Madrid may be the capital of Spain, but there’s far more to the city than its political role. The royal family are frequent visitors, which should tell you everything you need to know! It’s a place of great historical significance, with museums and art galleries galore. It is also a fantastic destination for seeing some gorgeous Renaissance architecture in the flesh (so to speak).
As for what the city means to me? I was lucky enough to call Madrid home for two whole years. The city won my heart during my time there; I never got tired of passing by Plaza de España or the grand Royal Palace whenever I spent time downtown. I also loved how rich the culture and art scene there was – flamenco dominates, for one, but Madrid is also a real destination for fans of sculpture and painting.
Of course, with Barcelona arguably being Spain’s most famous and best-loved city, plenty of travelers wonder if Madrid is worth visiting in the first place. I’ll tell you without reservation that it’s one of this incredible country’s most interesting and dynamic destinations – there’s honestly something for everyone to see and do.
In any case, planning a visit to any country’s capital can feel a bit daunting. With so much to do and see, where should you make a start? To answer this, you need to ask yourself how long you think you might need to be there to have a really fulfilling trip that ticks all of your boxes.
Hi, I’m Timon!
I’ve experienced the heartbeat of Spain firsthand. Over the last five years, I’ve immersed myself in the dynamic cities of Spain, truly living the Spanish way. My insights into this beautiful country are rooted in genuine experience.
2 Days in Madrid Itinerary – Day 1
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol is at the heart of Madrid, the city’s grand public square and one of its busiest landmarks. It’s also home to plenty of attractions; the famous bear statue, representing Madrid’s coat of arms, is just one of them.
Curiously, there’s even more to this square than meets the eye. It’s where all of Spain’s major radial roads begin (yes, all of them!). This point is known as Kilometre Zero and is marked by its own decorative slab, which you can find at the square. Many of Madrid’s busiest and most significant streets meet at the Puerta del Sol.
Both Plaza Mayor itself and the site it was built on are steeped in cultural value and history. The square, you’ll find, is in the city’s oldest section, and it was King Philip II who ordered it to be constructed in the 16th century.
Today, it’s one of the best places in Madrid to catch a glimpse of a number of more traditional styles of Spanish architecture. Beyond that, the square is home to plenty of old-school restaurants and shops that I absolutely love; the plaza’s austere appearance and bustling atmosphere really take the dining experience to the next level.
Mercado de San Miguel
The Mercado de San Miguel may just be one of the most famous and beloved food markets in all of Europe. With roots dating all the way back to 1912, it’s the last market hall of its kind in Madrid, and you can sample and buy all manner of ingredients and produce here, as well as drink in its vibrant, stately atmosphere.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, sangria, tapas, deli products, and more are on offer. As a mecca for local foodies, this Mercado is where you can buy some of the finest delicacies and wares from across Spain – it’s truly a cornerstone of Madrid’s food culture. I’ll point out that there are bars and restaurants inside, but many have limited seating, so you may need to take whatever you buy to go.
On a side note, if you’re eager to delve deeper into Madrid’s food culture, you might be happy to learn that there are many cooking classes in Madrid to experience local food firsthand.
La Almudena Cathedral
The cathedral of La Almudena is easily one of Spain’s most eye-catching, as well as one of its most significant. I love the neoclassical style this stately structure was built in – its dome and towers form a key feature of Madrid’s charming skyline.
Since it was opened, this cathedral has been the site of royal marriages (and plenty of Spanish royals are buried there, too) and is the official seat of Madrid’s Roman diocese. Should you choose to visit, you’ll be able to take in the cathedral’s sumptuous interior and stained glass for yourself; if you enjoy religious architecture, then this opportunity is not to be missed!
Royal Palace of Madrid
I’ll never forget when I first entered the Royal Palace of Madrid. Talk about lavish! Madrid’s (literally) palatial royal residence just so happens to be one of the largest in the world, and the size of the estate quickly becomes apparent when you first lay eyes on it (this is a great place to come to get your steps in, to put it lightly).
If you ask me, frescoes and artifacts that can be seen inside don’t do a good job disproving the argument that monarchy tends to be a bit over-the-top… but their cultural and historic value can’t be overstated, either.
Beyond them, the incredible beauty of the gardens attached to the palace beggars belief; invoking Versailles or other similar residences, it would almost be worth visiting the Royal Palace just for the opportunity to visit the gardens alone. There’s plenty to see at all times of the year, but this place takes on a truly special quality during the summer in particular, I find.
Sunset at Templo de Debod
When you think about landmarks or attractions to visit in Madrid, an Egyptian temple probably does not come to mind. Well, that’s exactly what the Templo de Debod is; this ancient Egyptian temple was taken apart and then put back together once it reached Spain in the early ‘70s.
The motivation behind this was to preserve some of Egypt’s most significant temples. Nowadays, anyone can view these incredible stone arches for themselves. Set against a reflective pond, I really love the visual effect that the temple achieves – it’s especially striking at sunset, which happens to be a popular time for visitors to swing by the site.
