The Ultimate 2, 3 or 4 Days in Madrid Itinerary

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by Maggie Turansky


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As one of the most dynamic capitals in Europe, planning a 2, 3 or 4 days in Madrid itinerary is never a bad idea. An ideal destination for those looking to get a lot of Spanish culture in a short period of time, the Spanish capital has so much to offer visitors and an easy-to-navigate city centre that means you over a lot of ground in a short period of time.

So, if you are planning a trip to Madrid, this itinerary should be an excellent starting point. Whether you’re visiting as a stand-alone destination or as part of a longer Spain trip, you’re sure to fall in love with this incredible city.

How Many Days in Madrid?

Madrid is an absolutely massive city and you could easily spend months exploring it and still feel as if you have barely scratched the surface. However, most typical visitors to the Spanish capital don’t have months on end to devote to getting to know the city and want to know how many days to spend in Madrid.

While the Spanish capital is a huge city with a lot to offer, you can see the city centre highlights and top attractions with just 2 days in Madrid. This will be a bit rushed and you won’t have time to dig deeper or spend some time exploring the city’s unique barrios.

If you have 3 days in Madrid, you will have all of the time to see the top historic sites in the city while also being able to step a bit off the beaten path and enjoy the cool, alternative areas of the capital that don’t necessarily see all of the tourist crowds.

Finally, if you happen to have 4 days to spend in Madrid, this is kind of the sweet spot. You can either use this final day to spend more time exploring this dynamic city or you could head out on a day trip from Madrid to a city like Toledo, Segovia, and Ávila.

Plaza Mayor in Madrid
Plaza Mayor in Madrid

Getting To & Around Madrid

As the capital of Spain and one of the EU’s largest cities, Madrid is home to a massive international airport with connections across the globe. Madrid Barajas Airport is also well connected to the city centre, using the metro or the Cercanias train to get to whatever station is closest to your accommodation.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to bother with public transit when you’ve arrived into the airport, then you can organise an airport transfer.

The city is also well connected by bus and train from virtually every other major city in Spain and further afield. Basically, Madrid is an easy city to get to no matter where you’re travelling from.

Madrid is a large city, however, the city centre is relatively compact and it’s easy to get around many attractions on foot.

Where the distances are too far to travel, the city also has a vast public transport network that consists of a metro, bus and commuter rail system. It’s easy to navigate and will get you virtually anywhere you need to go.

If you plan to go on a day trip from Madrid, the train is a good option for most of these. Most of the top day trips from Madrid leave from Atocha, Chamartín or Principe Pio stations. These are all well-connected on the city’s transit system. You can pre-book trains here or find organised tours here.

Metro sign in Madrid
Metro sign in Madrid

2, 3 or 4 Days in Madrid Itinerary

If you plan to visit many of the paid attractions listed in this article, then consider purchasing a Madrid Go City Pass to save money on entry fees.

Day 1 – City Centre, Markets and Museums

The first day of this itinerary takes you by the highlights of central Madrid. All of these sites can easily be reached on foot, however, the Madrid metro system is also a great option if you´re not keen to walk too much.

Free Walking Tour

The best way to get the lay of the land and to figure out what to see in Madrid in 2 days is to go on a free walking tour. Popular in cities throughout Europe (and gaining traction in cities on other continents), there are numerous free walking tour companies to choose from in Madrid that it can seem overwhelming.

There are many free walking tours that advertise and congregate in the Puerta del Sol or Plaza Mayor, however, we would recommend going on a tour with Free Walking Tours Madrid. They meet every day at 11 AM (also at 3:30 PM on some days of the week!) in the Plaza Callao and the tour lasts about 2.5-3 hours with a short, 15-minute break in the middle.

The walking tour is run by a local guide who takes you by the main sites in Madrid including the Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace of Madrid and also helps you understand the long and fascinating history of Madrid and Spain in general.

While the tour itself is free and you are certainly not obligated to pay a cent for your guided walk through Madrid, the guides do work only for tips and it is definitely good practice to tip your guide what you think the tour was worth. I would recommend about €10 per person.

Exploring Madrid by foot
Exploring Madrid by foot

Mercado de San Miguel

After the free walking tour, it is likely that you’ve worked up quite the appetite and are looking to find the perfect, authentically Spanish lunch. Well, you’re in luck because there are few cities in the world that are more centred around food than Madrid.

