Planning a trip to Madrid? Get some inspiration on what to do while you’re there with our idea of a perfect three-day itinerary. History, culture, entertainment, restaurants… Pack it all in at a comfortable pace and don’t miss a thing!
As both a cultural capital with a rich history and a major hub of contemporary art, Madrid is a city of great variety; popular yet sophisticated; simple, yet full of secrets. The historic pride and contemporary creativity of the people of Madrid is evident in the festive, celebratory attitude that pervades the city, and in the creative appropriation of urban space by the Madrileños.
Your stay in Madrid should naturally begin with the Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful squares in the world and the scene of some of the capital’s most important events. The main square itself represents all the beauty of Madrid's architecture. Just next door is the Museo del Jamon, which, despite the name, is not a museum, but one of Madrid’s best spots for lunch or breakfast.
Next, take Calle Mayor west and turn north onto Calle Bailen to reach the Temple of Amun, an ancient Egyptian temple dating from the second century BC. It was given to Spain by Egypt in gratitude for Spanish support in preserving Nubian heritage. From the vicinity of this temple you can then take the cable car to Casa de Campo.
The cable car is worth taking just for the experience: it allows you a magnificent view over the city, as well as across the huge park, which is the largest urban park in Spain. This park is a great place for a picnic, perfect if you have stocked up with provisions at the Museo del Jamon.
In the afternoon, it's time to visit one of the most important museums in the world. You should know that Madrid has three museums which boast a great international reputation, and each afternoon of your stay will be devoted to discovering the collections at these world-famous museums.
For this first afternoon, make your way to the Prado Museum. You may not have time to see the entire collection as this is one of the largest art galleries in the world, comparable to the Louvre in Paris or the Brera in Milan. You will find some of the greatest masterpieces of European painting here, with paintings by Velasquez, Goya, Titian, Botticelli, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and so on. Since it would probably be impossible to see everything in one afternoon, try to devote your time to the great Spanish paintings, including the famous Las Meninas by Velasquez and Dos and Tres de Mayo by Goya.
A few blocks from the Prado, you will find Alabaster, a restaurant that offers some of the very best examples of Galician cuisine.
The next morning, head directly to the Puerta del Sol, an emblematic square in Madrid. It is here that the Madrileños gather on New Year’s Eve, when is it customary to eat a grape at each stroke of midnight, to ensure good luck for the following year. At the entrance of the Calle Alcala, you can see a statue of a bear snuffling at a tree. This is the bear and the strawberry tree, the city’s emblem.
Leave the square by the north side on Calle Preciados or Calle Carmen. These are two major shopping streets which contain some of the most famous shops in Madrid. Here you will also find El Corte Ingles, a department store chain much like the Galeries Lafayette in Paris or La Rinascente in Milan.
After a lunch of typical Madrid-style dishes, such as a calamari sandwich – this is a popular local snack that is widely available, at any time – it is time to visit the Thyssen-Bornemisva Museum.
This museum contains works collected by the Thyssen family throughout the twentieth century. It includes art from across Europe, dating from the thirteenth century to the present day, and, like the Prado, boasts paintings by many of the great masters, such as Bernardino Luini, Durer, Veronese, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Dali, Roy Lichtenstein even Jackson Pollock. If you are feeling saturated with paintings, you could opt instead to visit the Palacio Real, a richly decorated royal palace. You will find in particular the world's largest collection of Stradivarius violins as well as an extremely beautiful collection of furniture.
Not far from the Thyssen-Bornemisza, stop off at Chamizo to order a Yayos, a cocktail made with vermouth. The bar is often packed, and sometimes there is a queue of people waiting to go in.
The next morning, make your way to the botanical gardens, next to the Prado. You can discover some 5,000 specimens of plants from around the world, spread over three staggered terraces. Upon leaving, you will find yourself just a few metres from the most famous park in Madrid, the Retiro Park, which has many fine statues as well as some notable buildings, including the Palacio de Cristal. This is an ideal spot for a picnic.
Your third afternoon will be dedicated to the Reina Sofia Museum, where you can explore one of the world's finest modern and contemporary art collections. You'll find works by Man Ray, Dali, Miro, Matisse, Kandinsky, Diego Rivera, Mark Rothko, and especially the huge Guernica by Picasso. With this last museum you have now visited around what is known as the "golden triangle" of Spanish art institutions in Madrid.
For your last night, it's time to taste the nightlife for which Madrid is famous. If you are into the latest indie music, head to Nuevo Amanecer. Electronic music fans will find it all happening at Lemoncat, whereas a good dose of punk rock awaits at the Holy Cuervo. In any case, you will discover that the rumour is true: Madrid never sleeps.
Over these three days, you will have discovered museums, squares, parks and the city’s most emblematic spots, however, Madrid still has many more treasures just waiting to be explored. And if you have the opportunity to spend a few more days in the Spanish capital, don’t hesitate to venture a little further afield to explore Segovia, Toledo or to visit the Escorial palace.