Madrid in One Day: The Best Itinerary, Map, Tips & Guide

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How to Spend an Amazing Day in Madrid

Spain’s capital city is a beautiful and cultured city with stunning architecture, tranquil parks, and some of the best art museums in Europe. This cosmopolitan city boasts contemporary and historic attractions and is packed with character on every street corner – come with us and spend a perfect day in Madrid.

Packed with remarkable major attractions, we’ll show you Madrid’s wonderful tapestry of grand boulevards, and plazas, lined with elegant and historic buildings, medieval churches, and world-class art museums, with our one day itinerary.

In this Madrid travel guide, you’ll find a complete itinerary of all the most important must-see Madrid attractions, with an interactive map, organized to make the best use of your time. We also share recommendations for central places to stay, ideas about where to eat local food, and tips about how to make the most of your perfect day in Madrid.

Madrid in one day

Are you planning your trip to Madrid last minute?

Be sure to book your accommodation and tours in Madrid ahead of time to ensure availability! Here are our top picks!

  • Top Hotels in Madrid:
  1. Luxury: CoolRooms Palacio de Atocha (right in the centre and very lux!)
  2. Mid-Range: Pestana Plaza Mayor (right on the main square and our fave!)
  3. Budget: 7 Islas Boutique Hotel (stylish, quirky and central)
  4. Hostel: OK Hostel Madrid (well located at a great price)
  • Top Activities & Tours in Madrid:
  1. For all the best things to see in Madrid, grab this private city tour by eco tuk-tuk 
  2. Get your Prado Musuem tickets to see Madrid’s top attraction
  3. Visit Madrid’s Royal Palace to see the home of Spain’s royal family
  4. Eat and drink like locals with this wine and tapas walking tour
  5. End your day with a passionate live flamenco performance

Things to See & Do in Madrid

Interactive Map

ROUTE: Paseo del Arte – Retiro Park – Plaza de CibelesPuerta del Sol – Plaza Mayor – Almudena Cathedral – Royal Palace – Temple of Debod – Gran Via

How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.

Itinerary Notes

  • The Spanish capital is an elegant city, full of wide boulevards, pretty parks, and beautiful buildings, and many of the top spots are within 30 minutes walking distance of each other, making it easy to see all Madrid’s top sights. Even so, comfortable walking shoes or trainers are a must for this city visit.
  • If you prefer not to walk use the metro, Madrid’s convenient and cheap public transport. Alternatively, try BiciMAD, Madrid’s electric bike service, or get the Madrid hop-on-hop-off bus.
  • Or, if you prefer to have your day organized for you, check out our recommended and fun private Madrid tour by eco tuk-tuk and place yourself in the hands of a local expert.
  • Is this your first time visiting Spain? Get all the information you need in our Spain Travel Guide, including what to pack, the best time of year to go, getting there, and practical tips to help you have the best trip!


Paseo del Arte

Also known as the golden triangle of art, the Paseo del Art is home to three of the world’s most important art galleries and the hub of Madrid’s cultural life. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the so-called art walk includes the Paseo del Prado between Cibeles and the Plaza de Atocha, El Retiro Park, and the Jerónimos neighborhood.

It may be a stretch to visit all the places along the Paseo in the time you have, but we have devoted the morning to seeing the most important elements. If you’re not a museum person, the exterior of the Prado is well worth strolling around.

If you decide to visit the three museums the best ticket option is to buy the Madrid Go City all-inclusive pass which not only includes a guided tour of the Prado and Reina Sofia museums and tickets for the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum but also covers the Madrid hop-on hop-off bus, a flamenco show and segway tour plus 13 other attractions.

Museo Nacional del Prado

You cannot go to Madrid and not visit the Prado Museum, it is one of the absolute Madrid must-sees. The Museo del Prado is widely recognized as one of the best art museums in the world and while not all the art will be to everyone’s taste, to be in the presence of such masterpieces is pretty awe-inducing. 

You will see works by artists such as Spain’s own Velázquez, Goya, and El Greco. Representing the low countries are Rembrandt, Brueghel, van Dyck, and Rubens, while Titian, Caravaggio, Botticelli, and Tintoretto form the Italian contingent. 

There is a dedicated exhibition of Hieronymus Bosch’s art, with which most people have a real love or hate relationship. Join this brilliant Prado guided tour with skip-the-line tickets to fully understand the history and symbolism of the paintings, it will be worth the cost for the knowledge and insight shared and gained.  

