Our discovery of delightful Madrid was serendipitous. We decided to spend a couple of days there based on the happy accident that flights to Madrid were cheaper than to Barcelona. For once, the Airline Gods smiled upon us as they led us to this cool, lovely, under the radar European city.
I want to help you fall in love with Madrid too, so keep reading for the best way to spend 48 hours there!
Where to Stay
I booked this delightful Airbnb for the terrace, and it did not disappoint! The location is also amazing, right off Puerta del Sol, walking distance to all places in this 48 hour guide. It fits 4 people comfortably, with potential room for one more. The bathroom was the only aspect I didn’t love, it was tiny and the door had no lock. If that is ok for you, look no further than this!
If you prefer hotels, The ME Madrid Reina Victoria is an excellent choice in the Las Letras neighborhood. The location is perfect, as is the service, which starts with a very welcome glass of Cava!
How to get to/from the Airport
You can take a train from the Airport to the City Center. Once you get through customs, there is an information desk where they guide you to the best way to get to your destination. With a group of 3-4 people, it might make sense to catch an Uber/Taxi as well.
Note : It is very important to know which terminal your flight takes off from. T4 is far removed from the other terminals.
For international departures, make sure to reach the airport at least 2.5 hours before your flight. It takes a long time to get through security to the T4 Satellite gates.
‘Early to bed and early to rise’ is not a phrase that Madrid has heard of. Everything begins late here, but life goes on till the wee hours of the morning. The afternoons of course are reserved for a delightful siesta. These hours are important to keep in mind while planning your itinerary.
Breakfast at La Mallorquina + Puerta del Sol
Start your day with a delicious Ensaimada (a fluffy croissant style pastry, not too sweet!) and cortado at the bar in La Mallorquina. This cafe is beloved by locals and tourists alike. We had a quick breakfast at the bar once, and a more leisurely one at the tables upstairs another time. While we loved both, the quick breakfast option is more authentic and much cheaper!
La Mallorquina is located near Puerta del Sol, so it is fun to walk around and people watch after.
Puerta del Sol is located in the heart of Madrid. In fact, there is plaque stating that it is Km 0, from which they measure all radial roads in Spain. The clock and the various statues in the Square are also worth seeing. Although Sol is now full of tourists, it is a symbolic place for many protests in Madrid.
Next, take a quick walk to the Las Letras neighborhood!
Stroll through the Las Letras neighborhood
Barrio de Las Letras (the Literary Quarter) is my favorite neighborhood in Madrid. If you only have a few hours in Madrid, spend them here!
The Barrio is so named because it was once home to famous literary geniuses like Cervantes. Today, it is a pretty neighborhood, with cobbled, mostly pedestrian streets, colorful facades and cute, illustrated street signs.
One of the highlights of walking around in Las Letras is stopping for a cortado at Feliz Cafe. It is perfectly instagrammable, in addition to having a really sweet barista (read my embarrassing story on Instagram!) and delicious coffee.
Right across from Feliz Cafe is Farmacia Leon, a pharmacy which dates back to the 17th century. The pharmacy preserves its old decor and the gorgeous blue and white illustrative tiling outside.
This neighborhood also has some very cute boutiques and old timey stores. We loved window shopping, and wished our baggage limits would have allowed us to buy all the things!
Las Letras has a healthy night-life as well, as seen around the Plaza de Santa Ana. Seriously, the best bang for your buck in Madrid! History, Culture, Shopping, Tapas, Pretty Streets…Barrio de Las Letras has it all.
We were sold the moment we read that Casa Gonzalez is a wine shop that serves tapas. It was the perfect early evening break, beginning with a bowl of olives (my absolute favorite thing in Spain – they always serve olives at the table) and ending with the yummiest cheese in various forms.
Enjoy mouth watering churros and chocolate at San Gines
Is this itinerary becoming too foodie? I promise you that you won’t regret it! Chocolateria San Gines is the most popular churro shop in Madrid, with good reason. I was never a huge fan of the Mexican churros available in the US, I particularly dislike the sugary cinnamon dusting. The churros with chocolate at San Gines are nothing like this! Deliciously crispy on the outside, delicately soft on the inside, they pair perfectly with the warm glass of chocolate they come with. Order more than one plate of churros, you are going to want it!
People Watch at Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s main square. This beautiful, symmetrical square, though typical of European cities, has an additional Madrid charm that makes it altogether unique. Wander through and take a seat in a corner to observe human life, both tourist and local.
Buy Wine at Madrid & Darracott to enjoy at Sunset
A five minute walk from Plaza Mayor is a delightful wine shop called Madrid & Darracott. Named after its founders, it offers wine tastings as well as excellently priced bottles of wine. We loved their suggestion of Massimo wine from a small batch organic vineyard in Northern Spain for a light sunset drink.
