10 Things to do in Madrid

Our guide to 10 of the best things to do in the capital of España

Aug 30, 2023
people picnicking in retiro parkpeople picnicking in retiro park

Madrid is a wonderful city. Where is Madrid in Spain, you may ask. Madrid is actually the geographic center of the country, making it not only the capital city, but also the center of everything to do with Spanish art, culture, and lifestyle. There’s something about the way of living there that makes you feel like you’re on vacation, even when you’re not. There are also so many things to do in Madrid that you can do something new every day for a year and they’ll all be great.

What is Madrid known for? Most would say for its spectacular arts scene, with both world-renowned and lesser known museums to explore. Madrid is also home to fantastic parks, nightlife, and one of the world’s best gastronomy scenes. We’ve picked out 10 things to do in Madrid for young adults that you really must do while you’re here, in case you’re not here for long and want to skip to the best bits. Some you’ll no doubt already know about, but some you probably won’t, unless you’re here long term.

1. See the Masters

We’ll start with the most obvious. In Western, classical art, Madrid has few rivals- if any. The Prado alone can keep you occupied for days, with work from Goya, Velázquez and El Greco supported by an incredible array of lesser known exhibits. The Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia are the other two real heavyweights in the city, with the letter home to Picasso’s Guernica - a remarkably emotive masterpiece that you really have to see in person.

outside of the prado museum in madrid

A little trick for those visiting the capital city of Spain: to marvel at the work of Goya without the queues or cost, head to the San Antonio de la Florida chapel and look up to see frescoes by the great master.

2. Something more unusual

As well as classical art, Madrid is home to some of the most innovative and unusual museums around, if you want some things to do in Madrid that are a little different in the capital of España. The Museum of Illusions is one of the latest additions, and has immediately become one of the most popular. The name gives you a pretty good idea of what you’ll find inside. There are great optical tricks you’ll recognise, and others you might struggle to work out. Either way, it’s great fun, and you can take home some snaps of the best ones.

Ikono might be the best known of the alternative museums. It describes itself as an immersive, sensory exposition, which means everything is interactive. The exhibits are designed to arouse your curiosity and your senses, and it makes for a fascinating Madrid for young adults experience.

Anyone with a sweet tooth has to see Sweet Space, a museum dedicated to sweets. The themed rooms are an absolute treat for the eyes, and there’s a tasting emporium at the end if it’s a treat for the tastebuds you’re after.

3. Relax in the parks

boats in the pond in retiro park

When people think of Spain, many have ideas of sandy beaches on the Mediterranean, but due to where is Madrid in Spain, there are no coastlines around. With no beaches to lounge around on, Madrid’s parks are the best option to unwind, and their stellar reputation is justified. Retiro Park is the number one in the capital city of Spain and possibly the whole country. It’s central, and despite being a bit of a tourist trap it’s definitely somewhere to spend a lot of time. Check out the Cecilio Rodriguez gardens in the southeast corner for a bit more tranquility, lovely flower gardens, and peacocks wandering around as they please.

If peace and quiet is your thing, don’t miss El Capricho (the whim). This park is a little further out, and it shows. Quieter and more natural, there’s an artificial river, lakes, woods and various statues and temples. A lovely place for a walk, it’s also very close to the airport if you have some time to kill.

We can’t write about them all here, but we have to mention Casa de Campo. This vast natural park covers over 1500 hectares, and is surprisingly overlooked. Tourists often think it's too big to be able to explore on a week-long holiday, which is a fair point, but not a reason to leave it out altogether. If you’re here for a little longer, it’s definitely somewhere you’ll want to spend a few of your weekends. The forests, hiking trails, and sizable lake make you feel like you’re miles away from the nearest city, rather than in one. If you do want some attractions to visit, the park has a zoo, aquarium, amusement park, cable car, and various bars and restaurants. If you’re looking for things to do in Madrid in April and the spring, picnicking in Casa de Campo is a must.

4. Eat churros

The capital of España has lots of tasty foods to choose from, and many are a matter of taste. The Bocadillo de Calamares (Calamari sandwich) for example, is one of the most authentic Madrileño dishes, but isn’t for everyone. Everyone I asked, though, agreed on one typical Spanish food that is always delicious in Madrid, churros.

churros being dipped in chocolate

Churros are long donut type things that you dip in thick hot chocolate. They’re delicious, and not as sickly sweet as the description suggests. A dozen places in Spain claim to have the best churros in the country, and Madrid is one of them. They make for a lovely afternoon snack, but are probably at their most popular very early in the morning, when early risers and late sleepers’ paths cross, making the perfect treat for Madrid young adults. Debating where serves the best in the city can last days, but the most iconic is Chocolatería San Ginés, open since 1894 and well worth its spot on the list of things to do in Madrid for young adults.

