Madrid Icons and Madrid Experiences that should be on your Madrid Bucket List
I know you’re gonna be stunned by this news but this post is a Madrid bucket list and about, you guessed it, Madrid, the capital of Spain (you can also explore a ton of Madrid during a six-hour layover). Shocking indeed since I mentioned Madrid three times in the title above. That’s why you clearly had no clue this post was about Madrid. However, once you get over your tremendous shock at the subject matter of this post, continue on with this dynamic and entertaining post about the Madrid icons and Madrid experiences that you should have at the top of your Madrid bucket list (Ha! In my dreams. You probably just dozed off for a hot second there. My blog, the ultimate cure for insomnia).
Now, typically this the moment where I tell you that saw all of thesee majestic madrid attractions and it was love at first sight and then proceed to use twenty different adjectives to describe how awesome this place is. Well, I could say that but that would be a lie. See, Madrid and I kind of got off on the wrong foot. That’s because not only did I get lost for over an hour and a half looking for my hostel, but when I finally got there, I had to lug my rolling bag up three flights of stairs. Plus, once I actually started walking around, someone picked my pocket and I lost some (not all thank God) of my money. Therefore, I was not a happy camper and was kind of pissed at Madrid to be honest.
But once I finally got over my irritation and the nonsense in my mind, I could actually let the beauty of Madrid wash over me. I could stop for a minute and enjoy many iconic Madrid experiences like sitting in a vintage cafe and sipping on a glass of water, with a plate of churros and cup of hot chocolate by my side. I could also casually and peacefully stroll through the galleries of the Prado Museum and let the mastery of such talent and artistry wash over me. I even took a moment to explore such Madrid icons as the Royal Palace, with all its tremendous architectural beauty (I always forget that other countries have Royal Families until I see the Royal Palace. Then I’m like oh yeah, other countries still have kings and queens. The curse of being an American. LoL).
That’s why, even if these Madrid icons and Madrid experiences do not set your heart aflutter as you enter the city, that’s okay. Give yourself a chance to slowly fall into like, and maybe even love with this captivating capital city (If nothing else, just eat a lot because the food is hella good. Or check out some of these amazing secret highlights of Madrid).
1. Museo del Prado
Okay, quite honestly, you should go to the Prado even if you hate art and even if you hate museums because this place is THAT good. I should also add that if you only see one thing in Madrid, this should be it. Now why all the praise for an art museum? Well, the Museo del Prado isn’t just any art museum. This one amongst many of Madrid’s icons is one of the world’s best and largest art collections, with over 7000 paintings in its private collections, 1500 of which are on display at any given time (Just think about it, some towns don’t even have 7000 people so thats a big deal).
Now in case you are not an art history major, because I sure am not, they have a plethora of paintings by artists that are so immortal, that even I know who they are. You know people like Velázquez who expertly portray the opulence and extravagance of life in the Spanish Court or the dark, brooding and emotional paintings, like Las pinturas negras, of the master emoter Goya (Plus a ton of other super cool and super worldly artists from across Europe. Hell to the Yeah).
Hours: Open daily from 10 am – 8 pm (except Sundays when open until 7 pm)
Admission: General admission is €15, over 65/youth card/members of large families are €7.50, and free admission for children under 18, students between 18 and 25, and the disabled.
How to Get There: Take Line 2 to the Banco de España Station
***Last admission is 30 minutes before closing and the Galleries are cleared 10 minutes before closing
*** Free access to the collections is available Monday through Saturday from 6pm – 8pm and on Sundays and holidays from 5pm – 7pm
***Book your tickets or find out more here.
2. Plaza Mayor
This grand and architecturally significant icon of Madrid is a stunning and enormous square of open space that is a refreshing contrast to the often narrow and crowded streets of Madrid (I went for La Semana Santa and it was insanely packed and didn’t feel too open, but I assure you it is). A must see item on any Madrid bucket list, this central square is one of the most charming spaces in all of Spain, with an impressive array of architecture that remains constant even as the vibrant and fast paced life of the city’s inhabitants unfolds along the cobblestones below. Stunning with its resplendent grandeur, this focal point of Madrid is also home to the city’s main tourist office and a Christmas market in December.
