13 Madrid Adventures You Need To Do

Almudena Cathedral

things to do in madrid almudena cathedral
Almudena Cathedral, located right next to the Royal Palace, is considered to be the grandest church in all of Spain.

The location of the church actually has quite an extensive history, once being the site of the first mosque in Madrid, and then becoming the location of a church that was dedicated to a patron saint – Santa Maria de la Almudena.

Plans to build the Almudena Cathedral date back to the 16th century but the actual construction was delayed several times due to opposition and political issues.  It was not until 1868 that permission to build the Cathedral was actually granted.

Today, the Cathedral is a beautiful display of Gothic style architecture combined with “pop art” stained glass windows.  You can also visit on on site museum to learn more about the history of the Cathedral.

Palacio Real

things to do in madrid palacio real
The Palacio Real was once the Royal Palace to Spanish Kings including Charles III and Alfonso XIII.  The palace that stands today, however, is actually a reconstruction as the original burned down in a fire in 1738.

Although the King of Spain now lives on the outskirts of Madrid in the Zarzuela Palace, the Palacio Real is still used for ceremonies, official banquets, and other state functions that take place in Spain.

Outside of official state duties, the Palacio Real stands primarily as a popular tourist attraction with over 3418 different rooms and countless displays of important works of art.

Jardines de Sabatini

things to do in madrid jardines de sabatini
The Jardines de Sabatini are the neo-classical style gardens of the Royal Palace and are considered to be one of the most relaxing and peaceful spots in all of Madrid.

Filled with mazes of trees, fountains, and white marble sculptures to marvel at, the gardens were actually built on the site of the former stables in the 1930s, and not opened up to the public until 1978 by King Juan Carlos I.

While the gardens are spectacular to see any time of the year, they come particularly alive during the summer months when the “Los Veranos de la Villa” festival takes over with cultural events and live music.

Templo de Debod

things to do in madrid templo de debod
The Templo de Debod is actually an ancient Egyptian temple that is bizarrely placed in the middle of Madrid.  The Temple was actually a gift from the Egyptians to Spain for helping to save many of their historic sites from flooding after the construction of the Aswan High Dam.

Dedicated to the Egyptian Gods Isis and Amun, the Templo de Debod actually dates back to the 2nd Century BC where it stood in the Egyptian Nile Valley.  Today the temple stands in the heart of one of Madrid’s most beautiful parks and provides panoramic views of the city.

Calle Gran Via

things to do in madrid calle gran via
Calle Gran Via, Madrid’s most famous and beloved street, was first conceptualized in the mid 19th century as a way for urban planners to connect Calle de Alcalá with the Plaza de España.

The project required over 300 buildings and 50 other streets to be destroyed earning it much opposition, ridicule and the nickname of “an axe blow on the map”.

Decades after the plans were first drawn up, Calle Gran Via began construction in 1904 and was finally completed in 1929.

Today Calle Gran Via is often called “the street that never sleeps”.  During the day, you can stroll the street and search for some amazing shops, restaurants, and performances.  At night, however, is when the street really comes alive, offering some of the best nightlife opportunities in all of Madrid.

Puerta del Sol

things to do in madrid puerta del sol
The Puerta del Sol is one of the busiest places in all of Madrid, and is often considered the nerve center of the city.

This busy city square is often referred to as "kilometer zero" because it’s the location where all radial roads from Madrid start.  As such, it is a main crossroad for those travelling by foot, bus, or metro.

Puerta del Sol is has been host to many historical events and is now home to Madrid’s famous New Years Eve Clock.

Chocolatería San Ginés

things to do in madrid chocolateria san gines
If you love chocolate, no visit to Spain would be complete without a stop at Madrid’s oldest chocolate shop.

Chocolateria San Ginés actually dates back to 1890 when it originally began as a small restaurant and inn.  In 1894 it became better known as Chocolateria San Ginés – the home to some of the world’s most famous chocolate and churros. 

Of course no chocolate would be world famous if it was like all the rest so instead of being served like regular chocolate, Chocolateria San Ginés serves it piping hot in a mug for dipping.

If you’re brave, you can drink the chocolate straight out of the mug but the best way to eat it is to dip your churros into it.  Oh, and the shop is open 24 hours so that you can kick those late night cravings.
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Plaza Mayor

things to do in madrid plaza mayor
Another hustling and bustling square in Madrid is Plaza Mayor.  Its history dates back to 1619 when it was designed by Juan Gomez de Mora and was host to seemingly every controversial event taking place in Spain.

