Madrid, the vibrant capital of Spain, is a city full of rich history, culture, and cuisine, making it an ideal destination for anyone seeking a taste of authentic Spanish life. Whether you have just one day or several to explore the city, there are plenty of experiences to enjoy in Madrid. If you're in the former category, read on to learn how to make the most of 24 hours in Madrid.

Planning Your Day in Madrid

Madrid's skyline at sunset

As the capital city of Spain, Madrid is officially the country's financial center, as well as its arts and cultural hub. Many argue that Madrid is the most cultural city in Spain (a challenging title to obtain), as it combines all the historical influences the country has seen over millennia, including Roman, Muslim, and Christian.

King Phillip III established the city as the capital in the 16th century, but not for typical reasons. Unlike many other European capitals, Madrid doesn't have a significant river, valuable natural resources, or a strategic geographical location. Instead, the city's appeal came from its independence, as it wasn't at the mercy of any influences outside the royal family. Today, you'll find an eclectic mix of cultures, gastronomy, art, and energy where you can join local Madrileños prowling the "City of Cats" day and night.

Even if you only have 24 hours in Madrid, you can see and do a lot, experiencing the capital's mix of culture like a true local. You can easily visit the city's main sites in one day, including Retiro Park, Prado Museum, the Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, and more. Below you'll find kimkim's suggestion for 24 hours in Madrid. Of course, you can use it as a general guideline and cater the day to your interests. Enjoy delicious food, mingle with the locals, and learn about the city's (and country's) history. 

8:00 am: Enjoy a Local Breakfast

Delicious "churros con chocolate" are a weekend staple in Spain

Madrileños prefer a light breakfast later in the morning, so join them around 8:00 am for a traditional bite. You'll find many cafés in the city center offering international breakfasts. Still, sleepy residents prefer bars with metal wraparound counters so they can stand at the bar with a café con leche, tostada (toasted bread with grated tomatoes and olive oil), and orange juice. Wipe your hands and mouth with a napkin, toss it on the floor, and drop your change on the counter, all in local style. Other typical breakfast delights in Madrid include churros con chocolate, a slice of Spanish omelet (pincho de tortilla), and sweet pastries.

9:00 am: Explore Retiro Park

The pond and Monument to Alfonso XII in Retiro Park

With a full belly, it's time to walk in the city's most famous park, El Retiro. Start at the Puerta de Alcala, a gorgeous city gate built in 1778 by the Italian architect Sabatini. Set on the Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Square), the entrance welcomes three of the city's most famous streets: Alcala Street, Madrid's longest road; Alfonso XII Street, which leads to Atocha train station; and Serrano Street, Madrid's most glamorous avenue. Spend a few minutes admiring each side of the gate, looking for sculptures of the four children representing the cardinal virtues: fortitude, justice, temperance, and prudence.

Next, enter Retiro Park through one of its main gates and enjoy the immediate reprieve. Madrid is a big and bustling city, yet Retiro feels like a secret oasis. Walk to the Retiro pond, where you can rent a boat. Don't miss the Crystal Palace's art exhibitions and the Parterre Gardens.

10:30 am: Grab a Snack

Madrid is known for its sweet pastries and coffee culture

Because lunch is a later event in Spain, you'll want to grab a quick snack to tide you over. Plenty of kiosks in Retiro Park sell simple snacks, which works in a pinch but consider strolling to one of the surrounding neighborhoods. A bakery or coffee house is the perfect spot to continue your gastronomy exploration of Madrid. The following recommendations can help get you started:

Sucre Salón de Té. Head to this beautiful café for its eclectic atmosphere and assortment of sweet and savory pastries.

Moulin Chocolat. You'll usually find a line out of this café, but it's worth any wait—it's famous for grab-and-go French pastries and ice cream. 

Salutteria. For something more savory, consider the beautiful café full of character, charm, and easy meals like Italian sandwiches, focaccia, and salads.

Hotel Wellington. As one of the best luxury hotels in Madrid, you might think this is just a fancy eatery. The hotel's kitchen is known for its picnic baskets, so you can arrange one ahead of time and pick it up before you go to the park if you wish.

Plan your trip to Spain
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

11:00 am: Peruse the Museums

Enjoy Madrid's museums, some of the best in Europe

Madrid is a city of museums, so you can choose from numerous themes and interests. You can read kimkim's in-depth article about selecting the best museums to visit in Madrid here. However, a popular choice is the Prado Museum, one of the most famous in the world. If you're a history and art buff, it's a site not to miss and where you'll learn about Spanish culture and art. Don't miss masterpieces like "Las Meninas" by Diego Velázquez, "La maja desnuda" by Francisco Goya, "The Three Graces" by Peter Paul Rubens, and "The Garden of Earthly Delights Triptych" by Hieronymus Bosch. 

If you'd like a unique museum experience, consider visiting the Prado Museum with an art historian.

Though there are over 40 museums in the city, here is a handful of options for you to consider: 

Reina Sofia Museum. This museum is an excellent pick for families and houses two exhibits in Retiro Park: the beautiful Crystal Palace and Velázquez Palace. Both are free to enter, and it's nice to pair your visit with the park. The museum focuses on Spanish and international art of the 20th century, presenting international modern and contemporary art. Many choose the museum for its vast collections by some renowned Spanish painters like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miró.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Enjoy this museum's pictorial collections, which follow a historical sequence and the evolution of different artistic styles. You'll start with the first historical Italian and Dutch paintings and move on to Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassicism art, and more. Highlights include "Christ and the Samaritan Woman" by Duccio di Buoninsegna, "Les Vessenots en Auvers" by Vincent van Gogh, and "Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Waking" by Salvador Dalí.