If you are very hungry after your walking tour, you could walk around until you find a great menú del día (a daily set lunch menu that usually includes a starter, main dish, dessert or coffee plus a drink for around €10-15), another great option is to head to the Mercado de San Miguel.

Located right next to the Plaza Mayor, the Mercado de San Miguel is probably Madrid’s most famous and busy market with tourists and it is also an excellent place to find all of the delicious tapas I’m sure you’ve read about all in one convenient location.

There are multiple stalls and storefronts offering numerous regional Spanish food and drink and it is well worth popping in here for a bite to eat.

Keep in mind that this market can get quite loud and busy (as in many popular tapas bars in Madrid) and it is a bit more pricey than some more local Spanish restaurants, however, the quality of food available here is fantastic and it is certainly a great activity to experience, especially if you’re only spending 2 days in the city. You can book a guided tour of the market here.

Mercado de San Miguel
The iconic Mercado de San Miguel

Museo del Prado

After you’ve sufficiently stuffed yourself full of delicious Spanish tapas and wine, it’s time to get back at it and head to one of Madrid’s premier attractions, the Museo del Prado. Considered by many to be one of the greatest art museums in the world, the Prado houses innumerable works by such artists like Goya, Velázquez, and El Grecco and is celebrated its 200th year of operation in 2019.

Because of its size and the amazing collections it holds, you could easily spend a number of hours in the Prado and serious classical art fans are bound to spend even more time. Even if you´re not overly interested in this period of art, it is still worth visiting as you are bound to find works that speak to you.

Entry into the museum for adults is paid, however, there is almost always a long queue to purchase tickets at the door. A far more time-effective solution to this is to purchase your ticket online in advance (which only costs a bit more), which allows you to skip the queue and enjoy the incredible works of art sooner. Click here to book your tickets or alternatively, book a guided tour here.

If the price tag is too steep for you but you would still like to experience the Prado for yourself, then you are in luck. Every day, the last two opening hours of the museum are free of charge for entry. That means on Monday through Saturday from 6PM-8PM and on Sundays from 5PM-7PM.

Keep in mind that it is quite popular to visit the museum at these times and you will almost always have to wait in a long queue. Therefore, it is best to get there about 30 minutes early to ensure you have enough time to see everything this museum has to offer before closing.

However, after spending a couple of hours at the Prado, it’s time to find a cool bar for a drink and some tapas and get ready for day 2 of your itinerary.

The Prado Museum in Madrid
The Prado Museum is a must when visiting Madrid

La Latina Tapas

The perfect way to round out your first day in the Spanish capital is to indulge in its tapas scene – and there is really area that’s better to do that than in La Latina.

Keep in mind that Spain does have a later eating culture than many other European countries, so bars may not even open to 8:30 or 9pm, but it’s worth it to stay up and enjoy one of the most quintessential Madrileño experiences.

While there are few neighbourhoods in Madrid that are bad for going out for tapas, arguably the most popular and lively is La Latina.

The most notable street that is filled with restaurants and bars that all get to “standing room only” capacity on the weekends and evenings is Calle de la Cava Baja. While this street can be popular amongst tourists, you will find that it’s mostly locals with whom you’re competing for a coveted seat.

Don’t be afraid to push into a crowded bar, however, even if it looks like there isn’t a place to sit! This is rarely a concern in Spain and if you’re comfortable standing and eating (like the locals), then you should not be shy about doing so! It will only make you feel more like a true Madrileño/a!

Free tapas in Madrid
Free tapas in Madrid

Day 2 – Classical Madrid Sites

On the second day of your itinerary for Madrid, it is time to dig deeper into the city from what you saw yesterday. Today is the day you should spend visiting some more monuments and enjoying the good vibes and electric energy of the Spanish capital.

Palacio Real

If you’re interested in Madrid’s royal history, then you absolutely cannot miss a visit to Madrid’s royal palace — or Palacio Real in Spanish. Though this building is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, these days it is only used for ceremonies and welcoming foreign leaders. The Palace is located in the heart of Madrid and it is a truly spectacular feat of architecture and interior design.

The current palace was constructed in the 18th century after the Moorish Alcázar that had originally occupied the place was destroyed in a fire. The palace was built to be even more spectacular and larger than the notable Palace of Versailles in France and Buckingham Palace in England.

