This Madrid guide covers the best things to see and do in the city over three days with tips on how to get the most out of your visit, and of course includes some of my favourite places to eat!
I first visited Madrid in 2014 and fell in love with this gritty Spanish city. It’s got a very different feel to Barcelona and very much reminds me of Berlin. I love the vibe of Madrid and how you can explore it on a budget or go all out and have a luxury weekend break there.
I recently travelled to Madrid again to visit my little brother who is currently living there – he was a great local guide! He knew the best places to visit in Madrid, when to go see them and how to see a more local side to the city.
3 day Madrid guide
A long weekend in Madrid is enough time to explore the top things to do in the city. It’s quite a compact place so when planning what to do in Madrid you soon realise you can do most of it by foot. Although be aware it’s rather hilly! The first time I went with a girlfriend and we walked everywhere, not once stepping foot on the Metro.
This time I was travelling with my dad who’s not so nimble on his feet, so we had to think a bit more about how much walking we did This meant using my brothers knowledge to plan out our days a little more. It made our 3 days in Madrid very manageable and enjoyable instead of packing too much in, which I’m sometimes guilty of.
This is a very affordable way to see Madrid in 3 days whilst also eating great food, obviously!
Where to stay in Madrid
So you’re planning a trip to Madrid, you may have already booked your flights, and now you’re thinking about which neighbourhood is the best to stay in whilst there.
On my first visit I stayed in Malasaña. It’s probably just slightly more touristy than local, but it’s full of trendy restaurants and cool bars and interesting little shops line the streets. At night this place comes alive!
On this occasion I stayed with my brother who lives in the cutest apartment in Antón Martín. When my brother was looking where to live he wanted to stay towards Malasaña, but when this place came up with nice people and a great room he couldn’t turn it down. Now he says he’s so happy he’s living in this neighbourhood! There is definitely a much more local feel to this neighbourhood called Lavapiés.
Tip #1: If you’re travelling to Madrid during the hot summer months then this is the perfect location for Parque de el Retiro which has a boating lake. Also, you can get a direct bus from Atocha to Madrid airport which is just down the road.
Tip #2: Mercado de Antón Martín is one of the most traditional markets in the city. As you can imagine I loved exploring it! You can buy all the fresh food you need here, which is perfect if you’re staying in an airbnb or looking to make your own lunches. My brother shops here all through the week, just buying what he needs when he needs it. None of this pre-packaged plastic bagged rubbish. Basically my dream!
Top things to do in Madrid
Seeing as this is a three day guide to Madrid I’m going to walk you through our three day itinerary so you can easily follow along when you go.
Day 1 Friday
We arrived late Thursday so we had a full day on Friday to explore Madrid. As we were staying in Antón Martín we decided to wander the pretty streets in the area and walked the 15 minutes towards Museo Nacional del Prado. The earlier you are the more crowds you will avoid. The art here is very traditional with the likes of Goya, but is said to be one of the best collections of Spanish art. It does house The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, which you might recognise from Before the Flood with Leonardo DeCaprio.
Afterwards make your way through the through the winding streets to Plaza Mayor, which takes about 20 minutes. It was raining by this point so we took shelter in one of the cafes on the square and ordered our café con leche and sat under the heaters to people watch.
Just moments away is Mercado de San Miguel which is the perfect stop for lunch.
Tip #3: Mercado de San Miguel is also undercover so a great option for lunch and drinks when the weather isn’t being your friend, yet it feels bright and airy.
After a leisurely lunch eating your way around the market walk the 5 minutes to Plaza España (not to be mixed up with Plaze de España close by) and take in the pretty square by Teatro Real, the opera house, and walk around to Plaza de Oriente where there are beautiful gardens.
If you’ve still got energy then you can walk back to your accommodation for a siesta before heading out for the evening to find some delicious tapas!
Day 2 Saturday
Remember that you are in Madrid, so there is no need to get up at the crack of dawn! The city can feel deserted before 10am.
Tip #4: Whilst you’re in Madrid always get to the galleries, museums and attractions for their opening times to beat the queues and crowds. Then by lunch you can explore the city by foot and see it come alive as bars, restaurants and shops open.
The Royal Palace of Madrid opens at 10am, so once you’ve filled up on a hearty breakfast make your way to this beautiful spot. The Plaza de la Armería which lies just in front of the Palace is incredible to look at. Even if you don’t want to pay to look at the rooms and antiques in the Palace it’s worth coming just to look onto the plaza!
A short walk away is the Temple of Debod in the southern part of Parque del Oeste. There are quite a few steps up through the park, but it’s a lovely view point out of Madrid.
Once you’ve taken in the views walk through Plaza de España (different to Plaza España mentioned above). Grab a coffee from one of the many cafes as you enter Malasaña and make your way through the maze of streets which are filled with independent shops, bars and restaurants. This is a great part of Madrid to head to for dinner and drinks. Such a fun vibe in the evenings!
