Madrid is the capital of Spain and not only serves as the modern center of the country, but is home to a long history for both the country and the Iberian Peninsula as a whole. Its blend of modernity and history, along with manicured open spaces, make it one of the most interesting European capitals to visit. While you could spend a whole vacation there, here’s how to make the most of two days in Madrid – what to do, see eat and drink.
Everything mentioned can be done on your own, or if you prefer to book tickets in advance or book guides, there are links to do that too!
To make things easy for you, everywhere mentioned in this post is ALREADY PINNED in the embedded Google Map below!
Two days in Madrid – an overview of the city
Madrid is Spain’s capital now, but that has changed a few times over the years. The city has ancient history (including pre-historic humans and Arabic occupation of the Iberian Peninsula), but wasn’t established as a capital until 1083. Over its history, it has passed between Christian and Muslim rule, creating a mix of cultures that survives today.
Art has long been a part of the city’s fabric, including being home to several world-famous museums. Visitors should expect to stroll the manicured parks during the day, but the nightlife shouldn’t be skipped either. Madrileños are proud of their city and its blend of cultures and lifestyles, and that it doesn’t feel overrun by tourists (like other Spanish cities can).
Getting to Madrid
If you are arriving to Madrid by plane, you’ll arrive at Barajas Airport, which is fairly near the city and easy to get to. The metro is the cheapest option and will connect you to the city center. If you are considering a multi-day travel pass (if you plan to use public transportation, you will want this), you should get it at the airport to ensure this is included. If you are arriving by train, you’ll arrive at Atocha. Atocha Renfe is the adjacent metro station that can connect you to the rest of the network.
What to do in Madrid in 2 days
Madrid is a MASSIVE city, but you can still see a lot on a short itinerary. The public transportation is easy to navigate and it is very walkable.
You can hit these all on your own using the map as a guide, or if you prefer a guide, this Madrid bike tour offers most of the sights below.
To make things easy for you, everywhere mentioned in this post is ALREADY PINNED in Google Map below!
Gardens and parks in Madrid
What’s better than a beautifully manicured, lush and shady park for a rest while exploring? Madrid is known for its parks and there are incredibly beautiful options all over the city. Retiro Park (el Retiro) is perhaps the most famous, with sculptures, rowboats, stages hosting concerts and of course lush trees.
The Royal Botanical Gardens offer over 30,000 species of plants and greenhouses with three different climates, so this is less of a sit-and-rest stop and more of an explore and revel one. Casa de Campo is Madrid’s largest park (think Central Park x5!). Parque del Oeste had a more “English” design with evergreen trees and a rose garden. If you’re there in spring, you can see the rose show.
For sunset, consider Parque de Las 7 Tetas (Cerro del Tío Pío) for a nice view of the city.
Churches in Madrid
La Almudena Cathedral is Madrid’s main, largest and most beautiful. It is right by the Royal Palace and is the only cathedral in Spain consecrated by a pope! If you do end up on a walking tour, you’ll surely visit la Almudena. But there are several other very beautiful churches to visit.
From la Almudena, you will want to go to nearby Basilica de San Francisco el Grande. It is noteworthy for its large cupola, suspected to be one of the largest Christian cupolas in the world.
When you visit el Retiro (park), be sure to stop by Iglesia De San Manuel y San Benito, which is across the street. Iglesia de San Jerónimo el Real (aka Los Jeronimos) used to be a monastery. Oratorio Del Caballero De Gracia is a bit of a hidden gem.
Templo del Debod is actually an Egyptian temple in Madrid and a great spot for sunset.
Museums in Madrid
Madrid is known for its art, being home to Goya. Most visitors have heard of Museo del Prado or Museo Reina Sofía, but it’s worth venturing out beyond that if you have time/interest. If you can only go to one, the Prado is the obvious choice. Make sure to give yourself time to explore the grounds outside the museum as they are exquisite as well.
The Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza (the Thyssen) rounds out Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art and has pieces by Picasso and El Greco, so it’s no third-rate option. There are also Museo Sorolla, the Caixa Forum, Museo del Romanticismo and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo to name a few more good options.
Flamenco in Madrid
Madrid is capital to Spain’s signature dance – the flamenco. Flamenco was at its most popular in the 19th century, but still is very alive today. Look for “tablaos” (flamenco bars) near where you’re staying. You can make a night of it with dinner and a show.
Corral de la Morería is usually the top choice, regarded as the museum of flamenco. You can book a visit in advance here. It has been open since 1956, has hosted an incredible list of international visitors and offers two different gastronomic options (for which they won a National Gastronomy Award in 2018). Cardamomo is open 365 days a year and Villa Rosa is one of the oldest flamenco bars in the world.
Soccer/football in Madrid
If you’re in Madrid at the right time of year, you should make an effort to catch a home match (or head out and watch with the locals). The home team is Real Madrid and they play at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium in downtown Madrid. Regular season runs August through May. Consider taking a tour of the stadium, whether you’re in season or not. Look to the WiZink Center (also known as Palacio de Deportes de la Comunidad de Madrid) in the Goya neighborhood for other sporting events (sometimes Real Madrid) and concerts.
Nightlife in Madrid
Nightlife has long been a hallmark of Madrid, but it isn’t only in the form of big clubs (and big prices). The city has hundreds of smaller “no-frills” bars (with a charming story of rejuvenation). These are mostly family owned and operated, inexpensive and indelibly Spanish. Look for them on any street, tucked in with small signs. See the link above if you want to find one in advance.
But when it comes to true nightlife as many expect, there are a few clubs that are world-renowned. This page has a great breakdown of Madrid’s nightlife areas and where to go based on what you’re in the mood for. Teatro Kapital may the best-known, perhaps because it is 7 stories tall and features a variety of music. Teatro Barceló is the “Studio 54 of Madrid” – an iconic club in a historic building with a list of famous visitors. Check out Fabrik for techno, Goya Social Club for house or Joy Eslava where you’ll get music 365 days a year on four levels.
Check out this list for more information on the clubs and when you’ll need to plan ahead for them.
Where to stay in Madrid
If you’re looking for a luxurious stay, take a look at the Palace Hotel. For something more mid-range, B&B Hotel Madrid Centro Puerta del Sol is highly rated by guests and a nice, clean option. Los Amigos Hostel is the highest rated of the many hostel options in the city, so if you’re on a budget, there are still plenty of choices.
B&B Hotel Madrid Centro
Los Amigos Hostel
Other accommodation in Madrid
- Airbnb: Madrid has a ton of Airbnb options, from whole apartments to private rooms. Save $40 on your first booking with this link. (though the city has had its battles with Airbnb, fyi)
- Booking: There are literally thousands of options on Booking; save $20 on your first booking with this link.
Madrid day tours
If you prefer to do any of the above with guides, or book in advance, here are some great options.
- Viator offers Madrid tours starting at about $15, and also have a range of options, including stadium or museum entrances.
- GetYourGuide lets you book anything in Madrid from stadium tours and skip the line tickets to full day guided tour.
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