A Madrid Itinerary: How to Spend 4 Days in the City
Long weekends in Madrid require some serious organisation, so be sure to use our itinerary to make the most your time in the capital
If you’re spending 4 days in Madrid, it might be easy to feel like you’ve got it all figured out; after all, aren’t cities designed to be explored over a long weekend? Not if you get sidetracked (which you're likely to do once nestled into a spot at a rooftop bar drinking goblets of G&T). So, to make sure you don’t miss out on the essentials (and then some), our Madrid itinerary covers 4 days of museums, restaurants and experiences you can’t miss during your stay…leaving plenty of time for those all-important G&Ts too. And you can trudt out advice, because here at Plum Guide we leave nothing to chance, so if we recommend something to you, that's because it is genuinely well worth your time.
Day 1: Head down to Puerta del Sol
As hard as it will be to drag yourself out of the oh-so-comfortable bed in your Plum Guide home, forego a lie-in on your first day in the city and head directly to Puerta del Sol. Naturally, as Madrid’s most historically important square, a quick stroll through the area will reveal some pretty intriguing highlights; the Kilometro Cero plaque on the ground near the Royal Post office, for example, indicates how this spot is the place from which all roads in the country originate, and the sculpture of the bear and tree (el Oso y el Madroño) offers an interesting take on the city’s coat of arms.
From here you can head in various directions; we’d recommend starting off along Calle Mayor. Eventually you’ll end up at El Madrid de los Austrias, which served as the city centre during the Habsburg Dynasty. Regal flair is the name of the game here, with the city palace being the obvious main draw. Delve inside for a tour of just a handful of its many rooms (there are over 3,400 in total - imagine how long our home critics would have to spend vetting the place). If that’s not for you, the adjoining Catedral de La Almudena is just as impressive. For lunch, the nearby Mercado de San Miguel offers up an array of different food carts or sit-down establishments where you can sample anything from croquetas and bacalao frito to king oysters.
Overcome that post-meal slump with a café con leche (best enjoyed in one of the bars lining the expansive Plaza Mayor) before wandering the colourful streets of the Lavapiés neighbourhood on the way to el Barrio de las Letras (read: the literature neighbourhood). True to its name, this tiny corner of the city was once home to literature greats such as Lope de Vega and Miguel de Cervantes Sahavedra (the latter’s tomb is definitely worth a visit). While away the evening in one of the many tapas bars, revelling in the quiet buzz from neighbouring restaurants (and perhaps the effects of some excellent sangria).
Day 2: Admire the art at a museum
Someone once said you couldn’t swing a cat in Madrid without hitting a museum (well, if they didn’t, we just did) and that’s exactly what you’ll discover during your Madrid itinerary of 4 days. Head to the area known as el Triángulo del Arte (the Golden Triangle of Art), which is formed by three powerhouses of the artistic world - the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. It’s this third one you’ll want to focus on throughout the morning; housing a vast (once private) collection of art running the gamut of artistic movements, highlights here include works by Cézanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and Dalí.
For a midday stroll, check out the Royal Botanical Garden (just south of the museums), browsing the three terraces and learning about the thousands of plant species that call them home. Grab a bite to eat in the café here, then venture north - through the neoclassical sculptures that make up Cibeles square and up to Malasaña - one of the city’s hippest districts - in search of the Romanticism Museum. While the art collection here is not to be sniffed at and should certainly be explored, the museum’s Cafe del Jardín, a picturesque little spot where you can indulge in afternoon tea and cake, will likely tempt you first.
As the afternoon turns into evening, weave your way through buzzing plazas until you hit Bodega de la Ardosa, a delightful joint that dishes up some of the best tapas around (if you don’t try their tortilla de patatas, you’ll regret it…for the rest of your life).
Day 3: Explore some hiking trails
Let’s be honest - who doesn’t love taking a little bit of a ‘break’ from their city break? Lucky for you, Madrid’s Casa de Campo is the perfect place to escape to on your third day; a vast forest spanning over 1,700 hectares, the park once served as the hunting grounds for Spain’s royal family before opening to the public in the mid-20th century. Where the king’s subjects once patrolled you’ll now find numerous hiking and bike trails (suitable for various abilities); meaning there’s no excuse not to rent some gear, pack some snacks and set off on your very own adventure through the wilderness. There’s even some kid-friendly activities to be found, too, in the form of an amusement park (if you can bear it) and a much more wholesome Nature Education Centre.
After freshening up back at your Plum Guide apartment (we’re thinking bath, glass of wine in hand - kids or no, it’s been a long day), it’s time for dinner somewhere lavish; our first pick would be DiverOX, but if you’re looking for a slightly more affordable feast, it’s Paco Roncero Restaurante, an establishment perched on the terrace of Casino de Madrid, you should head to. Here you can savour both impeccable cuisine (it’s got two Michelin stars for a reason) and, as its location suggests, pristine skyline views.
Day 4: Watch the sunset from Cerro del Tío Pío
Largely considered to house the greatest art collection in Europe, the Prado Museum is one of the other key institutions that makes up Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art. It would be
practically criminal to give it a miss within your Madrid itinerary of 4 days, so your last morning should be spent exploring the pre-20th century works (Velázquez’s Las Meninas and Goya’s Black Paintings, anyone?) within. Lunch should be sought out at one of the many tabernas in Lavapiés; Bar Melo’s does a mean zapatilla (slipper) - a deliciously cheesy toasted sandwich so big it resembles the shoe in question.
Your final afternoon should be spent at Parque del Retiro. Eschew the park’s popular artificial lake and head to lesser-known spots like el Bosque del Recuerdo (the Forest of Memories) or Casita del Pescador (Fisherman’s Cottage). A visit to the Palacio de Cristal, a resplendent glass pavilion looming over 20m high, is essential, even if you have to brave clusters of tourists. Stick around for sunset - though if you’re looking for the best golden hour views - it’s worth catching the Metro to another park, Cerro del Tío Pío, and settling down on one of its distinctive hills to watch as evening rolls in.