One of Europe's great capital cities, Madrid is the perfect encapsulation of Spain. Though it's sometimes overshadowed by its seaside sister Barcelona, if you take a closer look, you'll find there are so many things to do in Madrid you may not be able to fit them all into one trip.
Whether it's watching a mesmerising flamenco performance, eating your way around a foodie market, studying Picasso's most famous works or sipping a strong cocktail, here are the best things to do in Madrid.
See World-Class Art in Madrid's Museums
There are several museums in Madrid that, between them, contain some of the world's greatest works of art. The Museo del Prado and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía together with the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza form the holy trinity of Madrid's art scene. The absolute must-see works at the Prado include Goya's The 2nd of May 1808 in Madrid and Las Meninas by Velázquez.
At the Reina Sofía, it's Picasso's giant surrealist masterpiece Guernica that people come to see, but you should also make time for Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, among other Spanish artists here. At the Thyssen, it's quite simply the huge range of art that you can see under one roof, from Van Gogh to Kandinsky, more Picasso, and Edward Hopper.
Madrid's main green space is El Retiro, a vast park full of gardens, fountains and landscaped lawns. Just strolling around El Retiro is a popular pastime for madrileños on any sunny day - stop for a coffee or sit and read in the shade. There's an artificial lake at the north end of the park where row boats can be hired. Peek into the 19th-century Palacio de Cristal glasshouse at the centre of the park, as there are often art exhibitions put on by the Reina Sofía.
Madrid's main square is the Plaza Mayor, a wide, handsome square with arches at each of its corners. Plaza Mayor's location originally was not the centre of Madrid - it was a market square known as Plaza del Arrabal. Over the years, the plaza suffered three major fires, and the current buildings were designed by Spanish architect Juan de Villanueva in 1790. There are cafes all around the square that offer a place to sit and admire the architecture over a strong Spanish coffee or glass of wine.
Mercado San Miguel is a Madrid institution. This Art Nouveau market hall is beautiful inside and out: the 20th-century wrought-iron and glass walls allow you to peer inside to see piles of colourful produce, bowls of stuffed olives and hanging bunches of chorizo. Come hungry and do a lap of the whole place before you commit. Or just sample everything.
Go on a Tapas Bar Crawl of La Latina
La Latina is one of the best neighbourhoods in Madrid for nightlife. It's one of Madrid's oldest districts, and these days the narrow, cosy streets here are full of tapas joints and small bars. The fact that they are all so close together makes this a very handy place for a night out - you can crawl from place to place sampling a drink and a tapa in each!
The flea market at El Rastro has been held since the middle ages, and is still Spain's biggest and best market for treasure-hunting. Stalls and sellers set up just south of La Latina metro station, along Plaza de Cascorro and La Ribera de Curtidores, selling everything from used clothing to antiques and all sorts of knick-knacks.
Football is a religion for Madridistas - fans of Real. The team plays its home matches at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, which is also open for tours and has a museum about the club. To really experience the die-hard atmosphere, try to nab tickets for a match against local rivals Atlético Madrid.
Spain's folkloric dance style, flamenco, is most strongly associated with Andalusia, but the tradition is alive and well thanks to Madrid's buzzing nightlife scene. You can catch a flamenco tablao (performance, which involves guitar, emotional singing and rhythmic, pounding dance) almost any night of the week. Try Corral de la Morería, a club that's won numerous awards for its nightly tablaos accompanied by dinner.
Pull up a mid-century chair or slide into an Art Deco booth at cocktail bar Museo Chicote, which feels untouched by time. Chicote was designed as Madrid's first 'American bar' and during its heyday in the 1940s and 50s, it was a favourite of writers and Hollywood stars, from Ernest Hemingway to Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra.
Find somewhere to stay by checking out our hotels in Madrid.