Madrid is a bustling city treasured for its architectural wonders, gastronomic musings, miraculous art collections, and strong roots in traditional Spanish culture. Wondering what to do with 1 day in Madrid?
The Spanish capital has more than enough tapas bars, leafy parks, fascinating museums, and bustling squares for weeks of exploring, but with 24 hours in Madrid, you can still get a (delicious) taste of what this grand city has to offer!
This 1-day Madrid itinerary covers all of Madrid’s must-sees, complete with traditional pastries, tapas, vino, and even a flamenco show for a classic night out in Madrid!
With that, let’s get into the best things to do, see, and eat in Madrid in 24 hours.
Table of Contents
- 10 Things to Do in Madrid in 1 Day
- 1. Enjoy Breakfast at Pastelería La Mallorquina
- 2. Tour the Royal Palace of Madrid
- 3. Ponder the Ceiling of Almudena Cathedral
- 4. Take a Tapas & Wine Tour
- 5. Wander Around Plaza Mayor
- 6. Take a Siesta
- 7. Visit the Prado Museum or El Retiro Park
- 8. Browse the San Miguel Market
- 9. Eat Dinner at Restaurante-Coctelería Inclán Brutal
- 10. Flamenco Show
- Bonus: Midnight Snack at Yatai Market
- Where to Stay in Madrid, Spain
- How to Get Around Madrid
- Best Things to Do in Madrid in 24 Hours
- Madrid Travel FAQs: 1 Day in Madrid
10 Things to Do in Madrid in 1 Day
After spending several days here, exploring non-stop, I’m confident that this is the ultimate guide to one day in Madrid… including where to eat (hello, tapas!) to the best places to explore.
1. Enjoy Breakfast at Pastelería La Mallorquina
To start off your 24 hours in Madrid on a sweet note, follow the aroma of buttery goodness to Pastelería La Mallorquina in Puerta del Sol square.
Almost as famous as the plaza itself, this iconic bakery has been serving up tradition since 1894. Brush shoulders with Madrileños (people of Madrid) as they get their morning sugar and caffeine fix.
Order yourself a flaky Spanish pastry at the walk-up bar, and an espresso to wash it down. Try a napolitana de chocolate (chocolate Neapolitan pastry), a croissant de jamón serrano y queso (ham and cheese croissant), or my personal favorite, mazapán y hojaldre (marzipan puffed pastry).
If you prefer to be seated and served, there’s a dining area upstairs where you can watch the organized chaos of a morning in Puerta del Sol unfold from above.
2. Tour the Royal Palace of Madrid
Visiting the Palacio Real Madrid (the Royal Palace of Madrid) is a Madrid 1-day itinerary must!
At 1,453,122 square feet, the Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest royal palace in all of Europe! It houses an impressive collection of magnificent artworks: from priceless frescos, sculptures, and furniture, to musical instruments, china, and royal jewelry, crown, and scepter.
Historically, the palace was the residence of the Spanish Royal Family, though today it’s used for special ceremonies.
There are roughly 3,000 rooms in the Royal Palace, including the Armory Square, the Grand Staircase, Chamber of Charles III, the Porcelain Cabinet, Gala Dining Room, Royal Chapel, Stradivarius Hall, and the Throne Room.
Each one is over-the-top gaudy and offers a splendid glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of Spain’s Royalty. My highlight was the fresco on the ceiling of the Grand Staircase: Religion Protected by Spain by Corrado Giaquinto.
I highly recommend this two-hour walking tour of the Royal Palace of Madrid, which begins with a guided walk through downtown, along Calle Mayor, 43.
Campo del Moro
By the way, the gardens of the Royal Palace, Campo del Moro, offer a lovely nature escape.
The gardens are about a twenty-minute walk around the back side of the palace, past the Plaza de Oriente. A must-see during your 1 day in Madrid.
3. Ponder the Ceiling of Almudena Cathedral
The Catedral de la Almudena is Madrid’s main cathedral. It lies just across from the Royal Palace, in the Plaza de la Armerí – perfect for a quick visit after your tour.
The Almudena Cathedral has garnered quite a bit of attention for its nontraditional design. I guess all publicity is good publicity, right?
Some consider this modern painted ceiling to be a great sin. Why not pop in to the Almudena during your day in Madrid and form your own opinion?
For seven euros, you can delight in spectacular panoramic views from the cathedral’s dome and visit the museum.
4. Take a Tapas & Wine Tour
Surely you’ve burned off your puff pastry from all that walking by now… And what better way to refuel than with a tapas tour?!
I loved this tapas tour, and you will too.
Tapas (small Spanish snacks) are more than a way to eat in Spain. They’re a way of life. On this Madrid Tapas and Wine Tasting Tour, your guide will lead your small group to some of the best tapas spots in Madrid – such as Casa González and El Lacón – to taste 12+ different traditional tapas.
