What to do in Madrid

Updated January 2024

Places Visit

  • Visit Palace Cibeles (aka Centro Centro – entry is free), walk up Calle Alcalá to Plaza de la Independencia (big arches) and then into to Retiro. 
  • Parque del Retiro… one of my favourite places in the world.  I’ve spent hours here – running in the morning, reading under a tree, feeding ducks with Lola, watching Lola rollerblade (!) – it’s special at every time of year and different through out the day.  Go ‘pasear’ around 6 pm and see the place come alive with locals out socialising on their evening stroll. If it’s not too busy have a drink at La Florida.
  • While in Retiro go to the Crystal Palace (free entry to whatever exhibition is there from Reina Sofia), and down to the La Rosalada (rose garden)
  • Visit Plaza Mayor (a close walk from to Sol.. right next to Mercado San Miguel)
  • While you are in the neighbourhood visit the Royal Palace – it’s cool if you are into Palaces… we thought it was ok but overpriced (and there are better ones outside of Madrid!). Changing of the guard happens on Wednesdays. 
  • Chamberi Anden 0 – Abandoned ‘ghost station’ on metro Line 1 – and if you are into trains there are a bunch of other metro museos (We’ve now done them all.. perhaps give the Pacifico vestibule a miss unless you are really keen and your spanish is fluent!)
  • Plaza de España – brand new square at the end of Gran Via (the entire time we lived there is was construction site!). The statue of Cervantes remains and a new playground and some large sculptures were going in when we visited in July. 
  • Biblioteca Nacional de España (here) – a building befitting the greatness of Spanish literature, including a couple of gallery spaces with rotating exhibitions that are generally free. The domed reading room is said to be spectacular, but only opens to public during Open House Madrid.





  • Centro is the go-to – try Gran Via, then the paseos down to Plaza del Sol
  • For Vintage stuff go to Malasaña – heaps of second hand and thrift style vintage in the streets around Plaza de San Ildefonso – most are pay by the kilo. 
  • Go shopping and wander along Calle Fuencarral in Malasaña and around Chueca  
  • El Rastro – the famous flea market down through Lavapies. Used to be only Sunday but post-pandemic is Saturday and Sunday (with vendors taking alternate days in a bid to make it less crowded… which my or may not work, and if it does certainly reduces the atmosphere of the whole experience. 
  • Mercado de Motores – art market in the old rain sheds in Delicias that houses Museo del Ferrocarril de Madrid – if you like old trains then check out the museum as its chock full of them.


Galleries & arts spaces

  • Try and do one of the big three museos depending on your taste. Of my who arts space list, these are the only ones you will pay for. Unless you are visiting for a week (or more) just chose one of the big 3 and instead visit the others I list below for the real gold!
              – Museo Reina Sofia (Modern art, great temporary exhibitions and of course, Guernica)
              – Museo del Prado (old masters) 
              – Thyssen Bornemisza (private modern with an amazing collection of of European art from the last 200 years)
    ** All 3 have free times but be warned, in peak tourist time this will be unbearably busy. Better getting a Museo del Arte pass to visit all three. 
  • Retiro Park’s Reina Sofia exhibition spaces – an extension of the programming at the Reina Sofia, except these exhibitions are in the beautiful Retiro and FREE.  They are the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) and the Palacio de Velázquez.   
  • Centro Centro – Madrid’s impressive old ‘communications palace’ that is now a public arts space – four floors of rolling exhibition space – and somehow always one that will blow your mind. And it’s FREE! If you are into architecture the building and it’s history is fascinating, and they run free guided tours in English (book via the website)
  • Sala de Canal Isabell II – a gallery housed inside the first elevated water tower built in Madrid. Run by the Communidad de Madrid and dedicated to temporary exhibitions of photography and fashion, this is one of the best, and most unique photographic gallery spaces if the world. Oh, and did I mention, it’s FREE.
  • Matadero – Madrid’s old slaughter yards and meatworks on the banks of the rio now houses a contemporary arts precinct. The website is a usability disaster but don’t be discouraged – you can stumble across the best contemporary installations and exhibitions in the world in this space. See what’s on in Nave 0 (usually larger installations), Casa de Lectura, Intermediae, Design school.. or just go down and go for a explore. Almost everything here is always FREE!
  • Conde Duque – another cultural precinct, in the inner north a short walk from Malasaña. Usually has a couple of exhibitions running, but can also house markets or installations in the massive dual courtyards. Also… FREE!
  • Tabacaleria – an amazing contemporary arts space in an old tobacco factory. A fantastic run down old derelict space with edgy, yet to be discovered installation art  (Currently closed for renovation…. hopefully they don’t lose the beauty that came from the decaying building!)

Last but not least….. there is always  somethign happening in Madrid. A festival, performance, exhibition, open-house, free show. So …

  • …check out the latest at madrid.es and the Madrid tourism mag for what’s on.
    Incredible exhibitions can often be found in municipal buildings throughout the city – these are usually free and listed in the latest issue of the esMadrid tourist magazine. Get a hard copy at tourist info points around the city, or find it online using the link above (and bookmark it as it is VERY difficult to find on the website!)  Oh, and if you are visiting in July/August check out Veranos de la Villa – an incredible annual summer program  

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