Madrid is an amazing city and often gets overlooked for Barcelona. But this city has plenty to see, do, eat, and is less touristy. With some of the best museums in the world, parks, and cuisine, the capital city of Spain definitely deserves more recognition than it receives.
Ok, so I haven't actually been to Barcelona (yet), and I might be biased, but if you ever make it to Madrid - and you should - here are 15 things to do to make your trip worthwhile:
1. Have churros con chocolate for breakfast
If you don't eat churros while you're in Spain, did you really go? I think not! And before you think “it’s just fried dough”, these churros are dipped in thick, dark, luscious chocolate. There are a ton of good churro spots, but Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, 28013 Madrid, Spain) is famous for their chocolate con churros and have been serving them since 1894. It's a bit of a tourist spot, but definitely worth a visit at least once!
2. People watch in Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor, one of Madrid's main squares, is full of life. You can take a walk within it admiring the stunning architecture or find a seat outdoors at one of the many cafes. Perfect spot for people-watching!
3. Explore Mercado de San Miguel
One of my favorite spots in Madrid, the Mercado is perfect for sampling different tapas or just hanging out with friends.
4. Get tipsy on sangria
When in Spain, you've got to drink like a Spaniard. Two classic drinks are vermouth and sangria - I personally prefer the latter. My favorite spot to have a glass (or three) of sangria is Alhambra (Calle de la Victoria, 9, 28012 Madrid, Spain). The food is also delicious and the staff there have always been kind to me.
5. Museum hop
Madrid has some of the best collections of museums in the world. There are so many to visit, but the two main ones that everyone should make time for are the Prado Museo and Reina Sofia. The Prado is home to Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights and the replica of the Mona Lisa while the Reina Sofia boasts a collection of Picasso's and Dali's artworks.
**Tip: After 6 pm, admission is free. There's usually a long queue, but it goes by quickly.
6. Take a stroll (or nap) in Buen Retiro Park
If you've had a little too much sangria at lunch and need somewhere to pass out for a bit, Buen Retiro Park is perfect for a little catnap - I would know from experience! You'll find many people here napping, relaxing, or just hanging out in a shady, grassy area. This park also has beautiful scenery, galleries, monuments, and even a lake for paddle boating. Don't miss the Palacio de Cristal tucked away in the center!
7. Shop at Zara
Zara in Spain is equivalent to Forever 21 in the U.S. Prices there are so much cheaper even with the conversion rate (EUR to USD). I went in July once during their massive sale, and even though I knew I didn't have any more luggage space, I still left with half the store. If you want to splurge on clothing, definitely do so at Zara!
8. Watch the sunset from Circulos de Bellas Artes
For a 4 € admission, you'll have access to the rooftop bar at the Circulos de Bellas Artes. It's a lovely place for a drink and has an amazing view overlooking Madrid.
9. Pig out on 1 € tacos at Takos al Pastor
When I found out that there was a place selling 1 €, I was beyond ecstatic. You guys know I'm all for cheap but tasty food! Takos al Pastor (Calle de la Abada, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain) serves amazing tacos, quesadillas, and other Mexican food for dirt cheap. If you're on a budget in Madrid, this is food heaven.
10. Visit Templo de Debod
One of the last things I would expect to find in Madrid is an authentic ancient Egyptian temple. Located near Plaza España, the Templo de Debod is dedicated to the gods Amon and Isis and dates back to the 2nd century B.C. There's no entrance fee so it's definitely worth checking out.
11. Check out the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is a beautiful work of architecture and should not be missed. While it's the official residence for the Spanish royal family, it is now only used for state ceremonies.
12. Walk along Gran Via
The main road of Madrid and tourist area is Gran Via. You can shop your whole way down this street. Also along Gran Via is Spain's oldest cocktail bar, Museo Chicote (Gran Vía, 12, 28013 Madrid, Spain). Everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Grace Kelly to Sophia Loren frequented this place. It's more expensive compared to other bars in the city, but has a pretty cool vibe inside.
13. Watch street performers at Puerta del Sol
Like Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol is also a lively square and is a good spot to catch street performers.
14. Find a favorite cafe
I spent many mornings at Toma Café (Calle de la Palma, 49, 28004 Madrid, Spain) sipping on earl grey tea and munching on toast. The cafe itself is super cute and the staff was lovely. It was a great way to start my mornings!
15. Try the famous Zapatilla from Café Melo’s
Café Melo’s (Calle del Ave María, 44, 28012 Madrid, Spain) is famous for their Zapatilla sandwich - which is basically a gourmet grilled cheese made with thick, crunchy Galician bread and a generous amount of cheese and ham. Although the bar is small and nondescript, the food that comes out of here is amazing, and people flock to it. The picture below is only half of a sandwich! It's more than enough for one person and could even feed 2-3 if you're not that hungry. I somehow managed to finish this AND an order of croquetas.
*Originally published on Violets for Vivien