As the capital of Spain and one of the main centers for culture in Europe, a visit to Madrid is a must. A vibrant city with plenty to see, you’ll find that exploring Madrid is most fun on foot as the main attractions are just a quick walk away from one another on foot.
This Madrid itinerary was planned with foot travel in mind. Each destination is near what came before and what comes after so you can see more of the city by walking from place to place.
From museums to parks to city squares and more, there’s an endless amount to explore in Madrid. Here are some of the best spots to hit on a short trip to this city, along with tips and tricks to make your stay the best one possible!
What’s the Best Time to Visit Madrid, Spain?
The best time to visit Madrid is on either end of the scorching hot summer (May or October). Visit in May, and you’ll have pleasant sunny weather before the temperatures start to climb, or stay in October on the tail end of things, when the breeze begins to come back and the city cools off a little.
During July and August, Madrid experiences its highest temperatures, with the red line in thermometers shooting up as if about to break out. Even locals flee the city, seeking cooler weather, generally somewhere near the ocean.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you don’t mind cool weather and packing a winter coat, consider visiting Madrid during the winter months when the tourist crowd thins out, accommodation prices drop, and there are plenty of empty tables in restaurants come dinner time.
Just keep in mind that while it may be pleasant during the day, the winter sun sets early, cloaking the city in darkness much earlier than desirable for a full vacation.
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How Many Days Should I Spend in Madrid, Spain?
As the capital of Spain, there’s plenty to see in Madrid and you should give yourself enough time to really enjoy a good amount of it. Spanning from art, culture and some of the best food in the world, you won’t run out of things to do in this city, which is why you should consider spending at least three days in Madrid.
Three days in Madrid gives you enough time to spend a day exploring the city, plazas, gardens, and parks; a day to visit the world renowned museums filled with priceless masterpieces; and a final day to visit a nearby city that’s caught your eye (there are plenty of them, let me tell you).
You may feel yourself aching for more time in Madrid once your three days are up, as you’ve probably realized that there are endless barrios to explore, winding streets filled with tapas bars you’re yet to try, and that one last museum you didn’t get to visit.
By all means, if you find that Madrid’s attractions appeal to you greatly, then spend a few more days (or months, who could blame you) strolling the streets and uncovering all that lies in this Spanish capital.
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The Perfect 3-Day Madrid Itinerary for a First-Time Visitor
For a first-time visitor, landing in Madrid can be more than overwhelming. Your head may spin as the historic streets swirl around you, eagerly waiting to be discovered.
Madrid is the cultural capital of Spain and as such, there are plenty of places to visit to truly uncover the magic of this country. As a first time visitor, there are a few places that are absolute must-sees. While you may only have three days, that’s plenty of time to get acquainted with the city and visit some (or most!) of the unmissable spots.
Here’s a three-day Madrid itinerary filled with everything you should do on a visit to this magical city!
Madrid Itinerary Day 1: Get Acquainted with the City
On your first day in Madrid, you should take some time to get acquainted with the city and all that it has to offer. All of these spots are easy to walk between, so throw on your walking shoes and get ready to go — you have a full day of exploring ahead of you!
Puerta del Sol
There’s no better place to start in Madrid than spack in the center of the city. And the center of the country.
Puerta del Sol, or the Gateway of the Sun, has long been considered the center of Spain. This is represented by the Kilometre Zero Stone Slab which marks the official starting point for the six national roads that run through the country.
Madrid is well-known for its many city squares, but this is the place to be to really feel the energy of the city wrapping around you with every local that swishes by as you wander around the square.
There are a couple of interesting things in Puerta del Sol, like the El oso y El Madrono statue, which depicts a bear eating something out of a tree, a symbol of Madrid since the Middle Ages, and the clock tower that sits on top of the Post Office Building. This is the clock that counts down to midnight every December 31st, marking one of the largest New Year’s parties in all of Spain!
From Puerta del Sol, take a short walk to Plaza Mayor, another city square with a hustle and bustle that makes it hard to resist.
This is the place to be to fuel up for your day. Choose from one of the many terraces to sit and enjoy a strong Spanish coffee as you watch local life pass you by.
Playa Mayor dates all the way back to the Renaissance era, which is evident as you look at the architecture that surrounds the square. The plaza is simply overflowing with historical monuments and statues, the most notable one being the statue of King Philip III right in the middle of the square.
Continue walking straight from Plaza Mayor and you’ll find yourself at the Royal Palace, the former home of Spanish kings and queens.
