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What to do in 3 days in Madrid. A massive list of the top tourist attractions and points of interest in Madrid.

Madrid is one of the most livable cities in the world. Beautiful parks, museums, shops, restaurants and a sheer endless mass of bars – Spain’s capital has it all. No matter if you love football, art or food, there are just so many things to do in Madrid.

Personally speaking, I’d say that 3 days in Madrid are enough to see it all. But if you love art or plan to do a lot of shopping, you can easily stay a week or more. I usually catch an early plane on Thursday and take the last one on Sunday (if you book early enough, it’s easy to get flights around 200€ both way from most European capitals).  But let’s not dally on details. Here’s my list of what to do in Madrid for 3 days.

1. Palacio Real

The courtyard of the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain

Visiting the Palace in Madrid really is a no-brainer, eh? Well, I actually don’t think so. If you have traveled as much as I did, going inside palaces actually becomes quite tiresome. Versailles, Buckingham Palace, Peterhof – it’s all more or less the same. Beautiful, yes, but repetitive.

The main staircase inside the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain

The Palacio Real is a bit different. The Spanish crown brought golden splendor to another level. I am not joking. The tapestries, ceiling ornaments, and furniture were so incredibly rich and intricate, it virtually blew my mind. A true must see in Madrid.

Pro tip: Don’t miss the beautiful garden below the Royal Palace. A beautiful place to read a book or enjoy a little snack without the tourist hordes

2. Prado Museum

The famous Prado Museum in Madrid - one of the many things to see in Madrid

There are a couple of museums around the world everyone has to visit at least once in a lifetime and the Prado is one of them. The focus of the museum is clearly on Spanish painters like Goya, El Grecco or Velasquez, but they also have the world-famous works from Albrecht Dürer, Hieronymus Bosch & Raphael.

The Prado museum is vast and rightly one of the top things to do in Madrid. Plan at least 3 hours to tour the museum, but even then you should preselect the paintings and museums you want to see. You can buy tickets online.

Pro tip: The Prado Museum is free to enter after 6 pm (but open until 8 pm). It actually makes a lot of sense to split your visit on two days & see the museum for free!

3. Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor in Madrid spain is one of the top things to do in Madrid

Madrid has a lot of beautiful squares, none of them is able to surpass Plaza Mayor. The famous square is located right in the center of the city and is walled in by buildings on all sides. In recent years showmen discovered the square and there are now virtually hundreds of them begging passersby’s for a penny or two. I’d suggest you take a little break in one of the many cafés and restaurants on the square and just watch the other tourists scrambling by.

Pro tip: Keep your bags and purses safe while walking across Plaza Mayor. I have seen thieves trying to steal valuables more than just once!

4. El Retiro Park

The El Retiro Park right in the heart of Madrid, Spain

One of my favorite places in Madrid is the El Retiro Park. It’s a bit like Central Park in New York or Hyde Park in London. There is a huge artificial lake where you can rent a boat. Personally speaking, I’d rather search for a quiet corner on the sides and have a picnic (that’s what the locals do as well).

Palacio de Cristal in El Retiro Park Madrid

Absolutely don’t miss the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal). It was one built as a greenhouse to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines. Currently, it is used for art exhibitions (which are free). It’s also one of the most Instagramable places in the city.

5. Reina Sofía Museum

The Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain for modern and contemporary art

Who hasn’t heard of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali or Joan Miro. The painters left a huge mark on what we perceive as art now. More than that: Iconic works like Guernica shaped the way we think about war and our past. That being said, there is no way around not visiting the Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid where all these famous artworks are on display.

But even beyond the classical modern art, you will have no hard time finding beautiful contemporary artwork to inspire you. Do go! Buy your tickets on the offical website in advance here.

6. La Almudena Cathedral

La Almudena Cathedral in Madrid as seen from the Royal Palace

Sitting right next to the Royal Palace, you will find Madrid’s biggest church: La Almudena Cathedral. Contrary to what you might think, the church has only been officially finished in 1993.

Inside the La Almudena Cathedral Madrid Spain

While the building is quite beautiful, the artwork within is probably the worst I have ever seen. It follows no guidelines, no common style. The mixture is so bad, however, that it is almost funny (in a weird way). As it is one of the many free things to do in Madrid, I still urge you to go!

Pro tip: If you want to climb all the way up to the cupola and enjoy the view of Madrid, you will have to enter the museum.

7. Cibeles & City hall

The Cibeles City hall in Madrid, Spain

One of the most imposing squares in Madrid is certainly Cibeles. Here you will find the Cibeles Palace, which is not an actual palace but now serves as the city hall.

Inside the Cibeles city hall in Madrid, Spain

It’s not only beautiful from outside, but also from the inside. It was once a post office and was then transferred to the most modern, contemporary take on how to engage with the public I ever saw. There are beautiful workspaces, exhibition spaces, and counters for everyone. Truly outstanding.

Pro tip: The gay quarter (Chueca) is just around the corner. Here you will find amazing bars, restaurants, and shops!

8. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid Spain - one of top tourist attaction in the city

Do you love for museums? I certainly do! The third museum you shouldn’t miss in the Madrid is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. They got famous artworks from all epochs. Rubens, Titian, Lucas Cranach, but also Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh or Paul Gaugin, and a lot of paintings from the German Expressionism.

Pro tip: They usually got beyond than outstanding special exhibitions, so make sure to check it out before your visit!

9. Enjoy sunset at the Temple of Debod

Watching the sunset at templo del debod in Madrid is one of the best things to do in Madrid

The temple of Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple right in the heart of Madrid. It dates back to the 2nd century BC and was relocated in 1968 in the light of the construction of the Aswan High Dam. It’s one of the best places to enjoy a beautiful sunset in Madrid (usually a huge crowd will gather close before dusk). You can actually go inside.

10. Mercado de san Miguel

Mercado de san Miguel is Madrid gourmet food market and you really shouldn't miss it

After all these museums and parks, you are probably craving for some food and drink. One of the best places to satisfy your bodily needs is the Mercado de San Miguel. It is a small grocery mall only a few meters away from the old city hall. There are tons of food stalls offering you tapas, pastries, ham, seafood and all the other famous Spanish delicacies.

Mind you, the place is not exactly cheap. Actually, it’s downright expensive and you might actually call it a tourist trap. But the building and the flair IS beautiful so you should go anyway, even if it is just for a small snack. Believe me, it’s one of the top places to see in Madrid.

11. Day trip to Toledo

Toledo is just a day trip away from Madrid and thus belongs to the best things to do in Madrid

Madrid hasn’t been the capital of Spain for all that long (given the long history of the country). The court was only moved to Madrid in 1561. During the medieval times, Toledo was the heart of the country. Only about a 40 minute’s drive away, the ancient city is probably the best day trip from Madrid.

Ancient buildings, a beyond than stunning cathedral and a vast tapestry of history can be explored here. The city is also quite famous for its marzipan. You don’t want to miss that!

How to get there? There are regular tourist buses but also a train. Both cost about the same, though the tourist bus will get you right into the historic center)

12. Watch a bullfight

A bullfight at Plaza de acho Bullring in Lima Peru
A traditional bullfight | Pic: Rafael Morán La Rosa

One of the most authentic things to do in Madrid is probably watching a bullfight. Now, I can already hear all the vegans out there complaining. And perhaps rightly so. Personally speaking, I don’t feel I am in any position to judge. It’s part of the Spanish history and part of the Spanish culture.

Be aware that bullfights are only staged around a couple of festivals and are not held on every day in the year. Bullfight seasons is mostly from March to October. Tickets usually sell out very fast!

13. Day trip to Segovia

The ancient castle in Segovia, just a short day trip away from Madrid
The ancient castle in Segovia | pic: Luis Antonio Fernández Corral

Segovia is another beautiful and ancient place to visit very close to Madrid. The city is famous for its huge roman aqueduct and was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1985. There is a lot to see in Segovia and if you got enough time (meaning more than just 3 days in Madrid), then absolutely consider a day trip.

14. Puerta del Sol

The puerta del Sol square right in the center or madrid, Spain

The most central square in Madrid is called Puerta del Sol – the Gate of the sun. It’s a very busy place sitting right in between your way from the Prado to the Royal Palace (mind you, a long walk!). If you want to go shopping, this is probably the best place to start. There’s a famous statue of Madrid’s heraldic symbol (the Bear and the Madroño Tree) you don’t want to miss.

Pro tip: You can find Madrid’s best bakery in Sol. It’s called La Mallorquina and was founded in 1894. Try their Neapolitans!

15. Explore Madrid’s secret gardens

A secret garden right below the Palace in Madrid, Spain

Madrid has a lot of beautiful parks and gardens. Even if your itinerary is already quite tight, you should visit at least one of them. I totally love the Greenhouse at Atocha station. But the Principe de Anglona Garden near La Latina is worth a stop as well.

16. Go to a Flamenco club

A typical flamenco Club in Madrid Spain
A typical flamenco club | pic: roberto scorta

Some call flamenco merely a dance but is more an art-form. While its origins can be traced to the most Southern regions, you will have no problem finding a flamenco club in Madrid.

17. Stroll down Calle De Alcalcá & Grand Vía

The Calle De Alcalcá in Madrid spain, where lots of important landmarks can be found

Madrid has two very grand avenues you really can’t miss on your stroll around the city. In fact, I urge you to skip the metro and walk all the way. The Grand Vía is a beautiful place to go shopping and admire the art deco like buildings lining the truly grand street.

The Grand Via in Madrid, Spain. THe perfect place to go shopping or see a musical

The Calle De Alcalcá is another very famous avenue (though here you will find hotels and the like). Actually, you won’t find more imposing buildings in that particular style anywhere else in the world. Seemingly built in rivalry, each house has a huge dome or gigantic statue abutting the high towers.

18. Watch a soccer match

Champions league final at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium Madrid
Champions league final at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium | pic: Johnny Vulkan

Just two words are enough to convince you to watch a soccer match while you are in Madrid: El Clasico. While you will have a very hard time catching tickets for the more than epic matches between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, I am sure you will enjoy a normal Primera División (premier league) match all the same.