Along the way, you’ll learn about Spanish cuisine, traditional ingredients, and the fascinating history behind them.
You’ll know which tapas spots are the best by how much trash is on the floor (yes, really). Elbow your way to the bar and feast upon gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp), tortilla española (Spanish omelet), torreznos ibéricos (fried Iberian pork), cazón en adobo (marinated dogfish), and cocido madrileño (traditional pork stew).
Am I forgetting something? Ah yes, drinks! Try a caña, or a small glass of Spanish beer (Mahou is a classic), vino tinto (red wine), vino blanco (white wine), or vermouth (try Lacuesta)!
Your 1 day in Madrid would be incomplete without a tapas tour. Plus, it is a great way to get the lay of the land! Click here to book your Madrid Tapas and Wine Tasting Tour!
5. Wander Around Plaza Mayor
Since your Tapas and Wine Tasting Tour will end in Plaza Mayor, take a stroll around and soak up the buzz of Madrid’s main square. This was once the center of Old Madrid!
Plaza Mayor is surrounded by ten archways and features little shops, restaurants, cafés, and a statue of King Felipe III on his horse, standing proud in the center. Pop into a souvenir shop and get a piece of ceramic, a flamenco fan, or a football (dare I say, soccer?) jersey to remember your day in Madrid.
P.S. If your visit falls during November or December, you’ll love the adorable Christmas market with its festive lights, towering tree, and stalls selling decorations, nativity figurines, kids’ toys, and more.
6. Take a Siesta
In the spirit of Spain, do yourself (and your feet) a favor by granting at least an hour of siesta (rest).
This may go against everything you’ve learned as a traveler, and it’s true that one day in Madrid isn’t much time, but taking a siesta is the right thing to do. Pay homage to Latin culture!
Though if you’d rather take your siesta in the form of a jar of sangria in the sunshine, that would also be perfectly acceptable. Nearby Plaza Mayor, El miniBAR, or Gustos Madrid, in the plaza, are two great options.
7. Visit the Prado Museum or El Retiro Park
Depending on how long your siesta lasts, you may only have time to see either the Prado Museum or visit El Retiro Park (you could also take your siesta here, under a shady tree). It’s a walkable city indeed, but I promise, you’ll be walking a ton while visiting Madrid.
Art aficionados: you must explore the Prado Museum during your 24 hours in Madrid. El Museo Nacional del Prado is a labyrinth of invaluable Spanish art, plus plenty of marvelous works from elsewhere in Europe. The Prado is also home to the largest collection of Italian art outside of Italy.
The Prado is the largest museum I have ever visited. My feet were killing me after just one floor! Comfortable walking shoes in Madrid are essential for the Prado Museum alone!
Each room is dedicated to one artist, evoking the biblical, mythical, and emotional essences of the artist’s intention. You can expect to feel the full range of emotion while touring El Museo Nacional del Prado.
You could visit Madrid 10 times and still find new pieces of art within the Prado Museum. Don’t miss the room dedicated to Bosch and his dark collection!
El Retiro Park
If you happen to visit Madrid on a sunny day, El Parque del Buen Retiro is a great place to immerse yourself in nature and escape the city bustle.
Stroll the gardens of El Retiro: Jardines del Arquitecto Herrero Palacios, Jardín de Vivaces, the Rosaleda (rose garden), the Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez, and the Jardines de Parterre Francés.
You can even row boats on the artificial lake, the Estanque Grande del Retiro, or have a drink on the Florida Park terrace.
The crown jewel of Retiro Park is the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace). This glass and iron building is ethereal, and best appreciated in the afternoon when golden sunlight pours in through the glass panels. This is the spot for photos.
8. Browse the San Miguel Market
You didn’t think this Madrid 1-day itinerary would skip the Mercado de San Miguel, did you? Of course not! (And as if a Maddy’s Avenue itinerary would be anything but food-focused!) Sample all the incredible culinary delights of Madrid at the Mercado de San Miguel.
From bites of Spanish cheese, slices of jamón, olives, paella, and fresh bread, to seaweed salads, and fresh Italian pizza, the Mercado San Miguel has worldly food stalls for every palate. The market is crowded at pretty much any time of day, and finding a table and chairs takes some patience, but that’s part of the fun!
Mercado de San Miguel is a popular spot for a reason. So find a spot along the bar by the windows to stand and enjoy a glass of vermouth or a mouthful of fresh seafood and take it all in.
Your one day in Madrid wouldn’t be complete without a stop here. Just don’t leave without buying a couple sweet treats from the colorful pastry stall, Madreamiga!
