Answers from Our Experts (1)
You’ll either need a jam-packed itinerary or a long vacation to fit in all the wonderful sights, sounds and smells Madrid serves up. But should you be short on time, our Forbes Travel Guide editors say these are the five things you must experience:
1. The Museum District. Whether you plow through hundreds of years of art in several hours or spread the visits out over the course of a few days, the Museo Nacional del Prado, Reina Sofia National Museum and Art Center, and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art are an art lover’s dream. The Prado is one of the finest art museums in the world, heavily featuring El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, while the breathtaking Reina Sofia houses works by Miró, Dalí and Picasso, including his profound Cubist Guernica.
2. El Retiro Park. Much like Central Park in New York, El Retiro cuts a placid oasis in the middle of urban chaos. Stroll through tree-lined paths or stop by the striking steel-and-glass Crystal Palace — and be sure to rent a row boat on the lake for a romantic moment. Sunday afternoons are especially lively, with hundreds joining in the drum circle near the lake.
3. Plaza Mayor. The most iconic plaza in Spain, the area tends to be a bit of a tourist trap when it comes to shopping and eating, so leave those activities for another place. But it’s still worth a visit. Bullfights, markets and executions have all taken place in this square — you can almost hear the history as you amble through — or it could just be the street performers and tourists’ chatter, too.
4. Puerta del Sol. While Plaza Mayor may embody the soul of Madrid, Puerta del Sol is its heart. The Royal Post Office and its clock tower look down on the center of the city, and some of its most famous streets radiate from Kilometer Zero, the point from which all others in the Iberian Peninsula are measured. The Bear and the Madroño statue (the animal chomps at fruit on a berry tree) is a popular place to meet up, and the neon Tío Pepe sign — which includes a guitar-toting sherry bottle dressed in a red cordobés hat and matching bolero jacket — is in almost every tourist’s photo collection.
5. El Rastro. On Sunday mornings, La Latina, the area immediately south of Sol, turns into the city’s largest flea market. There you’ll find all sort of handmade goods, including leather bags, artisan jewelry and art. Watching the waves of people moving up and down the streets can be an activity all in itself.