I honestly think that what makes this plaza most charming is the series of warm colors that adorn the apartments above, which contain over 237 wrought-iron balconies that add a romantic and intricate charm to this enormous structure (It could be stark and impersonal but I swear its not). What further personalizes and romanticizes this space are the frescoes here that were
Inspired by the Royal Bakery (See, people have always loved carbs. So much so that the Royal Bakery had frescos).
Not surprisingly, the current frescoes do NOT herald from the 17th century and are actually from WAY back in 1992, when government officials spruced up the plaza since Madrid was the 1992 capital of Culture. But in all seriousness, this architectural masterpiece is an economic and fun way to acquaint yourself with the spirit of this historic and captivating city.
How to get There: Take Line 1, Line 2, or Line 3 to the Sol subway station.
3. Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
This place? Ehh, it’s all right. I mean its just home to one of Spain’s most famous pieces of art so no big deal right? I jest, obviously because seeing Picasso’s work entitled Guernica (room 206 on the 2nd floor), is kind of amazing (and truth be told, I am not a HUGE Picasso fan so for me to say this says something).
Now unlike the Prado which showcases primarily classical pieces of art that are centered on the principle of realism, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía focuses primarily on contemporary art. And you can see why pretty quickly since Picasso isn’t the only contemporary art baller that has pieces here. Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró also have works displayed here that are totally worth a look (I honestly just get excited when I actually know who a famous artist is).
Be aware though that most of the pieces in the permanent collection, on the 2nd and 4th floors of the main wing of the museum, were created between the early 19th century and the 1980s. The artists showcased here are also primarily Spanish since well, you’re in Spain and man, they are entitled to some national pride.
There also a ton of work here by Joan Miró since his paintings did become a symbol of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Thankfully, his work has finally begun to receive the international acclaim that it deserves and this museum is a great place to sample some of his most innovative work.
***Check out some of Picasso’s preparatory sketches in the rooms surrounding Room 206. They help explain the development of Guernica.
***Check out Pablo Gargallo’s bronze bust of Picasso.
***Also take a look at the work of Salvador Dalí, which includes El gran masturbador (1929), as well as a bizarre bust by the name of Joelle.
Address: Calle de Santa Isabel, 52, 28012 Madrid, Spain
Hours: Open daily from 10 am – 9 pm and closed Tuesdays.
Admission: General admission is € 10.00 and includes a visit to the temporary and permanent museum collections (every Friday the Follow the Gallery Conversation is also included in the ticket price). Admission to temporary exhibitions only is € 4,00. There are also free and half price ticket options with proper accreditation.
How to get There: Take line 1 and get off at the Atocha-RENFE train station.
4. Churros and Chocolate (Some of my favorite things in life and at the top of my Madrid Bucket List)
The Churro is one of Madrid’s icons that is of the gastronomic variety. This sweet piece of long, fried dough has been charming the hearts and stomachs of late night partiers and festival goers for as long as anyone can remember. Therefore, you must have a churro (long thin piece of fried dough) and then dip it in a cup of sweet, molten, and awesomely delicious hot chocolate (think hot fudge only less sweet and a lot thicker).
Now while the churro is delicious and a must try Madrid experience, just know that the Churros in Spain are different from the ones I have eaten in the US. In New York at least, the churros are thicker and longer, and covered in a hearty layer of cinnamon and sugar that makes them super sweet.
In contrast, the churros of Madrid are smaller and really not sweet at all. That’s why you have to dip the churro in chocolate to add that sweet flavor that you are craving. Therefore, don’t be disappointed if the Churros here are not exactly what you’re used to. Also note that this hot chocolate is more like a thick pudding and less like the liquid warming drink that you may be used to (You know, the kind your mom made on a snow day and everyone fought over who got the most marshmallows).
So now that we know what to expect from churros, where oh where can we get some bangin’ churros and chocolate? Well, the most iconic place to go is Chocolatería San Ginés. This famous Chocolatería is tucked away on an itty bitty side street that is just off Plaza Mayor. This place actually dates all the way to 1894, so you know they are doing something right. Plus, this place has some nostalgic decor that uses marble tables, vintage lamps, and mirrored walls to evoke the delight and charm of decades past (go at an off time to avoid a cue or crowd).
