Madrid is a glorious city filled with history. There are beautiful gardens, museums and art galleries and some of Europe’s most beautiful architecture. Whether you choose to stroll, or take a tour to some of the city’s top attractions, there is much to enthral and excite as well as many opportunities for a little light relief from all the sightseeing. You may decide to enjoy a relaxing day swimming at one of the many open air pools or to play tennis at the many multi-sport centres or you may decide to venture a little further afield to do a little hiking or horseback riding. If you visit in winter you can head off, up into the snow clad hills for some skiing, which is high on the list of top things to do when visiting Madrid.
- 1 Top Things to do in Madrid
- 1.1 A Walk along Gran Via
- 1.2 Palacio Real – Royal Palace of Madrid
- 1.3 Plaza de Oriente
- 1.4 Parque del Retiro – Buen Retiro Park
- 1.5 Museo Del Prado – Prado Museum
- 1.6 Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
- 1.7 Reina Sofía National Art Museum
- 1.8 Plaza Mayor
- 1.9 Barrio de La Latina (Latin Neighborhood)
- 1.10 Mercado San Miguel – Market of San Miguel
- 1.11 Templo de Debod – Debod Temple
- 1.12 Puerta del Sol Plaza
- 1.13 Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
- 1.14 Plaza de Cibeles
- 1.15 Museo Arqueológico Nacional
- 1.16 Royal Convent of La Encarnación
- 1.17 Monsasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Monastery of the Royal Discalced (Barefoot) Nuns).
- 1.18 Catedral de la Almudena – Almudena Cathedral
- 1.19 The Calle Serrano Shopping Experience
- 1.20 The Teleférico
- 2 Top Sporting activities in Madrid
Top Things to do in Madrid
A Walk along Gran Via
start your walk at the Capital Building (Edificio Carrion) in the Plaza Callao, as you walk, you will discover the tall Telefonica Building, which was at one time the tallest building in Europe. Also you should keep an eye out for a museum that is not a museum, The Museo Chicote which is a renowned cocktail bar. You can also take a break during your walk at Edificio Grassy and Edificio Gran Peña. If you are armed with a camera and enjoy your own personal, and unique photos, then add the Metropolis building to your album. You can also do a little window shopping or perhaps stop and buy a good quality Spanish leather handbag or a pair of shoes in one of the many shops along your route.
Palacio Real – Royal Palace of Madrid
Built on the site of the 9th century Moorish Alcázar (Castle) this Palace is closer to the origins of Madrid than any other structure standing in Madrid today. The Royal Palace, with its classic French architecture, was modelled on the Palace of Versailles and stands high on a bluff thus creating an awe inspiring background to the city of Madrid. Inside the palace are more than 2,800 opulent rooms. A guided tour of the palace will take you to the Salón de Gasparini, King Carlos III’s private apartments with its 2 ton crystal chandelier, the Salón del Trono, which is the grand throne room, and the great banquet hall with seating for up to 140 guests. The current King and Queen of Spain do not live in the Palace as it is now used for official state occasions only.
Plaza de Oriente
The Plaza de Oriente is directly in front of the Royal Palace and is surrounded by massive statues of past monarchs. The statue in the centre of the Plaza is of King Felipe IV . It was the first equestrian bronze ever caste of a rearing horse that seems to defy gravity. This point of interest came about as a result of the sculptor Pietro de Tacca, seeking help from Galileo, whose knowledge of physics enabled Tacca to successfully complete the sculpture without the risk of it ever toppling over.
Parque del Retiro – Buen Retiro Park
On your way to the Museo del Prado you might like to take a stroll through the Central Park of Madrid. Once the playground of the Royal family, this beautiful park hosted royal pageants, bullfights and even mock naval battles. In the 18th century the public were given access for the first time, but were required to dress in formal attire. Now however the dress code is relaxed and the Park is a popular Sunday recreational area for the people of Madrid. In the park are sculptures and monuments of historic significance as well as a fun, boating lake. During the summer months one of the top attractions in the park is the many free concerts and one that draws a number of international visitors is the annual book fair.
Museo Del Prado – Prado Museum
Although the Museum was first a house of science it served for some time as a cavalry barracks for Napoleon’s troops during the French occupation, 1808 to 1813. However it was reinstated as a museum by King Fernando VII, the royal collection of priceless artworks was stored. However, the museum at that time was not for the edification of the public as art was strictly the preserve of royalty.
