Beginners Guide: One Day in Madrid
Wanna visit Spain’s capital but only have a day to spare? Is a day in Madrid even worth trying? Nope, it’s no problem! While I had an amazing solo travel experience in Madrid and encourage you to spend more time in this vibrant city, you can still create a memorable trip in only 24 hours. I promise.
As you probably know, Madrid is Spain’s capital city, as well as the country’s largest metropolitan area. Believe it or not, a lot of travelers skip over Madrid to see Spain’s other cities. Furthermore, Spain is country with many incredible cities and towns. For example, 10 days in Spain gives you time for Madrid and to deeply appreciate the south (stunning Andalusia). Spain will leave you breathless. And you will want to see all of it.
Now maybe I am a “big city junkie” or something, but I loved Madrid a lot. Throughout my trip, I envisioned myself owning a little apartment overlooking a narrow street, a street that had funky colorful outdoor art and a cute cafe tucked on the corner. I wish.
Currently, Madrid’s population sits at a little over three million. Impressive, huh? However, despite Madrid’s rather overwhelming size, the main tourist attractions are all well within walking distance of one another. Which is perfect for you.
Anyway. I need to stop myself before I babble nonstop about how awesome Madrid is. You’ll have to book a ticket and see for yourself.
Without further ado, here are my personal suggestions for what to see in Madrid in one day.
But a quick disclaimer before I break down your itinerary. Madrid’s Retiro Park is legendary. Or so I’ve heard in blogs and from other travelers. Sadly, the park was closed for my entire visit, which is why it’s not included in this post. Alas. Next time.
Go to Puerta del Sol early in the morning.
One of the busiest squares in all of Madrid is Puerta del Sol. Of course this bustling area is worth visiting at any point, but, if you only have one day in Madrid, then visit Puerta del Sol in the early hours of the morning.
Sure, street performers are fun to watch in the afternoon and evening, but I personally thought the crowds, which magically pack themselves into this square, were too busy and overwhelming. Not my style. Morning is much better for a stroll in Sol.
Not only will you enjoy the relative peace, but you’ll be able to snap an undisturbed photo of the Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree. A rarity! Tourists mob the poor bear later in the afternoon.
So what’s so special about it? This famous statue was inaugurated in 1967. The bear and strawberry tree represent the coat of arms of Madrid. Making it a symbol for the entire city. Cool, huh?
Also enjoy the clocktower, another iconic symbol of Madrid, on “Real Casa de Correos.”
While in Puerta del Sol, swing by the Apple Store and check your social media accounts, haha! Yup, the Apple Store offers free wifi. Take advantage, travelers.
Take a walk down Calle Gran Vía.
You don’t want to miss this wonderful upscale shopping street on your one day in Madrid. Why not stop at Real Madrid Official Store and stock up on some soccer (or football like the rest of the world says) gear for family and friends. El Corte Inglés is a popular Spanish store if you wanna “go local.”
Don’t have any money to splurge on shopping? Not a problem! Simply savor the ornate architecture on the surrounding buildings. On Calle Gran Vía, I spent more time craning my neck to look at many examples of gorgeous construction rather than spending money in stores. In particular, you don’t want to miss the Metropolis Building – which is essentially the symbol of this famous shopping street.
Finally this area promises a specular view of Madrid’s skyline. Go to where Calle Alcalá and Gran Vía meet, and take the elevator to the rooftop of Círculo de Bellas Artes. Your jaw will drop.
Go to an art museum.
I don’t care if you’ve earned a PhD in art or don’t know who Picasso is. Madrid is home to some of the world’s greatest art museums. Regardless of interest, you should go to at least one during your twenty-four hours in Madrid.
For all intents and purposes, here are three “main” art museums that are of interest to tourists. All are wonderful.
- Museo Nacional Del Prado
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Museo Nacional del Prado is one of the most visited art museums in the entire world. It’s home to works such as Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
Meanwhile, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía houses modern art. You especially learn a lot about the politics of early modern day Spain.
Finally, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is located near the Prado. Its collection focuses mostly on early European paintings mostly originating from Italy and the Netherlands.
With only one day in Madrid, it is impossible to fit in all of these art museums. They are large and require at least two hours each to see the main pieces in the collections.
So which of these museums do you visit? I guess the first question you need to ask yourself is how interested are you in art? If you only have a mild interest, then go to Madrid’s most famous museum which is the Prado. It’s a must-see. You want to maximize your time, too, so purchase a ticket in advance so you don’t have to wait in the Prado’s notorious line.
However, Reina Sofia was my favorite museum of the three. Why? Because of Picasso’s famous anti-war masterpiece Guernica. The mural-sized oil painting depicts the Nazi-funded bombing of Guernica. This museum is worth a visit strictly for this piece alone. Although black and white, the images depicted of women and children are incredibly moving.
Explore Barrio de la Letras.
Strolling through Madrid’s literary quarter or Barrio de las Letras was a tremendous high point of my own solo trip. It’s certainly a magical experience for your one day in Madrid.
You must take a walk down scenic Calle Huertas which is a famous pedestrian only street in Barrio de las Letras. Gold-engraved lines, written by Spanish poets, adorn the street. And the street art? It all reflects the beauty of the written word.
