The 8 best things to do in Madrid
There are countless activities to do on a trip to Madrid. Culture, leisure, sports, day trips, food… To help you choose, this blog post has a selection of the eight best activities to do in Madrid.
Compared to other capitals, Madrid stands out for being a particularly vibrant city. Its heritage and pace of life guarantee that visitors to Madrid fall in love with the Spanish capital after a day or two. The choice of activities for your trip is endless… Below you’ll find our selection of the best things to do in Madrid.
- Visit El Retiro Park and go for tapas
- Explore Madrid by bicycle
- Full day trip to Toledo in your own time
- Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid
- Day trip to Alcalá de Henares
- Tapas tour around Old Madrid
- Museum Day Museum tour of the Prado and Reina Sofia.
- Where should I stay in Madrid?
Visit El Retiro Park and go for tapas
Welcome to Madrid! One of the first things you should do to immerse yourself in Madrid life is explore El Retiro Park, then go for tapas in one of the Spanish capital’s historic bars. El Retiro is one of the most famous city parks in the world. It’s spread out across 125 hectares, has more than 19,000 trees and a lake, hosts cultural events, has several historic monuments and is buzzing with life. Key sights include the Palacio de Cristal [Crystal Palace], an icon of the park and venue for numerous original exhibitions, and the picturesque lake, next to the Alfonso XII Monument, where you can rent a rowing boat. Let your senses guide you as you go with the flow of the park. You’ll spot a wide variety of people and activities with something for everyone around the park.
Your first activity in Madrid should end by tasting a selection of tapas at a historic bar such as Casa Ciriaco. Madrid wouldn’t be the same without its traditional bars, so discovering at least a few should definitely be on your agenda. Casa Ciriaco is an emblematic bar in the heart of Hapsburg Madrid, close to the Royal Palace. Founded in 1929, it’s been visited by notable figures such as journalists, painters and bull fighters over the years. What tapas and food should you try in Madrid? Casa Ciriaco will answer that for you. But here’s a clue: make sure to order the callos.
Cibeles Palace and Retiro Parkfrom 35€
Explore Madrid by bicycle
Madrid is experiencing a cycling revolution and it’s increasingly common to see cyclists in the city’s streets. Now you can explore Madrid on a fun two-wheeled ride as you discover the capital’s stories and legends. In just three hours you can visit the city centre’s main landmarks, including its most important museums, monuments, historic streets and squares. Vehicle access to the centre of Madrid is now restricted so riding a bicycle there is a relaxing experience.
There are also more than 130 km of bike lanes spread across the main roads into the centre, the city’s numerous parks and the Green Cycling Belt, so you can enjoy Madrid on wheels wherever you go.
Guided bike tour of Madridfrom 28€
Full day trip to Toledo in your own time
Another advantage to Madrid is its location. Several UNESCO World Heritage Site cities are just an hour away. One of the most famous is Toledo, the ‘City of Three Cultures’. Christians, Jews and Muslims inhabited and left their mark on this monument-packed city for much of the Middle Ages, and it should definitely be included on your list of things to do in Madrid. A visit to Toledo means exploring its streets, visiting the cathedral, Alcázar, churches and monasteries such as San Juan de los Reyes and the vast Hospital Tavera. You can also discover its ancient mosques and two of the best-conserved synagogues in Spain, plus paintings by brilliant painter El Greco at the house-museum dedicated to this artist in the city. And you’ll also enjoy wonderful views of the meandering Tajo River at the foot of the city.
Half-day guided tour of Toledofrom 96€
Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid
Madrid was once the capital of an empire. When the Bourbons ascended to the Spanish throne in 1700, they brought changes to Spain. The first Bourbon king was Philip V, who ordered a new residence for the court to be built in 1738: the current Royal Palace of Madrid. This majestic building presides over the city with its impressive gardens; it was built on the burned remains of the old Hapsburg Alcázar on a slope that dominates the west part of the city, including the Casa de Campo.
It’s the largest royal palace in Europe and has more than 3,000 rooms. If visitors are charmed by the exterior, they never fail to be astonished by the interior. We recommend doing a guided tour of the Royal Palace to learn the secrets behind its many rooms, including the Throne Rome, impressive Dining Room, Salón de Columnas and delightful Sala de Porcelana. It’s a remarkable palace!
Priority access guided tour of the Royal Palacefrom 32€
Day trip to Alcalá de Henares
Alcalá de Henares, another city that is a World Heritage Site, can be visited without even leaving the metropolitan area of Madrid. Alcalá has Roman origins; the ancient city of Complutum stood here, in the centre of Roman Hispania, before Madrid existed. You can visit the Roman site on the outskirts of Alcalá – but it has much more to offer than that. Spain’s university town par excellence, it has a unique relationship with Spanish literature because it was the birthplace of the greatest ever Spanish writer: Miguel de Cervantes. In fact, you can even visit the house where the renowned author of Don Quixote was born, in lovely Calle Mayor. While you’re in Alcalá de Henares, don’t miss the historic university founded by Cardenal Cisneros in 1499, large Plaza de Cervantes, the site of numerous public protests, cultural events and festivals, and the Catedral Magistral.
