Planning a trip to Madrid and not sure where to start?
We spent days scouring the web for unique things to do in Madrid well before we landed in Spain’s largest city and capital. Madrid has stood for over 1,100 years, so you know there have to be plenty of things worth checking out.
Turns out there are hundreds of quirky and weird things to do in Madrid! Once you’ve seen the touristy hotspots, like checking out the sprawling Parque del Retiro or the amazing Royal Palace of Spain, you might be crave some more hidden things to do in Madrid.
The first time we visited Madrid, we knew there were several must see and do activities in this still growing city, however even back then we didn’t realize how many fun things there were to do in this vibrant city.
Whether you’re just stopping in Madrid as a starting point for a long road trip in Spain and Portugal or taking a Madrid to Barcelona train trip, know that Madrid has plenty of things to see and do.
Join us for 15 unique things to do in Madrid.
While curros con chocolat (churros with a mug of thick chocolate) definitely isn’t unique in Spain, we’ve yet to see another Spanish city that does this combination so well.
First opening in 1894, San Ginés has been serving churros and chocolate 24 hours a day to the masses.
A favorite late night stop (especially common with after the bar patrons), the chocolate is so thick that even though it’s served in a mug, good luck drinking it. Made mostly for dipping the delicious fried churros (yummy deep-fried batter sticks covered in cinnamon and sugar), it’s not something to be missed, and was a highlight on our first trip to Madrid.
What can be more unique than having a real, 2200 year old Egyptian temple in your city?
The Templo de Debod was an Egyptian gift as thanks for helping Egypt deal with preserving artifacts and monuments when they built the Aswan Dam. Rather than having the temple destroyed, it was torn down brick by brick and then rebuilt to exacting detail in Madrid.
The Templo de Debod was originally built to honor both the god Amun and the goddess Isis, and sits in the center of Madrid, Spain, in Parque de la Montaña, close to the Royal Palace. You can walk the grounds anytime for free, however there is a cost to enter the main building.
What makes the Reina Sofia Museum unique has more to do with what’s in it rather than what it is.
Filled with unique paintings and sculptures, including surrealist paintings by artists like Picasso and Dali, you can spend hours walking from one chamber to another surrounded by unique works of art.
The Reina Sofia Museum is also well known for how they group their collections.
From their avant-garde collection, to eclecticism, all to way to their apparatus collection, each room holds a narrative that blends paintings, sculptures, posters, videos and music together in a way that leaves you thinking long after you’ve left the museum.
If you’re going, make sure to check out Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, considered one of the most powerful anti-war paintings in history, and one you don’t want to miss while you’re there.
Housed in the last X-rated cinema in Madrid, the famed Alba Cinema, Sala Equis is converted into a popular cocktail bar and cultural center. Divided into three zones and housed in a former mansion, it has space for you to explore and plenty to do.
The main area, the Sala Plaza, with its big screen and bar, offers a variety of different foods. You can relax on wooden benches, lounge chairs and even swings as you chat with friends and locals alike.
Finally, the cozy 55-seat cinema offers everything from horror and sci-fi classics, to modern blockbusters. They have a huge rotating schedule posted every month (no movies on Mondays though). Check out their site to see what’s playing.
Unique and tasty ice cream treats? Count me in.
“Wait, what am I looking at?” is a commonly heard sentence as people arrive at either La Polleria ice cream shop or its nearby sister ice cream shop, La Coñería.
La Polleria is a racy ice cream shop in Madrid that was so successful its first year that it had to move to a bigger location and then spawned a “sister” version just down the street just has to be good.
With both male (polofres – a play on slang male genitalia and waffles) and female (coñofre – a play on slang female genitalia and waffles), they’re both a huge hit and there are lineups at both places every day. With the polofres on a stick and the conofres split with an ice cream in the middle, you’ll not only get a chuckle but a tasty ice cream treat as well.
Ever feel like you can’t touch this or play with that?
While museums are great places to expand the mind, most just let you use your eyes to take it all in. Five different senses means five different spaces at Ikono that push your senses into the next realm.
From rooms filled with balls to rooms filled with scents, Ikono takes about an hour to walk through and is chock full of photographic moments, so bring your phone or a camera.
The Prado Museum in Madrid is not only the biggest museum in Madrid, it’s also considered one of the premiere museums of the world.
The Prado Museum is housed in a gigantic neo-classical building built in 1785 and is something to see on its own.
Whether you’re an inspiring art student or just enjoy paintings you can see some of the best collections of Goya, Bosch, El Greco and Velazquez here, as well as Spanish Romanesque murals and Gothic altarpieces. You can even find works from the Italian Renaissance with masterpieces by Titia, Botticelli, Rafa and Caravaggio.
