We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Madrid is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. With an expansive art realm and a mouthwatering food and wine scene, you may forget that Madrid is also full architectural wonders: neoclassical palaces, charming fountains and unique green spaces. In fact, Madrid happens to have 2,294 monuments — so you better start now if you want to see them all! If the thought seems too overwhelming, though, we’ve narrowed it down for you. Here are some of the most epic sights and monuments you just can’t miss in Madrid, Spain — and if you can’t fathom exploring them all on your own, Insider’s Madrid can give you a curated private tour.
Palacio de Cristal
Madrid’s most famous park, El Parque de Buen Retiro, is already a must-see when visiting Madrid. Inside the park’s iron gates, the Crystal Palace awaits, nestled upon a small lake shared by ducks, turtles and other flora and fauna. A structure created almost entirely of glass, there’s nothing like seeing the sun streaming in through the glass windows and looking up to the green treetops hovering over the clear rooftop. If you’re lucky, you may catch a temporary art exhibit inside the palace, fulfilling both the need for nature and creativity in one go.
Puerta de Alcalá
Madrid was once a walled city and this monument used to be one of its five entrance points. Flanked by blooming flowers and the aforementioned Retiro park, you can spot the city of Madrid below through the gate’s arches. When walking around the stone ‘door’, you may notice some small marks: cannon shrapnel damage from the Spanish Civil War. After all, the gate does date back to the late 1700s — it’s bound to have some scars!
We know Buckingham Palace and Versailles get all the attention, but Madrid’s Royal Palace is actually the largest royal palace in Europe in surface area. You can pay an entrance fee to to explore some of the 3,418 rooms (beyond the bedrooms and ballrooms you can also check out the royal library and pharmacy), but we love simply admiring the outside of the palace. The grounds are bordered with 44 statues of historic Spanish royals and the Sabatini gardens filled whimsical labyrinths of trimmed hedges and ponds.
Templo de Debod
Bewildering as it may seem, an Egyptian temple sits peacefully in the heart of Madrid’s city center. The temple dates back to the 2nd century BC, but was given to Spain as gift from Egypt in 1968. The temple arrived in Spain disassembled in stones and was rebuilt in the Parque Oeste, piece by piece until it finally opened to the public in 1972. Locals and visitors have been enjoying colorful sunsets seen from the temple and its surrounding park ever since.
Plaza de Cibeles
The busy traffic circle may not seem appealing on paper, but when you see the beautiful Cibeles Palace, you’ll immediately be impressed. The massive structure was once a post office, but is now the mayoral office. Don’t worry though, many parts of the building are open to the public, like the lobby and the building often houses art and fashion exhibitions. The rooftop, which overlooks the bustling rotunda and beyond, is a chic place to enjoy a sunset cocktail. Below, you’ll see the Cibeles Fountain, another emblematic structure in Madrid. The fountain depicts Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility pulled by two lions on her chariot.
Catedral de Almudena
Built on the site of a former mosque, Spain’s cathedral is relatively new compared to many of its other monuments, officially consecrated in just 1993, over 100 years later when construction first began. Although most Christian churches have an east-west orientation, this one is unusual in that it has a north-south orientation to match with its neighbor, the Royal Palace. The Cathedral has services you can attend if that’s your thing, but you can also walk through to check out its Neo-Gothic interior free of charge too.
Perched on the corner of one of Madrid’s most exciting streets, this impressive building is the perfect jumping off point to start your trek down Calle Gran Vía. Although the street is known for shopping with many stores housed in refurbished movie theaters, don’t forget to look up to see some spectacular architectural wonders — the Metropolis building is just one of them. The design of the building is French-inspired, and you’ll be in serious awe of the dome at the top which is covered in 24-karat gold and presided by an angel.
This majestic plaza may just be Madrid’s most emblematic sight. Although it can be touristy and crowded, you can’t leave Madrid without seeing this special square, which has 237 balconies that face its center. With the red walls and newly-renovated fresco facade, the bustling plaza is home to cafes and pubs where you can chill out and grab a beer. The ambiance is quite different than what it once was back in the day — a spot for town meetings, the site of Spanish inquisition trials and even home to bullfights.