Plaza de España
In Madrid’s center near Gran Vía, Plaza de España is another of the city’s sprawling and impressive public squares. Decorated with elegant statues and sheltering under two enormous skyscrapers, the plaza has an austere, serene quality to it that I absolutely love.
In fact, it’s the ambiance there that kept me coming back when I used to live in Madrid. Even though the Plaza de España is very centrally located, it feels remarkably tranquil and undisturbed, something worth its weight in gold when you live in a major city. Why don’t you stop by the square and sample the atmosphere there for yourself?
Tapas in La Latina
La Latina is one of Madrid’s most exciting districts to visit. The neighborhood is historic, has a quirky character to it, and has an incredible amount of eateries and bars on offer. It’s also somewhere I have lived for a year (and no, it didn’t become the lively destination that it is now thanks to me leaving!).
While it may not seem as touristic on the surface as some of Madrid’s other districts, don’t be fooled; La Latina is a great place to spend some time getting a feel for the pace of everyday life in the Spanish capital.
If you visit on a Sunday, I highly recommend you swing by the flea market at El Rastro and see if you can pick up a bargain. And, if you’re there in the evening, why not check out one of the seemingly countless tapas bars that operate there?
2 Days in Madrid Itinerary – Day 2
Wander through Barrio de las Letras
Much of Madrid’s reputation is built on the city’s literary significance. If this interests you, you’ll want to head to Barrio de las Letras to see where the Golden Age of Spanish literature really took off.
But there’s more to the barrio than books; it’s become fairly trendy in recent years, seeing lots of new shops and restaurants crop up. I love coming here for walks after dark to really take in the atmosphere. There’s no better way to clear your head, which can certainly be welcome after a heady glass or two of sangria!
I recommend you wind up your walk with a drink or bite to eat at the pleasant Plaza de Santa Ana, surrounded by quaint tapas, bars, and cafes.
The Prado Museum is essentially the national art museum in Spain, and it has a reputation for having one of the best collections of European art anywhere on the planet. Inside, you’ll find artworks from as far back as 6 BC to the end of the 19th century; covering this much ground isn’t easy, but I think the museum pulls it off effortlessly.
Indeed, I’d go so far as to say Prado is one of the most compelling art galleries in all of Spain. It’s the place to go if you’re a fan of Bosch, El Greco, Goya, or Titian, among other artists. I’ve always found the variety offered by the temporary exhibitions to be pretty incredible.
Retiro Park and the Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace is tucked away within the leafy Retiro Park, a highly impressive cast-iron conservatory from the 19th century. Similar greenhouses were built across Europe around that time; another Crystal Palace, which stood in London, became especially famous. You’ll find that all manner of art exhibitions are held within this amazing structure, though it’s also been used as a greenhouse in the past.
Otherwise, if you take a stroll through the park, you’ll come across all manner of monuments and statues. Visitors also have the option of taking a boat ride across the lake, though exploring from dry land is, of course, entirely feasible. I really love coming to Retiro Park for a picnic, especially during the spring or autumn when the weather is mild.
Plaza de Cibeles
The centerpiece of the gorgeous Plaza de Cibeles is the Cibeles Fountain, decorated with a statue of the goddess Cybele being pulled by two lions on a chariot. You’ll find some of Madrid’s most important buildings, including the Bank of Spain and the City Hall, flanking the square, too; this is definitely a place worth checking out.
For stunning panoramic views of the city, you can climb to the top of the City Hall; there’s even a bar on the top of the building if you start to feel thirsty! Special events are frequently held in the square, too – people often celebrate here when Real Madrid wins a trophy, for example – so keep this in mind when planning your visit.
Lunch in Salamanca
Suppose you enjoy the finer things in life. In that case, you’ll probably want to visit Madrid’s upscale Salamanca district during your stay in the Spanish capital, especially if you plan on shopping.
At the center of Salamanca is Calle Toro, which just so happens to be the neighborhood’s most popular shopping street. Basically, if you want to pick up some new garb or a souvenir from your holiday, this is the first place you should head.
And, once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can swing by Platea, the food hall, to grab a bite to eat. Inside, you’ll find a staggering array of cuisines available to you; with seating available across multiple stories, a trip to Platea makes for a buzzy and pretty memorable dining experience.
Exploring Chueca and Malasaña
From the moment I visited Madrid for the first time, I was struck by how diverse and exciting the capital’s many districts were. Two of my favorites, Malasaña and Chueca, are true up-and-comers at the moment – both are fantastic places for shopping and nightlife in particular.
Thanks to these areas’ bohemian and trendy vibes, they attract a younger, though reasonably diverse, crowd. So, if you want to get to know Madrid and its youth culture in a genuine, authentic way, I suggest you pay Malasaña and Chueca a visit. It worked for me!
