With so many tapas to taste, museums to visit and wonders to see, choosing what to do with your time in Madrid can be very overwhelming!
Madrid is a city that requires a lot of energy. While we generally recommend at least four days to really get to know the city, don’t let time constraints and a miles-long Madrid must-do list scare you away; check out our guide of how to spend a perfect 24 hours exploring and eating your way through the heart of Spain.
Photo Credit: Rafa Luque
Start your day off right with a classic cup of café con leche, or a cortado if you need more of a jolt, in the Plaza de Santa Ana. Relax in the sunny city-center square and take in the early morning bustle around you as you nibble on a tostada, but don’t dawdle; you have a full day ahead of you!
As soon as you’ve downed the strong brew and have a pep in your step, stroll over to nearby Plaza Mayor. Dating back to the Habsburg dynasty, the plaza has been the site of everything from bullfights and public executions to soccer games, though today it is only used to house markets, fairs and the celebration of Madrid’s patron Saint Isidore.
Depending on what time of year you visit, you may get lucky and find a specialty market or food fair inside, or just a beautiful plaza filled to the brim with tourists. Either way, the Plaza Mayor should not be missed during your 24 hours in Madrid.
Make your way to the exit near Calle Mayor and get lost in Madrid’s old quarter on your way to the Royal Palace. Be sure to peek into any charming bakery or specialty shop that piques your interest; the old quarter is filled with treasures waiting to be discovered. One spot that’s worth a look is Calzados Lobos, a shoe store that specializes in espadrilles that add a cool pop of color to any wardrobe and make wonderful gifts.
Once Calzados Lobos has you sufficiently suited up, hurry to the palace. You won’t be going in on this trip since you could get lost in the thousands of rooms for days, but the view from the outside is still jaw-dropping. Take your time checking out every corner of the gigantic palace’s architecture and poke your head into the impressive Cathedral before heading back towards the center.
Your walk from the palace to the Círculo de Bellas Artes takes you through the Puerta del Sol and down Calle Alcalá, the heart of commercial Madrid. Don’t let the tourist traps distract you; there will be time for shopping later. Climb to the top of the Bellas Artes building and try to keep your heart from jumping to your throat when you see what awaits you. The terrace offers the most incredible view in the city, looking out over the center and the sheer beauty is enough to give you an energy boost after a long morning.
At around 2:30 head down the Paseo del Prado to Garcia de la Navarra for a well-deserved lunch. You’ll be welcomed by smiling host and sommelier, Luis, one-half of the brothers Garcia who own the place. The second brother, Pedro, will be busy back in the kitchen, preparing the day’s specials. The menu is small at this farm-to-table restaurant, but we recommend ordering the specials that Luis will describe to you, all chosen based on what was freshest at the market that week.
Last time we stopped by, we were treated to a mouthwatering roasted red pepper and fried egg appetizer followed by the most succulent oxtail we’ve ever tasted; you can’t go wrong with anything the Garcias cook up. Don’t forget to ask your sommelier for his weekly wine recommendation as the restaurant has an extensive wine cellar to pair with any dish for a long, luxurious Spanish lunch.
Make your way down to the Museo Reina Sofía with a full belly and a smile; you’ll need a couple hours on your feet after such an incredible lunch. There are many incredible museums in Madrid, and though the Prado is home to many of the world’s masterpieces, we would choose to spend our time at the modern Reina Sofia if we only had 24 hours in Madrid, because of the interesting look it offers into Spain’s recent social and political history.
Lose yourself in the Picassos, Miró, and Dalís while learning about the significance of modern art in the time of the civil war and dictatorship in Spain, something many visitors miss out on even on longer trips.
When you feel good and cultured, it’s time to head to Malasaña, one of the best areas to shop in the city, and check out Madrileño fashions. Walk up Fuencarral checking out the shops, from chains to boutiques to vintage, and be sure to pick up some fashion tips from the effortlessly stylish crowd around the neighborhood.
Don’t overexert yourself trying to jam everything into one day; once sleepiness starts to creep in, head back to the hotel, change into your new clothes and prepare for a night out on the town.
By 8 pm you should be rested and ready to go for an aperitivo, or pre-dinner drink, at Museo Chicote on Gran Vía. An art-deco style bar once frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway during his time in Madrid, Chicote offers good cocktails and better ambiance. Enjoy your drink among locals before heading back to the old quarter for tapas.
You will be dining on traditional small plates tonight on the famous Cava Baja, a street loaded with great places to eat. Hop from bar to bar, trying a drink and a tapa or two at each. We recommend the solomillo at Casa Lucas, bacalao with honey ali-oli at Basque bar Orixe and croquetas at Casa Víctor. Don’t feel pressured to stick to our route, though; pop in anywhere that grabs your attention – you always eat well on Cava Baja!
Your dinner will be ending on the early side tonight, as you have reservations to see flamenco at 10:30. You will be going to Café de Chinitas, a short walk from dinner, where you will spend the night surrounded by Spanish folklore. Many of the best flamenco artists from the south come to Madrid to work, so you will be treated to a fantastic, authentic flamenco show with a drink included.
The night is young once you leave the show at 12:30, and you can’t spend 24 hours in Madrid without experiencing the nightlife. Pop over to Calle Huertas for some more bar hopping and gin & tonic drinking. The cocktail is almost sacred here and always finely crafted, served in goblet-like glasses, and should be tasted even if you think you don’t like gin. Act like a true madrileño and let the night decide your plans for you, be it dancing at a discoteca until 6 am or keeping the party going and watching the sunrise at the Templo de Debod.
If partying isn’t your thing, hit the hay after a drink and get up early for a breakfast of chocolate and churros at Chocolatería de San Ginés, the sweetest way to say goodbye to the city.
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