3 Days In Madrid Spain Itinerary

Madrid is fantastic capital city. I was absolutely besotted on my most recent visit.

Madrid has everything a traveler could want — great food, amazing art museums, sumptuous palaces, and charming neighborhoods.

And what it doesn’t have is the kind of tourist traps you’ll find in London or Paris.

As a result of my big love for the city, I’ve handing over my recommended 3 days in Madrid itinerary. It covers all the top attractions in the most efficient way.

Snapshot of 3 Days in Madrid

Here’s a quick glance of what you can see with this itinerary:

  • Day 1: Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza, Reina Sofia, food tour or flamenco show
  • Day 2: Royal Palace, Almudena Cathedral, Royal Collection Gallery, Mercado San Miguel, Monasterio de la Descalas Reales, Malasaña or Chueca
  • Day 3: Temple of Debod, Liria Palace or Cerralbo Museum, Sorolla Museum or Archaeological Museum, Salamanca or La Latina
facade of Prado museum

3 Days In Madrid Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Art and History

Start your day at the Prado Museum. It’s best to arrive early to enjoy some of the world’s finest European art without the crowds.

The Prado is a massive museum. If you want to see the best artworks, you may want to book a small group guided tour or a private tour to navigate more efficiently.

What you’ll see are some of the most famous paintings on the planet, including masterpieces by Velazquez, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, Caravaggio, and Bosch.

The most crowded spot is in front of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.

After your Prado visit, walk to the nearby Retiro Park for a leisurely stroll around the lake. There’s nothing better than some breathing space after the cultural onslaught of the Prado.

Don’t miss the Crystal Palace. It was originally built in 1887 to house exotic flora and fauna for an exhibition. Today, it’s a venue for temporary art exhibitions,

Pro Tip: It’s currently being renovated inside.

And be sure to see the Fallen Angel sculpture in the park. The city claims it’s the only statue in the world that celebrates the devil.

It was created in 1978 by Ricardo Bellver and depicts Lucifer’s descent into hell. The sculpture is a winged bronze figure. It crowns a fountain and is surrounded by gargoyles.

After lunch or a picnic in the area, visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which is a short walk from Retiro. Here, you’ll find an impressive collection ranging from medieval to modern art.

I know it’s heresy … but this was my favorite museum experience in Madrid.

I especially enjoyed the overview of Modern art on the first floor. You’ll see every “ism” in Western art history — Surrealism, fauvism, German Expressionism, Abstract Expressionism, and Pop Art.

But if you prefer old masters, head upstairs.

There, you’ll find artworks by El Greco, Canaletto, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, and Goya. There are even some early Italian Renaissance paintings, including an especially lovely portrait by Ghirlandaio.

>>> Click here to book a skip the line ticket and tour

facade of the Reina Sofia with glass elevators
Reina Sofia Museum

Next, head to the Reina Sofía Museum, just a 10-minute walk from the Thyysen. This is where you see Picasso’s Guernica and other modern masterpieces.

Guernica is displayed in a room surrounded by photos of Picasso creating the piece and the studies he made for it.

You could easily spend an hour just in this one room. And, in a change of policy just a few months ago, you can now take photos and videos.

Picasso creating Guernica
Picasso creating Guernica

You can also see some great artworks by Dali, Miro, Juan Gris, and Magritte at the museum.

>>> Click here to pre-book a ticket

In the evening, I recommend a food tour or flamenco show.

I went on a history, tapas, and taverns tour and it was excellent. Our guide, Montse, was a great story teller. We went to several historic tapas bars that were over a hundred years old and had a wide range of treats.

Las Carbonares

Alternatively, take in a flamenco show.

Although flamenco originated in Andalucía, Madrid is still an excellent destination for experiencing a flamenco performance.

The city offers numerous flamenco venues. But the quality varies depending on the artists involved.

On my last visit, I attended a show at Las Carboneras, which is known for its high-quality improvisational performances.

You can book tickets in advance for their nightly show.

San Ginés Chocolatería
San Ginés Chocolatería

Day 2: Royal Madrid

Start day 2 of your visit with breakfast at San Ginés Chocolatería.

It’s located in the Sol neighborhood, a bustling and historic area in the center of the city.

This iconic spot is famous for its churros and hot chocolate and has been serving locals and tourists alike since 1894.

facade of the Royal Palace
Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Then, take the metro or walk over to the Royal Palace of Madrid, which opens at 10:00 am. There, you can explore the lavish rooms of Charles III.

Madrid’s Royal Palace is the third greatest palace in Europe, coming in only after Versailles in France and Schonbrunn in Austria. Spain’s royal family called it home for three centuries.

The palace is ridiculously supersized, with over 3,000 rooms. And, of the three giants, it arguably wins the crown for the most sumptuous interior decorations.

When the old wooden palace burned down, Philip V decided to build his own Versailles. After all, he was brought up in Versailles and had a taste for the finer things.

Gala Dining Room
Gala Dining Room

He decided to match his French upbringing and raise Spain to the cultural level of the rest of Europe.