19. Enjoy Tapas

A tapas bar with a lot of kinds of olives in Madrid, Spain

Spanish food is amazing. It really is! Now please don’t be confused: Tapas is actually not a specific category of food, but rather a way to eat food. Tapas roughly translates to “cover” and turned into a name for small servings of food you were able to put as a coaster on top of your glass of wine or beer.

Putting etymology aside, it gives you the perfect opportunity to sample a lot of traditional food, as most restaurants offer you the opportunity to order Raciones (full portions) or Tapas.

As an alternative to Tapas, you might want to test out Pinchos (small sandwiches topped with about everything in between Avocados, foie or ham)

20. Enjoy the view of Madrid from a roof top bar

The roof top bar at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Spain

The roof top bar at the Dear Hotel in Madrid, Spain

I already mentioned Madrid’s huge avenues. Now, look up again. If you squint your eyes, you might see a roof top terrace or two. Madrid has a lot of them, and most of them are quite epic. A very famous one is at the top of the Circulo de Bellas Artes – a cultural center very close to Banco de España. Some of them belong to hotels others can be found within the city hall. No matter which you pick, it’s a very lovely place to watch the sunset.

Absolutely check out my full guide to the best rooftop bars in Madrid >>

Other Madrid landmarks

The Plaza de Espana is one of the many Madrid landmarks you shouldn't miss when you visit madrid

Now I wanted to keep this guide as brief as humanly possible, while still giving you a wide selection of things to do in Madrid. Know then, I was not able to mention them all. I utterly didn’t mention the beautiful Plaza de España with its famous statue of Don Quichotte or any of minor churches (like San Jeronimo el Real).

I also didn’t mention each and every museum in town or all the wonderful little markets. If you got time, you might also consider going to the Opera (Teatro Real) or one of the many musicals lining Grand Vía. The Madrid zoo is also quite popular among locals and travelers with kids. Just know that there are so many other landmarks worth visiting in Madrid.

Madrid at night is also something I did not mention in this travel guide. But certainly, you really shouldn’t skip the nightlife. Also, many of Madrid’s tourist attraction are illuminated, which means a stroll through the grand avenues and plazas is always a good idea after dusk.

Where to stay in Madrid

The fantastic rooftop pool at the Dear Hotel in Madrid, Spain

Contrary to what you might think, Madrid doesn’t have a lot of good hotels. Actually, apart from the Ritz, big international luxury hotel chains totally eschew Spain’s capital. A very bad decision, if you ask me.

That being said, I found one hotel that is both not very expensive and probably the best place to stay in Madrid. I am talking about the Dear Hotel at Plaza de España. The hotel has the most amazing rooftop terrace, with an equally amazing roof top pool.  But it is also located very close to the Royal Palace (you can actually see it from the pool), the Temple of Debod. Prado, Plaza Major are only two or three metro stations away, and there is a metro station right at the entrance of the hotel.

I also looooved the breakfast at the rooftop bar. So yes, despite just having 4 stars,  I am a big fan of the hotel. But obviously, you are free to pick a cheaper (or more expensive) alternative. If you pick anything roughly in between Royal Palace a Prado, you will be fine. This is, by common acceptance, the best area to stay in Madrid. There are beautiful bars and shops everywhere. Trust me 😉

Note: I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post. 

When to visit Madrid

Me standing in front of the Palacio Real in Madrid

Don’t ask me why, but I always seem to end up visiting Madrid in April. But to be quite fair with you, that is also the best time to visit Madrid. Madrid’s climate is quite moderate in winter, and chokingly hot in summer. Which means the transition months are your best option. March to June and September and October are both very good seasons to visit Spain’s capital. As not all of the top tourist attractions are indoors, it really pays off to plan ahead. Walking along the Grand Vía at 40° Celsius in July really is not one of the top things to do in Madrid.

So that was my “little” list of things to do in Madrid, Spain. Hope you found it helpful. Got any questions? Ask them in the comments below. Oh, and don’t forget to pin this article.

20 amazing things to do in Madrid Spain

Picture credits: roberto scortaLuis Antonio Fernández CorJohnny Vulkan

3 COMMENTS

  1. Wow memories! I lived in Madrid when I was 20 and have been to a lot of these places. You forgot to mention El Rastro, the biggest flea market around. I remember in the summer on the Gran Via there was an excellent Italian ice cream shop that I couldn’t resist stopping in every time I walked past. Thanks for posting this article!

    • Hey Cheryl,

      thank you for the positive feedback. I sort of forgot to mention El Rastro intentionally…simply because I have never been there. I just drove by with the bus once, but really couldn’t decide if it is worth it or not.

  2. There’s a lot of stuff at the rastro. I remember buying Spanish stamps that featured Disney characters. I was in a supermarket and this man who spoke English asked me out. I wasn’t interested but said I’d meet him and then I didn’t show up. I was at the rastro and there he was looking at a vendor’s stuff. What are the chances in a place that is packed with people and booths and tables! The rastro is so crowded I was able to jump into the crowd, but I don’t know if he saw me or now. Whew!

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