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When travelling to countries, the capital city is usually my first port of call. Not Spain though. Only on my sixth trip to the country did I manage to visit Madrid.
Truth is, Spain’s coastal regions are more easily accessed from my home country than the capital city. Plus the coasts have in abundance what we sorely lack at home (i.e. warm seas).
Madrid was the stopping off point on my way to the island of Menorca in the Mediterranean Sea. Madrid was worth the stop and comes particularly recommended for art lovers. It’s a large city so here is a summary itinerary for 3 days in Madrid.
For other destinations in Spain, check out my Spain Travel Tips post.
Spend the first day in the city centre exploring the streets, squares and their architecture. Spain was a colonial power so much of your first day will feature the sites relevant to that era. Many walking tours cover these places as they are in close proximity to each other.
GRAN VIA: Every major city has an iconic street and the Gran Via is Madrid’s. Lined with the usual international retailers, prices in general were not as expensive as major thoroughfares in other European capitals. If you only have time to walk one street, make it this.
Start at the east end of the street (Metro: Banco de España) where the Metropolis building with its winged angel atop greets you. Continue uphill and over 1km later you will reach Plaza de España, marking the end of the Gran Via.
ROYAL PALACE: Walk south from Plaza de España to the Royal Palace complex. Dating back to the 18th century, the palace is still in use for ceremonies. This area has a number of outdoor sights such as the Sabatini Gardens (Jardines de Sabatini), Campo del Moro gardens, Parque de Atenas, Catedral de la Almudena and Plaza de Oriente.
PLAZA MAYOR: From the Royal Palace, head east where the next major stop is Plaza Mayor. This square dates back to the 17th century and if its walls could talk, you would have some story. It has hosted everything from celebrations to executions. Given its central position in Madrid, it’s one of the main meeting points.
The square has cafes and restaurants running along its perimeter with a statue of King Philip III astride a horse in the centre. By now you should have figured out that plaza is the Spanish for square.
AREA AROUND PLAZA MAYOR: This area is outstanding for specialty shops and restaurants/cafes. For those who want takeaway food, I highly recommend the Mercado de San Miguel.
PUERTA DEL SOL: Another popular meeting point, Puerta del Sol not only marks the centre point of Madrid but the geographical centre of Spain. A popular meeting point, Puerta del Sol is also a transport hub.
SANTIAGO BERNABÉU STADIUM: Real Madrid is statistically the most successful football club in the world so a stadium tour is a must for anyone interested in football. Read about my experience in my Real Madrid Stadium Tour post. I would strongly advise to book this self-guided tour in advance.
THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA MUSEUM: Easily the best private art collection I’ve ever visited, this is an absolute must for lovers of European art. Works from the big names are here: Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Picasso. The ambience in the building was welcoming and I thoroughly enjoyed my half-day here.
CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFIA: Works by all the greats of Spanish art are here including Picasso’s Guernica. It also houses an extensive collection of contemporary Spanish artists.
PRADO MUSEUM: The Prado is one of the world’s best-known art galleries. It houses an ample selection of the Spanish greats including Goya, Velázquez plus other international artists such as Rafael, Rembrandt and Rubens.
PARQUE DEL BUEN RETIRO: At the rear of the Prado lies Retiro Park. Dating back to the 17th century, it’s where Madrileños come to chill out. Statues, ornate buildings, lakes, gardens, playgrounds and exercise facilities line the park. Events are regularly held here. The trees also provide a pleasant place to seek shade from the blistering summer sun.
3 DAYS IN MADRID: FIRST IMPRESSION
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Madrid. It lacked the pace of other large European capital cities so was a relaxing experience. I felt quite safe at all times.
Madrid can be visited anytime of the year. Bear in mind that July and August sees temperatures soar well in excess of 30°C (86F).
With three of the best art galleries in Europe, Madrid is a must for art fans. Being the centre of a colonial power, Madrid will suit historians as well.
Madrid is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. In fact, the barrio (area) of Chueca is LGBT central with a large amount of gay-friendly retail outlets, bars, hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. Even Chueca’s metro station is painted in the rainbow flag colours.
Situated in the centre of the country, Madrid is easily reached by bus and train from all parts of Spain. Madrid has two main railway stations: Atocha in the south of the city and Chamartín in the north.
BARAJAS AIRPORT: Barajas (pronounced Barakas) is one of Europe’s largest airports although it doesn’t feel as stressful as other airports its size. It has four terminals. Barajas is the gateway to Europe for flights from Central and South America.
Located north of the city, Barajas is easily reached by a number of transport options including the following:
Metro: Line 8 (pink line) of the city’s excellent metro system serves Terminals 1-3 and Terminal 4.
Train: Terminal 4 is served by RENFE’s C1 and C10 lines.
Bus: A whole host of buses serve the airport from various parts of the city but line 203 (Exprés Aeropuerto/Airport Express) links Atocha Station with Terminals 1 & 4. During night hours, the bus is called the N27 Exprés Aeropuerto and terminates at Plaza de la Cibeles rather than Atocha.
WHERE TO STAY IN MADRID
For the above itinerary, I recommend staying as close to the centre (Barrio Centro) as possible. Other areas of Madrid that would serve as good bases to stay are Austrias, Barrio de las Letras, Chueca, Huertas, Lavapies, Malasana and Salamanca. I recommend using booking.com to filter search results by these areas.
Have you been to Madrid? Let me know your thoughts below.