The Royal Palace is one of the most famous sites in Madrid and welcomes thousands of visitors into its lavish halls every day. It’s the largest royal palace in Western Europe, with a mind boggling 2,800 rooms. Many areas of the palace are open to the public, so you can spend a few hours wandering through the expansive halls and admiring the luxurious artwork and furniture.
No visit here is complete without a stop in the Royal Armory, a room filled with a giant collection of weapons and armor that was once used during Spanish reign, and a visit to the Hall of Columns.
Oh, and don’t forget to snap a few pictures on the grand Main Staircase, either!
Since this is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in Madrid, consider purchasing a skip-the-line guided tour so you don’t have to wait in a giant queue when arriving!
Sitting just in front of the palace is the stunning Almudena Cathedral, with soaring towers, marble pillars, and a massive pipe organ that you can easily imagine someone banging away on.
The original Madrid Cathedral suffered serious damage from a fire, so the Almudena Cathedral was built in its place in the early 1900s.
This cathedral looks much more modern than most of the others found throughout Spain and the rest of Europe. It’s chic with gold finishes, making it a nice place to poke around to get a feel for the religious scene in Madrid.
It’s free to visit, but donations are always accepted.
Mercado de San Miguel
After all your morning sightseeing, you’re probably ready for something delicious to eat. Good thing you’re in Madrid, where the food scene is thriving and the tapas are abundant.
A quick walk from the cathedral, you’ll find Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid’s most popular food market. It’s fully stocked with the most delectable local delicacies, ranging from heaping plates of paella to sticks of grilled shrimp, to shaved yams and patatas bravas dripping in sauce — all paired with the finest Spanish wine, of course.
This is the best place you can go to fill up before setting off to see more of the city. If you’re overwhelmed by all of the choices, be sure to check out our guide to Spanish food to find the best things to eat! Or you can always ask a friendly local for their suggestions.
Once you’re stuffed from lunch, stroll (or roll, rather) over to Teatro Real, one of the most magnificent buildings in all of Madrid.
Teatro Real is the city’s ornately decorated theater, standing proud since the mid-1800s and dripping in lavish details. It’s impossible to ignore the allure and charm of the building, so you can’t miss stopping by to take a peek inside.
While the theater has undergone several renovations, it still maintains its original charm with plenty of updated details. The auditorium holds nearly 1,800 people across six floors and in 28 boxes, but the best part is that there’s a certain technology that allows you to see and hear the stage as if it were in high definition, no matter how far back you’re sitting… Pretty cool, huh?
So stop in to look around for a little bit and imagine the famous Spaniards who have walked these floors before you.
Parque del Oeste
Just a short walk from Teatro Real is your next stop: Parque del Oeste.
While often overshadowed by the famed Retiro Park, Parque del Oeste is one of the most charming places in Madrid, with plenty of mystery held in its grassy expanses.
This park is a great example of the many green spaces found throughout Spain, but especially in Madrid. It’s an oasis from the big city life and creates a peaceful atmosphere, conveniently placed for all people to enjoy.
Besides wandering around and having a picnic, while in Parque del Oeste, be sure to stop by the Temple of Debod. This Egyptian Temple was gifted to Spain from the government of Egypt. Random, but pretty cool as the structure dates all the way back to 2nd century BC.
Finally, as the sun starts to set, you may begin to feel your aching feet, begging you for a break after a long day of exploring. So what better way to kick back and relax than by watching someone else do the stomping around?
To get a taste of Spanish culture, head to a flamenco show to watch women swirl around in their colorful dresses, stomp their feet, and clack their castinetes.
There are tons of flamenco shows happening every night in Madrid, you’re likely to just stumble upon a venue! However, you can also book ahead to guarantee a spot, and some shows even include dinner.
Madrid Itinerary Day 2: Museums & More
After hitting the ground running on your first day in Madrid, you must be wondering what else this city has to offer.
For one thing, Madrid is home to some of the world’s most impressive collections of fine art. In fact, three of the city’s most famed museums have become known as Madrid’s Triangle of Art, so you know that there’s no skipping out on visiting these spots!
Besides museums, Madrid also has some stunning green spaces, giving much needed reprieve after wandering the halls of the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen Bornemisza.
Without further ado, here are all the places you should visit on your second day in Spain’s capital!
The Prado Museum is the crown jewel of the Spanish art scene. It’s a world renowned museum, filled with priceless works of art to ogle at day in and day out. You haven’t fully seen Madrid without a visit to the Prado, so this should be your first stop on Day Two.
