The Perfect Madrid Two Day Itinerary | The Best Things To Do
Madrid is Spain’s largest city and administrative capital but often missed off many itineraries in preference for cities like Barcelona and Seville. The city however really shouldn’t be missed as it’s a hot-pot of culture, art, beautiful architecture and green space, splendid Spanish food and warm friendly people. It’s perfect for a weekend away from elsewhere in Europe and the city can easily be explored and traversed in just 2 days even though you’ll only just begin to delve into all the art, culture and food scene. In this Madrid two day itinerary I’ll talk about all the best places to stay, eat and the most important sights you simply have to see if you only have two days. If you find yourself in this beautiful city for longer I highly recommend exploring beyond the famous tourist sights- something I unfortunately didn’t have the chance to do during my own two day itinerary. There never is enough time, is there?
Like most other European cities, Madrid has an excellent public transportation system you can fully take advantage of during your stay. To get from Barajas airport to the city centre you can take the express shuttle bus which takes just 40 minutes arriving at Plaza de Cibeles or Atocha Station. Barajas airport is also connected to the rest of the city by metro, making it so easy to get to where you want to go.
Pretty much everywhere you want to go in Madrid is linked by metro or by bus and if you’re used to travelling in cities, figuring out the metro and bus networks won’t be an issue. Most single fares cost between €1.50 and €2.00 and you can also buy a 10-trip ticket to save you time, albeit not much money. In Madrid, they also have a contactless travel card aimed at tourists called the Tourist Ticket. It can be used on all public transport in the Madrid area and it even includes the €3 airport supplement. Passes are valid from 1-7 days and from Zones A-T. You can buy the travel pass at any metro station and also kiosks (estancas) and at the entrance to the Cercanias Aeropuerto T4 station.
Much of central Madrid is walkable too and walking is often the best way to explore without missing anything. It’s also a great form of keeping fit while travelling. Madrid also has a bike hire scheme; BiciMad where you can rent bikes and get around the city quickly and sustainably. Check their website here for more details.
WHERE TO STAY
Madrid has accommodation to suit every budget and taste from cheap, simple dorm rooms in hostels for money conscious backpackers to 5-star luxurious penthouse suites. For your Madrid two day itinerary I’d highly recommend staying in the centre of the city close to Gran Via or in the neighbourhoods of Malasaña or Chueca. Here are some of my favourite suggestions for Madrid that I’d highly recommend.
Splurge – Only YOU Boutique Hotel Madrid– Located in the very centre of the city, in the trendy neighbourhood of Chueca and so close to many of the city’s focal points this hotel is a must for many other reasons too. The building itself is a renovated 19th Century palace with exquisite detail present everywhere you look. The rooms all have modern colonial touches, some with exposed wooden beams, giving a feeling of old-world cosiness. There is classy lounge area and restaurant, free wifi and morning newspapers, and every room is equipped with the latest TVs and even with an iPhone/mp3 dock so you can play your tunes well into the night.
Mid-range – Escala Opera – If you’ve ever wanted to play kings and queens for a day or two, this is the place to do it. Escala Opera is located in a renovated 18th Century listed building and much of it has been restored leaving the original designs and details. Rooms are spacious and have a luxurious, opulent feel to them making you feel like 18th Century Spanish royalty. The hotel also has a great breakfast, fast and reliable wifi and even a library. It’s quiet, has friendly staff and the location is excellent.
Budget – Hostal Oriente – this hotel is simple yet charming and cosy and has all the mod-cons you might need during your stay in Madrid. The location is excellent and near all the great bars, cafes and restaurants while being quiet at the same time. It’s clean, has good wifi and comfortable beds.
Airbnb is also a great option in Madrid and in this city it’s often cheaper than the average hotel room. If you haven’t yet tried Airbnb, use my link here for $40 off your first stay.
WHERE TO EAT
Madrid is a fantastic place to be for good-quality, healthy plant-based food. With so much choice in the central, trendy neighbourhoods of Malasaña and Chueca it would take you a lot more than your 2 days to get through all the options but here are some of my must-tries in Madrid.
Bunny’s Deli– a delicious little cafe serving breakfasts, lunches and dinners in the heart of Madrid. Their menu includes a variety of mouth-watering salads such as their classic kale caesar, quiches, buddha bowls, veggie-based pasta and green smoothies, turmeric lattes and kombuchas. Their desserts are also to die for so, if you’re too full, get one to go! If you try one place in Madrid, make sure it’s this one. They also deliver via Uber Eats so if you’re too tired to venture out, get it delivered!
Mona Pinkerton– One of the highlights for foodies in Madrid is certainly tapas and it’s one thing you can’t miss. Head to this simple vegan tapas bar and sample all the Spanish classics, made plant-based. They have vegan ‘calamari’, small sandwiches (bocadillos), croquettes and potatoes all to be washed down with a glass of local beer.
Level Veggie Bistro – This is a great option for lunch when exploring Retiro Park as it’s located just by the eastern entrance. They have a lovely selection of dishes from sushi to salads and bbq skewers as well as some raw desserts too.
