Ah, Madrid. Home to Plaza Mayor, calamari sandwiches, and probably the finest global collections of Spanish art, it’s no wonder Madrid is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Even if you only have three days in Madrid, you’re bound to experience an array of activities that will have your senses swirling in sensation and spontaneity.
Madrid’s size is almost incomprehensible, while its melange of historical architectural styles only accentuate the city’s artistic and cultural expressions. Its pedestrian-friendly routes are just perfect for exploring on foot, by bicycle, or even via its impressive array of public transport systems of trains and buses.
From Madrid’s castles to its royal palaces to its bustling market squares, the city will capture your heart (and stomach) in no time.
So, with so much to do and so little time, here’s how to spend the perfect 3 days in Madrid.
Day 1 in Madrid City
You’ll become well-acquainted with Madrid’s extravagant palaces, plazas and parks after your first day exploring the city.
Stroll Through Retiro Park and Stop by the Glass Palace
Your 3 day Madrid itinerary starts in a peaceful atmosphere enveloped in verdant foliage. Retiro Park (El Parque Retiro) is Madrid’s equivalent to New York’s Central Park. It’s about 350 acres of lush, green space filled with trees, statues, water features, and even a man-made lake.
The park’s centerpiece has to be the Glass Palace (El Palacio de Cristal) that sits right on the lake. This structure was originally built as a massive greenhouse in the 19th century to showcase various exotic fauna and flora. Its cast-iron bones holding the bodies of delicate panes of glass create a transparent skeletal structure that is both elegant and eerily beautiful.
Browse Through the Reina Sofia Museum
Less than a mile away from the Glass Palace lies the Reina Sofia Museum. Now, this isn’t just any museum. In fact, the Reina Sofia Museum (El Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) is Spain’s national museum of 20th century art. This institution is globally recognized by the international art community for holding original works belonging to masters such as Picasso, Dali, Monet, and Warhol.
You’ll see some of the most impressive private collections and exhibitions in the world, so get ready to have your mind blown. Also, this museum is absolutely huge, so be prepared to spend two hours here at the very least.
Admire the Royal Botanic Gardens
In need of some sunshine and a sit-down after your extensive gallery tour? Head back towards Retiro Park, but this time stop in at the Royal Botanic Gardens (Real Jardín Botánico). The public entrance is located at the simple little Plaza Murillo. Once here, you’ll discover beautiful nooks and crannies, shaded resting spots, and over 5,000 species of plants.
Science and education are also a large part of the gardens’ philosophy, as it’s still run by Spain’s National Scientific Research Council. The garden is even complete with a library and historical archive housing the historic botanical documents of 18th and 19th century Spanish explorers. A tour through the garden will offer you access to the archives plus invaluable knowledge such as important uses and functions of the plants.
Climb to the Top of the Tower at Cibeles Palace
As one of the (if not the) city’s most iconic buildings, Cibeles Palace (Palacio de Cibeles) is located in the Plaza de Cibeles – right in the center of the city. It’s a Neo-Classical architectural masterpiece that still acts as Madrid’s Town Hall, hosting the Madrid City Council.
It’s open Tuesday to Sunday (closed on Mondays and public holidays) from 10:30 am with the last entry being at 7 pm. At the top of the palace’s highest tower, you’ll find a viewpoint offering 360 degree views of Madrid. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sun dip over the city and experience the soft sunset hues wash over the buildings of Madrid.
Fun Fact: Calling all soccer fans! An interesting fact about Madrid and the Cibeles Palace is that the Real Madrid soccer team and fans gather outside the palace by the fountain to celebrate after every victory.
Amble Through Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor lies in the heart of Madrid – and that’s exactly what it encapsulates. This large, open, ambient square is a multifaceted public place.
Characterized by its Baroque architecture and rectangular shape complete with archways, Plaza Mayor is truly breathtaking. However, it wasn’t always so peaceful here – the plaza’s four centuries of history date back to bullfights and even public executions. It was the center of the Old Town Madrid, so the history here is rich and fascinating.
The best thing to do here is to stroll around, take in the views, and have a meal at one of the many stunning restaurants and cafés here.
Travel Tip: The restaurants and cafés within the square here are super chic, so if you’re looking to save some cash on dinner, it’s probably a better idea to just have a drink here instead.
Spend the Evening at Mercado de San Miguel
Fortunately, just about 300 feet from Plaza Mayor is the renowned 107-year-old food market of Mercado de San Miguel. The range of cuisine at this vibey undercover marketplace will live rent-free in your head forever.
