As one of the greenest capital cities in all of Europe, Madrid is a must-see. But beyond having more trees per resident than other EU countries, there are also tons of things to do in Madrid that aren’t just about taking in the great outdoors. Madrileños—what they call people in Madrid—have a great way of savoring things. You’ll see it with sleep (they wake up late and take daily siestas), with their paseo (a leisurely walk about town), and with their elaborate lunches (their big meal, which is often served in several courses).
And there’s a lot to take in: delectable food, an energetic nightlife, and an array of cultural delights. You see, Madrid may not be considered as quintessentially Spanish as other cities, but it has a charm of its own. From bullfighting to The Golden Triangle of Art to sleeping in and staying up late, it’s easy to see why los gatos are enchanted with their city. Keep scrolling for 10 fun things to do in Madrid that won’t be the same anywhere else.
1. Tour The Golden Triangle of Art
Out of everything, Madrileños are the proudest of their three museums, dubbed “The Golden Triangle of Art.” They’re composed of the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. The rule of thumb is that you need at least one day in each museum since they are so extensive (purchase the Paseo del Arte for $39, and you’ll get admission to all three). The Prado has collections of the masters like El Greco, while the Reina Sofía boasts more modern artwork like Picasso’s Guernica (you will see people weeping in front of it), and the Thyssen-Bornemisza is probably the most diverse and includes favorites like Monet and Dégas.
2. Get the tapas experience
Tapas is the thing to do in Madrid; some people even say it’s more of a cultural necessity here than in Barcelona. FYI, the small plates come differently than they do at a tapas bar in the States—with every round of drinks you order, a round of tapas will be served with it. The first round will usually be something like papas bravas (home fries in an aioli) or some take on bread. Pro tip: Go to two tapas spots in one night, and stay for about three rounds each. The tapas get better and better with each round, and this way you’re getting to take in a varied selection. If you don’t know where to start, El Tigre in Chueca is always a good option, or you can just wander down Calle Cava Baja and hop from bar to bar.
3. Explore the nightlife
Madrileños go out harder than most. The thing is that they don’t go out every night, but when they do, they won’t be seen at the club any earlier than 2 a.m. They’ll dance and drink a little throughout the night until 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., which is likely why they tend to wake up so late. In terms of specific spots, El Sol offers dancing to either live acts or a classic rock/pop soundtrack, while Joy Eslava, a former 19th-century theater, has a dance floor for days (note: It gets crowded).
4. Visit Parque del Buen Retiro
Speaking of greenery, El Retiro is basically the Central Park of Madrid. If row boating in front of monuments, reading in the shade of a tree, or grabbing a drink at a terraza (open-air café) sounds like fun, then you should check this spot out, especially when it’s busy on weekends. You see, until 1868, the park itself was only enjoyed by the royal family, which is probably why it’s so elaborate (it even boasts a stunning rose garden with more than 4000 of the blooms).
5. Take a siesta
If you can’t beat them, join them. At around 2 p.m. each day (after their long lunch), the city’s residents head home for a relaxing midday nap. It’s probably wise to take one as well if you’re planning on going out that night (remember, dinner is at 10 p.m. at the earliest). The streets become basically deserted come afternoon anyway, so there’s not much you can do while the rest of the city is sleeping.
6. Snack at Chocolatería San Ginés
You haven’t had a proper churro until you’ve visited Chocolatería San Ginés. The shop, which has been open since 1894, is known for fried dough dipped in what essentially is rich chocolate soup. By the way, it’s open 24/7, and the best time to go is around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. post-nightclub hopping.
7. Cheer on a fútbol team
Fútbol is a big deal in Madrid, and so is catching a game at the famous Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. We will warn you, though: The matches can get intense, especially when a rivalry is involved, so only head to watch a live game if you’re in a group. If you want to enjoy the sport in a leisurely way, there are bars where tons of the locals will gather to cheer their team on together.
8. Do lunch like a local
Lunch in Madrid is the biggest and most important meal of the day, and it happens right before your siesta. Because of that, it’s taken at a leisurely pace, and there is what they call a menú del día, a special prix-fixe lunch menu consisting of several courses. It’s typically reasonable price-wise and includes a soup or salad, a main dish, a side, and a dessert.
9. Do the paseo
A leisurely walk around town is a normal thing in Madrid, especially on Sunday nights. Think of it like a promenade with friends, wandering La Latina or Salamanca. Stops along the way are pretty much essential: Grab some vermouth or a round of tapas on your route.
10. People-watch in Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol, also just called “Sol” by the locals, is the main center plaza that is a bit of a tourist hub (fountains, statues, the like). It’s always bustling, especially at night, since most of the clubs are located here. It’s worth making a trip to people-watch, even if it’s just to catch sight of some street performers or protestors.
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