How to Spend 3 Days in Madrid: The Best Things To Do
Oh, Madrid. This city was love at first sight for me. With its classic architecture, sprawling parks, and interesting neighborhoods, Madrid and is a must-see destination in Spain. As the capital of Spain, it’s home to a lot of the country’s national monuments, museums, and other top attractions. If you’re wondering what to do in Madrid, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, I’m breaking down the perfect 3-day Madrid itinerary to see the best the city has to offer at a leisurely pace. This itinerary is ideal if you’re visiting Madrid for the first time.
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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
Getting from the airport to the city
There are a couple of options to get from Madrid Barajas Airport to the city. Here’s a breakdown of what’s available.
Train and Metro
The best way to get to the city is to take the train, Cercanias, and then the metro if needed. It depends on where your accommodation is located. For instance, if you’re staying near Puerta del Sol, the very heart of Madrid, you can take the Cercanias C-1 train to Madrid Atocha Station, the largest train station in the city. The journey should take around 30 minutes. Then, you can take the metro two stops to the Sol metro station and walk to your final destination.
The cheapest way is to take the Bus 200 to the Avenida de America station, which is just north of the city center. Then from there, you can take the metro to your final destination. A one-way bus ticket will cost you 1.50 EUR.
The most expensive way to get to the city is to take a taxi, which is a flat fee of 30 EUR. If you’re exhausted, I would go with this route. Otherwise, you can save that money for tapas and souvenirs.
After being banned for several years, Uber is back in Madrid, but its not a popular transportation option. There are other ride-sharing services, like Cabify and Taxify. People tend to use ride-sharing to get around within the city but not to get to this city from the airport.
Getting around Madrid
A lot of the top attractions in Madrid are concentrated in the center so you get to all of them on foot. For longer distances, you can use the convenient public transportation system; trains and buses come frequently and connect the various neighborhoods. The metro is the way to go.
To ride the metro, you are now required to buy a metro card for 5 EUR and add credit to it. You can pay for the bus with a metro card, too. Or you could just pay with cash.
Where To Stay in Madrid
Madrid is home to many great neighborhoods with budget accommodations. The best place to stay in or around the center so you can easily walk to the attractions. The neighborhoods of La Latina, Chueca, and Malasaña are some great options. During my most recent trip to Madrid, I booked my stay at L&H La Latina, an upscale apartment property, through booking.com. Check out some other options for comfortable and convenient accommodations in Madrid.
Useful Spanish Phrases
Madrid may be an international city, but don’t expect the locals to speak English. You can get certainly around the city without speaking any Spanish because Madrid is easy to navigate. That said, it’s a good idea to know these basic phrases:
Me llamo (yah-mo) [Insert name] – My name is [insert name]
Vengo de [insert hometown] – I am from [insert hometown] (Tip: the V in Spanish is pronounced like a B so vengo sounds like bengo)
Cuanto cuesta?/Cuanto vale? – How much is it?
No hablo (ah-blo) español – I don’t speak Spanish
Hablas Inglés? – Do you speak English?
Donde esta el baño (ban-yo)/ Donde están los aseos? – Where is the bathroom?
Donde puedo coger (co-hair) taxi? – Where can I find a taxi?
Me puedes ayudar, por favor? – Can you help me, please?
Me gustaría – I would like…
Como puedo llegar a [insert destination]? – How do I get to [insert destination]?
Circulo de Bellas Artes
Circulo de Bellas Artes (Center of Fine Arts) is an art exhibition of the entrance to the main street in Madrid, Gran Via. It’s one of the best places in the city to get a view of the Madrid skyline.
On the 7th floor of the building, you’ll find a rooftop bar called Azotea del Circulo. That’s where you can take in a panoramic view of the Madrid skyline, overlooking Gran Via, the main street in the city. The drinks here are standard, but the ambiance is so relaxing. Note that you don’t need to order anything at the rooftop, but you do need to pay 4 EUR at the entrance on the first floor for rooftop access. It’s worth the money!