Even if you’re not into literature, then you still should visit this neighborhood for all the cool bar, tapas, and shopping options.
You may also want to enjoy a glass of wine (or two), sit outside, and listen to musicians play in the elegant Plaza de Santa Ana. Seriously, this part of town had the best street performers. Way better than the ones located in Sol.
Check Out Plaza Mayor.
Historically significant Plaza Mayor was first built in the late 1500s under Phillip III’s reign. Like all the other sites listed in the post, Plaza Mayor is a major tourist attraction and brings in thousands of visitors every single year.
And why not? This square is stunning. The arches, brightly colored red paint, and art depicted on the walls all make Plaza Mayor a very special place you must see on your one day in Madrid.
Believe or not, the Plaza Mayor has quite a dark history. In addition to public markets, the Plaza Mayor was also the scene of executions that took place during the infamous Spanish Inquisition.
You also want to eat when you’re in Plaza Mayor. A Madrid classic is a calamari sandwich, mm, yummy!
Want another delicious snack and aren’t opposed to mushrooms? Then you need to go to Meson del Champinon near Plaza Mayor. Mmmmm. Best mushrooms ever.
Save room in your stomach, though. Because our next spot is …
Devour delicious tapas at Mercado de San Miguel.
Oh god, this market is an explosive party for your taste buds.
Mercado de San Miguel is a big tourist attraction. And, yes, the prices a little on the higher end. Yet remember this market is famous for a good reason. The food is incredible. Incredible.
Of course, where you eat totally depends on your diet and personal favorites, but everyone can find a delicious meal at Mercado de San Miguel.
Like seafood? Then check out El Casa del Bacalao’s cod tapas. If you’re not a fan of cod, then give the smoked salmon a try. I practically ate my entire weight in salmon, which is my favorite fish.
Are you a cheese fanatic? Go right to Mozheart. The fresh mozzarella and balsamic will leave you feeling weak in the knees.
A word of warning. Bring some cash with you. While some of the stalls accept credit card, not all of them do and you don’t want to miss out!
Check out the Royal Palace of Madrid and Almudena Cathedral.
Once you’re full, take a walk to the Royal Palace of Madrid (or Placio Real de Madrid) and nearby Cathedral.
The spectacular Royal Palace of Madrid is the Royal Family’s official residence. The palace contains over 3,000 rooms although only a select few are open to the public. Believe it or not, this palace was built over an Alcázar fortress, which was an old Moorish castle. The old castle wasn’t nearly elaborate enough for fussy Philip V. The more you know, huh?
You can take a tour of the Royal Palace if you have time to spare. Don’t worry about skipping the tour, however, if the line for tickets is too long. The palace’s exterior is fabulous enough!
Next to the Royal Palace is Almudena Cathedral. Construction began in 1879 but didn’t finish until … 1993! Crazy huh? Construction ceased during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s which explains the long period of time!
Grab a pastry at La Mallorquina.
Quickly swing by Puerta del Sol for another snack at La Mallorquina. Personally, I have a gigantic sweet tooth so I love this place. I wanna move in forever. I can sleep on the floor.
While you can custom order fancy cakes, it’s simple to grab a pastry to go. The chocolate croissants are simply exquisite. So are the Bamba donuts. And Pepito de crema pastries.
Yeah, I went to eat breakfast at La Mallorquina almost every day. No regrets. Zero.
If you’re not big on pastries, then at least order a few cookies. Those looked delicious too, and aren’t nearly as heavy.
See the sunset at Templo de Debod.
Finally, the best way to end your day in Madrid includes witnessing a romantic Spanish sunset … at an Egyptian temple.
Yes, an Egyptian Temple exists right in the heart of downtown Madrid. And the views are to die for. This ancient temple was dismantled and rebuilt in 1972.
Located at Calle Ferraz, Templo de Debod sits on top of a hill which overlooks the city. As the sun sets, its orange rays reflect off the temple itself creating an absolutely beautiful scene.
Come early in the evening to find the perfect spot. Templo de Debod isn’t exactly a secret, after all.
Where Should I Stay in Madrid?
Ahhh, the million dollar question!
In my honest opinion, if you only have one day in Madrid, then you ought to stay within walking distance to the main tourist attractions. You don’t want to waste time on subways and buses, especially the latter since Madrid’s traffic is wicked (like every other big city)!
On my own trip, I stayed near Sol at Sungate Hostel and this location was perfect, because all the sites were no further than a thirty minute walk. I never even used the metro once except to go to the airport.
However, Barrio de las Letras, hip Malasaña, and Plaza de Chueca are all wonderful neighborhoods to base yourself for the night. Furthermore, Madrid offers a ton of choices for accommodation ranging from hostels to hotels to apartments. You name it, Madrid has it!
Now you know what to see and do with one day in Madrid! Have you ever visited Madrid? Did you enjoy your stay? What are some of your suggestions for a 24 hour stop in the Spanish Capital? Leave your thoughts below in the comments.
Note: Some links are affiliate-based, meaning I will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.