Madrid is one of Europe’s largest cities, full of exciting experiences for tourists and locals alike. Three and a half million people live within its boundaries, while near six and half complete the metropolitan area. While its modernity is paralleled with other large cities around the world, its history, brimming with life behind its moorish walls, is not. We heard from many people who visited Madrid that it isn’t special, it’s just another big city. We didn’t expect to fall for Madrid, but the big city vibe was complimented perfectly by historic art and unbelievable food. We fell for this city and would love to help you fall for it too.
Here’s what can’t be missed in Madrid:
Madrid’s “Golden Triangle of Art”
The birthplace of world renowned artists like Picasso, Dali, Goya, and Gaudí, Spain has forever been a forefront of artistic cultivation. Museums around the world showcase the works of many of these artists, but no place does it better than the motherland.
Three of Madrid’s largest museums are within walking distance from one another, in the shape of a triangle. Each museum features masterpieces by both Spanish and international painters.
The first point of the triangle, La Reina Sofia houses Picasso’s Guernica, his self-proclaimed masterpiece on the horrors of the German bombing of a northern Spanish town during WWII. This piece, supplemented by dozens of his other works in the exhibit, is a must see for any art history fan.
A second point along Madrid’s “Triangle of Art,” El Museo del Prado holds a collection masterpieces. It is well known for its exhibit on Hieronymus Bosch and his Garden of Earthly Desires, but everywhere you turn is a different masterpiece. After wandering the museum we looked at the clock to discover what felt like an hour or so was actually four hours.
The entry fees begin at ten euro for La Reina Sofia and at fifteen euro for El Museo del Prado, with differing rates for audioguides and museum or exhibition programs. However, if you have a student ID, general admission is free. Both museums offer discounted rates, and certain times where admission is free for all. That being said, if you’re planning on visiting during a free period periods, make sure to arrive early, as the lines can get very long, very quickly.
The final museum in the golden triangle of art is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. This is one of the largest private collections in the world and features paintings by the Old Masters through Post-Impressionism. It is eight euro for students and 12 euro for general entry.
If you’re on time and budget constraints, we recommend the Prado. It is the largest of the three museums and full to the brim of masterpieces.
Mercado de San Miguel
A gastronomic slice of Madrid’s cultural pie, El Mercado de San Miguel stands tall as a market brimming with some of Spain’s best cuisine. Maintaining its original, early 12th century structure, the 1200 square meter market provides an embodiment of Spanish personality, at budget-friendly price. From shimmering greased legs of ham, to delicately stacked piles of caviar the market continuously bustles. Grab a glass of vermouth for two euros or a traditional Spanish omelette for four (if you manage to hold it at all before unapologetically shoving it into your mouth). The market shouldn’t be missed, and, located in the heart of Plaza Mayor, one of Madrid’s most well known neighborhoods, it’d be hard pressed not to.
Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s main square. The large square is packed with restaurants and street performers, enclosed by governmental and cultural centers. The statue in the center is of Phillip III, the monarch who began construction on the plaza. Right outside the plaza are streets filled with small tapas bars and other cheap eats. Try some traditional Iberian ham from Museo del Jamón, on a one euro sandwich.
Gran Via district
One of the most bustling and alive districts of Madrid, Gran Via, now known as a happy and welcoming home of Madrid’s LGBTQ scene, is one definitely worth a visit. Lined with tiny shops tucked next to commercial outlets, the district is easily accessible via the city’s metro. It winds east, down classic Madrid streets, offering a vibrant personality. With Gastropubs and Gin & Tonic Garages everywhere, spend hours exploring this popular neighborhood.
Buen Retiro Park
One of the largest in Madrid, the famous 350 acre park sits in the heart of the city, boasting a handful of galleries, statues, gardens, and a lake. Created nearly five hundred years ago, the park still thrives today, many sections still with the original layout and designs. There are a number of free events that occur here every year as well, so be sure to research what’s happening during the dates you’ll be there.
Placa de Cibiles and the Edificio de Communicaciones
Climb to the top of La Plaza de Cibeles for a four euro view of Madrid. The once communications building now serves as the seat of the Madrid City Council, and houses a small cafe, rooftop terrace, and Michelin starred restaurant. The palace and famous Cybele fountain outside is just a short walk from the Banco de España metro stop.
Puerta del Sol
This Madrid square gave us some serious time square vibes. It was packed with tourists, business-people and street performers dressed in animal costumes. It translates as the “Gate of the Sun” and is the center of the radial network of Spanish roads.
Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the ceremonial home to the Spanish Royal family. The
family doesn’t actually live here, leaving it open public tours. Right across from the palace is the Madrid cathedral. Entry costs to the palace vary depending on the day and time of the year. If you go by yourself, download the app for information on the palace. The palace also offers a guided tour along with the full price ticket.
Here’s how we got around:
Madrid has a well-connected, easy to use metro system. A standard fare here will cost you a few euros, depending on where (and how far) you need to go. Depending on how long your visit to Madrid is and how often you plan to use the metro, a multi-trip pass can often be more cost effective. A standard ten trip pass, able to be used in all zones throughout the city’s limits, is just under twenty euro.
Have questions or unique spots in Madrid? Share them in the comments below, or contact us!