One Day in Madrid?
So you’re planning your trip around Europe and you’ve only got 24 hours in Madrid… it is not easy to deeply experience Madrid in such a short time, but with a bit of quick walking and an optimistic mindset to see as much as possible, here’s what you should put on your list for what to see in Madrid in 24 hours!
Our first recommendation is to plan fo more than 24 hours in this beautiful city. Madrid is often overlooked by backpackers around the world when planning a trip around Europe, but it shouldn’t be skipped! The vibrant and electric atmosphere of the city will have you wanting to book a trip back before you depart.
Madrid is one of the most gay friendly cities in Europe. After the huge success of World Pride in 2017, Madrid has become one of the top destinations for LGBTQ+ people everywhere. Its infamous Chueca neighborhood is the city’s gayzone and holds some of the best gay bars in Madrid. While boasting the most lively Madrid night clubs, we recommend including Kapital Madrid on your night out. Apart from the fun of Chueca, Madrid should be near the top of anyone’s must-see list and here’s why!
What To See in Madrid in 24 Hours
Madrid is a very walkable city. The best thing you can do to get oriented with the city is to first partake in a free walking tour. And what better way to experience a bit of the spontaneous street-art throughout the city than to walk around! Here are some of the best free walking tours in Madrid.
1. Take a Tour
The free tour leaves every day at 11am (Saturdays at 3pm) from the Plaza del Callao. The walking tour is available in Spanish and English.
This tour runs for about 3 hours from Plaza Mayor. The walking tour is given in English and Spanish. The start times are 10am, 11am, 2pm, and 4pm.
Some of the Hostels in central Madrid offer Free Walking Tours as well. We stayed at OK Hostel and took advantage of their free tour along with other travelers! It was the perfect introduction into the city and a great opportunity to meet fun travelers. Book your stay at OK Hostel Madrid!
Looking for more incredible in-depth tours around Madrid? Our friends at Rainbow Gay Tours gave us an experience of a lifetime while in Spain. In Madrid, dive in with one of their premium tours! Get 10% off when mentioning “Michael and Matt” on your email/booking! We Recommend:
Madrid City Center Tour: In this three-hour tour you will discover the most important monuments and places of the city center, unhurried and at your own pace.
Madrid Rainbow Night: In this 2 hour tour, you will be shown the most popular venues for the LGBT community where you can party and have a good time!
2. Puerta del Sol
Whether you’re looking for some great shopping, chow down on churro con chocolate, or people watch amidst the various street performers, Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s most famous central gathering place. Just a short walk from Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol was originally the spot of Madrid’s old city east gate.
3. Almudena Cathedral (Santa María la Real de La Almudena)
This Neo-Gothic Cathedral can be a quick stop on your way to the Royal Palace, or you can spend 1 to 2 hours here walking around its chapels and chambers. This is actually a newer cathedral, with construction beginning in 1879. Santa Maria Cathedral is open from 9:30am to 8:30pm 7 days a week. However, the museum is only open Monday through Saturday 10am to 2:30pm.
4. Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real De Madrid)
As the grandest building in Madrid, The Royal Palace boasts an insane amount of History presenting tons of information on the Kings of Spain from Charles III to Alfonso XIII. Just a short walk from the Plaza Mayor, you can wander some of its 3000+ rooms, and look in awe at its ornate decoration. Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard (presented on Wednesdays and Saturdays). While it costs to enter the Royal Palace, you can enjoy its beauty admiring the outside if you’re in a rush. Or, come by in the evening and see the Palace from the nearby Sabatini Gardens.
Want another fascinating view of the Royal Palace? Head just north of the Palace, down the giant staircases to Sabatini Gardens. These Classical gardens were built in the 1930s where the former stables used to be. Here you can admire gorgeous flowers, a fascinating set of reflecting pools and fountains, and the Palace’s towering north facade. The Sabatini Gardens are open from 9am to 9pm and are especially magical close to sunset. This is one of the best places to watch the sunset in Madrid. If you’re looking for a great Instagram photo opportunity, stand at the northern end of the reflecting pool and set the Royal Palace as your backdrop.
Watch our 24 hours in Madrid and Toledo!
5. Plaza Mayor
Madrid’s living room, and the major public square in the heart of the city center. While wandering the tightly packed streets of central Madrid, you can’t miss this grand open space, boasting warm colors and picturesque architecture. The cobbled stone square is flanked by countless cafes, and acts as the meeting place, including for many of the free walking tours. This plaza was designed in 1619 by Juan Gómez de Mora and is something you must see in Madrid. Food and drink can be a bit overpriced in the plaza, but it’s worth sitting down at one of the tables at least once for the experience! We recommend Restaurant DCorozon at the North East corner of the plaza.
6. Best Museums in Madrid
Madrid is a city filled to the brim with museums. From incredible paintings, history, artwork and architecture, it’s not easy to experience all of them even in a lengthy visit. In a pinch, here are the best museums in Madrid:
Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado)
The Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado) is a must-see when visiting Spain’s capital. There are many tours available to really dive into the works, but for those of you who are on a tight schedule, one or two hours can be enough to see the most important pieces of art. There are over 7,000 paintings within its interior, so even spending the entire day here is likely to only scratch the surface, and is an intimidating feet! The Museum is open from 10am to 8pm, however visiting at the very start of the day or during lunchtime around 2pm may save you some time in the queues. Buying a ticket in advance means that you can head straight in through security and avoid the long line altogether. Free entry is offered from 6 to 8pm Monday through Saturday and 5-7pm on Sundays and holidays, but the free hours almost always equate to large lines and crowded rooms. Must-see paintings include Valaquez’s Las Meninas, and Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.
