The 10 best highlights and to do’s in Madrid
1. Get to know vibrant Madrid in the different neighborhoods
You will find fewer tourists in Madrid than in other major cities in Spain. So you find yourself completely with the Madrilenians here. The best way to experience local life and meet locals is by exploring the lively and hip neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own atmosphere and character. Let’s explore our favorite ones!
💛 La Malasaña is the trendiest neighborhood among young people. It is full of vintage shops, live music and you will find nice bars and restaurants on every corner of the street.
💛 Chueca is known as the LGBTI+ neighborhood and is the most vibrant. Here you come for the best nightlife and you can order a lot of tapas at almost every restaurant.
💛 La Latina is one of the oldest and local neighborhoods in Madrid. On Sundays from 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM, the gigantic El Rastro flea market fills the winding streets of La Latina.
💛 Lavapiés is one of the most multicultural neighborhoods in Madrid. You will find bars and restaurants with cuisines from different parts of the world. It is also the best place to spot colorful street art and decorated streets.
💛 In the district of Jeronimos (Retiro) you will find a lot of greenery in the city park El Retiro, but you will also be amazed by all the impressive buildings.
💛 The Sol district is located just outside the city center. Highlights are the beautiful squares and the street Gran Vía, with all the museums, shops, theaters and striking architecture.
The best local experiences in Madrid
2. Discover the beautiful architecture of Madrid
As you wander through the streets of Madrid, you will be surprised again and again by beautiful architecture. We think the most striking buildings and palaces are Palacio Real de Madrid, Edificio Metrópolis, Palacio de Cibeles, cathedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena, Palacio de Cristal, casa Gallardo and the Egyptian temple ‘Templo de Debod’.
3. Relax until sunset in the gigantic city park El Retiro
After all the sightseeing, it is great to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The best way to do this is to relax in the huge El Retiro city park.
El Retiro is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was previously privately owned by the Spanish Royal Family. El Retiro has been open to the public since 1868. The park is the green heart of Madrid and many locals find their way here. For running, walking the dog, for a cozy picnic or to cool off in the shade of the many trees.
Tips for your visit to El Retiro
The park is open daily and free to visit. From April to September, the park is open from 6:00 AM to midnight and from October to March from 6:00 AM – 10:00 PM. The park is centrally located so is easy to reach on foot from many other highlights. Are you traveling by metro? Then get on line 2 and get off at the Retiro metro stop.
Things to do in El Retiro
In addition to relaxation, there is also plenty to do in El Retiro. Stroll through the gardens full of fountains and statues, visit the Crystal Palace, enjoy the music of buskers or rent a boat and row across the Estanque Grande del Retiro lake.
Rent a boat at the lake Estanque Grande del Retiro
A fun activity is to row a boat across the Estanque Grande del Retiro lake. On the lake you will enjoy the sun, the water and the impressive architecture around the lake, such as the large columned monument of King Alfonso XII.
You can rent a boat from Monday to Sunday from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM and from 3:30 PM – 8:00 PM (these times may differ in winter). Make a reservation in advance via telephone number: (+34) 91 574 40 24. With a reservation you skip the line at the cash desk. It is also possible to rent a boat on site. You rent a boat for 45 minutes. During the week you pay €6 per boat, during the weekend and on holidays a boat costs €8.
Visit Palacio de Cristal
The most beautiful sight in El Retiro is Palacio de Cristal. This crystal palace was built in 1887 and its purpose was to exhibit tropical (mainly Filipino) plants. Today, the beautiful location is used for changing exhibitions. The entrance to Palacio de Cristal is free. From April to September the palace is open from 10:00 AM – 9:00 PM and from October to March from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM. Palacio de Cristal is closed on holidays.
It is definitely worth it to walk around Palacio de Cristal. The palace is surrounded by greenery and a pond, where turtles live. A beautiful reflection of the palace can often be seen in the water of the pond.
4. Pay a (free) visit to Palacio Real, the royal palace
After the Moorish Alcázar (fortress) was destroyed by fire in 1734, the royal palace was built in order by Felipe V. Palacio Real is one of the most important and impressive sights in Madrid. The huge Baroque palace has 3,418 rooms full of ceiling paintings, tapestries and frescoes. Stroll through the galleries of the palace and see the Royal Library, armory and throne room. Today, Palacio Real is only the working palace of the king and the royal family lives in another palace Zarzuela in the north of Madrid.
Tips for your visit to Palacio Real
The palace is open daily from October to March from 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM (with different opening hours on Sundays from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM). From April to September, the palace is open daily from 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM (with different opening hours on Sundays from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM).
From Monday to Thursday you can visit the palace for free for the last two hours. Are you not there on these days or times? Buy your tickets here to avoid queues at the ticket office.
5. Drink a cocktail at a special hidden gem!
Hidden under a regular shop, in the busy shopping street of Gran Vía, is bar Salvador Bachiller. Walk down the spiral staircase and arrive at a hidden lush jungle with cozy lights, a detailed interior and lots of plants. You don’t just go here for the exclusive cocktails. It is a whole experience.
