Madrid often gets overlooked by travelers who choose to head to the beach side city of Barcelona instead. Before traveling to Madrid I had heard mixed reviews, but this was quickly shut down by my absolute love of the city when I arrived. With an insane party scene and probably even more beautiful architecture than Barcelona itself, it’s hard to decide what to fit into 10 hours of exploring, but I tried my best.
There are many amazing museums, galleries and parks to suit any one’s need, but here are the things to see if you are in a pickle and don’t have an abundance of time.
Templo de Debod
Close to the Plaza de Espana, walk around this beautiful park with its peaceful temple nestled high above the city. The Temple was built in the 2nd century BC in Egypt and gifted to Spain as a form of thanks for helping to save many Egyptian monuments when they were at risk of flooding in the 1960’s. Great views and a great spot to watch the sunset. So romantic, in fact, that I witnessed a proposal there!
Royal Palace of Madrid & Gardens of Compo del Moro
This once medieval fortress has been transformed into a lavish palace and the residence of the Spanish Monarchy since the 1500’s. It’s still the official residence of the King of Spain today. With over 2,800 rooms, it is one of the biggest palaces in all of Europe and definitely worth an explore along with the stunning gardens attached.
For European Union residents or those with working permits, you can enter for free during certain hours. From October to March, enter on Mondays to Thursdays between 4pm and 6pm, or during summer months (April to September) you can enter between 6pm and 8pm.
Catedral de la Almudena
Turn around when facing the Palace and find this beautiful light blue church with colorful detailing on the inside.
Plaza de Oriente and El Teatro Real (The Royal Theatre)
Walk to the side of the Royal Palace and through the beautiful plaza to the Royal Theater. The outside may not be the most glamorous site in Madrid, but the inside is something worth having a look at. They can have really cheap performances on as well, some as low as 8 euro, so check and maybe you’ll be coming back later for a show.
Continue walking south east until you reach Plaza Mayor, the main Plaza in the heart of the city. Find amazing fresco dining restaurants here, a great spot for lunch to enjoy some people watching. Pictured above is the plaza when I visited in May 2015, when a huge join yoga class was happening. Interesting.
Plaza Puerta del Sol
Translated to ‘The Gate of the Sun’ this beautiful plaza marks the very center of the Iberian peninsula. Find the plaque to mark the 0km mark, the starting point to where all of Spain’s highway distances are measured – in front of the Casa de Correos (National Post Office). Also find the statue of the famous symbol of Madrid, a bear eating fruits from a strawberry tree. All of the pedestrian streets leading off of this plaza are great for shopping, so if you have a spare afternoon and you like shopping, you will love this area.
Tartan Roof on the Circulo de Bellas Artes rooftop
The best view in town can be found on this rooftop equipped with a lovely bar/restaurant. Perfect for some cocktails or dinner watching the sunset or just to enjoy the view. From the Puerta del Sol, walk up the Calle de la Montera (third street from the right when facing out from the Casa de Correos) until you reach the main streets of Calle Gran Via, a beautiful street filled with typical Spanish architecture. Turn right and walk down it marveling at the buildings for ten minutes and you will get here.
Plaza de Cibeles
Just a stones throw away from the amazing rooftop is this plaza which hosts my favorite building in Madrid; the City Hall. The architecture is something else, accompanied by a beautiful fountain and some colorful gardens surrounding it.
Walk up the main road to the Puerta de Alcala which is the Gate to this beautiful, expansive park. The gate in itself is a beautiful monument to take some snaps of but there is much to explore inside the park itself. Fountains, lakes, palaces, you name it. You could spend a day in the park alone (and I would recommend it if you have the time). But for the main parts; head to the Lake near the north entrance (pictured) where you can rent a row boat or simply watch the blue boats bop along the water whilst sipping a coffee or having a picnic lunch.
Then there’s the palaces, with my favorite being the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal) as the beautiful glass domed building sits on another beautiful lake and inside you’ll find a colorful chill out oasis (well when I was there, they may change it up from time to time). Palacio de Velazquez hosts temporary exhibitions and is close by.
Rosaleda, the Rose Garden is also a beautiful part that must be explored. Another botanical park sits across the road from the south-west corner of the park.
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
Head to the building that houses the popular Spanish sport of bullfighting. The architecture of the building is stunning in itself, but you might even be lucky enough to be in Madrid on a day when they host an actual bullfighting event. Tickets are cheap, but it might only be for some, as it can be a very cruel and hard thing to watch.
Here’s a Google map of the directions from start to finish.
There is so much more to see and do in this beautiful city, so if you have time consider:
- Mercado de San Miguel – a beautiful building in the middle of the city, a great place to grab a bit to eat.
- El Escorial Monastery – home of the King of Spain about 45 km northwest of Madrid.
- El Rastro Flea Market – held every Sunday and public holiday.
- Teleferico de Madrid – cable car for great views of the city.
- Matadero – former slaughterhouse converted to an art center.
- Juan Carlos I Park – sculpture park containing some very famous art pieces.
- Madrid Atocha Railway Station – beautiful station with indoor garden.
- La Vaguada shopping mall
There are also great day trip options available.
- Toledo – named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this beautiful walled city is known as ‘the city of three cultures’ and has historically been a cultural center.
- Segovia – this small town is unique thanks to its large Aqueduct running straight through the town, as well as it’s castle and beautiful cathedral.
- Avila – known for its gorgeous medieval walls and towers to match.
A city definitely worth a long visit, but if not, hopefully this guide helps!