Last Updated: September 14, 2022

What is Madrid Famous For? (More Than Museums)

Madrid, the capital of Spain is one of the world’s most amazing cities. World travelers come to the dynamic metropolis in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula for an authentic Spanish experience.

Madrid is famous for its historic and cultural treasures, along with a long list of museums and legendary shopping options. On top of that, it is known for its exciting nightlife, along with mouth-watering food and restaurants.

Let this list of what Madrid is known for convince you to put this fabulous city on your travel bucket list.

1. Royal Palace of Madrid

Royal Palace of Madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid is a grand structure with 3,000 rooms including a throne room and a well-preserved royal kitchen. Commissioned by King Philip V in the 18th century, its architecture is a blend of Neoclassical and Baroque. The palace is the official home of the Spanish Royal family, but today, the Zarzuela Palace is the official residence, and the Royal Palace of Madrid is only used for official acts, ceremonies, and receptions.

It’s surrounded by Camp del Moro Park and the gardens of Sabatini dating back to the Middle Ages. Visitors can watch the changing of the guard on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. from July through October.

2. Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol, literally meaning “door of the sun” is one of Madrid’s most famous spots for several reasons, the first of which many tourists don’t realize. A plaque in the middle of the square reads “Kilometre 0” denoting the geographical center of Spain and the point at which the nation’s six major roads begin.

It’s also the place where people gather to celebrate the New Year on December 31 to watch the clock at the Real Casa de Correos (House of the Post Office) and eat the traditional 12 grapes. The square is also a popular meeting spot, and you’ll often see tourists and locals glancing at their watches. The square is a good place to shop for Spanish souvenirs and to have a Spanish omelet and a Café con Leche. It’s also where you’ll find an important symbol of Spain, the…

3. El Oso y el Madroño

El Oso y el Madroño

El Oso y el Madroño is Spanish for The Bear and the Strawberry Tree. This bronze statue in the Puerta del Sol square is a sculpture by Antonio Navarro. Inaugurated in 1967, the statue represents the coat of arms of Madrid. A bear was first used as the symbol of Madrid in 1212 when knights fought against the Moors in the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.

Charging into battle, their standards were emblazoned with a bear and the Ursa Minor constellation. A decade later, the bear and the strawberry image was used on a seal to sign a decree by King Alfonzo VIII. El Oso y el Madroño is a popular attraction in a prominent part of town. Throngs of tourists crowd around the statue to take photos.

4. Prado Museum

Museo del Prado

The Museo del Prado (Prado Museum) is world-famous for its collection featuring many artists, styles, and time periods. You’ll find works by masters such as Velázquez, El Greco, and Hieronymus Bosch. Don’t miss the Goya paintings downstairs. The building itself is of interest.  Inaugurated in 1819, it’s the work of Juan de Villanueva.

The collection makes the Prado the most renowned it the city and one of the most important art museums in the world. And visitors get free admission Monday-Saturday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sundays and holidays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

5. Reina Sofia Museum

Reina Sofia

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The Reina Sofia Museum is another one of Madrid’s important museums. It features an extensive collection of contemporary Spanish art. You’ll see paintings by Spanish masters such as Salvidor Dali, Picasso, and Joan Miró. Part of the Art Triangle, the museum is free on Mondays between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., on Saturdays from 7 p.m to 9 p.m, and on Sundays from 1:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.

6. Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

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Not far from the Royal Palace and the Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid’s grandest squares. Designed in Baroque style, It features nine entrances, a bronze statue of King Phillip III, and 17th-century frescoes. Cafes around the square serve sandwiches, coffee, and beer. The most interesting establishment is Casa de la Panadería, an old bakery dating back to the 1500s.

The square is the site of several festivals throughout the year including celebrations honoring San Isidro, the patron Saint of Madrid, and the traditional Christmas market.

Tip: Don’t forget to also check out Plaza de España while in Madrid. It is quite a contrast to Playa Mayor and worth a visit.

7. Mercado San Miguel

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Mercado San Miguel is a historical market serving the public since 1916. It’s next to the popular Plaza Mayor and features over 30 stalls selling cured meats, fresh seafood, beers, wines, pastries, and chocolate.

It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight. Mercado San Miguel also has several bars for patrons, including a tapas bar with fresh oysters and Spanish delicacies such as gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and atatas bravas (cubed potatoes cubes in a spicy tomato sauce.)

8. Templo de Debod

Templo de Bodod

The Templo de Debod is one of the few Egyptian temples to be found outside of Egypt. Built in 200 BC, the temple was a gift to Madrid for helping Egypt save relics from the flooding that occurred during the 1960s’ construction of the Aswan High Dam. The temple is located in Madrid’s Parque del Oesta. The views at sunset are particularly impressive.

9. Parque El Retiro

El Retiro Park

Parque El Retiro (El Retiro Park) is a huge green space near the Plaza de la Independencia, not too far from Puerta de Alcalá. The 300-acre park is the former site of Felipe IV’s palace and gardens and opened to the public in the latter part of the 18th century. The name translates to “Park of the Pleasant Retreat,” and it’s easy to see why. It’s filled with lush formal gardens, lakes, playgrounds, and cafes. Statue Walk, a popular attraction in the park is a pathway lined with statues of Spanish royalty from the 18th century.

The park is often compared to New York City’s Central Park. Visitors can picnic, go cycling, and rent a boat to paddle across the manmade lake. The park also has a rose garden with over 4,000 roses and a puppet show for children on weekends.