6. Stroll through the indoor botanical garden of Atocha train station
The Atocha train station is not just any train station. In the middle of the station you will find a large botanical garden with more than 260 different tropical plant species. Here you certainly do not have to worry about missing your train, because this is not a bad place at all to wait for the next train. Even if you do not have to catch a train, it is worth visiting the train station. Tip: Walk upstairs for a nice view of the indoor garden and spot the impressive details of the station building.
7. Taste local specialties at the indoor market hall Mercado San Miguel
You can taste delicious tapas and drinks from all over Spain at the Mercado San Miguel. This market hall is located in a beautiful building from 1916. There are 31 stalls, each with their own specialty. Order a fresh empanada at La Hora Del Vermut, get a smooth red wine at Pinkleton & Wine or buy the tastiest fruit at Felixia.
The market hall is open from Monday to Thursday and Sunday from 10.00 AM to midnight and on Fridays, Saturdays and public holidays the market hall is open from 10.00 AM – 01.00 AM.
8. Stroll across Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is an imposing square from the 17th century. The square is surrounded by colorful buildings. In the center of the square is a bronze equestrian statue of King Filips III. Plaza Mayor used to be mainly used for markets, bullfights and public executions. Today, the square is regularly used for events and concerts.
A total of 9 streets lead to Plaza Mayor, which is why the square is a central point in Madrid. On the square you will find many restaurants and terraces, know that the prices can be higher if you want to eat and drink something here. From the terrace you can enjoy the artists and street performers who can often be seen on this square.
9. Watch the city from above at Sky Bar 360°
Sky Bar 360° is located on the 27th floor of the hotel Riu. Walk across the glass bridge and float above the city. Because of the height you have the best view over Madrid from here. Would you dare?!
10. Admire the Vertical Garden next to the Caixa Forum Museum
The Caixa Forum Museum is located in an old power station, that has been transformed into a cultural center. On the outside you will find a 27 meter high wall, covered with 15,000 – 17,000 plants. Due to the changing climate of Madrid (hot summers, cold winters), plant species had to be planted that can cope with these seasonal changes. Eventually you can find 300 (!) different plant species on the wall. The different structures of the plants and leaves and the different colors of green give a very special sight.
Traveling to Madrid
You can get to Madrid in many different ways. We took a ride via the BlaBlaCar platform from Málaga to Madrid. It’s a cheap and fun way to get from A to B. This way you can easily get in touch with locals and Carlos told us everything about his beloved Spain and the culture and history during the 6-hour ride. Super cool and educational too!
Another option is to travel by high-speed train from other Spanish cities such as Málaga, Valencia and Seville.
Madrid airport is one of the largest in Spain. So flying is definitely an option. From the Netherlands you fly to Madrid in just over 2 hours. From the airport you can take the metro to the city center for around €5.
How to explore Madrid
Madrid is a big city, but still walking is the best way to explore the city. Walking allows you to take in more of the city and you get to places that you would otherwise not be able to reach by public transport or a taxi. You do need a good condition to walk everything. Madrid is hilly and you can easily walk several kilometers in a day.
To cover longer distances, you can also choose to travel by public transport. The metro is a quick and cheap option. You can buy a metro ticket for €1.50 and there are plenty of stops throughout the city where you can get on.
More ways to get around in Madrid
Are you in Madrid for a short time and do you still want to get a good impression of the city? Then these tours are something for you.
Our favorite places to eat and drink in Madrid
Throughout the blog you will find some nice and tasty spots to eat or drink. We list these and more for you below.
🥐 At Maison Kayser you can enjoy a delicious fresh breakfast.
🥯 Brunch Club Café is a cozy place for breakfast or brunch. The food is of good quality and the dishes on the menu are diverse.
🍹 Salvador Bachiller is a hidden bar under an ordinary shop in busy shopping street Gran Vía. Drinking a drink in this underground jungle is quite an experience.
🥟 In the beautiful covered market hall San Miguel you can choose from many tasty snacks or drinks.
🍔 For tasty vegan burgers, go to Mad Mad Vegan. We also recommend the Supreme YAYA fries.
🥑 Distrito Vegano is nicely decorated, there is a great atmosphere and the food is surprisingly tasty.
🍳 Plenti Café is a great place for breakfast or lunch. Choose a spot on the terrace, or go for a table in the cozy café. The fried egg dishes are unique and delicious, highly recommended!
🥞 Crêperie La Rue is located in the lively area of La Malasaña. They serve savory and sweet crepes and various small bites.
☕️ At Nomade Café you can order delicious smoothies, salads, toasts, pancakes or granola.
💚 La Huerta de Almería is a great concept! It is a small vegetarian supermarket, but you can also take a seat in the restaurant and choose from various healthy vegetarian/vegan dishes from the menu.