Reina Sofia Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía):
Spain’s national museum which holds 20th-century art. This prized museum is also located close to the Atocha train station in Madrid’s “golden triangle” of art. Holding Picasso’s Guernica, this is an essential stop for any lover of art. The Reina Sofia is closed every Tuesday, with entry from 10am to 9pm. The least busiest time to visit is right at opening. Like the Prado Museum, you can purchase tickets online in advance.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza):
Another incredibly popular museum in Madrid hosting an overview of art from the 13th to the late 20th century. From Renaissance and Baroque, to Pop Art and Impressionism, The Thyssen is one of the most extraordinary private collections of European art in the world. Where the Prado and Reina Sofia allow you to dive into specific bodies of work, the Thyssen takes a much broader view of artistic styles. Canaletto, Rubens, Degas, Manet and Van Gogh are just a few of the great artists represented here. The Thyssen is open from 10am to 7pm Tuesday through Sunday, and 12pm to 4pm on Mondays with free entry. Purchase your tickets online.
7. El Retiro Park
After running around in the hot sun for much of the day, what better place to go and relax than Madrid’s El Retiro Park? With over 15,000 trees, Madrid’s largest park is bound to provide you with plenty of shade and a little relaxation for your mid-day siesta. Check out Rainbow Gay Tours Retiro Park Tour which will take you through to see the best sights, ending in the lively Chueca district!
The Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal)
As one of the most iconic buildings in Madrid, this is a must-see spot in El Retiro Park. Located in the center of the park, the palace is made almost entirely from glass. The interior hosts art exhibitions and you may enter for free to see how the light shining through the crystal bounces around the many surfaces. The Crystal Palace is also a hotspot for Instagram photos. As you walk around the small lake in front of it, be sure to take advantage of the fun photo opportunities here!
The Retiro Park Lake (Estanque grande del Retiro)
If you fancy renting a small rowboat for a few euros, you can enjoy the coolness of Retiro Park’s Lake and paddle around, enjoying the view. The lake lies just beyond the massive statue of Alfonso XII, and is especially beautiful at sunset.
The Rose Garden (La Rosaleda)
Most of the flowers and roses are blooming in full force by late May, making this part of the park absolutely stunning any part of the late Spring. Walk through and get lost in its many arches and thousands of roses. It’s the perfect spot to rest your feet on a bench, watch the fountains, and simply enjoy a quiet moment away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
8. Tapa Street (Calle de la Cava Baja)
You cannot visit Madrid without experiencing the madness and fun of going out for tapas! Cram yourself into a small bar a little past 8pm to start your dinner with small plates and ask for a glass of vino tinto or 3! There are by far more tapa bars than empty stomachs in Madrid, but here on Calle de la Cava Baja you will find some of the best and locally popular spots in the old city. This is one of the best places to eat in Madrid. Lucky for us, we had our friends from Two Bad Tourists to introduce us to this incredible place! Looking for a couple places to start? Check out Lamiak and Casa Lucas.
9. San Miguel Market (Mercado de San Miguel)
Although not the cheapest place to get tapas in Madrid, San Miguel Market holds a massive variety of flavors and represents a new type of Spanish cuisine. The large indoor market is packed with tourists and locals alike drinking and eating and meeting with friends in the open areas around the market. Even if you’re not planning on having your entire dinner here, it’s worth checking out and enjoying a couple exquisite and modern tapas.
10. Chueca District
Chueca is the heart of gay Madrid. For nightlife, the bars and clubs are primarily centered around Plaza de Vazquez de Mella. Whether you’re looking for a place to grab a drink, sit down for dinner, go shopping, or go dancing, Chueca has something for everyone. It’s an active area that in recent decades has exploded as the quintessential gay neighborhood of Madrid. Make sure to cut out a little time to experience the nightlife here.
Where to Stay in Madrid
With a ton to see comes just as many options for accommodations including many hotels and hostels in Madrid. When looking at aspects of location, affordability, comfort and social atmosphere, these are the best places to stay in Madrid.
In the heart of the old city is Axel Hotel, providing an incredibly fun and comfortable environment to see all the best parts of Madrid while being able to meet others in the city. With its rooftop pool and bar, Axel is the most renowned and top recommended LGBTQ+ hotel in central Madrid. Book your stay at Axel Hotel.
Along with hotel options, there are a variety of hostels to choose from in Madrid. OK Hostel is one of the most popular and highest rated hostels in the city center. It is one of our favorite hostales en Madrid! OK Hostel takes the cake for great location, centered just a five minute walk from Plaza Mayor and a short distance from the gay and nightlife district, Chueca. OK hostel hosts tons of group activities including their daily free walking tour, and a pretty expansive breakfast including eggs, bacon, and a fun cappuccino machine! This makes for a great, comfortable and affordable option for those who are looking to meet fellow travelers and backpackers. Book your stay at OK Hostel Madrid.