I love Madrid.
In Spain the question always come up: Madrid or Barcelona?
I refuse to choose; I say it’s both.
When I first moved to Madrid in 2017, I hated it so much. Not necessarily the city itself, but I just refused to give it a chance because it wasn’t Mallorca and I had felt forced to move there (my teaching program placed me in Madrid after three years in Mallorca).
But now, not only do I miss Madrid on the daily, but I really think I could totally live there again and love it. I definitely took the experience for granted at the time and now whenever I fly from Palma to the U.S. I try to always make an extended layover in Madrid.
That all being said, I want to share with you all of the places I wish I had taken the time to really enjoy while I lived there.
I have created a 3-Day itinerary for MUST-SEES in Madrid with optional day-trip add ons.
Arrive in Madrid and call a Cabify to transport you to the hotel (I like Cabify better than Uber. It’s a Spanish company and the drivers wear suits. Plus, it’s usually cheaper than Uber and good to support local)
Here are some suggestions for stays:
~Bastardo Hostel (in between the two hippest neighborhoods in Madrid…this has got to be the coolest hostel on the list. Awesome decor, hip bar and restaurant, and roof terrace)
~The Hat (great location, clean and great rooftop with cocktails)
~Mola! Hostel (love the cute color scheme)
~2060 The Newton Hostel (similar to The Hat in decor, this Hostel is bright and clean and in a great local for visiting La Latina and Lavapies neighborhoods)
~Generator Madrid (with diner and rooftop terrace)
~Room 007 Chueca (with gastrobar on site)
~Hotel Regina (super cute with hip decor and right in the center, with a cool bar and sundeck. Prices are over $200/night in June but if you go in September, which is the best time for Madrid in my opinion, then prices are just at $100/night. Make sure you price up to the Superior Room, which is only like $10 more)
~Room Mate Macarena (another hotel with AMAZING decor right in the heart of the city. Hip with rooftop terrace and pool and again just over $100/night)
~Dear Hotel, (another trendy hotel; this time with more of a clean and crisp decor. Rooftop terrace and sundeck, amazing cocktails and rooftop pool. All for still just a little over $100/night again)
Once you’ve dropped your things at your hotel, walk around to get your bearings. Many of the hotels listed above are around Gran Via. So you could even do some shopping! It is quite safe to walk around by yourself during the day and at normal times of the night. Just make sure to always wear a cross-body and BE AWARE of your surroundings and your bag at all times.
Go back to the hotel and get ready for dinner out…
Walk to the La Latina neighborhood, or if you’re feeling a bit sluggish from your flight, take the green line on the metro to La Latina,
La Latina is a bustling neighborhood right in the center with loads of tapa and pintxo restaurants to make your own little ruta de tapas y bebidas.
Calle Cava Baja is the perfect place to start your Small-Bite Hop. Check out the following places, but not necessarily in order:
- Juana La Loca (beautiful tapas bar right across the street from Cava Baja)
- El Tempranillo (tapas, tapas, tapas! I love the artichoke here; I could eat 10)
- Vermuteria Black Bolita (vermouth)
- Lamiak Cava Baja (Basque)
- La Buha (get the MINI red pepper and Manchego tortilla de patata and find someone to share it with…seriously… the mini one is HUGE but it is so delicious!)
- Pez Tortilla (A trendy bar specializing in tortilla de patata. There are all kinds, so choose wisely. The best part is that you can order by the slice)
- Txakolina, Pintxoteca Madrileña (make sure to order the Basque Txakoli wine with some type of shrimp pintxo)
- El Viejero (for drinks when you’re full of tapas and pintxos)
- Taberna Almendro 13 (plates of jamón y queso, and huevos rotos)
You can spend the whole night just bopping around this little area, and I suggest you do
You cannot go to Madrid and not go to the famous Chocolateria San Gines, so start your day early-ish and make your first full day worth it by going and grabbing some churros and hot dipping chocolate! – and don’t worry if it’s summertime, believe me, you’ll go back for seconds. Then take the red line on the metro from Sol to Retiro to start a city tour:
Skip the free walking tour. Either download GPSmyCITY: Walks to go on your own self-guided walking tour or take a bike tour of the city!
