by Hadi Al Khatib

Over the course of its long history, Madrid, the capital of Spain, has transformed itself many times. From the city’s early days as a border outpost on the northern fringe of Muslim Spain, to its long years as the cosmopolitan center of a globe-spanning empire, to the modern and vibrant tourist city on Europe’s western edge, Madrid today has something for everyone.

The tourist center of Madrid is relatively compact, making it the perfect destination for a long weekend. This Madrid 3-day itinerary for a short trip to Madrid touches on history, culture, art, local specialties and the city’s surroundings. Start by visiting cultural touchstones like the Royal Palace and the Prado Museum, stroll through the city’s many parks and stuff yourself full of local treats at some of the city’s food markets. By the end, you’ll be feeling like a real madrileño!

If you’re looking for how to travel in Madrid, you’ll be happy to learn that Madrid’s public transit system is efficient and easy to use. The efficient public transit system helps visitors explore Madrid’s landmarks, museums and restaurants by bus and train. Additionally, visitors can purchase a tourist travel card that allows unlimited and stress-free use of all public transit for a set number of days.

Whether you’re interested in art and history, local culture or just soaking up the atmosphere of a bustling European capital, you can’t really go wrong with a 3-day trip to Madrid. With its excellent transportation links, it’s easy to explore the city and its surroundings, making it the perfect location for a 3-day itinerary.

We’ve set out to answer all of the classic questions visitors to Madrid usually have: what is Madrid best known for? How many days in Madrid is enough? How to spend 3 days in Madrid? What to do in Madrid? Read on to find out what to do in Madrid for 3 days!

How to get to Madrid from Madrid Barajas Adolfo Suarez Airport

Visitors to Madrid have many options for travel to and from the local airport. The metro connects the city center directly to the airport via line 8. The trip takes around 30 minutes from Madrid’s city center. It’s also possible to take a bus from Madrid’s city center to Madrid airport, which has the advantage of operating 24/7. Taxis and private transfers are also available.

Day 1 in Madrid: what to see in Madrid in one day


View of Plaza Mayor, Madrid. Source: Unsplash

Wake up, have a nice stretch, and get ready: your first day in Madrid is here! First stop? One of the city’s many street cafes (just pick one: the closer to your accommodation, the better, if you ask us). It’s time for a nice cortado (a Spanish specialty that resembles a miniature latte) and the classic, austere Spanish breakfast, pan con tomate. Half a crusty baguette, toasted and rubbed with a tomato puree, flaky sea salt and plenty of high-quality Spanish olive oil. Simple, savory and full of carbs: is there a better breakfast around? The city is waking up, and so are you.

Explore Madrid’s magnificent Royal Palace and the surrounding parks and gardens

Next on the list is the Royal Palace of Madrid, where you can get to know the Spanish monarchy. One of the largest palaces in Europe, this magnificent building continues to serve as the official residence of the Spanish royal family. It’s surrounded by the beautiful Sabatini Gardens, where you can take a leisurely stroll and soak in the beauty. Wander the grounds, admire the ornate baroque architecture, and feel that Spanish sun on your skin.

If you haven’t had enough of Madrid’s gorgeous parks yet, you can stroll over to Campo del Moro, another picturesque park located next door. Dating back to the mid-19th century, it originally served as the private gardens for the royal family. Today, it’s a popular destination for locals and tourists, allowing visitors to get a breath of fresh air and escape the city for a moment. The park’s winding paths, colorful flower gardens and exotic plant collections make for an attractive visit, while the terraced gardens and water features offer plenty of opportunity for respite and relaxation.

Tapas lunch at the historic Mercado San Miguel

You’ve worked up an appetite by now, right? Then it’s time to head to the bustling Mercado San Miguel, perhaps Madrid’s most well-known. Head into one of the restaurants that occupy the outer edges of the building and order yourself a well-deserved tapas lunch, Spanish style. If this is your first time in Spain, we recommend getting the classics: patatas bravas, spicy fried potatoes, pimientos de padrón, fried green peppers, and a tortilla de patatas, Spanish potato omelet. You can also order some jamon iberico, a fancy Spanish cured ham, and sample some of the huge variety of fresh seafood dishes – though Madrid isn’t anywhere near the ocean, the Spanish appetite for seafood cannot be restrained. Wash it down with a Mahou (pronounced like the famous Chinese chairman) beer, a local brew.

