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Take a look at this post to find out how to spend a perfect one day in Madrid. I have created this Madrid Itinerary after visiting the Spanish capital on numerous occasions and I hope it will help you to make the most of your 24 hours in the city!

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Visiting Madrid, Spain

Following my recent article about Madrid Day Trips, I felt inspired to share with you more exclusive content about the Spanish capital of Madrid. You all know how much I love visiting Madrid, to the extent that I prefer Madrid to Barcelona. No wonder that I have already lost count of times I was lucky to visit Madrid.

You know how they say that Paris is always a good idea, well Madrid is my personal Paris.

Even though Madrid does not have the sandy shore of the Mediterranean, the city is a perfect city-break destination. I love its exclusive museums, grandiose landmarks, and pretty much everything else – cute cafes, foods for any taste, unique temporary expositions, trendy musicals, and endless shops.

About this Madrid Itinerary

This Madrid itinerary will work for people who are short on time but still want to make the most of their one day in Madrid. If you are just planning your trip to Spain, I suggest you leave at least 2-3 days for Madrid.

However, if you still stick by spending only one day in Madrid – you owe it to yourself to make the most of it.

Keep in mind that you can easily spend a whole weekend in Madrid following this very same itinerary, just without any rush.

Alternatively, you can check out my other article How to Spend an Epic Weekend in Madrid.

puerta alcala madrid
One day in Madrid – Puerta de Alcalá near El Retiro park

What is Madrid known for

Madrid is the capital of Spain and the center of all the national roads (Puerta del Sol square is the official km 0).

Many famous people used to live in Madrid, like Miguel de Cervantes, Francisco Goya, and Ernest Hemingway. You can check this PDF with locations visited by Cervantes, but I highly recommend you dedicate time to a separate Don-Quixote Road Trip in Spain.

Internationally Madrid is known for its football club FC Real Madrid (which has more European Cup titles than any other).

Madrid´s bullfight arena has a seating capacity of almost 24,000 spectators. It is considered one of the most iconic corrida places in the world and has welcomed the greatest bullfighters of all time.

Madrid´s Street Gran Via is known as Spanish Broadway and the world´s capital of Spanish-language musicals. Over the last few years, I have seen Rey Leon, Grease, and Cabaret, and it has always been a great experience. My in-laws went to see Anastasia and loved it … ( we could not make it back then and now are waiting for the show´s return to enjoy it with the kids).

Auditorio Nacional de Musica – is a must-stop for fans of classical music (last time we went to enjoy the concert of Wagner´s music)

Unique Hotels in Madrid

The most beautiful and luxurious hotels in Madrid are the Four Seasons Hotel, CoolRooms Palacio de Atocha, Relais & Châteaux Heritage Hotel, and Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá. Years ago, on a romantic trip across Spain, together with my husband we spent a weekend at NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado. The best part was the jacuzzi and the stunning views of the Neptune Fountain from our window.

These days I mostly love Madrid´s cute boutique hotels – BLESS Hotel, Relais & Châteaux Hotel Orfila, H10 Villa de la Reina Boutique Hotel, TÓTEM Madrid, and Only YOU Boutique Hotel Madrid. My favorite neighborhood is the fancy barrio de Salamanca: love its XIX-th century avenues, trendy shops, cozy cafes, and the proximity of Retiro Park (although it is almost impossible to find budget-friendly hotels in this area).

Other popular options for staying in Madrid are the hotels with rooftops – ME Madrid Reina Victoria Hotel, The Principal Madrid, and Room Mate Oscar.

One Day in Madrid: Things to see and do

The Royal Palace of Madrid

Spain has a long-rooted history of Royals, which is reflected in a huge amount of dreamy castles and beautiful palaces across the country. The Royal Palace of Madrid is known as the largest one in Western Europe, with 135 square metes and 3418 rooms. This palace is one of the few official residences of the Spanish royals open to the public. So, no wonder it gets a fair share of visitors (around 2 million every year).

The good news is that The Royal Palace of Madrid offers free entrance from 4 p.m till 5 p.m (from Monday to Thursday). The bad news is that the waiting lines are always long – in the end, it is one of the top Spanish landmarks. So, the most realistic way to visit is to book your tour ahead, otherwise you will waste half of your one day in Madrid waiting to get in.

Also, to be fair, while I enjoyed the visit – I can’t claim with all certainty that The Royal Palace of Madrid is the most impressive palace I have seen in my entire life. Plus, they have a strict no-picture policy inside.

If you love beautiful Cathedrals in Spain, you can check out Nuestra Señora de la Almudena right near The Royal Palace of Madrid.

palacio real madrid
The Royal Palace – a must-stop during your one day in Madrid

The City Center of Madrid

Puerta del Sol

If it is your first time in Madrid, you can not miss its city center and the famous Puerta de Sol Square, where you will find the monument to the city´s symbols El Oso y El Madroño (or The Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree). This sculpture from the second half of the 20th century represents the coat of arms of Madrid.

This square has a symbolic meaning in Spain: it is a starting point (0 km) within the network of Spanish roads and the center of the Spanish New Year´s Eve celebration (when the bell marks the traditional eating of 12 grapes, one of the typical Spanish habits).

