Let’s be honest, not many people often plan to visit Madrid. It gets overshadowed by Barcelona up north, and sometimes Granada (and Andalucia) down south. I’ll admit that when I first chose to study abroad in Madrid, it was only because I had to study Spanish, and I wanted to travel Europe. I never specifically wanted to visit Madrid, like I did with London or Paris.
However, after living the city for fourth months and putting together a general itinerary for when I showed my friend around, I have determined that Spain’s capital city holds a charm all its own. While its charm isn’t as obvious as Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona or the Alhambra in Granada, it most certainly is there. See if this list doesn’t convince you otherwise!
50 Reasons to Visit Madrid
50. There are delicious helado places all over.
My favorite is in Puerta de Sol, right when you get off the metro in the center. It’s called Palazzo, and it’s open even when the bakeries start replacing theirs with cold weather friendly options. For about 3.50 euros, you get two generous scoops. You have to get dulce de leche and something else because it’s the bomb. I always asked the person what they recommend just to try something new!
Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, 11, 28013 Madrid
49. You can make sure you’ll get married someday…
While you’re walking near Plaza Mayor and Sol make sure you pass through Calle de la Pasa because, according to the sign that reads, “Quien no pasa por la pasa, no se casa,” you won’t marry if you do not pass through it. Or you know, vice versa. If you’re avoiding marriage, avoid this street entirely.
Calle de la Pasa, 28013 Madrid
48. You’ll be entertained just walking along Gran Vía… or even sitting at the McDonald’s.
If you want entertainment, pop a squat and observe the beauty of one of the busiest streets in Madrid. It’s right off of Sol or the <M> Gran Vía, and the entertainment is sure to be there, especially at night. There are also a lot of Chino shoe stores along this street, and a huge sex store. It’s definitely an experience.
Calle Montera, 47, 28013 Madrid
47. You can get lost in Casa de Campo.
“Casa de Campo” translates to “Country House” in English, and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not even remotely close to being a house. It’s a massive park that once served as the royal hunting estate (imagine needing something big enough in the city to serve as a background for “hunting” expeditions), and is now home to tons of greenery, an amusement park, and a zoo. I never got the chance to explore the park, but rather I saw it all from up above.
Paseo Puerta del Ángel, 1, 28011 Madrid
46. Learn about botany in the Real Jardín Botánico.
If you’re interested in botany and plants, check out the royal botanical garden. It wasn’t my absolute favorite if only because I didn’t really understand a lot of the terminology my tour guide was using. This also probably has to do with the fact that it was gardening terminology in Spanish when I don’t know a lot of the words in English, so…. However, it is a lovely little spot just for roaming and enjoying a nice day.
Plaza de Murillo, 2, 28014 Madrid
45. Hang out in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.
The Center of Madrid (almost)! It features architecture from the Hapsburg period of Spain, and it’s gorgeous. Of course, its name makes it obvious that this was the main plaza in Madrid, and you can guess all sorts of public events that previously went on here. Get off at <M> Puerta de Sol and take Calle Mayor to the plaza.
Plaza Mayor, 28012 Madrid
44. Get addicted to your new favorite street fashion brand: Zara.
What do you expect from the place that originated the best street fashion store ever? If you’re into shopping, check out their new flagship store that opened in April 2014. Its motto is “Better Harder Faster Stronger,” and it’s a whopping 7 floors. If anything, go for the experience.
Calle Serrano 23, 28001 Madrid
43. Party until the sun comes up. Literally.
Seriously, though, dance the night way from midnight to 6 a.m. If you’re in a group of young ladies, you can get into a lot of the discotheques for free or for a cheaper deal, and they’re so much fun. I still miss dancing at 4 a.m. sometimes! Kapital is the most famous, and its 7 floors of clubbing should be experienced, but you may find the lesser known clubs to be more your vibe.
