Spain’s bustling capital is the lively country’s centre in more ways than one. A stone in La Puerta de Sol marks the country’s most central crossroad point and Spain is governed by Madrid’s centralised government. Known as a round-the-clock city, Madrid has also pulled national and international cuisine into its urban belly and hosts some of the most exemplary art galleries in the world. All this, combined with its architecture, which is literally fit for royalty, makes Madrid a perfect day trip option.
Although a bit of a squeeze, you can fit many sites into your day trip to Madrid. If you’re an art fanatic, you may want to spend the better part of your day gazing at masterpieces in the Prado, Reina Sofia or Thyssen-Bornemisza museums, if however you love the buzz of touristy areas, wander around the Puerta del Sol. Those who prefer a more relaxing time should head to Retiro Park is good for a stroll or a row on the lake. Madrileños love to eat, chat and people watch, so experiencing a long lunch on a terrace is a must. Madrid’s medieval beginnings are evident with array of taverns and bars to explore, as well as the hip and alternative barrios such as Chueca and Malasaña.
INSIDR recommendation highlights on our interactive map of Madrid
What you should not miss on a day trip to Madrid
Parque del Buen Retiro
Walk the same paths as Spanish royalty in this park, which was originally a royal retreat. A huge green expanse in central Madrid, this park hosts more than 15,000 trees. Take out a row boat and bob up and down on the 17th century lake with a spectacular monument as your backdrop. The Velazquez Palace, as well as the Glass Palace were built in the late 19th century and today house exhibitions.
El Prado is an essential pick for art fans. The collections cover pre 1700s European art, the 18th century evocative paintings of Goya, and also 19th century art. One of Spain’s most well-known painters, Velázquez also takes pride of place here. Other notable works include the fantastical The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych by Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch, which was completed at the turn of the 16th century.
World’s Oldest Restaurant – El Botin
Jean Botín founded the world’s first restaurant in 1725. Even though El Botin boasts four floors, you’ll need to reserve to ensure you get a spot. This ancient eatery has kept its original charm by placing seating in the original wine cellar with bare-brick walls. El Botin’s original cast iron oven is three centuries old and still churns out the specialities of cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) or the roast lamb.
Recommended one day schedule to make the most of Madrid
How to start your day in Madrid
Wake early to go to a nearby café for traditional pan con tomate (toast with pureed tomato, garlic and salt) and a café con leche (white coffee). Get to the Prado Museum early to avoid the crowds. Check out the Goya and Velázquez paintings here to get your Spanish art and history combined fix. If there’s time before lunch, head over to the nearby Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for a variety of masterpieces.
Where to spend lunch time in Madrid
Visiting Madrid wouldn’t be complete without the habitual chatting and eating tapas experience. The La Latina district offers this in abundance. Get a terrace table on Cava Baja or Alta and you will be set. Try the patatas bravas (fried potatoes with spicy sauce), jamón croquettes (ham croquettes) and the Spanish tortilla (thick omelette of potato and onion). Wash it down with a jar of Tinto de Verano (summer wine) or a few cañas (small draft beers).
What to do in the afternoon in Madrid
Head over to Retiro Park for an afternoon walk, whilst admiring the late 19th century Velazquez and Glass palaces, where you can see temporary exhibitions. Later, feel like royalty by taking out a boat on the calm lake or wander through the Rose Garden, an Andalusian-styled garden and find the oldest tree in Madrid – over four centuries old. If there’s still time, the Reina Sofia is free after 7pm some weekdays.
Where to spend your evening in Madrid
If the evocative Spanish dance – Flamenco, which originates from the Andalusian gypsies, takes your fancy, then find an authentic tablao. However, if you’d like to be in the thick of the local action, then head to Malasaña for lively, hip bars. If you’re looking for something more radical, then taverns and nightclubs in the nearby LGBT and non-gay friendly Chueca district host drag queen shows on a regular basis.