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  • Krista the Explorer

8 Must-See Attractions in Centro, Madrid

Updated: Jun 19

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If you’re visiting Madrid for the first time, or only have a few hours in Madrid to spare, chances are that you’ll be spending most of your time walking around Centro. Centro is the very central district of Madrid, and is made up of various neighbourhoods, like Sol and Palacio. The majority of the city’s historical centre can be found in Centro and is where many of Madrid’s tourist sites are located. Of course, there is much more to see than Centro, but if you’re planning on doing some sightseeing in Madrid, then this is the best area to start.


Centro is the oldest part of Madrid, and is easy to walk around without having to hop on public transportation. Many guided tours take place in Centro as well, which is another option if you’re short on time and want to see as much of the main attractions in Madrid as possible. Centro is where you’ll find the Royal Palace, Gran Vía, and Puerta del Sol, but it’s also where you’ll find a lot of hidden gems in Madrid. There are some fantastic places to eat here too that aren’t along the usual tourist route. That being said, there are definitely some must-see attractions in Centro that can’t be missed for first-time visitors to the Spanish capital.


Table of Contents

What To See in Centro, Madrid

Where To Eat in Centro

Where To Stay in Centro


What To See in Centro, Madrid

Palacio Real

The royal palace in Madrid from the main courtyard.
Palacio Real

Without a doubt, one of the top attractions in Madrid is the Palacio Real. The site where the palace now stands has a history dating back to the 9th century, when the area was occupied by the Muslims. Eventually, a medieval fortress stood here, and in 1561 it was converted into a royal palace by Philip II, making it the official residence of the kings of Spain. Today, the palace boasts over 3000 rooms and is only used for state ceremonies, but it stands as the largest palace in Western Europe, and one of the largest in the world. Visitors can wander through various rooms within the palace, as well as take in the views from the main courtyard, but photos aren’t permitted inside many of the rooms (you will be yelled at).


We purchased skip the queue tickets with Tiqets for €16, which meant we didn’t have to join the enormous queue at the ticket office. We were able to walk straight through to the security gate and were inside the main courtyard in less than 5 minutes.


Catedral de la Almudena

Catedral de la Almudena on a sunny day in Madrid.
Catedral de la Almudena

Directly opposite the Royal Palace is where you’ll find the iconic Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral, like many in Spain, was built on top of an old mosque. It wasn’t actually constructed until the end of the 19th century though, and was originally meant to be a church. If you don’t have time to go inside the cathedral, you won’t be disappointed by the outside of it, so don’t worry. The cathedral is also home to the largest crypt in the country, which features 400 columns and is where some of Spain’s most noble families are laid to rest. The crypt is located at the back of the cathedral, and is across the road from the remains of the city’s Arab walls.


Plaza Mayor

Large open plaza with a statue in the centre.
Plaza Mayor

No visit to Madrid is complete without taking a walk through Plaza Mayor. The plaza dates back to the 15th century and was originally used as the city’s market. It was later remodeled to give it a more classical appearance. The plaza has undergone several fires, been the site of celebrations, bullfights, and executions, and has even hosted some football matches. Today though, Plaza Mayor is home to a variety of restaurants and cafes, and is one of the most photographed places in Madrid. In the centre you’ll notice a large statue of King Phillip III, which is similar to the statue found outside of the Royal Palace of his son, who wanted to outdo his father’s statue. Visiting Plaza Mayor is one of the best things to do in Centro, but make sure you visit early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds!


Gran Vía

View of a busy street in Madrid's centre.
Gran Vía

Gran Vía is Madrid’s most well known street, and is the perfect place to do some shopping while you’re in the city. It was often referred to as Spanish Broadway before many of the theatres were replaced by shopping areas. Gran Vía was formed in the 19th century, and connects Calle de Alcalá with Plaza de España. You can easily walk the entire length of the street if you have time, as you’ll pass by a number of beautiful buildings and points of interest along the way. Don’t forget to snap a photo of the famous Schweppes sign at the edge of Plaza del Callao either.


Plaza Cibeles

A water fountain in front of a classical building.
Plaza Cibeles

Plaza de Cibeles is a must-see attraction in Centro, as it’s home to one of the city’s most iconic symbols. In the centre of the intersection sits Cibeles Fountain which shows the Greek goddess sitting on a carriage being pulled by lions. It once supplied water to the people of Madrid, but in the late 19th century it was moved to its current location and became decorative. Sitting behind the fountain is Palacio de Cibeles, once used as the headquarters of the Spanish postal service, which is now the seat of the city council. There’s a rooftop bar located in Palacio de Cibeles which is always very popular with both locals and tourists. Plaza Cibeles is one of the best places to go in Madrid, so make sure it’s on your itinerary.


Teatro Real

Outside the opera house in Madrid in summer.
Teatro Real

Even if you’re not a theatre goer, you’ll definitely want to take a look at the impressive Teatro Real. This opera house was opened in 1850, and soon became one of the most prestigious in Europe. It’s located in front of the Royal Palace and today showcases around seventeen opera performances per year. You’ll most likely pass by the Teatro Real as you make your way to the Royal Palace, so it’s worth stopping in front of to take a photo. There’s a metro stop right in front of the theatre as well, making it the best option to get to the palace and cathedral from.


