Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day – Explore, Eat, Stay

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay

Another year calls for another round of cities to explore!  To celebrate our birthdays, Mr. C and I planned a one-week vacation in Spain and Portugal.  We spent most of our time wandering around the cobbled streets of Madrid, Segovia, Lisbon and Sintra, and immersing ourselves in their local cuisines.  First stop, Madrid.  Now, if you want to make the most out of your short time in Madrid, read along.  Choose which places to visit, food markets and restaurants to try and experience the best of Madrid in a day!  🙂

If you only have a short time to explore Madrid, you have to choose and prioritize the places that you want visit.  There is so much to see in Madrid!  You would need to plan your itinerary carefully because some of the attractions have limited hours.

We immediately fell in love with Madrid as soon as we stepped out of the Gran Via subway station.  We found ourselves surrounded by its grand buildings which left us speechless.  This feeling didn’t fade throughout our trip in Madrid.  It’s amazing how the city is able to preserve its romantic, historical look and feel.  Even its narrow cobbled streets and windows on balconies are picture-perfect.

Buen Retiro Park

After seeing photos of Buen Retiro Park, I knew I had to include it in our itinerary.  It is one of the largest parks in Madrid so it might be helpful if you already know which parts of the park you would like to visit.  You could stroll along the park and see the sights as you go but this might take a lot of your time.

Lake

The scene at the lake is fun to watch.  There are several rowboats with people paddling.  At the farther end of the lake is a monument with statues and columns.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay El Retiro Lake

Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace is another fascinating structure to see in Madrid.  It is made mostly of glass and metal!  This beautiful glass building has a lovely scenery.  It is surrounded by trees and a small lake.  Step inside to admire the light coming through the glass and, at times, some art installations on display.

*Open during certain hours and closed every Tuesday.   Admission is free.

May to September: Mon-Sat 11am to 8pm, Sun 11am to 6pm
October to April: Mon-Sat 10am to 6pm, Sun 10am to 4pm

Plaza Parterre

Our favorite part of the park is Plaza Parterre.  It is a perfectly manicured garden adorned with flowers and trees trimmed in different shapes.  At the top, you get a view of the beautiful symmetry of the garden.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay El Retiro Plaza Parterre

Aside from those mentioned, there are more wonderful surprises inside the park.  You would find fountains, statues, and performers.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay El Retiro

Royal Palace

Visit the Royal Palace but arrive early or you might be coming with a huge crowd.  It’s good to put this in your morning your itinerary since it opens as early as 10am.  You could also buy tickets in advance, each ticket costs €11.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Royal Palace

We made a mistake in not planning ahead for the Royal Palace.  When we arrived in the afternoon, there was already an extremely long line .  We arrived late because we spent the afternoon visiting plazas and admiring the streets and buildings of Madrid before heading to the Royal Palace.  On the upside, we came just in time to see soldiers riding their horses as they made their way to the entrance of the Royal Palace.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Royal Palace (1 of 1)-2

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Royal Palace (1 of 1)-2

October to March: 10am to 6pm
April to September: 10am to 8pm

For more info, click here.

Almudena Crypt

Here’s an attraction that you might not have thought of including in your itinerary – Almudena Crypt.  We didn’t know about it until we passed by a sign that pointed to the Crypt.  Upon entering the crypt, you will find columns, stained glass, and tombs.  It is solemn, haunting, and at the same time, it looks beautiful.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Crypt

*Admission is donation-based.

Templo de Debod

Another must-see in Madrid is Templo de Debod.  It is a Egyptian temple given by Egypt to Spain and later rebuilt in Madrid.  Aside from this wonder, the views from Temple de Debod are amazing.  Place this on the bottom of your schedule so that you could admire it during sunset or when it’s all lit up.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Templo de Debod

*Closed on Mondays.  Admission is free.

Tues to Sun: 10am to 8pm

Food Markets

Food markets in Madrid are another reason to love the city!  These markets have a collection of fresh produce, high-quality seafood, excellent tapas, and baked goods.  During our short visit, we were able to try two markets – Mercado de San Miguel and Mercado de San Anton.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Miguel (1 of 1)-3
Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel is a famous food market in Madrid.  It’s very popular so expect your visit to be chaotic.  It’s fun to experience at least once!  There are many stalls inside this food market and the products they offer vary greatly – tapas, paella, olives, fresh seafood, deep-fried seafood, pasta, and pizza.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Miguel fried fish in olive oil
Fried fish in olive oil
Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Miguel cured meat
Cured meat

We tried the cod-based tapas of La Casa del Bacalao and Arroz Negro of Paella y Ole.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Miguel tapas bacalao cod
Bacalao tapas with the honey mustard dressing was good!

