Whether you only have a day in Spain’s capital or you’re lucky enough to call it home, Madrid’s contagious festive spirit or “movida” will never fail to inspire you. While rooted firmly in its cultural and artistic heritage, Madrid calls out to youth and action. From the classical architecture of its old town, to its relentless nightlife, Madrid will make any journey worth the while.
Teeming with sightseers, promoters and street performers, Sol is the heart of tourist Madrid. When looking for accommodation, proximity to Sol is key, as it provides easy access to Madrid’s most popular neighbourhoods and sights. Although, for a more authentic Madrileño experience, you’ll need to venture further from this main square. Just north of Sol lies Madrid’s answer to Oxford Street, Gran Vía. Known as the street that never sleeps, Gran Vía is Madrid’s most famous boulevard. Above the high-street window displays, you’ll find ornate and impressive architecture. However, Malasaña, the area just beyond this main shopping street, is a labyrinth of much more interesting independent shops, restaurants and bars. You can easily kill an afternoon wandering through these pretty side streets, stopping for coffee in Bianchi Kiosko Caffé or tapas in Café do Bico. It’s also well-worth exploring Chueca, Madrid’s gay district. Full of life all year round, during Pride this area becomes one of Madrid’s main attractions, boasting vibrant nightlife, street parties and free outdoor concerts.
If you want to burn a hole in your overdraft, head over to Salamanca to explore high-end boutiques and elegant restaurants. Alternatively, for a more diverse and frankly more fun experience, Lavapiés is the place to be. Traditionally the most multicultural area of Madrid, this neighbourhood has been taken over by students in recent years and now plays host to packed bars, terraces and clubs. One of the best-loved areas of Lavapiés is La Latina, home to the famous Rastro market, which takes over the whole neighbourhood every Sunday morning.
To get to know all of these barrios without sacrificing your feet, it’s worth investing in the 10 journey metro pass for €12, available in any station.
During the summer, the outdoor pools dotted around the city become a magnet for Madrileños escaping the heat. You can pay an arm and a leg to get into the rooftop pool of Hotel Emperador or even hike to the natural pools outside the city in Cercedilla. The city becomes much more manageable for tourists during the cooler months; while in December, Madrid’s main squares are taken over by Christmas markets.
Hardly sedate by day, Madrid by night has a life of its own. Kapital, one of Europe’s biggest clubs, draws in crowds of locals and tourists alike. With seven floors, each tailored to a different style, there is something for everyone. However, with a dress code and slightly ridiculous entry fee, this isn’t the most low-key of nights. For a more casual atmosphere, you could try a pub-crawl, which should give you a guided tour of Madrid’s nightlife, with some free shots along the way. If you’re looking for something more relaxed, bar hopping in Malasaña with the locals will give you a real taste of the city. Start your night with a cocktail in the 1862 Dry Bar and see where it takes you. As Hemmingway said, ‘Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night’.
We’ve put together a guide for our ideal weekend in Madrid, making sure you don’t miss a thing:
The best way to get acquainted with Madrid is a free walking tour. These tours give you a solid overview of the city, hitting the tourist basics like the Palacio Real de Madrid. We suggest starting your trip this way, as a guided tour can be really helpful for finding your way later in your stay.
What most tours won’t show you is Madrid’s famous Museum district, where you will find El Museo del Prado and La Reina Sofia museum. You could follow up your walking tour by admiring the city’s world-class galleries.
Although not very traditional, a great budget lunch option would be 100 Montaditos, which has a restaurant on practically every street corner. On Sundays and Wednesdays everything is €1, but at €1.50 a sandwich for the rest of the week, it’s not exactly going to break the bank.
Just around the corner from the museum district is one of Madrid’s favourite rooftop bars, Círculo de Bellas Artes. The surprisingly affordable entrance fee will get you in to the most glamorous sunset viewpoint in Madrid. Beware of the queues around sunset; to avoid the wait, we advise settling in early with a mojito and enjoying the impressive panorama of the city.
You can round off your evening with a delicious Italian meal in nearby Ôven Mozzarella Bar. We wholeheartedly recommend their beef Carpaccio and goats cheese pizza.
You could spend the second morning exploring Malasaña and Gran vía, taking a break from the independent stores around Fuencarral to enjoy a cocktail and a crèpe at La Rue Bar. For lunch, head over to San Miguel market; you can pick and choose from a tonne of traditional Spanish dishes and it’s well worth the trip just to see the marketplace.
If you haven’t already seen Plaza de España and Plaza Mayor, these are not to be missed and are not far from San Miguel. In this same area, you can find Madrid’s most famous churrería, San Gines. Open 24-hours, you could even end your night here as an alternative to your standard kebab.
If you have some down time and need a culture fix, this second afternoon could be the perfect time to take in a matinée performance at one of Madrid’s renowned theatres, such as Teatro Lope de Vega or Teatro Calderon.
Hemmingway famously called Sobrino de Botín “the best restaurant in the world”. Relatively unchanged since opening in 1725, this is the most well known place to eat in Madrid so we would recommend booking well ahead. However, if you’re on a budget, there are plenty of great options in this area just off the Plaza Mayor.
A Sunday morning in Madrid must be spent bargain hunting in El Rastro, La Latina’s sprawling open-air flea market. Recover from the market crowds in El Viajero, which has a great rooftop bar serving delicious food, cocktails and a spectacular view of Real Basílica de San Francisco. With an empty purse and full stomach, wander over to El Jardín del Príncipe de Angola, a secluded garden in La Plaza de la Paja, just around the corner from El Viajero.
An afternoon spent relaxing in El Parque del Buen Retiro is an absolute essential for any trip to Madrid. Enjoy a picnic on the grass opposite the Palacio de Cristal before rowing on the Estanque, a large artificial pond.
For your last supper, indulge in a burger from Naif in Malasaña, which is surrounded by plenty of bars ideal for after dinner drinks.