2 days in Madrid an itinerary for first time visitors

Madrid is a bustling city filled with amazing culture, cuisine, and community that makes it an ideal destination for a city break or stopover as part of a longer trip. A two-day itinerary in Madrid gives you just enough time to get a taster for the city and to experience the highlights, while still leaving you longing to return to get under the skin of the Spanish capital another time.

Spain’s largest city is an eclectic, energetic cosmopolitan that seamlessly combines antiquity with modernity and tourism with lively local life. This allows you to enjoy everything from grand sweeping plazas to narrow cobblestone streets as well as elegant architecture and the underground nightlife scene with ease.

My ‘Two Days In Madrid’ itinerary is packed full of highlights to enable you to make the most of your time in the city, so you don’t feel as though you come away from your trip feeling like you missed out.

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How To Get To And From The Airport In Madrid

Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) is the largest airport in Spain with four different terminals serving a number of destinations worldwide. Thankfully though, each of the four terminals is connected by a free 24h bus service which makes getting to and from the city center a breeze.

Barajas Airport is located around 12 km outside of the city of Madrid and there are various ways in which to reach the city center.

Bus

Taking a bus from Madrid airport to the city center is easy, cheap and hassle-free which makes it a popular option for tourists arriving in Madrid. The Exprés Aeropuerto (Airport Express) is a yellow bus with runs to/from the city center 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The journey from the airport to the city takes around 40 minutes and tickets can be purchased onboard for just 5 euros. The express service runs from T1, T2, and T4 every 15 minutes during the day and every 35 minutes at night. It is important to note that there are only three stops after the airport: the corner of O’Donnell and Doctor Esquerdo, Plaza de Cibeles and Atocha train station (NB: only stopping at this last stop only between the hours of 6 am and 11.30 pm).

Metro

Alternatively, visitors can take the Metro to the city center from Terminals T2 and T4 that run every 5 minutes between the hours of 6.00 am and 2.00 am. This is a quicker mode of public transport, with journeys on Line 8 taking just 12 minutes from the airport to the Nuevos Ministerios Metro station in the center of Madrid. Single journey tickets aboard the metro cost 5 euros (depending on how far you plan to travel).

Private Transfer

One of the easiest options for getting to and from the city center and the airport in Madrid is to book a private transfer. Welcome PickUps offer reliable services from Madrid Airport to the city center for a fixed fee of 35 euros which includes the costs of tax, tolls, and gratuity. Organizing a private transfer in advance of travel saves having to think about things when you arrive as you’ll know you’ll have someone waiting for you no matter what time of day or night you get in.

Click here for more information and to book your trip.

Taxi

Finally, you could just opt to take a taxi from Madrid Airport to the city. Each terminal has its own taxi rank which will be filled with official taxis that are happy to take you directly to your hotel or accommodation. Depending on where you are staying within the city, your taxi journey should take around 30 minutes and will cost around 35-40 euros.

Day One In Madrid

Plaza de España

Plaza de Espagna - 3 days in Madrid what to do and see

Plaza de España lies in the heart of Madrid and is one of the most symbolic destinations in the city. Dating back to the 18th century, Plaza de España is a cultural hub that features the recognizable skyscrapers the Torre de Madrid and Edificio España, as well as statues of the author Miguel De Cervantes and his characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Plaza de España is located at the western end of the Gran Vía and is surrounded by bars, restaurants, and shops that could keep you entertained for hours.

Gran Via

From the Plaza de España, you’ll make your way down along the Gran Via, the main street in Madrid. Gran Via is home to innumerable shops, theatres and hotels, all housed within stunning buildings with architectural styles ranging from Plateresquea and Neo-Mudéjar to Vienna Secession style and Art Deco. This is certainly one of the buzzing centers of the city and it’s a great place for people watching and souvenir shopping!

Plaza de Oriente and the Palacio Real

3 days in Madrid what to do and see
Palacio Real

Situated between the Royal Palace and the Opera House lies the Plaza de Oriente another of Spain’s significant squares. Plaza de Oriente features verdant walkways and manicured topiary that work to highlight the statues of over 44 Spanish monarchs that are placed around the square.

This is a good place to get an insight into Spanish history before heading over to the Palacio Real, a former palace and current museum which boasts a wealth of exhibits about Spanish culture.

Opening hours:

Oct-March: Mon-Sat from 9:30 am to 5 pm. Sundays from 9 am to 2 pm.

