17 Fantastic Things to Do in Madrid as a First-Timer

Steve Cummings

Madrid, Spain

Madrid is Spain's culture and entertainment capital, with critical pieces of art and the best food to eat. 

There are also many unique and outstanding tourist attractions highlighting Spain's exciting history and heritage. When you visit the city for the first time, you may find it intimidating, as there are many things to do in Madrid. That is why we have put together this guide to help you work out the best things to do in Madrid, whether you are there for a few days or a more extended vacation.

As well as the pricier things you can't avoid, we have tried to include cheap and even free things to appeal to frugal travelers. We have also included things suitable for traveling solo, as a couple, or with your whole family and children.

1. Eat Tapas

Eat Tapas
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Among the most fun things to do in Madrid, a country known for its mouthwatering and diverse cuisine, is to try one of its staples, tapas. 

There is a stunning variety of different eateries that all serve tapas, the little tasty dishes that allow you to try a little bit of everything. Try the various pickles, tripe, croquettes, tortilla de patatas, Iberian ham, chocolate with churros, and bocata de calamares. You can also enjoy homemade soups like cocido Madrileño, which consists of vegetables, meats, sausages, and chickpeas. Be adventurous and think outside the box, as this may be your one opportunity to eat and drink in Madrid.

Not only are tapas delicious, but they are also essential to Spanish culture and the communal aspect of having short, taster meals instead of large, drawn-out dinners in a bar setting. So, if you want an authentic Spanish experience, take advantage of the tapas.

2. Take in a Real Madrid CF Soccer Game

Real Madrid
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There are many things to do in Madrid for young adults, but for sports fans and soccer fans, you can head to Real Madrid CF at their home stadium of Santiago Bernadeau. 

While it is best if they play their long-standing rivals, FC Barcelona, it doesn't matter what game you are watching, as Spanish soccer is renowned for its flair and competitive spirit.

3. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
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Although it may sound like a bad idea on paper or screen, one of the best things to do in Madrid with kids, especially if they are school-age or older, is to visit Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. 

This was a private collection of artworks in the past, but now open to the public. It offers a stunning selection of art from as early as the 13th century to the 20th century. The great thing about this venue is that it sponsors many of its events and themed collections aimed at children and families.

For example, there is a twice-yearly event called Alice in Wonderland that looks at classic literature through its artwork, and there is Co-local, which gives children between 3 and 6 the chance to be creative in their interpretation of art through play, props, and improvised dance.

4. Museo Nacional del Prado

Are you looking for free things to do in Madrid? While many things may cost a lot, there is also an excellent selection of completely free things. For instance, many museums have free entry, and some plazas and parks have free admission, too. One of the best options is the Museo Nacional del Prado, but any state-owned museum or art gallery is free to enter.

Museo Nacional del Prado is open from 6 to 8 pm, Monday to Saturday, and on Sunday and Spanish public holidays, it is open from 5 to 7 pm.

Art is an integral part of Spanish history, culture, and heritage.

5. Visit the Royal Palace of Madrid

Madrid, Spain's capital, is a massive draw for tourists. However, if you are looking for one of the most touristy things to do in Madrid, visiting the Royal Palace of Madrid is up there with the best. 

There are over 3,400 rooms full of an impressive collection of treasures from the Spanish royals. While the Spanish royal family is not currently living there, the opulent and regal building is still an official residence of the Head of State and is one of the only palaces of its kind that is completely open to members of the public.

6. Museo Reina Sofia for Picasso

Museo Reina Sofia for Picasso
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Whether you are an art lover or keenly interested in iconic pieces of cultural importance, one of the must-see things in Madrid is the expansive collection housed within the beautiful Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. 

Considered by most experts to be the most moving and powerful of Pablo Picasso's body of work, Guernica, at 11 x 25 feet, is larger than life. It highlights the Spanish Civil War in all its bloody gore. In addition to this masterpiece, you will find other iconic and key Picasso pieces and those of renowned Spanish artists like Joan Miro and Salvador Dali.

7. Book a Table at Casa Botin

Like many of the biggest cities in the world, Madrid gets more relaxed and enjoyable after dark. One of the most exciting things to do in Madrid at night is to book a reservation at Casa Botin. Why? Casa Botin has been officially recorded as the oldest restaurant in the world. It first opened in 1725 and has been serving its traditional Castilian cuisine ever since. 

The eatery stretches across four floors and has a tavern-like feel that would have been similar to the earlier days. Perhaps the most famous of its dishes are the succulent roast lamb and the stunning suckling pig. The suckling pig is noteworthy as being the favorite dish of Ernest Hemingway, who frequented the eatery regularly when he was in the city.

8. Temple of Debod

When you've done many of the critical touristy things in Spain's bustling capital city, you may be stuck on what to do next. However, many unusual things to do in Madrid will offer you a unique experience. 