With more than 7,000 paintings on display, it’s hard to know where to start. But to see the best of the best, start with the greats. You’ll find plenty of works by Spanish artists Velazquez, Goya, and El Greco, as well as international stars like Bosch, Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, and Botticelli.
You should purchase your ticket online beforehand to avoid long queues, but if you don’t feel like spending the money, the Prado is free Tuesday through Sunday from 6.00pm to 8.00pm (5.00pm to 8.00pm on Sundays), and free if you’re under 18 or a student between 19-25 with a valid ID. No excuses now!
Just behind the Prado sits Parque de El Retiro, or Retiro Park. This is the perfect green oasis in the middle of bustling Madrid, with more than 125 hectares of land and over 15,000 trees!
After spending your morning in the Prado, this is the perfect place to come for a burst of fresh air and plenty of grass for lounging on. Pack a picnic or grab a bocadillo and spend a few hours snacking as people pass you by.
Some notable places in Retiro are the lake where you can rent a boat to paddle around on and the Crystal Palace, a beautiful glass structure that refracts the light to create endless rainbows!
Real Jardin Botanico
Before heading back into the museums, stop by the Botanical Gardens for a quick stroll around. Here you can find dozens of species that date back more than 2,000 years, making this garden a museum in its own right.
When in full bloom, the gardens are overflowing with flowers, bushes and trees, and in the autumn you can watch as they change colors and prepare for winter.
After some outside time, head into the nearby Reina Sofia Museum to marvel at one of the best contemporary art collections in the world!
The main draw of the Reina Sofia is the outlandish Picasso collection, complete with more than 100 sketches and paintings. The star piece, however, is undoubtedly the Guernica, a large oil painting that is regarded as one of the most iconic anti-war paintings in the world.
Beyond Picasso, you can also find works by the likes of Salvador Dali and Juan Gris.
The third museum in Madrid’s Triangle of Art is the Thyssen Bornemisza, just a quick hop and a skip from the Reina Sofia.
This is the place to time travel through the ages and learn about Spanish history. Many of the pieces here were painted by the Masters, and there are more than 1,000 works on display at any time!
Keep your eye out for paintings by Van Gogh, Manet, Rembrandt, and Raphael to really round out your museum tour.
If the art isn’t really a draw anymore, at least visit this museum for the gorgeous architecture. There’s also frequent programming for visitors so stop in to see if there are any upcoming concerts or movie screenings that you can catch!
Plaza de Cibeles
After conquering Madrid’s Triangle of Art, it’s time for a change of pace. Head to Plaza de Cibeles to wander around the square and catch an unreal sunset.
You can find Madrid’s City Hall in this plaza and the showstopping architecture is enough reason to bring people here. In the middle, there’s also a giant fountain where people can make a wish and toss a coin in. How #European!
If you make it in time, make your way to Terraza Cibeles, a rooftop bar, for a drink and amazing views of the city as the sky paints pastel colors over Madrid!
Evening Tapas & Wine Tour
One of the most important parts of Spanish culture is food — tapas, to be exact. You can’t leave Madrid without eating your fill of local delicacies that make Spain so fun! And one of the best ways to do this is on a Madrid food tour with Devour.
After a full day of exploring, settle into an evening of (tapas) bar-hopping where you’ll get to visit three lively venues serving up Spanish fare and try 7+ fine Spanish wines. Food and drinks are included so at every stop you’ll get to feast on gourmet small plates and sip on velvety reds and crisp whites.
What’s more is you’ll be accompanied by a local guide who will take you from one hot spot to the next, and enjoy the tour with a small group of other travelers looking to soak up Madrid’s food scene.
With full bellies and a head full of culture, you’ll end your second day in Madrid.
Madrid Itinerary Day 3: Day Trip
One of the best parts about Madrid is its central location. Thought to be the exact center of Spain, there are endless places to visit from the country’s capital. Plus, with a handful of transportation options and high-speed trains, getting from one place to another is extremely easy and convenient, without breaking the bank.
For your third day in Madrid, consider taking a day trip to one of the stellar cities, towns, or small villages nearby. Here are some of the best options for you.
For a complete change of pace from Madrid, journey to Segovia for some true fairytale magic.
Segovia is a medieval city with plenty to do in a single day. Its grand aqueduct looms overhead as eager visitors wander around, and the history of the place practically seeps from the cracks in the ancient walls.
