Madrid is electric, and if you want 48 perfect hours in this city, you should be too…

If you’re looking for a long weekend within Europe, Madrid is up there with the best, and if you’re looking for a long haul destination with major charm that fits the bill for any traveler, it’s way up there too. Spain is expected to open again this summer, and that is reason to start planning.

All the charm of this iconic city will back better than ever, and with fewer tourists too. If it’s on your short list for a trip, make that list even shorter and tick off a true great.

Madrid is an extremely accessible and walkable city loaded with rich pride and history and it’s gems ever so neatly intertwined between heavenly tapas bars, laid back coffee shops, unique boutique, art galleries and plenty more that will keep you busy for much longer than 48 hours.

Here’s how to divide, conquer and manage your time in Madrid to perfection. The 48 hour clock is ticking…

Getting To Madrid From The Airport

Madrid Barajas International Airport is the main airport in Madrid with direct flights from all over the world. Getting into town is extremely easy. You can grab an Uber or Cabify (the local version) from between €15-28. FYI – Uber will prompt you to add your passport number into your profile if you haven’t used Uber in Spain before, so have that number handy.

You can also get the metro or a handy airport bus directly into the centre for €5. If there are more than 2 of you, the Uber may workout to be cheaper, or at the very least easier – but both are great options. Here are a few more useful tips to know before you land.

Breakfast Musts In Madrid

If breakfast is not included in your hotel rate, fear not, Madrid has an endless supply of great quality spots for coffee, pastries and famous Spanish eggs, but just be aware that many will not open before 9am.

You’re bound to wander passed some tempting spots that are surely worth a try, but if you’re looking for more of a plan, these places are definitely worth a stop: La Bicicleta Café, Monkee Koffee, Toma Café, Hola Coffee, Federal Café or Randall Coffee Roasters. There are just too many good ones, but you can’t go wrong with any of the above. We’ve also put them and everything else onto a handy map for you at the bottom of the post.

Museums/Galleries

One of the most popular attractions in Madrid, the one you’ve undoubtedly read about in your standard guide book, is the Museo del Prado. It’s huge, classic, iconic and full of super famous art, with a standard entrance fee of €15 per ticket. But unless you have a particular interest in pre 20th century European art with lots of Spanish gothic and renaissance works, we would recommend condensing your time, and perhaps visiting other museums instead.

The Prado area is lovely and Thyssen is just across the way. The Museo Picasso and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo are both wonderful as well, and if “Guernica” is what you’re after –  Reina Sofia is your spot. This stuff is totally personal to your art tastes and just depends on how much time you wish to spend in the galleries.  Many people could spend a full day in just the Prado. We wouldn’t though, at least not with only 48 hours to spare ; )

Best Madrid Mercados

That’s Spanish for markets, incase you were wondering, and no visit is complete without at least a couple included. One of the very best things about being in Spain, is the fantastic food and wine, and no meal time opportunity during your 48 hours should ever go to waste. For a nice late lunch, Madrid has a few top notch markets selling all kinds of meats, cheese, wine, fish, desserts and local delicacies.

The most popular is Mercado de San Miguel, right next to Plaza Mayor which is definitely worth stopping by, even though it’s by far the most touristy. Once you’re in there it will be almost impossible to resist the food.

If you’re looking for slightly more informed, underground options, Mercado San Anton is less crowded and offers everything, including a beautiful outdoor roof area to enjoy your lunch. And finally, Mercado San Ildefonso is great too, for a more hipster take on the Mercado. Whichever you end up at, you’ll be satisfied. Again, they’re all included in the Google Map at the end of the article. You’re welcome.

Parque El Retiro

After some wonderful tapas and wine for lunch, and as the heat picks up, it’s the perfect time for a cool walk around the beautiful, tree lined park – if you can resist a siesta. Filled with beautiful gardens, monuments and a lake where you can rent rowing boats, it’s an ideal place for a relaxing stroll and to take in the wonderful surroundings.

Peak sun generally hits Madrid between 2-4 PM, so if you’re planning to skip the siesta in favor of a wander, be mindful that it’s probably a good time to rock some sunblock, or at least a hat. There’s a nice botanical garden in the park, but with so many beautiful free options, the €5 is probably better spent on wine.

Best Dinner In Madrid

Fresh, local and beautifully simple is the operating principle of Madrid’s inimitable, late night food scene. Yep, don’t expect to eat before 8:30 unless you want to wear a hat or t-shirt that says “I’m a tourist”.  If you’re looking for beautiful tapas and glug worthy wine – which you really should be in this city – head to Calle de Ponzano.

The whole street is lined with attractive places to eat and drink, including the ever popular Triciclo. Taberna Averias is a fun wine bar just across the street from Triciclo if it’s crazy busy, and is the perfect place to discover delectable Spanish wines and lip smacking tapas like salmon on toast, jamon, and the array of veggie specialties.