TOP TIP: You can visit the Prado for free between 6-8pm on Mondays to Saturdays and from 5-7pm on Sundays and holidays, although expect a long queue for the privilege. Otherwise, book your Prado tickets in advance to avoid the queues, which can be monstrous in high season.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional

It’s not all about the Prado. The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza houses what was Europe’s largest private art collection until 1992 when it was bought by the Spanish state and moved to Madrid.  

The museum holds an eclectic collection of world and European art from the 13th to 20th century including works by Duccio, Van Eyck, Carpaccio, Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Sargent, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kirchner, Mondrian, Klee, Hopper and many more. We enjoyed the more modern art on display, especially after several hours in the Prado.

If you prefer to visit just this museum, this well-reviewed guided tour with priority tickets is a great option.

TOP TIP: On Mondays between 12 and 4pm you can visit the permanent collection free of charge, you may find the queues a bit shorter here!  

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

The Reina Sofia Museum is dedicated to 20th century art and has plenty on offer from Spain’s greatest modern painters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

Along with the large permanent collection, the museum has a mixture of national and international temporary exhibitions making it one of the world’s largest museums for contemporary and modern art.

If you want to explore Reina Sofia and skip the other museums, grab these skip-the-line entrance tickets for a quick and easy visit.

TOP TIP: The museum offers free admission on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 7pm to 9pm and on Sunday from 12:30pm to 2:30pm.

pink and white museum building with wide stairs and trees in the foreground

Parque del Buen Retiro

Madrid’s Retiro Park is a gorgeous and tranquil bit of greenery, literally next to the Prado. The beautiful park is a welcome respite from the hustle and heat of the city and the perfect place to stroll in the summer. It is one of the most beautiful places to go in Madrid city.

You could easily spend a whole day in the tranquility of El Retiro Park. Covering over 125 hectares, with more than 15,000 trees, this is a large and fascinating space. 

Make sure to visit the much-photographed Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), all the different gardens, and the Parterre Francés, which is home to a Mexican conifer that is nearly 400 years old and is believed to be Madrid’s oldest tree.

urban park with Madrid buildings in the background


Plaza de Cibeles

On your way to Plaza de Cibeles, you’ll pass Puerta de Alcalá, located in the center of the Plaza de la Independencia roundabout. The Alcala Gate is one of the five ancient royal gates that gave access to the city of Madrid Independencia roundabout.

Although it’s called a square, Plaza Cibeles is really a very busy roundabout with a very famous fountain in the middle – which by the way, is almost impossible to get to unless you have a death wish!

The Plaza is surrounded by beautiful architecture and elegant 19th century buildings including the Banco De Espana and Madrid City Hall, one of the most striking buildings in Madrid.

In the middle of the roundabout is the Fuente de Cibeles, an 18th century neo-classical fountain depicting the goddess Cybele on a chariot pulled by two lions.

TOP TIP: If you want the iconic image of the fountain with Madrid City Hall in the background, the best time is the early hours when traffic is at a minimum.

Discover Puerta del Sol

Start your afternoon in Madrid by walking between the Paseo del Prado and the Royal Palace. Stop on the way at the Puerta del Sol, one of the busiest and best-known places in Madrid.

In days gone by, Puerto del Sol was an important meeting point for people arriving in the city. Today, the square is always busy as people mingle, grab the Metro, or just hang out to enjoy the lively atmosphere.

The square is famous for being literally at the center of Spain, and the point, known as Kilometer Zero, is marked in the paving stones of the square – this is the starting point for all major Spanish roads.

Puerta del Sol is also home to the famous clock whose bells mark the hour and the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes at the beginning of a new year.

A popular meeting spot in the square for locals, look out for the 20th century bronze statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree or El Oso y el Madroño. The sculpture represents the coat of arms of Madrid and is found on the east side of the Puerta del Sol, between Calle de Alcala and Carrera de San Jerónimo.

Busy city square with imposing historic buildings

Explore Plaza Mayor

Pop over Calle Mayor to Plaza Mayor, one of the must-sees in Madrid, and the most important public square in the city.

Started by Philip III in 1617, the four storey porticoed buildings that line the square dominate the space, which is full of history and fascinating plaques and symbols.

TOP TIP: Don’t sit for a café con leche (coffee with milk) here, you’ll pay way over the going rate. Having said that, there are few places better in Madrid for people-watching!

Plaza Major Madrid at dusk

See Almudena Cathedral

Catedral de la Almudena is a prominent Catholic church located on the Plaza de la Armería, directly south of the Royal Palace.

