2 days in Madrid: 12 things to do on your first trip
I had never been to Madrid. It seems a shame, given that I live in Portugal, right next to Spain, but the truth is that I always go for more distant locations.
So, when the travel insurer’s IATI invited me to attend the awards gala for Spanish and Portuguese travel bloggers, I thought it would be a perfect excuse to get to know the capital of Spain.
My visit was brief, just 2 days in Madrid, and I didn’t even know what things to do during that time. I went with the idea of “going with the flow,” but I confess that if I prepared myself better, maybe I could fit in the schedule even more activities. After all, there’s a lot to see and do there.
But despite that, the trip was full of amazing places, both historical and gastronomic, and the people are super friendly.
But let’s get down to business!
Among all the things that Madrid has to offer, I highlight these 13. They’re not in order of preference, but according to the route I took. And keep reading the post until the end, because I leave you some useful tips to make this adventure in the Spanish capital even more unforgettable.
1. Temple of Debod
When someone told me that Madrid has an Egyptian temple, I found it truly strange. Egypt and Spain are two countries that, by nature, I don’t put in the same box.
But when arriving at the Temple of Debod, the elements aligned.
The temple that dates from the 2nd century BC was a gift from the Egyptians to Spain, when the Aswan dam was built, for the help that the Spaniards gave them at that time.
Representing the river that existed near the temple, there’s a kind of water mirror along with the three portals that lead to the main entrance of the Nubian-Egyptian building. Unfortunately, during my visit, and despite the rainy weather, there was no water…
Location: Calle Ferraz, near Plaza de España
2. Royal Palace of Madrid
I was looking forward to visiting the Royal Palace of Madrid, conquered by the beautiful images I saw of the interior and exterior architecture. But the day I was there it was closed because of a private event! 🙁
Well, that will undoubtedly be an exception (and bad luck of mine) because the palace can and should be visited.
The Royal Palace was the home of kings, from Carlos III to Alfonso XIII, and, although the current Spanish monarchs do not live here, it’s considered to be the Official Residence of the Kings of Spain.
Inspired by the Louvre Palace, this building spans for a full city block and has over 3000 rooms… yes, you read it well, 3000!
Inside, according to the Madrid Tourism Office, the main staircase, the Throne Room, the Alabaster Room, the Gasparini Room, the Royal Pharmacy, and the Royal Chapel stands out. But don’t forget La Real Cocina, “one of the best-preserved historic kitchens of the European royal residences.”
Well, I guess I’ll have to return to Madrid to see it all with my own eyes.
Location: Calle de Bailén
3. Almudena Cathedral and the Neo-Romanesque crypt
Right in front of the Royal Palace’s courtyard is the Cathedral of Almudena, another must-see spot.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beauty of this church.
Also known as Madrid Cathedral, it’s a mix of styles, the result of a long history of construction: neoclassical (exterior), neo-gothic (interior), and neo-romanesque (crypt).
One of the highlights of the interior is the image of the Virgin of Almudena that stands at the top of a staircase. That drives an authentic pilgrimage of the visitors to the upper floor for a closer look.
However, for me, the real surprise is in the stained glass. Religious images with a contemporary ‘touch’ so different from what we are used to seeing in Catholic churches.
Leaving the church and going around the building on the right is the entrance to the Neo-Romanesque Crypt. Another impressive place, even more so because when I was visiting, there was a choir rehearsing. Let’s just say the acoustics of this place is excellent!
Location: Calle de Bailén
4. Gran Via
Gran Via is one of the main routes in Madrid and worth visiting. If only to look up and appreciate the architecture of many of the buildings you find here.
Some people call it the “Spanish Broadway” for all the hotels and theaters. I confess that I didn’t find it particularly interesting. But if you go from Plaza de España to Calle de Alcalá (or the other way around), go through the Gran Via and draw your own conclusions. Then, let me know what you think. 😉
Location: Connects Plaza de España to Calle de Alcalá
5. Puerta Del Sol
All roads seem to lead to Puerta Del Sol, and, for this reason, this is one of the busiest squares in the city’s center. It’s a crossing point between streets, and it’s inevitable to stop here to appreciate the Real Casa de Correos, today the headquarters of the Community of Madrid, and for the traditional photo in front of the statue of the bear and the arbutus tree, elements that make up the city’s shield.
Location: Between Calle de Alcalá and Calle Mayor
6. Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is a 5-minute walk from Puerta Del Sol. I love this square! The architecture is phenomenal and leaves no one indifferent.
In shades of garnet, the buildings of the Plaza Mayor form a square from which you enter and exit through arcades in each corner of the square. In the center is the statue of Filipe III, one of the most valuable works of art you can find on the streets of the city.
Also, the building that today houses the Madrid Tourism Center stands out due to the decoration of the facade where you can see mythological figures related to the city’s history.
Location: Plaza Mayor
7. Reina Sofia National Museum
When I was deciding which things to do in these 2 days in Madrid, I was sure I wanted to visit one of the great city museums. As I thought the Prado could take more time and I didn’t want to see it in a hurry, I chose Reina Sofia. And I didn’t regret it!
