Top 10 Things to Do in Madrid

Top 10 Madrid: Cool Things to Do on a City Break

With mad restaurants like the three Michelin starred DiverXO, Madrid has an increasing reputation for exciting, quality food.

But as well as being home to cutting-edge restaurants, it’s also full of laid back, late night tapas bars.

Here are my top 10 tips for things to do over a weekend in the Spanish capital – it was tough, but I’ve even managed to include a couple of non-food and drink options…

1. Find a Rooftop Bar to Unwind

Although Madrid does not have the greatest skyline, its high altitude and reliable sunshine makes it a great spot to catch some rays or have a siesta between tapa.

Many hotels have bars or lounges open to the public. You can expect to pay premium prices for the privilege but it is still a great way to relax in the city.

I stayed in the Hotel Santo Domingo, which has a compact rooftop pool and bar.

The pool is covered in the evenings and open to the public. The bar serves huge and refreshing cocktails which are around €10 a pop.

2. Eat and Drink in the Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel

This tiny, pretty market is jam-packed with food stalls and bars, the great quality and variation attracting tourists and locals alike.

The wine here started at €3 for a glass of chilled albarino or cava, but you could easily spend a lot more.

There are oysters, an amazing Burrata stand, charcuterie, sushi, and lots of other tempting treats on offer.

The one dud that I had was the dry, chewy calamari at €14. You’ll find much better value and fresher stuff elsewhere.

The market is great for a snack but you’ll want to head to the real tapas bars for a properly authentic Madrid feast.

3. Visit Plaza Major

Pretty much anyone visiting Madrid will head to Plaza Major.

It’s a large, pretty pedestrianised square and is the main centre of Madrid where many events take place.

Of course, it’s full of tourists, street entertainers and hawkers (until they get chased off by the police).

4. Visit the Royal Palace

Madrid's Royal Palace

The royal palace is one of the top tourist destinations in Madrid.

Buy tickets online to skip the queue. We bought ours on our phones standing outside on arrival and walked right past the queue, but you can book in advance too.

The tour does not take too long and you follow a route through various opulent and ornate rooms.

The state dining room is pretty incredible to see, but it certainly did not look as fun to eat at as Madrid’s tapas bars.

5. Visit La Latina for an Authentic Tapa Experience

Tapa available at Juana La Loca (Foie Gras, Chocolate Volcano, Tuna Tartare)
Tapa available at Juana La Loca (Foie Gras, Chocolate Volcano, Tuna Tartare)

La Latina is the most well-known area of the city for barrios and tavernas.

There are several streets lined with bars, with Cava Alta and Cava Baja being the best.

A good way to experience these are to order a tapa with a Cana, a small glass of beer.

There are many excellent ones, but my favourite food was at Juana La Loca, where we sampled incredible tuna, black pudding and a luxurious molten lava caramel concoction. Stand at the bar or book in advance for a cosy table.

6. Head to El Rastro Flea Market

Madrid has a huge flea market which seems to go on forever. All kinds of goods are sold, but it’s particularly well-known for its leather stalls.

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Around the market there are a good many antique shops to peruse.

There did seem to be a rather large amount of stalls selling stupendously huge white underpants. Not quite sure who the target market is for these…

7. Eat Traditional Food at Restaurante Botin

Restaurante Botin, Madrid

Botin, the oldest restaurant in Europe, is located on Case de Cuchilleros, which is just before you reach the tapa bars of Casa Baja.

I have previously written about this restaurant and their famous suckling pig dish.  Booking in advance is essential.

8. Visit Retiro Park

Retiro Park Lake

Near the museum district (which we didn’t visit on this trip, but I understand is a haven of modern art) is Madrid’s main park, which has a boating lake, gardens, cafes and plenty of wandering musicians.

A lovely place for a relaxed stroll, and perhaps a siesta on a patch of grass or sunny bench.

9. Churros!

A trip to Madrid would not be complete without churros y chocolat.

The madridilenos are my kind of people- they usually eat churros for breakfast.

After a heavy night on the Rioja this was attempted at a nearby café, which served churro y chocolate with a coffee for just £2. Sadly, by the time I got there they had long gone!

Not to worry though as in Madrid you are never far from churros, with Chocolateria San Gines being the pick of the bunch.

10. La Bodega de los Secretos

On the outskirts of old Madrid is La Bodega de los Secretos, a restaurant created under the cellar of Madrid’s oldest winery.

It’s a pretty stunning venue and one in which those with an eye for design, architecture and history should not miss.

The space has not always been a cellar though – there is evidence that passageways were used by smugglers as well as soldiers escaping or entering the city in the past. Presented on the walls are items they found when opening and stabilising these new areas. There’s crusty old revolvers, items from the Spanish civil war and even Napoleonic bayonets.

Burrata at Los Secretos

The recessed caverns were created by the winery’s monks to store wine are now the intimate spaces where the diners sit.  The food is definitely fine-dining, both in presentation and price.  Everything was tasty, particularly the burrata and codfish starters, but compared to the incredibly cheap and tasty tapas we’d been feasting on for the past few days, eating here felt a little too clinical and lacked the atmosphere we were used to.

Madrid Top Tips

  • Take hand sanitiser – you’ll be eating a lot with your hands.
  • Be prepared for a lot of walking and standing – appropriate footwear is a must.
  • You’ll likely need sunscreen!
  • It’s wise to pre-book some restaurants, but it can be more fun to play by ear.
  • Cab fares are reasonable and easily hailed. Its £30 euro flat fare to centre to/from the airport.
  • Like any capital city there probably are pickpockets about, so take precautions and don’t take bags out where possible.  My wife finds my pockets particularly useful on city-breaks…