Tip #5: If you’re in Madrid on a Saturday, make sure you go to Mercado de la Cebada by La Latina Metro. There are quite a few cool restaurants to eat around La Latina, but for Saturday lunch I definitely think you should experience the hustle and bustle of eating in the Market.
Day 3 Sunday
If you’re in Madrid on a Sunday then you have to go to the massive El Rastro flea market! They close a lot of the roads south of La Latina and it spreads out into all the little streets. Yes, like any of these markets, there is a little bit of tat, but there is a great antique area with great homewares and clothes. We then found a cafe for a late morning coffee to people watch. A great Sunday morning in Madrid!
Tip #6: Get here early! It’s open from 9am. I’d get there not long after as it gets super busy by lunch time, which isn’t enjoyable for anyone! Also, be aware of pickpockets as it’s a bit of a hotspot. I never had any issues but my brother has heard of a few stories so just keep your bag close.
It’s then a lovely 20 minute walk through Lavapies to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. This is one of my favourite art galleries, ever. The building is breathtaking at it’s entrance, mixing the old with the new. It costs 10 euros to get in and it is so worth it in my opinion. But then again Dali and Picasso (Guernica is housed here) are two of my favourite artists. It’s full of modern art from the 1900s.
If it’s a sunny day then walk through the botanical gardens and into Parque de el Retiro. From here you can catch a bus directly into the very luxurious and high-end neighbourhood of Salamanca. Beautiful shop fronts line the streets and it’s lovely and calm here on a Sunday.
And if you fancy a rooftop drink head to Corte Ingles on Calle de Serrano, 52. The top floor is filled with restaurants and rooftop bar.
Where to eat in Madrid
This is not a list of the best restaurants in Madrid, here I am sharing my favourite local spots!
First things first, breakfast! When I’m in Spain I always indulge in my breakfast, though usually after a few days in I’ll start to look for lighter options. For me it always starts with my two favourites: el pan con tomate and churros con chocolate!
Bar Benteveo Calle de Santa Isabel, 15, 28012 Madrid – This is a great local, no frills restaurant and bar. I love the 70s decor and it’s always got people in it with a cool vibe. At breakfast you can get either ham or eggs on pan con tomate with a coffee for under 4 euros. It was delicious. My brother also assures me the tapas in the evenings at Bar Benteveo is also simple but banging. And I think it’s even more livelier in here after dark.
Chocolat Madrid Calle Sta. María, 30, 28014 Madrid – To be honest most of the churros you’ll get in Spanish cities around the tourist areas will be cold, tiny and often a bit stale. These are the real deal as they are made to order! My brother and I ordered porras (with chocolate, of course) as I’d never tried them but are basically giant churros. So rich but so good! It was full of locals either reading their papers or with their partners, a great little place.
Lamiak Calle Cava Baja, 42, 28005 Madrid – This is a simple place for reasonably priced tapas for it’s location and friendly staff. They do special lunch deals where you get a caña (small beer) with certain orders. The menu is a variety of pintxos and small plates, we loved the bean and pork stew and the goats cheese with serrano ham, almonds and honey. The whole of Calle Cava Baja is lined with restaurants and bars.
Mercado de la Cebada Plaza de la Cebada, s/n, 28005 Madrid – This food market is just around the corner from Lamiak. On a Saturday many of the fish stalls just sell fish to eat there and then at make shift bars. You buy by weight – have as much or as little as you want. You can get whole trays of tuna tartare! Everyones trying to get in on the action and most of it is standing but it’s really fun. They sell beers and wines by the glass (just 2.5 euros for a glass of Albariño!). There are great toilets on site too (always something I like to know!). You can also eat at a tiny sushi place and other stalls selling lots of traditional Spanish tortillas and I had a great tuna empanada with a delicious glass of vermouth. Yes, I may have left a little tipsy!
Mercado de san Miguel Plaza de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid – This very stylish market has some great little tapas stalls and bars. It’s slightly more expensive than the more traditional markets, but the atmosphere definitely makes up for it! We were there whilst it was raining and it was buzzing.
La Musa de Espronceda Calle de Santa Isabel, 17, 28012 Madrid – This tapas bar and restaurant is on the opposite corner to Bar Benteveo. I recommend getting there about 8/8:30pm (which is early!!) so you can nab a table on the bar side, not the restaurant. Have a caña or vino to start, and wait for the bar to fill with people. There are small tapas covering the bar, with lots of choice, but they also serve raciones (small plates). The tortillas are pretty epic here. I loved the atmosphere in the bar area!
NuBel Calle Argumosa 43, Museo Reina Sofía, 28012 Madrid – NuBel is one of the restaurants in the Reina Sofia. It’s very modern and swish looking and I was surprised that it wasn’t super expensive. The menu definitely matches its surroundings – it was filled with interesting ingredients and combinations. We were a little over tapas by this point on our last day so I ordered the veggie bibimbap and it was utterly delicious!
I hope this Madrid guide was useful and informative! Have you been to Madrid? Is there anything else you would add to my guide?
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