The Ultimate Guide to Two days in Madrid
What can you see in just two days in Madrid? Plenty if you have a plan! Read on for my guide to the Spanish capital so you can get the most out of your 2 days in Madrid.
My first-ever visit to Madrid was for a weekend, and while the Spanish capital is a huge city with plenty to see and do, you can definitely get a real feel for the place – and see plenty of the main tourist attractions – over a couple of days.
2-day Madrid Itinerary: Day One
I’m a big believer in beginning with a bang, so we are going to start our Madrid itinerary by taking the Metro to Sol to see the Puerta de Sol.
Puerta del Sol
Vying with Plaza Mayor to be the city’s most famous plaza, Puerta del Sol has plenty to see.
In terms of symbols of Madrid, they don’t come much more famous that El Oso y El Madroño, the 20-ton depiction of a bear stretching to reach the fruit of a strawberry tree.
Madrid was originally named Ursaria (“land of the bears” in Latin) due to the supposedly high population of bears in the area, but thankfully these days this is the only one you are likely to find in the city center.
There are two other statues well worth a photograph. The Mariblanca, brought to Madrid in 1625 by Florentine Merchant Ludovico Turchi, was initially the crowning glory of the Fountain of Faith.
The fountain has long disappeared, but a replica of the statue remains, although whether it depicts the Greek Goddess Diana or Venus is subject to debate. The original is in the Casa de la Vila (C/ del Sombrerete, 26).
If you had any doubts you were in the city center, head towards the monumental Casa de Correos and you will find the Kilómetro Cero slab, symbolizing its position at the heart of 6 of the city’s main roads.
Elsewhere there is a statue honoring Carlos III, the eighteenth-century monarch credited with improving much of Madrid.
Just as eye-catching is the Reloj de Gobernación (also know simply as The Clock of Puerta del Sol) which is the centerpiece of Madrid’s New Year’s Eve celebrations along with other festivities.
If you are in the mood for some high-end shopping (or window shopping), pop down Calle de Preciados. Preciado is related to precio (“price”) and with good reason: this is one of Madrid’s main shopping hubs.
Here you will find a mix of haute couture boutiques, realtors with some of the capital’s most eye-wateringly expensive prices, and Spain’s department store: El Corte Inglés.
Chocolatería San Ginés
Make the short walk from Puerta del Sol towards the Church of San Ginés, one of Madrid’s oldest churches.
Next to it, on Pasadizo de San Ginés, is a place of worship of a different kind: the Chocolatería San Ginés, a famous spot if you fancy some late-morning chocolate con churros.
Chocolate here means hot chocolate, and churros are long strips of fried dough, not unlike donuts to taste, but with a crunchier texture. This chocolatería has been in business since 1894 and it has the whole process down to a fine art, so even if there is a line you won’t need to worry about waiting too long.
Wander down C/ de Bordadores to Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s other famous plaza.
More classical and symmetrical than Puerta del Sol, the Plaza Mayor is imposing and grand. It boasts a statue of Philipe III, who was king when the Spanish Empire was at the height of its powers.
Take C/de Ciudad Rodrigo through to the Plaza de San Miguel, and you will find Mercado de San Miguel, one of Madrid’s most famous food markets. An ideal spot to pick up some jamón ibérico, manchego cheese or other Spanish specialties.
If you haven’t had your fill of goodies already, we are also close to the site of one of Madrid’s most famous sweet treats. Have you never bought cookies from invisible nuns before?
C/de Codo means “Elbow Street” and you will know why when you see its shape. Number 3 is the home of the Monasterio del Corpus Christi, the convent where the cookies are made.
Follow the arrow next to the number 3 tile and find the intercom. Look for “monjas” (“nuns”) and ask for “dulces” (DOOL-thays) when they answer. You will be let in and you have to follow the sign for “torno“. The “torno” here refers to the “turnstile”, a kind of cross between a dumb waiter and a Lazy Susan which allows for the (slightly surreal) transaction to take place without you ever seeing the nuns.
Cookies are served Monday – Saturday 9:30 to 1:00 and 4:00 to 6:30, and the shortbread cookies are arguably the most famous.
Palacio Real de Madrid
From C/de Codo make your way towards Plaza de la Vila and C/de Bailen, where you will find the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Originally commissioned in the 1500s and finished in the 1630s, the building was razed by a fire in 1740, and refurbished.
