Madrid is one of our favorite European capital cities. It has a lovely city center, several top-level art museums, and a fantastic food panorama. We went there multiple times, and we will be back there soon to visit its three stars Michelin restaurant (DiverXO) and some of the amazing villages nearby. This city improved its touristic infrastructure over the last ten years, and walking around this town is just pleasant!
Travelling around the city
Madrid is not an easy city to explore. Walking around can be tiring as the town is built over several hills. Luckily, the metro system improved a lot over the last ten years, and it’s now rare to wait more than 4 minutes for a train, even during the night (the metro closes at 1:30 AM). We suggest buying a daily (or multiple days) Touristic metro pass. That’s because traveling from and to the airport there is a surcharge of 3 € per run, and the touristic metro pass includes this cost.
Top 10 thing to do in Madrid
There are many things to explore here. This is our top 10 things that you should not miss in the city, but we also gathered more insight about the best museums in Madrid and the best food places in separate posts we will publish in the following weeks.
1.) The Goya black room at Prado
The Museo Nacional del Prado is one of the most important art galleries in Europe, and it includes the best artworks from some of the most notable Spanish painters, like Velazquez and Goya. In particular, Prado collected a series of paintings Goya created over the last weeks of his life directly on the walls of his house. These astonishing murals have been carefully detached and placed in a dedicated room in the museum. It’s a journey into human madness, a cathartic experience every art lover should have. Do not miss our article about Prado and the other two art galleries in Madrid in our dedicated blog post!
2.) Sunset at the Temple of Debod
The immense Parque del Oeste (Western Park) is a great green space extending north from the Royal Palace. Inside this park, there is an authentic Egyptian temple, moved here from Aswan as a thank-you gift for the financial help the Spanish State did during the building of the Aswan high dam. Our suggestion is to arrive here in the late afternoon, as the sun will set down just behind the temple, enlightening the ancient stones with beautiful red colors.
3.) Gambas al ajillo at Casa del Abuelo
Madrid food scene is dominated by one word: tapas! A tapa is a small dish, meant to be shared among the diners. If we have to declare a single tapa we think everybody should have that must be the amazing gambas al ajillo at Casa del Abuelo. This is one of the oldest, historical tapas bars in Madrid, and their shrimps in garlic sauce are to die for. Combine them with a glass of red wine, and some bread and you’ll get one of the reasons why we love this city. Check out our post about the best places where to eat in Madrid for more suggestions!
4.) The richness of Palacio Real
The royal family seldom uses its official royal palace, and it’s usually open for visitors all year round. This is one of the richest, grandiose royal buildings we ever explored. Every room is a succession of gold, baroque elements, and frescoes (several of them has been painted by Tiepolo), as a testimony of the rich past history of the country. We don’t recommend you to take the audio guide since it is one of the most boring things you could ever listen to and it’s not worth it. Just walk in the enormous halls, letting your imagination get to the time when Philippe III of Spain was king of the old and the new world.
Delicious tip: If you are interested in middle age weapons don’t miss the armory. It hosts one of the biggest collections of armors in Europe, beautifully exposed in a single enormous hall.
5.) The colors of Parque Del Buen Retiro
Around the city center, Madrid offers several parks where taking a walk and relax. We recommend, after visiting one of the three main art museums, to have a stroll in the Parque del Buen Rientro. At the center of the park, the majestic fountain with the monument to Alfonso XII is a famous landmark, with the possibility to rent a small rowboat. A hundred meters away there is the Palacio de Cristal, a glasshouse used for contemporary art exhibitions, with a beautiful little lake surrounded by trees. During fall, they assume a thousand shades of red, yellow and orange, a delight for the eye.
6.) Go fusion at StreetXO
At the top floor of El Corte Inglés, StreetXO is the second restaurant from the mad cooking genius who answers to the name of David Munoz, owner of the only three Michelin stars restaurant in the city, DiverXO. This place offers several dishes of oriental-Spanish fusion inspiration at relatively low prices. We loved so much this place we will dedicate a blog post to it, and we suggest it to everybody spending a weekend in Madrid. Be aware though, the average waiting time for a table for two people is about an hour!
7.) Jamon, Jamon, Jamon!
A visit to Madrid can’t be complete without experiencing one of the most famous Spanish specialties: Iberico ham. We will speak in more details about this amazing product in our blog post about food in Madrid, but for now, we can recommend a couple of places offering some of the best hams in the city: Ferpal and Alma De Julián Becerro.
8.) The Corrida
The Corrida is one of the most famous and controversial traditions in Spain. Independently from the moral question around the current shows, Plaza de Toros de las Ventas, the main corrida venue in Madrid, is one of the most important monuments in the city and it’s worth a visit. If you are interested, the tour inside the arena is fairly cheap and well organized. The place is relatively distant from everything else (it’s about an hour from Puerta del Sol by foot), we suggest you take the metro if you wish to visit it.
9.) Lose yourself in El Rastro
There are markets for tourists, and markets for locals. El Rastro, the most famous flea market in Madrid, belongs to the latter. Everything can be sold among the endless procession of stalls, from trading cards to domestic pets. Arrive early (well, as early as Madrid can give meaning to this word, around 9-10 AM) to grab a deal, or later (between 11-12 AM) to find the market at its busiest time, among shouts from bargaining and weird latin songs.
10.) Walking around Malasaña
One of our favorite neighbors in the city, Malasaña is a hip student-friendly area between Calle del Fuencarral, a popular shopping street, and Parque del Oeste. It’s a lively neighborhood, with several bars and vintage clothing stores. Every evening, Plaza del 2 de Mayo becomes a central hub and meeting point for university students. Mercado de San Ildefonso is a wonderful food market with three floors of bars and stalls that will satisfy everybody!
The more we explore this city, the more we love it. From the large fancy roads of Salamanca to the labyrinthic alleys of Lavapies, there is always a new place to discover and a new side to explore. And of course, a new tapas bar to try!