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Here is my ultimate guide to planning a weekend in Madrid, full of unique things to see and do in the Spanish capital. Madrid is one of the coolest city break destinations in Europe (no wonder that I have already lost count of my visits). Nevertheless, it is such a pleasure to share all the details with you – I secretly hope that with all these Madrid tips you will fall in love with the city the way I did on my first visit (almost 15 years ago)!

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Planning an Epic Weekend in Madrid

Let me highlight it once again, Madrid is one of my favorite places in Spain, to the extent that I prefer Madrid to Barcelona.

While I have visited the city on numerous occasions, I still keep planning occasional Madrid weekend getaways now and then. The city feels energizing … I love the huge number of shows & concerts, temporary expositions, top-rated restaurants, cute cafes, and bookshops.

I feel like Madrid is very walkable, full of sophisticated architecture and vibrant Spanish cultural attributes.

With my recent articles One-Day Itinerary for Madrid and Madrid Day Trips, I have just scratched the surface of everything the city has to offer. So, I am currently preparing for you more Madrid travel tips – One-Week Travel Plan for Madrid, An Ultimate Madrid Region Road Trip Itinerary, and Top 5-day Spain Itineraries from Madrid.

What is Madrid known for

The Capital of Spain

Madrid is the Spanish capital city, often called the heart of this vibrant country. Officially, it is the center of all the national roads (Puerta del Sol square is the official km 0). 

While Madrid´s origins can be traced back to the Roman times on the Iberian Peninsula, the city was officially created in 865 A.C. by the Arabs and called Mayrit. Since the XVIIth century, Madrid has been the capital of Spain, after King Philip II understood its importance and moved his court from the nearest Toledo.

Football

Internationally Madrid is known for its football club FC Real Madrid (which has more European Cup titles than any other). FIFA called it the most successful football club of the 20th century.

Famous People from Madrid

Many famous people used to live in Madrid, like Miguel de CervantesFrancisco Goya, and Ernest Hemingway. The last one describes Madrid and El Botin restaurant in his famous novel Fiesta (or The Sun Also Rises in English).

Don Quixote fans, 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 (and read the book Don Quixote right before you visit the region).

Speaking of modern celebrities, Madrid also gave the world a few big names beyond football players – Placido Domingo, Julio Iglesias, Enrique Iglesias, Penelope Cruz, Alejandro Sanz, and Carlos Sainz – only to name a few.

Bullfight

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. 

Gran Via

Madrid´s Gran Via street is known as Spanish Broadway and the world´s capital of Spanish-language musicals. Over the last few years, I have seen Rey LeonGrease, 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).

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

The oldest restaurant in the world

The restaurant El 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. The restaurant has been mentioned in many classic and contemporary novels by GaldósHemingwayGraham Greene, Gómez de la Serna, and María Dueñas ( her novel El tiempo entre costuras was turned into the Spanish TV Series).

El Botin 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 El Botin once, but it did not impress me enough to make it to the list of my favorites (although Ernest Hemingway would disagree on this one since it was his top pick in Spain).

The Egyptian Temple

Madrid has its very own Egyptian Temple dating back to the 2nd century B.C. – Temple of Debod, set in Madrid´s Cuartel de la Montaña Park. The Temple was donated by the Egyptian Government to save it from the floods after the construction of the Aswan Dam.

debod temple madrid
Temple of Debod in Madrid

How much time do you need in Madrid

The minimum suggested time for Madrid is 3-4 days. Nevertheless, I can assure you that it is impossible to see it all even in one week. So, you can always find an excuse to revisit Madrid one day.

Check out all the cool things to see and do in Madrid that I mention in this article, and then simply go for those that make you feel excited.

When is the best time to visit Madrid?

Since any weekend in Madrid involves lots of sightseeing and museums, you can visit the city anytime.

To enjoy the best weather, plan your Madrid weekend for fall (September/October) or spring (April/May).

The summers in Madrid are very hot: the official web claims it´s 25C (77F), but in my experience, the temperatures can easily reach 30-35C (86-95F) in July-August. Plus, it feels twice as hot since you don´t have the Mediterranean breeze of Valencia to cool you down.

Nevertheless, I have visited Madrid in summer and over Christmas a few times – it was still an interesting experience anyway (just not as enjoyable for long walks as it gets in early Autumn and late Spring).

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Madrid in Autumn
Our last trip to enjoy Christmas in Madrid

Unique Hotels in Madrid

Madrid´s most exclusive and top-rated hotels are 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.

Nevertheless, I mostly enjoy 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.

Your Perfect Madrid Weekend Itinerary

Note that in this post I´m giving you more local attractions than one can possibly visit during one single weekend in Madrid. Mainly because I aim to provide you with numerous options to personalize your experience in the Spanish capital.