Madrid isn’t unique in its street art. What sets Madrid’s street art apart from the rest is the quality and sheer size of many of these large art pieces. From a wall of 150 painted CCTV cameras symbolizing Big Brother is watching, to the charming (and functional) Sombrerete sundial, there are murals and street art found all across Madrid.
For a quick roundup of some the most well known street art in Madrid, check out this article.
While southern Spain lays claim to the Flamenco origin, Madrid is often considered the capital city of Flamenco. The largest and most theatrical flamenco shows in the country call the city home, and there are several flamenco shows happening around the city on any given night.
With the hypnotic dance, haunting vocals, Spanish guitar and rhythmic beat of the castanets, flamenco dancing is fascinating to watch and a unique experience to enjoy.
Whether you catch it in a tablao (a flamenco bar) like the ever popular Corral de la Morería (opened in 1956) or Villa Rosa (first opened in 1911) or even happen to be in the city during one of the many Flamenco festivals such as Flamenco Real, Flamenco Madrid or the end of the year Suma Flamenca, you’re in for a real treat if you’ve never experienced flamenco firsthand.
First opened in 1919, the Estación de Chamberí was one of Madrid’s original metro stations. Situated between the Bilbao and Iglesia stops on the Blue Line, this former subway station was closed for decades, but could still be seen by passengers as they zipped by on the tracks.
With a long history, including providing shelter from the deadly bombing campaigns and artillery assaults of the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, the station was eventually reopened as a museum named Andén 0 (Platform Zero in English).
It features a fully restored Chamberí station, complete with turnstiles, old ticket offices, maps and a film about how the Metro was originally built.
The highlight of the Anden 0 museum is undoubtedly the beautifully reconstructed original ads all along the metro platform. Most are composed of bright colored tiles, just as they were back when it first opened in 1919.
Admission is free, however there is often a line to get in.
Marked in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest continually operated restaurant in the world, the Sobrino de Botin (Nephew of Botin – so named by the nephew of the original owner) has served food for well over two centuries.
It’s so old that when it was first opened, patrons actually brought their own food for the owners to cook up and serve.
While the most notable thing about this restaurant is obviously its age, it has kept to its Spanish roots. Whole suckling pig, faithfully prepared in an old brick oven, is still the restaurants most popular dish and the reason locals still flock to it today.
If you enjoy the macabre as well as grisly oddities, you will find the Reverte Coma Forensic Museum fascinating. Housing over 1,500 macabre oddities, ranging from severed heads from executions, dissected fetuses, deformed skulls of different peoples, diseased bones, mummies, 800 skeletons plus a few torture devices and a real used garrote.
It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, however if you are interested in the forensic and paleopathology sciences, or have a true fascination with the subject matter, it’s worth a look.
Most of these items are housed in the corridors of the immense Faculty of Medicine building at the Complutense University in Madrid for you to see. Mostly set up for students, you can organize a visit by phoning ahead or contacting the university directly.
When is something not as it appears?
When it’s in Madrid’s Museum of Illusions. This newer museum plays on optical illusions to help fool your mind. Using tricks like forced perception and optical illusion, you’ll find upside down rooms, never ending corridors, 3D stereograms and much more.
Most rooms are set up a to trick your mind into seeing, or in some cases, not seeing what’s right in front of you. In either case, bring your camera, because some rooms at the Museum of Illusions need to be photographed to see their true potential.
The Palacio De Cristal in Madrid’s huge Parque de Retiro is definitely something unusual. While palaces are commonplace in Europe, what makes the Palacio De Cristal special is that it’s nestled in the heart of the park, and is more large empty space rather a true palace.
Finished in 1887, the ornate glass and steel greenhouse sits on the shore of the lake in Retiro Park and was designed strictly as a space to exhibit arts and greenery in a loving baroque style. Over 130 years later, the building is still stunning and supposedly looks awesome in the fall as the foliage starts turning.
Love robots? Who doesn’t?
Scared they’ll one day enslave us? Me too, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t find them fascinating. Madrid has one of the largest collections of robots around the world, and you can see and interact with some at the Robot Museum.
Founded in 2013, the museum pays homage to both the early days of robot invention, what’s happening out there today, and what may exist tomorrow. From humanoid replicas, to robotic toys and robotic animals, to replicas of the famous Star Wars androids, and the worlds smallest robot, EMROS, the Robot Museum in Madrid showcases them all.
Whether you’re heading to Madrid for a vacation, flying into Madrid as a stop to someplace else, or happen to live in the city, there’s plenty to see and do at all hours of the day and night.
Filled with restaurants, entertainment complexes, art studios, world class museums, more parks and squares than most comparably sized cities could dream of as well as enough markets and shops to make your wallet cry, Madrid is a definite world class city filled with art, music and nature. So whether you’re in Madrid with your kids, as a couple or going it solo, enjoy your trip!
Do you have anything to add to our list! Let us know in the comments!