Madrid is a beautiful and cultured city with stunning architecture, tranquil parks and some of the best art museums in Europe. This cosmopolitan and capital city has contemporary and historic attractions galore and is packed with character on every street corner. Find out what to see and how to visit Madrid in one day; we’ll show you all the best places!
One Day in Madrid, Spain
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Where to Stay in Madrid
There is a huge array of hotels in Madrid and you could spend well over €500 a night for a deluxe room. We loved Palacio Plaza Conde de Miranda for it’s luxe feel, versatility and location in old Madrid. If you want to have breakfast at home or cook your own dinner using fresh local produce, then these apartments tick that box. These serviced apartments are also situated in the best part of Madrid, Madrid de los Austrias. This historic area is atmospheric and central to most things you’ll want to do, and only a minutes walk from the San Miguel food market. You can book this hotel with our partners Booking.com.
For other great hotels and places to stay in Madrid, search and book for the best prices and special deals with Booking.com.
Madrid - What to Do in One Day
Madrid is an elegant city, full of wide boulevards, pretty parks and beautiful buildings. The metro makes the city center easy navigable and means you can see all the top attractions, especially if you follow our one day Madrid guide.
Visit the Prado Museum
You cannot go to Madrid and not visit the Prado! The Prado is widely recognised as one of the best art museums in the world and whilst not all the art will be to everyone’s taste, to be in the presence of such masterpieces is pretty awe-inducing. The building itself is pretty special too!
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 Hyronemus Bosch art, with which we have a real love or hate relationship!
We joined a guided tour so we could fully understand the history and symbolism of the paintings and it was very worth the cost for the knowledge and insight shared.
You can visit the Prado for free between 6-8pm Mondays to Saturdays and from 5-7pm on Sundays and holidays, although expect a long queue for the privilege. Otherwise, book tickets in advance to avoid the queues, which can be monstrous!
Visit Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
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 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.
On Mondays between 12 and 4pm you can visit the permanent collection free of charge, you may find the queues a bit shorter here! Book your tickets online here.
Save time and take a walking tour of the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia museum together, which includes skip-the-line tickets for all three.
Wander at El Rastro Flea Market
If you’re in Madrid on a Sunday, 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 flavour 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.
We highly recommend breakfast or brunch (with good vegetarian choices) at Pan Adore (Plaza Cascorro 20), just what a Spanish breakfast should be and at around €8 per head, great value for money. Pan Adore is just outside La Latina metro entrance.
Visit the Royal Palace
We loved the Royal Palace for the history, the baroque and neoclassical architecture and the stunning views across the 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. The gardens are also beautiful and well worth a stroll around.
Citizens of the EU can visit 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. Otherwise book a priority ticket with tour included and learn about the Royal Palace from an expert.
Take a Stroll in Retiro Park
Retiro Park is a gorgeous and tranquil bit of greenery literally next to the Prado and a welcome respite from the hustle and heat of the city in the summer; it is one of the most beautiful places to go in Madrid.
You could easily spend a whole day in Retiro Park! Covering over 125 hectares, with more than 15,000 trees this is a large and fascinating space. Make sure to visit the 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.
For more information about this oasis of calm and peace, click here.
Shop the Gran Vìa
Gran Vìa is Madrid’s premier shopping street, lined with boutiques, chain stores, independent shops, cafes and restaurants.
The Gran Vìa is alive and buzzing almost 24 hours a day; locals and tourists alike come here to socialise and shop. By night, clubs and bars open their doors and people throng onto the street creating a party atmosphere.
Be mindful of your bags here, in fact be mindful anywhere, but where people gather, as they do on Gran Vìa, the risk is always increased. We didn’t take the hop-on hop-off tourist buses but they pass along Gran Vìa if you’d rather see it that way.
Indulge at Mercado San Miguel
One of our favourite places in Madrid, this art nouveau covered market dates from 1916.
This is not so much a fresh produce market, more of a gastronomic collection of the best of Spanish food. You will find tapas, cheese, jamon and 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 11pm but frankly we’re usually exhausted by then and well on our way to bed!
The atmosphere is alive and the food and wine delicious but it is not cheap to eat here and it’s probably a bit of a tourist trap but we loved it all the same.
Try a tapas tour, Madrid has some excellent bars and restaurants and a tour will take you to the best of them. It’s ideal if you’ve never done tapas before, which done well is a thing of beauty!
Enjoy Churros y Chocolate at San Genes
Spanish hot chocolate is thick, creamy, gloopy and sweet…put together with churros (a sort of long fried dougnut) and you have an irresistible combination of deliciousness!
San Gines is absolutely the only place to go in Madrid for churros y chocolate. Just off the Puerta del Sol, this is a ten minute walk to the Royal Palace along Calle Mayor; why not enjoy a traditional Spanish breakfast before your visit?
Where to Eat in Madrid
We visited Madrid with our vegetarian daughter and found most places on TripAdvisor that state ‘vegetarian options’ usually mean one option or one option that is not in fact vegetarian as we would understand it. Spain is a nation of meat-lovers and finding vegetarian food was a bit of a challenge; here are our top picks.
We had dinner at Oven Atocha (Calle de Atocha, 114), an Italian restaurant with some vegetarian choices. There are various branches of Oven around the city, booking is generally not necessary. The food and service were good and we liked the decor and ambiance of this mid-priced restaurant chain.
We also had dinner at Yerbabuena (Calle Bordadores, 3), a vegan restaurant, where two of our three meals were excellent. Don’t be put off by the orange and lime green plastic furniture; the service is fantastic and overall, the food very good which was surprising to find in the midst of a meat-eating city!
For other places to eat in Madrid, check out 4 Eats to Try in Madrid.