One Day Madrid Itinerary: Must-See Attractions
Even after living in Madrid for almost a year, I felt like I needed more time to experience all that the city has to offer. So creating a one-day Madrid itinerary was no easy task. That said, if you’re crunched for time, you can squeeze the best attractions in Madrid into one full day. This post outlines the top things to do, see, and eat for those who have just 24 hours to explore Spain’s capital. It’s perfect if you want to see the best of Madrid in a day but at a leisurely pace.
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This post is part of the Madrid Travel series. Here’s a full list of posts in the series.
Walking tour: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid
Day Trips: The 10 Best Day Trips From Madrid
Tourist Mistakes: 6 Common Tourist Mistakes To Avoid in Madrid
First, let’s get some logistics out of the way.
Madrid is a walkable city so you can easily get to all these attractions on foot. The city also has an efficient public transportation system, with local trains and buses connecting different neighborhoods. If you want to take the metro, you are now required to buy a Metro card and add credit to it. You can pay for the bus with a metro card, too. Or you could just pay with cash. The activities outlined in this guide are all within the center of Madrid so you don’t need to take public transportation unless you really want to.
As a member of the European Union and the Euro Zone, Spain uses the Euro as its currency. Establishments in the center normally accept major credit cards like Visa or Mastercard. If you’d like to change money, I’d recommend a money exchange called Ceca, located at Calle de Alcalá, 27. That was my go-to place to change money when I lived in Madrid. Now let’s get into the exploration.
One Day Madrid Itinerary: The Best Things To Do
Get breakfast at Chocolateria San Gines
Churros con chocolate are a staple breakfast dish in Spain. If you want to try it in Madrid, one of the best places to do so is Chocolateria. This spot, located in the heart of the city, has been around since 1894 and is open 24/7. You can technically go here at any time of the day, but I think it’s perfect for breakfast. The hot chocolate is thick and creamy and the churros are deep-fried to perfection. I also recommend you try the porras, which are bigger and fluffier than churros.
Address: Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Take a stroll through Puerta del Sol
After getting breakfast, it’s time to head to the very heart of Madrid: Puerta del Sol. Normally referred to as Sol, this is the main metro stop in Madrid’s center. It literally means ‘gate of the sun’ and is a gateway to many great landmarks, neighborhoods, restaurants, and bars in the city. It’s common to find demonstrations, speeches, and processions at Puerta del Sol. I’ve run into a few protests and political rallies here.
There is a famous statue of a bear called El Oso y El Madroño on the east side of the square. It’s a statue of a bear eating from a strawberry tree and represents the coat of arms of Madrid. This statue is iconic and has historical significance, but I don’t think it’s a must-see.
Address: Puerta del Sol, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Admire the architecture at Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is the main square in Madrid, just about a 5-minute walk from Puerta del Sol. It’s a place you see in postcards, with Romanesque artistry covering the high buildings. At Plaza Mayor, you can plenty of souvenir shops, but they’re more expensive than those you’d find in other parts of the city. Plaza Mayor is a great place to sit, relax, and people watch. It also provides a beautiful backdrop for photos.
I’ve eaten at the restaurants at Plaza Mayor before and, while you’ll find good food there, it tends to be pricey. This seems to be a pattern in Spain: shops and restaurants the popular plazas. One thing I wouldn’t buy at Plaza Mayor is paella. It’s watered down and catered towards tourists.
Address: Plaza Mayor, 28012, Madrid
Learn about Spanish royalty at Palacio Real
Spain’s official royal palace isn’t as famous as Versailles or Buckingham Palace, but do not overlook it! With 3418 rooms, it is the largest royal palace in Europe by area. It is larger than Buckingham Palace, which has 775 rooms. Of course, not all the rooms are open to the public, but the palace tour will take you through ornately decorated rooms, collections of crown jewels, and storage of royal armory. You can take a tour of the palace between 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets cost $13 for general admission and $7 for students.
Address: Calle de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid
Have lunch at Casa Julio
Casa Julio is without a doubt one of the best restaurants in Madrid. The croquetas (croquettes) here are a must when in Madrid. This little restaurant in the trendy Malasaña neighborhood serves gourmet croquetas with flavors like potato leek, spinach, and goat cheese, and old fashioned jamón y queso. The Spinach flavor is my all-time favorite. Every time I go to Madrid, my first stop is Casa Julio. I’m not kidding about the croquetas; you need to try them!
Address: Calle de la Madera, 37, 28004 Madrid, Spain
Discover art at Prado Museum
El Prado, Spain’s national art museum, is easily one of the best art museums I’ve ever been to. I appreciate art that looks like it took my thought and skill to create, and I found lots of that at El Prado.
This museum has a collection of 7,600 paintings and 1,000 sculptures dating from the 12th to 19th century. The amount of time to budget for your visit depends on your pace and how much you love art, but 45 minutes to an hour is enough. Even if you don’t love art, I still think this museum is worth a stop.
Address: Paseo del Prado, s/n, 28014 Madrid
Relax at Retiro Park
It’s time for a break and there’s nowhere better for that in Madrid than Retiro Park. The full name, Parque del Buen Retiro, literally means ‘Park of the Good Retreat,’ and it’s a suitable name. This park is more like a little kingdom – it’s 350 acres of gardens, lakes, sculptures, fountains, and quaint little houses. It’s easy to get lost in this behemoth of a park. Luckily, there are maps and directions all around the park to help you navigate it. If you can navigate Central Park in New York, Retiro Park should be a breeze.
Address: Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain
These are the must-see attractions at Retiro Park:
Palacio de Cristal – The crystal palace is a gorgeous, transparent structure sitting by a lake. It also functions as a museum. There are different displays archeological finds and art throughout the year.
Lago del Retiro – this iconic lake is right in the middle of the park. Its image is what people normally associate with El Retiro. Here, you can rent a boat and go for a ride for about 30 minutes. They allow 1-4 people per boat. It is so much fun!
La Rosaleda – this lovely rose garden has statues and fountains surrounded by 4,000 roses. If you visit in May or June, it’s even more beautiful.
Casita del Pescador – this is a quaint, bright orange house surrounded by a pond. It stands out in a park full of greenery.
Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez – this garden has some very special guests – peacocks! It also has a fountain that attracts tons of birds, a lovely sight.
Have a drink at Gymage rooftop bar
You can’t go to Madrid without going to one of its hundreds of rooftop bars. It’s the perfect way to end the ay: having drinks and tapas while looking over the skyline. My favorite rooftop bar in Madrid was closed down so I searched for a replacement. Gymage became my new favorite because of the lush environment, variety of drinks, and appetizers. I would recommend the Pisco Sour and croquetas de jamón.
Calle de la Luna, 2, 28004 Madrid, Spain
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