Soak up some culture at the Prado Museum

After lunch, you can visit one of Spain’s most famous museums, the Prado. This magnificent art museum is home to one of the finest collections of Spanish and European art in the world. Strolling through the galleries, you’ll find masterpiece after breathtaking masterpiece: works from famous artists like Goya, El Greco, Velázquez, Picasso, and more. There’s also a collection of religious paintings and sculptures that are especially well-regarded. True art lovers can easily spend an entire day exploring the museum, but just a couple of hours here will leave even the most aesthetically agnostic of us with a deep appreciation for the beauty and creativity of Spanish art. Make sure to grab a map and plan your visit ahead of time to ensure you don’t miss out on any of the museum’s highlights.

Relax in another of Madrid’s beautiful parks

After that intense episode of cultural appreciation, it’s time to get some fresh air and clear your mind. Head to Parque del Buen Retiro, a UNESCO-recognized world heritage site just a short walk away. One of Madrid’s largest and most well-known parks, it’s popular with locals and tourists alike. It’s absolutely packed with some truly stunning examples of park design: from the numerous fountains and water pools flanked by monumental architecture, to perhaps the jewel of the park, the magnificent Glass Palace, originally built way back in 1887 as a greenhouse to showcase tropical plants and animals collected from the Philippines, at that time a Spanish colony. Explore the park, soak up the sun and find a nice café to order a tinto de verano, a classic Spanish mixed drink with red wine. Can we interest you in a tapa or two?

Bar and restaurant hopping in Calle Ponzano

All that art and relaxation has probably worked up an appetite. It’s time to head back to the city for another meal. We recommend taking the 37 or 45 bus to Calle Ponzano, a street known for its bars and restaurants. You won’t be the only people prowling for a bite to eat at this hour. Spend the evening trying various drinks and tapas – the best way is to bar-hop a bit, ordering a drink and a dish or two at a venue before heading to the next. Be sure to chat with the locals: they’re friendly! One dish we recommend is the elegant ensalada de tomate con ventresca de atún, a mouthful of a name for a very simple dish: fresh, juicy tomatoes, a few slivers of onion and a lot of extremely high-quality canned tuna drenched in delicious Spanish olive oil.

Indeed, you’ll be taking part in a cherished local tradition. A unique aspect of Madrid culture is the custom of the “sobremesa”, which refers to the leisurely period of time spent at the table after a meal, enjoying conversation, coffee and perhaps a small digestif – perfect activities for the bars of Calle Ponzano.

Day 2 in Madrid: explore the local culture in Madrid

As the capital of Spain, Madrid is packed with elements of every part of Spain’s varied culture, and Madrid itself has a strong local culture – one madrileños are very proud of. Today, you’ll explore some of the less-heavily touristed parts of Madrid to get a feel for the Spanish capital as the locals see it.

Breakfast in the Chueca neighborhood

Your day will start in the lively streets of the Chueca neighborhood at another Madrid street café – we just can’t get enough! Strolling through Chueca, which is known for its trendy cafés and LGBT+ community, you’re sure to find a cute little spot that appeals to you. Keep an eye out for the distinctive street art and graffiti that give the neighborhood its characteristic look. A good starting point is Plaza de Chueca, the center of the neighborhood, a bustling square filled with drinking and dining options. Just sit down at a free table, make eye contact with the waiter and order what your heart desires. If you’re feeling sweeter rather than salty today, churros con chocolate is another popular breakfast snack.

Get educated at Madrid’s Natural History Museum

Next, take a short stroll from Chueca to the Madrid Natural History museum, dedicated to the natural history of Madrid over time. It’s home to a vast collection of artifacts and exhibits that showcase various aspects of Madrid’s natural history, from the geologic origins to the historic flora and fauna. One of the most popular displays is the dinosaur exhibit, featuring an extensive collection of fossils and replicas of the gigantic creatures. In all, the museum houses over six million specimens, including rare plants, animals and minerals from around the world. It includes plenty of interactive exhibits that make it great for the whole family.

Classic Madrid lunch

After a half day of admiring the local art and culture of the Spanish capital, it’s time to get a taste of it – by eating like a real local with a meal of cocido madrileño. This unique chickpea stew is cooked together and then served in three courses: the first being the broth with pasta, the second featuring the chickpeas and vegetables from the soup and the final course made up of the various meats from the stew. It started as a food for poor Jewish residents of Madrid, but over the centuries was embellished into the 3-course extravaganza it is today. A local favorite and a true must-try for anyone visiting Madrid.

