A local’s guide to sightseeing in Madrid, Spain

A local's guide to Madrid, Spain

Royal Palace, Madrid. Image credit: Susana Canas.

Madrid is a remarkable city that offers a variety of things to see and do.

Combining a bustling city atmosphere with traditional and cultural experiences, this Spanish city with heart and fervour will leave you wanting to discover more and more.

If you’re looking for your next city trip in Europe, consider Madrid. You’ll find everything from historic architecture to art, beautiful gardens, delicious food and more.

As a local, here are my tips for exploring this vibrant city.

Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid)

No trip to Madrid is complete unless you visit the Royal Palace, known in Spanish as Palacio Real (pictured above).

Located on the west side of the Plaza de Oriente, a historic square in the centre of Madrid, the palace also incorporates the beautiful Sabatini Gardens.

The palace has been the official residence for old Spanish Royal generations but now it is only used for state ceremonies and formalities. The current Royal Family have instead chosen to live in the more modest Palace of Zarzuela, located on the outskirts of Madrid.

Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain

Plaza Mayor in Madrid, Spain. Image credit: iStock.

Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol

On your way to or from the Royal Palace, be sure to stop at Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s central city square.

Rectangular in shape, the Plaza Mayor is surrounded by three-storey buildings with stunning arcades at ground level.

The uniform architecture has origins that date back to the 1500s. Look out for the bronze statue of King Philip III located at the centre of the square.

From Plaza Mayor, take a short walk (only a few blocks away) to another popular square called Puerta del Sol (Sun Gate).

Puerta del Sol is home to a clock tower, and is the famed spot where Spaniards welcome in the new year while eating 12 grapes to the rhythm of bell chimes in the last 12 seconds of the year.

It’s an old Spanish tradition, and if you’re here on New Year’s Eve it’s a great experience to be part of.

Teatro Real (Royal Theatre) in Madrid, Spain.

Teatro Real (Royal Theatre) in Madrid, Spain. Image credit: iStock.

Embrace art

For lovers of art, Madrid is your haven. Make a day of walking from one art establishment to the next.

And don’t expect to only encounter Spanish art on your travels – many of Madrid’s galleries are home to a wide range of paintings, sculptures and fine art from Europe and across the world.

The city has a number of world-class museums including El Prado, Spain’s national art museum; Reina Sofia (Queen Sofia), which is mostly dedicated to Spanish art; and the Thyssen-Bornemisza which exhibits a range of historical art from across Europe. These three museums are often referred to as the “Golden Triangle of Art”.

After a day exploring the museums, why not treat yourself to a show at Teatro Real? Located just around the corner from the Royal Palace at the charming Plaza de Oriente, the Royal Theatre offers performances in opera, dance and musical concerts.

Cibeles Fountain in Madrid, Spain.

Cibeles Fountain in Madrid, Spain. Image credit: iStock.

Monuments and cathedrals

Located in the centre of the Plaza de Cibeles is the Cibeles Fountain which depicts the Roman goddess Cibeles in a chariot drawn by two lions.

Equally impressive is Puerta de Alcalá (Alcala Gate), a neo-classical monument right in the middle of the Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square). The Retiro Park falls behind this famous, triumphal arch.

Continue on to visit Madrilenian churches and cathedrals such as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of La Almudena, which is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid. This Baroque Catholic church is known for its colourful chapels, the Romanesque crypt and museum.

Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain

Retiro Park in Madrid, Spain. Image credit: iStock.

Retiro Park and Cuartel de la Montaña

If you’d prefer to get in touch with nature, a walk through Retiro Park is a must. As one of Madrid’s largest city parks, think of it as a smaller replica of Central Park in New York.

Alternatively, venture to a little park called Cuartel de la Montaña (Mountain Headquarters Park) which features the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that was originally built in Egypt before being relocated and rebuilt in Madrid. It’s definitely worth seeing!

San Miguel Market in Madrid, Spain.

San Miguel Market in Madrid, Spain. Image credit: iStock.

Take in the culture with food

When visiting Madrid, there’s no better way to immerse yourself in the Spanish culture than by going to typical Spanish bars and taverns to order local wine and beer. The best part of this experience is that free tapas will often accompany your order at many places.

Savour the best of Spanish cuisine with traditional eats like potato pie (tortilla de patata), croquettes, battered calamari (called calamari a la romana) and traditional cured ham.

Explore the markets for some of the city’s best food – Mercado de San Miguel (Saint Michael’s Market) is equivalent to a tasty tapas paradise, and Mercado de San Anton (Saint Anton’s Market) offers truly authentic Spanish cuisine. The La Latina area is another great spot to enjoy food and drinks.

Do you know of any must-see places or hidden gems in Madrid? Be sure to share it in the comments section below.

Susana Canas writer for SHE DEFINED

Susana Canas

Susana Canas is a journalist currently based in Madrid, Spain. She has lived and worked in the United States, England and Spain, and enjoys travelling and exploring different cultures. With expertise in healthcare communication, Susana also has a keen interest in health and wellbeing.