-end boutiques. The Calle Goya is the place to go for leather goods, and the area surrounding the university is full of unique shops selling books, clothing, and textiles. The city of Toledo is known for its metal ware and knives.

10 Things To Do In Madrid, Spain

Dining in Madrid

Flat-bottomed Paella pans teaming with Saffron rice and seafood, peas, spicy sausage, and chicken; eggs baked in glazed, earthenware au gratin dishes bubbling with cheese; small “tapas” plates of sausage, squid, olives, and cheese. This is food in Spain: varied, reasonably priced, and delicious. The Madrilenos (residents of Madrid) start their day with a hearty breakfast, sometimes eggs (in dozens of forms) and sometimes churros, a meat or egg-filled tortilla sandwich. They break from their jobs for a two-hour lunch, the primary meal of the day, and return to their homes for siesta (an afternoon nap). Later in the afternoon (4 to 5 pm), they return to work and end the day in early evening.

Because of this, dinner is served very late (by American standards) in Madrid. Don’t even think about going to a Madrid restaurant before 8 pm. (In Madrid, restaurants are generally open between 1 and 4 pm for lunch and from 8 pm to midnight for dinner). In the early evening hours, before dinner, residents gather in the neighborhood taverns for a sherry or a glass of wine accompanied by “tapas” (literally, small plates). These “small plates” are a Spanish tradition and consist of cured meats, olives, cheeses, shrimp, squid and octopus, and other foods in small bite-size pieces.

Cafes are everywhere in Madrid. Sit and sip a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and watch the parade of passersby.

Wine is good and plentiful in Madrid. Sherry, both dry and not so dry, produced in nearby Juarez, is a very popular aperitif in Spain. For dinner, the lusty, full-bodied Riojas are a perfect accompaniment to a steak or pork dish.


An hour away from Madrid by train, the city of Toledo was once the capital of the Holy Roman, Visigoth, and Muslim empires. It is a treasure trove of Spanish culture. Look past the ever-present tour busses and savor the inspiring architecture. All of the sights lie within the ancient, stone walls of the old city. Here the narrow, zigzagging streets resemble a North African bazaar. The Cathedral of Toledo is magnificent.

This massive church boasts five naves and delicate stained glass windows. The Alcazar, that historical fortress of the Visigoths, Moors, and Romans, is also worth a visit. Today, it houses a military museum. Toledo was home to the Greek painter, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco. His dark, brooding works are displayed throughout Toledo and at the El Greco Museum in the center of town.

Retiro Park

Retiro Park is Madrid’s version of Central Park. Located in the center of the city, this green oasis was given to King Philip IV in 1632. Originally just for royal use, it was opened to the public in the early 1800s. Retiro Park is adorned by numerous fountains and monuments, including one in honour of King Alfonso XII. An expansive reflecting pool shines in the center of the park surrounded by small cafes. The park is also home to the Crystal Pavilion, a lovely, 19th century exhibition hall. Attend a summer concert here or just stroll the lovely grounds.

Royal Palace

King Philip V commissioned the royal palace in 1724, after the original Hapsburg palace burnt to the ground. Made entirely of stone, this massive building is based on designs drawn by the artist, Bernini for the Louvre in Paris. Seemingly endless rooms (2000 in all), on four floors, encircle an inner courtyard. The palace is filled with artwork, and decorative objects from Spain’s rich and varied history. Particularly noteworthy is the tapestry collection (20 kilometers of them), the art collections (including works of Goya, Velazquez, and Bosch), and the Bourbon apartments, where Kings Alfonso XII and XIII lived. The gardens surrounding the palace are glorious and worth a visit.

10 Things To Do In Madrid, Spain

National Museum of Art

Officially, The Queen Sofia National Center of Art, the core of this museum is Queen Sofia’s collection of 20th century art, including Picasso’s moving masterpiece, “Guernica.” Works of Miro, Julio Gonzalez, Juan Gris, Picasso, and Dali, all influential in the cubist and surreal art movements, are also displayed.

Visit El Escorial

A short distance outside of Madrid is the small, hilltop town of El Escorial, home to the Monastery and Palace of El Escorial. Built by King Phillip II, El Escorial is a gigantic complex that includes a church, a monastery, a library, a burial place, a museum, and a palace. El Escorial was the summer home of the Spanish Kings for centuries. The church of El Escorial contains elaborate frescos by Luca Giordano depicting Biblical scenes and a gilded bronze statue of King Charles V.

The library with its barrel-vaulted roof modeled after the Sistine Chapel in Rome, is filled with over 40,000 volumes, many of them rare Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, and medieval masterpieces.

National Archeological Museum

The National Archeological Museum is Madrid’s most important museum after The Prado. Founded by Queen Isabella II in 1867, the museum’s extensive offerings date from prehistoric times to the 19th century. Of particular interest are the collection of Islamic Art, a tribute to that rich culture that once thrived in Spain; and the Medieval Art exhibit including hand-forged crosses, chalices, and armour. There is also a cafe and a research library open to the public.

Image Credit: Depositphotos

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