48 Hours in Madrid - Experience the Best of the Spanish Capital City

Experience Madrid's highlights in just 48 hours: stroll through iconic places, explore renowned museums, and savor authentic tapas. Immerse yourself in the city's vibrant culture, discovering why Madrid is a must-visit destination in Spain.


Thomas and I, both Aries, share birthdays just three days apart. Since 2016, I've made a tradition of celebrating our birthdays in different cities. It started with Brussels and then Paris. This year, Spain beckoned. Despite living in Portugal, my long-distance relationship with Thomas shifted from Paris to Frankfurt, allowing for more adventurous meetups.


With the hype surrounding La Casa de Papel, we planned a weekend in Madrid to immerse ourselves in the city's cosmopolitan charm. In a long-distance relationship, every opportunity for quality time together is cherished, and Madrid's allure was irresistible. It was a perfect opportunity to explore a new city together and create lasting memories amidst the vibrant streets and rich culture of the Spanish capital.


Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital, is home to over 3.3 million residents within the city and 6.7 million in the metropolitan area, representing a rich tapestry of cultures. From the charming streets of neighborhoods like Malasaña to the upscale districts of Salamanca, Madrid offers a diverse array of experiences. Its dynamic vibe seamlessly merges historic landmarks like the Royal Palace with modern attractions such as contemporary art galleries and trendy eateries. Whether exploring world-class museums, savoring tapas at bustling markets, or immersing oneself in the city's lively nightlife scene, Madrid captivates with its infectious energy and endless possibilities. This bustling metropolis encapsulates the essence of Spain, promising visitors a memorable journey steeped in culture, cuisine, and vibrant urban life.

Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace, Madrid


Although the region presents some records of occupation and activities since the Roman Empire, Madrid's history had its beginning marked by the Arab occupation of the Iberian Peninsula. In the mid of the 9th century, the emir Muhammad I ordered the construction of a small fortress on the banks of the river Manzanare and the moors started building a citadel around it bringing more importance to the city since the major city of the region back then was Toledo. It is from this time that came the name of the city once the Arabs called it al-Majrit or Magerit which means land rich in waters.


With the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the Christians, a process that lasted for almost 800 years, Madrid changed from Muslim to Christian occupation several times, originating the mixture of cultures that is possible to see in its architecture even nowadays. However, in 1083 the Alfonso VI, King of León and Castille took over the city for the Christian kingdoms in his intent to conquer the more powerful Toledo. And with the evolution of the Reconquest, eventually all the Arabs were decimated from the peninsula and by marriage, war and agreements all of these kingdoms were progressively being reunited under only one ruler to form what we currently know as the diverse country of the Kingdom of Spain.


After being conquered by the Christians, Madrid got its official city status grant in 1202 and little by little started to host important markets and fairs, becoming crescent known to be a commercial hub.  In 1561, the King Felipe II decided to transfer the Royal Court from Toledo to Madrid, turning the city into the capital of his vast empire. From this time on, with the Spanish discoveries in America and the consequent Spain's Golden Century (Siglo de Oro), the city grew rapidly and many architectural works took place, transforming the city with some of the landmarks that we can still witness.


In the second half of the 19th century, with the advent of the first Industrial Revolution, people from the countryside started to migrate to the Capital in search of a better life and Madrid went through an important urban planning to modernize its streets and show the power of the Spanish Royal Family. Erecting some beautiful building with a peculiar architecture of the time, the Gran Vía is the epitome of this period. Though suffering some bombing during the Spanish Civil War and becoming the first European Capital to be bombed, Madrid was able to rebuild most of the affected historical buildings and integrate them with the later modernization of the city, becoming today a buzzing city with a witnessable past.



Day 1 Morning |

San Ginés, Plaza Mayor & Mercado San Miguel


Day 1 - Afternoon |

Royal Palace, Sabatini Gardens & Plaza del Callao



 Day 2 - Morning |

Gran Vía & Prado Museum


Day 2 - Afternoon |

Parque del Retiro, Atocha Station & Reina Sofia Museum




Start your day in this vibrant square which is the heart of Madrid. Being very central (it is considered as the kilometer 0 from every road in Spain), it has a subway station called "Sol" which serves lines 1, 2 and 3. The Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) was part of the city walls that protected Madrid in the 14th century and has this name because the gate faced east. Nowadays, it presents famous landmarks such as the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry tree, the heraldic symbol of the city, and the Tío Pepe lighted ad sign located just atop the former Paris Hotel.

