Are you headed to the Spanish capital and wondering what to see and do in Madrid in one day? 

Having spent a few days in this city, I’ve put together this guide to help you get the most out of 24 hours in Madrid. 

Maybe you’re on a layover on your way to another destination, or maybe your boss is too mean to give you more time off work and you have to plan a quick weekend getaway. 

Either way, it’s more than possible to have an incredible experience in Madrid in just one day. Will you get to see everything there is to see? No, but you’ll get a good taste of the city and will likely leave drooling and wanting to come back for more.

Madrid’s got world-famous museums, amazing parks, beautiful architecture and yummy food (I’m talking about you, tapas). 

So, if you only have one day to see it all, I’m confident that my guide will help you see all the best places in Madrid.

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A Bit About Madrid

If you’re setting your sights on Madrid for the first time, here’s some quick info about the city to help you get oriented. 

Madrid is the capital of Spain and it’s located in the centre of the country. It’s a busy metropolis with a population of over 3 million people. 

One of my favorite things about Madrid is its geographical location. The city sits on a plateau, which means it has gorgeous views and stunning sunsets – literally top of my list for any new city I visit.

If any of these things are your cup of tea,  Madrid is the city for you:

  • Museums: The Prado Museum, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza all call Madrid home and house some of the world’s most famous artworks.
  • Food: Tapas, paella, churros, croquetas… need I say more?
  • Parks: Madrid has some amazing green spaces like Retiro Park and Casa de Campo.
  • Nightlife: As the saying goes, Madrid is the city that never sleeps. Or maybe that’s New York. But Madrid also seems to be alive 24/7. There’s always events, parties, concerts and clubs to keep you up all night.
  • Architecture:  Madrid has this mix of old and new architecture – from the Royal Palace to the skyscrapers in the financial district. You’ll find that the city honors its past while also striding into the future.

Before heading to Madrid, you’ll need to brush up on a few basics. 

  • Currency: The local currency is the euro (€). 
  • Language: The official language is Spanish, but you’ll find that many people also speak English.
  • Transportation: Madrid has an extensive public transportation system including buses, metro and trains. You can purchase single tickets or get a reloadable card for convenience.

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There are also a few cultural norms and customs to be aware of when visiting Madrid. 

First up, it’s common for people to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, even if they are meeting for the first time. Don’t get the wrong idea! This is a gesture that shows warmth and friendliness in Spanish culture.

Another part of Spanish culture, and something I am all for, is the concept of “siesta”, a time in the early afternoon when many businesses and shops close for a few hours for rest. It’s a common practice throughout Spain, so don’t be surprised if you see streets and shops quiet down during this time. Take advantage and head for a siesta yourself!

When it comes to dining out in Madrid, keep in mind that meal times are typically later than what may be considered normal in other countries. Lunch is usually around 2-3pm and dinner is typically served after 9pm. This may take some getting used to, but it’s all part of the laid-back lifestyle of Madrid.

Ok, let’s get into your Madrid one day itinerary!

Best Things to do in Madrid in one day

Morning in Madrid

Breakfast at Chocolatería San Ginés

Crispy churros heavily dusted with sugar, piled on a slate surface with a side of melted chocolate, perfect for dipping, on a rustic wooden background.

I have an extremely sweet tooth, so my recommendation for breakfast is Chocolatería San Ginés, a world-famous chocolate shop that’s been serving up yummy churros and chocolate since 1894.

The company is best known for its hot chocolate, which is made with real Spanish chocolate and milk. If you’re not a coffee lover, this is the perfect hot drink to start your morning in Madrid.

The shop is located in the San Ginés passageway (right in the middle of the city) and is open until midnight Monday to Wednesday and round the clock (24 hours) from Thursday to Sunday, so you can start your day as early as you like!

Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real)

The Royal Palace of Madrid captured under a cloudy sky, showcasing its majestic architecture and grandeur, with the empty foreground of the plaza's patterned pavement reflecting the building's facade.