Today you can stroll through the rooms and take as much time as you need to enjoy the glorious paintings within its portals. There is so much to take in that you may find yourself somewhat overwhelmed and so feel the need to return for a second visit.
Entry tickets to the Museum are sold at the ticket office in the northern Puerta de Goya – the entrance itself is at the Puerta de los Jerónimus.
A top attraction for lovers of art is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in the Paseo del Prado where the breathtaking, eclectic mix of art works and styles covers a full 3 floors. The best way to see everything is to start at the top and work your way down. The top floor houses medieval art, the 1st floor exhibits by Goya and Gainsborough, Van Goch, Gauguin and Cezanne plus many more. On the ground floor, you step into the 20th century to admite works by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, and Sigmund Freud’s grandson Lucien Freud.
There is so much in the Thyssen to see, ponder and wonder at, that you may find that you need more than one visit.
Reina Sofía National Art Museum
In the Calle de Santa Isabel is the gallery of modern art where the great drawcard is the works of Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. The permanent collection of artworks is on the top floor.
Visiting the Sofia also gives you a chance to discover lesser known Spanish artists of both the 19th and 20thcenturies.
This hub of modern-day Madrid was designed in 1619 by Juan Gómez and its very first public ceremony was the beatification of San Isidro Labrador (The farm labourer), however thereafter it was often the scene of less illustrious events such as the burning of heretics, and public hangings but these all ended when in 1790 the entire square was gutted by fire. However, much of the original architecture remains, such as the Royal Bakery (17th century), however the frescos are modern – created to coincide with Madrid’s time as the Europe’s culture Capital in 1992.
Barrio de La Latina (Latin Neighborhood)
The Latin quarter of Madrid has become one of the most popular areas for visitors and locals alike. It holds within not only the tiniest churches but also some of the the largest. Here in the Latin quarter you will find the Segovia viaduct and the Puerta de Toldo. This area of the city is ‘the’ neighbourhood for tapas, mojitos and amazingly, draft beer. If you wander into the side streets you will find many hidden plazas all with their own unique charms: the Plaza de La Paja, Plaza del Humilladero, Plaza de San Andrés and the Plaza de Puerta Cerrada. If you want to avoid busy crowds then explore the area on a weekday morning when you will have a little peace and quiet in which to enjoy the area.
Mercado San Miguel – Market of San Miguel
Located in the Old Town’s Plaza de San Miguel and facing both the Plaza del Conde de Miranda and the Cava de San Miguel is the last remaining iron market-hall in Madrid, completed in 1916.
Inside are delights for the taste buds. from caviar to chocolate and everything you can think of in between: cured meats, fish, cheeses and pickles. There are many wine tastings on the go and so the change to also buy those wines that really speak to you. There is also Asturian cider and of course the famous Sherry. Many tables are dotted about where you can order tapas or even substantial platters if you are feeling really peckish.
Templo de Debod – Debod Temple
Another top attraction right in the center of Madrid is the the Egyptian Templo de Debod, in the Paseo del Pintor Rosales. The temple was taken from where it once stood in southern Egypt and reconstructed here, block by original block. Without this great and somewhat incongruous effort the temple would have been drowned in the rising waters of the Aswan Dam’s, Lake Nasser. The temple now strands in the Parque de la Montaña just north of the Plaza de España. The temple was dedicated to the god Amon of Thebes and according to legend it was in this temple that the goddess Isis gave birth to Horus (the god of the rising sun) – of course when it was still in Egypt, not in the centre of Madrid.
Puerta del Sol Plaza
Puerta del Sol Plaza is the official center of Madrid and was once the eastern gate to the city, hence its name (Gate of the Sun). Here within the Comunidad de Madrid is the regional government and the 1768 Post Office Building now the Casa de Correos. The equestrian statue in the centre of the plaza is of the Bourbon king Carlos III, and standing with its nose in a strawberry tree is the statue of a bear is at the eastern end of the plaza. This statue was erected in honour of the bears found, even today, in the areas around Madrid.
Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
If you are a football fan and most especially if you are a Real Madrid supporter, then the top attraction for you would be the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. This temple to football is where you can enjoy a self-guided tour along a set route that takes you up into the stands, through the presidential box, into the press room and dressing rooms as well as through the players’ tunnel. You can even venture out onto the field itself before you end your tour at the Exposiçión de Trofeos (the trophy exhibit). Tour tickets can be purchased at window 10 next to gate 7.
