Whether you’re in Madrid for a day, for a weekend or for longer than that, you’re off to a great time. The bustling Spanish capital city has tons of activities for everyone who visits it. No matter your preferences, I’ll help you discover well-known as well as uncover hidden gems to occupy your time in Madrid. Whether you’re a foodie, an intellectual, a party animal, a shopaholic, or someone who simply wants to be in nature while in the city, you’ll find suitable suggestions in this guide with the best things to do in Madrid in one day!
Reach the Centre of Madrid at the Puerta del Sol
Visiting the Puerta del Sol (literally, Gate of the Sun) is a must for those venturing through the streets of Madrid. It’s the official central point of the city, even though it once was one of the gates surrounding it. Many well-known streets of the capital meet at this point, including Mayor and Alcalá. From here, you may easily get to most of the points of interest that we recommend you visit during your stay in Madrid.
At the Puerta del Sol, three monuments stand out: the fairly recent statue of King Carlos III, the El Oso y El Madroño statue, and the Casa de Correos. The El Oso y El Madroño statue is a reminder of what the area in which Madrid was built used to look like – with bears (in Spanish, osos) and arbutus (in Spanish, madroños). The Casa de Correos is a beautiful building known for its architectural style and for the “kilometre 0” plaque that is found in front of it.
The Spanish New Year festivities reach its apex at this location with the chiming of the clock’s bells. If you happen to be visiting Madrid around that time of year, make sure you visit the square at midnight or watch the live TV transmission.
Take a Romantic Stroll at the Parque El Capricho
The Parque El Capricho at the Alameda de Osuna is a lesser-known refuge for nature lovers in Madrid. The park is only open on weekends and there’s no entrance fee. It’s perfect for couples who want to take a romantic stroll and admire the flowers, the lakes, the mazes, and the dozens of monuments. Those who care for history will surely enjoy a visit to the civil war bunker which can be found in this park!
Try Roast Suckling Pig at the Oldest Restaurant in the World
Did you know that the oldest restaurant continuously operating in the world can be found in Madrid? At least that’s what the Guinness Book of Records reckons! The Sobrino de Botín (or simply Botín) was founded at its current location at the Calle de los Cuchilleros in 1725. Its main specialty is the cochinillo asado (in English, roast suckling pig), which is prepared in the Restaurante and roasted in its famous oak-burning oven. Crackling delicious!
Watch an Opera Performance at the Teatro Real
Are you one of those who believe opera deserves more credit than what it’s current given? There’s a place in Madrid where opera lovers may still enjoy outstanding shows – the Teatro Real at the Plaza de Isabel II. There are many other productions included in each of its seasons but the venue is mostly known for the opera ones. Do book in advance since they often sell out months in advance!
Shop at the Gran Vía
Spend a whole day at the Gran Vía, a bustling location in Madrid – it’s worth every minute! Few people leave the area without buying something – it’s truly the shopaholic’s dream destination. You’ll find high-end brands (Chanel, Dior, Carolina Herrera, etc.), your everyday high-street favourites, and an El Corte Inglés (the famous Spanish department store). There are good findings for every budget!
In addition to shopping, admire the architecture of the buildings around you, eat traditional Spanish food, and make sure you check the performances that often take place in the area.
Extra Tip: If you climb all the way up to the top floor of the El Corte Inglés at the Gran Vía, you’ll get an amazing view over the area!
Visit an Egyptian Temple
You wouldn’t expect to find an Egyptian temple in Spain but Madrid is full of surprises! The Templo de Debod (in English, Temple of Debod) dates back to the 2nd century BC and is located at the Calle Ferraz. It’s an authentic Egyptian temple which was moved to Madrid in the 20th century to avoid its latent destruction due to the construction of a dam in its original location. It has been praised by visitors ever since!
Get Yourself a Treat at the Chocolatería San Ginés
Skip this one if you’re on a diet! The Chocolatería San Ginés has been the sweet teeth’s delight for over 100 years, since it was founded in 1894. It’s the ideal place for you to try churros with chocolate at any time – literally, it’s open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Its location at the Pasadizo de San Ginés allows you to include a stop there during a day exploring the city centre. It’s quite close to the Puerta del Sol!
