A week in is barely enough to scratch the surface of this wonderful city, never mind a day in Madrid! It is however possible to get a sense of its magnificence in 24 hours or less. Madrid is one of our favourite places in Spain, and we have had the good fortune to visit a few times. Here is a guide on how to spend a day in Madrid.
Madrid is also the gateway to many of our travel destinations like Japan or the Maldives. Valencia, our current home base, has a small airport, so a lot of the international flights depart from Madrid, meaning we either have to fly or take the train there. Here is a day in Madrid itinerary when you’re short on time but still want to see the best.
How To Spend A Day In Madrid: A Useful Guide
Where to stay in Madrid: How to spend your time in Madrid
One of our favorite places to stay in Madrid is the Clement Barajas Hotel. We love this place because :
- It is close to the Barajas Airport. Less than a 10 minute drive from the airport and in the Barajas neighborhood. This means that if you have an early flight for instance, you can sleep later than you could if you were coming from the center of town. Perfect for a short stay such as a day in Madrid or business lodging close to the airport.
- There is a free shuttle to and from the hotel. This is definitely one of my favorite benefits. Despite the fact that the hotel is close to the airport, in fact it is just one stop!, it will still cost you $5 each for the ticket on the metro, thanks to the airport surcharge. Nice way for us to save $20 right off the bat.
- The hotel is close to the Barajas metro station. This means you can find your way easily to the center for shopping or sightseeing.
- It is very clean and functional, with great staff. That is why we keep coming back :-)
Sightseeing Madrid in a day:
Things to see in Madrid: Exploring on foot of the best Madrid attractions.
There are bars around the hotel where you can grab some breakfast before setting out on your day. A less than ten minute walk will bring you to the metro station. Your first destination on the metro is the:
Plaza de Espana:
The first statue you will notice is the one of Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish novelist, poet and playwright. You may be familiar with his most celebrated book, Don Quixote. He was born in the outskirts of Madrid. He also came back to the city after a colorful life, including jail time in Seville for some sort of tax discrepancy ;-) . He died Madrid at the age of 68. Make sure to take pictures of Don Quixote and his pal, Sancho Panza. We each thought the other had taken the pictures ;-) , so sorry..
Grand Via: What to see and enjoy in Madrid
Walking away from the Plaza de Espana, you will walk along what is probably the most vibrant street in all of Madrid, the Grand Via. It is also called the Spanish Broadway, thanks to the cinemas, theaters and pulsating night clubs that abound. There are also upscale shops and some of the coolest architectural buildings. It is also a fantastic place to people watch. You could spend hours just on this street alone. The Grand Via has been featured in movies like “Open your eyes” – remade as Vanilla Sky, “The sun also rises” and is the title of one of favorite oldies band, Matt Bianco! I feel so old ;-). I recommend indulging in some food at this point.
There is a very popular tapas place on the Grand Via called 100 Montaditos. You will find locals and tourists alike. It is definitely one of the places to eat in Madrid. They have €1 tapas and beer and sangria for €1.50! It is usually packed, and for good reason too. The food is good and the price can’t be beat, so grab a table if you can find one outside, eat and chill and watch the world go by. A very Spanish thing. Work off the calories afterwards by continuing on to :
Puerta del Sol: One of the Madrid must see places in the city:
Puerta del Sol means “gate of the sun” in Spanish, it began as one of the walls that surrounded the city in the 15th century. It was oriented towards the east, hence the name, thanks to the rising sun. This is easily one of the coolest places in the city and is full with people from all walks of life. It is a meeting point, a hangout and a shopping mecca. There are several metro stops and so it is very popular.
There are a lot of tapas places as well as American joints like KFC and McDonalds to be found at Puerta del Sol, so you have plenty to pick from. You will definitely be entertained, wether by the motionless people statues, men with megaphones telling you about God or airing their grievance on whatever. You definitely want to keep your purse close. Despite the police presence, you might be pick-pocketed.
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Palacio Real (Royal Palace) Madrid:
Even though this is the official royal residence, the royal family prefers to live in the outskirts. This palace is only used for state functions. It sort of reminds you of Buckingham palace with its gates. Sometimes, l think all palaces are designed by the same person. Even the one in Brussels looks similar to me. The palace has over 3,000 rooms. For $12.20 each, you can tour some of the open rooms. We did not, and chose to admire it from the outside.
Madrid Cathedral: Yet another must visit place in Madrid
Right next to the Palacio Real is the Madrid Cathedral (La Cathedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena). Quite the mouthful ;-). A building of Arabic origin, it is constructed of granite and marble. Supposedly when the Moors conquered the city of Madrid in the 8th century, a statue of the virgin was hidden in the city walls. The wall crumbled in the 15th century when the city was reconquered. It is said that El Cid himself found the virgin and that was what helped him in his quest.
If you have any energy left after your full self guided walking tour of Madrid, you can talk a short walk to
The rectangular plaza is synonymous with Madrid. Since its construction in 1617, the plaza has been used as markets, for bullfights and even an execution site during the Spanish Inquisition. There are a total of 237 balconies overlooking the plaza. I would not want to live in any of the apartments as this is one of the most touristy places in Madrid and l think l would go crazy with the noise. There are a ton of eateries there under the porticoes.
A bronze statue of King Phillip the 3rd is smack dab in the center. Every time we visit, there is usually this guy who poses with you for money dressed as Spiderman. He looks more like Jack Black in Nacho Libre, 5 foot tall with the biggest belly and a body that tests the limit of the spider suit. He cracks me up no end. I am just too cheap to pay him :-).
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You might be squeezed for time, but as you can see, you never have to ask “what to do in Madrid in 1 day?” :-). I hope this has given you some ideas on how to spend a day in gorgeous Madrid. This is just enough to wet your appetite and make you desire a return visit. You can tackle the museums and watch some football another time.
By the time you have visited all these places, you should be quite tired. Head back to your hotel and try any of the small tapas places close by for a late dinner, then off to bed. I have previously written about Madrid, so if you have more time, you can experience Madrid like a Madrileno. There is so much more to do :-). For an alternate view of even more places to visit in the same amount of time, be sure and read this fantastic post from Michele. I hope you find this Madrid tourism guide helpful and l think they are some of the top ten things to do in Madrid Spain on a long layover.
Have you ever been to Madrid? If so, did you like it? Do you have a 1 day itinerary for Madrid? Have l missed any other wonderful places that should be visited when you can only spend a day? Feel free to add any other stuff to do in Madrid that you can think of. If not, would you care to visit this historic city?