What you will cover in 2 days in Madrid
Your two days in Madrid will be quite different from each other. With day one bringing you to the tourist attractions which show off beautiful architecture with rich histories. The second day gets you into the amazing collections of art Madrid has acquired over the centuries. This will certainly be more satisfying than a 1 day trip.
What you will have to miss in 2 days
Two days is still not truly enough time to get out of the city center and into the more local neighborhoods of Madrid. It is also not enough to see all of the museums, of which there are many, none of them average.
How we will tackle 2 days in Madrid
Luckily much of Madrid’s main attractions are very centrally located and can easily be walked in minimal time. So I’ve divided the center into two days, the eastern part being where the museums are they go nicely together. The western side of el centro is home to plazas, parks and historical attractions, a great combination for its own day.
What to see on Day 1
Get an overview of the grandeur that is Madrid, its impressive, clean plazas and royal presence. A modern city steeped in history day one will give you a good feel for both parts of the city.
Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor
Right in the center of the city are two main squares and meeting points. Puerta del Sol is KM 0 for Spanish roads and is home to the clock that chimes 12 bells at the New Year, when Spaniards eat 12 grapes, one on each chime, for a fruitful New Year.
Down the street is Plaza mayor which is surrounded by residential building which have, in total, 237 balconies. From here find San Gines Chocolateria which has been in the same spots for over 120 years. It’s a Madrid institution and you should for the Chocolate con churros, aim for breakfast time, though the chocolateria is open 24 hours a day 365 days a week.
The Royal Palace of Madrid
Next stop is The Royal Palace of Madrid which is a 7-minute walk from Plaza Mayor.
The Royal Palace of Madrid was built in the 18th century under King Philip V. The same site was used for various other buildings, the previous one being an alcazar which burnt down in 1734. Today the palace is still the official residence of the Spanish royal family though it is no longer their home. The palace holds over 3,000 rooms.
Before entering you’ll see the impressive courtyards make sure to take a look at the views across Madrid countryside. On Wednesdays around noon you can see the changing of the guards - infantry as well as horseback.
Entrance is €11.00 and can be supplemented with an audio guide. An official guided tour is also an option. Plane to spend 2-3 hours here.
Temple of Debod
This shrine was originally located in upper Egypt, its construction started in the 2nd century, but in in the 1960’s when the construction of dams in the area threatened to damage the artifact it was gifted to Spain as a thank you for assisting in the saving of a different temple. While the original construction is now on display it is not laid out in the same manner as it had been in Egypt.
Do visit the small, informative museum inside Templo Debod
Entrance is free to this attraction but you may have to queue to get through security. It is also possible to see it from outside the gates but certainly aim to go when it’s open.
Casa de Campo
Finish off your day of sight-seeing with a breather in the largest Madrid park. Called ‘country house’ this was once a royal hunting estate. But before you go stop by San Miguel Market and pack yourself a few refreshments to enjoy al fresco
What to see on Day 2
Day 2 is museum day. While you may need a lifetime to truly see and appreciate every bit of artwork the city has to offer you can still fit a lot into your day. Make sure you’re well rested and wearing good shoes.
Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
Start your museum day in the heart of the city at this often-overlooked gallery. The museum offers three floors of artwork including Goyas and Rubens and a lot fewer tourists than its larger counterparts. If you’re in town on a Wednesday you’ll be able to enter for free. Your visit here will probably take you 2-3 hours. When you’re finished appreciating the art head up to the rooftop bar for a drink and a great view.
Plaza de la Cibeles
On your way through to museum number two take at least a moment to stand and appreciate Madrid’s best known square. It is surrounded by some of the most photogenic buildings in the city. The plaza gets its name from the beautiful statue of Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility being pulled in a chariot by two lions.
Organized chronologically is a collection of everything from Renaissance to Post-Impressionist works. Astoundingly, this museum is centered around the collection of a single family. Generally the Prado is the choice of most tourists but if you’re an art lover this collection is often recommended as the superior choice. Entrance is free on Monday’s but arrive early to get ahead in the queue.
Museo Nacional del Prado
If you still have steam for one more museum head to the Prado. Prado, known worldwide, houses Goya’s, Titian’s, El Greco’s with a list that goes on. Works span from the 12th to 20th centuries. The Prado is the main Spanish National art museum and as such can get crowded. This museum will have a different feel than the others you visited in your day, but it’s worth feeling a bit claustrophobic to stand in front of some of the greats.
Madrid has more for a longer trip
A city with its origins dating back to the mid 1500’s has no shortage of stories to tell. The Spanish capitol is home to more than 3 million people and many, many museums, parks, viewpoints, bars and restaurants.
Two days in Madrid is enough to get a bit more in depth and spend some time eating, drinking and enjoying the art and history; but it will still leave you wanting more. Perhaps you want to consider a 3 day trip instead?
Practical suggestion to maximize Madrid in 2 days
Is Madrid different on a weekend?