Musicians on Puerta del Sol Madrid
The Legendary Tio Pepe - Puerta del Sol Madrid


Located outside the first walls of the city, this square was once known as Plaza de Arrabal since it was located between two arrabales (neighborhoods outside the fortified city) and hosted a big market. After transferring the Royal Court to Madrid, the King Felipe II commissioned the reconstruction of a more organized square and with some rebuilding after a series of fires, we got to the Plaza Mayor we know today. With its 9 gate ways and a series of beautiful arcs, while in Plaza Mayor you can also witness the Casa de la Panaderia (Bakery House), a building framed by twin towers which used to be the main bakery of the city. In the center of the square, there is a statue of the King Felipe III.

Madrid Plaza Mayor

Madrid Plaza Mayor


This centennial market located just outside Plaza Mayor is the gastronomic temple of Madrid. With its charming iron architecture from the beginning of the 20th century and the vast culinary options, you will certainly be won over by Mercado San MiguelAs we were full with our breakfast in San Ginés, we did not eat the first time we visited, but we returned later and faced the hungry hoard of tourists to have a little taste of the traditional Spanish tapas. And it was worth it! Though the prices are not the cheapest, the food is delicious and the ambiance is quite vibrant. You can check the opening hours and available culinary options here


Opening hours - from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. |

Admission - free of charge |


Getting to Plaza de la Villa (Town's Square), you will face this building following the traditional Madrid architecture style of the 17th century: a facade in brick, granite and slate with symmetrical distribution between angular towers topped with spires. Built to host the City Council since the habitual meeting place was a church, the Casa de la Villa later served as prison and town hall. Nowadays, with the town hall transferred to Palacio de Cibeles, it is used only to some official events.


Considered as the oldest in Madrid, this church presents many polemic versions of its origin. Some tried to give it a mythological aura by saying it was once a roman temple devoted to Jupiter, others a more heroic version that the inhabitants of Madrid worshiped Our Lady in a small temple and, fearing it would be desecrated by the Moorish, hid the image in the walls of the city. What is certain is that, when conquering Madrid from the Moorish, King Alfonso VI purified the Great Mosque of the city, consecrated it to the Christianity, but it is not known if the building was torn down and then rebuilt or if it was only a symbolical act. 


Originated from the small church of Santa María la Real de la Almudena, this cathedral has a way more recent history. As part of the Hapsburg Madrid, it was meant to be a pantheon for the late Queen María de la Mercedes and the plans for its construction started only in 1879. However, the plans were changed many times and it was only considered as a complete cathedral more than 100 year late, in 1993. Located in front of the Royal Palace, the marriage of the King Felipe VI with the journalist Letizia Rocasolano in 2004 took place at this cathedral. It is possible to visit the cathedral and its less known crypt with more than 1000 buried people donating 1 euro for the maintenance of the church. 


Facing the cathedral, you can behold the magnificent Royal Palace of Madrid. With over 3000 rooms, it is considered the largest royal place in Europe by floor area. With origin in the fortress built by the Moorish near the banks of the river Manzaneda, the Palace received improvements and expansions by the following Christian kings. Although the Spanish royal family does not live in it anymore, it is undeniably an imposing building.


Opening hours - daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. |

Admission - 10 EUR |

The Royal Palace of the Spanish Royal Family!
Royal Palace - Plaza de la Armería, Catedral de la Almudena
Royal Palace - Plaza de la Armería


Walk to the east of the Royal Palace where, between the palace and the Royal Theater, you can find the Plaza de Oriente (East Square). It was built in the 18th century after tearing down a set of medieval buildings to clean space and highlight the path between the two important monarch buildings. Its geometrically shaped plants garden with colorful flowers contains the statues of 44 Spanish kings, the most important one being the one of King Felipe IV which is in the center stage of the plaza.