The Royal Palace of Madrid is one of the most well known buildings in the city, and it’s just a short walk from Chocolatería San Ginés. It’s the largest royal palace in Spain and the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but today it’s mostly used for state ceremonies. 

Other than state ceremonies, the palace is open to the public and it’s where thousands of tourists flock to each year. Don’t let that deter you, sure it’s a tourist trap, but there’s a reason it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. 

The best way to see the palace is by guided tour, where you’ll learn about the history of the palace and get insider information about what goes on behind the scenes. If you want to skip the line, you can buy a ticket online in advance (standing in long lines is my pet peeve when I travel!).

Of course, if winging it is your preference, you can always wander around the artwork and architecture at your own pace.

I recommend this be one of your first stops on your Madrid itinerary as the palace gets crowded later in the day.

Location: Callede Bailén , s/n28013

Timings: 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm Sunday

Temple of Debod

The Temple of Debod in Madrid, an ancient Egyptian temple set against a reflective pool, captured at sunset with golden light accentuating the stone structure and autumnal trees.

Next up is the Temple of Debod which is a must-see for any history buff visiting Madrid. This Egyptian temple was actually gifted to Spain by the Egyptian government in 1968 as a thank-you for all the help that the Spanish had given in saving other temples and archaeological sites during the construction of the Aswan Dam.

Incredibly, the temple was dismantled in Egypt and then rebuilt stone by stone in Madrid, where it now stands as a reminder of Spain’s close ties to Egypt. 

Even though it’s been moved to a new location, the Temple of Debod still gives you an authentic taste of Egypt. 

The Temple of Debod is set next to a beautiful lake and surrounded by gardens. If you’re here with your significant other, it’s also one of the most popular spots in Madrid for a romantic stroll or picnic.

Location: Calle de Ferraz, 128008

Timings: Tue-Sun and Public Holidays: 10am-8pm, Mondays; 1 and 6 January, 1 May, 24, 25 and 31 December: closed

Afternoon in Madrid

Lunch at Mercado San Miguel

The elegant facade of Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, featuring ornate ironwork and glass panels, with the vibrant display of market goods visible through the windows, set against the clear blue sky of a sunny day.

If you’ve only got 1 day in Madrid, I want you to experience as much food as you possibly can. And I can’t think of a better place to start than Mercado San Miguel.

Located in Plaza San Miguel, this beautiful iron and glass market is a foodie’s paradise. Inside you’ll find a ton of stalls serving up traditional Spanish food like tapas, fresh seafood, cured meats, beers and of course SANGRIA!

On any given day, you’ll see both tourists and locals browsing the stalls, enjoying lunch, and mingling with the vendors. It’s a really nice atmosphere there – lively and friendly. 

If you’re just looking for a quick bite, you can grap something to take away, or alternatively there are places to sit and enjoy a full lunch. Either way, you’ll be eating some of Madrid’s finest food here. 

Location: Plazade San Miguel, s/n28005

Timings: Sun – Thurs: 10am – Midnight, Fri, Sat and eves of public hols: 10am – 1am 

Plaza Mayor

The historic Plaza Mayor of Madrid at dusk, illuminated by warm lights, featuring the iconic equestrian statue of King Philip III and the plaza's traditional Spanish architecture, under a dramatic sky.

Not far from Mercado San Miguel is the Plaza Mayor, one of Madrid’s biggest squares. The square was originally built in the 16th century and it’s been used for many purposes over the years, including bullfights, markets, and even executions.

Nowadays, it’s a popular gathering place and a great spot for people watching. If you’ve gotten some food to take away from Mercado San Muguel, this is also the perfect place to sit and take a break and enjoy your lunch. 

But beware – the pigeons here are known for stealing food from unsuspecting tourists! If you’re looking to avoid becoming a victim, make sure to keep any food well away from them. If you’re feeling brave, you can always try to outrun them… but good luck with that!

