As I was planning my trip to Spain, Madrid was the one city I kind of left on the backburner. A good friend of mine had just returned from her Spain trip, and she had mentioned that Madrid was her least favorite city out of all of the ones she visited. This resulted in me having a preconceived notion that I was going to feel the same way. BIG MISTAKE! Although Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Ronda, and Ibiza were top priorities when it came to planning my Spain adventure, I had to give it to Madrid. This was my first time visiting Europe, and Madrid did in fact exceed all of my expectations.
The vibes, the markets, the character, the architecture, the fact that Madrid was so clean, I loved all of it! It was a very good beginning to what was going to be an awesome 2 weeks! I recommend more than one day in Madrid, but this itinerary should help if you really want to maximize your time! Here is my ultimate guide to seeing Madrid in 1 day, and I hope you take what other travelers say about places they have visited with a grain of salt.
The Ultimate Guide to Seeing Madrid in 1 Day
I used my American Airlines points to book a round trip flight from Columbus, OH for 60,000 points! I love using credit cards for free flights! After our nine hour flight, we arrived in Madrid around 9:00 AM. We were pretty exhausted, but couldn’t check into the Air BnB until 3:00 PM. Luckily, our host let us drop our belongings off, but we had no place to nap to cure our jet lag so we set off to find a coffee shop and explore away our sleepiness.
Getting to Madrid From the Airport
There are two ways to get to the center of Madrid from the airport. The best way is through the airport bus that goes to Cibeles. Alternatively, if you are coming from T4, there is a “cercanias” train that goes straight to Sol, which is just 5 minutes away. If you’re arriving at T1-T3, take the Line 8 until Nuevos Ministerois and then change to Line 10 until Tribunal. Bus is the easiest if it’s your first time!
Shane and I were so excited for some REAL coffee! We opted for our first Spanish style breakfast of “tosta con tomate” or, toast w/ tomato! We sprinkled ours with some olive oil and were fully content! We also ordered some “zuma de naranja” (orange juice) and cappucinos’ for a true experience. Did I say how much I love the coffee in Spain? There are so many cafes in Madrid! Here are some recommendations for authentic experiences: FYI – many of the cafe’s turn into cocktail bars at night!
After some much needed coffee, we began our self guided walking tour through Madrid. We started at Puerto Del Sol, Spanish for “Gate of the Sun.” On the South side of Puerto Del Sol, the old Post Office now serves as the office for the President of Madrid! It serves as the heart of Madrid and is kilometer zero where all radial roads begin.
From Puerto Del Sol we continued on to Plaza Mayor! Be aware that pricing here is a little higher because of the tourists. We ordered some more coffee and a little snack and then continued on to Mercado de San Miguel.
This market was PACKED! We could barely fit, but the market was pretty spectacular. There were stalls selling all sorts of tapas, seafood, fresh fruit, and drinks! We didn’t end up getting a bite here because it was a busy Saturday afternoon, so we continued on to Palacio Real.
We did not go inside Spain’s Royal Palace because the line was pretty long. I recommend just admiring from the outside, but I have listed instructions for buying tickets below. From there take a peak inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria La Real de la Almundena.
Purchasing Tickets for the Palacio Real
Queue to buy on the day (not recommended – the queue is long and not in shade) €10 per adult.
Shane and I opted to take a nap because we were so jetlagged and wanted to finally check in to our Air Bnb! BUT if you are energized I recommend continuing on! Five minutes from the plaza is Madrid’s largest park, Parque del Buen Retiro. If you are hungry, here are two excellent recommendations for lunch!
Retiro Park is the central park to relax, people watch, and just stroll around. You can even opt to spend some time in a rowboat on the main pond, Estanque del Retiro. Grab a snack and relax! Make sure to stroll by the Crystal Palace!
Circulo de Bellas Artes Calle de Alcalá, 42
We chose to catch the sunset at Circulo de Bellas Artes! But here is where we messed up… make sure you know when the sun actually sets, and make sure you get there early because there will be a line! We got there around 6:00 and the line was suuuuuper long! We knew we were going to miss the sunset waiting so we just walked around the city for a little bit and waited for the line to die down. The entrance fee to get in is €4. The service was pretty slow and drinks pricey, but you can just order one round of drinks and admire the view!
Other rooftop bars with great views include:
Gymage– Calle de la Luna, 2
Room Mate Hotel Oscar– Plaza de Pedro Zerolo, 12
Renia Sofia Art Gallery
If you have the energy, check out the Renia Sofia Art Gallery! Entry is free from 7-9 and you can check out pieces by Picasso, his most famous being the Guernica. This is Picasso’s huge painting of one of the most horrific events of the Spanish Civil War.
The two of us were starving and ended up at a delicious Indian restaurant that I cannot even remember the name of. Pretty much everywhere you go will be amazing. If you are looking for some excellent tapas recommendations, head HERE!
Where To Stay
We opted to save some money since we were only staying one night, so we decided to rent a private room on Air BnB. We loved the location of it, and even though we were renting a room, we were still able to use the entire space! You can check out where we stayed HERE. I recommend staying in the Centro District so that you are close to all of the main attractions.
Of course, if you want to spend 24 hours in Madrid in true local style, you should make your way to one of the city’s clubs to party all night! We set our alarms to wake up at 2:00AM, but of course we just slept right through them! Some clubs to consider are Chango, Moma 56, and Kapital, which is the biggest!
And there you have it, your perfect itinerary for tackling Madrid in 1 day. Now it’s time to collapse in bed! What are your favorite things to do in Madrid? Let me know in the comments below!
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⇢Lonely Planet Spain Travel Guide has lots of fun facts, free walking tours, maps and images, insider tips and honest reviews. I am glad that we purchased it and highly recommend!
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