The Palacio Real is over 135,000 square metres and has over 3,000 rooms and is considered to be one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Spanish capital and is a must-visit if it’s your first time spending two days in Madrid.

Like most other major attractions in Madrid, you could waste a lot of time standing in the queue if you decide to purchase your entry tickets at the door. A far better option is to buy them online in advance where you have the ability to skip the seemingly endless queue and gain entry quicker.

This will give you more time to explore more of what Madrid has to offer. There is also the option to take a guided tour that allows you to skip the queue and learn about this major attraction.

Madrid's massive Royal Palace
Madrid’s massive Royal Palace

Parque del Retiro

After spending a couple of hours in the massive Royal Palace, it is time to spend some tranquil time relaxing in one of Madrid’s most chilled-out attractions, El Retiro Park.

A short metro ride or pleasant stroll away from the Palace, the Parque del Retiro was originally built as a royal garden and was only opened to the public in the late 19th century. As the largest park in Madrid, there is a distinct royal feeling to this lovely green space and it is an excellent place to unwind after a busy couple of days of sightseeing.

The Parque del Retiro houses a number of wonderful sites so you could easily spend a couple of hours wandering through this peaceful. Start your time in the park wandering down tree and park bench-lined Paseo de la Argentina until you make it to the Estanque del Retiro, or Retiro Pond.

Here you can hire a rowboat and have a romantic time enjoying the vibes of the park while on the water. If you don’t want to splash the cash for a rowboat rental, it is well worth it to just spend some time watching those who are paddling around the park.

Another site that you cannot miss in Retiro Park is the Crystal Palace, or Palacio Cristal. This structure was originally built as a greenhouse in the 19th century and now is an offshoot of the Museo Reina Sofia and houses some art exhibitions. It is free to enter and the structure itself is pretty spectacular so it is definitely well worth the stop while in the park.

Retiro Park in Madrid
Retiro Park in Madrid

Gran Vía

The last major stop on this list of things to do in Madrid in two days is the Gran Via, one of the most iconic streets in the Spanish Capital.

A short walk from Retiro Park, the Gran Via is home to some of the most beautiful architectural gems in Madrid and is also the city’s main shopping drag. Though there aren’t a ton of traditional “sites” to go in and see, the buildings and shops are well worth strolling down, especially if this is your first time in Madrid.

Starting from close to the Puerta de Acalá, you can walk along the Gran Via and end up in the trendy Malasaña neighbourhood. This is a great area to explore on your own and find something great to eat.

As it isn’t as geared toward tourists as many of the restaurants directly on the Gran Via, you are likely to find more affordable and authentic cuisine choices in this neighbourhood if you’re looking for a bite to eat after your busy day of sightseeing.

2 days in Madrid
There are some impressive buildings to be seen on Madrid´s Gran Via

Day 3 – Lavapiés, Markets & Museums

If you have more than a couple of days in the Spanish capital, then spend your third day venturing a bit away from the tourist centre and into some of the coolest neighbourhoods in the city.

El Rastro

This stop only counts if you’re visiting the Spanish capital on a Sunday. And if you are then a stop at El Rastro is an absolute must.

This busy flea market claims to be the largest in Europe and is an excellent place to browse for a good deal on secondhand clothes or accessories or just to experience the hustle and bustle of this massive market.

Located just off of Calle Embajadores on La Ribera de Curtidores (and off-shooting into many of the side streets), El Rastro is a highlight of the hip and edgy La Latina neighbourhood. The open-air market is open every Sunday and it is an incredibly popular spot with both Madrileños and visitors alike.

It runs from around 9 AM to 3 PM and it is worth pointing out that it does get very busy, even if you happen to be visiting Madrid in winter. Therefore it is good practice to make sure you keep a good eye on your belongings as pickpockets are common here. Nevertheless, El Rastro is an excellent place to visit on a Sunday.

El Rastro flea market in Madrid
El Rastro market on a busy Sunday

Calle de Embajadores

The main drag in Madrid’s La Latina and Lavapiés neighbourhoods, Calle de Embajadores is a cross street to El Rastro and an excellent street to walk along if you are interested in seeing some of the city’s best street art.

