I recently spent three nights in Madrid and felt like it was a prefect amount of time to hit some of the top attractions. If you’re going there for only a few days, here are some things to consider while you visit Madrid.
Tip: Use WalletFlo for all your credit card needs. It’s free and will help you optimize your rewards and savings!
1. Eat Tapas
If there’s one thing you can’t leave Spain or Madrid without indulging in, it’s definitely Tapas. What are tapas? Tapas are a wide variety of appetizers and snacks that take many forms. Often served with some kind of bread, you’ll get everything from jamon, salmon, fried octopus, olives, and sardines sometimes combined with different types cheeses, sauces, and random toppings.
In Spanish culture, they eat lunch and dinner hours after we do in the United States and UK, so tapas are often eaten during social periods before dinner and lunch. In Madrid, you’ll find restaurants that serve tapas or simply tapas bars everywhere and hopping from bar to bar snacking on tapas is highly encouraged and a lot of fun. At some bars these trays are delivered to you free of charge so long as you’re there having a few drinks.
Just watch out because whether you’re full or not, the tapas won’t stop coming in and before you know it you will be completely stuffed. It happened to me pretty much every night we went out for tapas so be warned!
2. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
A lot of people might’ve put the Prado ahead of the Sofia but I really enjoyed the Sofia. One of the major reasons was that we showed up right when the museum opened and so we got to enjoy Pablo Picasso’s Guernica all to ourselves for a few minutes. They don’t allow photos in that room so I wan’t able to snag a photo of the painting but it was still an experience to see it.
For those who don’t know, Guernica is Picasso’s most renown work and easily one of the top 5 paintings in the entire world. It depicts the horror of the bombing of the small town of Guernica back in 1937 when the Spanish nationalists essentially directed the Germans and Italians to decimate the town. The painting is the most famous of all anti-war paintings and portrays the suffering of war in a number of symbolic ways and there’s even a few hidden images in the painting.
In addition to Guernica, there’s plenty of other great exhibits and collections in the museum including a number of works from another one of the most famous painters of all time: Salvador Dalí, the painter of the Persistence of Time (which unfortunately is located in New York).
3. Day trip to Toledo or Segovia
It may seem odd to list going to another city as something to do in Madrid but you’ll thank me later for the suggestion. My day trip to Toledo, Spain was actually the highlight of my trip to Madrid and I know a lot of other travelers who felt the same way. Madrid is great, but spending a day wandering through the cobblestone alleys of Toledo will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into the world of Aladdin for a day — truly unforgettable and a must for anyone with enough time to take the trip. A round trip on a high speed train to Toledo will only run you €20 (roundtrip).
4. Visit the Museo Nacional Del Prado
This is Madrid’s most renown museum with the finest collection of Spanish art and it’s easy to see why when you visit its vast collections and exhibits. One interesting work is the Mona Lisa. Of course, the actual Mona Lisa is at the Lourve in Paris but the Prado is home to its own copy. Unlike many of the other copies that were created after the Mona Lisa came into existence, this one was actually painted simultaneously, likely by one of DaVinci’s pupils.
You can visit this museum and many others for free during certain hours in the evening and on certain days so don’t forget to look into those options. Just know that if you venture to these museums during these free times your experience is going to resemble the frenzies you find at other major museums like the Louvre in Paris and you can all but forget about any kind of intimate museum experience.
5. Take a stroll through the city
Madrid is a beautiful place to just walk around and admire the beautiful architecture. Since Madrid is a fairly young city (by European standards) you’re not going to see a bunch of medieval castles and fortifications around the city, but there are plenty of colorful buildings that tower over the roads throughout the city. If you’re into the shopping scene or looking for good nightlife, one of the streets to take a stroll on is Gran Vía.
6. Rooftop terraces
There are a lot of different rooftop bars around Madrid that offer sweeping views of the city so be sure to check one of these out. Simply google “Rooftop terraces in Madrid” and plenty will show up. One of the best according to many is Círculo de Bellas Artes but I think that plenty of others also offer great views. Just try to make reservations if you’re planning on eating dinner at some of these because I know some of them can fill up rather quickly.
7. Chocolat con churros
Just like tapas, no trip to Madrid would be complete without a good portion of chocolat con churros. You can eat these with breakfast or as an afternoon or late night snack or you can even have them as a meal — nobody’s going to judge you. 😉 The holy grail of places to find these treats is San Ginés but don’t be afraid to try out other places. If you’re in the Atocha area then take a look at this article and give the place I recommend a try and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
8. Buen Retiro Park
This is recommended by almost everyone. We strolled through a small portion of it pretty quickly mostly because it was hitting in the 20s°F/-°C, so we weren’t exactly trying to hang out for extended periods of time outside. However, had the temperatures been more mild, I could see how it is such a draw. If you make it there, be sure to check out the glass palace before you leave.
9. Templo de Debod
This Egyptian temple was dismantled in Egypt and rebuilt in Madrid. The Egyptians dedicated it to Spain as a thanks for helping them save the temples of Abu Simbel. It’s a good spot to fit in your itinerary if you’re going to visit the Royal Palace of Madrid since it’s just a short walk from there. Crowds build up at this site so if you want some decent photographs try to get there early or late.
10. Drinking delicious sangrias and mojitos
Living in the Texas and being in close proximity to so many Tex-Mex restaurants I’ve had my fair share of mojitos and sangrias. And though I’ve never been to Cuba, I’ve got to say that I was thoroughly impressed with the mojitos I came across in Spain. The sangrias were right up there, too. Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a sangria or mojito drinker you owe it to yourself to give them a try in Madrid.
And of course, the cerveza is just as good and it’s not uncommon to find it for cheap. Specials can get you a large glass sometimes for as cheap at €1.50 or less.
Obviously there’s a lot more to see and do in Madrid like checking out the markets, flamenco dancing, the amazing night life, and so forth so don’t take this list to be a comprehensive list. However, from my recent time in Madrid, these seemed to be 10 of the top things to do that you didn’t want to miss.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.