Explore the Parque de El Retiro
Cities often have what are called green lungs. Parque de El Retiro (in English, El Retiro Park) is one of Madrid’s! You may spend a whole day there or make it a part of a day in the city centre. Its 125 hectares are located right at the city centre and offer visitors uncountable opportunities for pleasure and relaxation.
The park includes a large lake where visitors may take on fun activities such as boating, several gardens (just as the Parterre Francés which is home to Madrid’s oldest tree), and buildings and monuments of all kinds. Visit the Palacio de Cristal (in English, Glass Palace), which is a romantic pavilion known for its iron architectural style, the monument to Alfonso XII, which is often used as an observation deck, the El Ángel Caído (in English, The Fallen Angel), which is the only sculpture worldwide dedicated to the devil, and the Teatro de Títeres, where you may watch a puppet show if you drop by over the weekend.
Enjoy the View from the Círculo de Bellas Artes
The Círculo de Bellas Artes is located at the Alcalá. It’s a centre for the arts in Madrid, offering visitors an interesting programme that includes unique art exhibitions, live performances and cinema. After making the best of these, make sure you head to the 56-meter high rooftop of the Círculo de Bellas Artes and enjoy the breathtaking view over Madrid!
Admire Guernica at the Museo Reina Sofía
Chances are you’ve heard of Picasso. One of its most iconic pieces is Guernica and it’s on exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (known as Museo Reina Sofia). This museum is located at the Calle Santa Isabel and dazzles its visitors with art from the 20th-century. In addition to the Picasso’s masterpiece mentioned before, you’ll also find works of Salvador Dalí and many renowned other artists. Make sure you browse their interesting collection of post-war art.
Since this museum is located in the centre of the city, you might as well take this opportunity to visit the rest of the points of interest found there – including the Parque de El Retiro!
Have a Calamari Sandwich at the Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor is a square located in the centre of Madrid. It’s worth a visit both due to its interesting symmetrical architectural style, its buildings and monuments, and the typical calamari sandwiches which may be eaten there.
The calamari sandwiches that are a staple of the Plaza Mayor are made out of a bun cut open from one side and deep-fried calamari. Some may add mayonnaise or lemon juice and most have them with a cold beer. Perfect for a hot day!
Browse the Museo Nacional del Prado’s Exhibitions
Since you’re visiting Madrid, it’s safe to assume you’ve heard of the Museo Nacional del Prado (known as Museo del Prado). It’s a well-known museum located at the Calle Ruiz de Alarcón whose works of art and architectural style attract thousands of people each year. A few of the many artists whose pieces are on exhibition at this museum are Rembrandt, Diego Velázquez and El Greco. This is one of those museums in which you may want to spend a whole day. There’s definitely enough content to keep you occupied and inspired!
Feel the Football Spirit at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
If you’re a football fan, chances are that the first thing that comes to your mind when someone mentions Madrid is the Real Madrid C.F.. In that case, drop a visit to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu (in English, Santiago Bernabéu Stadium). It’s one of the most famous football stadiums in the world and has hosted many important competitions since it first opened in 1947. This massive venue can hold around 80,000 visitors and is located at the Avda. De Concha Espina. Chances are a football match will take place at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu during your stay in Madrid – don’t miss the opportunity to visit one of the world’s greatest football stadiums!
Let the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza’s Masterpieces Inspire You
Those who enjoy browsing through museums know time is needed to get the best out of their extensive collections. The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bownemisza is one of those for which you may need to save a whole day. Its permanent and temporary collections include art by influential artists such as Caravaggio, Salvador Dalí, Gauguin, Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh. Among its masterpieces, you’ll also get the chance to admire those by Duccio, Rembrandt, Manet, and more! From the three main museums we recommend you visit in Madrid, the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bownemisza is the most recent but also the one with the most impressive collection of paintings!
Taste the Best of Spanish Cuisine at the Mercado San Miguel
Once a wholesale food market, the astonishing 100-year old Mercado San Miguel has suffered many transformations during recent years. Even though it still sells quality fresh produce and animal products (including ham, fish and cheese), its main focus is now showcasing the best of the Spanish flavours and tapas. Get there hungry – leave full!
