Madrid is the largest metropolitan area in Spain and the capital city of the country. The city’s core is home to 3.2 million Spaniards with 6.5 million living throughout the greater limits of the city. It’s a place rich in history and elegance. That should come as no surprise given that Madrid is the third largest city in all of the European Union. While it is generally more expensive for the average North American to be a tourist there thanks to a pricey Euro, some of the sights you can see and things you can do in the city are absolutely unforgettable. In a place full of culture and some of the world’s most amazing sights, it’s only fair that we at EscapeHere.com count down the 12 best things to see and do in Madrid, Spain. Rest assured that if you have the chance to visit, you’ll have the time of your life witnessing the beauty of the architecture in the city, the rich flavors of the food and all of the Spanish tradition you can handle.
12. Take an Open-Top Bus Tour
No matter which city around the world you may be traveling to, an open bus tour is always a good option. If you’re vacationing in the spring or summer time like most people, it’s a good chance to catch some sun and see some of the hot spots and downtown architecture of all your favorite places. With an opportunity to sight-see as much as you can all in one bus ride, and there’s no reason not to take this chance in Madrid. A two-hour trip in the afternoon will take you to all of the monuments and landmarks that you would ever want to see in the city.
Of course you can hop on and off of the bus throughout the day and check out whatever floats your boat. There are many interconnected stops that allow you to get a taste of both Modern and Historic Madrid. Buses will pass by you every 20 minutes along the route once you do decide to get off and you can take the whole tour for less than 20 Euros for the day. The trip is organized through the city’s local transportation system so you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it and you can rest assured that you’re getting the same deal as everyone else. A bus tour is a great way to start your trip and get a sense of the other places you’d like to visit.
11. Go on a Tapas Tour
If you’re going to spend some money to take a tour bus all around Madrid, you might as well take things a step further and go on a food tour, more specifically a tapas tour. Taking this type of walking tour is a great way to explore the historic parts of Madrid at night. The Tapas Walking Tour was created by a group of Spanish people that love the cuisine and wanted to share it with the world. You can get on one of these tours for around $70 US, which is pretty good considering you get to check out a variety of spots and eat lots of dishes from different places all in one night.
The tour visits four authentic Spanish restaurants where you can try various delicacies like octopus, cider, and sherry from various regions around the country. Food is always a great way to connect to a local culture and to converse with people that you normally wouldn’t talk to. Personal experiences and building relationships is part of the fun of traveling in the first place, so starting out with a tapas tour is something you simply have to experience.
10. Parque El Capricho
Parque El Capricho is a little bit further away from the center of the city but if you’re willing to make the drive out there, you’ll see some amazingly beautiful floral arrangements, and amazing gardens that you can walk through and enjoy. It’s a truly enchanting experience and if you happen to be traveling with the love of your life, you’ll both be captivated by sweet romance. Just like many other tourist type places in Madrid, you’ll also see beautiful architecture everywhere.
In the winter time a lot of the staff there are away and there is only one main gate to the park, so as you go through this beautiful maze, you do have to remember where you came in because the entrance is also the exit. That said, much like any other park the best time to visit Parque El Capricho is during the warmer times of the year. Either way no matter when you make the time to go there you’ll feel a certain warmness in your heart when you experience its beauty and see how amazing it really is. It’s about a 15 to 20 minute walk to get there from the closest transit hub and it’s well worth the walk.
9. Eat at The World’s Oldest Restaurant (Botin Restaurant)
There’s no doubt the basic concept of eating food for survival goes back all the way to the beginning of time, and although it would be quite cool to go back to the days of the caveman, that’s not realistic. That said, if you do want to go to a restaurant in Madrid that has stood the test of time, check out the Botin Restaurant in Madrid. The spot specializes in Mediterranean cuisine and was founded way back in 1725 making it the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The average price of a main course there is just under 20 Euros, with a 3-course meal coming in at around 40 Euros. Famed author Ernest Hemingway used to frequent the place and in his own estimation, considered it one of the best places anyone could visit for a great meal. Although it is a popular place to go among locals, Botin has evolved more and more into a touristy spot. There are 4 different dining rooms, tiled and wood beamed for you to enjoy eating in and you just might see an appearance by the tuna, a musical group that plays throughout the restaurant from time to time. Botin is truly a great Spanish dining spot.