Plaza de Cibeles
Located at one of the busiest intersections in the city is the Plaza was built in 1900 and was originally named Plaza de Castelar, later renamed, Plaza de Cibeles. The square has a number of marble sculptures and fountains and around the Plaza, the main buildings are The Bank of Spain, the Cybele Palace, the Palacio de Linares and the Palacio de Buenavista.
In the Plaza de Cibeles is Madrid’s landmark better known to many as the Palace of Communication (most guidebooks refer to it as City Hall or The Cybele Palace). Infront of the Palace is the famous fountain designed by Ventura Rodrigues, that shares the same name, the Fountain of Cybele.
Cybele depicts the goddess of nature and abundance riding her chariot that is being pulled by a pair of prancing lions. The cherubs are a later edition, only added at the end of the 19th century.
Museo Arqueológico Nacional
In the Calle de Serrano is this towering house of artefacts, re-opened after a massive renovation. The range of artefacts from ancient times include some stunning mosaics taken from Roman villas across Spain. There is much to explore and discover from intricate Mudéjar handiwork to the sculpted figures and examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
Royal Convent of La Encarnación
This monastery, once connected to the Grand Palace by means of an underground passageway, was founded 1n 1611 by Queen Margarita de Austria. Amongst the treasures of the monastery is a reliquary which is said to hold a vial of the dried blood of St Pataleón which is believed to liquefy every July 27. The beautifully ornate church within the monastery, has such excellent acoustics it is often used for choral concerts.
Monsasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Monastery of the Royal Discalced (Barefoot) Nuns).
This monastery was originally only for women of royal blood, and houses many treasures brought by the royal novices as dowries to the church. There are 33 different chapels within the monastery. The number 33 signifies the age at which Christ died and is also the maximum number of nuns permitted to reside at the monastery at any one time. Thirty 30 nuns are in residence today, but are not necessarily of royal descent.
Catedral de la Almudena – Almudena Cathedral
This great Cathedral adjoins the Royal Palace. It was built on the site of the central Moorish Mosque which, after the Christian invasion, was consecrated as a Christian church. Later, in 1883, the original church was rebuilt as a Cathedral and holds the miraculous wooden statue of Madrid’s patron saint, the Virgin of Almudena.
The Calle Serrano Shopping Experience
Situated in in the upmarket neighborhood of Salamanca is where you go if you are a fashionista and on the hunt for designer names. La Calle Serrano is one stop much favored by Victoria Beckham and it’s certainly worth a visit if only for a little wistful window shopping.
A top attraction for families or those who want to give their feet time to recover is the cable car that traverses the Casa del Camp. The cable car takes you 122 feet (40m) above the ground giving you a bird’s eye view of the dome of Goya’s burial chapel. Your cable car ride ends in the centre of the Casa del Campo and from there it’s only a short walk to the zoo, the funfair and the lake.
Top Sporting activities in Madrid
There are about 6 graded hiking trails outside Madrid in the Guadarrama Mountains. To get there you take the suburban train from Chamartin to Cercedilla. Alternatively you can take the bus from Plaza de Castilla to Manzanares el Real and head for the glorious La Pedriza Park where you can enjoy some really excellent but less challenging walks.
In Pozuelo, an upmarket suburb of Madrid, you can hire a horse by the hour or for the whole day, but for those who wish to join a group with a guide, there are a number of riding opportunities on offer that will take you up into the hills overlooking Madrid. If you are happy to go out into the countryside to the outlying towns there are riding facilities in Cercedilla and Manzanares el Real.
If skiing is what you really enjoy, you will find 15 ski slopes at Puerto de Navacerrada, and for the best snow and 24 slopes to choose from, Valdesqui – just near Cotos is a great choice. The surroundings are really beautiful, but most especially when everything is blanketed in newly fallen snow.
Madrid has a number of open air pools the most popular is in La Elipa and there is also Canal de Isabel II in Chamberí. But check first as these are usually only open during the summer months. If you are a year round swimmer, you can take advantage of the Olympic size, indoor-pool at Chamartin.
For those who love a game no matter where they are, there are a number of courts for hire at the multi-facility sports centres run by the Madrid Municipality. Polideportivos are at Casa de Campo, Barrio del Pilar, Barrio de la Concepción and La Elipa.