Wondering what to do in Madrid with kids? As the capital of Spain and its largest city, there is so much to do in Madrid with kids that you’ll have trouble squeezing it all in.
Madrid was the last stop on our tour of Spain, after visiting Barcelona, Seville, Ronda, and Granada. We decided to spend 5 days in Madrid and use the city as a home base to also explore Segovia and Toledo by train.
10 Things to do in Madrid with Kids
Here are the top things we did in Spain with kids. Note that our daughter was eight years old at the time.
1. Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is a large central square that reminds me a lot of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, with surrounding cafes, street performers, and fewer pigeons. It was built during the reign of Philip III and was once the center of Old Madrid. The square was once the scene of grisly events like executions and bullfights, but today is home to the Christmas Market and has also hosted soccer games.
On our first evening in Madrid, we went to Plaza Mayor before wandering over to Plaza de Oriente for our reservations at Cafe de Oriente. Plaza Mayor is a great spot for people watching, letting kids run around, and soaking up the culture of Madrid.
From Plaza Mayor, we continued on, past the Opera House, and then spent some time wandering around Plaza de Oriente, near the Palacio Real, while waiting for the sun to set so that we could eat outside without it being too bright or too hot. This whole area is a great introduction to the city and a fun walk with fountains, statues, and public spaces to enjoy.
2. Puerta del Sol
During our time in Madrid, we stayed in an apartment rental near Puerta del Sol (or The Sun Gate in English), in close proximity to the metro and within walking distance to many attractions. During the fifteenth century, La Puerta del Sol was originally one of the gates of the city wall.
Puerta del Sol was a fun place to hang out at night. Crowds gathered for fun, with mariachi bands and street performers galore (just keep a tight hold of your purse/wallet).
While in Puerta del Sol, look for the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year. You will also find Kilometer Zero on the pavement in front of the Real Casa de Correos, which marks the point from which the distances in Madrid are measured.
3. Churros y Chocolate
One of our favorite things to do in Madrid with kids was to feast on churros and hot chocolate — something we did multiple times. The place to go is the much acclaimed Chocolateria San Gines. Follow your nose up the Passage San Gines and look for the lines of people waiting for their churro fix.
Chocolateria San Gines is like Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans, a trip isn’t complete without at least one stop here. It is open 24 hours so if you go to Madrid, visit here and visit often.
The hot chocolate is thick, like a cup of chocolate sauce. It doesn’t matter how hot it is, you’ll still want to try this delicious concoction. If not to drink, then just to dip in your delicious churros.
Unlike the churros you may have had in Mexican restaurants, these crispy, warm strips of fried dough goodness are soft and springy and utterly delicious. We usually (note I say usually because we stopped here at least 3 times in the 5 days we were in Madrid) got a batch of six with one cup of hot chocolate for dipping and each gobbled up two (ok, I may have eaten more.)
4. Palacio Real
Another thing to do in Madrid with kids that we all enjoyed was a self-guided tour of the Palacio Real. The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish royal family in Madrid, although now it is only used for state ceremonies. The Palace is the largest in Western Europe and one of the largest in the world, with over 3,418 rooms!
After seeing the gothic cathedrals in Barcelona and Seville, and the Moorish influences in Seville and Granada at the Alcazar and the Alhambra, the Palacio Real was a major shift in architecture and style. Here you see the French and Catholic influences in the more elaborate decor. Unfortunately you can’t take photographs inside so the rest will have to remain in our memories.
5. Plaza de Espana
Plaza de España is a large, pedestrianized square in Central Madrid at the end of Gran Via. This green space connects other landmarks including Plaza de Oriente, the Sabatini Gardens, the Campo del Moro, and Madrid Río.
There are three fountains, including the fountain with the popular Monument to Cervantes (which is the work of Rafael Martínez Zapatero and Lorenzo Cullaut Valera), as well as the newly created Fuente del Cielo, made out of makauba marble and inspired by the Madrid sky, and the one known as the Fuente de la Concha or the Birth of Water.
