Madrid is an interesting city in European travel in that it’s the rare capital that is overshadowed by another city. That’s not to say that Madrid doesn’t draw plenty of tourists on its own—it most certainly does. But Barcelona tends to be the more popular attraction, and some of the coastal cities and beach towns in Spain are also more commonly frequented by travelers.
Because of this, not everyone has a great grasp of what to expect from a trip to Madrid. You might expect a beautiful and populous European capital with a vibrant culture and plenty to do, and you’d be right on the mark. But here are some more specific things to see and do if you happen to make your way to Madrid.
1. Boat In Retiro Park
Retiro Park (Parque del Retiro) is one of the prettier areas within the city, and it’s a nice place just to hang out. There are cafés in the park, and the Monument to King Alfonso XII is a stunning centerpiece.
Photo Credit: Gus Estrella
You can also enjoy the park by renting a boat and getting out on the “Big Pond”, which existed in the 17th century, but wasn’t made available to the public until the 1830s.
2. Tour Plaza de Cibeles
There are lots of plazas in Madrid that are hot spots for tourists roaming the city, but Plaza de Cibeles is probably the most impressive of the bunch. The square itself is breathtaking to behold, especially when you look at the bone-white palace that towers over it and the fountain featuring a statue to the Roman goddess Cybele. You can’t tour the entire palace, but you are allowed into certain parts of it. From the observation deck you can see much of Madrid sprawled out before you. It’s a must-see if you want to experience Madrid the right way.
3. Visit Casino Gran Madrid
You probably don’t think of Madrid as much of a gaming hub, and the city’s biggest “casino”—Casino de Madrid—doesn’t even have gaming tables. This is about on par with a lot of big cities in the 21st century, when groundbreaking innovation in online gaming has forever changed the landscape for casinos. But it’s always fun to find a legitimate casino in a big capital city, which is what you’ll be able to enjoy at Casino Gran Madrid. All of the most popular casino games are available at this exciting establishment, and it’s always a blast to add a little dose to chance to your vacation.
4. Explore El Rastro
If you really want a feel for the culture of the city, you might find it worthwhile to get out and explore El Rastro on Sundays. This is like a gigantic flea market that opens just one day a week and takes over Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores. Plenty of travelers stop by throughout the day but plenty of locals also pass through to see the hundreds of local merchants that have set up shop. There’s live music, street food, and as much shopping as you could ever want to do in a city market.
5. See A Match At The Bernabéu
Real Madrid is one of the most famous sports franchises in the world, so naturally the club has a serious following in the city. It’s far from the only team locals pay attention to. There’s another top division team in the city (Atlético Madrid), and FC Barcelona is also one of the best clubs in the world. But Real Madrid is legitimate soccer royalty, and their home stadium, the Santiago Bernabéu, is a wonder to visit. It placed third in a 2015 ranking of the best stadiums to visit in Europe, and any given fan may well rank it first. If you’re visiting during the season, you should absolutely try to secure tickets.
6. Grab A Drink At La Latina
La Latina isn’t a single bar, but instead a sort of neighborhood in the city. It’s the most popular spot for locals and tourists alike to go for some outdoor seating, delicious beer, and authentic tapas. If you’re looking for ways to spend your afternoons and early evenings, you might want to set aside a couple days to try different spots at La Latina.