Narrow cobbled streets lined with overflowing tapas bars, world-class museums brimming with Spanish masterpieces, pristinely manicured parks packed with picnickers… Madrid is a city that’s hard not to love.
While a guidebook or a quick Google search will tell you what buildings to look at or which squares to stroll through, to really get to know Madrid you have to know not just what to see, but how to see it. This list of top sights in Madrid will help you see the best of the Spanish capital—from the iconic attractions to the best hidden gems.
1. Royal Palace
With more than 3,000 rooms, Madrid’s Palacio Real is one of the largest palaces in Europe. The imposing building was constructed in the mid-1700s on the site of a Moorish fortress from the ninth century. While Spain’s royal family does not live in the palace, it remains their official residence and is used ceremonially.
This giant palace commands attention. It stands a garden apart from Madrid’s opera house in the center of the city. Inside, the grandiose décor and architecture are absolutely worth the €12 entrance fee. You’ll soon see why this impressive palace is one of the top sights in Madrid!
Stroll through the Throne Room, where red golden lions guard the thrones of the Spanish king and queen. Gaze down the extravagant banquet hall, where the table seats 120 for official state dinners. And on your way out, explore the royal armory, where knights in shining armor and their steel-plated horses glisten with impressive antiquity.
2. Prado Museum
The sprawling Prado Museum is home to some of the most renowned pieces of Spanish art, from Velazquez’s”Las Meninas” to Goya’s “The Third of May 1808.” Drawing an estimated 3 million visitors per year, it’s earned its spot as one of the most-visited museums in the world. Thousands of works of art, most of which date from the 12th through the 19th century, are on display at the Prado.
The Prado is especially famous as the home of some great masterpieces of Spanish, Flemish and Italian art. Strolling through its impressive corridors, you’ll find windows into Spanish history, portals to past centuries and glimpses of both heaven and hell. Set aside at least half a day to explore the Prado—it’s absolutely worth it!
3. Royal Botanical Gardens
Next to the Prado Museum, Madrid’s Royal Botanical Garden features a pristinely designed web of more than 5,000 plant species from around the globe. The Gardens celebrated their 250th anniversary in 2005 and now cover over 7,000 square meters.
Here, you’ll find two greenhouses, more than 100 types of bonsai trees, expansive beds of exotic flowers, archways of wine grapes, paths lined with dozens of varieties of olive trees, and even tomatoes that grow on trees! If that’s not worth a visit, we don’t know what is. It’s easily one of the most beautiful top sights in Madrid.
Madrid is the Spanish city where you should see flamenco. Why? Because it’s where the best dancers come to make a name for themselves!
Flamenco originated in Andalusia, but Spaniards know that Madrid is home to the best tablaos. In them, you’ll see some of the best flamenco dancers in Spain put on an amazing performance of passion and soul. It’s no question why an excellent flamenco performance is one of the top sights in Madrid.
A good flamenco show is so much more than what most people expect. Strumming guitars, soulful singing, rhythmic clapping, and the staccato snap of heels on a hardwood stage make up the classic soundtrack of Spain’s most famous art form.
5. Reina Sofia Museum
The Reina Sofia is Madrid’s most famous contemporary art museum, showcasing the works of Picasso, Miró and Dalí, among others. The museum was formerly Madrid’s General Hospital and was renovated in the 1980s to become the museum it is today.
We can sum up why this is one of the top sights in Madrid in two words: Picasso’s “Guernica.” This spectacular work of art hangs alone in a white-walled room, covering an entire wall with its grayscale intensity. The painting depicts the moment in which Nazi bombs fell upon the civilian town of Guernica in northern Spain during the Spanish Civil War.
Don’t miss the adjoining room to the famous painting, which is filled with the sketches Picasso made of the many shapes and characters that he would eventually paint into “Guernica.” These two rooms alone make the Reina Sofia one of the must-see museums in Madrid.
6. Mercado de San Miguel
One of Madrid’s most modern food markets, the Mercado de San Miguel is a beehive of Spanish cuisine, buzzing with tapas eaters and wine drinkers at all hours of the day and night. Dozens of vendors dish up delicacies from across the country. You’ll find octopus from Galicia, cured ham from Andalusia, and wine from Rioja all under one roof.
The market is often packed with visitors from around the world. However, the array of food and drinks that you’ll find here is, by and large, Spanish. Despite its status as a tourist hotspot, there’s no better place to start your exploration of Spanish food all under one roof.
The tapas are scrumptious, the atmosphere is festive, and the wine, beer and vermouth are delicious and reasonably priced. What more could you want for a Madrid evening?
7. Retiro Park
Created in the 16th century as a refuge of leisure and beauty for Spanish royalty, Retiro Park is a sanctuary from the bustling streets of Madrid. The 350-acre green space is the largest in the city center and one of the most famous parks in Madrid. It boasts an array of gardens, tree-lined paths, running circuits, sports areas and prime picnic spots.
Pristinely manicured rose gardens, winding footpaths beneath canopies of chestnut trees, and clusters of kid-friendly playgrounds are reason enough to visit Retiro Park. Be sure to rent a rowboat on the small man-made lake or stop and ponder the only statue of the devil in all of Spain, “El Ángel Caído.” If the sun is shining, as it often is here in Madrid, Retiro is the place to be.
8. La Latina & Calle Cava Baja
The La Latina district is located in the oldest part of the city. Ninth-century Islamic city walls used to stand here long before Madrid became Spain’s capital. Today, its laid-back, bohemian vibe and fantastic food scene make it one of the top sights in Madrid.
