Travel Guide: 24 hours in Madrid, Spain

by Francisco Diego

In recent years, Spain’s capital city has received a makeover, and it’s not a quick makeover. The city’s formerly rundown neighborhoods have been spruced up without losing their attractiveness, and the city’s three most important museums have grown to accommodate more visitors.

Everyone from history buffs to shopaholics to party animals should take advantage of the low-cost flights to Madrid and spend a long weekend there.

Madrid is loved by people who like to learn about history, go shopping, and have fun


Must visit

Madrid is a museum-dream, goer’s with its plethora of art galleries. The three major museums of the city, the Prado, the Thyssen Bornemisza, and the Reina Sofia, form what is known as the “Golden Triangle,” which is located along the city’s two main boulevards.

Visitors at Prado Gallery, Madrid, SpainImage source: trabantos/

Velazquez, Goya, and El Greco are just a few of the classicists whose work can be seen at the Prado. Velazquez’s Las Meninas, perhaps his most renowned work, has lately been brought to life in the form of 80 sculptures ornamented in unique ways that can be seen all throughout the city.

In addition to Guernica, the Reina Sofia has a number of other notable works by Picasso and Dali, with a particular emphasis on their respective 20th-century periods. The Thyssen-Bornemisza has a fantastic collection spanning seven centuries as well as some notable temporary exhibitions. Inexpensive though it may be, a drink in the Terrazas del Thyssen is one of the city’s best after a visit to the museum or gallery (open June–September).


Must take a stroll

When the summer months of July and August arrive, Madrid’s abundance of parks and other green spaces is a welcome relief. You can stroll, enjoy a picnic, or rent a rowboat on the vast artificial lake at Parque del Retiro, all within easy walking distance of The Golden Triangle.

Cableway in Madrid, SpainImage source: Fernando Astasio Avila/

A cable car will transport you to the Parque del Oeste, where the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple from the second century BC, is located. The Casa del Campo is five times larger than Central Park and home to Madrid’s zoo, one of the best open-air municipal swimming pools, and the zoo of Madrid.

Must get up on the roof

Taking in the city from above is a great option for those who don’t have much time to explore. When the Palacio de Cibeles reopens at the end of June, the prime site for city views will be the mirador (lookout point) on the ninth level. If you’re looking for a sweeping panorama of the city, you can also visit the Catedral de la Almudena or the Parque del Cerro del Tío Pío(also known as the Park of the seven tits!).

Tartan Roof – Stunning View of MadridImage source: Agnieszka Skalska/

Instead, when the weather is nice (which it usually is), go to one of the city’s numerous rooftop bars for a drink and a view. Stop by the bar at the Paracaidista, a self-proclaimed “concept store,” as well as the Tartan Roof atop the Círculo de Bellas Artes, which overlooks the Royal Palace.


Must Eat

Madrid has so many restaurants that you could spend a year trying a new one every day and yet not eat at them all. To help limit your options, think about the kind of food you want to eat and where you want to eat it. A bit.

Cocido Madrileño – Traditional Spanish MealImage source: Cesar Lloreda Photography/

Callos (tripe in a tomato sauce, typically with chorizo) and Cocido (a multi-course stew with the broth, meat, chickpeas, and vegetables served separately) are two examples of classic Madrileño foods that are better avoided in the summer but can be enjoyed by the determined. L’Hardy (Carrera de San Jerónimo, 8) is a great option for sampling it.

Bocadillo con Calamares – Traditional Squid Sandwich with BeerImage source: Julia-Bogdanova/

Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo San Ginés, 5) is the go-to spot for thick hot chocolate and churros (deep-fried rings of pastry) for dipping, and it’s open round-the-clock so you can satisfy your churro need whenever the whim strikes.

As for other snack options, the king of Madrid snacks, the Bocadillo de Calamares (fried squid rings on a roll), can be ordered from any of the bars in the Plaza Mayor and delivered to your location at any time of day.


Must drink

The people of Madrid have certain times of the day for various beverages. Enjoy a cup of café con Leche at one of the city’s many morning coffee joints like Café Comercial (Glorieta de Bilbao, 7), Café Barbieri (C/del Ave Maria, 45), or Café Gijón (Paseo Recoletos, 21). Then, before lunch, it’s time to relax with a Vermut or cañas (small beer). Vermut is best enjoyed while standing at the long zinc bar at Casa Alberto (C/de Los Huertos, 18) or the Taberna Angel Sierra in Plaza Chueca, both of which provide excellent people-watching opportunities.

Mercado de San Miguel – Iconic Covered Market in MadridImage source: ColorMaker/

Since most cocktails (a liquor combined with a mixer) are rather potent, they are better consumed after meals. Bar Cock (C/Reina, 16) and Del Diego (only a few doors down), both said to have been frequented by Hemingway, are two iconic cocktail bars. However, both can become very touristy, so Club Clandestino (C/Cid, 1) and 1862 Dry Bar (C/del Pez, 27) better bet.

Must shop

Finding time to shop might be challenging with all the eating and drinking, but fear not, as you can always mix the two. Although you probably won’t be able to complete your weekly shopping at the Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel) or Mercado San Anton (C/Augusto Figueroa, 24), both of these establishments provide a pleasant way to spend an hour or so with a stroll, a drink, and a snack.

Mercado de San Miguel – Vibrant Covered Market in MadridImage source: Mirko Kuzmanovic/

The Rastro, a flea market accessible to the public every Sunday, is a completely different kind of store. The streets surrounding Sol are home to all the major department stores. The neighborhood of Salamanca (c/Serrano and around) is where you’ll find the designer labels, and the neighborhood of Malasaña (c/Fuencarral and nearby) is where you’ll find more youthful fashion, including Spanish names like Desigual and Adolfo Dominguez

Must stay

Right in the middle of everything on Gran Via, the Iberostar Las Letras boasts perhaps the best location in town. If you’re looking for something a little more intimate, the Only You Boutique Hotel is a great option thanks to its beautiful design, 24-hour breakfast service, fitness center, and spa.

Getting around

The public transportation system is safe, clean, and cheap. There is a tourist card good for one to seven calendar days that can be used on any public transportation, but for the best value, it is best to get a 10-ride ticket (which can be shared) and enjoy walking around the downtown area.

Getting there

Norway’s Norwegian Air, Spain’s EasyJet, and Europe’s Ryanair all provide low-cost flights to Madrid.

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