Calle de Atocha 125, 28012 Madrid
42. Eat lunches of bocadillos.
My favorite little shop is off of <M> Cuatro Caminos right by the huge grocery store, Carrefour. My friends lived near that metro station, and I could take an EMT bus straight from my villa to that area, so when I waited for them I’d sit down and have a coke and a bocadillo for maybe 5 euros…
Glorieta Cuatros Caminos 4, 28020 (the Carrefour address)
41. Pick up little things you need at the many Chino shops.
Oh goodness, think the cheapy-cheap convenience stores of the US! They’re great for little things and sometimes clothes. I got this pair of boots there that I was absolutely in love with until they, in typical chino store-quality, completely fell apart on me in the middle of Ireland! They’re sprinkled throughout the city, and, yes, they are run by Chinese people. And, yes, they are called Chinos. I was thoroughly confused when the first Madrileño informed me that I could go to a Chino for something…
40. Visit the Catedral de Almudena.
Otherwise known as Madrid’s main cathedral. It’s probably one of the youngest cathedrals in Spain, and, if I remember my tour guide correctly, it’s supposed to be the ugliest (which is pretty much just saying how beautiful the rest of Spain can be). It was built on top of a medieval mosque that was destroyed back in 1083, and it wasn’t completed until 1993. Its architecture is Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque. Frankly, it’s an incredibly beautiful church, unique in its own right! It’s right near the Palacio Real, and you can get there easily through <M> Opera.
Calle Bailén 10, 28013 Madrid
39. You can eat at the oldest restaurant in the world.
Botín was founded in 1725, and it was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest running restaurant in the whole world. The famous artist, Goya, even worked there as a waiter once upon a time. I’ll always regret not trying to eat there while I lived in Madrid, because, really, how often can you say, “Dinner at 7 at the oldest restaurant in the world? Okay! Nos vemos!” You can easily walk there <M> Sol or Plaza Mayor.
Calle Cuchilleros 17, 28005 Madrid
38. Become a Real Madrid fan or at least visit San Bernabéu Stadium.
In case you weren’t aware, fútbol is a big deal in Spain, and Real Madrid is a craze all its own. Even though I didn’t go to a game, I did visit the stadium (from the outside!), and I went into Plaza Mayor during one of the matches. In Madrid, it’s perfectly acceptable to pre-game with alcohol all over the downtown area. Heck, you can walk through and browse for jewelry and make-up at Cortes Inglés while chugging your cerveza. I feel bad for whoever has to clean up afterward! If you’re a soccer fan, this is an absolute must! Even if you’re not, you should try to go! I wish I had gone to one for the experience.
Av de Concha Espina 1, 28036 Madrid
37. Eat at the best tapas place.
Sidería El Tigre was by far the best place I went to for drinks in all of Madrid and all of Europe! You go in, buy a sangria, beer, or mojito (or in my case sometimes just a Diet Coke), and you get a huge plate of tapas with each drink. The first time we went, we couldn’t even finish all our tapas! It’s often pretty crowded, but it’s so worth it. The place is the best by far, and there are two locations near each other off Gran Vía.
Calle de las Infantas 23 or 30, 28004 Madrid
36. Take advantage of the best metro card, ever.
Goodness! Madrid wasn’t always my favorite in terms of logistics, but their metro system is by far the best I’ve seen. For a foreigner, it was a fantastic deal. I got a Zone A metro card that was around 30 euros a month. The only annoying part is that you have to set-up an appointment with one of the Metro offices (Nuevo Ministerios, Avenida de America, Plaza de Castilla, Ciudad Universitaria, Vodafone Sol, Moncloa, or Principe Pio). It’s a little tricky, especially if you don’t speak Spanish. Pick the option that says “menores de 23” Zona A (or entre 23 y 65) if you plan to mostly travel within Madrid. It’ll guarantee unlimited rides on the metro and the buses. They also have a Tourist Ticket Pass. You don’t need passport photos ahead of time because they’ll take it there.
35. French Macarons in your local Mickey D’s.
But, actually. Go to the Gran Via one, and they’re there! They aren’t half bad either.