***Chocolatería San Ginés is located at Pasadizo de San Gines, 5, 28013 Madrid, Spain.
***Other great places to snag some churros and chocolate are Chocolatería Valor (Calle del Postigo de San Martín, 7, 28013 Madrid, Spain), Churreria Siglo XIX (Av. de la Albufera, 270, 28038 Madrid, Spain), Los Artesanos 1902 (Calle San Martín, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain), and La Antigua Churrería (Calle de Bravo Murillo, 190, 28020 Madrid, Spain).
5. Watch the Sunset at the Templo de Debod at Parque Oeste
When I went to Madrid, I didn’t expect to go to an Egyptian temple to watch the sunset, but thats exactly what I did because gorgeous is a total understatement (Honestly, I didn’t even know that Spain had a donated Egyptian temple, until I went to Madrid. And the line is long but its worth the wait to check out the interior). Templo De Debod is truly mesmerizing under the glow of the setting sun (and if you’re a solo traveler like me, don’t get weirded out by all the couples that are snuggled up on the grass). Plus, the panoramic view from this park’s elevated hilltop is amazing since this temple overlooks Madrid’s largest park, the Casa de Campo.
***If you’re looking to kill time while waiting for the sunset, head over to the park across the street. There you’ll find some local, outdoor vendors that sell some pretty cool merchandise. I got this awesome polka dot scarf there that I still use today. Oh, I also got a hat. The sun is strong and my skin is fair so I needed a hat that I promptly lost like the next day.
6. Parque de Buen Retiro
Okay, so the word park doesn’t do this amazing green space justice. So when you read park, think of a place like Central Park because that is how stunning and large this place is. However, this place differs from Central Park in that the orderly layout and classical architecture here has a very majestic and European feel to it that is missing from most green areas in the United States. Somehow, this park has a formal steeliness about it that reminds me of the royal family. Perhaps thats because this is one of Madrid’s icons that is exquisitely adorned with marble monuments, landscaped lawns, elegant buildings (Cough, cough, the Palacio de Cristal. My subtle hint that you should go there) and gardens a plenty.
And while it may be an oasis of peace for locals during the week, it was not when I was there on the weekend. I mean I literally walked in and guys were hawking cheap sunglasses while a full scale, Mariachi band was playing music in the background. So to say that this place comes to life on the weekend is an understatement because it feels like all of Madrid is here on a warm and sunny day. But people flock here for an assortment of reasons. Some citizens stroll through the park or read the Sunday papers in the shade of a nearby tree or take a boat ride in the central lake; thats because the activities here are as diverse as the people who inhabit the city.
But this park is so enormous that it can be tricky to figure out what to see and do. I started my visit at the focal point of the park itself, the artificial lake that is dotted with row boats and embellished with a massive, Monument to Alfonso XII structure that is even equipped with a set of marble lions (We don’t want people to think this is some ordinary park now do we).
Also take some time to explore the previously mentioned Palacio de Cristal, which is hidden among the trees on the South side of the lake. This exquisite metal-and-glass structure is probably one of Madrid’s most stunning architectural monuments and was originally built in 1887 as a green house for all the exotic flowers of the city. Currently, it is used to house the temporary exhibitions of the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
Just remember that before you get too exhausted from all this walking, stop by La Rosaleda or the Rose Garden, which has over 4000 roses and a statue of El Ángel Caído. Funnily enough, this statue stands at exactly 666 meters above sea level (talk about strangely cool).
***If you have time, check out Fuente Egipcia which is decorated with of all things, sphinxes (Legend has it that there is buried treasure here from Felipe IV. So we can do a real life, National Treasure, Spanish style).
***Check out Madrid’s oldest tree, a Mexican conifer that was planted in 1633, just inside the Puerta de Felipe IV.
***To escape the crowds, head to el Jardín de los Planteles which is one of the least visited sections of the park. Here, quiet pathways lead to a lovely archway and canopy of trees (Kodak Moment).
Hours: From May through September the park is open from 6am-midnight. And from October through April, the park is only open until 10 pm.
How to get There: Take line 2 to the Cuatro Caminos/Las Rosas: Retiro station.
7. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Okay, now I know you might be a little museumed out by now but there are just so many Madrid icons that happen to be museums, which makes its difficult to list only one. But I swear, this one is different from the other museums on this list. See, the neat thing about the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is that rather than having an in depth collection of one artist’s work, this museum has a wide breath of art that varies by artistic style and composition. Therefore while you may only find one piece of art per big name artist here, you will find a diversity of artistry here that is unmatched by most major art museums of the world
(A great way to expose yourself to a variety of artists and find out what you like).
Just make sure you pace yourself because this museum has a second floor, first floor, and ground floor, which all contain iconic works of art that are worth a look.
On the second floor, there is the Medieval art section which contains an assortment of dazzling treasures from the 13th- and 14th-century, as well as predominantly Italian, German and Flemish religious paintings.
***Stop in Room 5 to see Italy’s Piero della Francesca and a Portrait of King Henry VIII by Holbein the Younger (Even if you’re not an art buff, you’ll recognize this piece).
***Also check out Room 10 to see the Massacre of the Innocents by Lucas Van Valckenberch, Room 12 to see the Venice by Canaletto (1697–1768), and the extension Rooms A through H which have an assortment of works by Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza (Room C contains paintings by Canaletto, Constable and Van Gogh, while Room H has works by Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Pissarro and Degas. Just a few names you may know. LoL).
Continue your journey into the first floor where you can linger in Room 32 and observe the texture of Van Gogh’s Les Vessenots or the artistry and style of such impressive works as the Woman in Riding Habit by Manet, The Thaw at Véthueil by Monet, Renoir’s Woman with a Parasol in a Garden and Pissarro’s Parisian Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon. (Also swing by Room 33 to see Cézanne, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas at work and don’t forget Room 34 with pieces by none other than Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani).
***If you have time, check out the first floors extension Rooms I through P, with pieces by big name artists like Monet, Pissaro, Sorolla and Sisleyin in Room K, Gauguin (including Mata Mua), Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec in Room L. and the works of Picasso, Matisse, Edward Hopper and Juan Gris in Room O. I know, its a bit overwhelming because there are so many great artists and so little time.
Finally, emerge onto the ground floor where your journey will enter the 20th century with pieces that cover everything from cubism all the way to pop art. Start off in Room 41 where you’ll see several works of cubism from Picasso, Georges, and Baroque. Also swing by Room 44 to see an early Salvador Dali, along with some Max Ernst and Paul Klee pieces. Don’t forget Room 45 because guess who appears again? Yup, none other than Picasso. with Marc Chagall and Dalí’s Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate, One Second Before Waking Up.
***If you are not thoroughly over seeing art by now, make your way to Room 46 with Joan Miró’s Catalan Peasant with a Guitar, Jackson Pollock’s Brown and Silver I, and the seemingly simple Green on Maroon by Mark Rothko (One of the paintings I don’t really get, if you can ever really get art).
Address: Paseo del Prado, 8, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Hours: Open daily 10 am – 7 pm. except Mondays when open from 12 pm – 4 pm
Admission: General Admission is €12, groups over 7 are €10, student/over 65/large family adult/disabled/pensioner/youth card are all €8, and children under 12 are free.
How to get There: Take Line 2 to the Banco de España Station
8. Palacio Real
When I got to Spain, I totally forgot that they had a royal family. I don’t know why I just always forget that other countries have royalty. Well, thank God they do because this palace brings opulence to the extreme (And if you don’t know how to curtsy it’s okay because the royal family lives in the Palacio de la Zarzuela and just uses this lavish estate for occasional royal functions).
Now, the story behind the origins of this extravagant palace is that Felipe V was kind of pissed that the old palace burned down on Christmas Day in 1734 (talk about the worst gift ever). To make himself feel better, he decided to create a place of grandeur that would make all other European royal residencies cower in shame. And while poor old Felipe died before his plans were realized, thats basically why this Italian, Baroque style residence has something like 2800 rooms.
Before you head over to the Palacio Real, do yourself a favor and buy tickets online since the line is ridiculously long and annoying to wait in (if you have online tickets you breeze right through security). I would also skip the guided tour and pick up an audio tour so that you can wander through the 50 rooms on display, at your own pace.
