72 Hours in Madrid
Welcome to our 3 days in Madrid itinerary! 72 hours is perfect to make the most of this city. Planning a trip is fun but time consuming, however with this Madrid Travel Guide you won't have to spend much time thinking about what to see in Madrid. Just follow our suggestions and we are sure you'll have an amazing time. Enjoy!
It doesn’t take much to fall for Madrid’s dynamic personality. Enchanting visitors with its captivating history, enthralling sights, distinguished gastronomy and architectural gems, Madrid has effortlessly asserted itself as the beating heart of Spain. The streets are bursting with life, and the fiesta stops for no one. The energy here is contagious. Juxtaposed between the traditional and the contemporary, Madrid offers a deeper glimpse into the colourful amalgam of modern day Spain. Within the confines of this bustling metropolis, a venerable old world charm has been preserved. With just a few days in this vibrant capital, here’s how to experience the magic of Madrid first hand.
Start your first day in the geographic center of Spain, the humming Puerta del Sol. Originally a historic gate to the city, Sol is now a hub for political protests, lively New Year’s Eve celebrations and garish street performers. The origin of all major free ways in Spain, marked by the Kilometer Zero plaque, lies just below the historic post office that dominates the square. Amongst the crowds and vendors stands the Bear and Strawberry Tree statue (El Oso y El Madroño), the official symbol of Madrid.
Make your way towards Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s expansive central square surrounded by striking architecture, exquisite frescoes and warm bursts of colour. Despite its bloody history of public executions during the Inquisition, this historic epicenter is now brimming with boisterous street performers, ornate facades and curious people-watchers. Venture towards the Royal Palace passing by Plaza de la Villa, home to Madrid’s former town hall and jail. This picturesque square blends a number of contrasting architectural styles ranging from Mudejar to Habsburg baroque. Continue on to the Catedral de la Almudena, admiring the bright pops of colour and dazzling geometric shapes that adorn the ceilings.
Across from the cathedral stands the Palacio Real, built in 1736 by the Bourbons. Though nowadays this ornate royal palace is only used for royal ceremonies, it is still the oldest functioning palace in the world. Take a short tour of this regal estate to fully appreciate its grandeur. Although the palace contains about 2,800 rooms, the self-guided tour only covers about 50 of the lavishly decorated rooms. Tucked just behind the Royal Palace lies the Jardines de Sabatini, the most luxurious place to admire the palace’s elegant facade.
As lunchtime approaches, saunter back towards Mercado de San Miguel for a mouthwatering assortment of tapas. This cast-iron and glass edifice is one of Madrid’s oldest and most elegant markets. Wander through the lively stalls, picking out delicacies such as jamón ibérico (cured ham from acorn-fed pigs), olives, savory cheeses, fresh seafood and decadent pastries. Wash down your delectable treats with a caña (a small beer) or a glass of Rioja wine.
Walk up Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de Cibeles, an iconic roundabout encompassing Spain’s national bank, Cibeles fountain and the imposing Cibeles Palace. Head up farther to marvel at Puerta de Alcalá, an impressive gate that used to be a main entrance to the city. Once you arrive at Parque del Buen Retiro, seek some downtime in this sprawling urban oasis. Explore the Palacio de Cristal, rent a paddleboat on the park’s small manmade lake, or people watch from one of the park’s outdoor cafés. Cross the park to the Fuente del Ángel Caído, one of the world’s only statues of the devil, which coincidentally stands 666 meters above sea level.
Exit Retiro near Atocha, Madrid’s central train station that flaunts an arresting facade and a lush indoor garden. Wander over to the dynamic neighborhood of Lavapiés, a cultural melting pot known forits colourful bars, bohemian cafés and exceptional international cuisine. Stop at Cafelito for a cozy cup of coffee or tea, or pop over to Gau&Café for a rooftop aperitif.
By now it’s time for some pre-dinner drinks, and there’s no better place to imbibe than one of Madrid’s vibrant rooftop bars. Perched just past Plaza de Cibeles, La Azotea at the Círculo de Bellas Artes boasts knockout panoramas of the city. It costs 4€ to go up to La Azotea, but the unparalleled views are worth the charge. As you take in the sublime vistas, sip on a refreshing gin and tonic or tinto de verano (a mix of red wine and lightly sweetened soda, which is what the locals drink in lieu of sangria).
For dinner, take a bite out of the past at Sobrino de Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world. Open since 1725, Botín has served classic Castilian cuisine to a host of notable figures such as royals, famous politicians and Ernest Hemingway. Be sure to try the signature cochinillo asado, or roasted suckling pig. For something trendier, head to Plaza de Santa Ana and grab a bite to eat at Lateral, where traditional tapas are served with unique contemporary twists. Seeing as Spaniards are notorious night owls, the streets here are still buzzing after dark. Join the fiesta and grab some cocktails at local watering holes Santamaría or Del Diego.
Start your day in Plaza de Oriente, a lush oasis nestled between the palace and royal opera house. Walk through the peaceful gardens to Café de Oriente and fuel up with a creamy café con leche (espresso with milk) and tostada con tomate y aceite (toast with freshly grated tomato and olive oil).
No art lover can miss out on the Golden Triangle of Art, Madrid’s trio of world-class museums all within walking distance from one another. Check out one of Madrid’s superstars, such as the Museo del Prado for classic Spanish masterpieces by Goya and Velázquez, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía for top-notch modern art such as Picasso’s Guernica, or the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for an expansive collection of varied artists and styles. After absorbing an array of celebrated art, peek into La Iglesia de San Jerónimo El Real tucked just behind the Prado. Formerly used as the royal church, this stunning cathedral is where Spain’s former King Juan Carlos I was crowned in 1975.
Around noon or one o’clock, you can find many locals partaking in la hora de vermut, or “the hour of vermouth”. Grab your pre-lunch aperitif at Taberna Real, which used to be a residence for employees of the Royal Palace. After imbibing, head to La Latina for an afternoon of tapas crawling. Sate your hunger on Calle de la Cava Baja, a charming medieval street overflowing with tapas bars and taverns from end to end. La Latina is especially bustling on Sundays after 13:00, when the neighborhood’s best bars such as Taberna de los Huevos de Lucio and Taberna la Concha are packed with hungry locals.
Stroll past the Royal Palace and absorb the bulk of Plaza de España, an expansive square featuring a monument to Cervantes and Spain’s beloved Don Quijote. Continue on towards Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple gifted to Spain in 1968. The park encompassing the temple boasts spectacular views of the city, making it one of the best spots to relax, have a picnic or watch the sunset.
Amble down Gran Vía, which dissects the city center with its sprawling sidewalks, grandiose hotels and popular stores. Also known as the “Spanish Broadway”, Gran Vía is brimming with theatres, bars and nightclubs. Remember to lift your gaze upwards, for this congested avenue also flaunts eye-catching examples of early twentieth-century architecture. Whether you’re looking to splurge or just window-shop, more trendy shops and boutiques can be found on Calle de Fuencarral just off Gran Vía.
Crawl up Calle de Fuencarral towards Malasaña, Madrid’s epicenter of counterculture. Although this neighborhood is notorious for its thrift shops, hipster cafés and vibrant nightlife, Malasaña is also a distinguished hub for foodies. Funky La Musa offers a unique, modern take on tapas, while timeless Bodega de la Ardosa is home to one of the city’s best tortilla de patatas (a traditional omelet made with thinly sliced fried potatoes and onions). After dinner, hit the bars on Calle Pez in the heart of Malasaña. Sip on classy cocktails at 1862 Dry Bar or The Passenger, or order cheap cañas alongside locals at Bar Palentino.
Kick off day three at Madrid’s most famous bakery, La Mallorquina. Edge your way through the crowds of hungry locals picking up their favourite sweets, treating yourself to a savory chocolate napolitana. Don’t miss El Rastro, Madrid’s largest and most popular flea market, which takes place every Sunday morning in La Latina. Sift through the junk to find buried treasures such as old flamenco records, hand crafted jewelry and weathered antiques.
Take a tour of Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium, home to the revered Real Madrid football team. On this self-guided tour, football fans are given special access to the pitch, trophy exhibit, dressing room and presidential box, among other stadium highlights. Afterwards, venture down to trendy Chueca. This colourful district, which is also the center of Madrid’s gay community, is brimming with picturesque buildings, contemporary boutiques and eclectic bars.
Stop for lunch at Mercado de San Antón, a high-end market serving a delectable array of traditional and international tapas. Continue exploring after lunch, checking out some of the neighborhood’s charismatic cafés and wine bars such as Diurno or Vinoteca Vides. Avid shoppers must take a stroll down Calle de Augusto Figueroa, which is lined with fashionable shoe shops.
Grab a drink at one of the many rooftop bars near Gran Vía, such as Ático de las Letras at Hotel de las Letras, Gymage’s Terrace or La Terraza at Hotel Room Mate Óscar, and enjoy your libations with impressive views of the city skyline. Then head over to chic Barrio Salamanca, home to the city’s best upscale shopping. At the Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience you can indulge on gourmet tapas at StreetXO, a spinoff of chef David Muñoz’s Michelin starred DiverXO.
On your last night out, check out a flamenco show at Villa Rosa or Casa Patas, ordance the night away at one of Madrid’s lively discotecas. The areas near Huertas and Puerta del Sol host a variety of clubs and bars that cater to visitors and international students, such as Joy Eslava and mega-club Kapital. Posh clubs such as Gabana 1800 and Palacio Fortuny reside in swanky Salamanca, while Malasaña offers upbeat alternative options such as Ocho y Medio, Barco and Tupperware.
Once the clubs empty out at sunrise, feast upon the capital’s most famous churros con chocolate at Chocolatería de San Ginés. Conveniently open all night long, this iconic eatery is the ideal spot to refuel or simply soak up the night’s gin and tonics.