The political and cultural centre of Spain - Madrid - makes a grand first impression. A walk around its elegant boulevards, and you will find yourself admiring the beautifully-preserved medieval buildings at every nook and corner. The heart of Madrid is no doubt bustling with tourists, yet that's where you will want to be - from Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol to making your way to Gran Via. Don't be surprised if you are drawn to endless bar de tapas or tabernas to indulge in local delights of Croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes), Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), Chorizo al vino (sausage in red wine) and pitchers of sangrias. That's just the start; you are yet to explore lavish palaces, cathedrals, flawlessly manicured parks, a host of art museums called the Golden Triangle of Art, charming neighbourhoods, michelin-starred restaurants, pub crawls, a lesson of flamenco perhaps... the list goes on!
Best Things To Do In Madrid In 2022
Don't know where to start? We are here to make it simple and easy by listing down the top things to do in Madrid over a weekend or a short stay:
1. Start With Plaza Mayor
A great way to start is to be in the middle of it all. Make your way to the hub of old Madrid - Plaza Mayor, which is a 17th century landmark that was once the venue for ceremonial events as well as bull fights and executions. The three-storey buildings enclose a square with a statue of King Philip III standing tall at the centre (it was during his reign Plaza Mayor was built). Endless restaurants dot the area and make for a good spot to experience the place at leisure while sipping some wine. Before you leave, make a pitstop at a no-frill tavern called La Campana that serves a perfect on-the-go treat - Bocadillos de Calamares (calamari sandwich). Or for those with a sweet tooth, Chocolateria San Ginés is where you can grab the best churros.
2. Paseo del Prado
One of the main boulevards in Madrid, this is where you need to head to if your itinerary includes museum visits. Three important art museums that are collectively called the Golden Triangle of Art are located here. This includes Museo del Prado, Reina Sofia Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Museo del Prado is considered to be one of the greatest art museums in the world, with works of renowned artists like Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, and Diego Velazquez to name a few. While Museo del Prado houses pre-20th-century art, the remaining two museums are dedicated to 20th century modern art and contemporary art.
3. Buen Retiro Park And The Crystal Palace
A UNESCO world heritage site, Buen Retiro Park once belonged to the Spanish monarchy but is now a public park that makes for an enjoyable stroll right at the centre of Madrid. If you need an oasis of calm after all the touring, then this is the place to rest your tired feet amid lush green gardens or enjoy a boat ride. There are many stunning spots, although a must-see is the Crystal Palace, which is remarkable. Since this park is a venue for numerous exhibitions, book fairs, concerts and events, there is in fact much to do and see.
4. Royal Palace Of Madrid
A short walk off the centre will lead you to the Royal Palace of Madrid, which is another must-visit in the capital city. The grand landmark is the official residence of the King of Spain although the royal family does not live here. Sections of it are open to the public, which gives you the opportunity to explore the palace and marvel at the grand classic-style facade with statues of Spanish kings and saints, colourful frescoes and paintings adorning the interiors, the grand staircase designed of a single piece of San Agustin marble or stroll leisurely through the royal gardens. Be sure to visit the Royal Armoury and the Royal Carriage Museum. The Royal Church and Jardines de Sabatini are located beside the palace and make for a visit too.
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5. Mercado De San Fernando
Back at the centre, close to Plaza Mayor is Mercado De San Fernando, which is sure to thrill food lovers. Formerly a local food market, it has now transferred into a cool, urban gastronomic hub. It holds great symbolic importance and is always packed with people who make their way to explore high-quality produce or treat their taste buds to a wide range of local delicacies - from chorizo, seafood, paella to Iberian ham and more tapas.
6. Book A Show Of Flamenco
If you thought flamenco referred to the traditional dance alone, you are in for a surprise. This Spanish art form consists of three parts - guitar playing, song and dance. And if you are looking for a memorable evening to soak in Spanish culture and arts, there's no better experience than a live flamenco show. There are a range of tablaos that host flamenco shows - Cardamomo, Villa Rosa, Las Tablas - but you can also combine it with a lavish dinner experience at Corral de la Moreria that serves inventive Spanish cuisine.
7. Puerta Del Sol-Gran Via
Both Puerta del Sol and Gran Via are prime locations in Madrid and are surrounded by shops, restaurants and bars. Talk about feeling the pulse of the city and this is it. It is said that all roads in Spain lead to the Puerta del Sol, known as kilometre zero. It houses landmarks like the clock of Casa de Correos, Bear and Strawberry Tree Statue and the statue of Mariblanca. Gran Via is the shopping hub of Madrid and charming with its early 20th-century revival architecture.
8. Neighbourhoods - Malasana and Salamanca
Close to Gran Via is the bustling neighbourhood of Malasana, which is also known as the top party or nightlife spot in Madrid. You will find numerous bars here (modern to old and traditional, some dating back to the '80s), making it a great start for bar crawls. Salamanca, on the other hand, is all about glamour and glitz. So, if you would rather spend your time shopping at luxury fashion stores, you can make your way for a memorable dining experience at a stylish restaurant in the neighbourhood like La Rodaja, Horcher, Beker 6 and more.
While 1-2 days are not enough to explore all of Madrid, you can still make the most of your time and experience that city in a way that suits your interests.