That’s right – when I first moved to Madrid, I wasn’t scared of getting my hands dirty, so to speak; I spent a full year working at a restaurant in Chueca. This incredible experience allowed me to get to know Spanish cuisine on an intimate level, and the district has a truly special place in my heart.
Ah, good old Gran Vía. It’s one of the busiest streets in Madrid, chock full of cafes, shops, and theaters (something that leads plenty of visitors to compare it to Broadway in New York City).
Walk down Gran Vía, and you’ll be able to spot some of Madrid’s most iconic landmarks, including the Capitol building and the Telefónica Building. Simply put, walking along this stretch at night when the crowds are out in force really needs to be experienced firsthand. The atmosphere becomes nothing short of electric – I’m not surprised at all by the Broadway comparisons, now that I think about it.
Evening Flamenco Show
There’s nothing quite like a flamenco show, and as far as Spain’s bigger cities are concerned, Madrid will be the best place for you to catch one. This deeply traditional and historic style of music and art is known across the globe for the passion and emotion that its performers embody; personally, I could never get enough of it while living in Spain’s capital city.
Indeed, you’ll have plenty of options for Flamenco shows in Madrid in the city’s downtown alone; I definitely recommend stopping by one of the local tablaos to see a performance during your stay. Some venues are very traditional, while others support a more varied, forward-thinking approach to flamenco music and dance. Dinner and drinks are often included as part of the entry price, too, so what’s not to like?
Extending Your Stay – Day Trips from Madrid
Something I loved about living in Madrid was how easy it was to make day trips and explore its surroundings, using the city as a hub of sorts.
I always enjoyed the times I headed out for a Toledo day trip from Madrid, for example, a profoundly historic melting pot of religious and cultural influence. The city is a great destination for spending a day or two wandering around and discovering all of its nooks and crannies.
Another excellent option for a day trip from Madrid is venturing to Segovia, best known for its mighty fortress. The city’s Roman aqueduct is also noteworthy and pretty fascinating – this is an absolute must-see if you’re interested in the history of the ancient world.
Deciding When to Visit Madrid
Are you puzzling over when you should plan your trip to Madrid? While Spain is famous for its hot and sunny weather, this is far from being a permanent state of affairs – winter does come to the capital, after all!
You’ll find that winter is the quietest time of year for tourism, and accommodation will likely be a bit cheaper accordingly. Spring and autumn both tend to be mild and less packed than summer; of course, the city truly comes to life in the heat of the summer.
Spring is when the almond blossoms bloom in Madrid – a time of the year that I love. During summer, the festival and events calendar really kicks off, with gay pride and Fashion Week both falling within this period.
Choosing Where to Stay in Madrid
Visitors to Madrid tend to love how varied the city’s myriad districts are – and so did I when I lived there! No matter what kind of vibe you’re after, you should be able to find accommodation for your stay that’s right up your alley.
If you’re eager to stay somewhere a little more upmarket, then the elegant, refined neighborhood of Chamberí is worth looking into; it’s conveniently located for public transport links to the rest of the city, too. I love grungy Malasaña, which has plenty of heart and is about as central as possible.
On the other hand, if you want to take in as much of Madrid’s vibrant tapas scene and stunning historic architecture as possible, then La Latina might be the perfect area for you to stay in. It’s well connected to the city’s metro network, too.
Navigating Madrid: Getting Around and Getting There
While living in Madrid, I was constantly blown over by how comprehensive and efficient the city’s public transport network is. The local metro is one of the biggest and most expansive in the world, making it an easy, affordable, and sustainable way to get around.
Said metro is also a speedy way to get from the airport to downtown Madrid. You can take line 8 from any of the four terminals to reach Nuevos Ministerios, one of the city’s main train stations, in as little as 15 minutes.
You’ll find Madrid surprisingly walkable – especially the downtown area. Many of the major tourist sites there are within a quick walk of one another, so if you’re staying centrally and for a shorter time, you may find that you don’t even need to use the metro at all!
Madrid has undertaken some major city planning reforms to make the place easier to navigate via bike and on foot, too. Bike lanes have been widened, and I’m a big fan of the local bike-share system, BiciMAD, which is super cheap and easy to use.
Of course, taxis and rideshare platforms like Bolt and Uber in Spain are both viable ways to get from A to B if you want to give your legs a break or are in a hurry. For those who prefer a more private and flexible mode of transportation, securing a vehicle through a reputable Madrid car hire service can be a convenient option.
Final Thoughts: 2 days in Madrid
As part of this two-day Madrid itinerary, I’ve recommended you stop by some of the city’s most significant landmarks, including the Royal Palace and public squares, and some of my favorite neighborhoods to explore in the Spanish capital.
I’ve also suggested that you try to make time to check out the Prado Museum and a flamenco performance to get to know Spanish art and culture better.
This itinerary, I feel, is the perfect way to sample everything that Madrid has to offer. In addition to being a creative powerhouse, Madrid is home to some truly stunning public spaces and buildings. My itinerary allows you to take all of them in without feeling rushed or overwhelmed at any point.
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