On Sunday mornings, the district is home to what is undeniably Madrid’s most famous flea market, El Rastro (more on that in a bit). During the evenings it is equally packed, but with madrileños grabbing a bite to eat and taking a tapas crawl with friends. There are plenty of great places to eat in La Latina, and many of them are concentrated on or near a single legendary street.
Calle Cava Baja in the center of the neighborhood is lined with tapas bars, nearly all of which serve up a spectacular array of Spanish delicacies. Don’t miss the famous huevos rotos at Los Huevos de Lucio, or one of the best tortillas in Madrid at Juana La Loca just around the corner!
9. Chocolatería San Ginés
This century-old chocolatería has been serving churros with chocolate to madrileños since 1894. For the uninitiated, churros are fried sticks of dough usually dipped in a cup of sweet, thick hot chocolate. They’re a go-to second breakfast, mid-afternoon snack, and post-nightclub treat!
Every guidebook will tell you San Ginés has the best churros in Madrid and, for once, the guidebooks are right! The churros at San Ginés have the perfect balance of crunch and fluff. Their chocolate boasts the perfect blend of bitter and sweet.
Even better news: San Ginés is open every single day of the year, usually for all 24 hours of the day (though restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have forced them to cut their opening hours). You’re guaranteed excellent churros no matter when you visit Madrid!
10. Rooftop Views
Some of the best views in Madrid require heading up a couple stories from ground level. Luckily, Madrid is home to plenty of options—from the El Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience offering views of Gran Vía, to the myriad rooftop bars scattered throughout the city.
11. Sorolla Museum
As much as we love iconic museums such as the Prado and the Reina Sofía, there are plenty of incredible lesser-known options awaiting you off the beaten path. One of them is the Sorolla Museum, which lies north of the city center in a tranquil, mostly residential area.
This museum was once the private residence of Joaquín Sorolla, a Spanish painter best known for capturing the glow of the Spanish sun in his striking Mediterranean-inspired landscapes and portraits. The house is now home to a large collection of his paintings.
While you’re there, be sure to escape into the gardens and lounge beside the gurgling fountains while the surrounding brick walls block out the hubbub of city life.
12. El Rastro
You’ve never seen a flea market like El Rastro. This giant outdoor market clogs the streets of the La Latina neighborhood every Sunday until lunchtime (around 2 p.m. here in Spain). The cacophony of brightly colored goods on display and the chatter of hundreds of people make this one of the most unique top sights in Madrid.
Stalls selling everything from souvenir t-shirts to antique clocks sprawl throughout the neighborhood. After browsing the enormous mishmash of items, pop into Los Caracoles on Calle de Toledo for a typical market treat: snails!
13. Plaza Mayor
If you’ve seen any pictures of Madrid, the burgundy arcaded buildings of Plaza Mayor will certainly ring a bell. In addition to being one of the top sights in Madrid, it’s also one of the most famous squares in all of Spain.
Throughout its 400-year history, Plaza Mayor has been the sight of bullfights, open-air markets, soccer matches, and even (during the Spanish Inquisition) public executions. Today, though, it’s a vibrant and awe-inspiring place for people watching and taking great Instagram photos.
As you make your way out of the square, be sure to stop at one of the hole-in-the-wall bars along the side streets. These are often the best places to eat near Plaza Mayor (rather than on the square itself). Our #1 pick: a calamari sandwich from La Campana—the essential Madrid street food!
14. Puerta del Sol
A statue of a bear with a strawberry tree, countless entertaining street performers, and the geographic center of Spain… only in Puerta del Sol!
What is today another one of Madrid’s most iconic plazas was, at one time, an important gate in the old city walls. Throughout the centuries, it has transformed into an important meeting place and a reference for sightseeing in Madrid.
While today many of the people you’ll find buzzing around Sol are visitors to the city, the square still holds a special place in locals’ hearts. Madrileños are especially fond of coming during the winter holidays, whether it’s to grab a napolitana from La Mallorquina to snack on while doing their Christmas shopping, or to count down the final seconds of the year before eating the traditional 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight on January 1.
15. Unique Guided Tours
Madrid has a plethora of unique guided tours to choose from. Many are a far cry from the stuffy “official” tour usually led by a grey-haired woman holding a red umbrella, or the same-in-every-city open-topped red bus. In Madrid you can walk, bike, segway, eat, dance and drink your way through the city’s history!
With such a rich and tumultuous history, a guided tour of Madrid is a stellar way to start to understand this magnificent city. To see the sights, soak up a bit of history and get in a bit of exercise try a bike tour. It’s a fun and adventurous way to experience the top sights in Madrid.
For the gourmands among you, we’ve got you covered! Join us on a walking food tour of Madrid and discover the history and culture of this fascinating city one bite at a time.
Top Sights in Madrid FAQs
Madrid makes an excellent destination for a family trip. Some of the best things to do in Madrid with kids include exploring the city’s many parks, visiting kid-friendly museums like the Robot Museum or the Railway Museum, and taking a family-focused food tour!
The Prado Museum is perhaps Madrid’s best-known museum, housing thousands of pieces of classical European art. Together with the Reina Sofía and Thyssen museums, it forms the city’s famed “Golden Triangle of Art.”
Madrid is known for its excellent museums, world-class dining scene (including dozens of fantastic fresh food markets), and happening nightlife, just to name a few! What’s more, the famously laid-back Spanish lifestyle helps make it a fun and relaxing place to visit despite its status as one of Europe’s largest cities.
There are so many great free things to do in Madrid! The city’s incredible parks are all free to visit, as are its famous plazas such as Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor. Many museums in Madrid also offer free visiting hours during certain times of day, and some are completely free all the time!
Update Notice: This post was originally published on March 3, 2014 and was updated with new text and photos on July 6, 2021.