On exhibit here are several works by Goya, 215 ridiculously extravagant clocks (Guess its clock time up in here), and five super fancy and famous violins that mean nothing to me since I’m not a musician. But you’ll really be hit over the head with this palace’s regal splendor when you ascend the grand staircase that leads into the Halberdiers’ rooms and to the sumptuous Salón del Trono (Throne Room) with red velvet adorned on anything that doesn’t move. Also look up because this room has an ultra fancy ceiling that is worth a gander or two (People more in the know than me refer to this as a Tiepolo ceiling).
Also feel free to marvel at the Salón de Gasparini with its awe inspiring stucco ceiling and walls are that are richly decked out in divine, hand embroidered silks. An overwhelmingly resplendent complex that is probably one of the most decorative palaces I have ever seen in my life (and I’ve been to a fair few. Probably because I wish I was fancier than I am).
Address: Calle de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid, Spain
Hours: Open daily from 10 am to 8 pm (April to September) and 10 am to 6 pm (October to March).
Admission: General admission is €11, Reduced admission is €6 (adults over 65, individuals from large families, students up to 25, and children between the ages of 5 and 16), and free admission for children under 5, the unemployed, and the disabled.
***Admission is also free Monday to Thursday from 4 pm to 6 pm.(October to March) and 6 pm to 8 pm (April to September) for citizens of the EU and Latin American citizens.
How to get There: Take Line 2 or 5 to the Ópera station
***Book your tickets or find out more information here.
9. Tapas in La Latina
Tapas time!! Nom nom nom. But in case you don’t know what Tapas are they are basically small plates that are the perfect culinary creations for a food whore like me since it is socially acceptable for me to order a ton of small plates (how else am I going to taste and explore a bunch of different flavor profiles and dishes).
And while yes, tapas are amazing, the La Latina neighborhood in Madrid has so much more to offer than just Tapas. Not only is this neighborhood one of the oldest in Madrid, but it is one of the coolest (Put it on your Madrid bucket list) with a series of charming boutiques and a medieval streetscape that is dotted with elegant churches galore.
So whether you want to walk along Calle de la Cava Baja and check out some of the best tapas in town or wander down the hill towards Lavapiés and explore the beating heart of multicultural Madrid, there is no shortage off places to explore and things to do in this vibrant community.
***Some restaurants that will make you want to lick your plate clean include Casa Lucio (Calle de la Cava Baja 35), Txirimiri (Calle del Humilladero 6), Boconó Specialty Coffee (Calle de los Embajadores 3), Bar Melo’s (Calle del Ave María), La Antoñita (In a hotel at Calle de la Cava Baja 14), Taberna Matritum (Calle de la Cava Alta 17), Juana La Loca (Plaza de la Puerta de Moros 4), and Almedro 13 (Calle del Almendro 13).
***If you have a hot minute, and are looking for more Madrid excursions, check out the El Rastor flea market on Sundays or the incredible Basílica de San Francisco El Grande.
10. Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida
We ‘re in predominantly Catholic Spain so how could we not throw in an ultra beautiful and super cool church like Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida on this Madrid bucket list? Well, I promise, I didn’t just put this church on here because I felt like I had to. This church is richly decorated with resplendent frescoed ceilings that have recently been restored to their pristine, former glory.
So once you have torn your eyes away from this impressive sight, head to the two small chapels in the Southern end of the complex and marvel at some of Goya’s work in its original setting (circa 1798 and truly amazing to behold). In this work, Goya depicts the miracle of St Anthony, who calls on a young man to rise from the grave and absolve his father of false murder charges (So very Law and Order).
Address: Glorieta San Antonio de la Florida, 4, 28008 Madrid, Spain
Hours: Chapel Visits are Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 am to 8:00 pm and guided tours are Monday through Friday from 9:30 am to 1:00 pm.
How to get There: Take Line 6 or Line 10 to the Príncipe Pío station
This is the list of Madrid Experiences that Never Ends…
Just kidding! We made it to number ten so this Madrid bucket list that is filled with a whopping 10 different Madrid icons is officially over (woo-who). You can now feel free to tear yourself away from this mildly entertaining post and go binge watch the latest and greatest show that you are streaming on either Amazon or Netflix or whatever crazy cool service that kids use nowadays. Just do yourself a favor and when you’re planning your next trip, stop and give Madrid a chance.