At around 234 square miles, Madrid is the largest city in Spain – a fact which can seem more than a little intimidating if you’re planning to visit this city on your next vacation. With countless museums and art galleries, masses of bars and restaurants, seemingly never-ending parks and myriad historic attractions, Madrid is absolutely brimming with attractive hotspots you’ll surely want to visit.
To make your choices just a little bit easier and ensure you can fit as much into your vacation as possible, we’ve put together a short list of the best things to do the next time you’re in the city.
Admire the Royal Palace of Madrid
The Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid) is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, although they only use it for state ceremonies. It’s located in the western part of downtown Madrid and boasts of a reputation as being one of the most popular attractions in the city, with thousands visiting the impressive structure every day.
The Royal Palace of Madrid covers a grand total of 1,450,000 square feet, which is divided amongst a staggering 3,418 different rooms, making it the largest palace in Europe when you look at floor size alone. If you hand over the entrance fee, you’ll be able to explore the interior of the palace which is known for its wealth of artwork from amazing artists such as Caravaggio, stunning décor and remarkable furniture collections. As if all that wasn’t enough, the palace is also home to the only complete Stradivarius string quintet in the world.
If you’re travelling on a budget and would rather not pay the entrance fee, there is still plenty to admire from the outside of the palace. The building features extraordinary stone façades, with prominent balustrades, bold pilasters and magnificent statues. The Royal Palace is also connected to two beautiful plazas, each of which features even more alluring architecture and artwork, as well as two gardens which provide wonderful places in which to relax.
Explore the Prado Museum
Whether or not you’re an art lover, you should definitely take the time to visit the Prado Museum. Situated in the very heart of Madrid, this museum is Spain’s national art gallery and is home to the best single collection of Spanish art on the globe. Not only that, but it’s also known for its superb collection of European art which spans from the 12th to the 19th centuries and is said to be amongst the very finest in the world.
Established in 1819, the Prado Museum was originally founded to display only paintings and sculptures, but as the years went on, the collection of artwork developed and expanded. Today the museum is home to no less than 8200 drawings, 7600 paintings, 4800 prints and 1000 sculptures, as well as a huge number of historic documents. It’s thanks to these unparalleled collections that the Prado Museum proudly sports the title of being one of the most visited sites in the world, as well as one of the greatest art museums there has ever been.
If you do snap up the opportunity to visit the Prado Museum during your vacation in Madrid, make sure you see Las Meninas. Created by the Italian master Velázquez, this fascinating work of art is the best-known piece on display and is the sole reason that millions of people visit it each year.
Relax in Parque Buen Retiro
Parque Buen Retiro literally translates into “Park of the Pleasant Retreat” and that’s exactly what it is – a quiet, tranquil haven worlds away from the constant hustle and bustle of city life that goes on outside its gates. Set at the edge of the center of Madrid, Parque Buen Retiro covers 350 acres, making it one of the largest parks in the city. Although it originally belonged to the Spanish Monarchy up until the end of the 19th century, today the park is completely open to the public and is available for everyone to enjoy.
Whether you only have an hour to explore or have set aside a whole day to enjoy the area, Parque Buen Retiro is packed with so many interesting things to see and do that you’ll never get bored. At the northern entrance you’ll find a spectacular artificial lake which you can row across in small wooden boats. A great number of street performers stand around the edge of the lake, each putting on their own special act for the enjoyment of onlookers. The Rosaleda Garden is located closer towards the center of the park and features a vast array of rose bushes, as well as the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, which claims to be the only known public statue of the devil.
There are plenty of other noteworthy attractions inside the park, too, including two palaces which house exhibitions, a 20th century art gallery, one of Spain’s most important military museums and a special trail which is lined with various statues of kings from the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Visit Plaza Mayor
Whilst it may not be the biggest or the most popular plaza in Madrid, Plaza Mayor is without a doubt one of the places you must visit during your stay in the city. Located in the center of Madrid, this plaza was built way back in 1617, during King Phillip III’s reign, and is surrounded by three-storey residential buildings, with nine different entrances providing access to the plaza. On three separate occasions – 1631, 1672 and 1790 – vicious fires destroyed all the buildings which framed the Plaza Mayor and each time they were successfully rebuilt. The last reconstruction was designed by Juan de Villanueva and is the design you’ll see today.
The charm of Plaza Mayor relies less on what physically makes up the plaza and more about the atmosphere and general feel of the place. No matter which time of year you visit, the Plaza Mayor is guaranteed to be buzzing, with locals shouting to each other across their balconies, businesspeople and tourists bumping shoulders as each try to reach their destination, locals sipping coffees at quaint cafes and shopaholics flitting from store-to-store laden with heavy bags.
In the center of the Plaza Mayor stands an imposing bronze statue of King Phillip III which was constructed in 1916, before the initial plaza was even built.
Watch a Flamenco Show
Ask anyone what comes to mind when they think of Madrid and no doubt one of the first things they say will be Flamenco. The city of Madrid is so closely connected to the passionate dance that a trip to the city really isn’t complete unless you see a fiery señorita and bold señor take to the stage to dance the Flamenco.
There are so many different Flamenco bars (known locally as Tablaos) throughout Madrid that you really will be spoiled for choice. Whilst some bars offer tickets for just the show, others up the price slightly and include everything from one drink to a three-course meal, providing something suitable for travelers on every budget. Whilst there are certainly plenty of Flamenco venues to choose from, for a truly authentic Spanish Flamenco experience, we recommend taking in a show at Cardamomo, Corral de La Moreria or Café de Chinitas. All three of these locations give you the option of booking tickets which include the Flamenco show and dinner, or the Flamenco show and one drink only.
Each of the Flamenco venues usually make huge efforts to book the biggest and best performers they can afford, so wherever you go, you’ll never be disappointed. Most Flamenco performers only sign a contract for a number of weeks or months at a time, allowing them to hop between different venues and perform for as many different people as they can.
This is just a tiny selection of the multitude of attractions and activities that Madrid has to offer. With so many different things to see and do within the city – not to mention the new sites which seem to pop up all over the place – Madrid will provide you with loads of things to experience for not just your next vacation, but plenty more to follow.