Puerta del Sol

A bear and tree statue in a plaza in Madrid.
Puerta del Sol

Visiting Puerta del Sol is one of the best free things to do in Madrid, and is one of the busiest places in the city. In the 15th century, this would have been the location of one of the city’s main gates, and its name comes from the rising sun that used to shine on it. This is now where you’ll find Kilometre 0, indicating that all roads in Spain lead to Puerta del Sol. It’s a must-see attraction in Centro, and is a unique spot to say that you’ve been to. Puerta del Sol is where people come to celebrate New Years Eve in Madrid, and is home to a number of key landmarks, such as the famous Tío Pepe sign. Many people know this part of Madrid for its famous statue, El Oso y el Madroño, which depicts a bear and a strawberry tree. Puerta del Sol is close to many other popular attractions in Madrid, and shouldn’t take you too long to walk around.


Mercado de San Miguel

An historic indoor food market in Madrid.
Mercado de San Miguel

There are many unique food markets in Madrid to visit, some less well known among tourists than others. But, if it’s your first time in Madrid, you should visit Mercado de San Miguel first. It dates back over 100 years, and is one of the world’s most prestigious gastronomic markets. Inside you’ll find a wide range of Spanish flavours to try, and everything is of the highest quality. It’s more of a gourmet tapas spot for food lovers than anything else, so as you can imagine the food isn’t the cheapest here. Feel free to walk around though, and soak up the buzzing atmosphere - it’s one of the best things to do in Madrid.


Where To Eat in Centro

Sanissimo

Sometimes it can be difficult to eat healthy while you’re travelling, but we came across the perfect solution to this. Sanissimo is a vegan restaurant in Madrid, with three locations spread across the city centre. We visited their Opera restaurant, which as the name suggests sits near the main opera house. The food here is incredible. They have an extensive plant-based menu, serving everything from burgers to smoothie bowls. All of their food is freshly prepared and the chef likes to add their own twist on things. I would highly recommend trying one of their plant-based burgers or wraps if you’re heading here for lunch. The smoothie bowl is a great way to end the meal as well. What we really loved was their mixed hummus plate, which was served with fresh focaccia bread and cucumbers. Whether you’re vegan or not, Sanissimo is definitely a great place to eat in Madrid’s Centro.


Moñetes Artesanos

There are sandwiches, and then there are sandwiches from Moñetes Artesanos. This food stall is located in Mercado de Antón Martín, and is where you can get some very unique sandwiches from. These brioche sandwiches are handmade in a unique shape, that’s similar to sandwiches that you’d find in southern Italy. There are a variety of different fillings to choose from as well, including a few dessert options. I chose the Giulietta which has a filling of egg, avocado, watercress, and pecorino cream - and it was absolutely delicious. The Manuela is another great option which has Italian sausage, burrata cheese, black olive pate, lemon zest, and basil inside. Moñetes is the perfect spot in Madrid for lunch, especially if you want something quick to eat or to take on the go with you. But make sure you order a dessert sandwich as well, or you’ll regret not trying it later!


MEAT

For those of you who like burgers and a laid back atmosphere, MEAT is a good option in Madrid’s Centro, and isn’t too far from Chueca. The service here was really fast, so we were in and out in no time. The menu here isn’t enormous, but they do have a nice variety of beef, chicken, and plant-based burgers to choose from. Or if you’re not too hungry, you can always opt for a salad (but who really does that?). I tried one of their chicken burgers with a side of onion rings, which were all perfectly cooked. Unfortunately we visited just before they were due to close so we couldn’t try one of their desserts, but they look tasty! MEAT were also hosting a beer pong tournament later in the evening, so there’s always a lot of fun going on here.


Where To Stay in Centro

Staying in Centro can be quite expensive, especially if you’re visiting Madrid on a budget. We often choose to stay in apartments rather than hotels so that we have the option of making our own food, and they sometimes work out to be cheaper than hotels too. In Madrid’s city centre, there’s no better place to stay than near all of the main attractions. That’s why Gran View Apartments, located right on Gran Vía, is the perfect option if you’re planning on staying in Madrid for a couple of days.

Our 2 bedroom suite apartment was the perfect place to come back to after a long and hectic day of walking around Madrid. It came complete with a fully fitted kitchen, open plan dining and living room with a TV and a desk for doing work, air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and stunning views of the streets below. The main bedroom had a gorgeous en-suite bathroom, and the second bedroom had a bathroom next to it. There’s also an option to use the pull-out bed in the living room, so the suite can comfortably fit up to 6 people in it. We loved how clean and modern the apartment was, and we took full advantage of the offer to have a continental breakfast box brought up to our room in the morning.

Gran View Apartments have a gym and sauna room on the top floor which need to be booked in advance. They have a beautiful rooftop bar area that offers panoramic views of the city and the distant countryside too. The rooftop pool opens in the summer and is for guests only. Since Madrid obviously doesn’t have its own beach, this is something that you’ll be really thankful for! The reception desk is also open 24/7 so if you have any problems there is always someone on hand to help. Gran View Apartments definitely helped us to make the most of our time in Madrid, since we didn’t need to travel far to get back to our apartment at the end of the day. It’s a beautiful place to stay in Madrid, and I guarantee that you won’t want to leave.


>> Click here for the most up to date prices at Gran View Apartments <<


There are so many must-see attractions in Madrid’s Centro to choose from, and it can often be overwhelming for first time visitors to the city. The desire to see as much as possible is understandable, but to make things a little easier there are some points of interest that you should definitely visit before others. Even if you’ve been to the Spanish capital before, you’ll no doubt want to visit a few of these key attractions again and get more stunning photos. And Retiro Park isn't too far from Centro either. Whatever your plans in Madrid are, you’re sure to have a great time!


Have you walked around Centro in Madrid before? I’d love to hear what your favourite part of the city centre is, and if you have any other recommendations for things to do here. Let me know in the comments below! You can follow my travels on Instagram as well, where I’m always posting unique things to do and places to eat.


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