April – Sept: Mon to Sat from 9 am to 6 pm, Sundays from 9 am to 3 pm.

Book here your Madrid Royal Palace 90-Minute Guided Tour

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol is arguably the busiest and best square in Madrid (which is saying something!) as it’s always full of buskers, performers and exciting things going on. Puerto del Sol (or Gate of the Sun) is known for having a plaque that represents the square’s location as Km0, the place from which all radial roads in Spain are measured. Puerto del Sol also boasts famous statues such as that of King Carlos III and the much-loved ‘El Oso y El Madroño’ a 20-ton bear statue munching on the fruit of a tree!

Chocolateria San Gines

By this point, you’re probably feeling a little peckish and there’s nowhere better to stop off for an indulgent treat than the Chocolateria San Gines. Heading here for the famed chocolate con churros is a rite of passage when visiting Madrid and with quick and efficient service it won’t take too much time out of your day. Chocolateria San Gines have been serving up these delicious snacks since 1894 so they certainly know a thing or two about churros! While chocolate con churros is supposed to be a breakfast dish, Chocolateria San Gines is open 24 hours a day, but to be honest, I’m not complaining!

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor - 3 days in Madrid what to do and see
Plaza Mayor

While it may seem that all there is to do in Madrid is visit squares, by the time you reach Plaza Mayor you’ll be beginning to see why this is a great way to spend the day. Each of Madrid’s impressive Plazas has its own character and charm as well as a wealth of museums, galleries, and architecture to admire.

2 days in Madrid - Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor itself has nine grand entranceways, picture-perfect porticos and plenty of cafes and restaurants in which to while away the time with a cafe con leche! While you will pay a little more to enjoy a drink here the view and atmosphere are worth it.

Mercado San Miguel

Mercado San Miguel - 2 days in Madrid itinerary

Mercado San Miguel is a traditional wrought-iron market hall that is filled to the rafters with local delicacies for you to get your teeth into. The array of dishes on offer here is truly astounding and it really gives you a chance to take a culinary tour of the country.

This is a wonderful way to enjoy a few snacks or even create a hotchpotch dinner with tapas, fresh seafood, cheese, charcuterie, and cava.

Sunset at Temple of Debod

Sunset at Temple of Debod - two days in Madrid

The Temple of Debod was brought over from Egypt to Spain in the 1970s and is a stunning work of Egyptian architecture that looks absolutely magnificent as the sun goes down. This is one of the romantic spots in the city for sunset (so it does get pretty busy), but it is breath-taking to see the golden-hour light fall over the likes of the Royal Palace and the Guadarrama Mountains.

Day Two In Madrid

Retiro Park

Retiro Park - two days in Madrid

 

Day two of your Madrid itinerary starts with a visit to Retiro Park, the green oasis in the heart of the city that is a popular gathering spot for both locals and tourists alike. Retiro Park spans over 320 acres and is abundant in greenery and walking trails that allow you to find peace and serenity in the city.

Retiro Park - Madrid itinerary

There is a large lake that lies at the center of the park which is one of the highlights, as well as the number of palaces here including Velazques Palace, Crystal Palace, and the Museo del Ejercito.

Palacio Cristal

Palacio Cristal - 2 days in Madrid

The pristine Palacio Cristal is the aforementioned Crystal Palace located in Retiro Park which looks like the most picturesque greenhouse you will ever see! The Spanish sunlight bounces off the glass panes of the Palacio Cristal in the most magical way and the surrounding trees and pond only work to enhance its beauty.

Palacio Cristal was once home to a collection of rare flora and fauna but is now home to contemporary art exhibits from artists around Spain and beyond.

A Choice of Museums

El Prado- 3 days in Madrid what to do and see
El Prado

After spending your morning enjoying the delights of Retiro Park, you have time to discover some of Madrid’s many interesting museums. While you won’t have time to see them all, you can choose between the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Museo del Prado.

Luckily for us, these museums are placed side by side in what is known as the ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ so you can pick whichever takes your fancy and maybe even visit a couple if you have time.

Tip: To avoid the long queues in the museum book skip the line tickets in advance. 