Bullfights, condemnations, and even executions were held in the square for over 100 years until 1790 when the square was destroyed by a large fire.

The square was eventually rebuilt and reproduced and today Plaza Mayor is an epicenter of life in Madrid as well as home to the charming and unique Stamp and Coin Market that takes place every Sunday morning.

Mercado de San Miguel

things to do in madrid mercado de san miguel
The Mercado de San Miguel, one of the oldest markets in Madrid, is home to some of Spain’s most famous cuisine and attracts thousands of visitors every day who come to get a small taste.

Located in the heart of the city center, Mercado de San Miguel is popular among both tourists and locals alike.  Not only is the building itself a work of art as it’s surrounded in beautiful 20th century glass walls, but the market is lined from wall to wall with food vendors.

Don’t worry though – the food here isn’t expensive and mediocre.  It’s actually quite high quality and affordable.

The market is open long hours so it’s the perfect place to visit for late night snacks or early morning strolls.

El Rastro

things to do in madrid el rastro
If you can’t get enough of the markets, El Rastro is another one that should be on the top of your list.

Unlike the Mercado de San Miguel which is an indoor food market, El Rastro is an open air flea market offering up much more than just food.

At El Rastro market you can find pretty much anything your heart desires – flamenco records, purses, jewelry, photos of old Madrid, fans, puppets, radios – the list goes on and on.  What you can’t find on one street, you will probably find on the next street.  Or the next.

Yes, this flea market is huge and while the primary street is dedicated to clothing there are plenty of side streets you can also stroll down to find some real hidden treasures.

El Rastro flea market runs every Sunday from 9am until 3pm and holds over 3500 vendors.

Museo Reina Sofia

things to do in madrid museo reina sofia
The Museo Reina Sofia was founded in 1990 as an art center and holds collections from some of the most renowned artists in the world.  Located on Madrid’s Art Walk, the museum showcases an extensive history of Spanish contemporary art.

Arguably the most famous of all of the paintings within the museum is Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” but the museum also holds paintings from many other artists including Salvador Dali, Miro, and Julio Gonzalez.

Within the museum the art is divided into three different collections: 1900-1945 (The Interruption of the 20th century), 1945-1986 (Is the War over yet?), and 1962-1982 (From Revolt to Post Modernity).

Museo del Prado

things to do in madrid museo del prado
Also located along the Art Walk, the Museo del Prado has been open to the public since 1819 and features a variety of both paintings and sculptures.

Here you’ll find a variety of masterpieces from each Spanish, Italian, and Flemish influence.  All in all, the museum holds over 8600 paintings and more than 700 different sculptures.

Historically the museum was actually originally conceived as a house of science but in 1814 King Fernando VII decided that he would like to use the space to house his hundreds of royal paintings and eventually turned the space into a museum.

During the Spanish Civil War, the artworks were moved several times to protect them against bombings.  After first storing them in the basement of the museum, the collection was then moved to Valencia and then Geneva before once again being moved back to its current home in Madrid.

Today the museum is a popular tourist attraction but be prepared to make a few visits if you want to see everything that the museum has to offer.

Parque del Buen Retiro

things to do in madrid parque del buen retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro is a 125 hectare nature and greenery oasis in the heart of Madrid city.  Aside from the stunning greenery, the park is full of marbled monuments, beautiful landscaped lawns, and elegant buildings spread throughout.

The history of Parque del Buen Retiro dates back to 1630, when the land was given to King Philip IV by the Duke of Olivares for recreational use by the court.  The garden was further advanced under the reign of Queen Isabella II and eventually became a place of sanctuary for people within the city.

Today the park is home to a Casita del Pescador, Palacio de Cristal, the Rose Garden, the Statue walk, a beautiful lake, and a family of peacocks.

Day trips from Madrid

amazing day trips from madrid
Don't forget to save some time to explore outside of Madrid.  There's several day trip adventures waiting for you outside the big city.

Among those adventures are seeing the royal palace in El Escorial, wandering the Jewish Quarter in Segovia and exploring the palace at Aranjuez.

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Free walking tours

Madrid, along with almost every major city in the world, has companies that offer free walking tours.  These tours are usually run by young students who are passionate about telling the story of their city and country.

The tours are probably the best way to explore and learn about the city as the guides will take you to unique places in the city while telling you all sorts of interesting stories.

As a note, while these are "free" walking tours, tips are encouraged at the end of the tour and a €5 tip is the standard.
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