8. See Flamenco Dancing
Flamenco music first developed its roots in Madrid during the 19th century. Although a lot of the top media outlets and magazines that used to cover this form of artistry no longer exist, there are literally hundreds of dance academies you can check out that still perfect the art form, including Amor de Dois, one of the more famous ones. The crazy part about this kind of dancing is that you can see it at a lot of different bars and restaurants around the city, so you can eat good food and enjoy the culture in an all-encompassing Spanish experience.
El Corral de la Moreria, Casa Patas and Café de Chinitas are some of the best places to go. These places are not to be confused with bars and restaurants that simply offer a flamenco type feel to them without having the actual dancing part. Make sure that you get to experience the real thing. You’ll be totally wowed by it and it will be a unique experience that you would never be able to find on home soil. Good food and good dancing all at the same time… there aren’t too many people out there that would not sign up for that.
7. See Real Madrid Play
With an estimated franchise value of $2.5 billion Euros ($3.4 billion dollars), Real Madrid is the richest sports franchise on the entire planet. The team first began playing way back in 1902 and has been the heartbeat of the city ever since. It doesn’t take a travel expert or sports aficionado to know that sports fans live and die with this team. Santiago Bernabeu Stadium seats over 81,000 people, so when you walk through the gates and sit in the middle of all the action, you’re bound to feel your heart racing and your blood pumping as you watch an All-Star team of the world’s top footballers playing alongside each other.
Coming into the 2014 season, the team hadn’t won a club world title since 2002, but that all changed last year when Real Madrid claimed its 4th ever title by beating the other top clubs in the world at the competition in Morocco. Real Madrid is also home to perhaps the world’s most famous athlete, striker Cristiano Ronaldo. Love him or hate him, he’s a talent worth paying the price of admission for, and female fans will find him easy on the eyes. Given that there’s no other institution in the country with more fanfare, seeing a live Real Madrid soccer game is an absolute must in Madrid.
6. Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid was once home to King Felipe V and is now a tourist site to behold. It’s owned by the state and located in the western part of downtown Madrid. With the exception of any functions run by the government, many of the palace’s rooms are open to the general public for a small admission fee of 11 Euros. It contains 3,418 rooms and stretches a whopping 1.4 million square feet. That’s a lot of space, enough to make it the largest palace in terms of floor space in all of Europe.
Aside from the floor space itself, the palace awes visitors and travelers from all over the world because of the incredibly beautiful materials used to construct the building, the abundance of art inside and the decoration of all the rooms. The Royal Palace of Madrid is home to the world’s only complete Stradivarius string quintet and also plays host to the Royal Armory of Madrid. It’s one of the best displays of armory in the world and definitely a sight worth seeing. Visit this palace and you’ll feel like royalty yourself, all for just 11 Euros.
5. Puerta Del Sol
The Puerta Del Sol literally translated means The Gate of the Sun. It’s the square in the middle of the city where the network of roads meet. It is one of the busiest and most popular places in all of Madrid. Think of it as the Spanish version of Times Square in New York. The city has held New Year’s celebrations there since 1962. The ‘gate’ itself was actually a portal used to get beyond the wall that surrounded Madrid way back in the 15th century. The word Sun comes into play because the gate was oriented to face the east side of the city where the sun rises.
