Tips for a great Madrid weekend break
1. Tapas Tour
On the day of your arrival, sign up for a tapas tour (also called tapeo - Madrid’s version of the pub crawl). As part of the tour, you will be visiting local taverns serving excellent tapas and local drinks. There are many passionate Madrileños offering tapas tours. I will restrict to recommending just two of them, Gourmet Madrid and Devour Madrid
Tapas tour at around 70€ may sound expensive but is worth the price. You get to sample at least 10 tapas and four Spanish wines. If you sign up for the tour on the first day, the advantage is you can shortlist restaurants you may want to visit over the weekend.
2. Madrid sightseeing tour
I am not a big fan of city tours but end up recommending the Madrid hop on hop off tour for those on a weekend trip to Madrid. The hop on hop off tour is a good choice to get a good glimpse of Madrid together with some historical information. At € 19.50, it is a good value. They also offer night tour but I would not recommend the night tour.
3. The Big 3 Museums of Madrid
Madrid is home to three of the world's leading museums:
All the above three museums are close to one another on boulevard popularly known as the Art Walk.
If you staying in Madrid for just a weekend, I will not recommend visiting all the three museums as it can be overwhelming. However, if you do want to visit all of them, plan an itinerary such that you do not end up visiting more than two museums on any day.
Prado is the tall boy of the three museums. It is a must-visit. If you are in a hurry, this post titled Prado in 2 hours will come handy. Thyssen museum is relatively smaller but gives a comprehensive overview of Spanish art scene. Reina Sofia museum is almost exclusively dedicated to modern art with Picasso’s Guernica being the pride of its collection.
For a weekend city break to Madrid, City Pass or even a travel card does not make sense. I would suggest buying Artwalk pass ONLY if you plan to visit all the three museums. If you plan to visit only Prado museum, then please do make an online reservation in advance.
Flamenco might have originated in Andalucía but the best shows are held in Madrid as talent flock to Madrid tablaos (flamenco bars). This post has reviews of various flamenco shows in Madrid.
Note: Do not buy tickets that include dinner. Opt for tickets that only promise flamenco performance.
5. Menu Del Dia
For lunch, always opt for menu del dia - ‘menu of the day’. Menu del dia is a multi-course midday meal for a very reasonable fixed price. This post shortlists some of the best Madrid restaurants known for their Menu del dia.
6. Fashion Shopping
Madrileños dress impeccably, get inspired and go fashion shopping in Madrid. If you are looking for bargains, visit Madrid during the shopping season (months of January and June). Do remember that most shops are closed on Sundays.
Madrid is a nocturnal city; do not miss on the throbbing nightlife scene. Here are some excellent nightlife options in Madrid beyond flamenco. If you are young at heart, head to one of the many nightclubs that dot Madrid.
If you are in Madrid only for a week, select a hotel located in Puerta del Sol Plaza, the city center. Most of the attractions are clustered around the area. The area also serves as one of the city’s public transport hubs.
Editors of The Telegraph have picked the best hotels in Madrid, including luxury hotels and budget hotel in Madrid.
9. Airport to City Center
From the airport, either taxi or Airport Shuttle is a good option. There are plenty of taxi ranks at the airport. Taxi fare from airport to Madrid city center is fixed at 30€. The other option is the Airport Shuttle bus, Exprés Aeropuerto. The shuttle bus takes approximately 40 minutes to get to the city center and costs only 5 euros for a single ticket.
10. Hire a bicycle
Unlike most other Spanish cities, Madrid is not a bicycle friendly city. There are not many dedicated cycle paths. However, I find bicycle more practical than traveling around in a metro. I would recommend renting a bicycle (Madrid’s bike hire scheme is BiciMAD)
If you are not a cycling enthusiast, do not worry. Madrid is a great place to walk around with most of the attractions within walking distance of one another.
11. Travel Guide
There are excellent apps that are practical and help you formulate a personalized itinerary for your Madrid city break. Also, suggest reading NYT’s 36 Hours in Madrid. It makes for a good reading though you may end up not following the suggested itinerary. As with most articles in the 36 hours series, the author comes up with good recommendations avoiding tourist traps. The recommended things to see and do are what any local resident would recommend to others.
Madrid weekend - TOP suggestions in pictures
I strongly suggest to not pack in too many attractions or your relaxed weekend will become too hectic. Make one planned visit to an attraction, at the most. Spend the rest of your time experiencing the pulse of the city.
If you really want to relax, head to Retiro Park for an afternoon of lazing or boating on the lake. Retiro park also has The Crystal Palace, an extension of Reina Sofia Museum, hosting free exhibits.*
Make a choice between Flamenco, Madrid nightlife, and Tapas. Madrid has a reputation for all 3. I would suggest a Tapas crawl because that way you can also get a great idea of the nightlife (without necessarily naming it focused on clubs).
Or if you want to eat Tapas during the day, head to Mercado San Miguel, a perfectly authentic tapas destination housed in the only remaining, historic iron and glass structure in Madrid.
At night, explore the city centre and its nightlife. Grand Via and Puerta del Sol areas have many traditional bars with regulars and their gin-tonics!
Templo Debod has the best sunset in Madrid. It is free and it feels like you are in a different world.
Fashion and Style
Go and hang out at Barrio Salamanca even if you don't plan to shop. It is the most upscale part of Madrid, famous for hi fashion.
Recommended plan for Madrid weekend city break
Madrid is a compact city with many attractions close to one another. If you are visiting over a weekend, suggest you hire a bike for moving between attractions easily.
Day 1 Morning
Prado Museum, which is one of the most important art galleries in the world, includes paintings of Goya, Velazquez, Rubens or El Bosco. This post details how to visit Prado in 2 hours
Day 1 afternoon
Walk Madrid center and visit very popular sites like Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol or Puerta de Alcalá. For lunch, head to a small restaurant for menu-del-dia.
Day 1 night
Madrid is famous for its nightlife. Central part of Madrid is full of bars, restaurants, and pubs. Read this post, if you are looking for some Madrid nightlife suggestions. For my money, I feel flamenco performance is the best nightlife idea. This post reviews the flamenco bars of Madrid.
Day 2 morning
You should visit Palacio Real, Sabatini Gardens and Catedral de la Almudena.To visit Palacio Real budget for at least 2 hours and hire a guide.
Day 2 afternoon
Parque del Retiro or Madrid Rio. If you are visiting Madrid with children, Madrid Rio has more activities to keep children occupied.
Day 2 night
If you have the luxury of spending the second night at Madrid, it has to be at Huertas in Barrio de las Letras, a popular place in the center for going out at night.
I am not a major fan of the city sightseeing tours but many weekend tourists prefer to take a tour on Madrid vision bus to get a quick overview of Madrid. You could consider the same on day one. This post has a detailed review of Madrid sightseeing Hop on Hop Off bus.
Unlike many cities, you can visit Madrid on Sundays too - everything is open: restaurants, museums, shops…
Madrid weekend budget for a couple
For a stay of 2 days and 2 nights in Madrid, budget to spend approximately 500 euros as a couple. If you stay away from the centre and don't go out much at night, you can even get by on 350.
TOTAL : 500 euros for a couple on a weekend trip to Madrid
- Accommodation : 200 euros
- Meals : 150 euros (6 hearty meals @ 25 each per couple)
- Nightlife : 100 euros (2 nights out without cutting corners)
- Incidentals and attractions : 50 euros
- Transport : 0 (Walk around, it is easy)