Things to do in Madrid

Madrid Architecture

Spain’s thriving capital blossoms as a bastion of art, culture, and architecture. Stroll through the streets with us and marvel at its heritage.

Echoes of the past sing through the streets of Madrid, past the breathtaking tiled facades of Modernismo apartments and the sweeping arches of grand Neoclassical palaces. They're like stoic guardians standing watch over Spain’s capital.

Architecture buffs looking for impressive sights and fun things to do in Madrid find solace in this city’s ancient charm. Whether it’s a café, an old theater, or a marketplace, the bold and expressive architecture makes everything in the town feel almost poetic.

We recommend taking your time and exploring slowly. Here are our picks for the most unforgettable buildings in this magnificent city.

Modern Architecture

The lofty aspirations of urban planners catapult Madrid into the future. But there are still plenty of sky-piercing towers and imposing castles to set your eyes upon.

Diverse styles have flourished and spread throughout the city. The contemporary architecture of greats such as Antonio Lamela has given rise to inspiring sights.

1. ABC Museum

The 20th century brought a desire to see the chaotic urban development that shaped Madrid redirected toward a more cohesive goal.

Many old buildings, including Museo ABC, became the target of redevelopment plans. Initially a brewery dripping in raw industrial architecture, the museum's 2010 facelift elevated it to an edgy example of modern architecture.

Sharp lines and a dominant white color contrast against the iron framework and other original brewery features. The facade is dynamic and exciting, paying homage to the innovative works of art housed inside.

2. Espacio SOLO Museum

The environment surrounding the art almost breathes its own life into the pieces, helping them reach their peak. Naturally, with a mission of supporting contemporary arts, the organization sought to create an atmosphere where people could celebrate new ideas and styles.

The Espacio SOLO Museum has a dreamy warehouse vibe but is way more elegant. From the mottled concrete floors and wall panels to the squared-off archways and rough-hewn beams overhead, the building’s gritty atmosphere frames the surreal Colección SOLO artwork inside.

3. Mercado Barceló

Nothing escapes the passage of time. But just like our shows have evolved to reach new heights over the years, so have many of the city's most iconic gathering spots. That was the case for Mercado Barceló. This old-fashioned marketplace has everything from fresh fish to restaurant stalls.

Thanks to its redesign, it avoided becoming another victim of redevelopment. Its futuristic cubic facade makes it one of the most recognizable Madrid landmarks. Modern materials like metal and glass create a shimmering mirror-like exterior that demands attention.

4. Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España

If there’s one Brutalist building in Madrid that excites us, it's got to be the Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España. The building resembles a concrete fortress. It was designed by architects Fernando Higueras and Antonio Miró. Its unique circular shape even sprawls around an interior courtyard like a fantasy castle.

Of course, the fun design of IPCE has a broader purpose. As the building preserves and celebrates Spain’s cultural heritage, it plays on the grand castle designs of the country’s past while capturing Spain’s thrilling evolution toward the modern.

5. CaixaForum

Renowned Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron blended elements of old and new styles to create the CaixaForum Madrid building. Expect to see bold and surprising design choices. Picture a rusted iron facade suspended over the public square and a lush garden wall covered in greenery that towers high above the ground.

CaixaForum’s striking features come from the adaptive reuse of the old power station that once occupied the space. The result is something groundbreaking and out-of-this-world.

The historical elements still evoke a sense of strange familiarity. There’s a comfortable yet visible tension between the present and the past.

6. Cuatro Torres Business Area

From a distance, the Cuatro Torres Business Area eclipses everything else. There’s a lot to take in between the four spires, as a different architect designed each building.

The tallest building, Torre de Cristal, resembles a crystal sculpture, which is true to its name. From its base, it’s like an ultra-modern greenhouse. You’ll even find Europe’s largest vertical garden at the building’s summit.

The other buildings don’t disappoint either. Torre Cepsa looks like a massive heatsink, while Torre PwC distinguishes itself with a double-skin facade. Torre Espacio’s curving exterior gives the building a unique, sloping peak.

7. Edificio Castelar

Located along the Paseo de la Castellana, the Edificio Castelar is hard to miss. That’s because there’s nothing else quite like it in Madrid. Imagine a giant box lantern suspended on a sleek glass and steel base. Sloped concrete meets the street, merging the facade with the surrounding area.

The inside is also unique, especially the atrium. Multiple elegant, white staircases wrap around a wall of rough stone blocks. The raw materials and streamlined shapes highlight the Brutalist and Minimalist influences behind the building’s conception.

Photographer: Jorge Mallo

8. Escuelas de San Antón

Escuelas Pias de San Antón was first built in the Baroque style as a religious complex. Still, a fire later reduced the impressive structure to a shadow of its former self. However, it rose from the ashes when the new millennium energized Madrid’s city planners.

The new structure respects the old design, retaining the grand scale that is significant to Baroque architecture. The only surviving building now serves as the facade for an urban community center that opens into a breathtaking courtyard.

Religious Architecture

Experience the immense scale and otherworldly wonder of Madrid’s cathedrals and basilicas. Elements of Spain’s churrigueresque interpretation of Baroque architecture play against Neoclassical and Gothic Revival styles.

9. Catedral de la Almudena

Standing opposite the Royal Palace and serving as the principal church of the Archdiocese of Madrid, the Catedral de la Almudena showcases a fascinating mix of architectural styles. As you approach the cathedral, the Neoclassical influence is nearly overwhelming. Columns, statues, and ornate pediments mirror the grandeur of the nearby palace.

However, stepping inside the cathedral may lead to a few surprises. That’s because the architecture dramatically shifted toward Gothic Revival, which became famous following Spain’s 18th-century cultural renaissance. Glance up at those glorious vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows to be instantly taken back to optimistic and transformative times.

