Madrid is definitely a city best discovered by getting lost among its streets and vibrant neighbourhoods. It has been the capital of Spain for more than 450 years; a place where history and tradition meet along its modern streets, shops and restaurants. You would probably need a whole lifetime to get to know every corner of the city, but if you only have 24 hours, our local Madrid tour guides can help you to make the absolute most of a short visit.
The movement in Madrid starts around 8am, so first thing in the morning is probably the best and most relaxed time to visit the most popular square: Puerta del Sol, considered the centre of the city. Start your day walking down Calle Arenal where in the middle of the street there is an old church, San Gines, and right behind it you’ll find the best place in town to have a traditional breakfast: chocolate con churros at Chocolatería San Ginés. It doesn’t matter what time you get there because it’s open 24/7. Satisfy your sweet tooth and get energised for the rest of the morning with some sweetness, and then continue along Calle Arenal until you get to the Opera House, and right behind it, the Royal Palace.
Now it’s time to visit the magnificent Royal Palace, considered one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe, and the Catedral de Almudena, Madrid’s grandest church. But before you do, take a few minutes to have a look at the statues in Plaza de Oriente. The Royal Palace is open from 10am to 8pm, but the best time to visit is earlier in the day to avoid the bigger crowds. The 20th-century cathedral is right in front of the palace and it has a stunning neo-Romanic crypt that you can visit for a donation of EUR 1. We also recommend visiting the museum of the cathedral and going up to the dome to get some stunning views of the city and the countryside of Madrid.
One of the things Spanish people are very well known for is eating lunch and dinner quite late, so if you’re hungry you’ll have to wait a bit because most restaurants don’t open until 1 or 2pm. After the Royal Palace, head to the oldest part of Madrid and stop in Plaza de la Villa. The building you see with the flags was the town hall for more than 300 years, and right in front of it you can see the oldest civil building in town.
Walk down the narrow Calle del Codo to discover a sweet secret that Madrid has for you. The narrow alleyway takes you to a wooden door, which is the entrance to the Convento de las Carboneras. Inside, cloistered nuns make the most delicious cookies and sell them through a window with a revolving table. Because the nuns are not allowed to leave the convent, they make their living by baking and selling the biscuits. Ring the bell, walk to the window, place your order and it will be placed on the table and spun over to you, after which you pay for your cookies the same way you got them, via the revolving table.
After that, have an aperitivo in the Market of San Miguel, a 1915 market that has been renovated into a gourmet tapas spot. Get a refreshing vermouth with some olives before continuing to pretty Plaza Mayor. Built in 1617, this city square will make you fall in love with its architecture and atmosphere. If you find yourself craving even more tapas, fill up on some local eats via our Madrid Tapas Adventure Tour.
Are you hungry? Time to find a place to eat, and why not get lunch in a very cultural and unique neighbourhood of Madrid, Barrio de las Letras (the literature neighbourhood). Get local and have a tosta (essentially toast with various toppings, from cheese to meats, and more) with a good glass of wine at Casa Gonzalez, situated in Calle del Leon, 12. After a tasty lunch, visit the Prado Museum, one of the most important art museums in the world. The museum is open from 10am to 8pm and the two last hours are free, but if you like art, our recommendation is to buy a ticket online, skip the line, and enjoy this paradise of art and history.
If you’re visiting the city before the end of October, you still have time to stroll the lung of Madrid, Parque del Retiro. Don’t miss the beautiful lake and, of course, the Crystal Palace that used to be a greenhouse in the 18th century and is now a beautiful exhibition hall.
It has been a long and full day, so why not finish it on a rooftop looking at one of the most beautiful sunsets in town? Make your way to the NH Collection Madrid Suecia Hotel (Calle Marqués de Casa Riera, 4). The rooftop terrace here gives you breathtaking views of Madrid, and if you want to stay a little longer, try to find the door to the secret bar in one of the restrooms. If you do, you’ll find Bar Hemingway, a stylish, secluded spot to have a great cocktail — one of the best ways to say goodbye to Madrid!
For travellers on a short visit, we’d recommend having a layover that will allow you to spend two hours in the city centre, and another hour for travelling to and from the airport.
The best way to get from the airport to the sites is by taking the express shuttle bus, which runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The trip costs EUR 5 and you can buy your ticket on the bus. The trip to the centre of town takes 30 to 40 minutes.
If you want to see Madrid in two hours in the morning or afternoon, head straight for Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square. Spend your layover admiring Instagram-worthy architecture and checking out the collection of shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes.
If you’re in Madrid for an evening or night time layover, we suggest making your way to Mercado de San Miguel, open daily until midnight (2am Thursday to Saturday). Browse stalls selling local produce, cheese and meats, and then settle in at one of the tapas bars for a drink and some delicious food before your flight.
As a city that’s as timeless as it is modern, and as vibrant and energetic as it is quietly charming, Madrid is a city you absolutely must see if you’re travelling to Spain. From food to flamenco, discover all the different sides to the incredible Spanish capital on a unique, local tour with Urban Adventures.