The GPSmyCity Madrid Introduction Walk takes you to all the major stops, 12 in all, and even highlights which stops are MUST SEEs. The app provides loads of information about each stop and even if you are without GPS or phone service on your trip, it’s easy to mark the stops on your offline Google Maps before you start the tour. This way, you can see what you want at your own pace. The only thing I would recommend is doing the tour backwards from what is listed on the app; start in Retiro Park and end at the Palace. This will allow you to not only stop and tour the inside of the cathedral towards the end of the tour (highly recommended. Madrid Cathedral does not get enough credit), but it will also allow you to visit Temple de Debod at the end of the tour and more easily make your way back to Mercado de San Miguel for lunch.
Temple de Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple and museum that was moved from Aswan and rebuilt in Madrid; it is also a great spot to watch the sunset. And while it is not listed on the GPSmyCITY walking tour, I think it is a must see of the city and only takes a few minutes to walk around. Then, once you’ve snapped a few shots, you can walk back down the steps towards Plaza Mayor (one of the stops on your tour) for lunch at the famous gastro market.
If you choose to do the bike tour of the city, again, this tour does not include Temple de Debod, but the tour is highly recommended, has great reviews, hits all of the other spots I would recommend seeing, and will give you a pretty good understanding of the layout of the city. You can always come back to Temple de Debod at sunset. Also, the tour ends back where it started, so if you’re tired you may want to take the red line on the metro from Banco de España back to Sol to save yourself some walking/time to Mercado de San Miguel. Or, better yet, just take a cab – because sometimes spending the extra buck is just worth it.
*note: the bike tour starts at 10:30am near Retiro Park and is 3-hours long, so keep that in mind when planning your time; this is not a tour you can just dip out in the middle of as you must return the bikes at the starting point.
Points of interests seen in both/either of these tours:
- Retiro Park
- Plaza de Cibeles
- Puerta del Sol
- Plaza Mayor
- Plaza de la Villa
- The Royal Palace
- The Cathedral
- and more….
Now that you’ve seen the sites, let’s go eat!
Madrid, while it wasn’t always known as a gastro hub, has more recently become a foodie destination. That being said, you’ve gotta make time to enjoy the food on this trip! Plus, if doing the thing in the place is at all important to you during your travels, experiencing the long Spanish lunch is one of those things that can’t be dismissed.
So, while Mercado de San Miguel is always overrun by tourist…I still say it is a must see and must eat. Eat all the pintxos, all the calamari, all the tortilla, all the olives and all the pastries. Drink all the Aperol Spritz and all the vermouth (especially the vermut served in a martini glass so you can feel real fancy).
AHH. No matter how crowded it may get, the San Miguel Market is still one of my favorite places in Madrid.
Then, before you’ve filled up too much- just save a little room and time to duck into this super kitschy, Andalusian-Style bar that sits right inside Plaza Mayor: La Torre del Oro. And before you say anything, yes, I know it has only 2.8 stars on Google, but you aren’t going to eat here. Just go for the stereotypical decor of an Andalusian bar of Toros.
Order a beer and a beer only. You get a free tapa with it!
Alright so now it’s been a pretty f*cking full second day, its late afternoon, and you probably need to chill out and relax. Let’s go find some rooftop terraces for a drink.
From Plaza Mayor, walk to Sol and up through one of the sprawling streets to Gran Via to take your pick of rooftops:
(*optional- if you didn’t shop on Day 1 and you still have some energy left, stop to shop on Gran Via before or after cocktail but just remember, while it’s more fun to shop after…watch your wallet…in more ways than one)
- WXYZ Bar
- La Terraza de Oscar
- La Terraza del Urban
- Azoteca del Círculo (for a bird’s eye view photo of the famous Metropolis building)
Chill-Out, Have a Drink, & Take in the Views
To end the day, let’s head back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Remember, normal dinner time in the summer in Spain is at 9:30/10pm. So you will have PLENTY of time to get ready.
Dinner tonight will be at Sobrino de Botin (make sure to make a reservation). This restaurant is famous for being the oldest restaurant in the world per the Guiness World Records and was frequented by Hemingway.
