16 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Madrid
Madrid, the capital city of Spain, is a center of politics and a vibrant, fun city. Its endless nightlife, exciting dining scene, and exciting shopping offer visitors an endless supply of things to do and see. From art galleries and palaces to lively markets, from cheap tapas bars to sleek international restaurants, there's never a shortage of things to do.
Madrid is no stranger to being the host of major events such as the annual San Fermin Festival, and the city also often serves as the setting for films. In fact, Madrid's history as the country's center of culture, politics, and business makes it a favorite among travelers from all over the world.
Some of the best places to visit in Madrid include the Royal Palace, where Spain's monarchs have been making a home for nearly two centuries; the Prado Museum of Modern Art and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, two of the country's most important collections of fine art; the Reina Sofia National Museum of Contemporary Art; the Guggenheim Collection, an art gallery where you can admire pieces by renowned modern masters; and the Barrio de las Letras, a renowned arts district that's home to galleries, cafés, and even tapas bars.
Begin planning your trip to Madrid with our guide to the top attractions in Madrid.
Museo del Prado
This is one of the world's finest museums of art, with paintings by some of the greatest Spanish, Flemish and Dutch masters. Highlights include Velazquez's Las Meninas, Goya's Witches' Sabbath, El Greco's View of Toledo, and the Baroque Room's ceiling by Peter Paul Rubens. The museum is one of the largest in Europe and there are some 2,000 works, including one of the world's most important collection of paintings by El Greco. This museum's glorious collection includes four masterpieces by Veronese and a half-dozen Titians, including the rather unimpressive Battle of the Standard and Portrait of a Musician, as well as some major works by Pieter Brueghel the Elder and his son Jan. It also has paintings by Goya, van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt.
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is the most comprehensive collection of Spanish paintings in the world. With about 5,000 works spanning the 13th to the 20th centuries, the paintings here reflect the history of Spanish art, and offer insight into the social and cultural trends. Highlights include the Museo Peche Mort in which a group of 15th-century Flemish and German masterpieces depict the sacramental life of saints. A series of rooms with early paintings by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and others show the artistic progress of the Spanish Golden Age. The collection is housed in four buildings spread across the city, starting with the original building on the right as you enter the grounds. It was built as a Jesuit church by a monk called Tomás Antonio Carrero in 1614. The church was later used by the queen of Spain as a retreat, and finally the museum acquired it in 1976. The monastery building on the left was used by an order of nuns of the same name. Work began in 1626 and it was completed in 1633. The museum is well worth a visit to see the opulent rococo-style interior. Other buildings on the grounds contain old royal houses and a wine cellar, as well as the gardens, with fountains and olive trees, dating back to the 16th century.
Plaza Mayor in the heart of Madrid is one of the most beautiful and oldest squares in the world. It's flanked by the centuries-old cathedral and the ornate Royal Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not as popular as many of the big European tourist destinations, Madrid remains the ideal base for those seeking to explore what the rest of Spain has to offer. Excursions to Segovia, Ávila, and Granada are within day-trip distance, while nearby is the medieval, fortified town of Segovia. It's also easy to get around Madrid. Buses are quick and frequent, so many people never get in a car even when visiting the outskirts. It's just that easy.
The Palacio Real is one of Madrid's most prestigious attractions and undoubtedly one of its best-known monuments. Built in 1734 as the residence of King Charles III, it's considered one of the country's finest neoclassical palaces. Now owned by the Spanish Ministry of Culture, it houses the national art collection and a collection of European paintings, many of which were once owned by kings or wealthy private collectors. After a guided tour of the building, head outside and take in some more of Madrid's impressive skyline and leafy public gardens. It's worth browsing the National Exhibition Centre next to the Palacio in search of Modern Art. The Palacio Real is located in a central Madrid district called Retiro.
Parque del Retiro
The city of Madrid has a good selection of monuments from different periods in its history, from Roman to the start of the 20th century. Among these is the opulent Plaza Mayor, which remains the city's principal square, and the Palacio Real, which dates from the 16th century. The Plaza Mayor can be found in the middle of Madrid's picturesque core of bars, cafes and restaurants, which means that when the sun is out it is a good place to relax and people-watch. The Palacio Real offers a glimpse into the history of the Spanish monarchy.
Puerta del Sol
The heart of the Spanish capital, Madrid's official emblem is Puerta del Sol, the city's largest square, and arguably the city's best known, thanks to its emblematic public clock. These days, Madrid is an ever more popular international destination for all those on the fashion and foodie fronts, but it's the capital's so-called underground culture that remains the soul of the city. A concentration of bars and clubs clustered around Calle Puerta del Sol provides a perfect platform for flitting between them in search of some new music or clubbing. The Puerta del Sol is also home to the famous El Escorial church, home of the nation's royal treasures, the gold embossed ceiling and paintings in the high altarpiece being the main highlights.
Puerta de Alcalá
In Madrid, two ancient buildings are worthy of a visit, one of them the Puerta del Sol, the name of which translates as Gate of the Sun and which was built in the 16th century and is the seat of Madrid's municipal government. The second place to visit in Madrid is the Puerta de Alcalá. This spectacular palace of pink stone was designed by Alonso Cano in the 17th century, and has amazing stuccowork and mosaic floors. It is situated in one of the oldest districts of Madrid: the Prado de San Sebastian.
