Madrid: A 1 Day Itinerary to See the Best of the City
One day might not be enough to discover everything this city has to offer, so be sure to fit in the essentials
Hoping to get to know Madrid like the back of your hand in just one day? Let’s be honest; that’s pretty much impossible, but if 24 hours is all you’ve got, there are ways to make the most of your time in the city - and no, they don’t include sacrificing comfort by seeing it from a seat in a sweaty, overpriced tourist bus. Our Madrid 1 day itinerary combines some of the essential sights with lesser-known experiences to make your short stay more than just memorable.
According to your 1 day itinerary for Madrid, your morning has to start by trying one of Spain’s traditional breakfast foods: churros. These deliciously greasy pieces of fried dough are usually accompanied by a thick chocolate dipping sauce. It’s the perfect meal for early birds hoping to skip queues (and a great hangover cure that hits the spot if you’re feeling particularly sorry for yourself after too much wine).
There’s no better place to chow down chocolate con churros than Chocolatería San Ginés, which has been serving them up for over a century. The cafe’s central location means you’re a short walk away from Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, the historic square that’s at the heart of the city – and of Spain itself (quite literally; the distinctive Kilometre Zero plaque next to the Royal Post Office marks where all roads in the country start from). It’s also the place to be on New Year’s Eve for many Madrileños itching to watch the clock strike midnight. Make sure to check out the Oso y el Madroño (Bear and Tree) statue, a sculpture of the scene depicted on Madrid’s coat of arms, before heading towards the Royal Palace via Plaza Mayor for a quick coffee… or early-morning beer – we don’t judge.
Following Calle Mayor west will soon leave you face to face with the imposing Catedral de la Almudena and, of course, the vast palace precinct. While it’s tempting to stand there gawping at great architecture, just behind these buildings you’ll find Campo del Moro, a green space where you can view the palace from a different perspective and wander to your heart’s content. If it’s all a bit too regal for your taste, an alternative oasis is Parque del Oeste. Here, the stark structure of the Temple de Debod, an Egyptian temple gifted to Spain in the 20th century, reigns supreme.
By now you’ll probably be in search of snacks (it’s Spain, remember, lunch at midday is practically heresy) and San Miguel Market, right back next to Plaza Mayor is widely known as the best place to grab a light bite. Even though you’ll instinctively veer towards stalls flanked by legs of jamón serrano and impossibly large wheels of cheese, you might want to try an underappreciated delicacy: violet-flavoured ice-cream (that’s right – the flower). A chilly twist on the treats sold by La Violeta, one of the city’s most traditional sweet brands, it’s admittedly an intriguing taste.
Once sufficiently sated, wander the streets of the colourful Lavapiés district toward Madrid's Golden Triangle of Art. This trifecta of galleries is made up of the Prado Museum, home to multitude of pre-20th century works, including masterpieces by Goya, Velázquez and Bosch; the Reina Sofía Museum, where you’ll find modern and contemporary works; and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which houses a once private collection spanning various historical and modern art movements.
Unfortunately, one day in the city means you’re working with limited time; you’ll have to choose one museum to dedicate a couple of hours to. We’ll leave that decision to you (if we’re really pushed to pick, however, we’d recommend a couple of hours in the Prado Museum – it’s not for nothing that it’s considered to be one of the most comprehensive art collections in the world).
Lunch should be next on the agenda (it should now be an acceptable time, after all), so head back into Lavapiés and seek out Taberna el Sur. Slightly off the beaten path, it’s not yet been overrun with the typical tourist crowds and is the perfect place to tapear (i.e. indulge in as many tapas as possible). If you’re craving paella, however, here is definitely the place to try it – and foregoing the sangria is out of the question. You won’t be in a hurry to rush off, so take your time savouring the food and enjoying the intimate atmosphere.
As everyone knows, the best way to stave off sluggishness is to get moving. If you find yourself drifting into that familiar post-lunch siesta territory, what better place to walk it off than Parque del Retiro? One of the biggest green spaces in the city, this sprawling park was once exclusively used by the royal family - and it shows; from the perfectly manicured Jardín del Parterre to the majestic sculptures dotted around the area, the place is truly fit for a king. Rowing a boat out onto the Estanque (artificial lake) is the perfect afternoon activity… especially if you can sit back and get another person in your party to do all the hard work.
The most noteworthy experience to stick around for on your 1 day itinerary in Madrid, however, is sunset. You’ll want to head to El Palacio del Cristal (The Glass Palace) for this. At the centre of the park, the pavilion is made entirely out of glass and intricately decorated wrought iron, and come evening, rays of sunlight turn the structure into a resplendent version of itself.
End your day in the city with dinner and a show. (Original, we know.) Just south of Puerta del Sol, Tablao Villa Rosa is easily identifiable by the distinctive tiled mural on its exterior; inside you’ll be treated to spellbinding Flamenco performances from their roster of artists. Just bear in mind you’re visiting for the Flamenco more than the food, but a few raciones of tapas will still hit the spot when paired with a glass of Rioja.
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