Danny Welbeck gave the visitors a 20th-minute lead but Cristiano Ronaldo quickly struck against his old club as an engrossing contest finished level.
Real Madrid CF and Manchester United FC will meet at Old Trafford on 5 March with their UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie all square after a scintillating contest between two of the game's most decorated sides.
Danny Welbeck gave the visitors the lead against the run of play in the 20th minute but ten minutes later Cristiano Ronaldo's superb header against his former club brought Madrid level. It was an outstanding performance from visiting goalkeeper David de Gea on his return to his native city, however, that stole an often spectacular show at the Santiago Bernabéu.
José Mourinho had predicted Madrid knew "exactly what we want to do"; in the opening stages that turned out to be harrying United with quick passing and movement. Sami Khedira sliced wide before Ángel Di María smashed a shot past De Gea's upright.
The United No1 lost five straight derbies against the Merengues during his Club Atlético de Madrid days but showed he had been left unscarred by that run with a spectacular save in the sixth minute. Fábio Coentrão's snap-shot looked destined for the bottom corner, but the keeper got across to fingertip the ball onto his left-hand post.
Sir Alex Ferguson had forecast goals, yet such was Madrid's early pressure that the fact his team scored first may even have surprised the United manager. Wayne Rooney swung in a corner from the left and Welbeck escaped Sergio Ramos long enough to nod past the stranded Diego López from close range.
That only briefly interruped the home side's territorial superiority. Di María drew a block from De Gea with an effort from the right before Ronaldo – who registered 118 goals in 292 games during six seasons at Old Trafford – got his first against his former club, beating the Spaniard with a memorable header from Di María's pinpoint cross.
Although De Gea continued to excel, blocking Mesut Özil's shot from the right, United were breaking with intent. Welbeck again went close as he flicked Robin van Persie's cross just wide of López's left-hand post.
Madrid had won eight of their previous nine UEFA Champions League home matches and came again after the interval, Di María volleying wide before De Gea acrobatically volleyed out Coentrão's low strike. López proved equally important at the other end when diverting Van Persie's fierce attempt against the crossbar, though the Madrid custodian was beaten by the Dutchman almost immediately and it needed Xabi Alonso's scrambled clearance off the line to keep the hosts level.
Van Persie had the chance to steal it at the end with an angled shot that was touched wide by López, ensuring there will be nothing between the teams when they reconvene in Manchester.