Mad Mad Vegan – if you’re in the mood for some good old comfort burgers and fries, this is the place to come. Quite easily the best plant-based burger in Madrid, they also do nachos, tacos, currywurst and loaded fries- pretty much all comfort fare that you cannot miss.
THINGS TO DO WITH TWO DAYS IN MADRID
VISIT EL PRADO
It wouldn’t be a Madrid two day itinerary without starting with one of Madrid’s cultural gems. El Prado is not only the most famous museum in Spain, but it’s also one of the top three in Europe, so for arts and culture fans, it’s a must on your Madrid two day itinerary. The collection is based on the tastes of 16th and 17th Century Spanish royalty and encompasses pretty much all European movements at that time and throughout history. The collections are especially strong in Spanish, Italian, French and Flemish painting from medieval times through to the 1800s which include famous works by artists like Titian, Bosch, Rembrandt and Goya.
Visit one of the largest and most famous squares in Spain, the Plaza Mayor was the focal point of Old Madrid. Now it a great place to stroll through and admire the buildings on all four sides, people watch and enjoy the outdoors. A few blocks away from Plaza Mayor is Puerta del Sol, the other of Madrid’s famous squares worth exploring too.
The most famous food tradition in Madrid is tapas, small portions of food traditionally served for free in bars as an accompaniment to a drink, typically beer. It would be a sin, quite frankly to miss tapas off of your Madrid two day itinerary. While most of the good tapas is no longer free, it’s still something you have to try when in the city. Classic dishes include papas bravas, pieces of spanish omelette, fried calamari, olives and sometimes even paella. My favourite place for plant-based tapas is Mona Pinkerton, see ‘Where to Eat’ for more details.
EL RETIRO PARK
This enormous park in the centre of Madrid is a necessary welcome of fresh air and verdant space. Within the park itself, there are many different plazas and fountains to visit as well as rose gardens, lakes and the colossal monument to Alfonso XII. The highlight of the park is definitely the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), an empty palace made entirely of glass. You can go inside and explore the structure and really get creative with your photos here. The best way to explore Retiro Park is by bicycle because it really is too big to walk comfortably and it can also save you a lot of time. Rent a BiciMadrid bike for a couple of hours on your way to the park and explore the park on two wheels instead of two feet.
GO SHOPPING ALONG GRAN VIA
Gran Via is Madrid’s most famous avenue and where people head to shop, watch a movie or play, party and dine. Even if you’re not interested in shopping or partying it’s worth walking down to admire the neo-classical architecture and what was and is today, the grandest of Madrid’s streets. Look out for the Schweppes sign of the famous Metropolis building as well as other architecturally grand buildings nearby.
ADMIRE THE ARCHITECTURE AT PUERTA DEL SOL
Puerta del Sol is the other of Madrid’s famous squares and it’s busy, bustling and surrounded with people, energy and an atmosphere to match. Explore the famous square and admire the historical, listed buildings, using them as a backdrop for photos- the ‘Tio Pepe’ neon sign here is a symbol of Madrid. If you have the time, go for a wander through El Corte Ingles, Spain’s most famous department store, operating since 1940, located right on Puerta del Sol.
Headed to Madrid as part of a European trip? Check out all my other European city guides here.
SHOP TILL YOU DROP AT EL RASTRO MARKET
El Rastro is the city’s biggest and most famous outdoor flea market. If you’re in Madrid on a Sunday, head there first thing in the morning for the possibility of finding some great bargains to take home with you, not to mention it’s a great place for picking up gifts or souvenirs. You’ll be able to find everything from antiques, used books, clothes and even art. The market does get busy so make sure to keep an eye out on your valuables as pickpockets operate in this area, preying on distracted tourists.
Madrid isn’t all classical architecture and art. Explore Madrid’s hippiest neighbourhood Malasaña famous for its student hangouts, vintage stores and almost-hipster vibes. There’s so much worth seeing here from some amazing street art to so many gorgeous instagrammable cafes. There’s something new and quirky, deserving your attention on every corner.
EAT YOUR WAY THROUGH MERCADO DE SAN MIGUEL
A stone’s throw away from Plaza Mayor is Mercado de San Miguel, a foodie’s dream. This indoor, gourmet food market has all the best produce from around Spain as well as ready prepared food to go. Expect some of the best snacks and desserts you can find in Madrid from Serrano ham to tapas but don’t expect low prices. Having said that it is the best place to go in Madrid to try many different Spanish foods and flavours under one roof.
The Royal Palace is one of the most grandiose buildings in Madrid. It’s huge- taking up a whole block and represents the decadence and wealth of Spanish Royalty through history. You can enter and take a tour of the grand rooms full of enormous crystal chandeliers, royal portraits and centuries-old antiques. The highlight of the palace is it’s perfectly manicured gardens, which you can get a glimpse of, even from outside the gates. Next door is also the Cathedral de la Almudena, one of the most opulent cathedrals in the city that’s definitely worth a spot during your Madrid two day itinerary.
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