10. Basílica Pontificia de San Miguel

If there’s an architectural style that almost screams over the top, it’s the opulent Baroque style. However, a little friendly rivalry and conflict pushed Spain to add its twist to Baroque architecture, which is how the Churrigueresque style was formalized.

Basílica Pontificia de San Miguel is one of Madrid's best examples of this architectural style. The facade’s elaborate sculptures, intricate carvings, and multiple tiers of decorative motifs add a distinctly Spanish flourish.

Inside, be prepared for the enormous sense of space. The interior plays off Latin cross plans, with an ornate altar and breathtaking nave expanding laterally into additional chapels.

11. Royal Basilica of Saint Francis the Great

Hosting various religious and musical events throughout the year, the Royal Basilica of Saint Francis the Great is entrenched within the cultural fabric of Madrid. People travel far and wide to see its semicircular portico facade and the Saint Francis of Assisi statue.

Step past the magnificent columns that adorn the entrance to be greeted by one of the city's most awe-inspiring sights. Cast your gaze toward the heavenly host depicted in grandiose scale across the ceiling dome. The frescoes draw your attention upward and evoke a feeling of ascension.

12. Basílica de la Concepción de Nuestra Señora

Basílica de la Concepción de Nuestra Señora conveys spiritual ideals through the striking use of stone and glass. Even from a distance, the church casts a formidable silhouette over the skyline.

The central Gothic spire rises high above the residential buildings in the Salamanca district. You enter a warm and inviting nave once you move past the flying buttresses and intricate stonework that shapes the building's Neo-Gothic facade.

Light filters through stained-glass windows, creating a swirl of color that dances around the church with the sun’s daily movements. It’s a peaceful environment designed with quiet reflection in mind.

Historic Architecture

Whether you’re walking through a palace or some of the museums in Madrid, centuries of history have shaped this gorgeous city. It's the perfect place to visit if you want to see how Spain’s relationship with architecture has evolved.

13. Royal Palace of Madrid

Few parcels of land have experienced the tumultuous past of the space now occupied by the Royal Palace of Madrid. Alcázar—the ninth-century fortress that initially stood on the site—was remodeled and expanded several times over the centuries with each change in rulership.

After a fire finally brought Alcázar to ruin, King Philip V organized the creation of the Royal Palace of Madrid in 1938. Now managed by Patrimonio Nacional, it casts a regal appearance over the horizon with its majestic Spanish granite and Colmenar stone facade.

Luxurious tapestries and stunning interior art complement the raw power of its Baroque architecture. Elaborate decoration is the norm across each of the palace’s 3,418 rooms.

14. History Museum of Madrid

Constructed in the 17th century, the building that now houses the History Museum of Madrid originally served as a hospice. The Catholic monarchy wanted to create a space to care for the city's poor and sick, so a warm and friendly design was required.

This museum is another striking example of the Churrigueresque style. It features an elaborate entrance decorated with gorgeous heraldic symbols, pilasters, and sculptural elements made from stucco. The rooms inside follow atraditional Spanish flow by sprawling around a central courtyard.

As stunning as the building is, the exhibits are also fascinating. They take you on a journey from Spain’s early days to the modern era.

15. National Library of Spain

The Biblioteca Nacional de España (National Library of Spain) houses almost every book printed in the country, from rare contemporary tomes to medieval manuscripts. Founded in 1712, the library’s mission, even back then, was to preserve the nation’s literary works for future generations.

Such a noble cause calls for a building that matches the gravity of its purpose. It’s quite fitting that Neoclassical architecture was famous at that time. The highly symmetric style gives the library's facade a sense of order and stability.

Soaring ceilings adorn the lavish main reading room, beckoning you to lose your sense of time as you explore everything.

16. Teatro Real

The auditorium inside the Teatro Real blends unique architectural styles because of its many renovations since it opened in 1850. However, its red velvet upholstery and gilded stucco embellishments exemplify Neoclassical elegance.

After you’ve admired a dreamy ballet, don’t forget to look at the Teatro Real one last time upon exiting. Like many other buildings in Plaza de Oriente, the theater features a rather stately symmetrical facade. It’s lined with a series of arches and columns that take you back to the glory days of the 19th century.

17. Toledo Bridge

Large circular arches and ornamental balustrades give Toledo Bridge a fairy-tale appeal, like something pulled from the pages of a storybook. Of course, we’re big fans of a good story. This bridge’s tale begins after flooding destroyed the two older wooden bridges that enabled passage into the city.

Completed in 1732, the new bridge’s ornate Churrigueresque motifs and graceful shape make for an elegant journey from Toledo to Madrid. Composed mostly of granite, it showcases the phenomenal engineering talent present throughout Spain even 300 years ago.

18. Viaducto de Segovia

Looking up at the magnificent concrete arches of the Viaducto de Segovia, it might surprise you that its current form is one in a long procession that started hundreds of years ago.

Architects proposed a viaduct to connect the Royal Palace and Royal Basilica of Saint Francis the Great in 1736, but plans never materialized; however, that changed in 1874 with the building of the first viaduct.

Since then, deterioration and increasing demands have encouraged two remodels. The current structure features a clean, minimalist design with modernist influences.

It contrasts the many nearby Neoclassical and Baroque buildings, yet it doesn’t look out of place.

A Journey of Inspiration and Exploration Through Madrid’s Architectural Marvels

Nothing quite compares to a walk through Madrid for architecture students. You see the mark left behind by Spain’s most talented architects everywhere you look.

If you are looking for something to soothe your soul, these architectural marvels are a sight to behold. On the other hand, if you’re seeking more of a thrill, just follow the sound of music and cheering emanating from the theater. Come see our shows in Madrid, and you’re bound to leave with a new sense of inspiration.

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