Back in July 2022 I was in Madrid for just over 48 hours, watching Queen and Adam Lambert at the WiZink Center and exploring my friend’s hometown. Limited for time, we had a couple of hours before the concert and the best part of the following day to explore the city. Thanks to my friend, I was able to experience a lot of the Spanish capital in a short time. Inspired by her meticulous planning, I wanted to provide an insight into how we experienced Madrid city in approximately 10 hours. With a list of must-see attractions to hand featuring the Royal Palace, Mercado de San Miguel, El Retiro Park and more, exploring the city on foot provided us with the opportunity to see the city from the ground up and also make time for the notable sights. Madrid does have a fantastic metro system though, so you could significantly cut down the number of steps by using public transport between locations instead. Heading to Madrid soon and strapped for time? Here is how to experience Madrid city in a day (or 10 hours if you’d prefer to split the itinerary across two)!
Puerta del Sol and the centre of Spain
Start at the bustling city square ‘Puerta del Sol’ where you can find a marking on the ground that represents the centre of Spain. This tiny monument is referred to as Kilometre Zero and distances around the city are measured from here. The square is also home to the clocktower where people gather for the twelve grapes New Year tradition, the famous Tío Pepe sherry sign and the statue of the bear and the strawberry tree, the latter of which was unfortunately surrounded by scaffolding when we visited. The bear is included in the city’s coat of arms and has become a landmark of present day Madrid.
Continuing on from Puerta del Sol there are lots of fun shops to visit, both souvenir and regular day to day stores. A short distance away is the spectacular Plaza Mayor and as you get closer, you feel as if you are in the heart of historic Madrid. This area is known as the ‘Madrid of the Austrians’ or Habsburgs: the last royal house to occupy the city before the present lineage. The shaded streets are full of old buildings and there are spectacular archways that lead you into the vibrant square.
Lined with red buildings, Plaza Mayor was once known as the centre of Old Madrid and today it is home to the city’s main tourism centre and various restaurants. There are umbrellas set up for al fresco dining and it would be a great place to enjoy a meal or glass of sangria. However, nearby is the mouthwatering Mercado de San Miguel and I would recommend saving your appetite and making your way over to this historic covered market instead.
Visit the Mercado de San Miguel for lunch
It goes without saying that Spanish food is absolutely delicious and the city food and drink market is brimming with fresh produce, local delicacies, street foods and alcoholic beverages. Alive with market sellers, tourists and locals grabbing a bite to eat on their lunch break, as soon as you get inside San Miguel you will be fascinated by the aromas and vibrant colours of the produce. It is very busy during the middle of the day and there are no places to sit inside, but why not purchase some takeaway finger food for lunch and find a place to sit near the venue? My friend and I picked up some empanadas and enjoyed them under a shaded tree in a park a little while later.
Marvel at the Royal Palace
Madrid is known for its majestic Royal Palace and beautiful gardens. The palace grounds are huge, but you can reach the rear entrance in a short walk from the food market. Visitors can pay a very reasonable 12 euros (standard adult fee) to go inside the location, but if you are limited for time, you can get some fantastic pictures of the exterior from the palace gates and walls. The building is a must-see in Madrid and it is surrounded by lots of fantastic parks, plazas and historic structures, including Almudena Cathedral.
Take in the serene surroundings at La Montaña Park
Remaining in the palace district, a stone’s throw away from the royal residence is the hilltop Parque de La Montaña. Offering incredible views of the palace estate, benches to sit on and the Ancient Egyptian Temple Of Debod, the park is a peaceful spot for a break. With all of the walking that you have been doing, your feet will surely appreciate the rest in the natural surroundings of the park.
Visit the city’s opera house
Heading back towards the Old Town, for theatre fans Plaza de Isabel II is home to the Teatro Real (Madrid’s Royal Theatre): a significant performing arts venue that is renowned across Europe. In addition to showcasing opera, the theatre’s programme also features flamenco dancing. An important part of the Spanish arts, if you have additional time in the city, why not try and book tickets to a performance during the evening? It is such a passionate and emotive form of dancing.
Head to San Ginés for churros in the afternoon
If you ask anyone that’s been to Madrid where you should visit for sweet treats, they will likely respond with San Ginés: a late 19th century dessert bar that specialises in churros and hot chocolate sauce. The cafe is located at the end of a historic side street, not far from Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol. We returned to the Old Town specifically for San Ginés during the afternoon and it was definitely worth the additional walk. Portions come in sizes of three or six and are brilliant for sharing. The churros are extremely fresh and some of the best I have ever tasted. In the summer months Madrid can get very hot during the afternoons and it is important to find shaded spots where you can take a break from the sun. If you visit San Ginés, you can enjoy a historic city eatery and make the most of the aircon at the same time!
Enjoy the tranquillity of the city’s Royal Botanical Gardens
Returning to the wildlife theme, the city’s royal botanical gardens are a vibrant nature spot in the Paseo del Prado district. Walking from San Ginés you can take a route that passes the globally recognised Museo Nacional del Prado art gallery, but it is extremely popular and you need to weigh up whether or not this is a priority for you with the time available. We chose to skip the gallery as the weather was so nice, prioritising the vibrant flowers and vegetable plots at the nearby gardens instead. At this location it is easy to forget that you are in a giant metropolis, the rare birds and plants make you feel as if you have been transported to a natural mediterranean oasis, miles away from the city. At 4 euros per adult for a ticket that excludes the Pabellón Villanueva exhibition centre, it is also a very reasonably priced attraction.
Wander around the extensive Retiro Park
Arguably saving the best park until last, El Retiro is a huge city park filled with lakes, statues, fountains and the Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace). Visitors can view art exhibitions within the 19th century palace building, go boating on one of the lakes or enjoy refreshments at one of the many park kiosks. A popular exercise destination for locals, El Retiro is the prime location to enjoy some time outdoors, away from city life. Madrid is full of green spaces and El Retiro is the liveliest for sure!
See Madrid from above at the City Hall
Finish your day with a sunset trip up to the top of nearby Madrid City Hall. It is located in the Plaza de Cibeles: a square hosting an iconic marble fountain and statue that are also symbolic of the capital. From the roof of this extravagant building you can soak up the city from above and reflect on your busy day of sightseeing. There are also several metro stations nearby, which makes this a great place to end. Why not head back to the Old Town for dinner and try some authentic Spanish dishes?
A massive thank you to my friend for being a tour guide and showing me around her wonderful city. I learnt so much about the Spanish capital in a very short period of time and definitely felt as if we experienced Madrid city in 10 hours!
Are you visiting Madrid soon? What are you most looking forward to about your trip?
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
A spot on account of a brilliant city!
Thanks Katy, I am pleased you think so!
Have a lovely day.