This post is inspired by all of my die-hard fans out there (haha, I’m kidding). But really, it is inspired by all of the people that have reached out to me to recommend things for them to see, eat, do, and places to visit while either they, or a friend, are in Madrid. I always write out this loooong message with recommendations and then after this last one, I realized that, hey, I can make this into a post!
It’s easy to Google “things to do in Madrid”, but there is something about visiting places that come recommended by people you know (or almost know- via the internet). When you Google “best places to eat” or “best things to do in Madrid”, the results are a big list of super touristy places that, in my opinion, just aren’t that great. Obviously, some of the super touristy places (especially the famous sites) are worth experiencing, so they will be included.
In this post, I want to give you the itinerary that I would recommend to my friends and family, and hope you find it helpful! This itinerary will start from the morning of the first day (Saturday) and end at night on the second day (Sunday). If you are not traveling on those two days, fear not, as I am going to provide an alternative itinerary in another post.
*Also, for incredible food you don’t want to miss out on, see this post.
**At the bottom of this post, there is a shortened version of this itinerary.
Head into Puerta del Sol and go to La Mallorquina, which is a bakery, for a cafe con leche (coffee with milk) or a cortado (espresso with a little milk). Order a pastry or a croissant from one of their displays. The place is always full, so you really can’t go wrong with any choice. Stand at the counter and eat your breakfast, or take it to go and go sit in the Puerta del Sol while you people watch.
Explore Puerta del Sol. If you need a tourist map, they have them in the metro station there. In Puerta del Sol, you can see (and stand at) the center of Spain! From Sol, head towards Plaza Mayor. It’s pretty impressive and shouldn’t be missed. Cross through Plaza Mayor and head into Mercado San Miguel, which is a newly renovated food market with lots of little stands and places to buy some treats. Walk around, admire the building and the food and the people, and maybe choose something to try. Try anything that catches your attention, as your probably hitting mid-morning my this point.photo source
After you’ve had a snack, go to the Royal Palace (the earlier you get there, the better, as it can fill up [open 10 am to 8 pm]). Buy a ticket and explore for an hour or so. Afterwards, head around back and check out the gardens that attach to the palace. They are large and beautiful (and actually a great place to see the sun set later on). At this point, it should be afternoon. From the gardens, walk towards Plaza de España, checking it out for a minute and then walk up Gran Via (a large, central street that boasts great shopping and a ‘Time’s Square’ sort of feel.photo source
Pop in and out of stores, if you feel like doing some shopping. When you get to Calle de Fuencarral, a large pedestrian shopping street, turn left down it and head into Malasaña (another neighborhood).
Eventually, you will pass Mercado de San Ildefonso, another multi-story modern market that features lots of great places to get food. Use this as an opportunity to get lunch. There are lots of great stands that offer all of the traditional Spanish classics, but it will be a bit touristy. I like this place because everyone can get what they like and it’s a cool spot, with some good seating either inside or on their patio.
Once you’re full, it’s time for the siesta! Kidding…no time for that. If you’re into museums, I recommend going to The Prado, which is Madrid’s most famous art museum. It’s HUGE. I have been there multiple times and have only gotten through a bit of it, so if you head there, expect to see a chunk and that’s it. If you don’t want to pay, head over there at 6:00 PM, when it is free (until 8:00 PM). I would head over between 5:30 and 6:00, as the line can get incredibly long. It does move, so be patient (and you’ll save a good chunk of change). Alternatively, it is free from 5 pm- 8 pm on Sunday.
*If you’re not into art, it’s STILL worth seeing, but if you really don’t want to, consider heading back to Gran Via until you get to Callao (a plaza on Gran Via). At Callao, there is a large department store called ‘El Corte Ingles’ and on the top floor, there is a great market (yes, another one!) called The Gourmet Experience with lots of little restaurants. You can buy a few drinks and sit out on the terrace that has great views over all of the rooftops of the city. photo source
**If you DO go to the Prado, it’s probably a good time to head back to the hotel and freshen up. If you’re up for it, head to The Gourmet Experience for some rooftop terrace drinks (see paragraph above).
Dinner is around 9:00 PM. My recommendation is to choose a place and then order a bunch of plates (raciones) to try and share with everyone. Some favorites spots: Taberna Las Descubiertas (near Sol— order the pisto manchego and patatas bravas con dos salsas and anything else that interests you. The portions are large.) or El Buo (locations near La Latina and Chueca— order ONE tortilla (Spanish omelette) to share. My favorite is the tortilla with manchego cheese and red peppers). Another great restaurant is Casa Toni.
If you feel like partying: Joy, Kapital, Samsara are the most popular (and a bit touristy) [but keep in mind the party doesn’t get good until about 2 am, so consider hitting the bars until then.]photo source
Ah, a lazy day after all that craziness!
Start with a leisurely breakfast. I recommend choosing a bar and trying some traditional Spanish foods, like toast with crushed tomato and olive oil (tosta con tomate) and a cafe con leche. If you want something more American, Cafe Federal (near metro Noviciado or Plaza de Espana) has a GREAT brunch, but there will be a wait and they don’t take reservations (try the Shakshuka).
From there, definitely head towards La Latina (an area of Madrid that is south of Sol) and go to the Rastro Market, which is a huge flea market that is popular with the locals. It’s only on Sunday from 9-3 pm. WATCH YOUR BAGS AND WALLETS. Pick-pocketing is bad. photo source
After some shopping, do like the locals and go tapear, or tapa-hop. Basically go from bar to bar through La Latina, have a small beer (called a caña) or some wine and a tapa and then move to the next. One popular street to do this is Calle Cava Baja.photo source
La Latina is often PACKED with people and it’s hard to find a place to sit, so you can stand (that’s totally fine) or head over to another area called Lavapiés (the area where I live!) and enjoy lots of tapas there.photo source
A good street to do that is Calle Argumosa. If you are in Lavapiés, there are a ton of Indian restaurants that offer the menu del dia on Calle Lavapiés, or alternatively, one of my FAVORITE restaurants is just a short ten minute walk- called Lacaña. Really good and totally worth it for lunch (do the menu del dia there… the menu of the day).
Once you’re stuffed, it’s time to relax in the park. Walk over to Retiro Park, which is a huge, shady park that is great for lying in the grass, or walking through. There is a small lake where you can rent a boat, or just watch people. You should also see the ‘glass palace‘, which is…a palace made of glass.photo source
Get a bottle of wine, some snacks, and lie in the grass or sit on a bench (but be careful with that bottle, as public drinking is actually illegal).
Have one final dinner out and about. Again, choose a lot of plates to share and be adventurous! Spanish food is excellent.
Was that a lot to handle?
Here it is in a simpler form:
- Breakfast at La Mallorquina in Sol
- Walk around Sol
- Walk to Plaza Mayor
- Walk through Mercado San Miguel
- Royal Palace
- Royal Gardens
- Plaza de España
- Gran Via
- Mercado de San Ildefonso for lunch
- Visit the Prado art museum
- The Gourmet Experience at Callao for drinks and nice views
- Dinner out at places above
- Go party
- Sleep in
- Toast with crushed tomato and olive oil for breakfast
- Walk through El Rastro market
- Tapas in La Latina
- More tapas in Lavapiés
- Or have an AWESOME lunch at Lacaña
- Walk through Retiro park (see the lake and glass palace)
- Relax in Retiro
- Drinks near Sol or Gran Via and dinner