Location: Plaza Mayor, 27 (Casa de la Panadería)28012

Puerta del Sol

The Puerta del Sol in Madrid, featuring the iconic red and white façade of the Casa de Correos with its clock tower, bathed in the rosy hues of sunset, and the street lights beginning to glow as evening approaches.

Late afternoon brings us to another one of Madrid’s popular squares, this one is in old Madrid and is home to a number of famous landmarks, including the clocktower and El Oso y El Madroño (the Bear and the Strawberry Tree).

If shopping is your thing, Puerta del Sol is home to a number of high-end stores and boutiques. If you’re not a shopper, but your friends / other halves are, you can always stop for a drink at one of the many cafes and bars that line the square and wait for them.

Location: Plaza Puerta del Sol, 28013

Evening in Madrid

Reina Sofia Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía)

The Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, displaying its neoclassical façade with a modern glass elevator, bustling with visitors at the entrance, capturing a moment of cultural engagement in the city.

Reina Sofia is one of the best museums in Madrid. And for good reason. It’s chock-full of world-renowned art, ranging from ancient sculptures to modern masterpieces.

The museum is home to some of the most famous works of European art in the world, including paintings by Picasso, Dali, and Miro.

But while the art is certainly the main attraction, the museum itself is also something. The massive building is built around a central atrium, which soars several stories high and is flooded with natural light. It’s beautiful.

If you find yourself tired of all the paintings and sculptures, head up to the rooftop cafeteria for some stunning views of Madrid.

Location: Calle Santa Isabel, 52, 28012 Madrid

Timings: Monday & Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 9pm, Sunday from 10am to 2:30pm, Tuesday closed

El Retiro Park (Parque del Buen Retiro)

The Crystal Palace in El Retiro Park, Madrid, with its impressive glass and metal structure reflected in the tranquil waters of the surrounding pond, under a clear blue sky, framed by the bare branches of trees.

El Retiro Park is a beautiful park in the middle of Madrid. During the day, it is a popular spot for picnics, walks, and escaping the heat of the city. In the evening, the park takes on a different character, with its dimly lit paths.

It’s pretty easy to forget that you’re in the heart of a busy city when you’re surrounded by greenery and beauty. 

If you’re looking for a romantic evening out, or simply want to experience Madrid in a different light, El Retiro Park is the place to end your exploring of Madrid.

Location: Plaza de la Independencia, 728001

Timings: Spring – Summer: April to September 6am – 12 midnight, Autumn – Winter: October to March 6am – 10pm

Tapas & Cocktails

An array of Spanish tapas displayed on a glass surface, featuring crusty bread topped with various cheeses, meats, and garnishes, skewered with colorful toothpicks, ready to be enjoyed in a vibrant setting.

You honestly can’t spend one day in Madrid and not eat some traditional food. When you’ve finished in the park and you’re feeling hungry, I recommend heading to La Galería de Florida Retiro for some tapas and cocktails. Located right next to the park, this trendy restaurant offers a modern take on traditional Spanish cuisine.

If you’ve never had them, tapas are Spanish dishes that are typically served as appetizers, but they can also make a great meal on their own when you get enough of them.

Tapas are perfect for sharing and trying all the different Spanish flavours. Some popular tapas dishes include patatas bravas (fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce), croquetas (deep-fried balls filled with ham or cheese – incredibly delish!) and tortilla de patatas (a potato omelette).

Of course, no meal is complete without a drink, and you’ll find plenty of options to choose from. Wine is always a good choice, but if you’re looking for something a little more traditional, try a glass of tinto de verano (red wine with lemonade) or a jarra of sangria.

Got more time to spend in Madrid?