If you´re up for a bit of an uphill walk, it is worth starting your stroll near the Mercado de San Fernando (also an excellent place to grab a drink and a bite to eat after El Rastro) and walking up the street until you end up close to Plaza Tirso de Molina, which hosts a flower market that is interesting to browse.

There are countless works of street art and various murals that make Calle de Embajadores a fantastic street to stroll to get a taste for Madrid’s arts and alternative culture.

Street art on Calle de Embajadores
Street art on Calle de Embajadores

Explore Lavapiés

If there is a trendy neighbourhood to visit in Madrid, that barrio would have to be Lavapíes. This cool area is located just a bit south from the city centre (only about ten to fifteen minutes on foot from the Puerta del Sol), Lavapiés can feel like a completely different world compared to the ultra-touristy areas around the Plaza Mayor etc.

The area is filled with interesting bars and cafes and the streets are filled with art and murals. It’s an excellent place to stroll around and get lost, however, if you want to learn more about the area, we recommend taking a street art tour of the neighbourhood to truly appreciate how eclectic and artistic this central barrio is.

Street art in Lavapiés
Street art in Lavapiés

Mercado Antón Martín

After exploring a bit of the area, it is certain that you will likely want a bite to eat and a drink afterwards. If you’re after for a truly local experience for something like this, there really is no better place to do this than Mercado Antón Martín.

Located in the trendy Lavapiés neighbourhood and not too far from some of Madrid´s main attractions, there is still no doubt that Mercado Antón Martín is a market for locals and not for tourists. The market is made up of two levels, both with stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, jamón, olives, wine, and cheese.

However, along with all of these places where you can pick up a wonderful picnic, there are also a number of bars and restaurants that cook up a lot of tasty food. Lavapiés is known for its multicultural nature, so it should come as no surprise that the market houses excellent and authentic Mexican, Japanese, and Italian eateries.

There are also a couple of places where you can stop and have a speciality coffee, glass of Spanish wine, or familiarise yourself with the Spanish penchant for vermouth at a wonderful vermouth bar. All in all, the Mercado Antón Martín is an excellent local alternative to the Mercado de San Miguel. You can also book a food tour that includes a stop in Anton Martin.

Mercado Antón Martín
The Mercado Antón Martín is an excellent place to get a more local experience in Madrid

Museo Reina Sofia

If you want to visit an alternative to the Prado Museum, then look no further than the Reina Sofia. Though this museum is by no means an unknown attraction in Madrid, it still sees markedly fewer visitors than the more world-renowned Prado.

A modern and contemporary art museum, the Reina Sofia houses works of art by artists like Wassily Kandinsky, Juan Gris, Joan Miró and, most notably, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso.

While there are numerous exhibits that are all well worth visiting, the Reina Sofia is most famous for being the home of Guernica, Pablo Picasso’s famous work depicting the horrors of the 1937 air bombing of the Basque town of the same name.

While the painting itself is truly something amazing, the sketches that Picasso did in order to practise for the painting are equally as powerful and moving. Make sure you take the time to look at these as well.

Like the Prado, there are free entry times to visit the museum. On Sundays from 1:30 PM until closing, the museum is free to enter, although there are some exhibits that are closed to the public. You can also purchase your tickets for entry online rather than at the door which will also allow you to skip the queue at busy times!

Reina Sofia Museum
Reina Sofia Museum

Day 4 – Toledo, Segovia or Ávila

Those fortunate enough to have four days to dedicate to their trip to Madrid will have the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful, historic cities within easy reach of the capital.

Toledo

Arguably the most popular Madrid day trip, the historic city of Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located only bout 30 minutes via high-speed train from Madrid’s Atocha station. Whether you choose to take an organised tour or visit independently, you’re sure to fall in love with this gorgeous place.

Once in Toledo, there is enough to do that you could easily occupy an entire day. Walk across the Puente de Alcántara and see the views of the imposing Alcázar. The Catedral Primada is a site to be seen, as well, and there are plenty of interesting ruins and evidence of Muslims, Jews and Christians having made the city home over the centuries.

Toledo is a beautiful city to visit and it’s obvious why it is so popular to visit – there is so much on offer here!

Beautiful Toledo
Beautiful Toledo

Segovia

Another super popular day trip option is to the historic city of Segovia. Located about 30 minutes away from Madrid’s Charmartín Station, this is another excellent place to visit. You can easily go independently or hop on an organised tour in order to avoid any logistical planning.

