Only have one day to spend in Spain’s capital city? Check out this itinerary for seeing and experiencing what Madrid has to offer in just 24 hours.
Hi everyone! I know it’s been a while since I posted, but I’ve still been adjusting to being back state-side after a month-long international trip to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco!
That said, let’s get started on the trip recaps/itineraries! The very first city I landed in (after a daytime layover in New York, at least) was Madrid, Spain. I’ve been to Barcelona and Sevilla – and loved them – but I didn’t really know what to expect from Madrid. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I experienced plenty within the span of one day.
Although I technically had one day in Madrid on the front-end of my trip and one night on the back-end, I’ve written this guide as if you have that time all in the same day.
Without further ado, here’s what I suggest doing if you only have one day (and night) in the city:
Table of Contents
Where to Stay
If you have a short time in Madrid, it’s beneficial to choose a place that’s central to the city’s main attractions, such as Puerta del Sol Square. Although Puerta del Sol is quite touristy, it was a pleasant walk to Parque de El Retiro as well as the two museums that I planned to visit that night!
Another cool part of town that you may consider staying in is Chueca, known as Madrid’s gay neighborhood. Chueca boasts its own culture that you won’t find in the main part of Madrid, and there are some yummy international food options to be found as well for relatively cheap. If you head to Chueca, consider staying at Room 007 Hostel. It’s in a great location, features tons of artwork and murals throughout the hostel, and is one of the meeting points for a really fun pub crawl (more on that later).
Parque el Retiro
After settling into your accommodations (and perhaps grabbing a café con leche and croissant for a light breakfast), head over to Parque de El Retiro to see some gorgeous architecture and greenery! El Retiro is one of the largest parks in the city of Madrid, and there’s so much to explore that you may not even get to all of it – I sure didn’t.
After consulting my map (I use the app Maps.me for offline directions), I decided to check out the park’s large man-made lake, which is overlooked by the grand Alfonso XII Monument. You may also see boats floating on the lake, as the park is a popular spot for Madrileños who want to relax, explore, or do some recreational activity.
Once I had walked around the lake – and taken the necessary photos for Instagram, of course – I knew I had three places in the park that I simply had to visit that day: Palacio de Velázquez, Palacio de Cristal, and La Rosaleda el Retiro.
Palacio de Velázquez
Palacio de Velázquez is essentially an exhibition hall used by the Reina Sofía Museum for special museum exhibits. On the day that I visited (and apparently through September 2019), there was a free exhibit by the Japanese artist Tetsuya Ishida, titled “Self-Portrait of Other”. The exhibit was a pretty interesting contrast to the art that I would encounter later at two of Madrid’s most well-known museums.
Although I only captured one picture at the exhibit, here’s a bit of context to this particular exhibit: Tetsuya Ishida’s exhibit portrayed the dismay of his generation leading up to Japan’s 1991 recession. Utilizing some very Kafka-esque themes and imagery in his artwork, Ishida’s paintings were intriguing but sometimes a bit hard to look at. Still, he may be an artist to check out if you gravitate toward that type of work!
Palacio de Cristal
The Palacio de Cristal is another building that serves as an exhibition hall for the Reina Sofía museum, but it’s arguably more beautiful. As the name suggests, the “palace” façade is made entirely of glass, which allows you to appreciate it from both the outside and the inside! When I visited, there was a collection of white sculptures housed within; but that may change during your own visit as the museum decides what is shown and when.
If you have time, be sure to stop by the pond that sits outside Palacio de Cristal. Often, you’ll see people feeding the ducks and swans – from a distance, of course!
La Rosaleda el Retiro
The last stop for my Parque de El Retiro visit was La Rosaleda el Retiro, a.k.a. a big and beautiful rose garden. If you love flowers, this stop is a MUST for you! Boasting rosebuds of all different colors and sizes, the maze-like Rosaleda is like a secluded getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city (as if the park itself wasn’t already). I could say more on the garden, but I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves!
Dinner: Tinto y Tapas
If you’re looking for a small bite to eat – or to share – a tapas restaurant is what you need! I chose to stop in at Tinto y Tapas because it was very close to the museums that I planned to visit that evening.
At Tinto y Tapas, be sure to try one of their vinos tintos (red wines) and order a small plate or two if you’re traveling solo – and hungry. I chose to order a chicken and bread dish – the name of which I unfortunately can’t recall – and a classic manchego cheese plate with bread. It was just enough to fill me up for the evening without being too much. My one regret after reading more reviews on Tinto y Tapas is that I did not try their empanadas – so you should be sure to do so on your visit!
Museums: Reina Sofía and Prado
Here’s a very fun fact for museum-lovers: did you know that the Reina Sofía and Prado museums offer free admission before closing on certain days? Yep, you read that correctly. 100% free! You’ll want to check their websites (linked above) to be absolutely sure of the dates and times, but generally the Reina Sofía offers free admission from 7-9pm every day excluding Tuesday and Sunday; and the Prado offers free admission from 6-8pm Monday through Saturday.
Although there is plenty of artwork to explore and discover at both of these institutions, be sure to head to Reina Sofía for Guernica by Picasso and the Prado for Las Meninas by Velázquez. Don’t expect to get any great pictures or videos of the experience though – there are multiple guards around both paintings that monitor the crowd and highly discourage phone use!
Nightlife (on a Tuesday night)
The last thing you should do in Madrid before departing the next day is hit the town for some great nightlife! Although I don’t have the exact bars and clubs written down (qué lástima!), I can highly recommend The PubCrawl Company for getting a taste of the nightlife that Spain has to offer.
For 15 euros (on a Tuesday night, at least) this company will take you to 3 bars and 1 club, with shots and drink specials included at each place. Each bar seemed to be livelier than the last, with faster music and more light-tricks – so, this will be right up your alley if you like to dance and stay out late!
If not, be sure to ask your hotel/hostel/Airbnb host where you can get a more quiet drink at a nearby bar – there’s something for everyone!
I hope this guide helped you see how much value you can get from just one day in Madrid. However, there’s even more to discover in this capital city – so don’t let one day in Madrid be your last time visiting!
What other cities have you been able to successfully explore in a day?