When exploring the Spanish capital, start at the heart
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Spain’s official centre point: the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol
When exploring Madrid, why not start at the centre? The Plaza de la Puerta del Sol is a bustling crossroads and popular meeting place where many walking tours begin. It’s also a handy transportation hub for nearby bus routes and the Metro.
Hard-to-miss features include the big Casa de Correos clock, the equestrian statue of Carlos III and the iconic statue of a bear and a madrono (strawberry tree) which is the official city symbol. The architecture is impressive and the vibe is very cosmopolitan. Check out the footpath plaque marking Kilometre Zero, the starting point from where Spain’s road system is measured.1
Where to from here?
Once you’ve explored Madrid’s designated heart, we recommend that you investigate the rest of this energetic city. Getting around is easy: grab a Tourist Travel Card, which provides unlimited use of all public transport. If you’re heading out to the airport, the Airport Express Shuttle will get you there from the CBD in 40 minutes.
The Metro is an efficient way to visit different parts of the city, with 15 lines and more than 300 stations.
The Metro is an efficient way to visit different parts of the city, with 15 lines and more than 300 stations. The bus service and Cercanías suburban trains are also reliable. Taxis are everywhere if you need to get somewhere in a hurry and it’s too cold (or hot) to walk. You’ll also find rental bike racks around Madrid if you want to sneak in some fitness while taking in the sights.2
What you can get up to in Madrid
Madrid is huge and there’s no way you’ll see and do everything you want in a single trip – but that gives you the perfect excuse to keep returning! Still, you’ve got to start somewhere, so here are a few things you might want to experience while roaming the Spanish capital:
Enjoy the view
Madrid has an impressive skyline and there are some terrific spots where you can take it all in. For watching the sunset with a drink in hand, it’s hard to go past the rooftop terrace at the Circulo de Bellas Artes on Alcala Street. For dinner with a view, head for Gau & Café in the Lavapiés neighbourhood – an ancient church that is now a rooftop bar, restaurant and library.
A short walk from the Puerta del Sol, you’ll find The Urban (complete with swimming pool) and the Hotel De Las Letras. You’ll also enjoy the views from the Basilica de San Francisco El Grande and the one from just behind the Templo de Debod. The Teleférico de Madrid, an unforgettable 2.5-kilometre cable car trip, also offers stunning panoramas.
Spend your Sunday at the oldest flea market in town
At Ribera de Curtidores Street in the barrio of Embajadores, you’ll encounter a lively Madrid tradition: shopping for second-hand goods at the city’s most famous Sunday markets. El Rastro is a collection of stalls where you’ll find jewellery, clothing, vinyl records, handicrafts and much more. To get a head start before the big crowds pack the place out, arrive early. By the time afternoon arrives, you can expect wall-to-wall shoppers brushing elbows and making a beeline for the nearest bargain.
The antique shops hidden down the narrow side streets are worth a quick look as well. Don’t forget to take a break from the shopping mayhem at one of the many cafés and bars in the area.
Relax at a city park
Although first impressions of Madrid might suggest a massive urban sprawl, there are lots of pretty, green spaces scattered around if you know where to look. By far the largest is the Casa de Campo, which at 1,700 hectares is five times bigger than New York’s Central Park. It features a large lake used by kayakers and small boats as well as a youth hostel, a fun fair, assorted sporting facilities and both the Madrid Arena and Madrid Zoo.
El Retiro is a smaller but more central park with beautiful tree-lined paths, fountains, monuments, statues and a tranquil pond. You may even be able to catch a puppet show here at certain times.
If you’re after an attractive place to walk, jog, skate or cycle, you’ll find 10 kilometres of green space along the banks of the Manzanares River at Madrid Rio. There are quaint bridges connecting both riverbanks and plenty of places to stop for a snack and a Spanish beer.
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Mix with the other tourists and stroll the Gran Via
Madrid’s main tourist thoroughfare stretches for more than a kilometre between the Plaza de España and the Metropolis Building. It has more shops and bars than you could ever explore in an afternoon and even a casino.
The trick with this walk is to get from one end to the other without spending too much.
From the Metropolis end, you’ll pass the Museo Chicote, where you can stop for a drink and admire the celebrity photos on the walls. If you can tolerate the rather frightening prices, check out the shopping scene around the Telefonica Building. For a break from the crowds, take in a film (complete with subtitles) at Callao and Capitol cinemas adjacent to the square. Your stroll along the Gran Via ends at the Miguel de Cervantes monument in the middle of the grand plaza. The trick with this walk is to get from one end to the other without spending too much.
Visit at least five must-see attractions
When you talk to a Madrid resident, they’re sure to tell you about places you mustn’t miss during your visit. And while it’s hard to pick favourites, you should definitely make an effort to see the Royal Palace and nearby Catedral de la Almudena. If people-watching is your thing, find a quiet café on the Plaza Mayor, savour a cup of café con leche and watch the world go by.
For museums and art galleries, you’re spoilt for choice. The Reina Sofía, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Museo del Prado make up the ‘sharp corners’ of what’s locally known as the Art Triangle on the Paseo del Prado. Be sure to check out the vertical garden at the CaixaForum as well.
If you’ve come to Madrid to see some of the finest quality soccer on earth, make your way to the Plaza de Neptuno (if you’re an Atletico Madrid fan) or the Plaza de Cibeles (if nothing but Real Madrid ‘futbol’ will do).3
When seeking information about other Madrid attractions, TripAdvisor can provide dozens of promising ideas. And for Travel Insurance for Madrid (or anywhere else), grab a quick quote from Budget Direct – it’s easy!