Marvel at the staggering choice of Dinner Options
After savoring the sunset, head to La Barraca for some delicious paella. Make reservations before hand or go before 8 pm to avoid a long wait! Note that paella is not a typical Madrid dish, so if you are headed to Valencia after, skip the paella. Instead, here’s a list of the best restaurants in Madrid! Or if you are in the mood for more tapas, here’s a good list.
Optional Addition to Day 1: Madrid Palace
If you have the time and energy, you could throw in a visit to the Royal Palace of Madrid. It is supposedly the largest Royal Palace in Europe, but as palaces go, I wasn’t very impressed. If you have seen the Palaces in Vienna, Germany or other European cities, I recommend giving this a miss. Note that it is better to book tickets in advance online, as the lines can get very long.
It is, however, a lovely area to walk around and have a cup of coffee or a glass of Sangria! You could also head to the Mercado de San Miguel to sample some amazing food!
Admire the Atocha Station
It sounds weird to suggest visiting a train station during your trip. But the Atocha Train Station is a lovely place, complete with an indoor forest. The old building was re-opened in 1892 after a fire, with design collaborations from Gustave Eiffel, of the Eiffel Tower fame. Even if you don’t end up taking any trains from Madrid, definitely stop by for a few minutes if you are in the area!
Walk around in Retiro Park
Madrid’s pretty Retiro Park is a must visit. It is the perfect place to recharge and unwind. We loved walking through the park, observing both the gorgeous flowers and gardens, as well as the locals – families with children, teenagers in love, grandpas playing cards.
The Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace) is the most popular attraction in the park, and the only area that we saw crowded with tourists. Definitely go take a look though, it is a very unique building made entirely of glass and iron, worth seeing!
You could then spend a lazy half hour boating around the lake, enjoying the peaceful views of the park. Note : This is another lake in the park, not the one right next to the Glass Palace.
Once you’ve had your fill of this beautiful park, head next door to the Prado Museum.
Soak in some culture at the Prado Museum
The Prado, Spain’s National Art museum, is thought to house the world’s finest collection of European Art. Entry is free in the last two hours before closing time, but beware that you need a ‘ticket’ (albeit free) to enter, and the lines for these are horribly long! It might be an easier option to pay and go at a less crowded time.
Recharge with Sangria or Tinto de Verano
Are you even in Spain if you don’t stop for an afternoon glass of Sangria and/or a large bowl of olives? We liked the outdoor seating at Murillo Cafe which is right behind the Prado! Recharge here after your visit to the museum! Tinto de Verano is Madrid’s answer to Sangria, basically an easy to drink red wine cooler.
Gaze upon the Puerta de Alcala
One of my favorite aspects of Madrid is that any innocent meander leads to a gorgeous building or monument. We literally stumbled upon the Puerta de Alcala and immediately had to look up the name and history of this stunning gate. The Puerta de Alcala, inaugurated in 1778 is older than the Arc de Triomphe and in my opinion, prettier.
Evening Stroll and Dinner in Malasaña
Malasaña is a hip, happening neighborhood in Madrid, especially in the evenings. Walk around and pick your place to eat, if you can’t decide, we liked Circo de las Tapas. If you are dying to try some southern American inspired Spanish food, head to Hot & Smoked. It is THE place to find locals, they seemed to love it!
If you are lucky enough to be in Malasana when the La Eriza shop is open, walk in to create your own customized notebook! I wish I’d been able to do this.
I loved all the quirky bits of Madrid life you get to see in Malasaña, like an intense football (soccer) game past midnight in the main square!
Gin Cocktails at Kikekeller
Kikekeller is an interior design store by day, cocktail bar by night! I loved this unique concept, which makes for interesting spaces in which to enjoy your delicious drinks! It’s also a great spot to connect with locals and ask them for advice on your Madrid itinerary!
If you like to party, Kikekeller is but a start to your night in Madrid. Sip the night away at the various cocktail bars (Salmon Guru is supposed to be amazing as well), or dance till dawn at the clubs in Malasaña.
This 48 hour itinerary is by no means exhaustive, just a mere taste of what Madrid can offer. I urge you to consider spending two or more days in Madrid on your Spanish adventure. The current non-touristy and laid back vibe lends itself more to local discoveries than in overcrowded Barcelona.
I hope this guide helps you when you go! I also recommend the Monocle Travel Guide to Madrid. We found the Walks section especially useful.
If you have any suggestions for Madrid, leave them below to help other readers! If you haven’t been yet, pin this post for future reference.