Official Tour Bernabéu. If you're a Madrid soccer team fan, this is the museum for you. Visiting the stadium requires a guided tour, which allows you to see behind the scenes and learn about the history and stories of Real Madrid. Learn about the football club's history while visiting the trophy hall, locker room, press room, and the tunnel leading to the pitch. You can also snap photos of the field and stands and peruse the museum. 

CaixaForum Madrid. You'll find a focus on contemporary art, architecture, and social and cultural issues here. The exhibits are highly interactive, providing a hands-on experience for visitors to engage with the art. The museum also has an impressive vertical garden, which provides a beautiful backdrop for exhibitions and events. Enjoy photography, film, and visual arts collections, plus debates and workshops on social and cultural issues.

1:00 pm: Start Your Lunchtime "Tapear"

It's easy to walk and hop from one tapas bar to the next in Madrid

A tapear is simply a tapas walk, where you'll stop at numerous bars to enjoy several small bites, a beloved Spanish pastime. One of the best streets in Madrid for a tapear is Calle de La Cruz (Cross Street). Enjoy different tapas bars for lunch, being sure to stop at Casa Toni. Other tapas streets in Madrid's core include Calle de la Cava Baja, Calle de Cervantes, and Calle de las Huertas.

3:00 pm: Explore the Old Town

Plaza Mayor in Madrid's historic core

Since you're in the city's Old Town, it's time to enjoy some of the sites. Though Madrid is a large city of over three million residents, its historic center is relatively compact, allowing easy exploration. Kimkim can help you book a guided walk with a local in Madrid, but you can also take yourself on a stroll through the city. If you choose to peruse the cobbled streets on your own, there are a few places you can't miss. 

After lunch, walk to Gran Vía, where you will see two of Madrid's most famous buildings: the Metropolis and the Capitol Building at Plaza de Callao. Continue to Puerta del Sol and look up. Sitting at the top of the Casa de Correos building is the famous clock where people gather on New Year's Eve to participate in a unique tradition. Revelers will quickly eat 12 grapes during the last 12 chimes from the clock at midnight.

Next, walk toward the Royal Palace via Plaza Mayor. Along the way, you'll pass Madrid's oldest food market, Mercado de San Miguel. Stop here to try tapas or grab a drink, then continue to the palace. Kimkim can plan a visit to Madrid's Royal Palace for you, which includes stops in the surrounding gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena

6:00 pm: Pre-Dinner Drinks at a Garden or Rooftop

Skyline of Madrid from Circulo de Bellas Artes rooftop
Enjoy the Madrid skyline from Círculo de Bellas Artes rooftop

If you're traveling to the country for the first time, plenty of Spain FAQs might fill your brain. A popular question is when Spaniards eat meals, as they function on a slightly different timeline. Because of the heat and lengthy daylight, eating a late dinner in Spain is common. Therefore, it's time to grab a light snack and drink in the city!

After you visit the Royal Palace, stop for a drink at the Sabatini Gardens, where you can enjoy a beautiful sunset through the gardens and Madrid's river, the Manzanares. Other options include rooftop terraces, of which the city has plenty. The most popular rooftop is undoubtedly at Círculo de Bellas Artes. Still, the bar atop The Principal Madrid Hotel (one of the best luxury hotels in Madrid) is another good option.

8:00 pm: Enjoy Dinner in Salamanca

Madrid's culinary scene ranges from casual tapas to Michelin-star dinners

Madrid's Salamanca neighborhood is known for its culinary scene, so it's the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely Spanish dinner. With its elegant architecture, broad avenues, and tree-lined streets, Salamanca exudes a sophisticated atmosphere that attracts locals and visitors alike. Some good options for more upscale eateries include the following:

Santceloni. This restaurant has earned three Michelin stars for its innovative and beautifully presented cuisine. It offers an extensive tasting menu that showcases the flavors of Spain in a contemporary way, using the freshest ingredients sourced from the region.

Ramón Freixa Madrid. Another three-Michelin-starred restaurant, Ramón Freixa Madrid is known for its playful and imaginative approach to traditional Spanish dishes. Chef Ramón Freixa creates a unique culinary experience by unexpectedly blending textures, colors, and flavors.

Punto MX. For a taste of authentic Mexican cuisine with a modern twist, head to Punto MX. The restaurant offers a sophisticated dining experience with dishes that showcase Mexican cuisine's complex flavors and aromas.

Ten Con Ten. This stylish restaurant combines a chic ambience with a modern take on classic Spanish cuisine. Its menu offers various options, from fresh seafood and meat dishes to vegetarian options, all served with a creative flair.

Of course, plenty of other neighborhoods offer delicious bites, some for a more affordable price. If Salamanca doesn't fit your vibe or budget, head to hip Chueca or Malasaña or check out the international food scene in Las Latinas

10:30 pm: Nightcap

Madrid's glowing skyline at dusk

You might be ready to hit the sack at this point, but for Madrileños, the night is young. Join the locals and savor the final hours of the city's energy by enjoying a nightcap. If you didn't visit one of Madrid's famed rooftop bars earlier, now's the time. Or, for something more casual, head back to the Literary Quarter and snuggle into a tapas bar or sip vermouth at the authentic La Venencia.

If you need some trip inspiration for how to spend your time in Spain, specifically Madrid, past kimkim travelers have enjoyed the following itineraries:

Off the Beaten Path in Madrid & Barcelona - 5 Days
Explore the Cities & Culture of Spain: Madrid, Valencia & Barcelona - 8 Days
Culinary Tour of Spain: Madrid, Bilbao, San Sebastian & Barcelona - 12 Days