See also: Where to Stay in Madrid
1 Prado Museum
The Prado Museum displays around 2,300 pieces of the collection in more than 100 rooms on three floors. Trying to see it all in one visit can be daunting, but it’s possible to focus on a specific itinerary of masterpieces.
Visitors can also opt to use the museum’s audio guide (for a small fee), which includes a tour of 50 masterpieces.
On the 90-minute tour, the guide, an art expert, not only points out the most significant pieces in this mind-boggling collection, but relates their backstories and some history to put the art in context.
2 Buen Retiro Park and the Crystal Palace
The Buen Retiro Park (Parque del Retiro) is an oasis of peace in the heart of Madrid. Just beyond the busy streets, this lush 120-hectare park offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Created for the Count-Duke of Olivares in the 17th century, the historic park has an elegant ambience with its lovely landscaping and tree-lined paths.
3 Royal Palace and Gardens
This grandiose palace is the Spanish version of Versailles, a royal court designed to impress. Rising above a steep slope overlooking the lush gardens, the palace is built entirely of granite and white Colmenar stone. The majestic Neoclassical facade features Ionic columns and Doric pilasters, based on drawings that the sculptor Bernini originally intended for the Louvre in Paris. The balustrade features statues of Spanish kings. The palace was commissioned by Philip V in the 18th century.
Madrid Royal Palace Map
4 Plaza Mayor
This elegant 17th-century plaza was built during the reign of Philip III. The Plaza Mayor was a center of commerce and municipal life, as well as the scene of ceremonial events such as the proclamation of a new king and the canonization of saints. The plaza took on its present appearance after a fire in 1790, when the corners were enclosed and the nine entrance arches were constructed, linking it to Calle de Toledo, Calle Mayor, Calle Postas, and others. The square also served as a venue for bullfights, dramatic performances, and knightly tournaments.
5 Puerta del Sol: The Heart of the City
The Puerta del Sol was named after the sun emblem on the old city gate, which formerly stood here. This spacious town square aligns with the rising sun. Besides being a hub of public transportation (with several bus stops and Metro entrances), the Puerta del Sol is also the “Kilometer Zero” point from which all distances on the Spanish national road network are measured.
6 Centro de Arte de Reina Sofía: Contemporary Art Museum
Centro de Arte de Reina Sofía: Contemporary Art Museum Jean-Pierre Dalbéra / photo modifiedShare:
The sleek modern building was created by the architect Antonio Fernández Alba and has features that recall the Pompidou Center in Paris, especially the three glass towers that house the elevators on the outside of the building. In its thorough representation of Spanish contemporary art, the collection includes remarkable masterpieces such as works by Juan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Salvador Dalí. Another wonderful surprise to visitors is the charming garden in the inner courtyard filled with imaginative sculptures.
7 Fuente de Cibeles and Gran Via
The famous Cybele’s fountain (Fuente de Cibeles) stands in a major traffic intersection and is one of the most emblematic monuments in Madrid. Created in 1782 by Francisco Gutiérrez and Roberto Michel, the impressive traffic-stopping fountain depicts the Roman Goddess Cybele riding a lion-drawn chariot. The Centro Palacio de Cibeles has two restaurants: the Colección Cibeles caféteria and the Cibeles Palace restaurant. Behind the fountain is the Palacio de Cibeles cultural center, which hosts art exhibitions and workshops, conferences and concerts.
8 Temple of Debod: An Ancient Egyptian Temple
In La Montaña Park (close to Plaza de España), visitors can see one of Madrid’s most surprising monuments – an ancient Egyptian temple. The temple was built for King Adikhalamani in the 2nd century BC and includes several shrines, a spacious hall, and a terrace on the upper level. A gift from Egypt, in thanks for Spain’s help in saving the Abu Simbel temples during the building of the Aswan Dam, the Debod Temple was brought to Madrid in 1968.
9 Goya Frescoes at Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida
Goya Frescoes at Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida jacinta lluch valero / photo modified
Perhaps the least visited of Madrid’s major art treasures are the stunning frescoes painted by Francesco Goya that fill the Hermitage of San Antonio de la Florida. The frescoes reveal Goya’s boldness of artistic style and revolutionary painting techniques. They were painted at a turning point in Goya’s career and are considered a precursor of modern painting. The chapel is designated a national monument and is no longer used for religious services to protect the frescoes.
10 Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Fine Arts Museum
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum presents an overview of European art from the 13th century to the late 20th century. With nearly 1,000 art works on display, the collection covers the Renaissance, the Baroque period, Rococo, Romanticism, Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, modern art and Pop Art. The museum also has an excellent collection of 19th-century American paintings.
11 Estadio Santiago Bernabéu: Real Madrid’s Stadium
Not all of Madrid’s tourist attractions revolve around art. One of its most visited museums draws football (soccer) fans to the stadium of the city’s home team, Real Madrid. Photo montages allow fans to snap pictures of themselves with favorite players.
12 Basilica de San Francisco el Grande
The Church of San Francisco el Grande was built in 1761 for a Franciscan friary. The church was designed by Fray Francisco Cabezas, who modeled the architectural plan on the Church of Santa Maria in Campitelli in Rome. The Neoclassical facade and dome were added in 1770. The church museum displays a variety of religious art and artifacts.
13 Museo Sorolla
This charming museum is dedicated to the work of Joaquín Sorolla, the most famous Spanish Impressionist artist. Displayed in beautiful bright rooms, the collection includes a broad representation of the artist’s paintings and drawings. Be sure to see the museum’s lovely patio adorned with a gurgling fountain and Andalusian-style decorative tile work.
14 National Archaeological Museum
The National Archeological Museum was founded by Queen Isabella II in 1867 and has a rich collection of artifacts from prehistoric times to the 19th century. Exhibits feature archaeological finds, ethnography, decorative arts from antiquity, and ancient coins. Highlights of the permanent collection include Egyptian mummies, Hispano-Roman and Islamic archaeological finds, and Mudéjar ceramics.
15 Lázaro Galdiano Museum
The Lázaro Galdiano Museum displays the exceptional private collection of financier Lázaro Galdiano housed in his mansion, Parque Florido. Be sure to see the 16th- to 17th-century Spanish paintings by famous masters, including El Greco, Goya, Velázquez, Zurbarán, Ribera, Pereda, and Murillo. The museum has an extensive collection of around 9,000 artworks exhibited in 30 rooms. From armor, coins, and medals to jewelry, Baroque crystal, and tapestries, the collection is extremely diverse.
16 Puerta de Alcalá
This grand Neoclassical triumphal arch was commissioned by King Carlos III to celebrate the arrival of the monarchs to Spain’s capital city. Nearly 30 meters high, the elegant granite entrance gate makes a grand impression. The monument was designed by Francesco Sabatini and built between 1769 and 1778. The facade is adorned with sculptures, capitals, and decorative reliefs.