If you have a few days visiting Madrid, here are some other top things to add to your list:

  • Take a free walking tour: My favourite way to get to know a new city is by joining a free walking tour. You get to find your bearings, learn some history and culture of the city and often these guides are so passionate that they give you the best tips ever! Madrid has a lot of beautiful nooks and crannies to be explored. 
  • Visit the Prado Museum (Museo del Prado): This is one of the most famous museums in the world and if you’re an art lover, you’ll want to make time to visit here. The museum houses works by Spanish masters like Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya, as well as paintings by Italian artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.
  • Take a day trip to Toledo: Just an hour’s drive or 30 minute train tide from Madrid,  Toledo is a beautiful medieval city that feels like something straight out of a fairytale (yes, I know, cliché). It was once the capital of Spain and you can still see traces of its Moorish past within the architecture and art. Head off on your own or let someone else organise your day trip and guide you around with this guided tour
  • Stroll through La Latina Neighbourhood: Cobbled street, charming plazas and a really lively nightlife is the best way to describe this area of Madrid. It’s a popular spot with both locals and tourists, with lots of bars and restaurants to try out. 
  • Teatro Real (Opera House): This beautiful opera house is one of Madrid’s most standout landmarks. It was built in the 19th century, it’s been the site of many world-famous operas and ballets and, if you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a performance during your stay in Madrid.
  • Catedral de la Almudena: This is one of Madrid’s most important religious buildings. It was consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993, and its beautiful Neo-Gothic exterior is a sight to behold. Book a guided tour of the Cathedral here

Is one day in Madrid enough?

Ideally you would have more than one day in Madrid, Three to four days would be best to see most of the city. However, if you have a layover for a day or you have limited time in Madrid, this is the guide for you.

How to get to Madrid

Madrid is the Spanish capital and the largest city in the country. It’s located on the River Manzanares, in the south-central part of the Iberian Peninsula. 

To get to Madrid, you can fly into the Madrid-Barajas Airport, which is located just 9 kilometers from the city center. You can also take a bus, train, or car from other parts of Spain or Europe.

How to get around Madrid

The best way to get around Madrid (and my favourite way to explore any city) is on foot. The city is a very walkable city and relatively small, meaning most of the sights are located within walking distance of each other.

If you don’t fancy walking, you can easily get around by metro or bus, which are the affordable modes of transport. Metro stations are dotted around the city almost everywhere. Taxis are also readily available but will cost you a bit more.

Where to stay in Madrid

If you plan to stay more than one day in Madrid and need an overnight stay in the Spanish capital, there are plenty of great places to stay for all budgets.

For a bit of luxury: Relais & Châteaux Heritage Hotel is a beautiful 20th century listed building that’s been converted into a luxury hotel. It’s located in the heart of Madrid, just a few minutes’ walk from some of the city’s best museums and sights.

Middle of the road: Hotel Regina may be a three star hotel but looks a lot more luxurious than that. It’s located centrally, just a short walk from the Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.

To save the pennies: If you’re looking for an affordable place to stay in Madrid, then The Hat Madrid is the perfect choice for you. This stylish hostel is located in central Madrid and is an excellent base for exploring the city.

Madrid FAQs

Is Madrid safe?

Yes, Madrid is a very safe city. It has a low crime rate, and you can feel confident walking around alone at night.

What is the best time to visit Madrid?

The best time to visit Madrid is in the spring or fall. The weather is mild, and there are fewer tourists than in the summer months.

Do I need to speak Spanish to visit Madrid?

No, you do not need to speak Spanish to visit Madrid. Many people in the city speak English, and you’ll find that most signs and menus are in both languages.

Is Madrid expensive?

Madrid is not an expensive city, but it is not a cheap one either. You’ll find that prices are similar to what you would expect to pay in most major European cities.

So there you have it, my guide to spending one day in Madrid.

Obviously, to see as much of the city as possible, you’d need more than just a day in Madrid, but if you’re only here for a short 24 hours, my guide will help you make the most of your time. It’s got famous landmarks, delicious Spanish food and relaxing parks

It’s a great taster of Madrid and you’ll be ready to book your next trip back! 

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