Continuing east after Plaza de Oriente, you will find the charming Teatro Real (Royal Theater). Also know as El Real, its building started at 1818 by the order of Queen Isabel II but was concluded only in 1850. Since then, it hosted different events from the inauguration Italian opera to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1969. With the construction of the subway of Madrid, it had to be closed to restore damages in its structure for 41 years. Nowadays, after more restoration works, it hosts operas again and offers different kinds of visits (check here). 


Now go back towards the Royal Palace to check the neoclassical-style gardens which allow amazing views to the palace. Built in the 1930's on the place where the palace's stables were once located, it homages the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini who designed them. Offering a gorgeous water mirror with the north facade of the palace on the background framed by geometrically-shaped bushes and trees, the Jardines de Sabatini is a spot for great pictures and for watching the sunset.

Sabatini Gardens and nice views on the Royal Palace


Continuing in the vibe of parks, you can go to the Parque del Oeste (West Park) where there is one of our personal favorites in Madrid: the Temple of Debod. An ancient Egyptian temple founded in the 2nd century BC was dismantled and transferred to Madrid due to the possible harm offered by the construction of a dam and as a gift of gratitude for the Spanish help in saving the Abu Simbel temples. The rebuilding in Madrid followed the temple original East-to-West orientation which, allied with the water mirror around it, turns it into a exceptional spot to see the sunset. Visits of the temple are currently suspended, but for the curious, there is a virtual one here

Templo de Debod Madrid
Mirador de la Montaña de Príncipe Pío Madrid


Going back to modern time, you can check Plaza de España, one of the most known postcards of the Spanish capital. The history of this square where once stood military barracks which were originally supposed to be a convent shows its importance in the urban area of Madrid. In the beginning of the 20th century, with the urban planning of the city, it was decided to turn it into a large square. With the magnificent monument in homage of the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes and his famous characters Dom Quijote and Sancho Panza, Plaza de España is framed by architecture masterpieces such as the Neo-Baroque styled Edifício de España and Torre de Madrid, one of the tallest buildings in the city.

Edificio España Madrid


How to use this map: Click the top left corner to access the location list then click on the locations for more details. For a larger view, click the top right corner. Save your map on your Google Maps account by clicking the star icon.


From Plaza España, you can start exploring the iconic Gran Vía, also known as the Broadway of Madrid. This charming avenue combines the glamour of the architecture from the beginning of the 20th century with the modern life culture. Built to substitute the tangling ways of narrow streets in the historical center of Madrid and provide a better flow of the traffic, it was responsible for the demolition of more than 300 buildings. And, as every Broadway needs its Times Square, when you get to Plaza del Callao you will certainly feel as in this postcard of the Big Apple: blinding lights, big magazines, vibrant environment and a lot of people passing by and taking pictures. For the iconic view of the square, you can go up to the last floor of the El Corte Inglés store for its terrace and big windows which provide a breathtaking panorama of Gran Vía.

Madrid - Edificio Carrión


After the brunch, you can take line 2 in Noviciados until the Sevilla station (only 5 stops towards Las Rosas). From there you can access the opposite end of Gran Vía and behold two of the most iconic buildings. The Edificio Grassy was built in the beginning of the 20th century and it is known for being the first building of the street and for showcasing illuminated advertisements of clock brands (the currently one being Rolex) since the building houses a jewelry and a museum of ancient clocks.


The second emblematic building, the Edificio Metropolis, is located at the corner of Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía. Designed by French architects, its Beaux-Arts style allied with its privileged location allows it to stand out from the surrounding buildings. Originally built and owned by another insurance company, it was bought in 1972 by the company Metrópolis Seguros which carried out many restoring works and added the memorable sign on the facade.

Gran Vía - Madrid's most famous avenue


If you continue on Calle de Alcalá, you will get to the most glamorous square in Madrid: Plaza de Cibelles. With a fountain at its center depicting a marble statue of Cybele, the Roman goddess of the Earth, agriculture and fertility, this square is framed by imposing buildings such as the Palacio de BuenavistaBanco de España and the striking Palacio de Cibeles. Former head office of the Spanish Mail Company, this palace is now the City Hall of Madrid, hosts a cultural center and offers a Madrid Observation Deck in the 6th floor providing a new perspective look on the square below.