Plaza de Oriente
Plaza de Oriente is a good example of the use of the Plaza system in Madrid. This modern square, with wide sidewalks, sculpture by Tomás Serra, and soft lawns, is known as a great location to play soccer. Located between the main streets of Argüelles, Valenciana and Puerta de Hierro, it can be reached from the train station (less than 10 minutes) and the main bus stations (15 minutes) as well as the Bilbao-San Juan de Dios, La Moraleja and Sol railway station. This gorgeous square, surrounded by amazing buildings, was created as a place to leave from and enter the district of Puerta del Sol, which offers its own set of great restaurants, shops, and cultural destinations. For a visit to the center of Madrid, do not forget to visit some of its most important sites: the Royal Palace, the Real Zarzuela, the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and the Palacio Real.
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
This Gothic cathedral stands out as one of the finest examples of Spanish religious architecture. Although most of the decorations were added later, the original cruciform design of the cathedral is clearly visible as a result of the reconstruction works following the destructive earthquake of 1740, which also brought down the western tower. The cathedral interior was completely redecorated in the 19th century and highlights of the beautifully restored space include the cloisters (Arco de El Greco), the 16th-century painting galleries, the Capilla Real, the beautifully decorated 18th-century nave, and the spiral staircase leading up to the bell tower.
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
This former Franciscan monastery located within the park that was Madrid's Royal Hunting grounds is dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy and originally was built to commemorate the 12th century victory over the Moors at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. After making several expansions, the original building was redecorated in the 18th century and the magnificent church of Santa Ana was built in Gothic style. Visit the Royal Chapel and the Library of the Grand Masters, now the Biblioteca Nacional. Don't miss the garden, walkways, and historical rooms which are open for inspection. The garden was one of the first to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Spain's only cathedral, La Catedral, has been an architectural triumph for centuries. Its construction was begun by Tomás de Coronas in the 14th century, and Pope Julius II chose Don Pedro de Luna as its architect. When the crowning work was completed in 1516, it was considered a marvel, possessing something of the majesty of its function, yet the magnificence of its lavish decoration. The cathedral's main entrance is the Puerta de la Plata (Silver Gate), a 17th-century construction that once covered an old wall of the Convent of San Jerónimo. The side and nave walls are decorated with elaborately carved reliefs; the works of Federico González Pacheco and Bartolomé Ocáriz, both former students of Diego Velázquez, are particularly noteworthy. Inside, there are endless treasures: El Presepe de los Siete Dolores, a painting of the Virgin and the child Jesus by Francisco de Goya, and a retable by the same artist that was commissioned by Charles V in 1529.
Palacio de Liria
Constructed in 1764, the Palacio de Liria is the official residence of Spain's former first families and today serves as a museum devoted to 20th-century and contemporary art. Although private and inaccessible, it's worth a visit for its own enchanting romantic site, or as an excuse to visit the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, one of Spain's top museums. The building, which takes its name from the gardens created around it, is situated on one of the main boulevards of Madrid, the Paseo del Prado. It was once surrounded by a magnificent park, the Jardines de Liria, where all of Madrid's grandes dames strolled in the afternoon and where gentlemen in the regency period would ride. When entering the Liria, you walk through the very courtyard that served as a court yard for the palace and pass by five of the original garden rooms of the palace. They contain incredible paintings by El Greco, including the masterpiece, the Ecce Homo. The palace is still the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but after one of the most extensive royal restoration projects in Spain, and the restoration of its former glory, it is open to the public.
Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
A leading cultural center in Spain's capital, the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando was established in 1713 and provides a setting in which Spanish artists can share their thoughts and ideas with the world. Belonging to the state and exhibiting works by painters from all over Spain, the academy has more than 50 exhibitions a year. Entrance to the site is free. Among its permanent exhibitions is one of Goya's works, El Desastre de Sevilla. Other halls are devoted to great names in Spanish art like Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, both exhibiting their work for the first time.
Casa de Correos
The Casa de Correos (Post Office House) in Madrid, built in 1888 is one of the few remaining nineteenth-century buildings in Europe. The facade features a curved external loggia wrapped around a square central tower. The interior spaces are designed with Spanish Renaissance style interiors, including tiled floors and arches with painted plaster ceilings. Among the building's modern highlights is its use of grey steel and tinted glass for creating a light and transparent feel.
Palacio de la Moncloa
Built for Spanish dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1957, Palacio de la Moncloa is one of the most emblematic buildings in Madrid and the home of Spain's prime minister. In the basement, the Fascist era's underground prison-museum depicts the events of the Spanish Civil War, while the ground floor is open to the public. The building also has a small museum on Franco and his regime, which features a marble-laden room where visitors can see the dictator's coffin and a book written by him. If you are passing through Madrid during the summer months, the Moncloa is quite pleasant in the evening with its outdoor terraces overlooking the beautiful Madrid garden, planted by the dictator himself.
Palacio Real de El Pardo
Palacio Real de El Pardo is one of Madrid's finest examples of 17th century Spanish architecture. It is the residence of the Spanish Royal family and is known for its extraordinary collection of paintings, including the famous portrait of 17th-century Spanish playwright Tirso de Molina by Velazquez. The palace is open to the public from 09:30 to 20:30. After your visit, head to Paseo del Prado in the Atocha district of Madrid, where there are many major museums, parks, shops and places of interest. Be sure to visit the capital's finest example of Spanish neoclassicism, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. You'll need to reserve tickets in advance online or at the official Box Office (8:30 to 19:00) at Paseo del Prado s/n.