Spain’s capital city could easily occupy your entire gap year. To make sure it doesn’t, we’ve put together a quick guide so that you can see Madrid’s must-see attractions without your backpacking itinerary being torn into pieces. Strap in and make the most of marvellous Madrid.
The Palacio Royal is Madrid’s largest building, beautiful in its own right, and also situated right next to the stunning Plaza de Oriente Square. It’s the largest royal palace in Western Europe (eat that, Buckingham Palace!), and is open to the public all year round (with certain areas sectioned off, of course). You can’t travel to Madrid without coming here.
The Debod Temple
This is an odd one: an authentic Egyptian temple from the 2nd Century BC right in the middle of Madrid. Egypt donated it to Spain to thank them for their aid in protecting ancient monuments, dismantling it stone-by-stone and moving it from the Nile Valley to Spain, where it was reconstructed near Plaza de Espana. It’s surrounded by a really rather lovely park.
This building is more modern than you’d think, started in 1883 and completed in 1993. It mixes neoclassical, gothic revival, and neo-romanesque styles, making it unlike any other cathedral in the world, and worth seeing every inch of it if you have the time.
The Rastro Flea Market
Every Sunday this massive flea market is held at the historic centre of Madrid, giving you the chance to pick up some tourist tat or some genuine Spanish bargains, from furniture to clothes and clocks. Even if you’re not buying, being a part of the bustle really makes Madrid feel alive.
La Puerta del Sol
This is the most central square in the city, and arguably the most famous. It’s more of a semi-circle than a square (those crazy Spanish!), and is well-known for its clock tower, the centrepiece for Spain every new year. There’s also famous statues and the official starting point for Spain’s 6 National roads.
See a bullfight
There are a couple of bullrings in Madrid, the main one being Las Ventas, the other San Isidro. Both places are ideal to see a bullfight in early summer, a controversial Spanish tradition that remains an important part of Madrid’s culture.
The Retiro Park
This incredible park is only a short distance from many of Madrid’s top attractions, and offers a great place to escape the bustle of the city for a stroll. It’s full of sculptures and monuments, has a boating lake, and also hosts numerous fairs, festivals, and events throughout the year.
Eat lots of tapas
You probably do this at home, but there’s nothing like proper Spanish tapas. You’ll find it pretty much anywhere, whatever your budget, and spending your evening moving between bars, trying a different dish and drink at each, is a great way to feel like a local.
This is considered one of the best art galleries in the world, a huge 18th century Neo-Classical building that houses works by Goya, Rubens, Bosch, and a whole host of others. It’s big, so if there’s anything in particular you want to see make sure you plan ahead to avoid being disappointed.
Get a little gay
Madrid has a thriving LGBTQ culture, the centre of which is Chueca. Here, the shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs are all rainbow-coloured and often very different to what you’ll find elsewhere in the city. Gay Pride usually arrives in Madrid at the end of June or the beginning of July, and it’s a party not to be missed.