Madrid is not only the capital city of Spain, it is one of the largest metropolitan areas of the country and is home to more than three million people. Besides having such a large population, Madrid is also home to some of the most cultural experiences a tourist could wish for. We would like to take this time to introduce to you our ten favorite things to do in Madrid as a tourist.
1. Visit the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid
Boasting nearly twenty acres of landscaping this garden is positioned at the Plaza de Murillo adjacent to the Prado Museum. King Ferdinand VI started the Royal Botanical Garden in 1755 when he first had the Orchard of Migas Calientes installed on the bank of the Manzanares River. Botanist José Quer y Martinez collected more than two thousand plants to be planted there.
Yet it wasn’t until King Charles III moved the garden did it begin its time in the existing location. On the Paseo del Prado, one of Spain’s main thoroughfares, the original designs were from the creative minds of Francesco Sabatini and Juan de Villanueva. The original design called for three terraces made out of tiers. This new garden opened its gates in 1781 and the goal of the Royal Botanical Garden was to not only show off plant life it was to educate and encourage the unearthing of new plant classes.
The gardens you find today are separated into seven different segments that are outdoors and it also has five greenhouses. Today there are fifteen hundred trees and nearly one hundred thousand plants in the garden. Each section has its own theme like Terraza de los Cuadros with ornamental plants and Terraza del Plano de la Flor, which was planned to display the plants in a romantic English style of the nineteenth century.
2. Spend a Day at the Prado Museum
The Museo del Prado is the next attraction on our list of things to do while visiting Madrid. It is located at the center of the city and houses one of the best assemblages of art from Europe. Some of the art showcased go as far back as the twelfth century while other are pieces from the last.
It was founded in 1819 with the intention to feature paintings and sculptures from Spanish artists but today it has works from artists from all cultures within its walls. Today, the Prado Museum houses more than seventy-five hundred paintings, a thousand sculptures, almost five thousand prints and more than eight thousand drawings.
Some of the prominent pieces you will be able to see while visiting the Prado Museum include Francisco de Goya’s La maja desnuda and his La maja vestida. While there you may catch a special exhibit or piece that is on loan. Some of the pieces that have made their way onto their walls include Rembrandt’s A Scholar, Matisse’s Game of Bowls, Monet’s Pond at Montgeron and Friedrich’s Moonrise, Two Men on the Shore.
3. Check out the Fountains, Sculptures and Monuments
Madrid is an ancient city whose start began long before humans began recording time. So it would make sense that the occupants of this grand city would like to preserve as much of its history as they possibly could. And this could be seen when walking around the city in its fountains, sculptures and monuments.
Some fountains worth checking out are the Fountain of the Artichoke, the Four Fountains, the Fountain of Apollo, the Fountain of Neptune, and the Fountain of Cibeles. Of course, we recommend learning their Spanish names before asking where you can find them.
There are the sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the sculpture of Philip IV, the Fuente del Ángel Caído, or Statue of the Fallen Angel and our personal favorite, the Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry tree.
Monuments worth finding are the Cervantes Monument at Plaza de España and the Monument to Alfonso XII.
4. Visit the National Archaeological Museum
Known locally as the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, this site has recently reopened since it began renovations. It was founded by Queen Isabel II who ruled Spain from 1833 until 1868 with the rationale of holding collections of historical coins and ancient artifacts that the monarchs from Spain collected throughout the years.
Some of the things you will see when visiting are from prehistoric eras, Egyptian, Celtic, Iberian, Greek and Roman artifacts. These objects include the Lady of Elche, a bust made of limestone from the fourth century BC and the Treasure of Guarrazar, an elaborate jeweled crown dating back to the seventh century.
5. Take a stroll down the Gran Vía
Meaning “great way” the Gran Vía is an avenue where a tourist could see a great deal of sights and do a great deal of shopping. Also known as the Spanish Broadway, this street boasts an abundance of nightlife as well.
Starting at the Calle de Alcalá and make your way toward the Plaza de España, a large square at the end of the tour down the Gran Vía. This road came to be in the mid nineteenth century when the higher ups in the city wanted to connect the two locations we mentioned previously.
When walking down the Gran Vía you will find hotels, movie theaters and most importantly places to shop.
6. Visit the Teatro Real de Madrid
One of the city’s major opera houses is a not to be missed location when visiting Madrid. Founded in 1818 by Kind Ferdinand VII this opera house boasts seasons that produce some of the most well-loved operas to have ever been composed.
The people who are behind putting on these productions are some of the most prominent figures in opera today. International singers, directors and dancers have made their way on this stage. If you love opera this is something you don’t want to miss.
Of course, if opera isn’t your thing, we still think you should take a look at the building since it considered one of the major epicenters of culture in the entire country.
Travel to Madrid in an instant and watch here the flamenco shows by Antonio Gades and the most prestigious classic opera pieces at the Teatro Real!
Not for the weak of heart nor for the animal rights activist, this event is as synonymous with Spain as is the running of the bulls. The bullfighting ring in Madrid is called Las Ventas and it was launched in 1929. It seats nearly twenty-five thousand people so the structure itself is a must see just for its massive construction.
If you are planning on going to Madrid anytime outside of March through October, then you will miss the events. But, if these months fall into your travel time there are bullfights held every day during the San Isidro festivities, which is named for the patron saint of Madrid.
Of course, we know that some might not want to see this type of event or their trip might fall outside of bullfighting season. Don’t worry. The Las Ventas is home to concerts and other notable events when bullfighting is out of season.
8. Get out for Some Unique Nightlife
Whether you want to hears some live music, go eat some tapas or just dance the night away in a club Madrid has just what you are looking for. The Live Music Venues Association La Noche en Vivo is an organization that host all types of musical styles in different locations around the city.
There is an area called Malasaña where the scene is hip and young. Other neighborhoods where one might find interesting nightlife is Bilbao, Tribunal, Atocha, Alonso Martínez or Moncloa and the Puerta del Sol.
Another hot area is the Chueca district, primarily for the homosexual community. Just remember, whatever you do for nightlife, things don’t start really happening until after midnight. The custom is to start an 12pm and end the evening when the sun is rising.
9. Check out a Football Game
Of course, we are not talking about American football, but the type of football Americans know as soccer – or fútbol, in Spanish. You see, this type of football is the most important type in every corner of the globe besides the United States so, if you are a sports fan, we suggest taking in a game.
Real Madrid is the team that calls Madrid home and their games are played at the Santiago Bernabéu, But before you go you should know that this team’s supporters are known as Madridistas or Merengues and the players are called Colchoneros.
10. Go to a Festival
If you are going to Madrid when the weather is good odds are there will be an interesting festival to check out. There is Fiesta de la Communidad or Community Day in early May. Also in early May is the San Isidro Labrador, a festival that celebrates the city’s patron saint.
In June there is San Antonio de la Floria, which celebrates the patron saint of the Moncloa neighborhood, while July has the Virgen del Carmen festivities, the patron saint of the Vallecas neighborhood.
In August there is the Virgen de la Paloma festival, another celebration of yet another patron saint, the San Lorenzo Festival and the San Cayetano festival celebrating, you guessed it, a patron saint.
The only patron saint not to be celebrated in our summer months is the Virgin of Almudena, who has a festival in her honor in November.