This is another fun area to run around, especially after visiting the Palace or Madrid Cathedral. Before visiting Spain, my daughter and I read Don Quixote, so we had fun posing by the giant statue of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Since we weren’t going to La Mancha this trip, this was a close as we could get to reliving the escapades of this unlikely pair.
6. Prado Museum
From Plaza de Espana, we took a welcome seat on the Metro over to Paseo de Prado. Clearly this is the “fancy” part of town. Walking down Paseo de Prado, admiring Cybele’s Fountain and the broad thoroughfare with museums on either side could be a day’s excursion in itself. Since we only had time for one, we spent the next three hours exploring the Prado Museum.
If your kids are new to art museums, you may want to consider hiring a family-friendly guide to see the highlights because the Prado is huge. Not as big as the Louvre in Paris, but quite large.
In the museum, we rented audio guides, including the children’s audio guide, which describes just a subset of paintings, which are highlighted throughout the museum. It was so much fun to watch my daughter marvel over the fact that everything was an original.
While she has been to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, this was still an experience onto its own. She told us that she was so excited to see painting she recognized from her art books in real life. Even when we were reaching our limits, she told us she was “a million times less than bored.”
7. Mercado de San Miguel
One of my favorite spots in Madrid was Mercado de San Miguel. The market has been around for over 100 years and is recognized as one of the world’s main gastronomic markets. There are over 20 stands selling everything from Iberian ham and fish and shellfish brought in daily from Galicia, to Mediterranean rice dishes and cheeses from Castile, Asturias, and the Basque Country.
Instead of mostly selling produce and meats, like La Boqueria in Barcelona, Mercado de San Miguel has a large number of stalls offering prepared food and tapas. It is a great spot to grab a meal in a food hall atmosphere.
We chowed down on some croquettes, arancini, sausage sandwiches, and other tapas. We also discovered what was the best paella ever from the Paella.com stall. If you are looking for an easy way to feed the kids, especially since most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 9pm, the Mercado is a great way to go.
8. El Retiro Park
After visiting the Prado or other museums along the Paseo de Prado, kids may enjoy running around and getting their wiggles out in El Retiro Park. Once the park belonged to the Spanish Monarchy, and it became a public park in the late 19th century. In 2021, Buen Retiro Park became part of a combined UNESCO World Heritage Site with Paseo del Prado.
The park has all sorts of interesting monuments, gardens, and fountains to explore including the Rosaleda Rose Garden and the Parterre Francés, which has a 400-year-old Mexican conifer tree (believed to be Madrid’s oldest tree.)
Retiro is also a popular spot for families for activities like puppet shows or row boat rentals on the lake. The Velázquez Palace and Glass Palace make a beautiful backdrop to this green setting.
9. Day Trips to Toledo or Segovia
Segovia is so quaint and charming, it actually was my favorite town on our trip. There are two main attractions in this UNESCO World Heritage city. The first is a nearly 2,000-year-old aqueduct built by the Romans and the other is the Alcazar of Segovia.
Toledo is known for sword-making and marzipan. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the second-largest cathedral in Spain, a fortress that is now an army museum, the El Greco museum (highly recommend!), and the Singoga del Transito and the Sephardic Museum in the Jewish Quarter.
10. Madrid Zoo
On our last day in Spain, we wanted to make sure that our daughter could choose what she wanted to do. We thought of going to Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza to look at some more art, but she picked the Madrid Zoo, which seemed like an excellent choice.
The Zoo and Aquarium is one of the largest in Europe and is located in Casa de Campo, just on the outskirts of Madrid. While it was easy enough to reach by Metro, there was a long walk down a dusty path before arriving at the zoo.
At the zoo, you can find 6,000 animals from 500 different species, including koalas, anteaters, and pandas. Since it was so hot on the afternoon we visited, we had the zoo pretty much to ourselves, except for a short line to see the pandas. I haven’t had a chance to see pandas before, or koalas, so that was quite a thrill for all of us.
Madrid was our last stop in Spain, but if you are looking for more help planning a trip to Spain, be sure to check out the following articles: