Madrid is one of our favourite cities in the world, so much so that we spent 7 months living there in 2018 and would love to return one day.
During our time there, we had plenty of friends visit for the weekend and were always planning what to do for their 2 days in Madrid to make sure they saw the best of the city. [no_toc]
Madrid has so much to offer, whether you are a history buff, a foodie, looking for nightlife, shopping or just wanting to explore and spend some time outdoors it has it all.
What to expect from this guide? We will cover the best things to do in 2 days in Madrid, put together a few example itineraries and also cover the practical tips for getting around etc.
2 Days in Madrid Itinerary
The below is our suggested itinerary for two days in Madrid with a full explanation of each activity.
There is a separate section of where to eat further on in this guide.
We have also provided some additional activities, so you can mix and match to come up with your own itinerary for your weekend in Madrid.
Puerta Del Sol
Start the day in the very centre of the city, the bustling Puerta del Sol.
Puerta del Sol translates to gate of the sun and if you take a look on google maps, you will see that it is purposefully designed to be in the shape of a rising sun and each street runs off as a ray of light!
Here you will also find kilometre zero (kilometro cero), a small stone slab marking the geographical centre of Spain and the point from which all roads are measured from. There will be lots of tourists crowding around taking selfies!
Puerta del Sol is also where you will find lots of street acts (more so in the late evening).
Before leaving Puerta del Sol, make sure you get a photo with the bear and the tree statue which is the symbol of Madrid and a common meeting point in the city for locals.
From Puerta del Sol head north and you will hit the main high street, Gran Via.
This is where all the major shopping centre and hotels can be found so take some time to walk along and see what is on offer.
At the east end of Gran Via you will also find the Metropolis building, this was previously an insurance building specialising in fire insurance and you should be able to make out the roof as a fireman’s helmet.
For some local tapas options check out our best tapas places in Madrid.
However, since you are heading towards Plaza Major next you could try the very popular local choice, the calamari sandwich.
One of the best places to try this sandwich is just off Plaza Major and is called La Campana.
If you are wondering why this is so popular inland, it is because back in the 1700s fish and squid would be transported from the coast. By the time it got to the city, the fish was not so fresh but the squid could be rescued by frying it and making squid sandwiches!
Having eaten, head into Plaza Major.
Plaza Major has changed a lot over the centuries. It has been a marketplace, the place for public theatre, public executions, a car park and more recently it was covered in grass one summer to become a park.
It is also where you will find the main tourism office if you need any help from them.
The Plaza is surrounded by restaurants which are lovely but quite pricey relative to elsewhere in the city.
Royal Palace of Madrid
From Plaza Major, head north-west and walk through Plaza de Oriente.
This is a small garden area with a fountain and statue of Philip IV in the centre.
From here you will easily spot the Royal Palace of Madrid.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is open to the public to visit and is the largest palace (in floor area) in Europe!
The palace has a lot of interesting and intriguing history and is very lavish inside.
The cost is €13 to enter or it is free Monday to Thursday from 4.00pm to 6.00pm (October to March) and 6.00pm to 8.00pm (April to September) for EU citizens with proof of ID.
Directly opposite the palace is the very grand Almudena Cathedral, where Prince Felipe and Letizia Ortiz married on 22 May 2004
The Cathedral itself is impressive to visit and is also where you will get the best view of the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Parque Emir Mohamed
For the best view of the Almudena Cathedral, take a little detour around the back and access Parque Emir Mohamed.
From inside the park you will have an amazing view of the Cathedral!
Whilst inside Parque Emir Mohamed, look out for the many black cats that live here which are a nod to a very interesting historical event.
Back in 1086, this area was under Muslim rule and King Alfonso VI wanted to breach the walls and take Madrid.
However, the walls were impenetrable and, in the end a young boy helped by climbing the walls, jumping over and opening the gates to the city.
The boy was nicknamed the cat and from this, all Madrileños have since become known as gatos.
Temple of Debod
To end your day, head back past the Royal Palace of Madrid and north towards the Temple of Debod.
This is considered to be the best place to watch sunset in Madrid if you time it correctly.
The temple itself is an Egyptian temple gifted to Madrid in 1968 and has been rebuilt on top of a hill surrounded by parkland.
Check out these tapas places in Madrid.
One of our favourite places to relax in Madrid is Retiro Park.
This is a beautiful park with it’s own boating lake, rivers, bridges, a glass palace and plenty of huge open areas to sunbathe in summer.
You can spend some time exploring the park yourself and perhaps take some food along with you so that you can have a picnic for lunch.
Look out for the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, one of the only public monuments of the devil himself and it just so happens to sit at 666 metres above sea level.
Paseo del Prado
Paseo del Prado is another of Madrids major streets and has a open park area running down the centre where you can walk.
Take a walk up this street from the south end of Retiro Park as you head to your next destination.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Madrid for art buffs is the famous Prado Museum.
The Prado Museum, along with the Reina Sofia Museum and the Thyssen Museum make a triangle that is said to hold one of the highest concentrations of art in the world.
The museum is over 200 years old and has thousands of pieces of art inside. If you love art you could spend hours here and it is worth the entrance fee.
If you just want to take a quick look, it is free Monday to Saturday from 6pm to 8pm – however you will have to queue.
Head north from the Prado Museum towards Cibeles Palace which we think is one of the most pristine and beautiful buildings in Madrid.
It stands over the fountain of Cibeles, one of three Greek gods that lines Paseo del Prado.
You can go inside for free and also pay a small fee to gain access to the top level which has some of the best views of Madrid.
More activities to build your own Madrid Itinerary
If you want to change some of the activities in the itinerary above, or have more time, we highly recommend the following:
San Mercado is a food market which is incredibly popular with tourists.
Everything is beautifully presented, with a great variety on offer. However the prices are on the high end compared to heading to the local spots for tapas.
Either way, we would still suggest you take a walk through and experience the market.
We have focused on a lot of walking, but if you simply want to relax, jump on the metro and head to Lago Piscina.
This is a huge outdoor pool and is very well kept. Given how hot Madrid can get in summer, this is a great option for a relaxing day and costs just a few euros to access.
Explore the Arts Quarter
Madrid has a long standing history when it comes to the arts, so much so that they have an area called Barrio de Letras (Literary Quarter).
Here you can explore the small cobbled streets and look out for places dedicated to the likes of Lopa de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Cervantes and even Picasso.
Chueca is the gay area of Madrid and has lots to see.
We have a full guide to Chueca here.
Casa de Campo
Casa de Campo, like Retiro is a huge park area with a lake, trails to walk/hike, places to bike and even a zoo.
It is a little further out of the city so you do need to use the metro.
Chocolateria San Gines
For a little pit stop, head to San Gines for the best churros con chocolate ever!
This place is over 100 years old and is very popular.
Another place to take a walk along is the Madrid Rio.
Running alongside the river are a few parks, grassy areas, bars and cafes.
Drinks on a rooftop bar
There are plenty of rooftop bars in Madrid.
If you want to end you final night in style head over to one and enjoy a cocktail or two. We like the one atop El Corte Ingles next to Puerta del Sol.
Madrid has a vibrant and energetic nightlife that will take you through to the early hours of the morning.
We spent a lot of time in Chueca checking out these gay bars and clubs.
Free Walking Tours
Free walking tours are a really great way to see and learn a lot in a short space of time.
The free concept is confusing for some, but basically the tour guide does not get paid and their wage is exclusively from what you pay at the end. It is a hard job so for a 3 hour tour we suggest €10 per person is more than fair.
Check out Strawberry Tours which we highly recommend!
Where to eat in Madrid?
If you travel anywhere in Spain, we highly encourage you to try the local tapas.
We have a full guide to planning a tapas night in Madrid you can refer to here.
If you want something other than tapas, we would recommend these restaurants:
- Oven Mozzarella Bar (Italian Restaurant) – somewhere worth dressing up for with delicious pasta dishes.
- A.P – Napoli Authentic Pizza – seriously good pizza, casual setting and very reasonable.
- Harina – great place for a healthy lunch. We enjoyed the soups and sandwiches on offer.
How to get around Madrid?
The majority of Madrid and all its main attractions are walkable. You can cross the main part of the city from the palace to Retiro Park in about 30-40 minutes.
If you do not want to walk then there are plenty of Ubers available, these are very cheap given the distances are short.
Finally, you also have the metro under and over ground system. You can buy individual tickets for journeys or buy passes for the day/week etc.
To go further out of the city (e.g the airport) you are best to use the train (not the metro). The train machines can be identified by the name of the rail company ‘Renfe’.
Where to stay in Madrid?
We have some great recommendations for hotels in Madrid here.
You can also run a quick search using the booking.com box below:
Practical Tips for your weekend in Madrid
Here are some practical tips for your weekend in Madrid:
- Learn some Spanish and have Google translate at the ready
- The currency is the euro
- Change your money before you come, there are some currency exchange places known for running scams so it is better to be safe than sorry.
- Like most cities, watch out for pickpockets in the city centre. Madrid is not as bad as Barcelona but it’s worth being aware.
- In summer Madrid is extremely hot and in winter seriously cold – pack accordingly!
- There are water fountains around the city which are safe to drink from (as is tap water).
- When looking for accommodation, remember Puerta del Sol is the centre point as a reference for distances.
- The people here eat late compared to the likes of the UK and US for example. A normal dinner time is 10pm so many restaurants in the evening only open from 8pm.
- Equally nightlife is much later, clubs often open from 1am.
After writing this, we can not wait to go back to go back to Madrid. It is an amazing city and we hope your thoroughly enjoy your visit and find this guide useful.
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