Visiting Madrid, but no idea what to see or do? Let me help you out. I spent two weeks in Madrid taking a language course with EF Education First, and tried to find the best spots for you.
You have probably heard of Plaza Mayor, but I found this to be an utter disappointment. So, let’s go beyond Plaza Mayor and visit the following 10 highlights instead!
Parque del Buen Retiro
Even though the largest park in Madrid is Casa de Campo, my favourite park is Parque del Buen Retiro. Not only due to its location right below the posh neighbourhood Salamanca, close to where I was staying, but I also liked it because of the amazing lake and Roman statue “Estanque Grande del Retiro”.
This is not the only highlight in Retiro though. There is plenty of shade and grass to read a book and relax. Read on to learn more about the Crystal Palace in Retiro!
Palacio de Cristal del Retiro
My second favourite thing about Parque del Buen Retiro is Palacio de Cristal. In English, the Crystal Palace or the Glass Palace. It is set in the wonderful Retiro gardens and loved by both tourists and locals.
You can enter Palacio de Cristal for free, and every so often a new exhibition can take the center stage in this large, greenhouse-like palace.
In this picture you can see me in front of the Palacio de Cristal del Retiro just before sunset. Even though there were a lot of people, we managed to find a calm spot to take some cool pictures for Instagram!
Temple of Debod (in Parque del Oeste)
Sticking to the theme of parks in Madrid, another park that was recommended to me by a local is Parque del Oeste. In this park, situated close to the largest park in Madrid called Casa de Campo, you will find the Temple of Debod. This ancient Egyptian temple was gifted to Spain by the Egyptian state in 1968.
Admission in this park is free, which is taken to the advantage of the many locals that come here to watch the sunset.
Every Sunday (and public holiday), hundreds of locals and tourists head to the district La Latina to visit El Rastro Market. Between 9am and 3pm, you can indulge in some serious souvenir shopping.
My advice: Unless you want to bulk up on souvenirs, don’t go out of your way to visit El Rastro. If you have seen a few tourist markets anywhere else already, you won’t be too impressed by this tourist market.
Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes (Rooftop)
Looking for the best rooftop for a great view of the city? Go to Círculo de Bellas Artes! The 7thfloor offers a breath taking, panoramic view of the city. From this rooftop you can see Gran Via and the infamous Metropolis Building, but also mountains and the skyscrapers of the financial district. Definitely don’t skip Azotea del Círculo de Bellas Artes if you want to see the city from above!
Address: Calle de Alacalá 42
Museo Nacional del Prado
Probably the most famous museum in Madrid is Museo del Prado. Whether it is known for the painting Las Meninas, the entire section dedicated to Goya, the Rubens paintings they have or their Rembrandt’s: It may be clear that even if you are not much into museums, you simply cannot skip this one.
Did you know you can visit the Prado National Museum for free? Every Monday to Saturday evening after 6pm or Sunday after 5pm you can enter free of charge. You will have to wait in a long queue, however this moves very fast so do not be afraid to stand in line. If you are a student between age 18-25, you can always enter this museum for free.
Address: Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23
Palacio Real de Madrid
One of the most beautiful buildings in Madrid must be the Royal Palace. Even if you do not want to enter the Royal Palace, pass by this impressive building to see it from the outside and to visit the palace gardens.
#Explorers Tip: Right next to Palacio Real de Madrid is a large, picturesque church as well. It is called Catedral de la Almudena. Visit it while you’re around!
Drink cider and get free tapas at El Tigre Sidra
When you’re on a city trip or staying in a city for a longer period of time, you easily spend a lot of money on entry fees, taxis, food and drinks. Let me give you a tip to save on the last two.
Just off Gran Vía, on Calle de las Infantas, you will find El Tigre Sidra. There are several bars with the same name, and I went to the one on Calle de las Infantas 21. However, the concept at all El Tigre bars is the same: Buy a cider and get free tapas with it. Not just a small bowl of olives, no, you will get a plate filled with fries, bread, meat, tortillas, ball-shaped croquetas, and sometimes even rice.
So the trick must be that the drinks are super expensive, right? No, I bought half a liter of cider for a mere €5. So places that seems to good to be true, just really are good AND true!
Party in all the barrios of Madrid
After a long day of sightseeing (or learning Spanish like I did), it is time for a party! Madrid is a big city and every single barrio(district) has its own characteristics.
In Las Letras the ladies often get free drinks and free entry into bars and clubs.
La Latina is always a very lively place, and houses the famous club Shoko. Less known but also good is ICON (Calle del Dr Cortezo, 1). I have also been to Sala Equis, a former movie theatre that is great for a couple of drinks.
The may know the district Chueca as the gay district. Regardless of whether you are gay or straight, this district offers a wide range of night life options, great restaurants and awesome bars.
Visit Spain’s former capital Toledo
Finally, if you have seen everything on this list (and more), you might want to consider venturing outside of Madrid for a day. You can easily do a daytrip to Toledo, the former capital of Spain. This beautiful town in rural Spain is 1 to 1,5 hours away from Madrid and therefore ideal to visit if you have a full day.
What makes Toledo so very special is that three religions have managed to live here in peace. You can wander from the church straight to the synagogue, and from the synagogue right to a mosque. I guess we could all learn a lesson from Toledo.
The highlights to see in Toledo are definitely the central square Plaza de Zocodover, Alcazár de Toledo, Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo, Puerta del Cambrón and the small park behind it, the Monastery and the Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca. If you go to Museo del Greco, walk a little further down to road for an amazing view of the area surrounding Toledo.
Enjoy your time in Madrid, I certainly enjoyed my two weeks at the EF Madrid school situated in the Salamanca district. What are you recommendations for Madrid?
Heading to Spain soon? Check out my blog about Barcelona!
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