On a day trip to Segovia from Madrid, other than the Roman aqueducts with its 167 arches, visit sites like the Segovia Cathedral as well as the Alcazar, a castle that inspired the home of Sleeping Beauty! Check out our suggestions for the best things to do in Segovia to make sure you don’t miss anything note-worthy on your visit.
Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the cochinillo asado while in Segovia as this suckling pig is a local specialty.
A high-speed train between Segovia and Madrid takes less than half an hour, but you can also take a bus which will drop you right outside of Segovia’s Old Town and takes an hour and 15 minutes from Madrid.
Another gorgeous medieval city that will make you feel like royalty is Avila, filled with sprawling stone walls, a historic town center, and the Convent of Santa Teresa.
There’s plenty to see in Avila to warrant a day trip here, but since it’s so close to Segovia, it’s easy to lump the two together for a day exploring Spain’s past.
Here’s a full-day tour of Avila and Segovia from Madrid so that you don’t have to worry about coordinating transportation. Otherwise, Avila is an hour and a half train ride from Madrid and offers passengers stunning views the entire way.
If you want to see another big Spanish city, hit the road to Toledo, which is only a 30-minute train ride from Madrid.
Toledo was once the capital of Spain and holds the nickname the “Town of Three Cultures” as the Jewish, Muslim, and Catholic people all lived here together in harmony for many, many years.
There’s still plenty of evidence depicting the rich cultural history of Toledo, with a stone clad Jewish Quarter, a giant cathedral, and one of the most impressive mosques in all of Spain. You can really see the harmony between the three religions here, so it’s no wonder people flock to Toledo to see it for themselves!
To maximize your time in Toledo, you may want to consider taking a guided tour from Madrid, which includes round-trip bus transportation, entry to Toledo monuments, and a local guide to show you all the city has to offer.
For truly miraculous sights, head to Cuenca, best known for houses hanging off the edge of a cliff. The entire time you’re wandering around this small city, you’ll be craning your neck to catch a glimpse of these wonders!
Besides the hanging houses, which is what brings most travelers to Cuenca in the first place, this city is brimming with art. There are tons of museums to visit, all ranging in the kind of art on display, with two notable ones being the Museum of Abstract Art and the Semana Santa Museum.
There are also plenty of adventurous things to do in Cuenca like bravely walking across the Bridge of San Pablo or taking a ride on the Devil’s Nose Train through the Andes.
Cuenca is only an hour train ride away from Madrid, making it easy for a day away!
Read More: Best Day Trips from Madrid
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Madrid Itinerary: Other Fun Things to Do in Madrid
Three days is a good amount of time to spend getting to know Madrid but with so much to see and do, you won’t even come close to hitting everything that the city has to offer.
Here are some other fun things to do in Madrid if you have a little more time.
Pop by Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
For all avid futbol (soccer) fans, a tour of the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is a must. This stadium has hosted some of the best soccer teams in the world, and can hold more than 80,000 people at a single time!
Even if you’re not a huge sports person, getting to walk on the field and tour the players’ locker room is a pretty cool experience.
Stroll Along Gran Via
Perhaps the most famous boulevard in Madrid, Gran Via is one of the best places to stroll in the city.
Here you’ll find chic shopping, yummy restaurants and tons of entertainment. You can also find places like the cinema or theater along Gran Via, as well as some of Madrid’s hottest nightclubs that come alive when the sun goes down!
Shop Til You Drop at Las Rozas
If you’re a big shopper, you’ll want to put a visit to Las Rozas on your itinerary. This little village is a collection of more than 100 shops that boast brand names and killer deals. By killer deals, I mean this entire place is full of discount outlets which means you’re looking at up to 60% off some of the top designer brands in the world.
And the best part? Those who aren’t citizens of the EU can shop entirely TAX-FREE!
Go Treasure-Hunting at El Rastro
Another amazing place to shop in Madrid is at El Rastro, the city’s Sunday morning flea market.
You can find pretty much anything at El Rastro, from t-shirts to handbags to jewelry and other insane antiques. It’s safe to say that a visit here results in intense treasure hunting among the locals who are looking for their next big find.
El Rastro happens on Sundays from 9.00am to 3.00pm but be sure to arrive early as it gets super crowded!
Get a History Lesson at the Archaeological Museum
If you’re looking for less shopping and more culture, make your way to the National Archaeological Museum to dig deep into Spain’s past. Here you’ll find treasures that date back more than 2,500 years and priceless artifacts that are central to the country’s history.
Learn to Cook Iconic Spanish Dishes
For some hands on fun, take a cooking class so you can learn to make Spanish dishes to impress your friends and family back home!
