With so many tapas to taste, museums to visit, and wonders to see, choosing what to do with your time in Madrid can be overwhelming, to say the least! And if you only have one day to explore, you’ll want to make the absolute most of your time.
Madrid is a city that requires a lot of energy. While we recommend at least three or four days to really get to know the city, don’t let time constraints scare you away.
This itinerary for Madrid in one day will get you exploring and eating your way through the heart of Spain.
Breakfast in Plaza de Santa Ana
Start your day off right with a classic cup of café con leche in sunny Plaza de Santa Ana. Relax and take in the early morning bustle around you as you nibble on a tostada. But don’t dawdle—you have a full day ahead of you!
As soon as you’ve downed your coffee, stroll over to nearby Plaza Mayor less than 10 minutes away. Dating back to the Habsburg dynasty, the plaza has been the site of everything from bullfights and public executions to soccer games throughout the ages. Today, though, it’s only used to host markets, fairs and the celebration of Madrid’s patron saint, San Isidro, in May.
Depending on what time of year you visit, you may get lucky and find a specialty market or food fair happening—or simply just a beautiful plaza filled to the brim with tourists. Either way, Plaza Mayor is a must when visiting Madrid in one day.
Madrid’s Old Quarter, the Royal Palace, & Almudena Cathedral
Make your way to the exit near Calle Mayor and get lost in Madrid’s old quarter on your way to the Royal Palace. Be sure to peek into any charming bakery or specialty shop that piques your interest; the old quarter is filled with treasures waiting to be discovered. One spot that’s worth a look is Calzados Lobos, a shoe store that specializes in espadrilles that add a cool pop of color to any wardrobe and make wonderful gifts.
Eventually, you’ll find your way to the palace. You won’t be going in on this trip since you could get lost in the thousands of rooms for days, but the view from the outside is still jaw-dropping. Take your time checking out every corner of the gigantic palace’s exterior architecture and poke your head into the impressive Cathedral across the square (it’s free!) before heading back towards the center.
Círculo de Bellas Artes Terrace
Your walk from the palace to our next stop takes you through Puerta del Sol and down Calle Alcalá, the core of commercial Madrid. But don’t let the tourist traps distract you; there will be time for shopping later.
Instead, make your way to the Círculo de Bellas Artes building and the rooftop bar that crowns it. The terrace offers the most incredible view in Madrid, looking out over the beating heart of the downtown area. The sheer beauty is enough to give you an energy boost after a long morning.
Lunch in the Literary Quarter
No earlier than 2 p.m., head down the Paseo del Prado back into the Huertas neighborhood, also known as the Literary Quarter, for a well-deserved lunch. This is one of the most picturesque parts of Madrid and one of the most authentic central neighborhoods, so you’re sure to eat well!
There are plenty of excellent dining options in Huertas, but if you need help narrowing it down, check out:
- Garcia de la Navarra, a family-run, farm-to-table spot complete with an extensive wine cellar
- Triciclo, a favorite among local chefs, offering shared plates of fresh and exciting fusion dishes
- Casa Gonzalez, home to some of the most incredible Spanish gourmet products in the city
- The Antón Martín Market, a neighborhood favorite offering a world of flavors under one roof
Reina Sofía Museum
After lunch, make your way down to the Museo Reina Sofía with a full belly and a smile; you’ll need a couple hours on your feet after such an incredible meal.
There are many incredible museums in Madrid, including the Prado—home to many of the world’s artistic masterpieces. But if you’re only in Madrid for one day, the modern Reina Sofía is arguably the best choice due to the interesting look its pieces offer into Spain’s recent social and political history.
As you lose yourself in the Picassos, Mirós, and Dalís, you’ll find yourself learning about the significance of modern art in the time of Spain’s 20th-century civil war and subsequent dictatorship. This historical context is something many visitors miss out even on longer trips to Spain.
Shopping in Malasaña
When you feel good and cultured, catch the metro up to Malasaña, one of Madrid’s prime shopping areas. Walk up Fuencarral checking out the shops, ranging from chains to boutiques to vintage offerings. Along the way, you’ll subconsciously pick up some fashion tips from the effortlessly stylish crowd around the neighborhood.
Don’t overexert yourself, though—we’ll finish off our 24 hours in Madrid with a night on the town!
Aperitivo & Dinner
By 8 p.m., you should be ready to go for an aperitivo, or pre-dinner drink, at the famous Museo Chicote on Gran Vía. An art-deco style bar once frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway during his time in Madrid, Chicote offers good cocktails and even better vibes. Enjoy your drink among locals before heading back to the old quarter for tapas.
Dinner on Calle Cava Baja
Tonight you’ll dine on traditional small plates along the famous Cava Baja, a street in La Latina that’s become somewhat legendary for its string of tapas joints. Make your way from bar to bar, trying a drink and a tapa or two at each.
Need some recommendations to get you started? You can’t go wrong with the solomillo (pork sirloin) at Casa Lucas, the famous huevos rotos (“broken eggs”) at Los Huevos de Lucio, or the croquetas at Casa Víctor. But feel free to pop in anywhere that grabs your attention—you can eat well anywhere on Cava Baja!
Finish dinner on the early side (for Spain, anyway!) tonight so you have time to catch a late-night flamenco show afterwards. Just a 15-minute walk from Calle Cava Baja is the famed flamenco venue Cardamomo, where you’ll finish off your day in Madrid surrounded by Spanish folklore.
Flamenco has its roots in Spain’s southernmost region of Andalusia, so it’s not native to Madrid. However, over the years many of the best flamenco artists from the south have brought their art to the capital. Cardamomo hosts many of the most impressive performers in the flamenco game today, so you’re guaranteed to see a spectacular show.
The night will still be young by Spanish standards once you leave the show, and you can’t visit Madrid in one day without experiencing the nightlife. Pop down to Calle Huertas for some more bar hopping, complete with some gin & tonics. This classic cocktail is almost sacred here in Spain and always finely crafted; be sure to give it a try even if you think you don’t like gin.
Act like a true madrileño and let the night decide your plans for you, be it dancing at a discoteca until 6 a.m. or keeping the party going and watching the sun rise at the Templo de Debod.
If partying isn’t your thing, hit the hay after one last drink and get up early for a breakfast of chocolate and churros at Chocolatería San Ginés—the sweetest way to say goodbye to the city.
Need more time? Check out more of our itineraries!
Madrid in One Day FAQs
Absolutely! The Spanish capital is packed with things to see and do, including world-class museums, a great shopping scene, gorgeous architecture, and incredible local food. Throw in pleasantly mild weather for most of the year and some friendly locals, and you’ve got all the makings of a perfect urban escape.
First-time visitors should ideally spend three or four days in the city to see all of the main sights (including many of the museums), visit a few different neighborhoods, and take full advantage of the great local dining scene. But in our book, even the shortest amount of time spent in Madrid is better than none at all!
Update Notice: This post was originally published on May 23, 2014 and was updated with new text and photos on May 17, 2021.