Madrid may very well be considered a microcosm of Spanish culture at-large, being that there is so much to see and do both in and out of the city that a game of chance may be the best way to decide what actually lands in your itinerary (We prefer “rock, paper, scissors”). A proliferation of beautiful and grandiose buildings and public squares, some of the greatest museums in Europe, and a culture that thrives on its sports all contribute to making Madrid one of the most sought after world travel destinations for the culturally savvy.
When you think Madrid, the first place that comes to mind is the Puerta del Sol. The bustling, pedestrian heart of the city, there are numerous monuments found here, as well as The Royal Post Office with its famous clock tower. Another square where the tourists are more common than the locals is the Plaza Mayor, located a few blocks southwest of the Puerta del Sol. Dominated by the extravagant Casa de la Panadería (a cultural and municipal building) and replete with commemorative statues and small, touristy shops, this is at least one of the most picturesque parts of the city. Other notable squares in central Madrid include the Plaza de España, which is bookended by two of the tallest buildings in the region, the Torre de Madrid and the Edificio España; the Plaza de Cibeles, a prominent square located at a conjunction of neighborhoods and home to some of the most breathtaking neo-Classical buildings in Madrid, including the Bank of Spain, the Palacio de Buenavista, the Palacio de Linares and the Palacio de Cibeles; and the Plaza de Castilla, which is north of city center in a virtual forest of skyscrapers, the most celebrated of which are the slanted twin towers of the Puerta de Europa.
Why stop with Madrid's inimitable plazas? Some of the most iconic representations of Spanish history can be found here. The most distinguished may have to be the Palacio Real, one of the biggest palaces in Europe and home to official state ceremonies. The site of over three thousand rooms, fifty of which are available to visitors, you may also cross the Plaza de la Almeria to the gorgeous Almuneda Cathedral to explore its neo-Gothic interior. Head along the Paseo de Prado, one of the major arteries of the city, to the museum triangle, where some of the greatest international artifacts have found a home. The Museo del Prado has one of the world's finest art collections from across a range of periods, while the Reina Sofía National Museum and Art Center and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art also have exceptional collections. Other museums of interest include the Museo de América on Avenida Reyes Católicos, an accumulation of largely native artifacts from the Americas that is often overlooked on tourist itineraries and the Museo de Lazaro Galdiano on Calle Serrano, which has one of the best private art exhibits in all of Spain, with big names like Goya and El Greco represented. If you're interested in museums, then don't stop here, for there are literally dozens more that are worth your time depending on your personal interests.
On the entertainment end of the cultural spectrum are the usual suspects like opera and symphony (which are highly touted in Madrid), but the main draws are bullfighting, flamenco, and football (soccer to you Americanos). Flamenco is explored in detail in our nightlife section, while those who can overlook the treatment of animals in the sport can visit Las Ventas, the historic home of bullfighting. Even if there isn't a corrida held during your time in Madrid, it may be worth touring the facility to get an idea of the unique sport's past. Arguably most important to Madrid's citizens, though, is football. There are four teams represented in the greater metropolitan area, so if you just want to see a La Liga (the Spanish Premiere League) match, then it'll be cheaper to see teams like Rayo Vallecano, Atlético de Madrid, and Getafe Club de Fútbol. If you know anything about football and want to see one of the most successful clubs on Earth, then you can't settle for anything less than Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
If you'd rather get a bit further off-the-beaten-path, then leaving Madrid for one of the many UNESCO-certified sites within a day trip is an excellent itinerary option. Notable cities nearby include Toledo, a medieval city and former capital on the Tagus River known for its lovely religious structures and Segovia, significant for its massive Roman Aqueduct on Azoguejo Square and its Gothic cathedral. Smaller towns of salient cultural value also include Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Cervantes and home to numerous 15th century university buildings and Ávila, whose intact city walls and ancient cathedrals are a journey back into medieval times. Finally, the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, located less than an hour northwest of the city, is worth the visit simply for its grandeur; when it was built in the 16th century it was the largest building in the world and today is the burial place for many Spanish kings.
Although you may be tempted, don't cram everything in Madrid into one itinerary. You'd have more free time if you were dismantling a bomb. Take a look through our activity pages or talk with our community about what attractions may best suit you and we'll see you in Madrid.