From Madrid-style snails to churros and fresh oysters, the culinary delights here range from regional and national dishes and are a feast for both the eyes and the stomach. It’s the perfect place to taste a little bit of everything as you browse the stalls and sample the delicacies.
Mercado de San Miguel is distinguished by its elegant flair as a bustling hub of friendly interaction. As a grand center of activity, people usually stand at the counters and even spill out onto the street.
Day 2 in Madrid
Your second day in Madrid will involve art, vermouth, and flamenco – basically the epitome of Madrid.
Wander Through the Prado Museum
The Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado) is the primary Spanish art museum. It houses the world’s finest collection of Spanish art dating back to the 12th century all the way up to the 20th century.
The museum features an overwhelming display of art (8,600 paintings and 700 sculptures to be exact). So, it’s always a good idea to do some research and narrow it down to a few things you’d definitely like to see. General top recommendations to start with include the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch and Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
It’s always a good idea to get your Prado Museum entry ticket beforehand, as the establishment can get very busy and you’ll want to avoid disappointment due to daily sellouts.
Snap a Pic by the Neptune Fountain
The neoclassical white marble Neptune Fountain (Fuente de Neptuno) is one of the most regal water features in all of Madrid. It features the Roman god wielding a trident as he is being pulled by a pair of sea-horses in a shell chariot. It really is as breathtaking as it sounds.
The fountain was completed in 1786 and sits in the center of the Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo. It’s the perfect public representation of Madrid’s artistic and historic significance, so you must have your camera ready.
Meander Down Paseo del Prado
The Paseo del Prado is a stunning urban tree-lined boulevard that runs north to south from Cibeles to the Neptune Fountain. It was actually implemented by King Phillip II in the 16th century in order for all of Madrid’s citizens to enjoy nature within the city. It is even titled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical and social significance.
Paseo del Prado is commonly called the Art Road, as it’s home to ‘the Golden Triangle of Art’ – with three mammoth museums (the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Art Centre and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum) that are world-renowned.
Along with museums, you’ll find a number of shops and restaurants along this stretch. It’s the perfect place to take a leisurely stroll and browse at your own pace under the green canopies of the Deodar Cedars and the European Nettles.
Have a Vermouth at the 1862 Dry Bar
Madrileños (people from Madrid) say that Vermouth is like a taste of the city in a glass. So, it’s only right you sample some at one of Madrid’s most renowned cocktail bars.
One such establishment is the 1862 Dry Bar – a no-frills cocktail bar with a speakeasy atmosphere serving up some world-class drinks. It’s located in the vibey area of Malasaña, known for its nightlife and impressive array of quaint bars and clubs.
The ambience here is elegant and sophisticated, with rows of beautiful bottles lining the shelves. The certified mixologists and cocktail kingpins behind the bar are sure to whip you up something unforgettable. The service is great and the atmosphere is friendly, so, honestly, you can’t get a better feel anywhere for the nightlife in Madrid than right here.
Fun Fact: If you’re wondering where the date in the bar’s name came from, it was actually the year that the first ever cocktail recipe book was published.
End the Day at a Live Flamenco Show
Experience the true essence of the 200-year-old art of flamenco – a Spanish dance style that involves singing, guitar, romance and lots of vibrant colors. In fact, Madrid is one of the best places in Spain to watch a live flamenco show due to the city’s long history with the dance dating back to the 18th century.
Flamenco performances don’t simply involve one or two dancers on stage. The intricate footwork and rhythmic claps of the dancers along with the virtuoso guitar playing and the emotionally charged vocals all coalesce to create an electrifying spectacle.
This expressive style of dance is centered around passionate emotions such as anger, sadness, love, and everything it means to be human. Interestingly enough, flamenco involves a lot of improvisation from the dancers’ side. So, what you’ll witness at a flamenco show in Madrid is almost pretty much 100% original and raw vulnerability.
Day 3 in Madrid City
Day three will take you past monumental buildings and lure you into the city with a taste of its royal history.
Marvel at the Almudena Cathedral
The Almudena Cathedral is arguably Madrid’s most important religious structure. Even if you are not religious yourself, the sheer beauty, history, and grandeur of this cathedral is a must-see.
There has been controversy surrounding the cathedral – but not for the reasons you may think. The clashes of opinion are mainly due to the mixture of architectural styles the Cathedral has adopted.
These include neo-Gothic on the interior, neoclassical on the exterior, and Romanesque in the crypt. This assortment of styles is mainly due to the cathedral being modified at different times in different projects.