10. World’s Oldest Restaurant

sobrino de botin

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Imagine dining at what is known as the world’s oldest restaurant! Founded in 1725, the Sobrino de Botin still exists, and a Guinness World Record certificate verifies it as the oldest eating establishment in the world. The old tavern-style restaurant’s specialties include roasted lamb and suckling pig along with contemporary Spanish cuisine.

11. World’s Biggest Zara

Zara in Madrid

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Zara is a department store owned by Inditex, a behemoth Spanish fashion company with 2,200 stores across 93 countries. You’ll find a Zara on Oxford Street in London, the Champs-Élysées in Paris, and on Fifth Avenue in New York City. Zara in Madrid is the largest one in the world. Located at 79 Paseo de la Castellana, the 6,000-square meter store sells menswear, womenswear, children’s clothing, and accessories. “Shop ’til you drop,” and if that isn’t enough, head to…

12. Gran Via

Gran Via

Built between 1910 and 1929, Gran Via is Madrid’s most famous Boulevard. The upscale shopping street connects the Salamanca and Argüelles neighborhoods. The stores on Gran Via sell luxury goods and fashions from local designers. Along with upscale shopping, you’ll find several restaurants and Beaux-Arts-style buildings such as the Metropolis and the Carrion building. Long ago, Gran Via was known as Spanish Broadway, and you’ll notice closed-downed theaters and cinemas.

13. Barrio de Salamanca

Barrio de Salamanca

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Barrio de Salamanca (the Salamanca neighborhood) runs alongside Gran Via in central Madrid. The elite neighborhood’s main streets, Calle de Serrano, Calle de Velázquez, and Calle de Goya, can be compared to London’s Bond Stree and New York City’s Fifth Avenue. Calle de Serrano is known as the “Golden Mile” because of all the high-end brands offered.

The street begins near El Retiro Park and ends at the Plaza de la República de Ecuador. The shops feature international brands such as Prada, Gucci, Cartier, and Armani. You’ll also find smaller boutiques such as Sita Murt, NAC, Renatta&Go, and other popular Spanish brands.

14. El Rastro Flea Market

El Rastro Flea Market

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Bargain hunters and collectors will also find great shopping in Madrid. The El Rastro Flea Market is a gargantuan open-air marketplace with around 3,000 stalls. Huge crowds ascend on the market every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. You’ll find almost anything for sale including books, vinyl records, used clothing, jewelry, and handbags. The flea market is surrounded by cafes and bars for before, between, or after shopping.

15. Calamari Sandwiches

calamari sandwich

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If you notice a queue lined up outside the door of one of the local bars, it’s likely locals and tourists lined up to enjoy Madrid’s favorite snack, a calamari sandwich. A must-try for travelers, the delicious sandwich is battered, deep-fried squid tucked inside a baguette. A good place to try one is at the bars and cafes along with Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s grand central square.

16. Churros

churros with chocolate

In addition to a calamari sandwich, visitors should be sure to try churros while in Madrid. The crispy pastries are fluffy on the inside and often filled with a caramel sauce called dulce de leche, cream, or chocolate. Almost every cafe in the city serves them. If you’re looking for the best place to try churros, head to Chocolatería San Ginés in the alley between Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Ópera. The cafe uses the same recipe it did back in 1894. They’re served with hot chocolate and a made-to-order dipping sauce. If desired, you can add a shot of liqueur.

17. Europe’s Biggest Drive-In Cinema

Holding the title of Europe’s Biggest Drive-In Cinema is the Autocine Madrid RACE, a 25,000-square meter space with room for 350 cars. The nostalgic drive-in has an on-site diner that will deliver food to your car before the movie starts. New releases, as well as classics, are shown in their original language. Located to the north of town, patrons will also have a view of Madrid’s skyline.

18. Nightlife

Museo Chicote

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Madrid’s nightlife is legendary with a variety of music venues, clubs, and bars. The Museo Chicote is a European favorite and a landmark with its 1930s decor. It’s said that the founder has invented more than 100 cocktails. It’s best after midnight when the DJs entertain the crowd.

For a night of music and dancing, head to Ya’sta for everything from techno to indie pop.

The lively neighborhood of Chueca is home to Madrid’s gay community and has some of the city’s best nightclubs, bars, and bistros. Chueca is the best place to celebrate the annual Gay Pride Festival held between June and July.

19. Flamenco


Attending an authentic Flamenco show is a must-do when visiting Madrid. The traditional lively and famous dance is accompanied by singing, clapping, guitars, and castanets. Patrons can enjoy dinner during the show. Performances are held in theaters all over the city all through the week. For an intimate, laidback setting, try the show at Corral de la Morería, Madrid’s oldest flamenco bar.

20. Wine Bars

wine bar

Madrid is famous for its wine bars. Spain is one of the world’s most important wine producers, but until recently the Spanish capital city rarely only offered wine by the glass. That changed after the city began promoting rare grape varieties and small producers in off-beat regions. Some unique wine bars to look for include Bendito Vinos y Vinilos serving an amphora-fermented orange wine and Sanlúcar, an Andalusian-style tapas bar serving manzanilla, a fine sherry. And don’t miss Casa González serving excellent wines paired with cocina tapas in a building with a 1930s façade.

And last but certainly not least, Madrid is famous, like most European capitals for their local football team – Real Madrid. If you love watching a game of professional football or just want a football jersey as a souvenir, be sure to visit Real’s Madrid Santiago Bernabéu stadium while in town.

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.

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