We were craving for paella during that time so we were delighted when it was included in the selection at the market.  The paella was flavorful but I would have enjoyed it better if it had more seafood in it.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Miguel Paella
Paella

They also have white and red sangria for drinks!  For dessert, I highly recommend Horno de San Onofre’s Milhoja Danesa.  It has layers of puff pastry with cream filling, topped with dulce de leche.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Miguel dessert pastry Horno de San Onofre’s Milhoja Danesa
Milhoja Danesa

The prices in the food market are not as cheap as one would expect but the quality of the products are great.

Mon, Tues, Wed, Sun: 10am to 12mn
Thurs, Fri, Sat: 10am to 2am

Mercado de San Anton has fewer options but it has 3 levels to choose from.  Level 1 has a traditional market with stores selling fresh produce, cured meat, and fresh seafood.  At Level 2, you would find most stores selling many kinds of tapas.  At Level 3 or the terrace, is the La Cocina San Anton restaurant.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Anton seafood tapas

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Anton tapas

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Anton

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Anton (1 of 1)Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Anton

Brandada de Bacalao con Caviar & Tuna Fish with Olive Oil

Both tapas were light in flavor.  The serving and flavor made us want to try more!

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Anton seafood tapas
Brandada de Bacalao con Caviar & Tuna Fish with Olive Oil

Foie Fresco a la Plancha con Compota de Manzana

This dish has a unique combination of flavors – foie gras with apple compote.  The creamy, fatty flavor of the salted foie gras complimented the sweet, fruity taste of the apple compote.  The soft texture of the foie gras also went well with the toast.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Anton tapas Foie Fresco a la Plancha con Compota de Manzana
Foie Fresco a la Plancha con Compota de Manzana

Hamburguesa de Buey con Foie Caramelizado

This foie gras burger is mouthwatering!  The foie gras added a salty, creamy flavor to the burger.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Markets Mercado de San Anton tapas Hamburguesa de Buey con Foie Caramelizado
Hamburguesa de Buey con Foie Caramelizado

Late Night Eats

If you are arriving late in Madrid and looking for a good restaurant, try the paella, gambas, and sangria at Taberna El Sur.  They serve delicious, flavorful dishes and they are open until 12 midnight.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Taberna El Sur Paella
Paella craving satisfied! 🙂

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Taberna El Sur Gambas

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Taberna El Sur
Red sangria – fruit punch with red wine

Another late night restaurant to try is Diurno.  They serve good tapas but our favorite dish is their North Atlantic White Tuna Tataki with citrus-sesame dressing served over Jasmine rice.  Diurno has a great ambiance and it is open until 1am.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Diurno North Atlantic White Tuna Tataki
North Atlantic White Tuna Tataki

If you’re craving for a late night dessert, get some churros at Chocolateria San Gines!  It is a famous 24-hour café that serves delicious churros with hot chocolate.  It’s cheap too!  This popular café gets busy during the day so it’s better to go there at night.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Food Chocolateria San Gines Churros and hot chocolate (1 of 1)-2
Churros and hot chocolate

Other Attractions

If you still have time left, there are a lot of museums and plazas in Madrid so choose and add them to your itinerary as you like!

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Plaza

One tip though, you might want to skip Real Jardin Botanico, or at least if your trip is during autumn.  The reason for this is that we expected to see a lush garden with unique-looking trees and flowers.  We expected it to be better than Plaza Parterre because it has an entrance fee.  Unfortunately, we were more impressed by Plaza Parterre than Real Jardin Botanico.  We left wishing that we had spent our time and money on something else.

It was disappointing to see bare shrubs and common plants given that you have to purchase a €4-ticket to enter.  However, it might just be because of the season during our visit.  You still might find it interesting if you are fond of cacti, greenhouse, and bonsai. 🙂

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Real Jardin Botanico cactus

Commuting in Madrid

We arrived late in Madrid but that didn’t stop us from commuting from the airport to our hotel in Gran Via, Madrid’s shopping district.  Madrid’s public transportation is convenient and easy to use.  With one backpack and one luggage each, Mr. C and I rode a bus and two trains to get to our hotel and back to the airport.

If you’re going to commute from the airport to your hotel, ride the bus from the airport and then take the subway.  As advised by the airport concierge, it’s cheaper that way.  Once we reached the subway, we bought a Metrobus ticket with 10 rides and shared it during the entire trip.  This ticket only costs €12.20.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Metrobus 10 Viajes

In this trip, Google Maps came in handy for us.  

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Commuting Subway

Where to Stay

If you are looking for a beautiful, moderately-priced accommodation near Gran Via, check 7 Islas HotelWe stayed there during our trip and it was a great choice!  It has an excellent location with many shops and restaurants around the area.  It is also a few steps away from the Gran Via station.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay Gran Via

Aside from its convenient location, we enjoyed our stay in 7 Islas Hotel because of its unique and beautiful decor and great customer service.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay 7 Islas Hotel
The room is simple but it definitely has character.

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay 7 Islas Hotel

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay 7 Islas Hotel
Thanks 7 Islas Hotel for our welcome amenities! 🙂

For the last part of your Madrid itinerary, take the train for a day trip to one of its surrounding cities!

Make the most out of your trip to Madrid and visit one of its surrounding cities.  In our case, we visited the lovely Segovia.  Yes, we were able to squeeze in our tight schedule a day trip to another city!  For only €43.88, we booked roundtrip train tickets from Madrid to Segovia.  Watch out for more details about this trip on the upcoming Segovia blog post.

Tips:

1.  Bring your passport for hotel check-in

The concierge in our hotel mentioned that it is the protocol in the hotels

2.  Google Maps could be really helpful for his trip

Download its offline map of Madrid in case you can’t access the internet.

3.  Buy the Metrobus ticket at the subway station

You can share this ticket with your companion/s.  There’s no maximum limit of people that you could use it as long as there are still rides left in the card.

4.  Bring a water bottle

5.  Wear comfy shoes because you will be walking all day

6.  Some restaurants are on a reservation-only basis

If you have a particular restaurant that you would like to try, check if you need to make reservations in advance

7.  Several restaurants are still open at night.  You just have to look for them! 🙂

If you enjoyed reading this post, share or save this to your Pinterest travel board! 

Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day - Explore, Eat, Stay

10 Replies to “Experiencing the Best of Madrid in a Day – Explore, Eat, Stay”

  1. beautiful photos! i remember those awesome sculpted trees in plaza parterre 😊

  2. I’m yet to head to Madrid. Hoping to go early next year and mostly it would be a weekend trip. So thanks for this idea of what not to miss in a day! The crystal palace looks gorgeous and I wouldn’t miss the Almudena crypt!

  3. We are traveling to Spain this weekend. And stumbling upon this post was amazing. Have already bookmarked these places on Google Maps. The food looks yum and I am planning to try those Spanish Padrons.

  4. I’m always at Mercado de San Anton, the food is just so good! You’re so right about the Royal Palace, it’s always busy. A beautiful post on seeing the best sights of Madrid!

  5. I adore Madrid and Segovia! You’ve got some great itinerary suggestions here, places I haven’t visited yet. And now I’m craving some good tapas 🙂

  6. I have been to Madrid for a day as well but I didn’t manage to see so many places as you. I did take the free walking tour, to get to know more about the city and find my way around afterwards. Then I had a pizza next to the lake, in the park. It was a really nice visit. 🙂

  7. This is such a great all-round post with all the possible information one would require. AI haven’t been to Madrid, but was really surprised to see all the food-markets and the hunger inducing photos. I love to eat and for me that’s one aspect of the city I would definitely love to explore more.

  8. This is a very lovely cultural and heritage experience with some well-thought out tips. I loved the shot of the Crystal palace. I would love to capture is from different angle and even the reflection it might have on those waters. And the Crypt looks daunting and interesting. Hope I get to go some day

  9. thetravellingslacker says: Reply

    Wonderful sights…
    I wonder if Spain is always this sunny… I have never seen a gloomy picture of this country!
    Plaza Parterre looks almost too perfect, complete with that color of the sky. And I am glad that you covered a lot within a short duration.

  10. That’s such a wonderful guide for someone like me who has never been o Spain, let alone Madrid. Of all the places you have mentioned there is no way I am going to miss the Royal palace and the food markets. I hope I can find great vegan food though!

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