The Ultimate 2 Days in Madrid Itinerary


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As one of the most dynamic capitals in Europe, Madrid has become an increasingly popular city-break destination for those looking to get a lot of Spanish culture in a short period of time. For years, the idea of spending 2 days in Madrid has been sadly overlooked in lieu of longer trips to Spain’s perennially sunny Costa del Sol or the Canary or Balearic Islands.

However, being the third-largest city by population in the EU, Madrid has so much to offer visitors and it is nothing but good news that it is finally getting the attention it deserves. So, if you are planning a quick weekend break to Spain’s vibrant capital, this 2 days in Madrid itinerary should be an excellent starting point.

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?

Well, it can be complicated to say that accurately. Like I said earlier, Madrid is a huge city. It’s spread out, vast, and sprawling with many interesting barrios, historical sites, and fantastic restaurants to discover. Madrid is also located close to a number of interesting cities to visit as day trips, such as Toledo, Segovia, and Ávila. These excellent day trip opportunities combined with all of the incredibly cool neighbourhoods to explore in Madrid means that I would honestly recommend spending five days to one week in Spain’s lively capital.

However, I do realise that not everyone has the luxury to devote this much time to explore this fantastic city. Luckily for those who can’t spend a week here, however, is that all of the main sites in Madrid are easily seen in a couple of days. Therefore, if you’re curious about how to spend 2 days in Madrid — whether you want to check off all of the typical tourist sites or go a bit more local and off the beaten path — then this Madrid itinerary is the one for you!

2 days in Madrid
The peaceful pond in Madrid’s Parque de Retiro

How to Spend 2 Days in Madrid

While 5 or even 3 days in Madrid is probably the ideal time to spend in Spain’s capital, this 2 day Madrid itinerary will take you by the highlights of what this dynamic city has to offer.

Here we have two different options for how to spend your days. If you’ve never been to Madrid before or are more interested in the typical tourist sites, then follow our Classic Madrid itinerary. If you would like to see the city from a local’s perspective and stray a bit from the typical tourist trail, then follow our Alternative Madrid itinerary.

For the best of both worlds, you can feel free to pick and choose the things that look most interesting to you from both itineraries. If you are planning a 3 days in Madrid itienrary, then you can add some of the alternative sites onto the classic 2 days schedule.

2 days in Madrid
Madrid is full of beautiful architectural delights

Classic Madrid Itinerary: Day 1

The first day of this classic Madrid 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 PM on Saturdays!) 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 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 €5-10 per person.

2 days in Madrid
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor

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 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 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 locals Spanish restaurants, however, the quality of food available here is fantastic and it is certainly a great activity to experience during your 2 days in Madrid.

2 days in Madrid
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 celebrating 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 €15, 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 50c more), which allows you to skip the queue and enjoy the incredible works of art sooner. Click here to book your ticket to the Prado!

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 Madrid itinerary.

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

Alternative Madrid Itinerary: Day 1

If you’re looking for things to do in Madrid for 2 days but want to have a more local and unique experience, then make sure to follow these suggestions instead of the Classic Madrid itinerary above.

Because it is your first day, I still recommend spending your first couple of hours in the Spanish capital on the free walking tour. However, if the sites they take you by are too mainstream for you or you’ve been to Madrid before and want to experience a new part of the city, we recommend taking a guided walking tour through the ultra-cool multicultural neighbourhoods of Lavapiés and La Latina.

Mercado Antón Martín

After whichever walking tour you choose to go on, 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.

2 days in Madrid
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-renown 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!

Whether you visit the Reina Sofia and an alternative to the Prado or as part of your general two days in Madrid itinerary, there is no doubt that it is truly one of the greatest modern art museums in the world.

Classic Madrid Itinerary: Day 2

On the second day of your Madrid itinerary, 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 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.

2 days in Madrid
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 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.

2 days in Madrid
The Crystal Palace in El Retiro Park

Grand Via

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

Alternative Madrid Itinerary: Day 2

If you happen to be spending your 2-day Madrid itinerary over a weekend, then there are a number of things you could do that are a great alternative to the classic, well-trodden two days in Madrid route that has been written about earlier. Rather than taking you to the royal highlights of Madrid, the second day of this alternative itinerary will see you still exploring Madrid’s vibrant contemporary cultural scene and maybe some cool street markets.

El Rastro

This stop only counts if your 2 days in Madrid happens to land over a weekend, but if you’re visiting the Spanish capital on a Sunday 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 11 AM to 3 PM and it is worth pointing out that it does get very busy, even if you happen to be visiting in the dead of winter. Therefore it is good practice to make sure you keep a good eye on your belongings as pickpocket are common here. Nevertheless, El Rastro is an excellent place to visit on a Sunday.

2 days in Madrid
El Rastro market on a busy Sunday

Calle de Embajadores

The main drag in Madrid’s La Latina and Lavapiés neighbourhoods, Calle 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.

2 days in Madrid
Just some of the magnificent street art on Calle de Embajadores

La Latina Tapas

On a Sunday, one of the best things to do in the afternoon if you truly want to feel like a Spaniard during your 2 days in Madrid is to hit the tapas bars and have a nice leisurely lunch.

Though many restaurants and bars are closed for dinner on Sundays, most are still open until about 4 or 5 in the afternoon because it is so popular for locals to spend hours snacking on their favourite foods and drinking ample amounts of beer, wine, and vermouth.

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.

2 days in Madrid
Croquetas are a popular tapa you will see on most menus in Madrid

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. Luckily for you, we have spent some time living in Madrid and have found some of the best restaurants to suit any palate.

Taberna El Sur — Located just south of the Puerta del Sol and not far the Reina Sofia Museum, this restaurant is one of the best places to eat in central Madrid if you’re looking for authenticity at an affordable price. They have an excellent array of tapas and raciones (full-sized portions) and also a very affordable set menú del día (daily menu) that includes a sizeable first and second course, a dessert or coffee, and a drink for €10.50.

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.

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.

2 days in Madrid
Huevos rotos con jamón from Vinoteca Borboleta

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. If you struggling to find the perfect place to stay, check out our recommendations:

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. Click here to see their latest prices!

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 Spain travel costs. Click here to see their latest prices!

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. Click here to see their latest prices!

Airbnb — If you want to stay with a local or are after your own apartment when visiting Madrid, then Airbnb is an excellent option for you. There are numerous properties available in Madrid on the platform such as this great private room with delicious breakfast regularly offered.

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

2 days in Madrid
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 2 days in Madrid itinerary is a great starting point to help you plan your weekend away.

When travelling in Madrid, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads 

Are you planning a Madrid itinerary? Have you visited the Spanish capital before? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie Turansky

Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. When she’s not dreaming of far-away lands, Maggie enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee, Harry Potter, and coaxing stray cats into her home.

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