It was the city residence of a long list of Spanish kings, culminating with Alfonso XIII (1886-1941). Today, no member of the Spanish royal family lives in there, which offers us the opportunity to explore the palace, the largest in Western Europe.
Aside from the huge scale and impressive façade, the Royal Palace of Madrid is notable for its art collection, which includes masterpieces by Goya, Velázquez, and Caravaggio. Perhaps more uniquely, it hosts one of the best armor collections in the world, La Armería Real.
The opulence of the interiors – all Spanish marble, mahogany doors and glimmering chandeliers – hark back to a time when Spain competed with Great Britain to rule the New World.
The exterior of the palace is made up of gardens and plazas. The entrance of the palace is framed by the Plaza de la Armería while the Plaza de Oriente contains a statue of Spain’s current king, Felipe VI.
Nearby, the Jardines del Campo del Moro refer to an older part of Madrid’s history: this was the campsite for Moorish (Muslim North African) troops in the 1109 attempt to reconquer Madrid.
Temple of Debod
Head north from the Palace along C/de Ferraz to the Parque del Oeste to travel even further back in time, albeit indirectly.
In the 1960s, the Egyptian Temple of Debod was at risk of flooding, and so the Egyptian government made the decision to dismantle it and relocate it to Madrid. It is one of very few pieces of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be seen outside of Egypt, and the only one in Spain.
Today it occupies a peaceful spot in the park, overlooking a lake, which makes for a gorgeous photo opportunity, especially in the early evening.
There are plans to create a covering soon to protect the temple from the elements. For now you can enjoy it exposed to the open air, and the park also offers some great views of the central Madrid.
Plaza de España
Make your way back to the city center via Plaza de Espana.
This popular square has many restaurant options for dinner and is the perfect place to end part one of your 2-day Madrid itinerary.
If you still have some gas in the tank, take a ten-minute walk to Gran Vía, one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.
2-day Madrid Itinerary: Day Two
We begin day two with another unquestionable must: the Prado museum.
Museo Del Prado
An art fan could easily spend your whole two days in Madrid wandering around this art museum. However, El Prado has artfully designed more doable routes for tourists: at the front desk you will find a brochure will offer you a choice of the museum’s highlights with a walking tour of 1, 2, or 3 hours.
The heavy hitters at the Prado are Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and Peter Paul Rubens, but there are also masterpieces by Titian, Bosch, and El Greco.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by such a vast collection, so I will highlight a few must-sees.
- Las Meninas (“Maids of Honor”) by Velázquez is the closest El Prado has to the Mona Lisa. It depicts several members of the royal court, including a young princess, and has an eerily photographic quality with a unique perspective. However, despite its superficial “snapshot” feel, the painting is loaded with symbolism and unexpected characters. The artist himself is surprisingly prominent, the king and queen are reflected in a mirror, a dwarf is closer to the viewer than any other character. An amazing painting for mystery lovers.
- Goya’s 3 de Mayo 1808 is a depiction of Napoleon’s invasion of France. So intense was the image that it was kept from public view for 40 years. The central figure appears to be a civilian with his arms raised, about to be shot on the roadside by faceless gunmen.
- Finally, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch is instantly recognisable. This triptych painting depicts the Garden of Eden, Life on Earth, and the Last Judgement and all three are worlds full of freaks and temptations. Fascinatingly, while the piece was popular at the time, almost nothing is known about Bosch, which makes the challenge of deciphering his work all the more delicious.
When the triptych is closed, it forms another image of the world encapsulated in an almost snow globe-like orb, with an easy-to-miss, tiny God-figure in the top-left corner.
Reina Sofia Museum
While the Prado leads us to the end of the 19th Century, for more modern masterpieces, walk along the Paseo del Prado to the Reina Sofia museum. While ostensibly very different from the Prado, the museum does present some through-lines for the imaginative visitor.
Picasso’s Guernica is here, and like Goya’s 3 de Mayo 1808, it is an exploration of the horrors of war, in this case the Luftwaffe bombing of a Basque town during the Spanish Civil War.
Similarly, Dalí’s Face of a Great Masturbator is undeniably of the 20th century in its surrealism, but shares some nightmarish qualities with Bosch’s work.
Along with these two titans of Spanish modern art, the museum has a number of important pieces by major contemporaries of Picasso, notably Juan Gris and Georges Braque.