Outside Madrid: Alcalá de Henares and Cervantesfrom 76€
Tapas tour around Old Madrid
Madrid owes its sense of life to its bars, historic spots that are increasingly rare in the city centre. One way of discovering this heritage is by joining a tapas tour that takes you to the city’s most famous bars to try typical local and Spanish food. You’ll see the streets of Old Madrid bar by bar, tapas by tapas, between glasses of beer and wine. It’s said that nowhere pours a beer like they do in Madrid. And drinks have the added incentive of being served with a simple yet tasty tapas, on the house.
The Original Madrid Tapas Crawlfrom 65€
Museum Day Museum tour of the Prado and Reina Sofia
Madrid has some of the most important museums in the world. The main ones are found around Paseo del Prado, also known as the Triangle of Art. The Prado Museum is the most famous; it’s the most important art gallery in the world and contains Spanish, Dutch and Italian masterpieces by artists as renowned as Velazquez, Goya, El Greco, Hieronymus Bosch, Titian, Tintoretto, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Rubens. The Prado’s close relationship with other museums around the world means that each year spectacular temporary exhibitions are held here that are a huge draw for art fans.
The Prado covers art up until the 19th century, and the Museo Reina Sofia from the 20th century onwards. The Reina Sofia has modern works by Spanish and international artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Juan Gris, René Magritte, Robert Capa, Diego Rivera, Francis Bacon and Roy Lichtenstein, among many others. Its works include one of the most important paintings in the history of art: Guernica by Picasso, a symbol of the tragic Civil War, and this painting has an important presence in the museum.
Guided tour of the Prado Museum + tapasfrom 48€
Where should I stay in Madrid?
Barceló Torre de Madrid: staying at Barceló Torre de Madrid means staying at one of the capital’s most emblematic buildings and first skyscrapers: Torre de Madrid. This five-star hotel with 258 rooms opened in 2017 and has all you could need for the perfect trip to Madrid; it’s right in Plaza de España close to famous Gran Vía. It’s definitely the best way to discover the centre of Madrid.
Barceló Emperatriz: located in Salamanca neighbourhood, Barceló Emperatriz is another spectacular place to stay when you’re spending a few days in Madrid. This five-star hotel is next to Calle Serrano and Paseo de la Castellana, and is perfect for shopping lovers because its next to Madrid’s golden mile. It’s also home to Restaurante BIBO Madrid, run by chef Dani Garcia, holder of three Michelin stars.
Barceló Imagine: an idyllic hotel in Madrid’s financial district. Barceló Imagine is an innovative, music-inspired design concept close to Plaza de Castilla in the north of the capital. This five-star hotel has 156 rooms, a pool, large terrace and the Sky Lounge roof terrace where you can enjoy views of Madrid’s famous sunsets. A great accommodation option with easy access if you’re travelling by car, close to the airport and with all modes of public transport to hand.
Occidental Castellana Norte: the Occidental Castellana Norte is in the fastest-growing part of the city and is a modern, four-star hotel that’s perfect for a short break to Madrid if you want to avoid the city centre. This contemporary hotel has 144 rooms and is notable for being close to Ifema, Chamartín train station and the airport. It can also host business meetings. The Occidental Castellana Norte is a great option if you need to travel around the outskirts by car but also reach the centre quickly.
Occidental Aranjuez: if you’d prefer to stay in an impressive building in a quieter area than Madrid, choose the Occidental Aranjuez in the lovely town of Aranjuez. Located on the outskirts, this modern, four-star hotel is a perfect option for holidays and business trips. It has an outdoor pool and a 1,000 m2 spa. Aranjuez is famous for its Royal Palace, gardens and a stretch of the Tajo River, and is 50 km from Madrid.
- The ideal hotel for visiting the Parque Warner Madrid theme park
- Meeting room for 840 people
- Hotel with outdoor swimming pool in Aranjuez
- Magnificent 1,200 m² fully equipped U-Spa
- Hotel opened in 2016
- The first hotel co-designed by guests
- Luxury hotel in the Salamanca neighbourhood, in central Madrid
- Healthy gourmet concept
Barceló Torre de Madrid
- “One of the best urban hotels” according to Wallpaper, opened in 2017
- Designer hotel with wonderful aesthetics, colourful, architectural and artistic style
- Exclusive relaxation right in the heart of Madrid
- Madrid cuisine, a fusion of tradition and avant garde styles
- A uniquely innovative hotel concept in Madrid
- With great transport links and a strategic location
- Restaurant Eat & Roll: organic cuisine tailored to guests
- The best views from the Sky lounge terrace
Occidental Castellana Norte
- Hotel recommended by IFEMA
- Well connected to the airport and city centre
- Meeting rooms for 200 people
- Ultra-comfortable rooms
Frequently Asked Questions
What can’t you miss on a trip to Madrid?
There are three important museums you can’t miss on a trip to Madrid: the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen. You should also visit the Royal Palace, explore Hapsburg Madrid and El Retiro Park, discover the city’s bars, and go on a day trip to one of the nearby heritage site cities, such as Toledo, Alcalá de Henares, Segovia and El Escorial.
What activities can I book at Barceló hotels?
At Barceló hotels you can book your museum, theatre and exhibition tickets, a guided tour of Madrid or trip to a nearby city. Ask at reception on your arrival.
Where can I hire a bicycle in Madrid?
We recommend booking a bicycle tour to explore Madrid. If you’d prefer to do it independently, you can use BiciMAD, the public e-bike service that is available across the city, or hire bicycles from a private company in the centre or Madrid Río area.