Madrid may be the Capital City of Spain, but it gave us all the small-town vibes with a side of big European charm! This city boasts the largest bullfighting ring in Spain, largest royal palace in Western Europe, and even a gifted Egyptian temple from the second century B.C.! If you’re trying to decide whether or not Madrid should be on you “must-go” list, here are 10 reasons why it should!
Eat the Sweets
Nougat, churros, pastries… Apparently, the Spaniards love their sweets, especially for breakfast! And they certainly know how to do those sweets well. In my personal opinion, the sweet treats we found in Madrid rivaled those of Paris in their beauty, and possibly surpassed Parisian pastries in taste! Don’t believe me? You’ll have to come to Madrid to find out!
More here: Where to Eat in Madrid
Visit the Temple of Debod
Why is there an Egyptian Temple in Madrid? It was a gift! In the 1960s, Egypt needed to build a new dam for a variety of reasons, but it was going to create a lake (Lake Nasser) right over several temples and villages near Aswan, in the South of Egypt. Spain was kind enough to help with the temple moving that needed to happen, and as such, the Egyptian government gifted the Temple of Debod to Spain.
Pretty cool, huh? See what can happen when you help a country out? You can visit for FREE, so it should definitely be on your list of things to do! There are several rooms to visit inside the temple, and you don’t want to miss the exhibit upstairs that includes a map of where this and several other temples were before the dam was built (and info about where they are now). Due to capacity control, there is always a line; plan to wait about 20-30 minutes–don’t worry, the line is in the shade!
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Marvel at the Architecture
Madrid has a variety of historic architecture dating back several centuries, but it’s most well-known today for its Art Nouveau style, which is specifically called Modernismo in Spain. A variety of examples include the Crystal Palace in Retiro Park, Cibeles Palace, and the Market of San Miguel. It’s opulent, it’s over-the-top, and it’s grand, so you certainly can’t miss them!
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Grab a Bite at Mercado de San Miguel
Speaking of the Market of San Miguel, you want to make sure you stop in for lunch or some tapas! We ate here more than once, and honestly, you could easily eat here twice a day, every day of your trip and never get the same thing twice. You’ll find everything from fresh fruit to seafood, from pizza to empanadas, and from burrata tapas to perfect pastries! This was highly recommended to us, so now we’re highly recommending this to you! Just be warned: It gets crowded quickly during lunch, so come early or late, or otherwise just be prepared for a scrum!
Read next: What to Know Before You Visit Spain
Embrace the Siesta
I know, you want to see and do everything! But in the afternoon, it’ll be hit-or miss… Mostly miss! The Spaniards really do take a break in the afternoon, meaning businesses, museums, restaurants, and shops close from one hour to four hours, depending on the place! A few museums and restaurants are open all day long, but when in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do.
My best advice is to embrace it. Plan to have lunch already and be back at your accommodation by 2:00pm, and don’t plan to emerge until 5:00pm or later! Take the time to read up on the things you want to see and do next, rest your cobblestone-weary feet, or take a nap. Trust me, you’ll be much less frustrated and much more refreshed!
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Take It All in at Plaza Mayor
This is your peek at Old World Madrid. Plaza Mayor is the largest square in town, and it’s been the heart of the city since the 16th century, when the Spanish capitol city moved from Toledo to Madrid. The architecture is pretty impressive, as are the tilework and paintings. And that statue in the middle? That’s a 400+ year old statue of Phillip III!
Visit the Prado Museum
Okay, so I’m admittedly not an art museum kind of a girl (also, I live in D.C., where museums are plentiful and blessedly FREE!). That’s why you should listen to me when I say that even I was impressed with this collection! It’s one of the most impressive collections in Europe, from statues to paintings and beyond. Don’t miss the bust of Queen Isabella II. She is made of marble, but you’ll be convinced the veil is real!
Not sure it’s worth the €15 per person fee? No worries! You (and a few hundred others) can get in for FREE the last two hours of every day, seven days a week. Check the website for exact hours, as they vary by season and day of the week. Line up at least half an hour in advance, and have a plan for what you want to see!
Fair warning: No photos allowed inside!
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Tour Las Ventas, the Largest Bullfighting Ring in Spain
This was the surprise and delight of our trip! I knew bullfighting still happened in Spain, but I knew almost nothing of its history, or really anything about bullfighting in general. While this is controversial in some places around the world (I do not see this picking up popularity in the USA any time soon), you and I are not visiting Spain to judge the Spaniards. It’s an important part of Spain’s culture and history, so it’s worth the visit if you’re curious!
You can take a self-guided audio tour, which I highly recommend. Or, if you’re short on time and money, you can visit the museum for FREE! If you want to get to know Spain, you’ll want to know why bullfighting is so important to its culture.
Explore Retiro Park
We literally came here every day of our trip! It’s the place to workout outside (hello-goodbye, tiny hotel gym!), so if you’re a runner, walker, or outdoor enthusiast, this is your place, and these are your people. And for those of us who don’t want to workout on vacation, this is for you, too! It’s Madrid’s equivalent to Central Park in New York City, complete with exhibitions, statues, gardens, a lake, black swans, benches, and even rowboats! If you need a breather from the hustle and bustle of Madrid, this is your haven.
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Tour the Largest Royal Palace in Western Europe
Oh, you thought it was Buckingham Palace? Nope! Spain’s Palacio Real is the largest in Western Europe. While it’s not currently an official royal residence (Spain’s Royal Family lives in Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid), you can visit every day, and they don’t even close for siesta. The tour is self-guided, so you can wander at your own pace. Plan to spend about an hour to an hour and a half here.
More here: What to Know Before You Visit Madrid
Want more? Check out everything you need to plan your trip on my dedicated Spain Page!
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