Most cathedrals maintain a west-east orientation. However, the Almudena Cathedral is positioned north-south, so that it can face directly opposite the Royal Palace of Madrid, to which it was (and still is) an integral part.
Explore the Royal Palace of Madrid
Expect extravagance, opulence, and luxury at the Royal Palace of Madrid. Although the royal family does not currently live in the palace, it’s still considered their official place of residence. All in all, it is an architectural and historical wonder that is well worth a visit.
This 18th century palace is actually one of the largest in Europe with around 3,400 rooms and at 1,450,000 square feet. It is complete with its own lavish Sabatini Gardens. Once inside, look out for the Grand Staircase built from a single slab of marble complete with ornate sculptures and carvings.
Quick Tip: if you’d like to skip the sometimes-very-long line into the Palace, consider booking this Fast Access Admission Ticket beforehand. It will save you precious time on your Madrid 3 day itinerary.
Glance Into the Past at Cerralbo Museum
Prepare to be transported back in time to get an opulent glimpse into how the Spanish aristocracy lived towards the end of the 19th century.
The Cerralbo Museum is a perfectly preserved palace with 50,000 glistening artifacts and the same decorations it used to have in the 19th century, including furniture, tapestry, and paintings. Its authenticity has earned it a spot on one of Madrid’s top tourist destinations as a grand art museum.
You can usually wander around here for about an hour, so it’s a perfect pit stop on the way to your next destination. Plus, there’s free entry on Thursdays from 5 pm to 8 pm.
Take a Ride on Madrid’s Only Cable Car
Be prepared to see Madrid as you’ve never seen it before by soaring over the city on this moving cable car. There’s no better way to experience uninterrupted panoramic views of the city as you travel 131 feet above the ground. You’ll be able to spot monumental buildings, famous historical sights, and the mountains of northern Madrid in the distance.
The cable car was first opened to the public in 1969 and was originally built as a ride belonging to the Parque de Atracciones amusement park in Parque del Campo. There are 80 moving cars that each fit six passengers, and the whole ride is one and a half miles that will take you about 11 minutes.
You’ll get in the cable car at the Paseo de Pintor Rosales in Parque Oeste and travel to the station in Parque del Campo. With a one-way ticket, you can get off in Parque del Campo and explore the capital’s biggest park, or continue back to Parque Oeste for a round trip.
Venture on a Wine and Tapas Walking Tour
Experiencing Madrid in three days simply must involve an evening wine and tapas walking tour. You’ll visit some of Madrid’s best hidden gems, including four tapas bars where you’ll stop for various types of food and drinks. As you move from bar to bar, you’ll learn about the origin of certain tapas and wine that come from various parts of the country.
This tour is perfect if you’re a foodie (or anyone who loves food in general) looking to learn more about Spain’s unique cuisine. It’s a small group tour with a maximum of 13 people, so you’ll be sure to get the most out of this intimate experience.
The tour starts in central Madrid in Santa Ana Square in front of the theater and lasts about three hours. There are two time slots for this tour, the first being at 12:30 pm and the second at 7:30 pm, so you can choose whichever best suits you.
Getting Around in Madrid
Fortunately, central Madrid is very well-connected to its outskirts and and even other parts of Spain and Western Europe. Here are the five most common modes of transport in Madrid.
Madrid’s excellent metro system is probably the best, easiest, and fastest way to move around the city. There are over 300 stations that link the city via 15 lines. It also connects Madrid to the surrounding outskirts, suburbs, plus the Madrid-Barajas Airport, making traveling long distances around the city cheap and hassle-free.
The metro runs from 6:30 am to 1 am, and trains usually depart every two minutes in the rush hours of morning and late afternoons, and then every 15 minutes during other hours.
Remember: Take note that the trains tend to be a little less frequent on the weekends.
If you’re in a hurry or the weather is too miserable or cold to walk, you can easily catch a taxi by hailing one on the side of the road or waiting at a designated taxi rank (usually marked with a blue sign with a white “T”). Taxis in Madrid accept both card and cash payments.
If you are short on time and don’t want to risk getting lost, you can call an Uber via the Uber app on your phone. The upside to taking an Uber as opposed to a taxi is that Ubers are more regulated in terms of driver background checks and lift costs.
Madrid also has a very efficient bus system, with over 2,000 vehicles and 200 bus lines. Madrid’s buses usually run from 6:30 am to 11 pm, generally passing every four to fifteen minutes. After 11:30 pm, the city operates what are called búhos, or night buses (búhos is actually the Spanish word for owl) that run until the early hours of the morning.
