I lived in Madrid for five years whilst studying for my degree so I pretty much know all of the ins and outs of this city.
I have put together a weekend travel plan of Madrid for you to discover the most beautiful parts of the city and to eat at places where the Madrilenians go to. The idea comes from many friends asking me for tips throughout the past years.
I have listed the places in a logical order in terms of location but of course you can start from the top or the bottom and space it out in time however you wish.
Madrid is a walkable city so you can easily visit everything by foot.
Templo de Debod
This wonderful Egyptian temple was originally built in Egypt but was then taken down and rebuilt in Madrid in the early 70s. It was donated to Spain in the late 60s as a thank you gift for helping to save the temples of Abu Simbel from a flooding of the Nile. It is very rare to see Egyptian architecture outside of Egypt so don’t give this one a miss as it is unique in the whole of Spain (free entrance) - read more. I used to go running here a lot and always found myself very lucky to see such an amazing monument each time.
Plaza de España & Gran Via
Plaza de España is one of the main squares of the capital. It is the western start side of the Gran Via where you can find all the high-street shops. In the centre of the square is a monument to the renowned Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes.
Palacio Real de Madrid
I find this Palace absolutely stunning, both from the outside and the inside. The facade is quite similar to Buckingham Palace in London. I really do recommend going inside to discover all of the main rooms as you will be very impressed with its stunning frescoes and luxurious décor, including paintings by artist such as Velázquez and Goya. The Palace is now mainly used for state ceremonies as the Spanish Royal Family reside at the Palacio de la Zarzuela just outside of Madrid.
Jardines de Sabanti
These stunning maze gardens form part of the Royal Palace of Madrid and were opened in the late 70s. This area used to be the royal stables of the Palace.
The Teatro Real is the main opera house of the city and one of the most Majestic ones in Europe. If you like the opera then you should try to go one evening. I went a few times and loved it on each occasion, it is very magical and the decor is beautiful inside. Check out their full program here.
This outstanding cathedral is located next to the Royal Palace and is one of the largest cathedrals in the World. It was only completed in the late 90s. You will be surprised by its modern indoor Neo-Gothic architecture. You can also admire amazing views over the Casa de Campo Park.
Mercado San Miguel
Take the Calle Mayor from the Almudena and walk up to this indoor market for lunch. It was renovated and reopened in 2009 and has been a success ever since due to its prime location next to the Plaza Mayor. A gourmet market full of local specialties with a great atmosphere. A must!
This is the main square in the heart of Madrid and it's where the Town Hall was traditionally located. In Spain each city has its own Plaza Mayor and it is always the most grandiose square of each city.
Puerta del Sol
The "Gate of the Sun" is one of the most renowned places in Madrid and is the center point (km 0) of Spain. It was originally one of the gates of the city wall that enclosed Madrid several centuries ago.
You can find the old Post Office building, the famous Tio Pepe sign (brand of Sherry) and the km 0 plaque on the floor. It is an important meeting place in the city and is where many protests and demonstrations take place as you may have seen on TV. Be aware of pickpockets…
Plaza de Santa Ana
This is one of my favorite squares of the city as it's rather peaceful and is where you can find some lovely restaurants and cafes with terraces. This stunning hotel has a rooftop terrace with great views.
Plaza de Neptuno
This beautiful fountain located in the middle of the Paseo del Prado is definitely worth seeing when you’re in Madrid. As a little side information, Neptune was the God of fresh water and the sea and was also worshipped by the Romans as a god of horses.
Paseo del Prado
Walk down this lovely avenue towards Atocha station. There are lots of cultural stops on the way: Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza museum and the Royal Botanical Garden, amongst others. I really do recommend going inside the Royal Botanical Garden which is full of palm trees and other tropical plants and flowers. There are thousands of varieties to admire.
This is the largest railway station in Madrid and is wonderful from the outside but is even more of a surprise inside.
Once inside, you forget that you are in Madrid and feel as though you have been transported to a tropical oasis...
Plaza de Cibeles
This fountain and iconic monument are a true symbol of Madrid. They may seem familiar to you from TV as it is where Real Madrid and other Spanish sports teams celebrate their victories. The Cybele Palace used to be the headquarters of the Post and is now the Madrid City Hall. You can even go up to the rooftop for a drink to admire the panoramic views over Madrid.
Puerta de Alcalá
Its name comes from being the old path from Madrid to Alcalá de Henares (a beautiful town located outside of Madrid - see below). It is next to one of the main entrances to the Retiro Park and also leads you to the wealthy district of Salamanca.
This is one of the main and largest parks of the city and is where the Madrilians spend their weekends, especially on a hot sunny day. You can spend a day having a picnic and renting a paddle boat to tour the huge pond or just simply getting lost and wandering around its magnificent greenery.
Make sure you visit the Palacio de Cristal (free entrance) – a beautiful glass pavilion with an iron framework which was inspired by Crystal Palace in London. It used to be a botanical garden and now is used for exhibitions. This is one of my favourite monuments in the park.
This is one of the oldest neighborhoods of Madrid and it is full of charm. Every Sunday there is a market and it gets very lively. La Latina is full of lovely traditional Spanish restaurants and is where you can find some great tapas. It is not as popular amongst the tourists in comparison to the Plaza Mayor so it is the best place to experience true Spanish gastronomy.
Plaza de Olavide
This is another hotspot in Madrid where the young locals go and this square is full of atmosphere on the weekend. There are several bars and restaurants with terraces where you can go to soak up the sun on a good day over a glass of sangria or a caña.
It is hard to resist going shopping in a city like Madrid. You will be surprised by all the lovely little boutiques that are hidden away on the backstreets across the city. The main streets such as Goya, Velazquez, and Ortega y Gasset are the chic streets of Madrid with a mixture of high-street brands and luxury brands making it ideal for everyone. If you are looking for more original quirky boutiques then go to Fuencarral street and the district of Chueca.
🚌Day trips from Madrid
If you are visiting for more than a weekend and fancy going outside of Madrid then I suggest the following places which are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are all within an hour's distance from Madrid by bus or by train:
El Escorial - for its outstanding Monastery, mediaeval architecture and small cobbled streets.
Alcalá de Henares - for its rich history in literature - home of Miguel de Cervantes.
Toledo - for its beautiful cobbled streets and mediaeval architecture - used to be the capital of Spain.
Segovia - for its renowned Aqueduct and Cathedral that will remind you of Disney.
Aranjuez - for its magnificent Royal Palace and Gardens.
When are you next going to Madrid?
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English and French wanderer. Based in Paris. Tasting the world through one escape to another...