5 Cultural things to do when visiting Madrid, Spain

Not a lot of time? Here are five cultural things to do when visiting Madrid, Spain!

Home to an astonishing 3.1 million people, Madrid City is Europe’s fifth largest city, and the European Union’s third largest after London and Berlin. While Madrid is a populous place, it doesn’t feel busy when you stroll some of the romantic tree-lined streets gazing upon the opulent architecture. Unless of course you’re caught in cross-town traffic at peak times, then, you’ll be jolted back to reality that Madrid is indeed a large bustling city.

Photo supplied by Madrid tourism

Whether visiting this ancient city for a weekend or a week, there is bound to be something to keep your mind and body occupied for the duration of your stay. From market stalls to museums, Madrid celebrates art and culture throughout the city. Once entitled ‘European Capital of Culture,’ music, art, theater, food, and creativity are all held in the highest of regard, and what’s even more important is that these experiences are available for all to enjoy. And on that note here are my ‘Five Cultural Must Do’s when visiting Madrid, Spain.’

Enjoy some of the world’s most famous paintings at Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Madrid City has over 60 museums that celebrate art and culture, and unless you are on one dire mission, it’s doubtful you’ll visit them all during a short stay. My advice is to choose a few and add them to your must-visit list and any you visit after that will be a bonus. However, with saying that Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, in my opinion, should be on your must-visit list because the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection is considered to be one of the most important private collections of paintings of the 20th century. Named after its creators, the barons Heinrich and his son Hans Heinrich, today the collection belongs to the people of Spain, and it includes amongst others, work from Dürer, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso.

  • Address: Paseo del Prado.
  • Hours:  Open Monday: 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Madrid, Spain

View Madrid City from Mirador Madrid at CentroCentro Cibeles

CentroCentro Cibeles welcomes one million visitors through its doors each year and has done so since it opened in 2011. At home in the Palacio de Cibeles, the headquarters of the mayor of Madrid, CentroCentro is a space open to the public by means of art and cultural exhibitions. Mirador Madrid is the rooftop of one the great towers of the Palacio de Cibeles. It offers visitors obstruction free 360º panoramic views of Madrid’s cityscape. Through plans and photographs, visitors can pinpoint and locate well-known landmarks and buildings within the city. It’s a great way to get a feel of the city, not to mention lots of photo opportunities.

  • Address: Plaza Cibeles.
  • Hours: Open Tuesday to Sunday: 10.30 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. and 4.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. Access every 30 minutes. Closed on Mondays.

Madrid, Spain

Walk the Gardens of El Buen Retiro

When some quiet time is needed to reflect, or you fancy a walk or a run, then a visit to Madrid’s Jardines del Buen Retiro is a must. This historical 17th Century park of 125 hectares and more than 15,000 trees, is Madrid’s most important green zone—it offers sports and leisure for walking and running, and the Estanque Grande is where visitors can practice rowing. 

For arts and culture, the Palacio de Velázquez and the Palacio de Cristal are fantastic exhibition halls. Finally, for that quiet time I mentioned, whether alone or with that special someone, the beautifully designed Palacio de Cristal offers a glass-ceiling and exotic plant-lined pavilion for which to wander.

  • Address: Plaza de la Independencia.
  • Open: Spring to Summer: April to September 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Autumn to Winter: October to March 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Visit Matadero Madrid for creative inspiration

Supported by Madrid City Council, Matadero Madrid is a cultural hub for creatives and creativity. Similar in a sense to New York’s Meatpacking District, Matadero Madrid is set on the site of what was once an active city slaughterhouse, hence the name. However, Matadero Madrid is a far cry from its original purpose in life. Today contemporary thinking is the driving force behind this establishment and when you visit you can expect to find exhibitions, workshops, and information on everything from visual arts to scenic arts, literature, and reading, music, design, fashion and architecture. There are cafés on site, as well as a cinema, and the Plaza is the place to be during the summer months where you can wine and dine at the Matadero Terrace while enjoying music or an art installation. You can even rent a bike to take you through Madrid Rio and back again.

  • Address: Paseo de la Chopera.
  • Hours: Open Tuesday to Friday: 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and holidays 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Take a Food and Drink Walking Tour

With over 8,000 restaurants in Madrid, you certainly won’t go hungry. In fact, it’s a wonderful city to feel hungry, as there are a wealth of dining options available to you. From markets to Michelin-starred restaurants, you’ll be able to wine and dine to your heart or stomach’s content. However, unless you’ve done your research you may not know where to start and so a walking tour of the city that includes food and drink is the perfect way to introduce your taste buds to the likes of Vermouth served with fresh Spanish olives.

Seafood dish at VELT Restaurant Hamburg by MikesRoadTrip.com

On my most recent trip, our tour guide Sean Retana Vallely included traditional Tapas Bars, food markets such as the renowned El Mercado de San Ildefonso and Mercado San Anton, and restaurants such as Mercado de la Reina and La Galeria at Florida Retiro on our dining experience. Each of these with its own style of food offerings and unique atmosphere. We also visited food and drink stores and were free to ask lots of questions about the food and drink culture of the city. The perfect way for any food lover to spend a day or night.

If you’ve had a great cultural experience in Madrid, please leave a comment below.

Edwina O'Connor

Edwina O'Connor
Edwina Elizabeth O'Connor is the creator and chief editor of the award-winning Irish pop culture, travel and lifestyle blog 'The Life of Stuff'. She's also a freelance Travel and Lifestyle writer. She has traveled to 33 countries and loves nothing more than jetting off to far-flung places, however the number one country in her heart will always be her native Ireland. Edwina has traveled solo, as a couple (with her husband), as a group (with friends) and now that she's a mom to two little boys, as a family.

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