By and large, what would I plan for my first-ever Madrid weekend?

Well, I would spend the first day around Madrid’s city center (including a visit to The Royal Palace of Madrid and a foodie tour). Then, I would dedicate the second day to El Prado Museum and Thyssen Bornemisza (including a visit to El Retiro Park and a flamenco show at night). If I were to enjoy a long weekend in Madrid, I´d dedicate the third day to the excursions across the region (either Toledo or Segovia).

puerta alcala madrid
Puerta de Alcala (near el Retiro Park) – a must-stop for Madrid Weekend

Top Things to See and Do During Your Madrid Weekend

The Golden Triangle of Museums

Visiting museums of Madrid

The so-called Golden Triangle of Art in Madrid is formed by three places housing the gems of Spanish history and Art: The El Prado Museum, Thyssen Bornemisza, and the Reina Sofía National Galleries. First-timers in Madrid usually pick the Prado, but the other two museums do not stay behind in terms of their uniqueness. I love 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 from Cartier. It was so peculiar that I even got a book for my collection of Coffee Table Books.

The lines to visit El Prado and Thyssen Bornemisza are huge, so if you are short on time, consider booking a tour in advance with a skip-the-line option.

Best skip-the-line tours in Madrid:

El Retiro Park

Madrid is often called one of the greenest European cities.

The central park of the city is the famous El Retiro. This place was created by King Felipe IV in the XVIIth century as a royal garden. Many of the park´s iconic buildings were added during the reign of the House of Bourbon in the XVIIIth-XIXth centuries.

The must-stops in El Retiro are Palacio de Cristal, the lake, and the fountain Fuente de los Galapagos.

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El Retiro Park in Madrid
retiro park madrid weekend spain travel
Palacio de Cristal

Markets, Restaurants & Foodie Tours

Madrid is a great foodie destination since in this city you can find anything from Michelin-star restaurants, to Spanish classical dishes and regional delicatessen.

Vintage Cafes

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 Hot Chocolate and Churros

Top Restaurants in Madrid

Besides the famous restaurant El Botin, trendy places 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.

As to El Botin, you can also you can book a lunch with El Prado visit.

Unique Markets in Madrid

The most unique markets of Madrid are San Miguel, San Anton, San Idelfonso, and San Fernando. A great option to explore local markets is to book a foodie tour, where the local guide will take you to the best spots in search of local delicatessen.

one day in madrid market spain
San Miguel Market in Madrid

Another great option for learning more about Spanish Cuisine is to book a cooking class:

Madrid City Center

Puerta del Sol

In the center of Madrid, you can not miss the famous Puerta de Sol Square with the monument to the city´s symbols El Oso y El Madroño (or The Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree). This sculpture dates back to the second half of the 20th century and 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

Another must-stop is 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.

Gran Via

Madrid´s Street Gran Via is one of the most important streets of the city, often called Spanish Broadway. Here, you will find the trendiest shows alongside popular international shops and brands.

The Royal Palace of Madrid

Spain is known for its long-rooted Royal history and a huge amount of dreamy castles across the country. The Royal Palace of Madrid is known as the largest one in Western Europe ( with 135 square metes and 3418 rooms). Since this palace is one of the few official residences of the Spanish royals open to the public, it gets a fair share of visitors (around 2 million every year).

While The Royal Palace of Madrid offers free entrance from 4 p.m till 5 p.m (from Monday to Thursday), the waiting lines are huge (which is also understandable, since 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 hours waiting to get in.

To be fair, 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. Nevertheless, it is a must-stop for any Madrid weekend. Even though I do not understand their 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 of Madrid – a must-stop on any Madrid weekend

Guided Tours in Madrid

Alternatively, you can check one of these Madrid tours to explore local landmarks in the company of a local guide:

Flamenco Shows

A great way to make this Madrid weekend memorable 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).

The Seven Wonders of Madrid & Day Trips

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One of the ceilings of El Escorial (the only photo I can show you thanks to the no-pictures policy of the Royal landmarks in Spain)
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The unique square Plaza Mayor in the small town of Chinchon – one of the highlights of my 2022 in Spain

Did you know Madrid had its very own 7 wonders?

According to IBOCC the top 7 Landmarks of the Madrid region are El Escorial, the Royal Palace of Madrid, Alcala de Henares, the square Plaza Mayor in Chinchon, Aranjuez, the El Prado Museum, and the square Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

Therefore, only 3 wonders of Madrid can be visited within the city itself. But you can easily explore the rest via excursions and day trips.

To learn more about day trip options from Madrid check out this post.

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weekend in Madrid things to do spain

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

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