34. Overall Feeling of Safety.
I’m not gonna lie, even with the cat calling and the one guy who followed me on the night bus, I didn’t feel in any danger in Madrid, not even once. I often went home by myself at 4 in the morning since I lived in the opposite direction of all my friends, and I never once felt unsafe. I also didn’t walk around in skimpy clothes or gladly walk off with strangers! Ask me if I’ve ever felt safe walking home alone in Chestertown, MD, and you’ll get a resounding no. And I’m a worry wart. So for me to feel safe in Madrid is saying something.
33. Spoil your sangria taste buds forever.
I hate alcohol, but I actually quite enjoyed the sangria in Madrid and Spain in general. It’ll pretty much ruin you for college party sangria for life!
32. Meet up at the Bear Statue!
I’ll never forget the constant, “Meet by the Bear Statue!” exchanges that we had all the time! La oso y el madroño statue is in Puerta de Sol, and it’s just a fun little statue that you’ve got to see. It’s easily recognizable if you’re meeting up with anyone, and it will always hold fond memories for me!
Plaza Puerta del Solo, 28013 Madrid
31. Go up a jean size with fresh, fresh pan.
There are bread shops everywhere (including one that was on my way home!), and fresh bread is so cheap in Madrid. And it’s delicious. I remember I bought a loaf and finished it in the same day! Here’s a fun tip one of my housemates taught me: drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle a little sugar on it. De nada.
30. End your night at Palacio de Cibeles.
Nothing beats the moment you lay eyes on this beautiful place. I’m pretty sure the first time I actually laid eyes on it, it was around 3 or 4 a.m. and I was finally braving the night buses. The actual building was once the headquarters of the postal service, then a Postal and Telegraphic Museum, and today it’s the City Hall. It’s in Plaza de Cibeles, and the whole place is actually filled with gorgeous buildings. It’s also the main center for the night buses, so if you’re ever lost at night, find your way here! Seriously, though, imagine ending your night of clubbing with this? Even the most jaded night owl will find a magic spark looking at this palace. Use <M> Banco de España to get there during the day.
Plaza de Cibeles, 28014 Madrid
29. Spend a day and get out to Toledo.
28. Travel to the backdrop of the Puertas.
27. Buy some groceries at Mercado de San Miguel.
Right off of Plaza Mayor, this market is gorgeous. It’s indoors in, basically, a huge glass house, and it’s filled with all kinds of food. I didn’t buy anything when I went because we were just on a generic tour, but I loved seeing all the fruit and sections. If your apartment is near Plaza Mayor, I would definitely use this place.
Plaza de San Miguel, 28005 Madrid
26. Dance to Latin music at my favorite discoteca.
Discoteca Palace was by far my favorite of the discotecas we went to in Madrid. It plays more Latin music than the more popular places, and it’s never overly crowded. I just remember having the best time there each time I went compared to the other places. Be warned, though, it can be a huge sausage fest (or, you know, let that be your incentive!). It’ll be right off the Opera metro, and if you can find a promoter to get a free drink or something!
Plaza de Isabel II 7, 28013 Madrid
25. Learn to love the sweet sounds of “Gratis! Gratis!”
24. Experience Christmas in Sol.
23. Use the wonderful buhos.
22. Explore the prettiest Palace Ever.
Seriously, the inside is stunning. I waited until the very last moment to visit the Palacio Real (aka I overslept the day my school did the tour…) with my big, and we got to spend time inside and learning about the history of the palace. You can’t take pictures inside, which is a shame because the selfies that would result from this lion would be hilarious.
Calle Bailén, 28071
21. Become a Modern Art lover.
El museo nacional de arte Reina Sofia is amazing. I’m more of a classical art person (if that’s the right phrasing), but I definitely admire what Reina Sofia has to offer. Obviously, it is named for Queen Sofia, and it houses a ton of famous Spanish artwork, from Picasso to Dali. Its most famous is Guernica by Picasso, and seeing it in person is incredibly moving (even for someone as unemotional as I can be!). You can get there by getting off at Atocha.
