If you’re taking a trip to Spain’s capital city but are short on time this guide will help you make the most of your 3 days in Madrid, Spain.
3 days in Madrid, Spain is actually a good amount of time to explore the city. While there is always more you can do here, you should be able to see the top tourist sites, try plenty of delicious tapas, and visit some of the amazing markets in Madrid in just three days.
The goal of this 3 day Madrid itinerary is to take the guesswork out of what to do in Madrid, Spain. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Madrid itinerary. It covers iconic tourist spots in Madrid but also a few of the lesser-known (more authentic) spots to visit in the city, too.
Get ready to dive into this detailed 3 day Madrid itinerary and discover the must see tourist sites as a first-time visitor and a few hidden gems most tourists don’t know about.
Table of Contents
- Where to stay in Madrid
- How to get around Madrid
- The perfect 3 day Madrid itinerary
- Day 1:
- Day 2:
- Day 3
- What to bring on a trip to Madrid, Spain
Where to stay in Madrid
If you’re only in Madrid for three days you’ll want to stay in a central neighborhood that is close to most major activities and tourist sites in Madrid.
I recommend staying in the Opera, La Latina, Malasaña, or Chueca neighborhood if you only have 3 Days in Madrid. You will be able to walk to most places shared in this 3-day Madrid itinerary in 10 – 15 minutes or hop on a quick metro or bus ride to get to farther tourist sites in Madrid.
🏨 Read more about each neighborhood and what it has to offer in terms of dining, vibe, safety, and hotel/vacation rentals here.
How to get around Madrid
If you only have three days in Madrid you might be wondering what your options are for getting around. We highly recommend walking to most places. There’s nothing like getting to take in your surroundings better than on foot.
Taxis and Ubers are abundant in Madrid, but they are the most expensive transportation option. You can rent electric scooters for €0.11 to €0.23 per minute which can be very economical for short trips. All you have to do is download the app and scan the QR code on the scooter to start your rental. Additionally, you can take the bus, which is also super economical.
🚶🏼♀️We exclusively walked and took the Metro during our trip. Madrid’s Metro is fairly well connected. During our visit part of the Blue Line was closed, so we had to do more walking because of it.
If you plan to take the metro to several places, we recommend buying a Metro pass which offers 10 rides for 12.20€. It’s typically more economical than buying each fair individually which can range from 1.20€ to 3.40€ depending on where you are going.
The metro, combined with walking, can get you almost anywhere in the city within 10 – 30 minutes.
The perfect 3 day Madrid itinerary
Your first day explores some of the historic spots in Madrid. You will begin at the Royal Palace before dining at the oldest restaurant in the world. Then, you’ll finish off the day at one of Madrid’s incredible parks and watch the sunset near an ancient Egyptian temple.
1. Grab some coffee and pan con tomate 8:00 am
There are tons of fantastic coffee shops to start your morning off all across the city. From fancy cafés serving specialty coffee to more casual cafeteria-style counters. The thing to grab in the morning for a pick me up is a café con leche (coffee with warmed/frothed milk) and a simple breakfast like pan con tomate or a croissant.
Our top picks for a great café and a pan con tomate in Madrid are:
- Alchemy Coffee: La Latina neighborhood. Amazing specialty coffees (including Geisha from Panama) and delicious pan con tomate with jamón in a small setting.
- Novo Mundo: La Latina neighborhood. Freshly baked pastries and bread with great coffee.
- Four Madrid: Opera neighborhood. Another awesome spot for coffee and toast that also serves natural wines in the evenings.
- Plántate: Better Coffee & Brunch: Lavapiés neighborhood. Vegan options and small pastries.
- Naji Specialty Coffee: Colon/Alonso Martinez neighborhood (northside of the city). This spot put pistachio lattes on the map for Madrid along with other unique blends of coffee like chocolate and lavender! Very small place but also serves things like avocado toast, smoothies, and pan con tomate.
☕️ Breakfast is the lightest meal of the day in Spain. This stop should be quick and cost around 3€ – 8€ depending on how fancy of a spot you go to. You can learn more about meal times and costs in Spain here.
2. Royal Palace Tour 9:00 am
Your first stop for your 3 days in Madrid, Spain will be at the Royal Palace. This Palace is the largest in Eastern Europe and has nearly 3,000 rooms! It’s bigger than Versailles Palace and Buckingham Palace a total of 1.4 million square feet. 😳
El Palacio Real (Royal Palace) is where the King and Queen of Spain resided for nearly 250 years. The current King and Queen of Spain don’t live here anymore. They live in a Royal residence in another area of Madrid but still use this palace for special events and hosting important guests.
We highly recommend being the first to enter for a Royal Palace tour. 9:00 am is when the Palace opens and we met our tour guide at 8:45 near the Opera station for first entry. The line when we left the Palace around noon was massive and the crowds kept pouring in.