5. Visit the markets

If you’re thinking for things to do in Madrid, visiting a market is a must., They love a market in Spain, and of course the capital city of Spain has some of the best and oldest. For shopping alone, you have to go to El Rastro, the oldest market in Madrid. This flea market has every kind of second hand goods you can think of, and better hagglers than me can find some great bargains. Once you’ve had a look at the main event, head down the side streets for delightful little vintage and antique shops. Stay alert in the main market, as pickpockets are often on the lookout.

Most markets in the city are places to meet, drink, and eat, just as much as shops. There are too many to mention them all, but Antón Martín, Vallehermoso, San Miguel, and Mercado de los Mostenses are all really popular gastro markets with great food from around the world. My personal favorite is San Fernando in the Lavapiés district. The lively, multicultural feel, and traditional stalls, make it the most authentic and enjoyable experience in the capital city of Spain.

market with jamon hanging

6. Enjoy the view

Rooftop bars are a great way to enjoy fantastic views of a city and appreciate how fantastic life is. Madrid is no exception, so here’s some bar things to do in Madrid for young adults. The Hat is one of the best, an excellent, central hostel with a charming rooftop terrace that gives excellent views of downtown Madrid.

If you’re dining out, look no further than Dani Garcia’s rooftop brasserie at the Four Seasons hotel. The Michelin-star winning chef has toned down the pomp for his latest restaurant, where you can try remarkable food in a surprisingly relaxed setting. The Círculo de Bellas Artes is a wonderful cultural center with plenty going on inside in the form of concerts, plays, and exhibitions. The rooftop terrace might be its best feature though, with views over the exquisite city hall at Plaza de Cibeles.

If you’d like your views without the bar then take a trip to Cerro del Tío Pío, which offers a spectacular view of the city without the noise. Particularly beautiful at sunset and for things to do in Madrid in April and the warmer months.

7. Watch a movie

I know you haven’t come all this way to watch TV, but Madrid has some really cool cinemas that are worth a look, movie or not. Sala Equis was once an adult cinema, and has now been converted into a really cool cocktail bar with an area for food and even swings. Sometimes you can see live music and at others, they have movie screenings, so check out what’s on while you’re in the capital of España.

Cine Doré is an art nouveau movie theater dedicated to classic Spanish cinema. The movies on show are a mixed bunch, but the experience is always a pleasure, and there are some real gems in their movie cycles. Most are subtitled into English in Madrid for young adults who don’t have a grasp on the language yet.

8. Go on a tapas crawl

tapas with aperol spritz

If you were to ask what is Madrid known for, most would definitely say the food. It wouldn’t be a trip to Spain without some tapas, and in Madrid you get some of the country’s finest. You can of course find tapas all over the city, but there is a famous tapas street- Calle Cava Baja. Lined with little bars, Cava Baja is the perfect place to wander down and pop into whichever bars take your fancy for a cerveza and a tapa or a pincho.

If you want somewhere less touristy than head to Calle Ponzano. It’s hardly hidden, but as it’s not the most famous tapas street in the city you get more of a local clientele. For something more seafood focused, head to Mercado de la Cebada at lunchtime on a Saturday.

9. Get some culture for free

Madrid has many great cultural centers, and some have things to see for no charge, creating the perfect place in Madrid for young adults. The Canal de Isabel II Foundation is a venue with loads going on, including workshops, concerts and debates. Their focus is on the environment and water preservation, and they put on free art exhibitions which are really popular with both locals and tourists.

The Conde Duque center was once a military headquarters and now hosts all manner of events, many of which are free. The highlights are the outdoor plays and concerts in the summer, and JazzMadrid in November. The Juan March Foundation is another place with free art exhibitions, of a more alternative nature.

templo debod with buildings behind

The Templo de Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple that you can see for free in Parque del Oeste. If you’re wondering how an Egyptian temple wound up in the capital of España, it was actually taken apart and transported here by the Egyptian government as a thank you to Spain for its help preserving Egyptian monuments.

10. Find the secret club

Medias Puri looks like a fairly run-of-the-mill shop, but inside is Madrid’s most legendary nightclub. With three rooms and a capacity of 1000, Medias Puri has a variety of music, cocktails, food, and even acrobats. Its whereabouts were spread by word of mouth alone, but its popularity has soared, and TimeOut even named it the best club in Madrid for young adults.

If there’s one thing that can be said about Madrid, it’s that you won’t get bored easily. With so much to see and so much to, good luck fitting everything in. Whether you come for a week or a year, we hope you can find your perfect spot, and check out all the capital city of Spain has to offer.