Segovia is most well-known for its Roman Aqueduct, which runs its way across the entire old city and is the first thing you will see. But also, the beautiful Alcázar gives serious Disney princess vibes and the gorgeous Cathedral is really impressive.

Segovia is one of the best places to simply stroll around and get lost in. It’s an excellent place to take a day trip to.

Beautiful Segovia
Beautiful Segovia

Ávila

Perhaps the least popular day trip option of these three, historic Ávila is an excellent place to visit. By train from Principe Pio station in Madrid, you can reach the city in about an hour and a half.

Once here, the most interesting thing to do is stroll along the excellently preserved city walls, which encircle virtually the entire old town. You should also make sure to visit the Iglesia-convento de Santa Teresa, the birthplace of St Teresa and a pilgrimage spot.

Ávila is smaller and a little less well-trafficked than Toledo or Segovia, however, it’s worth it for a great day trip option!

Murallas de Ávila
Murallas de Ávila

Where to Eat in Madrid

Madrid is packed with so many restaurants that it can be incredibly hard to figure out which place is a tourist trap and which place will give you an authentic meal at an affordable price.

Vinoteca Borboleta — This truly local spot located in the Embajadores neighbourhood south of most major attractions, this is a great stop if you’re looking for a true Madrileño experience. They have a menú del día and also an extensive menu offering homemade tapas and raciones.

La Fisna Vinos – A cosy wine bar in the Lavapiés neighbourhood, this is an excellent place to stop by if you want to sample some wines from smaller Spanish winemakers along with some great food. Drink prices are a bit higher here than in other bars, however, the wines are from small-batch wineries and are truly something special. The food is typical Spanish fare and is priced competitively.

La Taberna Sanlúcar – This rustic place in La Latina is an excellent choice if you want some Andalucian fare. They have a range of both tapas and raciones that can transfer to the city of Cádiz even though you’re in the centre of Madrid.

La Paloma – If you love seafood, then you must visit this classic seafood bar in La Latina. It’s a no-frills establishment that has some of the freshest seafood available. You will also get a free tapa with a drink order.

Cutzmala Mex Food — Though this certainly is not Spanish fare, Madrid is home to some of the best Mexican food outside of Mexico and this place located in the Antón Martín market is no exception. They have a small menu serving some fantastic and hearty street tacos and a number of imported Mexican beers at affordable prices. They also have a fantastic happy hour deal.

Chocolotería San Ginés — No visit to Madrid is complete without eating the iconic churros con chocolate and this is the most iconic place to get them. Open twenty-four hours per day and seven days per week, this place is located just a stone’s throw away from the Plaza Mayor and is a must on any Madrid itinerary.

Chocolateria San Gines
Chocolateria San Gines

Where to Stay in Madrid

As such a vast city, it can be hard to figure out where to stay in Madrid. We would recommend staying close to the city centre and within easy walking distance or metro ride to everything you might want to see. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time in transit to the main sites rather than actually seeing them.

Only YOU Boutique Hotel – This charming boutique hotel in the trendy Chueca neighbourhood of central Madrid is perfect if you’re looking for a plush stay in the Spanish capital. They have a range of luxe rooms to choose from, a location within easy walking distance of the top attraction and a swish restaurant/bar on site!

Ii Castillas Madrid – This small hotel is a fantastic mid-range option in Madrid. Located close to the Plaza Callao, an extremely central area, they have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available and an option to include breakfast in the room rate.

Hostal Foster – If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly hotel in central Madrid, then this is the place for you. Located directly off the Gran Via, they have numerous cosy and comfortable and air-conditioned rooms available and are great if you’re trying to cut down on your Madrid travel costs.

The Hat Madrid – This boutique hostel located right next to the Plaza Mayor is an excellent choice for solo and budget travellers alike. They have a range of both dorm and private rooms available and is one of the highest-rated hostels in Madrid.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Madrid!

The interior of the Crystal Palace in Parque del Retiro
The interior of the Crystal Palace in Parque del Retiro

Madrid is one of the most vibrant and lively cities in all of Europe and is an excellent destination for a short weekend away. This Madrid itinerary is a great starting point to help you plan your weekend away.

Are you planning to visit Madrid? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

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