Opening hours - from Tuesday to Sunday

from 10.30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7.30 p.m. |

Admission - 3 EUR |

The Cibeles Palace on Plaza de Cibeles Madrid


From Plaza de Cibeles, you can go south through the beautiful boulevard of Paseo del Prado until the main Spanish national art museum: the Museo del Prado. Originally designed to be the Natural History Cabinet, the building was later designated to host the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures and opened its doors in 1819 to showcase the art pieces belonging to the Spanish Crown and to praise Spanish art among other European schools. Nowadays, the Museu del Prado displays more than 8000 paintings and 700 sculptures with highlight for its unique collection on Spanish art from the 11th century to the beginning of the 20th century.


Opening hours - daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. |

Admission | 15 EUR

(free admission Mon. to Sat. from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

and Sun. from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.) |


Continuing east from Museo del Prado, you will reach this natural retreat in the middle of Madrid: the Parque del Retiro. You can enter through the astounding Puerta de Felipe IV which gives access to the Plaza Parterre, a planned garden with impressive molded cypress trees. Continuing straight, you will reach the Fuente de la Alcachofa from where you will be able to see at your left the most iconic symbol of this park: the Estanque Grande del Buen Retiro. Located in the heard of the park, this artificial body of water was built in the 17th century as a part of the garden of the former Palace of Buen Retiro to stage spectacles depicting naval battles and for a retreat where the royal family and the court could enjoy boat trips. Later on, in 1902, the monument with a statue of the King Alfonso XII was added, which nowadays offers a free 360º degree lookout. You can rent a boat and row through the Estanque del Retiro to feel like a court member for 6 EUR (weekdays) or 8 EUR (weekends and holidays).

Estanque Grande in Parque del Retiro Madrid


Located nearby the Estanque del Retiro, both these gems were designed by the architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco and raised in the end of the 19th century. Built between 1881 and 83 as an exposition pavilion for the National Exhibition of Mining, the Palacio Velázquez beautifully combines an iron structure with traditional brick and tiles decoration. Its steel and glass dome allows a magnificent flow of natural light making it perfect for hosting free-entrance temporary exhibitions as an extension of the Reina Sofia Museum. Also built as an exposition pavilion but this time for the Philippines Exhibition in 1887, the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) was supposed to be a big iron-glass greenhouse to receive the Philippines plant species. Though not used as a greenhouse anymore since it hosts different exhibitions, this masterpiece, together with the lake and fountain, provides a beautiful background for pictures and picnics.

The inside of the Palacio de Cristal


Going south from Palacio de Cristal, you'll reach this square with a fountain representing the devil. Yes, Madrid has a public sculpture of the devil though not a scary one. The statue depicts the scene when the angel Lucifer was banned from heaven and was cast first in plaster in 1877 and then in bronze by the Spanish sculptor Ricardo Bellver.


If you turn west, you can exit the Park Buen Retiro through the Fallen Angel gate and will find a famous pedestrian street called Cuesta de Moyano. This is a heaven for book worms! With more than 30 vintage-looking bookseller's stalls which are open everyday, it offers a great amount of used books (though the majority in Spanish), maps and paintings. 

Pretty little bookstalls next to Parque del Retiro Madrid
Pretty little bookstalls next to Parque del Retiro


Getting back to Paseo del Prado, you will see this monumental train station which was the first one in Madrid. Built in 1851 as part of the second Spanish railway with only a wooden platform, Estación de Atocha was subsequently expanded and renovated, with the addition of the great roof structure rising up to almost 30 meters. Nowadays it is one of the main hubs in Madrid, not only connecting commute trains, high-speed trains, buses and subway but also offering a mall, cafes and even a night club. However, what really got our attention was the luxurious tropical garden inside the station with more than 400 species which reminded us of the main building in Jurassic Park. 