Puerta Del Sol is host to many of the city’s famous buildings and landmarks, including the office of the President of Madrid, which was the city’s post office long ago. To the north side of the President’s office lies a symbolic plaque that represents the center of the city, so if you want to literally stand in the middle of it all, the Puerta is where you want to be. It also connects several tourist hotspots together so whether you’re doing some sightseeing or planning on shopping, it’s a great place to start a day as you work your way around the city.
4. El Rey Leon
Even if you don’t speak a lick of Spanish there is a good chance you can figure out what El Rey Leon translates to in English…The Lion King. Everyone should know this play because most of us grew up and watched the Disney movie, and now that we’re all adults we have been pelted with advertisements promoting the theatrical version of the story at every corner of North America, whether it happens to be playing on Broadway in New York or another major city close to home.
That said the Spanish version of the play is truly a sight to behold. The opening and closing acts will send shivers down your spine and the set designs and costumes will wow you. The show is worth every penny you spend on it. It will keep you entertained and whisk you away for close to 3 hours. It may even inspire you to take Spanish lessons so that you can learn how to sing Hakkunah Mattata in another language. Maybe you won’t go that far but if you want to see a Spanish twist on a classic show, El Rey Leon is the best bang for your buck without a doubt.
3. Sorolla Museum
Sorolla Museum is about as real and down to earth as it gets when it comes to Spanish museums. It only takes a few minutes to walk there from the Hotel Intercontinental. The museum of course features the work of world-renowned artist Joaquin Sorolla. The house is small but you can move through it quickly and you only have to pay 3 Euros to get in. it’s a cost-effective and yet amazing tourist spot to check out. The museum was Sorolla’s home before he and his wife passed away, which means that when you walk through a lot of the main rooms in the home, you’re seeing a lot of the same furniture that he used and much of the place has been left as it was.
Most recently, the museum featured an exhibit filled with photographs taken by David Palacin of a ballet production originally put together by Sorolla in coordination with the Spanish National Dance Company. If you have an appreciation for the arts and you’re looking to spend an afternoon looking at some extraordinary work without going to the most extravagant galleries in the city, Sorolla Museum might just be one of your favorite places when all is said and done.
2. Buen Retiro Park
The Buen Retiro Park has been around for a long time, but it wasn’t accessible to the public until the 19th century because before that it was owned by the Spanish monarchy. It measures almost one and a half kilometers and is located very close to the center of Madrid. The park’s roots go as far back as the 17th century -we’re talking about history here, not plants. Some of the cool things you can see at the park include The Rosaleda, a beautiful rose garden that actually has a monument dedicated to Satan in it, the only recognized monument of Lucifer on the face of the planet. Rest assured that while the monument is a representation of evil in a sense, the garden itself is a sight to see.
As you make your way around the park, you can also find more signs of royalty from the past, including the Crystal Palace, which offers more of the beautiful architecture you’d expect from a building fit for a King. The bottom line is that if you want to see history and natural beauty in one place, Buen Retiro Park is probably the best place you can possibly go in Madrid. The park features the Avenida de Mexico, Paseo de la Argentina, Casita del Pescador and other monuments and statues that will appeal to your eyes and make you feel serene.
1. The Prado Museum
The Museo del Prado was first established way back in 1819. It’s known as Spain’s national art museum and the pieces you’ll find there are truly one of a kind. It’s collection of fine art dates all the way back to the 12th century and runs all the way to the early 19th century, so you won’t find any portraits from today’s popular artists in the place…this one is all about history. When you go there, be prepared to be around a lot of other tourists as well. In 2012, the Museo del Prado saw over 2.8 million visitors walk through the doors.
That makes sense when you consider the museum’s convenient location just off of the Atocha Underground Station and not too far from the Banco de Espana. As for where the pieces come from, many of them were either created or discovered by artist Velazquez, who is the creator of the museum’s most famous painting called Las Meninas. He was so passionate about adding to the Prado that Velazquez continually sought out to add Italian art to the gallery. His vision is what makes the Museo del Prado the largest collection of Italian pieces in the world outside of Italy.