Home to world-class art museums, breathtaking architecture, and a dining scene in a class of its own, Madrid is a true feast for the senses.
If you only have 48 hours in Madrid, you’ll want to make the most of every moment. Follow this itinerary to experience the Spanish capital at its best—from the legendary sights and monuments to the off-the-beaten-path gems.
Spending 48 hours in Madrid gives you some time to explore the city’s most iconic sights, while also scratching the surface of the more authentic Madrid in neighborhoods many tourists don’t visit.
As a bonus, Madrid is an easily walkable city, so you’ll find it easy to get around town as you navigate this two-day itinerary. However, it also boasts an impeccable public transportation system, so you can still move around the city easily if you’re tired or staying outside the center.
Ready to explore? Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Madrid to make the most of your short time!
Day 1: Morning
Plaza Mayor & Mercado San Miguel
Use your first day in Madrid to get acquainted with the city’s best-known sights. Even if you only had one day to spend here, you’d be glad you checked these legendary locations off your bucket list.
Plaza Mayor is the must-see square in Madrid. This grandiose arcaded plaza has played a pivotal role in local life for centuries, and is the perfect place to kick off your two days in the city. It tends to get more crowded as the day goes on, so take advantage of the morning calm and snap as many photos as you can without the crowds!
If you’re interested in checking out Madrid’s most famous food market, the Mercado de San Miguel, now is also a great time to do so. As the market is opening up for the day and vendors start to set up shop, it’s a lot easier to explore than later in the day when most of the tourist crowds arrive.
Stop for Pastries on Calle Mayor
Start heading east along Calle Mayor as you leave the plaza. Two of Madrid’s best bakeries are within reach, and either one is a perfect stop for a sweet breakfast pastry.
The first one you’ll come to is El Riojano, serving up sweet treats fit for royalty for more than 150 years. This legendary bakery was opened by the Spanish royal family’s personal pastry chef in the mid-19th century. The royal influences are still clearly present throughout the space, especially in the beautiful seating area in the back.
Another excellent option a bit further down the street is La Mallorquina, home to the best napolitana pastries in Madrid. This place gets packed, but trust us—it’s worth the wait!
Puerta del Sol
Calle Mayor leads straight into Puerta del Sol, another quintessential plaza to check out if you only have 48 hours in Madrid. Here, you’ll see the famous oso y madroño statue depicting a bear eating fruit from a strawberry tree. It’s a real-life version of the city’s coat of arms and one of the most famous statues in Madrid.
Before you get to the statue, however, be sure to look for a small stone slab on the ground outside the old Royal Post Office building. This marks Kilometer Zero, which is where all of Spain’s national roads begin. You’ll be standing in the exact geographic center of Spain!
Make your way north from Puerta del Sol and you’ll find yourself on Gran Via, Madrid’s most emblematic (and busiest) street. This street is constantly buzzing at any time of day and lined with international fashion and food chains, entertainment venues, and souvenir shops. It’s not the most authentic place to eat or shop in Madrid, but you can’t pass up the opportunity to stroll along and take in the hustle and bustle of city life.
Rather get your bearings in Madrid with an expert guide? Our Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour is the perfect way to learn your way around the city center while getting a crash course in Spanish food!
Day 1: Afternoon
Lunch in Chueca
When you start getting hungry, head off of busy Gran Via and up into the Chueca neighborhood for lunch. As the unofficial home of Madrid’s LGBTQ+ community, this barrio has a vibrant and welcoming vibe where everyone will feel at home.
Chueca is home to a handful of the best markets in Madrid, Mercado de San Ildefonso and Mercado de San Antón. Both offer dozens of perfect options for lunch, whether you prefer to pick up some picnic supplies and eat elsewhere or enjoy your meal at one of the market bars and restaurants. If it’s a nice day, the San Antón market’s rooftop terrace makes for a particularly great spot for an al fresco meal and drinks.
Plaza de Cibeles & Puerta de Alcalá
To walk off your lunch, spend some time exploring Chueca and eventually make your way out of the neighborhood down to Plaza de Cibeles. Home to a Gothic-style fountain and palace that today houses Madrid’s city hall, this roundabout is fairly busy but well worth the time spent taking a few photos.
Keep heading east past the plaza and you’ll end up at the Puerta de Alcalá, an imposing triumphal gateway that once served as the main entrance to the city.
The Puerta de Alcalá lies just outside the entrance to the Parque del Buen Retiro. Once a private luxury garden for Spanish royalty, it’s now the most famous of Madrid’s many beautiful parks. If it’s a nice day, consider renting a boat in the small yet beautiful lake in the center of the park!
READ MORE: See our complete guide to free things to do in Madrid!
Day 1: Evening
As you head out of the park, make your way into the gorgeous Literary Quarter, also known as the Huertas neighborhood. Stay here and enjoy a DIY aperitif and tapas crawl for dinner, or simply enjoy the scenery as you cut through the neighborhood and let us show you around on a food tour in the nearby city center.
Our Tapas, Taverns & History Tour is the perfect way to take a deeper look at the centuries of stories and legends that brought Madrid from a simple farming town to the capital of an empire. And of course, you’ll eat plenty of excellent food along the way, too.