*If you can’t make Sobrino de Botin, another option is Mirador del Arco de Cuchilleros or Casa Toni
Finally, take your pick between two of the hippest neighborhoods in town to get down with the new Madrid cocktail scene: Lavapies or Malasaña/Chueca.
Lavapies (best Thurs-Sat):
-Bar El 32
-La Tuerta Funky Castizo
-1862 Dry Bar
Time to check-out an instagrammable breakfast spot in Malasaña: Ojalá.
The restaurant has a delicious brunch and beautiful decor. The best part is the beach downstairs! Yes, like an actual beach. But, don’t miss the bathrooms either.
Next up for the day are the world-famous art museums!
You can take the Metro Light Blue Line 1 from Tribunal, near Ojalá, to Estación Del Arte, which is right across the street from Atocha train station, and right beside Museo Reina Sofia.
This makes Reina Sofia a great starting point, plus, in my opinion, only a short browsing of the collection is needed; mainly to seek out the Dalí. You will want to spend most of your time at the Prado.
After visiting Museo Reina Sofia, walk up the street of Prado, passing, or going through, the Real Jardín Botánico and walking around to the back of the Prado building to find the entrance to the art museum.
The Prado may take you a few hours to get through, depending on your taste in art, but there really is a lot to see here, with paintings ranging from 1100’s-1900’s by various artists like Bosch, El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, to name a few.
When you’re done visiting the museums, it’ll probably be time for lunch, and again we are going for instagrammable settings today. That is why you have to make your way to Habanera, about a 20 minute walk north of The Prado.
I’m telling you; this place is BEAUTIFUL. You will want to spend some time here. It’s Cuban cuisine and staples like ropa vieja and Cuban shredded beef, but then they also have some variety with dishes like tuna, octopus, and ribs. Plus, they have some pretty good cocktails too. And even if you don’t want to eat a full meal here, go to get a dessert and to snap a few photos.
After lunch you can peruse around: walk through Retiro another time, take a photo in front of Puerta de Alcalá, or take your time walking down Calle de Alcalá, but by about 4:30/5pm, you want to make it back to the center to ensure you can get into the next stop:
one of the top cocktail bars in the world, and really one of the most impressive experiences and presentations I’ve ever seen from a bar!
Believe me, you will want to go in the afternoon, as stopping by at night could leave you standing in line for over an hour! It is that good! and that cool!
Once you’re inside, you’re going to want to stay for more than one drink. And do! Drink more than one! Experience the flavors and the aromas and the colors! This spot is definitely one for Instagram too!
After Salmon Guru, you may want to head back to your hotel to get cleaned up for dinner, because tonight is at Decadente! A newer restaurant with a mellow vibe and some fantastic food. Again, the place has just impeccable attention to detail in the interior design the the presentation of the food and drinks. It is just fabulous.
Then after dinner at Decadente it’s time for another night out!
I suggest checking out Santos y Desamparados and Calle 365 Callejón Secreto (this latter one may end up on a list of world’s best. It’s that cool).
And last but not least, finish your last night in Madrid with a Soprano note at Cheer’s Karaoke! Truly, the most fun a girl can have: hitting the high note with a stranger!
And while that may wrap up a full three days in Madrid, there is still so much more to see in this city. Down below I have listed some more spots to hit up.
Also, if you’re interested in a few day-trips from Madrid, subscribe below and check back in with us.
We will soon be giving all the details on Segovia and Toledo!
More Spots to Hit the Spot in Madrid:
- Cafe Federal (brunch)
- Carmencita (Cheap Brunch/American owned)
- Restaurante Xiongzai (famous & cheap Chinese soup/dumplings “Winnie the Pooh” Restaurant)
- Ramen Kagura (famous ramen)
- Yatai Market (Asian gastromarket)
- Takos Al Pastor (best tacos in town…used to be 1euro)
- Villa Capri (Instagrammable Italian: pasta in a cheese wheel)
- Bel Mondo (Instagrammable Italian: pizza, charcuterie boards)
- Perrachica (instagrammable space/food/drinks)
- Mercado de Vallenermoso (gastro market)
More Places to Spend your Money- Vintage / Boutique Shopping:
- Calle de Velarde (street in Malasana)
- Corre. Alta de San Pablo (street in Malasana)
- Rastro Market (Sundays)