Many of the places are small with standing tables, and won’t look like they do “real food” but you’d be very surprised what they crank out…

If you’re a bit fancy…

If you’re after more of a sit down with full menu dinner, try Restaurante Ten Con Ten, Amazonico, CEBONuma Pompilio, El Paraguas or Gofio – pricier than some, but make for a fun night and great dinner. And Mezcaloteca Corazón Agavero is great for cocktails afterwards.

Remember, Spanish people like to eat late, so if you’re thinking about a 6pm dinner, the restaurant will likely be closed or empty – that siesta may have been a good idea after all.

Malasaña Neighbourhood

This cool neighbourhood is a great place to get a little lost and let yourself zig zag up and down the picturesque streets.

It’s filled with excellent coffee shops, including some mentioned above, as well as bakeries, boutique clothing shops and fun bars. Within the same vibe, the Chamberí district is a local favorite, with so much to love. You’re bound to stumble across a gem of a place. Don’t forget to look up as you wander to catch the pretty colored buildings. Perfect for the gram’.

Royal Palace

To continue taking in the obligatory cultural activities so you can sound intellectually superior to your friends upon your return, it’s worth heading to the Royal Palace. The stunning building was the home to many iconic Spanish royals and if you’re looking to peep more than just the outside, a general admission ticket is €10 – although there are certain months and times of day where you can enter for free.

Shopping

Shopping in a different city is aways fun, and Madrid doesn’t disappoint. Whether you’re looking for one off boutiques, flea markets, high end or just high street, it’s got it all. In the pursuit of happiness via shopping, the Salamanca neighbourhood has lovely, higher end shops. Malasaña neighbourhood is fun to wander and you’ll find some more unique one off boutiques and thrifts.

El Rastro flea market is open on Sundays and is a great place to look around the different stalls, small shops and bars. Las Rozas Village is about a 30 minute drive from the centre and is full of designer outlets, if you’re into that kind of thing too.

And if you’re looking for your standard high street shops available most places in the world, head down Calle Gran Vía. It will be hard to miss a Zara walking around the city, they’re everywhere, and yes, they really may have some “different” stuff.

Real Madrid

If you’re a fan of real football, it’s worth checking to see if Real Madrid is playing, or for any die hards – perhaps even planning your trip around a match. The stadium is centrally located and is less than a €10 Uber from just about anywhere in town.

Tickets, even last minute tickets are available directly from the club’s website. If they’re not playing, you can still take a tour of the stadium, locker rooms, pitch and museum – and of course buy an expensive t-shirt.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Madrid? Oh, and here’s a Google Maps link to all the places, with reviews!

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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18 Comments

  1. Thanks for the guide ! One extra tip : there’s an annual card to access the national museums in Spain on an unlimited basis – for 30 euros, you go to the Prado and others (like Sofia Reina!) as many times as you want and with a fast track. For people transiting or staying often in Madrid (or at least twice a year), that’s a steal 🙂

  2. Word of warning regarding Uber in Madrid. Not only does Uber collect your passport number in case it is requested by police but it also gives that information directly to the driver when he/she picks you up, even if no there is no incident during the ride. At a stoplight on our way to the airport I saw the driver writing my name and passport number down in a book that he kept. I could see other people’s names and passport numbers as well. Uber said some drivers keep a “manual log” but failed to explain why they push that information out in the first place. The driver said the police require him to keep that log (which I do not believe to be true). Uber’s terms and conditions are inadequate in explaining the extent to which the company discloses passport numbers to drivers.

  3. One further tip for visitors to Madrid — do download Cabify, the Spanish version of Uber (but a competitor of Uber). It has a larger network and very similar prices to Uber.

  4. A couple of additions for your readers – the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid is probably one of the best museums I’ve ever been to in regards to layout and artifacts. I would highly recommend it if a person is interested in the history of the Iberian peninsula. It is well worth an afternoon.

    Also, churros con chocolate is a delicious snack anytime, but especially at night.

  5. Thanks Gilbert! Your article is full of interesting info, specially on the ‘eating out places’, many unknown to me…and this considering I’m Spaniard by birth and upbringing, and I just came back from Madrid! I saved your article and in my next visit to family I’ll be sure to hit some of your recommended spots. Thanks again!

  6. Madrid is a great walking city but their Metro is also one of the cleanest and best to navigate in the world. Easy to use from airport to city too. Love the tapas and sangria. Recommend a simple day trip to Toledo about an hour south via train.

  7. My first trip to Madrid is going to be all about you Gilbert. I saved all the items from your map and will be visiting those places. Thank you!!!!

  8. No kidding you’re a tourist. Most restaurants/eateries you mentioned completely unknown. I suggest reading a local guide written by locals i.e. Spaniards – Salud!

  9. So happy to hear about this article on the miles to go podcast today. Just booked an Iberia flight to Madrid next June for the family. I spent a semester in Madrid in college so my list of places to see is already mostly set (and pretty much the same as yours) but also looking for new things to discover and definitely new places to eat and drink!

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