Choose from 60 Fun Things to Do in Madrid
Not only is the square a key navigational landmark but it’s also home to a number of iconic sights. The 18th century Real Casa de Correos is best known for its monumental clock tower – the city’s principal timekeeper and the centerpiece of the city’s lively New Year’s Eve celebrations – and by its entrance lies the famous Kilometer Zero stone, the official starting point for Spain’s 6 National Roads, laid out in 1950. Take a moment by the legendary stone to ponder the square’s turbulent history - the 1766 Esquilache Mutiny, the 1808 resistance against Napoleon’s troops and the 1812 coronation of Fernando VII all took place on this very spot. A number of prized statues also overlook the square, most notably the ‘El Oso y El Madroño’ (the Bear and the Strawberry Tree), a bronze work by sculptor Antonio Navarro Santa Fe that is known as the official symbol of the city.
Despite its historic roots, Puerta del Sol and its surrounding streets are one of the most modern and liveliest areas of the city, with bars, restaurants and shops crammed in among the period architecture. With so many of the city’s principal attractions within walking distance, it’s the perfect location for a mid-sightseeing coffee break.
- The street is a must-see for architecture lovers, shoppers, night owls, and first-time visitors.
- Gran Via is included in most sightseeing tours of Madrid.
- There’s a lot to do on Gran Via, so don’t forget your comfortable walking shoes.
- The museum is a must-visit for art lovers.
- Leave yourself time to wander through the center courtyard, dotted with Joan Miró sculptures.
- Both small-group and private tours are available.
- Some city sightseeing bus tours include entrance to the museum.
- Nearly all areas of the museum are wheelchair accessible.
- Wi-Fi access is available in the Nouvel Building Cafe and in the museum library.
The Puerta de Alcalá - or Alcalá Gate - stands in the center of the Plaza de la Independencia - Independence Square - and just outside of the Parque de Buen Retiro - Park of the Pleasant Retreat. This Neo-classical monument was commissioned by King Carlos III in the mid-18th century to replace the 16th century gate that served as the entrance to Madrid from what was then the eastern border.
Italian architect Francesco Sabatini was given the job and with help from two French and Spanish sculptors created what is now recognized as a symbol of Madrid. The Puerta de Alcalá is one of the city's most historic and beautiful landmarks.
The Alcalá Gate is bisected by Calle de Alcalá and is at the northwest corner of the expansive Parque de Buen Retiro. Other nearby points of interest include the Museo Arqueologico Nacional - National Archaeological Museum - and Biblioteca Nacional de España - Spanish National Library. It is accessible via the Retiro metro stop.
The most striking features of the Palacio Real de Aranjuez (Royal Palace in Aranjuez) are the red and white façade, the Rococo staircase and the Porcelain Room which has walls lined with porcelain.
The gardens are world-famous and include the Museo de Faluas Reales (Museum of the Royal Barges); in which you can see how King Charles IV and King Ferdinand VII of Spain traveled as well as maritime instruments and paintings. The whole complex is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the nicest ways to reach the palace is on The Strawberry Train. Departing for the first time in 1851, this was only the second railway in Spain. You can ride the restored train, complete with fresh strawberries to eat, from Madrid Railway Museum to Aranjuez on weekends from May to June and September to November.
- Day trips from Madrid typically last between 5 and 11 hours, depending on the options chosen.
- It’s best to wear comfortable walking shoes suitable for uneven surfaces.
- The basilica is the most wheelchair-accessible site, while the palace has a number of staircases.
Initially housing a mock ‘Philippino village’, the 54-meter-long building was once filled with native plants and exotic flora in ode to the Spanish colony of the Philippines. Today, the palace is used as a contemporary art exhibition space but retains its bucolic surroundings, fronted by a pretty swan lake and encircled by lush woodlands. The interiors are equally breathtaking, with light refracting through the glass and the angled panes causing a prism-like effect at certain times of the day.
Most enthralling is the building’s unique achievement of blending art, architecture and nature, with the natural light casting an iridescent sheen over the art installations displayed inside and the exterior glass panels reflecting the changing shades of the parkland through the seasons.
- This museum is a must-see for art lovers.
- The museum offers a free locker and cloakroom at all entrances.
- Nearly the entire museum, with the exception of areas in the Villanueva building, is wheelchair accessible.
- If you’re looking for later works of art, Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum features a post-19th century art collection.
Once providing water to local residents, the fountain is now merely decorative, doubling up as a popular meeting point for locals. Real Madrid’s football fans, in particular, have adopted the spot for post-game celebrations. Its job as a water source might be redundant but Cybele’s Fountain is still one of the most prominent symbols of Madrid and if you look closely, you’ll see the 8-meter-tall goddess not only holds a scepter but also a set of keys – said to be the keys to the city. Perhaps most aesthetically pleasing is the fountain’s striking surroundings – a backdrop that includes the 18th century Palacio de Buenavista, the 19th century Palacio de Linares, the grand Bank of Spain and the exquisite Palacio de Comunicaciones (the City Hall).
The Almudena Cathedral is the official Cathedral of Madrid and is dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena. Taking over a century to complete, the Almudena is one of the youngest cathedrals in Europe, consecrated by Pope John II himself in 1993. A statue of the pope stands outside of the cathedral to mark the momentous occasion.
The lengthy construction process was due to the change in status from a church to a cathedral a year after breaking ground, which warranted an upgrade in style from Neo-Gothic to Neo-Classic and required new blueprints. Another event that put construction on hold was the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, during which building stopped entirely until 1944.
What the cathedral lacks in historical significance and architectural merit it makes up for in sheer size - it's 104 m long and 76 m wide (340 ft by 250 ft), with a cupola measuring 20 m (65 ft) across. It is also conveniently located adjacent to the Palacio Real - Royal Palace, which is sure to be on everyone's list of must-see attractions.