Photograph by Guido Cozzi/Atlantide
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A ceremony to welcome a new ambassador brings horses and riders to the Plaza Mayor, which has hosted cultural events in Madrid since the 16th century.

Photograph by Guido Cozzi/Atlantide

Madrid Must-Dos

Our experts recommend the top attractions in and around Madrid—with advice on how to get the most out of your visit.

La Latina
Also called Los Austrias for the 16th- and 17th-century Hapsburg nobility who lived here; medieval streets jammed with upscale tapas and wine bars, especially along Calle Cava Baja; in warmer weather, the party spills into the plazas with impromptu picnics, drumming circles, and the occasional goat dancing to a gypsy accordionist.

Medina Mayrit Arabic Baths
“Utterly romantic and relaxing!”—Genevieve McCarthy, director, Cellar Tours, Madrid-based luxury wine tour company. Underground warren of luxury: flickering candles, a gentle rush of waterfalls, and three pools for soaking; massages optional. Calle Atocha, 14; tel. 34 902 333 334; fee.

Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
Built in the 16th century as a home for King Charles I, this lavish home of the “barefoot nuns” houses an extraordinary collection of art by European masters. Tip: Don’t miss the tapestries by Rubens. Plaza Descalzas; tel. 34 914 548 800; fee.

Museo del Prado
“Finest collection of Spanish art in the world in one of the finest museums in the world.”—Alun John, Don’t miss Velázquez’s “Las Meninas,” Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” and Goya’s disturbing “dark paintings.” Closed Mondays. Paseo del Prado, s/n; tel. 34 913 302 800; fee.

Palacio Real
“Worth the visit if only for the sheer ostentatiousness of the wealth on display—tons of gold, acres of priceless paintings, hundreds of crystal chandeliers, gilded thrones, porcelain walls, Flemish tapestries.”—Stephen Drake-Jones, Madrid-based historian. Imposing armory features armaments dating back to the 13th century. Calle Bailén; tel. 34 914 548 800; fee.

Plaza Mayor
Madrid’s main square since the 16th century; red arcade facades and worn cobblestones witnessed autos-da-fé under the Inquisition, bullfights, and royal events; draws thousands of tourists, buskers, and street vendors daily.

Reina Sofía
“A wildly diverse selection of shows with immense space given to contemporary artists from the insanely conceptual to the shockingly upfront.”— Andy Johnson, assistant editor, TBS: The Broadsheet. Reformed 18th-century hospital; home to Picasso’s "Guernica". Closed Tuesdays. Calle Santa Isabel, 52; tel. 34 917 741 000; fee.

La Rotonda at the Palace Hotel
“You absolutely must have a cocktail or, better, a glass of cava under the gorgeous stained glass Rotunda.”—Genevieve McCarthy. Built in 1912 for King Alfonso XIII’s wedding; testament to Madrid’s glorious belle epoque; Hemingway used to drink here. Plaza Cortes, 7; tel. 34 913 608 000.

Sunset at Las Vistillas
“After the sun sets, the Almudena cathedral is floodlit, providing a spectacular backdrop to a night of tapas at El Ventorrillo”—Kirsty Tuxford. Great views down to the sprawling Casa de Campo park and out to the Sierra Guadarrama mountains. Calle Bailén at Calle Morería. El Ventorrillo Calle Bailén, 14; tel. 34 913 663 578.