Remember that the buses won’t stop unless requested, so be sure to signal to the driver that you need to get off at the upcoming stop via the button by your seat.
If you want to see the city at your own pace and time, then a car rental is probably best. This option allows you to drive deep into the spots that you likely wouldn’t reach with public transport and a long time of walking.
To make the car rental experience easier, rent a car now and you’ll have it waiting for you on the day you arrive.
Where to Stay in Madrid
As the largest city in Spain with over three million inhabitants within 234 square miles, here are the top four neighborhoods to stay in Madrid.
Retiro is one of the best places to stay in Madrid if you’d like to be close to the golden triangle of art museums and tons of local shops, bars, and restaurants. It’s a rather posh neighborhood that’s very family-friendly and close to the amazing El Retiro Park. There’s a traditional, laid-back vibe here that’s sought after due to the area’s proximity to the city center.
As one of Madrid’s trendiest areas, it’s no wonder Malasaña is also a hub for nightlife. Bursting with life at any time of the day, Malasana is the perfect place to stay for those looking for a social buzz and some quirky shops (thrifters, you’ll love the retro shops here). Once here, you’ll find tons of bars, pubs, and clubs. It’s the perfect place to go whether you’re looking to start or end your evening.
This historic neighborhood has a rather edgy feel with its old Spanish taverns and steep, maze-like medieval streets. It’s probably the most multicultural area in Madrid, thanks to its wide array of budget-friendly accommodation and authentic shops and bars that’s been drawing in working-class people since the 1960’s. The art exhibitions and music shows here contribute to the area’s unique village-like atmosphere.
Madrid’s Gran Via is a long street lined with some of Madrid’s most exclusive shops and hotels. It’s the best area to stay if you’re after a shopping extravaganza. It’s a rather touristy area, but the street itself is filled with beautiful architecture and some of Madrid’s signature buildings (such as the Metropolis building of the Church of San Jose).
- Hotel Palacio del Retiro – best for luxury accommodation
- Ibis Madrid Centro – best for mid-range accommodation
- The Central House Madrid Lavapiés – best for budget-friendly accommodation
Quick Tip: If you’ve been dreaming of an opulent stay during your time in the city, here’s some more information on the top luxury hotels in Madrid.
The Best Time to Visit Madrid
The best time to go to Madrid is generally in the shoulder-seasons of September and October.
During these months, expect great deals at hotels and other accommodation options. Plus, there will be less crowds and cheaper prices throughout the city.
September and October are still pleasant and warm, making for a sweet relief from Madrid’s sweltering summer temperatures throughout July and August. Since Madrid is very inland, the heat here can be unbearably dry, so you’ll have to book a hotel with a pool or find a public swimming spot to cool off.
FAQs About Madrid
Although exciting, traveling to Madrid can also be a little daunting. Here are some frequently asked questions when it comes to visiting the Spanish capital.
How Many Days in Madrid is Enough?
Three days is plenty of time to become well-acquainted with Madrid and its ambient atmosphere. However, if you’d really like to take your time exploring and thoroughly delve into Madrid’s attractions offerings, one week would be a great amount of time to spend here.
How Much Money Do You Need For Three Days in Madrid?
For travelers on a tighter budget, expect to spend around €80 ($85) per day; this includes food, accommodation, transport, and one paid attraction. For those on an average budget, the daily cost in Madrid is usually around €130 ($138) per day.
Is Madrid a Walkable City?
Yes, Madrid is a very walkable city. With wide sidewalks and most of the city’s iconic attractions being rather close to one another, it’s a pleasure to explore Madrid on foot.
Plus, you’ll be able to explore Madrid’s streets and neighborhoods at your own leisure and pace.
Final Thoughts: Madrid in 3 Days
I hope this article has answered some of your burning questions pertaining to what to do in Madrid for 3 days.
Madrid is known for its galleries and museums. From the grandeur of the Royal Palace to the timeless elegance of the Prado Museum, Madrid’s historical and artistic treasures are a testament to the city’s complex heritage. The culinary journey through Madrid is equally as enchanting, with tapas bars, traditional bodegas, and local markets beckoning with delightful flavors.
So, at first glance, three days in Madrid may seem like an incomprehensible short time to accomplish all you want to do. However, it is in fact very possible to view the majority of the city’s main attractions in this very short but sweet amount of time.
Read More: Keen to venture out of the city during your short stay? Here’s a list of some of the best private day trips from Madrid.