Madrid’s Cathedral, consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993 is the most important religious building in the city and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid.

Built on the site of a medieval mosque destroyed in 1083, construction began on the cathedral in 1879, but work was delayed by the Spanish Civil War, until the 1950s.

The structure you see today is an elegant Neo-Gothic cathedral with a blend of classic and modern elements that make it truly unique. The crypt, in the neo-Romanesque style, houses a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena.

TOP TIP: Make sure to climb the Dome for an amazing view of the city and mountains beyond, and the oversized statues of saints perched on top.

elegant pale cathedral at dusk

Visit the Royal Palace

The 18th century Palacio Real de Madrid is famous for its history, the baroque and neoclassical architecture, and the stunning views across the Sabatini Gardens to the campo beyond. 

This is the largest royal palace in Europe with 135,000 square metres of floor space and 3,418 rooms so there is loads to see. 

Learn about the iconic Royal Palace of Madrid from an expert with this excellent guided tour, where you’ll get to see the throne room, banquet hall, and private royal apartments with an expert guide.

TOP TIP: Citizens of the EU can visit the Royal Palace for free from Monday to Thursday between 4-6pm (October to March) and 6-8pm (April to September). Expect to queue for at least 30 minutes if you decide to buy your ticket at the door. 

Royal palace with large square

Spain Travel Inspiration


Watch the Sunset at the Temple of Debod

On a small hill in Cuartel de la Montana Park, located a fifteen minute walk from the Royal Palace is the Temple of Debod.

Slightly out of kilter with elegant and historic Madrid, this Egyptian temple dates from the 2nd century BC and was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government to save it from floods following the construction of the great Aswan Dam.

The temple is one of the best places in Madrid to watch the sunset as light from the sinking sun plays across the Royal Palace to the south and the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains to the north. It has to be one of the most romantic spots in Madrid, a city more known for its culture than romantic opportunities.

ancient temple at sunset in madrid

Stroll Through Plaza de España

Plaza de España is a large square located at the western end of the Gran Vía. The square is home to a monument to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, an early modern Spanish writer best known for his novel Don Quixote, and is next to two of Madrid’s most prominent skyscrapers, the Torre de Madrid, one of the tallest buildings in the city, and Edificio España.

leafy square with a large building and many statues

Shop the Gran Vía

Gran Via is Madrid’s premier shopping street, lined with boutiques, chain stores, independent shops, cafés and restaurants. You can either walk the length of Gran Via or see it on the hop-on hop-off tourist buses that pass slowly down the wide boulevard.

The Gran VÍa is alive and buzzing almost 24 hours a day; locals and tourists alike come here to socialize and shop. By night, clubs and bars open their doors and people throng onto the street creating a party atmosphere.

TOP TIP: Be mindful of your bags here, in fact, be mindful anywhere In Madrid. But where people gather, as they do on Gran Via, the risk is always increased. As with any city visit, make sure you have adequate travel insurance, should the worst happen.

a busy sstreet lined with tall creamy colored buildings abd cars on the road

Make sure you have travel insurance you can trust when visiting Spain. We recommend True Traveller for their 5-star TrustPilot reviews, variety of cover options, best activities cover as standard, great prices, and excellent service.

Take in a Flamenco Show

Flamenco was traditionally found in southern Spain, but nowadays you can watch Flamenco all over the country. Good flamenco, which has elements of singing, guitar music, clapping, and of course, feisty dancing, is all about the spirit of the performance and the passion of the performers.

There is even a word for it, duende, which does not have a direct translation but refers to how the performance affects those watching.

By far the best flamenco show in Madrid, the Emociones live flamenco performance takes place in the first flamenco theater in the world. Prepare to be captivated by a passionate performance of Andalusian dance, singing, and emotion.

woman in black spooted dress and red shawl dancing on a stage surrounded by guitarists

Where to Eat in Madrid

Explore Local Tapas

Madrid’s local cuisine is best represented with tapas, small plates enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. A great way to explore this Spanish food is to go to different tapas bars or tabernas, order the best tapas they have, pair it with a beer or glass of wine, and do the same in all the other bars you visit! 

Here are our top three places for tapas in Madrid:

Bodega de la Ardosa

Head to Bodega de la Ardosa here for 127 years of atmosphere and traditional tapas which includes fabulous artichokes when in season, battered ortiguillas (sea anemones), rich braised beef cheeks, and their award-winning tortilla or Spanish omelette.