Not really, except for nightlife and local markets that come alive on weekends. As far as your daytime goes a weekday or weekend will be very much the same. Weekenders in Spain generally head to coastal areas rather than to the capital. Tourists who come here come no matter the day.
However, nightlife will vary. The people of Madrid start late but they do also have to work during the week. Friday and Saturday evenings, you’ll see a livelier and later nightlife.
Additionally, if you’re in town on a Sunday you can go hunting for treasures at El Rastro flea market, the largest in Spain, where the main stretch is full of basic lookalikes but the side streets offer the chance to pick up something wonderful and unique.
How to spend your evenings in Madrid?
Wow, there is so much! Start your evening at Círculo de Bellas Artes, a private cultural organization with one of the best rooftops in the city. Watch Madrid slip into evening while sipping a cocktail.
From there spend your evening between tapas and beer. Try Casa Gonzalez for its cheese and charcuterie or TriCiclo where the menu is seasonal and internationally inspired, reservations are needed for a table but you can stand at the bar for a quick bite.
Keep your thirst quenched with a Mahou, Madrid’s pilsner. Order a copa, Spain’s answer to how to keep your beer cool in the summer: just make it smaller so you can drink it faster. If you’re beer palette is a bit more refined head to Horcher for a tasting menu.
Where to stay in Madrid?
Ideally stay in the center, this keeps you within easy walking distance to all the attractions as well nightlife, bars and restaurants. You’ll save time and money on transport. Check out the area around Plaza Santa Ana, just a few minutes’ walk from Puerta del Sol.
How to get around Madrid in 2 days?
Walk! If you’re sticking to this itinerary you’ll be in el centro with no single walk more than 20 minutes so transport isn’t necessary. But if you need it there is a great network of buses and metros. It’s €1.50 for a single ride or €8.40 for a one day transport pass, which also gets you to and from the airport.
Do attractions need advance booking?
Yes, some do. If you’re headed to Madrid in high season it’s advisable to book both the Royal Palace and the Museums in advance to avoiding waiting in long lines. The general rule of thumb is if you’re in town for just a short time and you can book tickets in advance, than go ahead and do it.
City or Travel cards - worth it for 2 days?
Not worth it. A 48 hour Madrid card costs €60 and yes, it does get you into the places you’ll want to go, but unless you spend your two days running between each place on the list then you won’t end up saving any money.
What about walking tours?
Wlaking tours can be a great way to see the overview of any city and Madrid is no different. Especially if you’re interested in history than a walking tour can be great value for money. Take a general tour for the overview. Or if you’re interested in the gastro end of things try a tapas tour and eat your way to and understanding of the city.
HoHo Bus worth it?
It could make sense for you. Sticking to our itinerary here your best option is on foot. However, if you like bus tours and would like to see something outside of the center than certainly give it a go. Buy the 2 day ticket as at €22.50 it’s only €3.50 more than the one day option. The bus offers two routes at (without hop offs) 80 and 65 minutes respectively.
What to eat and drink
You're in foodie heaven. Madrid offers a convergence of its country's gastronomical offerings. From Galician pulpo (octopus) to Andalusian gazpacho you’ll find it all here. If Madrid is going to be your only Spanish stop its worth grazing on as many different types of Spanish cuisines as you can. However, if you’ll be going to any specific region try its specialty food on home soil, where they do it best and stick to Madrids own food.
Cocodio Madrileño or Madrid stew is a cold weather specialty that simmers for hours. It’s a combination of vegetables, chickpeas, chorizo and pork, all of which is usually served separately. Or try the very simple huevos rotos (broken eggs), fried potatoes topped with over easy eggs as simple and delicious as it sounds.
Drink beer or wine with dinner and save your gin and tonic for after as a digestivo.
Places to consider visiting if you are with kids
With kids you may want to cut down on the time spent or simply the number of museums you hit. Increase your time in the parks. Casa de campo is home to a zoo and aquarium which can be great way to keep the kids happy.
Places to consider visiting if you are a couple
Temple of Debod, already on your itinerary, is a magical spot come sunset. Take our suggestion for a picnic in the park, pack a bottle of bubbly and a blanket to create the perfect date. Or get dressed up for a more posh date and buy tickets to a show at Teatro Real.
Can you do day trips from Madrid?
Yes, you can, but with just two days you won’t feel like you’ve come even close to checking off everything you want to see in the city so day trips should be saved for longer stays. El Escorial, the historical residence of the king of Spain is just an hour’s drive from the city but should be given, at minimum, a half day.
On a longer trip
Two days only skims the surface of what Spain’s capital city has to offer. Art lovers can spend days lost in the museums, while food lovers could probably never completely clean their plate of all Madrid’s food scene has to offer. Shoppers won’t be disappointed with more time and history buffs will be engaged for days. Four days is a great amount of time to really give the city justice, but that’s not to say more time is too much.