Appreciate Spain’s most significant works of art

After lunch, head to another one of Madrid’s famous museums, the Reina Sofia Museum, one of Spain’s most popular. This museum’s impressive collection features both contemporary and modern art, including works by renowned Spanish artists like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. The museum’s biggest draw is perhaps the most renowned example of Spanish art in the world: Picasso’s Guernica masterpiece, inspired by the fascist bombing of the town it’s named after.

A light Madrid dinner to finish the day

After exploring Madrid’s art history, you’ve probably worked up an appetite. Head over to the Mercado San Anton, a short ride on local Bus 150. This mercado is a true foodie’s paradise in Madrid, featuring fresh produce, juices, meats, local cheeses and other specialties. Choose whatever you want, but we know we’re reaching for a bocadillo de calamares, a truly classic Madrid sandwich and a great demonstration of its place as a regional center for commerce.

After dinner, if the weather is favorable, we recommend heading to one of Madrid’s many rooftop bars to take in the skyline with a cocktail. Perfect!

Day 3 in Madrid: discover the great outdoors in the big city


View of central Madrid from above. Source: Unsplash

Madrid certainly offers a vibrant mix of modern and historic art and architecture, but you’ve earned a break from stuffy interiors. For your final day in Madrid, it’s time to get out into the open air and explore a couple more of the city’s parks (over 40 in total). Savor some final local fare and one last late night before you bid this buzzing metropolis hasta luego!
Grab-and-go breakfast at a street café

As usual, we recommend enjoying a quick breakfast in the classic Spanish style at a street café. If you’re looking to switch things up, maybe try a bocadillo de tortilla de patatas, which takes the classic Spanish omelet and stuffs it inside a freshly baked baguette. Easy and delicious!

Go for a hike in Madrid’s biggest park

For your final day, it’s time to get out of the big city – while still staying in the big city! The Casa de Campo is Madrid’s largest public park, situated on the west side of the city. It’s been around since the early 16th century as a hunting reserve for the Spanish royal family and was only opened to the public in 1931. This place is seriously big: at 1,700 hectares, it’s five times the size of New York’s Central Park.

Before heading to the park, it’s a nice idea to stop by a grocery store and pick up some supplies for an impromptu picnic lunch. Many Spanish foods lend themselves perfectly to an outdoor meal: cured meats, cheeses, olives, crackers, bread and the tortilla we just mentioned are all great choices for a lovely snack on a park bench. If you don’t have enough arms to carry all that, the park hosts several small places where you can grab a drink and a bite to eat.

The park houses an amusement park as well as the Madrid Zoo, but what we’re here for is the hiking trails: the park is crisscrossed with many hiking and jogging trails used by tourists and locals alike. You can select a trail depending on your degree of fitness and the amount of time you have. The Cerro Garabitas, Paseo de los Castaos and Camino de la Zarzuela are a few well-traveled routes. The entire Casa de Campo is a protected area, and in order to maintain the natural landscape, it’s crucial to stick to the approved pathways. Please be mindful of the park’s plants and animals!

Down-home dining in Madrid

All that walking sure gets a tourist hungry, doesn’t it? Time for a meal at a traditional Madrid restaurant! We recommend Casa Lucio on the popular shopping street, Calle de la Cava Baja. Madrid’s traditional food is dominated by roasted meats, rich stews and simple seasonings. Wash it all down with a fine Spanish red.

Explore Madrid’s ancient Egyptian ruins

Now it’s time for some truly ancient history. Head to Parque del Oeste. To get there, take metro line 3 from Sol and exit at the Plaza de España stop. Then walk directly west until you reach the park, where you will discover a very out-of-place monument: the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod. Originally built in the 2nd century BC and dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, the temple was dismantled in the 1960s and moved to Madrid as a gift from the Egyptian government. Spain had contributed to the effort to preserve the temples of Abu Simbel from flooding due to the Aswan dam megaproject. The temple itself is an impressive sight, constructed from characteristic massive sandstone blocks and featuring reliefs depicting ancient Egyptian gods and pharaohs, all surrounded by a reflecting pool.

Enjoy a few trendy cocktails to finish your time in Madrid

As the sun sets over Madrid, head to the Salesas neighborhood to visit the trendy Mexican-Japanese fusion bar and restaurant Peyote San. With delicious meals and creative cocktails, Peyote San is a great example of the international influences that made Madrid what it is today. There, you can try creative culinary delights in a lively, hip atmosphere. This restaurant is a great example of another thing that makes Madrid great: its modern and cosmopolitan nightlife.