Madrid has several more art museums you can explore on a longer stay or return visit.
El Retiro Park
Cross the Paseo del Prado into C/de Alfons XII to El Parque del Retiro.
One of Madrid’s major charms is its green space, and this is its most central and famous park. It is a welcome expanse of greenery and oxygen bang in the city center.
“Retiro” means “retreat” and at 300 acres,
It was for the exclusive use of the royal family until the 19th century, but today it is home to strollers, joggers and, if you feel like a jaunt on the boating lake, rowers.
The park offers several highlights, one of the most popular is El Palacio de Cristal (aka the Glass Palace).
Next up is Retiro Park lake, rent a row boat or sit in the nearby cafe and enjoy a spot of people watching.
Puerta de Alcalá
Beyond the north-west corner of the park in Plaza de la Independencia is the Puerta de Alcalá, reminiscent of London’s Marble Arch or Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf
The puerta has seen its share of drama over the centuries. Look out for shrapnel marks from the 1808 battle with French troops. More recently, in 1921 Catalan anarchists assassinated Eduardo Dato, the Prime Minister at the time.
A short detour will get you to Plaza de Cibeles where you can ride the elevator to a viewing platform on the roof.
Next go uptown from la Puerta de Alcalá to the Salamanca neighborhood, one of Madrid’s most exclusive and glamorous areas.
Any number of designer shops can be found here. Gucci, Dior, and Chanel practically rub shoulders on Calle de José Ortega y Gasset, while Longchamp, Miu Miu and Prada can be found on Calle de Serrano.
Along with these flagship stores, Salamanca also has a number of designer outlet shops, such as Designer Exchange, for those hoping for something that comes with a discount.
Apart from these renowned international brands, it’s also the place to go for high-end Spanish brands.
If shopping is not your thing, check out Plaza de Colón (Columbus Square). The towering statue of Colombus, the monument in the Jardines del Descubrimiento (the Gardens of Discovery) and the enormous Spanish flag make for lots of photo opportunities.
From Plaza de Colón, walk to Alonso Martínez metro station, and catch line 10 to Santiago Bernabéu metro.
For football fans, Salamanca is also home to Real Madrid’s stadium: Estadio de Santiago Bernabéu.
The stadium has been completely refurbished in the last few years. The team actually had to move their 2019-20 home matches to the tiny Alfredo di Stéfano Stadium, usually used by reserves and youth teams, to allow for the work to go ahead.
The final touches are still being added, but guided tours of this super modern temple of football are available.
Barrio de Las Letras
Take metro Line 10 back to Alfonso Martínez and then Line 3 to Sol.
Barrio de Las Letras is the traditionally arty part of the city center. The name Calle de Cervantes here is not merely decorative, Miguel de Cervantes actually spent his last days living on this street.
The city’s theaters were born here in the 17th century, and even today it can still claim to be the center of the city’s theater district.
The area thus has quite a pull for creative types, which makes it a great place to wander along, hunting out tapas bars and local independent shops.
When you have had enough people-watching in Las Letras, head south-west towards La Latina.
This area was once the Moorish town, and its romantic winding side streets are a stark alternative to the rest of the city’s squares and monuments.
This is another great neighborhood to seek out tapas, with both popular terraces and hole in the wall places to be found, but La Latina also has some landmarks worth checking out. The minaret-like tower of San Pedro El Real church (C/de Nuncio) is another example of the Moorish influence in the area.
Seven minutes’ walk further south-west is the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande. While not particularly appealing from the outside, head inside to see the elaborate decoration, complete with contributions by none other than Goya himself.
If day two of your two days in Madrid happens to be a Sunday, it would be better to rejig the itinerary so you make it here for the early afternoon and El Rastro (Plaza de Cascorro).
This is the city’s largest street market and it is busiest at this time of day. With everything and anything on sale, it is one of those tourist attractions which makes you feel connected to local life.
Finally, head to Calle de la Cava Baja for a well-deserved tapas crawl to finish up your time exploring this fantastic city. This narrow, lively street has a number of great places.
Getting around Madrid
The main train station in Madrid is Atocha train station, if you are arriving on a high speed train from another part of the country, you will probably arrive here. You can walk to the city center or use the very handy Metro which operates from 6am-1.30am.
If you have some extra days when you visit Madrid, then consider a day trip to Toledo.