9. Eat Dinner at Restaurante-Coctelería Inclán Brutal
Walk down the narrow Allejón del Gato and come upon a unique dining experience at Inclán Brutal.
The restaurant is themed around the famous Spanish poet Ramón María del Valle-Inclán, a Galician writer who birthed the grotesque literary genre.
The restaurant is characterized by moody, gaudy decor. The food and beverage presentation is ostentatious, and your cocktail will likely be served in the head of Cruella de Vil or the Joker.
One of my dishes was served in a large dinosaur egg, complete with dry ice smoke. Truly an ode to the grotesque! The patatas bravas? Served in a sprouting potato bowl.
As for the flavors? Expect an innovative twist on traditional Spanish dishes like the beloved croquetas and spanish tortilla.
Loved by travelers and Madrilleños alike, Inclán Brutal is a whole vibe.
Make sure to order the octopus and scallops; absolutely mouthwatering! For your sweet tooth, I recommend the cheesecake, served on a plate of flames (you’ll see).
10. Flamenco Show
To close out your day in Madrid, delight in a traditional flamenco show. Madrid is the capital of flamenco! You’ll find the best of the best of this UNESCO-recognized heritage art form here.
Feel the passion of the dancers from your seat in the tablao (flamenco theater). The stage features dancers, a drummer, a guitar player, and a vocalist. The tablao setting is intimate and acts as a portal into the intense, emotional, and moving world of Spanish flamenco.
Attending a flamenco show is a cultural experience you must witness when you visit Madrid!
I attended this one-hour flamenco show, by Essential Flamenco, and was completely captivated by the performers and the rhythm they created with such fervor! With 6 pm, 7:30 pm, and 9 pm shows daily, you can easily fit it into your schedule.
Bonus: Midnight Snack at Yatai Market
You can’t spend a day in Madrid and not also spend a night out in Madrid. That’s the law.
Ready for a second dinner? Or a couple of late-night drinks? You’re in Spain (where dinner starts after 9 pm), after all.
Head to Yatai Market, a chic industrial Asian night market in Madrid’s city center. This is where you’ll start your night out in Madrid.
Yatai Market is one of those hip food halls that feels more like a hawker center in Singapore. The vibes are fun and sometimes there’s a DJ spinning late into the night; Yatai is a favorite of locals and travelers alike.
Who would’ve thought you’d be eating bao buns and Ramen in downtown Madrid? I did!
Where to Stay in Madrid, Spain
Wondering where to base yourself for your 1 day in Madrid?
Each of these five neighborhoods is central and convenient, so it comes down to what you’re after… Laneways steeped in history, lined with tapas bars? Bustling plazas and unrivaled shopping opportunities? Hipster cafés and sleek cocktail rooms? Art galleries and museums galore? I’ve got you covered.
Here are the best places to stay in Madrid!
Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s liveliest square (and the city’s geographical center), and Calle Gran Vía is Madrid’s main street. Thus, Sol-Gran Vía is Madrid’s most central neighborhood, perfect for a 1-day stay. You’ll find the famous El Oso y El Madroño (the bear and strawberry tree statue) and some of the city’s best shopping here. Wondering where to stay in Sol-Gran Vía? Here are my top picks:
- Gran Hotel Inglés – The Leading Hotels of the World ($$$$)
- ME Madrid Reina Victoria ($$$)
- Room Mate Alba ($$)
- Hostal Art Madrid ($)
If you’re looking for hip and happening, Malasaña is the neighborhood for you. It lies north of Calle Gran Vía and has tons of bars, cafés, shops, and restaurants. Plus it’s near the Salesas neighborhood, where you can enjoy art galleries and a fabulous night out. Here are the best places to stay in Malasaña:
Madrid de los Austrias
History is palpable in Los Austrias, Madrid’s most ancient neighborhood. Here, you’ll find the regal Palacio Real and Almudena Cathedral, the famed Plaza Mayor, and the San Miguel Market. If Los Austrias sounds like your place, here’s where you should stay:
Just below Los Austrias is the La Latina neighborhood. This is a long-established neighborhood in Madrid for foodies who’ll appreciate the high concentration of tapas bars and restaurants that line the streets. Here are the best accommodations in La Latina!
Paseo del Arte
The Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia Museum, and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum make Madrid’s Paseo del Arte neighborhood one of the best places in the world for aesthetes. This neighborhood is also conveniently located between El Retiro Park and Sol-Gran Vía. These are the best hotels in the area:
How to Get Around Madrid
Madrid is an amazing city for many reasons, but for one, it’s very walkable. After walking, the best way to travel from place to place in Madrid is by metro!
The Madrid Metro is a convenient and reliable subway system that can take you from Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) to all the neighborhoods around the city.
You can purchase a single or 10-journey metro ticket in any metro station, or simply download the Public Transportation Card app and load money onto it.