Casa Revuelta

Casa Revuelta is a lively old bar, just two minutes from the Plaza Mayor. Head here for herby vermut and crispy battered bacalao croquettas (salt cod) on a tapas crawl through Madrid’s old town.

Casa Gonzales

Casa González is a cheese lover’s delight. With an excellent selection of quesos, charcuterie, and conservas (canned seafood), this gourmet delicatessen-come-tapas restaurant is a great place to linger over a good bottle of Spanish Rioja and a constant flow of delicious tapas.

Take Your Pick on Calle Cava Baja

Fast becoming a must-visit place on any Madrid itinerary, Calle Cava Baja is a street full of character, tapas restaurants, and atmospheric bars. Sandwiched between Plaza Mayor and the La Latina district, Calle Cava Baja is where the Moorish people took refuge during the Spanish reconquest. Today, it’s one of the best places in town to sample local dishes.

Head to Pan Adore for Breakfast or Brunch

We highly recommend breakfast or brunch (with good vegetarian choices) at Pan Adore. Their menu is a perfect example of just what a Spanish breakfast should be, and at around €8 per head, it’s great value for money. 

Pan Adore is just outside La Latina metro entrance and perfect for a Sunday morning if you’re visiting El Rastro.

Enjoy Churros y Chocolate at Chocolatería san Ginés

Typical Spanish hot chocolate is thick, creamy, gloopy, and sweet…put together with churros (a sort of long fried doughnut) and you have an irresistible combination of deliciousness! 

San Ginés, just off Puerta del Sol, is absolutely the only place to go in Madrid for churros y chocolate, made just as they should be in the traditional Spanish way.

TOP TIP: If you’re heading from here to the Royal Palace, swing by the Teatro Real (Theatre Royal) on Plaza de Oriente. If you’re short on time, there’s no need to enter the opera house, you can grasp the grand design and importance of this building from the outside.

Indulge at Mercado de San Miguel

A favorite place in Madrid for many, this art nouveau covered market dates from 1916 and is just off the main thoroughfare of Calle Mayor. 

San Miguel is not so much a fresh produce market, but more of a gastronomic collection of the best of Spanish food. You will find tapas and pintxos (like tapas but on sticks), cheese, jamon (ham), and sparkling cava all ready to be served as you sit on a stool at the bar. 

Don’t think about going here for a pre-dinner ‘snack’; there is no such thing!  You could do it the Spanish way and have a nibble (called a merienda) at 6pm, then eat dinner at 10pm to make the most of your one evening in Madrid.

The atmosphere is alive and the food and wine delicious but it is not cheap to eat at San Miguel Market, and it’s probably a bit of a tourist trap but the ambiance and easy chatter make it a must-do in Madrid.

Take a Madrid Food Tour

If you prefer to have an expert on hand, try a food tour. Madrid has some excellent bars and restaurants and this highly recommended wine and tapas walking tour will take you to the best of them. It’s an ideal way of understanding and trying tapas if you’ve never eaten it before, which, done well, is a thing of beauty!

inside a large food market in Spain with people sitting on stools at a pinxo bar

Top Five Madrid Travel Tips

  • Book major attractions in advance whatever time of year you visit. Don’t spend your precious time in a queue.
  • Don’t waste your time at restaurants, cafés, or bakeries in touristy spots. The best and most delicious food is most probably found in an unknown bodega or panadería in a hidden side alley! Make sure to try a menu del dia for lunch, a set lunch menu with drinks and dessert included, that offers amazing value if you’re visiting Madrid on a budget.
  • Madrid never sleeps – at least not the bits you want to see. The siesta in Madrid does not last the whole afternoon like it does in some smaller Spanish towns. Cafés and bars might shut at 4pm for a few hours but generally, places stay open throughout the day and on Sundays too.
  • Learn a few words of Spanish before your trip and the locals will love you for it!
  • Unless it’s included, don’t pay extra for breakfast in your hotel. Get out, explore the neighborhood, and enjoy a traditional Spanish breakfast of tostada con tomate, aceite, y jamón (toast with tomato, olive oil, and cured ham), pincho de tortilla (a slice of Spanish omelette on a stick) or, if you have a sweet tooth, chocolate con churros.
plate of jamon and bread with tomato and olive oil

More Than One Day in Madrid?