The National Museum Art Center Reina Sofia is home to artworks by incredible names like Dalí, Miró, or Picasso. It’s here that you can see Pablo Picasso’s famous “Guernica.” A work that impresses, not only for its size but also for what it represents: the pain of the victims of the Guernica bombing in 1937.
Location: Calle Santa Isabel
I didn’t go, but be sure you don’t miss it
8. National Prado Museum
The Prado is for Madrid as the Louvre is for Paris.
Celebrating 200 years in 2020, this museum brings together numerous works from Spanish and Italian art schools, in a total of 8600 paintings and 700 sculptures. Among the most well-known paintings is Velázquez’s “The Girls.”
As I only had 2 days in Madrid, I had to choose, and the Prado National Museum stayed for a next visit.
But don’t do it like me! At home, I discovered that the museum has recommended itineraries that allow you to see the main artworks in 1, 2, or 3 hours.
Of course, the difficulty may be the time lost in the queue to enter (when I passed by, it went around the corner). It will be prudent to buy the ticket in advance and avoid this queue.
Location: Paseo del Prado
9. El Retiro Park
Another stab in the heart was not having visited the El Retiro Park. It turns out that in the 2 days I was in Madrid, it didn’t stop raining, and I thought that these were no conditions to have the first impression of this place.
But El Retiro is one of the most beautiful places in the city and must be included in a Madrid itinerary.
With 125 hectares and more than 15 thousand trees, this is, without a doubt, the lung of the city. The gardens multiply inside, and there’s something for everyone, including a famous Cypress, the oldest tree in Madrid (believed to be 400 years old).
It’s also in the El Retiro Park that the statue “El Ángel Caído” is located. They say that it’s the only sculpture in the world to represent the devil.
Location: Plaza de la Independencia
And for eating?
10. San Miguel Market
If you are looking for things to do in Madrid, know that this place is a must! The San Miguel Market opened in 1916 as a food supply for the city’s population. But in 2009, it took on a new life and became the first local gastronomic market.
Anyone who knows the Ribeira Market, in Lisbon, Portugal, knows what I’m talking about.
The San Miguel Market is a showcase of the best food in the region.
From the typical Iberian ham to various tapas, cheeses, and sweets… there’s even an entire stall dedicated to crab.
This is the ideal place to try a little bit of everything and be fascinated with the local cuisine.
Location: Plaza de San Miguel
11. San Ginés
What a find! I mean, for me as a Madrid first-timer, because San Ginés is well-known, both by the locals as for those that generally visit the city.
San Ginés is a café whose specialty is churros with chocolate. Now, in Portugal, I’m used to food trucks selling churros, but these are like nothing I had tried before.
Small, non-greasy, wonderful bathed in a cup of hot chocolate that arrives at the table. Not too sweet. What to say … it’s drooling!
Location: Pasadizo de San Ginés, very close to Puerta del Sol
12. Casa Nicasio
There’s a considerable number of restaurants in Madrid, and this is probably not even the best. But I had to put it here because it was with him that I made peace with Spanish food.
Near the Royal Palace, Casa Nicasio has very affordable prices – with a daily menu offer – and the food is delicious.
Without asking, they even brought us a paella starter, which was one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
Location: Calle Union
How to get to Madrid
It’s one of the main European capitals, which means that it receives daily flights from various parts of the globe, including low-cost companies.
Train or bus is also an option, especially if you are traveling from a neighboring country, such as Portugal.
Now, to walk around the city, my advice is always on foot and by metro.
How the Madrid Metro works
Don’t be alarmed by the size of the Madrid Metro. If you use this transport, you will find it very intuitive.
Perhaps where you may have more difficulty is with the machines where you buy the travel card and load it later.
But ask the metro staff for help. Right at the airport station (terminals 1, 2, and 3), there are at least two who will be happy to help.
As for the values of the trip, everything depends on where you go. In the Lisbon Metro, you load the card with the number of trips you are going to make, but here the price of travel varies according to the number of stations (and distance).
Where to stay in Madrid
Abalu Hoteles is a Spanish hotel chain that has (to my knowledge) at least three hotels in the Plaza de España area. I booked a night at the lovely Life Hotel. But at check-in, I was upgraded to the four-star Madrid Suites. The accommodation had two bedrooms, a living room and… a giant jacuzzi! It was just a pity that they charge 50 euros to use it.
But there are plenty of accommodations throughout the city, for all tastes and wallets.
Available Madrid Tours
Madrid is a city full of life and full of sights to visit. If you don’t want to do like me and go crazy around the city, choose a circuit with someone who knows the place. There are numerous specialized tours to choose from.
If it’s also your first visit to Madrid, find out some facts about this city that can be great conversation unblockers
- The arbutus is the symbolic tree of Madrid
- Around 570 million people walk the Madrid metro each year
- In Berlin Park, there’s an original piece of the Berlin Wall
- The natives are called Madrilenos
- Madrid is the 3rd most populous city in Europe
- The Royal Palace has more than 3000 rooms
- Madrid people are nicknamed “cats.” Find out why… 😉
2 Days In Madrid
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