Calle de Santa Isabel, 52, 28012
20. Row boat in Parque Retiro.
For a small fee of maybe 5 euros, you can hop in a row boat and row around the little lake in Retiro for an hour or so. It’s fun even in December, and the site is gorgeous. Hey, if you’re dating it’s the perfect little afternoon date. If you’re not, it’s still fun to do with friends!
Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001
19. Capture the magic of the Palacio de Cristal...
While you’re in Parque Retiro, you can’t not check out Palacio de Cristal. It was originally created to showcase flowers from the Philippines, and it’s made entirely of glass. There’s something quite magical about it even though no odd story has ever arisen in its history.
Paseo República de Cuba, 4, 28009
18. Gorge yourself on all things jamon.
Ham is everywhere, just so you know. There are ham museums. I can’t make this stuff up.
17. You can spend an evening watching a movie outdoors in Callao.
One of the cool things I did early on in my semester was going to see a screening of The Artist outdoors in Callao. I believe this link might be beneficial if you’re there in the summer months!
16. Snacking on drunk pizza is a thing.
Nothing quite beats rolling up to a stand at 5 a.m. and paying a euro or two or three for some pizza. They’re every near clubs, and they’re especially delicious after a night of dancing and waiting in the late autumn cold for the metro to start!
15. It’s easy to make a few extra euros (if you’re visiting long term).
One of the things I’m glad I did, and I wish I had done sooner, was sign-up to tutor in English. There is a workshop with Canterbury English that allowed me to teach English for about 15€ an hour. Then I tutored a guy in his twenties through CE, but I also answered an ad my school put out for a tutor in the nearby suburbs of Madrid for two twin girls and their younger brother. I was able to see outside the city, and I had a lot of fun doing it! I wish I hadn’t accidentally deleted the contact information for my one family because I would love to meet up with them again when I return to Spain.
14. It’s the least city-feeling city of capital cities.
Madrid is park city. I mean, there are parks everywhere. Retiro is just the biggest, most famous one. Another cool thing is seeing how many people run in Madrid. I wish I had been a runner and more active while I studied there. Wouldn’t it be cool to join a runner’s club or do a 5K?
13. Celebrate tapas and the Spanish take on hipsters along Lavapies.
Think of it as the Williamsburg of Madrid. It has the most foreigners, and it’s overall a more hippie kind of place. Also, it’s the place to go for those famous tapas! I only went once and that was for this sort of tapa celebration they were having. Every tapa was a euro, so we walked up and down the street choosing which tapas to eat. It was delicious, and my stomach was quite content by the night’s end.
12. Enjoy the fair ease of Barajas nearby.
It’s actually a pretty decent airport, for all the problems I had with it (like the strike going on the day I was leaving the country). What was nice is that there are four sections to the airport in one area, so it’s insanely easy to travel on the metro to get there no matter what airline you’re taking. Unlike other cities (-cough- London, Paris, everywhere –cough-), I didn’t have to fly into Timbuktu in order to use EasyJet or RyanAir.
11. You can visit the most charming city EVER.
Segovia was probably my favorite place out of everywhere I went to in Europe. I went twice, once on a whim after being out until 4 a.m. the night before (Discoteca Palace, HA!), and the other was when I took my Big during her visit. It’s an easy bus ride, and everywhere there is quite cheap. Plus, it had my favorite views—including a castle that helped inspired the Disney castle, the Roman aqueducts, and a sunset view to die for. If I ever become a full-time novelist, I can see myself holing up here for a year!
10. Get your flea market kicks at El Rastro.
Think of a massive outdoor flea market with anything you could possibly imagine from fabrics to old dolls to books and more. It’s certainly worth the experience, and if you’re patient you can find everything and anything. I picked up a few gifts for friends here
<M> La Latina
9. Enjoy fairly temperate weather.
Spain is considered the Florida of Europe, and while it doesn’t stay as warm as Florida does, it’s quite easy to see why a lot of Europeans like to flee to Spain for vacation. While they often go to the southern most points in Andalucia, Madrid itself actually stays pretty temperate into the winter. I was there until the end of the December, and with a winter jacket, I was fairly comfortable for the most part. It’s a nice place to visit in the winter if you’re planning an off season trip.