Cap off the first of your two days in Madrid by taking in one of Spain’s most iconic art forms: flamenco. The Huertas neighborhood is Madrid’s unofficial flamenco quarter, where flamencos musicians, dancers, and artisans have congregated for centuries. Head to Cardamomo to see a show—they regularly host some of the top performers in Spain, and you won’t be disappointed.
Day 2: Morning
Visit an Art Musuem
Your 48 hours in Madrid are halfway up, but you still have a fun day ahead of you! Start Day 2 by heading to at least one of the city’s three iconic art museums: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, or the Thyssen-Bornemisza.
The three museums are located in the same general area, and together they make up Madrid’s famed Golden Triangle of Art. However, they offer completely unique experiences and art styles.
The Prado is home to a massive collection of paintings and sculptures by old-world European masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Boticelli, Bosch, and Rubens. On the other hand, the Reina Sofia focuses on modern art, with Dalí and Picasso among the big names here. Last but not least, the Thyssen does an excellent job of bridging the gap between the other two museums, with masterpieces dating from the Middle Ages up to the 20th century.
You can’t go wrong with either of the three, so pick the one that most interests you!
Day 2: Afternoon
Lunch in Lavapiés or La Latina
After spending the morning exploring your museum of choice, head south of the city center into one of Madrid’s most happening neighborhoods for lunch.
One incredible option would be to explore the international food scene in Lavapiés. As one of Madrid’s most multicultural neighborhoods, you’ll find cuisines from all over the world in this colorful barrio, from Indian to Senegalese and everything in between.
Just west of Lavapiés, La Latina is another one of the best neighborhoods for lunch in Madrid. It’s most famous for the tapas heaven that is Calle Cava Baja, but if you’re not in the mood for a midday bar crawl, there are plenty of great places to enjoy a relaxing menú del día here, too.
Spend the rest of your afternoon getting a taste of royal Madrid at the city’s grandiose Royal Palace. The lavish building is Europe’s largest still-functioning royal residence, with a whopping 135,000 square meters of space divided up into 3,418 rooms.
The majority of those rooms aren’t open to the public, but you can still catch a glimpse at the luxe life of Spanish royalty throughout history on a visit to the palace. Whether you take a guided tour or wander along the route on your own, the building’s opulence will take your breath away.
Day 2: Evening
Temple of Debod
You don’t have to go all the way to Egypt to see one of the most incredible Ancient Egyptian treasures!
The Temple of Debod is an actual Ancient Egyptian temple that the government of Egypt relocated to Madrid as a gift to Spain. Aside from being a must-see during your 48 hours in Madrid, it’s an especially incredible place to catch the sunset.
Head behind the temple itself for stunning views of the Almudena Cathedral, the Royal Palace and the Casa del Campo park.
Dinner (& Nightlife) in Malasaña
As your 48 hours in Madrid draw to a close, head into the trendy Malasaña neighborhood to end your trip on a high (and delicious) note. There are dozens of tapas bars in Malasaña to suit every taste and budget, whether you’re looking for old-school charm or contemporary glamour.
If you’re still not ready for the night to end after a late Spanish-style dinner, stick around to experience Madrid’s legendary nightlife. Malasaña is one of the city’s top areas for drinks, dancing, and partying till dawn. Just be sure to stop for some late-night churros as you make your way back from the clubs!
Other Things to Do in Madrid
Got some time to spare? Here are some more great thing to do during 48 hours in Madrid (or more!).
- Visit another one of the famous art museums—or get off the beaten path and explore one of Madrid’s lesser-known galleries and museums.
- Enjoy a long, traditional Spanish lunch with plenty of wine at Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world!
- Explore the massive Casa de Campo park and ride the Teleférico cable car to see Madrid from above.
- Take a day trip to one of the many fascinating small cities or towns connected to Madrid by public transport.
- Expand your horizons by learning about other styles of Spanish music (it’s not just flamenco!) and seeing a live performance.
- If you really can’t get enough flamenco, start learning the basics by taking a class!
- Visit the famous El Rastro flea market if you happen to be in town on a Sunday.
- Enjoy a wine tasting at one of the city’s many incredible wine bars.
- Go behind the scenes at some of the most iconic sporting and events venues in Madrid by taking a stadium tour.
- Explore off-the-beaten path neighborhoods like Usera and Palos de la Frontera for a more authentic slice of local life.
48 Hours in Madrid: FAQs
Two days in Madrid is the perfect amount of time to see most of the city’s best-known sights and even get a little bit off the beaten path.
Not at all. This can of course depend on your tastes and budget, but overall Madrid is one of Europe’s most affordable capitals to visit, with many accommodation and food spots offering great value for money.
With just 48 hours in Madrid, it’s best to stick to the central areas of the city. Luckily, it’s easy to walk from one point to the other in the center. You can buy public transportation tickets when needed, but no need to shell out for a 10-journey metro pass.
With a short amount of time, it makes more sense to stay in a centrally located neighborhood. The Literary Quarter (also known as Huertas) is a beautiful part of town just outside the center with easy access to the Atocha train station. The city center itself is also convenient and well connected.
Update Notice: This post was originally published on January 18, 2018 and was republished with new text and photos on March 10, 2021.
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Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.