Book skip the Line Prado Museum Entrance Ticket

Prado Opening hours:

– From Monday to Saturday: 10 am – 7 pm
– Sundays and holidays: 10 am – 7 pm

Book your Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza Tickets

Thyssen Bornemisza Opening hours:

– Tuesdays to Saturdays- 10 am to 11 pm.
– On Sundays and Mondays, from 10 am to 7 pm

Book a Reina Sofía Museum Tour

Reina Sofia Opening Hours:

– Monday – Saturday from 10 am – 9 pm
– Sundays from 10 am to 2:30 pm
– Tuesdays Closed

Watch a flamenco show at Cardamomo

To top off your second day in Madrid in style, why not head over to Cardamomo to watch a traditional flamenco show? The passionate and intense dance of Flamenco is considered one of the highest art forms in Spain and your trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing a performance in the flesh. Most flamenco shows are performed alongside dinner and drinks and this is an awesome way to end your trip.

Selected Day Trips from Madrid

Toledo

If you have additional time to spend in and around Madrid, why not take a day trip out of the city to enjoy some nearby towns like Toledo and Segovia. The fortified city of Ávila is another amazing day trip option from Madrid as it gives you the chance to explore the beautiful Romanesque and Gothic churches that lie within the fortress.

For more information: Check out the best day trips from Madrid.

Selected Day Trips from Madrid

  • Toledo and Segovia day trip. Explore the main attractions of Toledo and Segovia in this full-day tour that includes tickets to the Alcazar of Segovia.
  • Toledo day trip. If you are only interested in exploring Toledo this day trip from Madrid is perfect for you.
  • Avila and Segovia day trip. Explore the beautiful towns of Avila and Segovia with this day trip from Madrid.

The Best Time To Visit Madrid

The great thing about Madrid is that it really is a year-round city so no matter when you visit, you’re sure to have an incredible trip. It is important to note that Madrid, as with any European capital city, is extremely busy during the summer months of July and August when tourists flock to the city during the holidays. These months are also the hottest time of year to be in the city so if you can’t stand the heat, you’re perhaps better off visiting during the cooler months of May and October. Madrid also boasts a decent Christmas Market, so if you’re more of a winter person you might want to pencil in your trip for then!

You might also want to read: Madrid in winter.

How To Get Around Madrid

Madrid is a well-connected metropolitan so not only can you easily reach the capital by plane or train but you can get around with ease too. The Metro system is probably the best way to get around Madrid, with over 300 stations linked together by 15 lines. Travelers can buy a Tourist Travel Pass which gives you unlimited use of public transport within the city within your chosen time frame. If you think you will use public transport a lot this can be a really economical way to travel.

Alternatively, a great way to get around the city and visit the main attractions is with the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. Find here more information and book your tickets

Where to stay in Madrid

Here are my favorite accommodation options in Madrid.

Francisco I is located 250 m from Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol. It offers simple rooms with private bathroom, TV and free Wi-Fi.

Check out the latest prices and more details at Hotels.com or Booking.com

Room Mate Laura is centrally located 350 m from Puerta del Sol and the Royal Palace. It offers a range of accommodation options (double rooms, family rooms) all with satellite TV, free Wi-Fi and air-conditioning.

Check out the latest prices and more details at Hotels.com or Booking.com

Hostal Central Palace Madrid is centrally located and overlooks the Sabatini Gardens in Madrid’s Plaza de Oriente. Rooms have free Wi-Fi, toiletries and a flat-screen TV. Breakfast is served in a nearby cafe.

Check out the latest prices and more details at Hotels.com or Booking.com

Hotel Círculo Gran Vía, Autograph Collection by Marriott is an adults-only hotel located in Gran Via just 400 m away from Puerta del Sol. It offers stylish rooms with air-conditioning, flat-screen TV and coffee facilities, bathrobes, and toiletries. Other hotel amenities include a restaurant, bar and business facilities.

Check out the latest prices and more details at Hotels.com or Booking.com

Gran Meliá Palacio de los Duques – The Leading Hotels of the World is a luxurious hotel located 300m away from the Royal Palace. It offers elegant rooms with 49-inch LED-TV, iPhone docking station, Nespresso coffee machine, and free WiFi. Bathroom amenities include a rain shower, bath, heated floors, and Clarins toiletries. On-site there are 3 restaurants, a cocktail bar, a tea corner, a Thai Room wellness center, and a 24-hour gym.

Check out the latest prices and more details at Hotels.com or Booking.com

So, if you were wondering whether two days in Madrid was enough to see some of the highlights of the city, the answer is yes! I hope my two-day Madrid itinerary has given you some inspiration about what you can see and do in the city in a short amount of time and how to make the most of your trip.

Let me know if you’ve been to Madrid, what were your highlights and what things you want to see or do on your next trip to this amazing city!

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