You can easily find taxis all over the streets of Madrid. Plus, ride share apps like Uber and Bolt are popular for getting around.
Best Things to Do in Madrid in 24 Hours
If you follow this 1 day Madrid itinerary, you’ll satisfy just enough of your cravings for Spanish culture, history, art, and gastronomy until your next (longer!) trip to Madrid.
Whether you choose to tour the royal gardens of Campo del Moro, study the fine art at the Prado, or row boats in El Retiro Park, the charm of magnificent Madrid will find its way into your heart. (And obviously, plenty of tapas and wine will find their way into your mouth!)
RELATED READING: How to Take the Perfect Day Trip to Toledo from Madrid
What to Pack for Madrid
The season of your visit to Madrid will help determine what you need to pack!
Of course, summer is very warm in Spain, so prepare with loose cool clothing. But in this part of Spain the winters can be quite cold. Always bring a beautiful coat in winter!
Here are a few top tips of what to wear in Madrid:
- Wool coat: During the colder months a beautiful wool coat is essential for style and practicality. You will fit in with the locals with this one.
- Comfortable boots: As expected, you’ll walk a lot, so opt for a comfortable but stylish boot that you’ve worn in. You can’t go wrong with a smart Chelsea boot, like these. In the summer I love a good sandal like this.
- Hat, scarf ,and gloves: For the winter you absolutely need these to keep warm
- Floaty dress: In the summer opt for a long floaty dress so you stay cool, and bring a light scarf so you are always prepared to enter religious sites and cover your shoulders.
- Sunscreen: Nothing spoils your trip (and your photos!) more than sunburn. Remember to prepare with a good, natural sunscreen and stay protected. Also, a good idea to bring a sunhat in the summer.
- Reusable water bottle: Remember to keep hydrated during your adventures; it can’t all be wine and coffee all the time! Bring a reusable water bottle so you can keep topped up.
- Money belt: Just to be extra safe from pickpockets
- Tote bag: For those souvenirs and treasures found on your travels
- Travel insurance: As with any trip, you should ALWAYS purchase travel insurance in case anything goes wrong. I’ve had my fair share of travel mishaps!
Quick Tips for Madrid
- HOTEL: I use this website for scoring amazing deals on accommodation worldwide. Find amazing deals on accommodation here. Hotel Liabeny is a really great choice.
- HOSTELWORLD: If you’re traveling on a budget, this is the best website to score cheap hostel deals.
- VACATION RENTAL: I use this site for finding the perfect vacation rental for an unforgettable getaway.
- TRAVEL INSURANCE: Never go on a trip without travel insurance! It isn’t worth the risk if something goes wrong.
- GUIDED TOURS & EXCURSIONS: Many of the tours I recommend are hosted with Viator, which also works with local tour operators. Search them all here, visiting the Palacio Real Madrid is a must-do for your day in Madrid.
- CHEAP FLIGHTS: Get great deals on flights using my favorite flight fare aggregator.
- TRAVEL GEAR: A collection of all of my must-have travel gear are all listed here. Most important to remember is comfortable shoes and a scarf to use when visiting religious sites.
- CAR RENTAL: If you are taking a longer road trip book car rental in advance here for the best deals.
Madrid Travel FAQs: 1 Day in Madrid
One day is not enough to see all of Madrid. However, if your time is limited in Spain – if you’re taking a day trip to Madrid from another city or have a layover in Madrid – visiting the country’s massive capital city is well worth it for one day. With 24 hours, you can still discover some of Madrid’s best museums, plazas, parks, and restaurants.
If you only have one day in Madrid, you must tour the Royal Palace of Madrid, embark on a delicious tapas tour, and visit either El Prado (Spain’s finest art museum), or see the crystal palace of El Retiro Park. This itinerary covers all of the best things to see in Madrid in 1 day!
Madrid is a very walkable city. Though you can’t see all of Madrid in a day, you can see the highlights! Follow this Madrid itinerary, by walking, the metro, taxi, or a combination of all three, to all of the best things to do in Madrid in 1 day.
With 24 hours, you must see the Palacio Real (the Spanish royal family’s impressive official residence), spend time eating tapas around La Latina and Sol-Gran Vía, and visit one of the city’s world-class museums.
With half a day in Madrid, I would suggest touring the Royal Palace, going to a tapas bar, and visiting the Puerta del Sol to get a feel for the vibe of this lively city.
Barcelona or Madrid? This is a common question for travelers visiting Spain. Both cities are unique and offer their own unique attractions. Lively, modern, beachy, and steeped in Catalonian culture, Barcelona offers an entirely different experience than Madrid. If you want to immerse yourself in traditional Spanish art, culture, heritage, and cuisine, then Madrid is the best choice for you.
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