The amazing and beautiful botanical garden of Atocha Madrid


Located just 5 minutes walking from Estación de Atocha, Reina Sofía Museum is housed in the old Madrid General Hospital. Specialized in Spanish contemporary art, this museum offers pieces of artists such as Picasso, Dalí and Miró. Special highlight for one of Picasso's most famous painting Guernica which depicts the horror of a Spanish Civil War's bombing.


Opening hours - daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. |

Admission - 10 EUR

(free admission Mon. to Sat.

from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

and Sun. from 1.30 p.m. to 7 p.m.) |

View from the Reina Sofía Museum
Sterile Efforts - Salvado Dalí
The invisible man - Salvado Dalí
Inner courtyard of the Reina Sofía Museum


As we wrap up our birthday celebration in Madrid, we're overwhelmed with gratitude for the vibrant experiences and warm hospitality of this captivating city. From exploring its bustling streets to indulging in its rich culture, every moment has been unforgettable. Madrid has truly exceeded our expectations, leaving us with cherished memories to last a lifetime. Until we meet again, adiós Madrid, and thank you for an incredible weekend.



Madrid, the vibrant capital of Spain, is easily accessible via various modes of transportation:

  • By plane: Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport serves as the primary air gateway to Madrid, offering convenient access from domestic and international destinations. From the airport, travelers can reach the city center swiftly via Line 8 of the Madrid Metro, with a journey taking approximately 15-20 minutes at a cost of around 4.50 EUR. Additionally, taxis and airport shuttles provide alternative transportation options, with taxis typically taking 20-30 minutes and costing approximately 30-40 EUR.
  • By train: Madrid is well-connected to other major Spanish cities via high-speed trains like the AVE. Travelers can enjoy a swift journey from cities such as Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville, with varying travel times depending on the origin. Madrid's central location makes it a hub for rail travel in Spain.
  • By bus: Explore the scenic landscapes of Spain on a comfortable bus ride to Madrid from cities across the country. Major bus companies operate frequent services, providing an affordable and convenient travel option for budget-conscious travelers.

Whether arriving by plane, train, or bus, Madrid's extensive transportation network ensures a seamless journey to the heart of this vibrant capital city.


Selecting the right neighborhood in Madrid is key to a memorable stay. Opt for central areas like Sol, Huertas, or Malasaña for easy access to attractions and vibrant nightlife. Sol is close to Puerta del Sol and the historic center, while Huertas exudes charm with its narrow streets and literary heritage. Malasaña offers trendy cafés and boutiques, perfect for those seeking a lively atmosphere. Renting an Airbnb allows for a personalized and comfortable stay, offering a glimpse into everyday life in Madrid. Be sure to check reviews and amenities to find the perfect accommodation for your visit to Madrid.


 Madrid offers a plethora of dining options to satisfy every craving and budget. Here are some standout spots to explore:

  • Chocolatería San Ginés: Famous for its delectable churros and thick hot chocolate, a serving typically costs around 5-7 EUR. Open 24/7, it's the perfect spot for a late-night treat or an indulgent breakfast.
  • Mercado San Miguel: This vibrant food market is a paradise for food lovers, offering a wide array of tapas, seafood, cheeses, and more. Prices vary depending on the vendor, but expect to pay between 2-10 EUR per dish.
  • Pastelería Quequén: Known for its artisanal pastries and cakes, prices start at around 2 EUR per item. From classic Spanish pastries to innovative creations, there's something to satisfy every sweet tooth.
  • Carmencita Bar: A cozy tavern serving up authentic Spanish tapas, with dishes priced between 3-8 EUR each. Pair your meal with a glass of wine or a refreshing sangria for the ultimate experience.
  • La Barraca: Indulge in traditional Spanish paella at this renowned restaurant, with prices starting from 15 EUR per person. Generous portions and authentic flavors make it a must-try dining experience.

With its diverse culinary scene and range of options, Madrid invites you to embark on a delicious culinary journey that won't disappoint. Whether you're seeking sweet treats, savory delights, or a hearty meal, the city has something to satisfy every palate.

And now it's your turn to let us know what can't be missed in Madrid. If we didn't cover it, tell us so we can check it the next time we stop by. We look forward to reading your comments in the section below.