Address: Calle de Alcalá, 42, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Gran Via is the largest and most iconic street in Madrid, and it’s lined with designer shops, theatres, fine restaurants, rooftop bars, tourist offices, and more. There is a three-story Primark store with as well as Zara, Mango, and other Spanish and international brands. Shopping on Gran Via is surprisingly not as expensive as you would expect. That said, the restaurants on this street tend to cater to tourists so I would skip them.
Address: Gran Via, 28013 Madrid, Spain
In every Spanish city, you’ll find a town square, or plaza, normally located at the center. Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s town square with grand architecture buildings covered in Romanesque paintings. It’s a great environment to sit, relax, have a drink, and people watch.
There are also several restaurants and souvenir shops in the square, but they tend to be more expensive. I wouldn’t eat at the restaurants within the plaza itself because they’re nothing special. There are tons of really good restaurants on the streets surrounding the plaza.
Address: Plaza Mayor, 28012, Madrid
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol, simply referred to as Sol, is known as the official center of Madrid. It means ‘gate of the sun’ and is a gateway to many attractions, restaurants, and bars in the city. Sometimes, you’ll encounter demonstrations, speeches, and processions at Puerta del Sol. For instance, during the festival of San Isidro in May, there is a procession of giant bobbleheads called Los Gigantes that starts here. During the Christmas season, the Spanish eating of twelve grapes tradition takes place here.
Address: Puerta del Sol, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Mercado de San Miguel
Mercado de San Miguel is the most famous indoor market in Madrid. At first glance, it seems like a tourist trap, but I don’t think it is. There is a wide variety of things to eat here, which makes it great if you want to sample different Spanish dishes. Prices depend on the vendor, but most of the food is reasonably priced, although more expensive the average eatery in the area. This place is always crowded so arrive right when it opens – 10 am – if you don’t want to stand in long lines.
Address: Plaza de San Miguel, 5, 28005 Madrid, Spain
Catedral de la Almudena
La Catedral de la Almudena is Gothic-style church at the center of Madrid. This cathedral doesn’t get as much love as it deserves – at least compared to other churches in Spain, like La Sagrada Familia. As the seat of the diocese of Madrid, it’s the most important church in the city. The Gothic-style interior is just gorgeous and the cool blue exterior serves as the perfect backdrop for photos.
Address: Calle de Bailén, 10, 28013 Madrid, Spain
With 3418 rooms, Madrid’s Royal Palace is the largest royal palace in Europe by area. 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
Dining at El Botin is one of the experiences you must have in Madrid. Founded in 1725, this is the oldest continuously running restaurant in the world. It’s an upscale restaurant with a dining experience that is second to none. Honestly, the prices, which range between 21-40 euros, are a bargain given the wonderful service and ambiance.
Address: Calle de Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 Madrid, Spain
Chocolateria San Gines
Spanish people love to eat Churros con chocolate for breakfast. One of the best places to try it in Madrid is Chocolateria San Gines. This spot, located near the Sol metro stop, 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
Malasaña is one of the young, trendy neighborhoods of Madrid. Here, you’ll find quirky coffee shops, cool bars, and vintage boutiques. This neighborhood is filled with great photo spots, too. Here are some recommended spots in this neighborhood:
This is one of the coolest bars in Madrid, with bicycles hanging in the ceiling. There is a basement with even more eclectic designs. Both hipsters and non-hipsters love the place.
Address: Plaza de San Ildefonso, 9, 28004 Madrid, Spain
Libros para un Mundo Mejor
This bookstore, whose name translates to ‘books for a better world’ is a quirky little place that’s worth a stop Malasaña. First of all, the entrance is just so cute, with a bicycle in front and a yellow wall. Photo spot alert. Then, in the interior, you’ll find shelves of books and a live-in cat. Yes, there is a cat that lives at this bookstore.
Address: Calle Espiritu Santo 13, 28004 Madrid, Spain
Calle de Fuencarral
This is one of the main streets in the neighborhood and exemplifies the hipster vibe. There is a lot of shopping to be done here to, from vintage shops to high street brands. This is a great street to go for a stroll.
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
Museo del Prado is Spain’s national art museum and one of the best art museums I’ve ever been to. It has a collection of 7,600 paintings and 1,000 sculptures dating from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Any art lover will find something to marvel at here.