One in particular is the Temple of Debod, which is of Ancient Egyptian origin and stands in the city's Parque de la Montana in the middle of a beautiful reflection pool. Egypt gifted this temple to Spain, which was dismantled and then reassembled. It is now also home to a small museum with exhibits from ancient Egypt.

This spot is ideal when traveling as a couple or looking for somewhere to meditate or take a moment away from the city center's hustle-bustle. You can enjoy glorious, unobstructed views of the sunset and expansive city vistas.

9. Bungee Jumping from Buitrago Bridge

Cave Bungee Jumping in New Zealand
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Ask anyone who has tried bungee jumping, and they will agree it is one of the most thrilling things you could ever do. While there may be many options for bungee jumping around the Spanish capital, one of the best and most adventurous things to do in Madrid is to take a bungee jump off Buitrago Bridge. Although it is not within Madrid's city boundaries, it is only a short drive away.

Buitrago Bridge was once used for the railway and provided a stop for the Madrid-Burgos service. It connected Madrid to Vollavieja del Lozoya, Vascones, and Buitrago de Lozoya.

The jump is an eye-watering 30 meters, so please keep that in mind, significantly if you have never bungee jumped before.

10. Shop in the Renowned El Rastro Flea Market

When scrolling through different lists of what to see and do in Madrid, you will notice many of the same things mentioned. The prominent tourist attractions include museums, restaurants, palaces, and other essential landmarks. However, if you are looking for alternative things to do in Madrid, look no further than El Rastro flea market. 

Located within the aesthetically pleasing La Latina neighborhood, this open-air market is open every Sunday and public holidays and attracts thousands of bargain hunters. Vendors sell everything from souvenirs, crafts, and home furnishings to clothes. Look out for the stalls that sell classic secondhand and vintage pieces like old ceramics and books.

11. Find Spain's Islamic Past

Spain is predominantly a Christian country. However, that does not mean that its past is solely Christian. Throughout the capital city, you will find many landmarks like Parque del Emir Mohammad I and Museo de San Isidro that originate and highlight the city's past when it was known as Mayrit. Not only are these great for teaching you more about the country's past, but they are also cheap things to do in Madrid that the whole family will love.

12. Flamenco Dance and Dinner

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Although Flamenco dancing may be more closely associated with Andalucia and Barcelona, one of the best cultural things to do in Madrid is still take in a flamenco dance show. 

Many places offer a show and a dinner and provide a pleasant environment to enjoy some Spanish cuisine and Spanish dancing. One of the best venues for this type of event is undoubtedly Café Ziryab, which hosts various dancers and flamenco musicians while providing a comfortable and relaxing space to enjoy the entertainment.

13. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth with Some Churros

For anyone with a sweet tooth heading to the Spanish city, one of the most famous things to do in Madrid is order churros. Crispy, fluffy fingers similar to donuts are a classic Spanish evening snack in eateries around the capital. 

For some of the best churros, you should consider visiting Chocolateria San Gines, where you can order the specialty with some incredibly thick and gooey dipping (and when you run out of donuts to dip, sipping) chocolate sauce.

14. Retiro Park

Retiro Park
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During your visit to the big and sprawling city, you may wish to have a moment to spend in peace and tranquility. One of the best things to do in Madrid to achieve that level of relaxation while taking a breath of fresh air is Retiro Park. You can wile away the time by wandering around the rose garden or renting one of the many paddle boats and taking it to the Great Pond. The Spanish monarchy often used an artificial lake with an extensive history, the Pond, during the 17th century to act out naval battles.

15. Almudena Cathedral

For more cultural things to do in Madrid, why not look at La Almudena, the most famous cathedral in the Spanish capital? It is located beside the Royal Palace of Madrid and was built in the 19th century. Aside from its Neo-Gothic interior, another great thing about this stunning building is the fact that it is entirely free to access.

16. Palacio de Cristal

Often referred to as the Glass Palace, Palacio de Cristal is based within the aforementioned Retiro Park and is worth a visit in its own right. It is a structural masterpiece of iron and glass and was initially designed as a large greenhouse. 

Nowadays, it houses off-site exhibitions for the Museo Reina Sofia. This means you never know what you might find whenever you decide to visit. We recommend this as one of the must-see things in Madrid.

17. Bocadillo or Bocata de Calamares

Okay, so we mentioned tapas earlier in our guide. Still, if you want to experience one of the best things to do in Madrid, you must order a bocadillo or Bocata de Calamares. This is a sandwich full of fried calamari. It is crunchy, full of flavor, widely available throughout Madrid, and very much representative of its cuisine.

Final Thoughts

When putting these guides together, we appreciate how intimidating it can be to visit a city in a foreign country, mainly if it's your first time. You want to fit in as much as possible into your visit, including many tourist things to do in Madrid alongside the more alternative and offbeat things. 

You want to experience the food and take in the culture. If you head to Madrid, try some of these activities, and visit these places, we are sure you will have a great experience in the Spanish capital.

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