The result is a swishy palace filled with a king’s ransom of chandeliers, frescos, tapestries, porcelain, and gold leaf. There are also paintings by Goya and frescos by Tiepolo.

I highly recommend pre-booking a skip the line ticket in advance. I went first thing in the morning when it opened at 10:00 am. Later in the day (in March), I saw a wickedly long line.

I also suggest booking a guided tour. A tour guide will make the palace come alive and give you anecdotes about the royal family or the artworks.

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

Next, visit the Almudena Cathedral. It’s right across from the Royal Palace.

It’s not as old as your typical European cathedral, and is wrapped in a Neo-Classical shell.

But it’s pretty inside and free to visit. There are colorful Moorish-style ceilings, gorgeous dome frescos, and some paintings by the famous Spanish painter Zurburan.

You can also climb up the tower (until 2:30 pm) and visit the crypt.

The crypt is the largest in Spain. You access it from an entrance to the left when facing the cathedral.

Royal Collection Gallery

If you want to complete your royal tour, head to the Royal Collection Gallery. It’s to the right of the front facade of the cathedral.

Newly opened in 2023, National Geographic dubs it a “top cultural attraction” for 2024.

The museum houses fine art, decorative art, tapestries, period furnishings, and historic artifacts that belonged to the Hapsburg and Bourbon monarchs. They come from palaces all over Spain.

The goods are shown off in spacious, airy galleries. The highlights are paintings by Caravaggio, Goya, Titian, and Velazquez.

>>> Click here to pre-book a ticket

San Miguel Market

Head back to the center of town to have lunch at the Mercado de San Miguel. Once a fresh food market, it’s now an upscale food hall.

There, you can sample a variety of Spanish delicacies under one roof.

After lunch, head to the Plaza Mayor, just a 10-minute walk away.

Take in the architecture and perhaps a coffee in one of the surrounding cafes.

Convent of Las Descalzas Reales
Convent of Las Descalzas Reales

Descales Monastery

Then, visit the Monasterio de la Descalas Reales. If you’re going to visit one monastery in Madrid, make it this one.

The building was originally a palace, built for Emperor Charles V’s treasurer. The emperor and his wife also lived here for a period. And it had close ties to the Spanish aristocracy.

As a result, it’s quite lavish. You’ll find Flemish tapestries and paintings by El Greco, Zurburan, Velazquez, Goya, and Titian. Fra Angelico’s Annunciation used to hang here before being moved to the Prado.

Take the frescoed grand staircase up to the upper cloister. Look for the Guardian Angel by Luisa Roldan and the Madonna and Child by Bernardino Luini.

Monastery of Corpus Christi
Monastery of Corpus Christi

10 minutes away near Plaza Mayor is the Monastery of Corpus Christi. This convent is known for its cloistered order of nuns who sell homemade cookies and other sweets.

You ring a doorbell to get in. Then, place your order and cash on a traditional “torno,” a revolving window.

You cookies come out, all while the nuns maintain their vow of seclusion.

Spend the rest of your afternoon shopping or window-shopping in the Gran Vía and Sol areas, known for their shops and bustling city atmosphere.

revolving door
revolving door
vintage bar in Malasana
vintage bar in Malasana

Malasaña or Chueca

For dinner, explore the restaurants in the Malasaña or Chueca districts, both known for their trendy eateries and nightlife.

The Malasaña neighborhood is right behind Grand Via. It’s one of Madrid’s trendiest neighborhoods and a true nightlife hub.

One of Madrid’s most surprisingly churches is in this neighborhood and worth a peak.

The Iglesia San Antonio de los Alemanes is filled with frescos depicting the life of St. Anthony of Padua.

San Anton Market
San Anton Market

Chueca is one of Madrid’s most vibrant and eclectic neighborhoods, known for its lively atmosphere and as a hub of the LGBTQ+ community.

Chueca has trendy boutiques, diverse bars, and a range of restaurants that cater to all tastes.

It’s also home to the Mercado de San Antón, a good place for dinner and less touristy than San Miguel Market.

Spread over three floors, the market offers stalls selling produce and various eateries.

Castiza Chueca Square
Castiza Chueca Square in Chueca

Day 3: Hidden Gems

Start at the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple relocated to Madrid from Egypt.

Originally from the early 2nd century BC, this temple was a gift from Egypt to Spain in 1968 as a thank you for helping save historic sites threatened by the construction of the Great Aswan Dam.

Today, it stands elegantly in Madrid’s Parque del Oeste. You can admire it from the outside.

Or, line up to head inside one part of the temple. It’s free to visit. And the views from its perch over Madrid are amazing.

Then, visit the Liria Palace or the Cerralbo Museum. These two delightful hidden gems are both quite close to the temple and you can easily walk to them.

Goya Room in Liria Palace
Goya Room @ Liria Palace

The Liria Palace is simply gorgeous, such an underrated site in Madrid. The palace is the residence of the Duke of Alba.

The Neo-Classical palace is a fine example, one of the finest, of 18th century Spanish architecture.

Aside from beautiful rooms and period furnishings, the palace has a splendid art collection, reflecting the passionate art collecting activities of the dukes.