Address: Calle de Ruiz de Alarcon, 23, 28014 Madrid, Spain
La Tabacalera is an underground art exhibit that’s impressive but not so well known. Even some Madrileños (people from Madrid) have never heard of it. I only found out about it on my visit to Madrid in the summer of 2018. I was completely captivated and wondered how on earth I had never heard of this place!
The exhibit looks like a dingy alleyway when you enter but then blossoms into an art exhibition as you walk down the halls. The building features mainly street art on the walls which diverge to different exhibitions as you walk through the building. Some of them contain political messages while others are whimsical portrayals of cartoon characters. Some will make you scratch your head and pause for a bit. No art is too bizarre for this exhibit, a contrast to the curated, post-modern paintings at El Prado. It might not be to everyone’s liking.
Address: 28012, Calle de Embajadores, 53, 28012 Madrid, Spain
Casa de Campo
The largest park in Madrid, Casa de Campo is located in the southwest of the city. It’s a little far out from the city center; it takes around 40 minutes to get here by metro. Also, the park is massive so it helps to know where you’re going. The first time I went here, I arrived at the Casa de Campo metro stop, which is about a 20 minute walk from the actual park. I would recommend you take the metro line 10 to the Lago stop to arrive closer to the main park.
Address: Paseo Puerta del Ángel, 1, 28011 Madrid, Spain
Parque del Retiro
Retiro Park is the place for relaxation and leisure in Madrid. 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 kingdom – it’s 350 acres of gardens, lakes, sculptures, fountains, and quaint little houses.
While Retiro isn’t as large as Casa de Campo, it’s still easy to get lost here. 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.
These are the must-see spots 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! A boat ride costs 4 EUR.
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
Casita del Pescador means the fisherman’s little house. This is a quaint, bright orange house stands out in a park full of greenery. It’s surrounded by a pond with little fishes in it.
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.
Address: Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain
Templo de Debod
The government of Egypt gifted this ancient Egyptian temple to Spain as a thank you for their assistance in building the Aswan Dam. The temple, which dates back to the 2nd century BC, is probably the best place to see the sunset in Madrid. It’s located in the south of Parque del Oeste.
Address: Calle de Ferraz, 1, 28008 Madrid, Spain
El Rastro is a popular Sunday flea market, open from 9 am to 3 pm, that is overflowing with deals. You can buy vintage clothes, leather bags, jewelry, electronics – virtually anything you can think of. There are also occasional performances from local musical groups. The market extends for a few blocks so you can spend easily over an hour browsing the shops and buying souvenirs.
Address: Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, 28005 Madrid, Spain
If you’re looking for a unique souvenir, head to Taller Puntera, right around the corner from Plaza Mayor. This shop has some of the finest leather goods in Madrid. Your purchase comes with complimentary engraving to add a personal touch. I’ve purchased personalized wallets and bags for myself as well as friends and family. Prices start at around 30 EUR. I couldn’t recommend this place enough.
Address: Plaza del Conde de Barajas, 4, 28005 Madrid, Spain
Madrid is known for its rooftop bars so you have to experience at least once before you leave. Gymage is one of my favorites. It’s a lively rooftop bar/restaurant located at the top of a gym complex right next to Gran Via. There are cozy white futons and large beach umbrellas. The croquettes are a must-try – runner up to Casa Julio’s.
Address: Calle de la Luna, 2, 28004 Madrid, Spain
Travel Resources I Recommend
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Booking.com – Booking.com is my go-to website for booking discounted accommodations around the world. What I love most about Booking.com is the variety of properties you can find, from luxury apartments to treehouses to university housing. It’s hard to beat the insanely low prices. The website also has a flexible cancellation policy, which is great if things come up or you change your mind.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner.com is my go-to website to search for flights. It’s hard to beat the prices! I’ve snagged a $24 direct flight to Milan, a $30 flight to Berlin, a $400 roundtrip ticket to Colombia, and a $500 roundtrip ticket to Japan. I’ve been using Skyscanner since I studied abroad in Spain back in 2012. I check the website along with the Hopper app to determine the best time to buy tickets.