Even with three whole days to spare you may not be able to claim you ‘know’ Madrid very well. As repeat visitors and long-time residents will tell you, the Spanish capital is constantly changing and growing, with new restaurants, bars and attractions popping up on a seemingly daily basis. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t flirt and laugh with the city in tapas bars and museums over a long weekend. Here are our insider tips for a 3-day dream date with Madrid.
A look at a map of Madrid’s sprawling urban expanse will point you towards reason – this is a city best explored in neighbourhood-sized chunks. Zigzagging across it all to see attractions on a whim will only lose you time and wear out the soles of your shoes. Madrid is known worldwide for fountains, green spaces and art museums, and the good news is that all of these are within walking distance of the historic city centre.
Start your day in Puerta del Sol, the point from which all of Spain’s major roads originate, and the centre of Madrid’s large but walkable Old Town. Sit down for a ‘cortado’, an espresso with a dash of milk, or a freshly squeezed orange juice, and spend a few minutes people-watching before heading towards Paseo del Prado. On the way, stop at Chocolat Bar and dip deep-fried churros in thick fondue-style Spanish hot chocolate.
11:00 – Tackle the Prado
Less than 10 minutes from Chocolat spend an hour or three gawking at great works of art in Madrid’s world-famous Prado museum. Wander among great works of art by Spanish and European masters like Goya, El Greco, Velázquez, Rembrandt and Botticelli. Even if art isn’t your cup of tea, make sure to search out The Garden of Earthly Delights by Heironymus Bosch, Las Meninas by Velázquez, and two of Goya’s best-known portraits (exhibited in the same room), The Nude Maja and The Clothed Maja.
Insider tip: if you plan to visit the Reina Sofia and Thyssen Museums as well, save money buying an Art Walk Pass at the first museum you visit.
Take a guided tour in Madrid – book online
If you do not have much time and would like to have a tour guide with you, book a guided tour in Madrid.
12:30 – Stroll Around the Botanic Gardens
Take a break from museums and get a breath of fresh air strolling around the Royal Botanical Gardens opposite the Prado en Plaza de Murillo. Go in through the Puerto de Murillo entrance and spend some time admiring the over 90,000 varieties of plants in the gardens.
13:30 – Stop for Lunch
Feeling hunger pangs already? A short walk from the gardens, you can choose between traditional Spanish paellas served in the charming courtyard at Arrocería Gala or all-natural vegetarian and vegan fare at Al Natural.
15:00 – Museums or the Retiro Park
Forget traipsing to the far reaches on your first day and choose from the options nearby listed below.
Option 1: Complete your tour of Madrid’s Golden Triangle (the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen Art Museums) along Paseo del Prado. Pay your respects to Picasso’s ‘Guernica and Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ (aka the melting clock) in the ultra-modern Reina Sofia Art Museum, and admire impressionist and expressionist paintings by the likes of Monet and Van Gogh at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Don’t forget to stop by Caixa Forum to check out French botanist Patrick Blanc’s vertical garden—inside, explore temporary exhibits with subject matters ranging from modern art to ancient history.
Option 2: Spend an afternoon outdoors in Madrid’s Buen Retiro Park, originally conceived by Felipe IV as an outdoor preserve for kings, queens and their close confidants in the 17th century. Hop on a boat and take a turn around the lake. Pose for pictures in the Crystal Palace, a glass and steel greenhouse built to hold an exhibition of plants from the Philippines (a Spanish colony at the time) and now used to house temporary art exhibitions. Afterwards, chase ducks, swans and pigeons around the park with your camera or just cop a squat in the grass and relax with your favourite book.
17:00 – Squeeze in Some Shopping
Work your way back towards the Gran Via for a few hours of shopping before stores close for the night. On the way, stop at Plaza de la Cibeles to pose for pictures in front of Madrid’s most famous fountain and snap shots of the city’s beautiful town hall, designed by Antonio Palacios. Strut down the main drag of Gran Via browsing the goods at luxury stores, and then wander the side streets in search of hip local boutiques and bars.
Stop for a drink and dinner at a tapas bar or restaurant near the Gran Via. We suggest pinchos (single-serving appetizers) and wine at the bar in Mercado de La Reina before turning in for the night to your Madrid apartment for some well-deserved shut-eye. You may have seen a lot of the city for one day, but there’s much more to see tomorrow.