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35 Best things to see & do in Madrid

  • Madrid Region, Spain

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros
  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

The grand exterior of the Prado Museum. Made of white stone with multiple pillars, and a carved stone mural set at the top of the entrance building, there is a flag flying atop it. A large statue of a figure cast in dark metal sits in front of the entrance.

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Prado Museum

One of the finest museums in the world, the Prado was originally meant to be a museum of natural science. However, by the time it was completed in 1819, its purpose had shifted to that of a grand art exhibition space. Today, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, it is the single best collection of Spanish art and arguably the world’s finest collection of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century.

Its vast galleries are packed with household-name masterpieces and heavyweight artists – the stars of the show being Velazquez, El Greco and Goya. The hugely impressive permanent collection comprises around 8,000+ drawings, 7,600+ paintings, 4,800+ prints, and 1,000+ sculptures – though at any one time, only 1,300 works are displayed in the main building due to capacity constraints.

There are usually also several world-class temporary exhibitions running alongside the permanent collection.

Adult price: £13

Good for age: 18+

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

Three visitors stand in front of an oil painting of the Cardinal Raphael. In the painting, he is wearing his red cardinal clothing. There is another painting hung on the wall to the left.

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World-class art in Madrid

This vibrant city was the epicentre of Spain’s 16th- and 17th-century ‘Golden Age’, when the kings and clergy patronised artists such as Velazquez, Murillo, Zurbaran and El Greco, and couldn’t purchase enough paintings by Titian, Hieronymus Bosch, Rubens and others.

Then, in the 19th century, came Picasso and Goya; the latter’s portraits of the Spanish royal family, Madrid’s citizens, its fiestas and demons are seared into the city’s soul.

The result was an unrivalled hoard of artistic treasure that you can see in the ‘Triangle of Art’ – the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums. These three are home to scores of masterpieces and each rank among the world’s greatest art museums. The Reina Sofia is home to arguably the most famous painting of the 20th century, Picasso’s Guernica.

If you have time for more, the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, the Lazaro Galdiano Museum and the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida won’t disappoint – in any other city, they’d be top attractions.

Good for age: 18+

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

Exterior facade looking at the front. a plain stone building with twin glass elevator towers on either side

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Reina Sofia National Museum

Madrid’s world-class modern art museum, housed in a vast 18th-century former hospital with an extension by Jean Nouvel, has a collection encompassing art from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art, and is home to outstanding collections of Spain’s two greatest 20th-century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Works by other Spanish artists such as Miro, Chillida and Tapies sit alongside international names such as Francis Bacon, Donald Judd and Gerhard Richter, and there are always a few worthwhile temporary exhibitions. No wonder it ranks 6th on the list of the world’s most visited art museums.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 18+

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

A flamenco dancer wearing a black flamenco dress poses with her arms above her head at the top of a series of steps. She is wearing a red flower in her hair.

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Flamenco in Madrid

Madrid is the capital of flamenco, in the same way that Hollywood is the capital of film. All the stars head to the capital’s famous tablao, or flamenco clubs – the singers to perform the emotion-packed cante jondo (‘deep song’); the dancers to stamp their heels fast and hard in a taconeo, to the percussive strumming of the guitar players.

The combination of the music, dancing and powerful rhythms are irresistible – on the best evenings, you will feel the duende, the ‘demon’ spirit of emotional catharsis, and find yourself shouting Olé!

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 90+ minutes

When: All year round

Freq: daily

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

The exterior of the Royal Palace of Madrid. It is a grand building made of pale grey stone, with a Spanish flag flying atop it. The courtyard in front is made of dark and light grey stone, and the sky is blue with wispy clouds.

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Royal Palace of Madrid

The House of Borbon-Anjou, led by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, is the reigning royal house in Spain. Although not as globally renowned as their UK counterparts, the Spanish Monarchy remains high profile and (mostly) revered in Spain, and an integral part of the country’s culture and history.

This lavish 18th-century royal palace is their official residence (though they actually live at the Zarzuela Palace, also in Madrid). It’s an example of Neoclassical grandeur on an epic scale, with some 2,000 rooms.

Although only part of the palace is open to the public, ornate decorations bombard your senses at every turn – most opulent of all is the scarlet and gold Throne Room, with a ceiling painted by Tiepolo.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 18+

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

This outstanding art collection – accumulated by Swiss industrialist Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza – tells the story of 800 years of art history, from 13th-century Italian Gothic paintings all the way up to 20th-century Pop Art. One of the world’s largest private collections, this treasure trove of nearly a thousand paintings is housed in a grand 18th-century neoclassical palace

Major highlights include paintings by Ghirlandaio, Durer, Titian, Raphael, Degas and Kandinsky. There’s usually at least one temporary exhibition on, too, and a lovely terrace bar on the rooftop.

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 18+

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

Seafood paella in a large frying pan at a street food festival. Whole shrimps and mussels are arranged in a circle on top of the rice dish.

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Madrid’s best food & drink

With over 6,000 restaurants serving dishes from all around Spain (and the world), Madrid is a funfair for foodies,. Join the locals at traditional restaurants, informal tapas bars, gourmet food markets, and the new Michelin restaurants setting off gastronomic fireworks.

As the capital city, Madrid has sucked up influences and talented chefs from all across Spain. There is a vast range of fresh seafood, fabulous tapas (patatas bravas were invented here), side by side with the hearty dishes of the interior – roast lamb, suckling pig and stews.

Alongside all these old favourites, a new breed of chef, each with their own personality and style of cooking, have made eating out in Madrid an adventure.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: Any

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

Aerial view of the empty blue and white Real Madrid stadium.

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Real Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium

Football is a great Madrileno passion, and football in Madrid means either Atletico Madrid (red) or Real Madrid (blue). For an insight into just what football means to the city, head to Real’s 85,000-seater Bernabéu Stadium. Guided tours allow visitors to walk down the players’ tunnel, sit in the presidential box, and marvel at the silverware accumulated during the club’s illustrious 110-year history.

Even if you don’t like football, this is a fascinating insight into one of Madrid’s greatest sporting and cultural institutions.

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 6+

  • San Lorenzo del Escorial , Community of Madrid, Spain

El Escorial Palace seen from a distance. Foliage sits in the foreground, while mountains rise in the background.

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El Escorial Palace

This vast royal palace and monastery, 40km outside of Madrid in the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, was commissioned as a royal residence by King Philip II during the 16th century.

A rich collection of art includes works by Titian, El Greco, Velazquez and Bosch; the library is 55m long and contains more than 40,000 books and documents, while the octagonal pantheon contains the tombs of nearly every Spanish monarch.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, for many the highlight of this vast complex is the lavish library, with ceiling frescoes by Pellegrino Tibaldi, Michelangelo’s disciple. Its collection of ancient and rare books includes the famous ‘Golden Gospel’, the Codex Aureus.

Adult price: £13

Good for age: 18+

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

If you have even a passing interest in fashion, then it’s definitely worth seeking out Madrid’s brilliant costume museum, with over 150,000 garments illustrating the evolution of fashion through history, from the Middle Ages until today.

Permanent displays range from Hispano-Muslim designs to stunning pieces by the likes of Balenciaga, Paco Rabanne and Mariano Fortuny. Temporary exhibitions showcase a mix of contemporary designers and historical trends. The gift shop is a great place to pick up unusual presents, with a wide selection of contemporary jewellery and accessories.

This museum is the embodiment of Madrid’s reputation as a style capital.

Adult price: £3

Good for age: 8+