Plaza Mayor

You also need to make a stop at Plaza Mayor, the busiest square in the city. If you are visiting Madrid over Christmas, the area will be full of decorations and Christmas markets.

San Miguel Market

Do not miss the popular place for foodies, Mercado de San Miguel. If you want to taste the best local delicatessen, I suggest you book a guided tapas tour to visit all the foodie places in one itinerary. However, for only one day in Madrid, you might want to skip the Royal Palace and do one of the tapas tours instead (doing both in one morning will be almost impossible).

The oldest restaurant in the world

The restaurant Botin is considered the oldest restaurant in the world, serving food to locals and visitors for more than 300 years. This place was founded back in 1725 by Cándido Remis, a nephew of the wife of French chef Jean Botín. This restaurant has been mentioned in many classic and contemporary novels by Galdós, Hemingway, Graham Greene, Gómez de la Serna, and María Dueñas ( her novel El tiempo entre costuras was turned into the Spanish TV Series).

The restaurant occupies all four floors of the building and preserves the original atmosphere of an inn, while still roasting cochinillo (a Spanish dish consisting of roast suckling pig) and cordero (e.g.lamb) in the old Castilian way.

On a more personal note, it was interesting to visit Botin once, but it did not impress me enough to make it to the list of my favorite restaurants in Madrid.

Top-rated Restaurants in Madrid

Trendy restaurants pop up on the map of Madrid all the time, so I try to explore new places on every trip.

Although I should admit that I mostly go for different cuisines of the world (since it’s what I lack in Castellon). Nevertheless, here are a few top-ranked places to enjoy Spanish and Mediterranean dishes in Madrid: Los Montes de Galicia, El Sur de Moratín, Taberna de Peñalver, La Gaditana Castellana, Nuevo Horno de Santa Teresa, GastroVía 61, Toga, La Mi Venta, Casa Carola, and Casa Lucas. A few Michelin-style options: DiverXO, Cebo, Ramon Freixa Madrid, Vinoteca Moratín, and Ferretería Restaurante.

El Retiro Park

After lunch, you can have a nice walk at El Retiro Park, a green hub in the heart of Madrid. With its 125 hectares and 15000 trees, it is the most iconic place in the city for jogging, picnics, and boat rides at Estaque Grande.

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El Retiro Park in Madrid

Museo del Prado (or Thyssen Bornemisza)

Despite having only one day in Madrid, you must dedicate your afternoon to the city´s iconic museums.

The most famous one is officially The Prado Museum- a previous booking is necessary to skip the line. Prado is considered one of the most unique museums in the world. Nevertheless, I also love the nearest Thyssen Bornemisza with its temporary expositions. On one of my first visits to Madrid, they were housing a temporary exposition of Elizabeth Taylor´s jewelry. It was so peculiar that I even got a book for my collection of Coffee Table Books.

These are 2 of 3 Spanish museums forming the so-called Golden Triangle of Art in Madrid (the third one is the Reina Sofía National Galleries). So, I guess, by now you might have realized why one needs more than one day in Madrid to see all of the top landmarks.

Iconic Bars & Cafes of Madrid

Madrid is also known for its large number of vintage cafes. Some of them were visited visited by Lorca, Welles, Capote, Galdós, Valle-Inclán, and other famous artsy people. A few of the most well-known places include San Gines (known for its churros con chocolate), La Mallorquina (known for its traditional Spanish pastries), Cafe Central, and Cafe Gijon (warning! Despite being iconic, this place has some of the lowest reviews in Madrid).

Alternatively, you can enjoy refreshing drinks in one of Hemingway´s favorite bars – Bar Museo Chicote or La Venencia.

None of these popular places is on my list of favorites for one day in Madrid, but I still can´t skip mentioning them ( since it´s what most of travelers are looking for during their first visit to the Spanish capital).

churros madrid san gines
San Gines – “churros con chocolate” to go

Shows in Madrid

The best way to celebrate your one day in Madrid is to visit one of the popular flamenco shows or musicals: Emociones Live Flamenco Performance (check availability), La Cueva de Lola Flamenco Show Tickets with Drink (check availability), 1-Hour Traditional Flamenco Show at Centro Cultural (check availability), and Opera and Zarzuela Show and Dinner (check availability).

Popular Guided Tours in Madrid

To make the most of your one day in Madrid, check out these unique guided tours:

madrid itinerary spain
During one of my first visits to Madrid (back in 2011)

Unique Madrid Experiences

It is no secret that many travelers prefer unique local experiences to a jam-packed sightseeing plan. What are the memorable things to try in Madrid?

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Visiting Madrid with kids and exploring the region via Madrid Day Trips

Madrid with kids

If you are visiting Madrid with kids, here are a few family-friendly things to do in Madrid:

To learn more about the Madrid day trips check out this post.

What about you, dear reader, have you ever visited Madrid? or are you excited to visit the Spanish capital?

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For more inspiring ideas check my Pinterest boards – Travel to Spain and The Ultimate Spain Travel Collection.

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