8. Hang out in Parque Juan Carlos I.
I didn’t actually get to go here, but I wanted to so badly. My friend went, and she loved it, but every time I planned to go the weather was either rainy or something else came up. Named after the current Spanish king, it’s filled with modern sculptures from the past two or so decades (just do a Google search to see!).
7. You can visit the tombs of almost all the kings and queens of Spain.
An hour or so bus ride away is El Escorial (proper name: the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial), which is the historical royal residence. The crazy thing is that it’s not only a palace, it’s a monastery, museum, and a school rolled up into one. Felipe II commissioned it, and Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera were the main architects. The latter is the namesake for the Herrian style of architecture that was predominant with the era of Felipe II and his successors. It’s a gorgeous sight to behold. If you’re a history buff like I am, you’ll get particularly excited to see the Pantheon of Kings where every king and queen except Fernando and Isabel are buried. If you’d like you can go to Valle de los Caidos where Franco is buried, but I preferred not to.
6. Finally, visit one of the best museums in the world.
Ah, the Museo de Prado. This was my favorite museum considering it holds the kind of art I love (a lot of my friends preferred the more modern Sofia). This museum is renowned across the world and holds some of the most important European and specifically Spanish pieces of art ever. The building itself is a beautiful work of art, and it’s worth maybe a few visits just to soak everything in.
5. Up your museum game in general.
Madrid does museums as a whole incredibly well. The Thyssen-Bornemisza has held some pretty incredible exhibits. I went to a Cartier exhibit while I was there, and one fall they had a Givenchy exhibit!
4. Eat churros and chocolate at Chocolatereía San Ginés.
You know what’s better than drunk pizza? Chocolate con churros. They’re everywhere, but San Gines does them the best, and it’s been around since the late 19th century. If you go clubbing at Joy Eslava, it’s right next door! Escape the club for the last hour or two until the metro opens back up and drink some chocolate con churros. Keep in mind the hot chocolate isn’t like most hot chocolates– it’s very thick, dark, and not sweet. I liked drinking it, but it’s not the most drinkable hot chocolate I’ve had. The best part is that I believe it was maybe 6 euros for a drink and churros!
3. Get a taste of Egyptian history… with alcohol if you please.
Templo Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple in Parque del Oeste, and it’s pretty cool. While I would have made up some sort of story about Egyptians living in Spain as a kid, Egypt actually gifted it to Spain in the sixties for their help in saving the temples of Abu Simbel. It’s worth a visit (I believe actually going in the building is free) just for the unique experience of seeing something from the 2nd century BC in the middle of a European country.
Calle Ferraz, 1, 28008
2. You can experience Teleforico Madrid.
One of the cool things I discovered offhand was the existence of Teleforico Madrid. Am I the only person visiting Spain/Madrid who had never heard of this before? If you want a gorgeous view of Madrid, this is what you should you do. It’s like a ski lift that will take you across Casa de Campo to a restaurant and back again. You can get off at the restaurant and explore the surrounding areas while getting some beautiful views of Madrid. It costs all of 4 euros to do.
Paseo del Pintor Rosales, 28008
1. The people will win you over.
How can I not make the people number on this list? After I broke my shopping bag, I spilled my smelly fishy groceries all over the floor of a mall, and instead of laughing at me, a salesgirl immediately rushed out with bags to help me repack my groceries and another woman helped me pick them up. And, when my bag looked like it was on the verge of breaking waiting for the bus, another woman offered me her own. People in Madrid are actually quite lovely, and you will feel as comfortable as one can feel in a foreign country while you’re here.
So, have I convinced you to visit Madrid? Let me know what you’d add to the list!