You’ll find paintings by Velazquez, Goya, Titian, and Rubens. The most famous piece is in the Goya Room, Goya’s Portrait of the Duchess of Alba.

You end your visit in the library, which houses rare manuscripts. You can only visit on a guided tour. You can ask for an audio guide in English.

Cerralbo Museum

The Cerralbo Museum is another hidden gem in Madrid. It offers a glimpse into turn of the century Spain in the former home of the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo.

The museum’s design reflects a maximalist decor. No corner is left undecorated. There’s llusionistic marble, grand frescos, and even Murano chandeliers.

The museum features a stunning array of items from the Marquis’s extensive collection, including 50,000 pieces ranging from paintings and sculptures to armor and archaeological treasures.

Visitors can marvel at luxurious period furnishings and an impressive collection that includes works by El Greco, Zurbarán, Ribera, and Goya. The highlight is El Greco’s The Ecstasy of St. Francis of Assisi.

room in the Sorolla Museum
Sorolla Museum

Break for lunch. There are several good places to eat in this area.

For a fancy Michelin experience, you can reserve at Restaurante El Club Allard, close to the Cerralbo Museum. You can also check out El Urogallo or Gastromaquia.

After you’re fueled up, head east to visit either the Sorolla Museum or the Archaeological Museum.

The Sorolla Museum is a quirky house museum located in the artist’s former home. You can see a collection of his works and personal artifacts and wander through the pretty Andalusia-themed garden.

Serrano Street in Salamanca
Serrano Street in Salamanca

Polish off day 3 with some high end shopping in the Salamanca district for a look at Madrid’s more luxurious side.

Stay in Salamanca for dinner. Resrve at la Barilla or La Gaditana. or try the seafood paella at Taberna de Penalver.

Alternatively, conclude your 3 days in Madrid with cocktails and a relaxing dinner further south in the La Latina district.

If you’re looking for a rooftop bar, I have you covered as I went to quite a few on my last visit. You can opt for La Terrazzo de Oscar, the Ritz, My Dear Hotel, Circulo de Belles Artes, or Hotel Rim Plaza de Espana.

rooftop of the Círculo de Bellas Artes
rooftop of the Círculo de Bellas Artes
Calle Cava Baja
Calle Cava Baja

You can go on a tapas crawl down the Calle Cava Baja. It’s one of Madrid’s coolest streets, flanked by a series of colorful buildings. 

A three block stretch is crammed with authentic tapas bars and restaurants, from contemporary to traditional.

If you want a restaurant, I can recommend Botin, El Perro de Pavlov, Juana La Loco, and Onofre.

Alternative Day 3 Plan

If you’ve had enough of the big city, you could instead plan a day trip to Toledo. In my opinion, this is, hands down, the best day trip from Madrid.

Toledo is one of Spain’s great historic cities. It’s renowned for its immaculately maintained medieval architecture, especially it’s stunning Gothic cathedral.

Toledo is often referred to as the “City of Three Cultures” due to its blend of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish influences.

Art enthusiasts will appreciate the city’s connections to El Greco, its most celebrated historical figure. Additionally, Toledo is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site, making it a must-see location.

Located just a 30 minute train journey from Madrid, Toledo is a super easy day trip. You can take the train on your own or book a guided day tour.

Pro Tip: You can also book a tour for both Toledo and Segovia.

pretty street in Toledo

Practical Tips For 3 Days In Madrid

Getting To Madrid

Madrid in an easy place to fly into. You should have loads of flight options, many at good prices. 

If you fly into Madrid, you’ll arrive at Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport. You can get to the city center via train, bus, metro, or taxi. 

Taxi is the easiest and it will cost around 30 euros. You can also book a private transfer, which I always find handy and hassle free.

Getting Around Madrid

Madrid is quite a large city. Yet its historic center is compact enough to explore on foot.

For travel beyond walking distance, the metro is your best bet. It’s clean and straightforward to navigate. If you plan on multiple trips, consider purchasing a 10 ride pass for convenience.

Taxis are another option.

They’re easily spotted by their white exteriors and the city’s coat of arms featuring a bear. You can flag one down or pick one up at various taxi stands around the city.

Additionally, Madrid is increasingly accommodating cyclists. You’ll find bike rentals available in major parks, and many of the larger streets are equipped with bike lanes.

There are plenty of other fun ways to get around Madrid too. You can book:

Four Seasons Hotel

Where To Stay In Madrid

You’re spoiled for choice for excellent hotels in Madrid. New luxury hotels seem to open up every month.

You can stay at classy well-established hotels like The Westin Palace Madrid, the Four Seasons Hotel Madrid, or the Mandarin Oriental Ritz

The Ritz is newly renovated and now has a spa and champagne bar. The Four Seasons has a rooftop restarts helmed by famous chef Dani Garcia.

Some other options are:

If you want to stay in Salamanca, a beautiful new hotel just opened, the Rosewood’s Villa Magna. It’s newly revamped and housed in a historic landmark.

me visiting the Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral

I hope you’ve enjoyed my 3 days in Madrid itinerary. You may find these other Madrid travel guides useful:

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