Depending on which class you choose, you’ll get to make a variety of Spanish dishes per the instruction of an experienced chef who will be your guide. Think the likes of paella, patatas bravas, Spanish tortilla, sangria and more!
Learn More About the Spanish Inquisition
Not all of Spain’s history is hunky dory, with the Spanish Inquisition putting a dark shadow over the country’s past. Take a walking tour to learn about the famous Inquisition, how it impacted Madrid, and key sites that made the setting for some of Spain’s most chilling days.
Admire Street Art in Madrid
If you like the idea of a walking tour but want something that’s a little more lighthearted, consider this walking tour of Spanish street art!
One of the most awesome parts of Madrid is that the city’s art isn’t confined to gallery walls. Instead, you can spend an afternoon roaming the streets, discovering districts with colorful murals covering the outside of buildings.
This tour of Madrid’s street art takes you to some of the best places with a local graffiti hunter who is well-versed on the best spots.
Feel like a Kid at Parque Warner
Arguably one of the most fun things to do in Madrid is to spend a day at Parque Warner.
While the history and culture is cool, nothing is more entertaining than the Warner Brothers creations in real life. Enjoy rides and greasy food at this theme park, and take pictures with some of iconic characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Tom & Jerry!
Get Awesome Views at Faro de Moncloa
For one of the best views of Madrid, climb up 367 feet to the top of Faro de Moncloa for the lookout of a lifetime.
This is where you can find panoramic views of the city, with famous monuments poking up between the residential districts. Keep your eyes peeled for the Royal Palace, and on the clearest days, look out for the mountains in the far distance!
This is truly one of the most magical sunset spots in Madrid, but it’s great all-day long as well.
Go on a Hot Air Balloon Tour
To see Madrid from above in a different way, go for a hot air balloon tour of the city with the most phenomenal views imaginable. You’ll spend time soaring over Madrid and seeing things from a bird’s perspective.
The rolling countryside hills, the small towns and the glorious mountains far off… There’s no better way to enjoy the beauty of Spain than from up above!
For more ideas on things to do in Madrid, read: 31 Incredible Things to Do in Madrid
Top Tips for Visiting Madrid, Spain
Here are a few tips that are worth keeping in mind for a trip to Madrid.
Avoid Peak Season
There’s no worse time to visit Spain than during peak season, aka summer months of June, July and August. Seriously, take my word for it and avoid visiting Spain during this time of year.
Besides the sweltering heat, the entire country is jam-packed with tourists who spend their days waiting in long queues and fighting over the last air-conditioned room in a hostel.
To figure out the best time to visit Madrid, check out our month-by-month guide that lays out all you need to know about when to visit Spain!
Book Accommodation Early
Even if you’re visiting outside of peak season (but especially if you are visiting during the summer months), it’s well worth it to book your Madrid accommodation early. This means lower prices, more room options and overall less stress when it comes to finding somewhere to stay.
While it may seem obvious, I just wanted to throw it out there for everyone who likes to travel on the fly. You’ll thank me later for booking in advance.
Read More: Best Places to Stay in Madrid
Generally speaking, Spain is one of the safest places to travel in Europe. That being said, any major tourist site that attracts large crowds is a gold mine for pickpockets, even in Madrid.
Keep your belongings close to you, wear your backpack on your front (even if it looks dorky), and keep valuables under lock and key. Don’t keep anything in your back pockets and always travel with photocopies of your passport and bank cards just in case!
Get Travel Insurance
Finally, for major peace of mind while you’re in Madrid and beyond, be sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip.
Travel insurance makes sure that you’re covered in case of medical emergency, but also helps out when it comes to trip delays or cancellation as well as stolen gear or electronics. Trust us, it’s one of those things you don’t want to leave home without.
After all this information, do you feel more ready to tackle three days in Madrid? As Spain’s capital, it’s only right you spend at least two full days exploring the city before moving on to your next destination(s).
But who knows? You may love your time in Madrid so much that you’re aching for a few more days to really see the city in its fullest.
No matter how long you plan on spending in the city, this Madrid itinerary should get you through the bulk of the mandatory sightseeing, with some fun twists along the way.
For more Spain travel tips, check out our complete Spain Travel Guide!
Between the incredible food, culture, and variety of things to do, Spain is a country we've repeatedly traveled and lived in over the last 8 years.
Take a look at our detailed Spain Travel Guide where we share our insider's tips on the best things to see, do, and EAT in this incredible country.
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