There is so much to see in Spain’s capital city, you could live there for years and never run out of things to discover. But if you only have a weekend to spend here, it can be hard to decide what to do with you're limited time.
I spent a year living in Spain, and often get asked for travel recommendations. So, I collected what I would consider to be the best things to do in Madrid and organized them into this itinerary.
Grab your water bottle and a pair of comfortable shoes, because we’re going to be doing a lot of walking! Here's my guide on how to spend 48 hours in Madrid.
48 Hours in Madrid: Day 1
San Miguel Market
Our journey begins at the Mercado de San Miguel, a gourmet tapas market. Take in all of the beautiful chaos, and try as many different types of food as you can. Here, you can find paella, patatas bravas, fresh produce, drinks, and so much more. Since they have such a wide variety of food, San Miguel is a great place to introduce yourself to Spanish cuisine.
Just steps away from the San Miguel Market is Madrid’s most famous landmark, the Plaza Mayor. This is the perfect place to truly start our tour of Madrid. Here, you’ll find bustling cafes, souvenir shops, street performers, and hundreds of years of history.
The Plaza Mayor dates back to 1580 when it was the city's main marketplace. At times, the Plaza Mayor has held bullfights, festivals, markets, and concerts. If you happen to visit sometime in December, this is where Madrid hosts one of the city's largest Christmas markets.
From the Plaza Mayor, travel north until you find Chocolateria San Gines. This churro shop is an absolute must when in Madrid. It has been serving the best fried crispy churros and hot chocolate dipping sauce since 1894.
The San Gines is open 24/7, making it perfect for a traditional Spanish breakfast or a late-night snack.
Now that you’ve finished your churros con chocolate, make your way west toward the Cathedral Almudena. This cathedral became the first cathedral to be consecrated outside of Rome when Pop John Paul II consecrated it in 1993.
The cathedral, dome, cathedral museum, and crypt are all open to the public.
The Royal Palace in Madrid is one of the largest currently functioning palaces in the world. Built in 1738 on the site of a former Moorish castle, it’s now the official residence of the Spanish royal family. Visitors can walk through the throne room, armory, and, best of all, the grand staircase.
I highly recommend wearing the fanciest outfit you own when you go to the palace because you feel like you're in a Disney movie when you walk down that grand staircase. Plan to spend about an hour inside the castle, and be sure to check out the Sabatini gardens afterward!
Visitors should purchase tickets online before arriving at the palace. The ticket line can get long, especially during the summer holidays. If you go during specific times of the week, it's completely free!
Or, if you’d rather skip the hassle, this skip-the-line guided tour takes you straight to the front of the queue with a guide who can share all of the historical significance of the palace and the artwork within it.
You’d never guess there’d be an actual Egyptian temple in the middle of Spain, but Templo de Debod is exactly that. Originally built in Nubia in the early 2nd century BC, the Egyptian government decided to gift the Debod Temple to Spain in 1968 to thank the Spanish government for their assistance in preserving other Egyptian temples.
Debod Temple is dedicated to the Egyptian gods Amun and Isis. Inside, you’ll find an audiovisual exhibit explaining the temple’s history and cultural significance. Entry to the temple is always free.
The gardens outside of Debod are known to have the best sunset views in Madrid. After exploring inside the temple, run to a nearby pizzeria for pizza and a bottle of tinto de verano and enjoy a sunset picnic. There are usually street performers singing and dancing, so sit back and enjoy the relaxing ambiance. Besides, if you didn’t have a sunset picnic outside of the temple, did you even go to Madrid?
48 Hours in Madrid: Day 2
I am not a morning person. At. All. But sometimes life gives you genuine reasons to wake up early visiting the Rastro is one of those times.
Every Sunday in Madrid from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm is El Rastro, Madrid’s most famous flea market. Dating back to 1740, everything - from cheap souvenirs, antiques, vintage clothing, books, musical instruments, and jewelry - can be found here.
This market is perched on the side of a hill. At the top of the hill are the newer and mass-produced goods while the antiques and one-of-a-kind treasures are at the bottom. Throughout the market area, second-hand shops will open their doors and their contents spill out into the street. It’s a shopaholic’s paradise.
Every single time I needed to buy someone a gift or a souvenir, I’d come here. Be warned - anytime after 10:30, the crowd at El Rastro can be intense. To avoid a crowd you need to be there precisely at 9:00 am when it opens.
Now that the shopping spree is over, it’s time for some brunch. There is no shortage of cafes around the city, each offering amazing food options. Breakfast is not a very big meal in Spain. A typical Spanish breakfast is churros and chocolate, or a small pastry and coffee.
If you’re looking for something more substantial, here is a list of the best brunch cafes in the city.
Now it's time to visit the most popular museum in Spain. For 200 years, the Prado has hosted one of the largest collections of classical European art and the most comprehensive collection of Spanish art in the world. Raphael, Goya, and Veláquez are just a few of the artists with their works on display in the Prado
You can even visit the Prado for free Monday to Saturday from 6:00 - 8:00 pm, and Sundays from 5:00 - 7:00 pm.
Once you've finished exploring the art that the Prado Museu has to offer, exit the museum and head two blocks east. We’ve arrived at Parque El Retiro! Retiro is one of the best spots in Madrid, and worth dedicating an entire afternoon to.
Retiro was recently a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to two palaces, monuments, restaurants, picnic areas, and even a lake!
Right in the middle of Retiro is the Palacio de Cristal. A glass palace in the middle of a lush garden, overlooking a lake - it can’t get more picturesque than that! As the walls are made of glass, Retiro’s greenery can be seen from inside the palace and provides the perfect backdrop for the temporary art exhibits it hosts.
If you want to feel like you’re in the middle of a bustling city, look no further than Gran Via. This main road cuts through the city’s center and is in many ways the city’s heart. This is where you’ll find brands like Zara, Nike, Loewe, Sanz, and Swarovski. Just off the main street are the smaller "hidden gem" boutiques, so be sure to explore those as well!
What better way to end your time in Madrid than a dinner at the oldest restaurant in the world? El Botín has been continuously operating since it first opened in 1725. As soon as you taste their famous suckling pig, it'll be easy to understand how they’ve stayed in business so long. This restaurant is in one of the oldest parts of the city, near the Plaza Mayor. Botín gives the sense that time has stood still and you’re sitting among history.
El Botín has had its share of famous diners. Ernest Hemmingway was a regular here when he was in Madrid - so much so that the staff would refer to him as “Don Ernesto.” It's even featured in Hemmingway’s classic novel, The Sun Also Rises.