Learn about the Spanish Monarchy at the Palacio Real de Madrid
Spain is still a monarchy and, as such, it needs an official residence for the royal family. The Palacio Real de Madrid (in English, Royal Palace of Madrid) plays that role. Even though the members of the royal family no longer live there, they have for many years.
The Royal Palace includes over 3,000 rooms! Among the ones not to be missed are the Main Staircase (with more than 70 steps!), the Throne Hall, the Royal Chapel, the Royal Armoury, the Painting Gallery, and the Royal Kitchen. A tour through this building will showcase the luxurious lives royal families took throughout the years.
The Changing of the Guard takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays and there’s one Solemn Changing of the Guard on the first Wednesday of each month (except on January, August, and September).
Relax at the Casa de Campo
Even though it isn’t the most famous park in Madrid, Casa de Campo is your best chance to relax in nature without leaving Madrid. This park spreads throughout a spectacular area of 1,722.60 hectares! It has morphed a great deal since it was first occupied by humans – it started off as a hunting area for the Spanish royal family and is now a public space open to both locals and tourists. In addition to the nature space itself, visit the Amusement Park, the Zoo and the Venta de Batán. You may also take a trip inside an Aerial Cable Car if you want a different perspective of both the park and the city!
Find a Bargain at the El Rastro
You’ll need to face the crowds in order to find good deals at the El Rastro but it’s worth the trouble! This is the most famous open-air flea market in Spain and certainly the busiest one in Madrid. It takes place on Sundays and public holidays along the Plaza de Cascorro and the Ribeira de Curtidores. You’ll find everything on sale – from new clothes all the way to antique decorative items. Venture through the side streets in order to get the full experience of a morning of shopping at the El Rastro – there are more stands hidden behind corners!
Eat a Vegan Meal at the Chillin’ Cafe
Those who follow a plant-based diet won’t be hungry in Madrid! Vegetarians and vegans can’t get enough of the Chillin’ Cafe at the Calle de la Estrella. This small café is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon snacks, and dinner. If you thought that because you were vegan you wouldn’t be able to taste traditional Spanish cuisine, think again. The Chillin’ Cafe created adaptations of a variety of typical dishes which don’t include animal products! Try their coffee, their cakes, and their seitan-filled Spanish tortilla.
Enter a Secret World at the Medias Puri
The Medias Puri is known as the worst kept secret in Madrid! This clandestine show club only opens on Fridays, Saturdays, and evenings before festivities. Those who dare enter the Puri’s secret world will dance to the sound of diverse genres of music – from R&B to Rock Indie. It’s the perfect spot for those who believe the night only ends when the sun rises!
Forest Bathe in the Parque Regional Cuenca Alta Del Manzanares
The importance of not neglecting time in nature is a notion that’s gaining ground once again in a world dominated by suburban areas. You may have heard of the concept of forest bathing before. If you haven’t, it comes from an ancient Japanese tradition and is the act of fully submerging yourself in nature. Although there aren’t many places in Madrid where you can achieve that kind of submersion (even though one could mention the Parque del Retiro and the Casa de Campo), you can easily do so a few kilometers north of the city.
We’re talking about the Parque Regional Cuenca Alta Del Manzanares. This park has many recreational areas for you to explore, beautiful landscapes and hundreds of animal species you may have never seen before. It’s definitely enough to keep you occupied for a day!
If you decide to head there, do your research and choose the area you’re most interested in. There are various ways to get into the park – one option is to drive there taking the A-6 motorway (Madrid-La Coruña) and then the M-618 or the M-608.
Having read about the wonders you may find in Madrid, rest assured you’ll have a good time there. These are things to do in Madrid in one day but, while some of these do require a full day’s worth of time to properly explore, you may choose to do more than one of these in one day! Either way, make sure you choose things that align with you and your needs and make the best of every day spent in this interesting city.
If you need further assistance in planning your trip to Madrid, don’t hesitate to contact me. I’ll help you create the trip of your dreams to the Spanish capital and beyond!