If you have just another half a day or you’re in Madrid for one day more, the following attractions would all make great additions to your Madrid itinerary:

Have Fun at Parque de Atracciones de Madrid

What was once a royal hunting estate is now home to Parque de Atracciones de Madrid, a 20-hectare amusement park in the Casa de Campo. Even though it’s one of the oldest theme parks in Spain, it still has the most up-to-date rides for thrill seekers!

Ride the Madrid Cable Car

Take the Madrid Teleferico for the best views of the city. Madrid’s cable cars run between the metro stations of Estacion de Rosales and Casa de Campo.

Shop at El Rastro Market

Visiting on a Sunday or public holiday? Then check out El Rastro, Madrid’s spectacular and eclectic flea market. Catch the Metro to La Latina (line 5) and head for Ribera de Coritodores and Plaza de Cascorro, where you will find the enormous and very busy El Rastro flea market. 

You can buy anything at El Rastro, from tourist tat (more so around Plaza de Cascorro) to handmade items and antiques. For the latter, head down the side streets and away from the Plaza for the best bargains and a flavor of the real Madrid. 

It does get very busy, so get there early; Spaniards are not known to be early risers but will make an exception for El Rastro. Most stalls will be open from 9am and the market generally shuts up at around 3pm. Make sure you have cash as cards are generally not accepted. 

Toledo, Segovia, & Alcázar Small Group Guided Tour

If you take one day trip from Madrid, take this highly rated and well-organized day trip to see three of Spain’s most historic cities.

Immerse yourself in the history, architecture, and cultural delights of Toledo, the UNESCO city of Segovia, and beautiful Alcázar. Your professional guide will provide deep insights and share details about each city. This organized tour is the perfect opportunity to see more of Spain in less time!

Toledo cathedral on the skyline, lit up at night

Madrid Practicalities

When to Visit Madrid

Madrid sits on a high plateau right in the center of Spain. It is scorchingly hot in summer and blisteringly cold in winter. 

Visit Madrid for a day in autumn or spring, for the best weather and smaller crowds. You will need to wrap up warm in the evenings and might be unlucky with rain, especially in autumn.

Winter offers the best hotel deals, quieter attractions and easily booked tours.

Bizarrely, summer is the most popular time to visit the capital of Spain, when the city center is packed with tourists and so hot, all anyone really wants to do is lie by a pool!

Getting to Madrid

If you are flying to Madrid, you will land at Adolfo Suárez Madrid Barajas International Airport.

From Madrid International Airport the best way to get to the city center is by train. There are two lines that go to the city centre: line C1 which goes to Principe Pio; and line C10 which goes to Principi Pio and beyond to Villalba. The trains run regularly and get to Principe Pio in about 40 minutes. All the trains leave from T4, but if you are in another terminal there are buses between to get you to the train station at T4. Buy your tickets online here.

There is also the Metro, which starts at T4, but also stops at T1, T2 & T3 before heading to Nuevos Ministerios. From here you will need to get a train to Principe Pio. Tickets can be bought at the airport ticket machines

You can also go by bus. The Express Aeropuerto leaves every 15-20 minutes and takes 30 minutes to go directly to the Atocha Bus Station. Buy your tickets online before you go as they are not restricted to a particular time, so it’s no problem if your flight is delayed.

For a great way to start your Madrid trip book a private transfer from the airport with Intui directly to your accommodation in the city center – it’s more cost-effective than you think! Intui works with a large range of local operators to bring the best options and prices for your transfer.

Are you visiting Madrid as part of a longer trip? A Spanish road trip is the best way see this gorgeous country, and our guide to road tripping in Spain has all you need, including maps, routes, highlights and tips, to help you plan the perfect trip.

Where to Stay in Madrid

Luxury: CoolRooms Palacio de | Agoda

A simply gorgeous hotel in a building full of character and history. In the pretty Barrio de las Letras district and with a pool for cooling off and plenty of outdoor space where you can relax, eat breakfast, or enjoy the summer weather, this makes a perfect spot for your stay in Madrid.

Mid-Range: Pestana Plaza | Agoda

Superby positioned on Plaza Mayor, this is our favorite hotel in Madrid. Elegantly decorated and with a rooftop pool, and spa and wellness centre, this is an ideal spot for a touch of pampering as you visit the city.

Budget: 7 Islas Boutique | Agoda

Close to the Royal Palace and with good metro access, this stylish and quirky hotel serves a delicious breakfast and is known for its very comfortable beds!

Hostel: OK Hostel | Agoda

Close to La Latina metro, this hostel offers simple but clean rooms and dorms perfectly suited to those spending a night or two in Madrid on a budget.

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