The tour allows you to visit 24 rooms in the Palace. No pictures are allowed (they do enforce that) aside from the first three rooms (pictured below). I wish I could share the rest of the rooms with you they were incredible. One room, from floor to ceiling, was hand embroidered. 😱
We took a guided tour of the Palace and really enjoyed it! We loved that we got to ask questions and he was able to move around the space to avoid crowds while sharing interesting facts and history about the Spanish monarchy and the palace.
You have to come here to see the rooms for yourself and get a glimpse of how Royalty once lived. Tickets for the Royal Palace do sell out. I highly encourage you to pre-book your tour and tickets in advance to make sure you get to visit. We’ve been to Madrid 4 times now and this was the first time I was finally able to secure a tour!
⛲️ Expect to spend 4 hours at the Palace. If you enjoy gardens or statues, give yourself around 30-45 minutes to peruse the gardens surrounding the palace.
3. Lunch at Botín 2:00 pm
Your next stop will be Botin. This historic restaurant opened its doors in 1725 and is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records. This restaurant is an institution in Madrid and loved by locals and tourists alike.
🚨 Due to its popularity and prestige, you need a reservation to dine here. Make sure you call ahead, particularly for lunch as this is the most popular and busiest meal of the day. Make reservations here.
The must-order item on their menu is Cochinillo which is a baby suckling pig. These pigs are slow-roasted for hours to get the perfectly crisp skin but juicy and tender meat.
🥣 A backup spot if Botin doesn’t have available reservations is La Posada de la Villa. This is another historic restaurant whose building dates back to the 1600s. This restaurant is known for Cocido, one of our favorite things to eat in all of Spain, and a dish that originated in Madrid. Reservations are also required and more than 24 hours’ notice is needed to prepare Cocido.
After lunch, you’ll probably want to return to your hotel or vacation rental for a much-needed siesta. 😴 Most places are closed from 4:00 to 7:00 pm anyway, so you won’t be missing much!
4. Walk Gran Vía & See the Plaza de España
Depending on the time of year you are visiting Madrid, you’ll want to head to the Plaza de España about an hour to an hour and a half before sunset. This Plaza is located at the end of Gran Vía, Madrid’s most famous street. The street is lined with loads of high-end shops, street performers, and restaurants.
We recommend walking from Plaza Callao (Madrid’s largest square) down Gran Vía to Plaza de España.
Plaza Callao has been compared to New York’s Time Square (although it’s not as chaotic). This square has loads of billboards and thousands of people cross through it each day. The walk down Gran Vía should take about 15 minutes and should be quite lively at this hour.
Plaza de España is a large square with a statue of a former King in front of a large pond. There’s also a nice playground nearby if you’re traveling with kids.
5. Sunset at Príncipe Pío
One of the best spots to watch the sunset in Madrid is on Príncipe Pío. This is the highest point in all of Madrid and just a short 10 walk from Plaza de Espana. There’s a lovely park at the top of the hill that will be packed with locals and tourists taking in the sunset.
Being the highest point in Madrid, it offers stunning views of the city, the royal gardens, and even a part of the Palace. This is also where you’ll find the Temple of Debod, a 2nd-century Egyptian temple that was gifted to Spain in the 1970s.
You can walk onto the Temple at certain hours, so if you get there early you can explore the temple in more detail.
6. Tapas and drinks at 9:00 or 9:30 pm
You might be surprised to see a recommended dinner hour of 9:00 or 9:30 pm but remember, they eat dinner late in Spain!
Your final stop for the evening will be for dinner and drinks. Dinner in Spain is a light meal, usually a few tapas or a small dish. We love going for tapas in the evening because it’s a fun way to try different foods and get a taste of the different restaurants in the city.
Lambuzo is about a 17-minute walk from Príncipe Pío headed back toward the Plaza Mayor and has delicious tapas in a very relaxed setting. This spot is very typical of Spanish tapas bars and offers tourists an authentic experience.
Another spot to try if you’re staying in or near the Malasaña neighborhood is Ochenta Grados Malasaña. It’s a bit further, about 12 minutes by car or 25 minutes walking, but is worth it. This neighborhood has a lot of great restaurants you can hop to which is a big part of a tapas experience.
After you can try Casa Macareno or La Musa Malasaña. They are just a short walk from each other and the food at each spot will blow you away! If you prefer to take a tapas tour to learn more about what you are eating and see a few of the local spots you can book a guided tapa tour here.
Day 2 of your 3 days in Madrid begins at the Golden Triangle of art museums. You can easily extend this into a full day of art museums by visiting more than one museum.
However, on this itinerary, we’ll have you visit the Prado museum, and grab lunch at a gastronomic market before going walking through the iconic Retiro Park.
1. Golden Triangle of Museums
Start your morning filling up on more desayuno (breakfast) and café (coffee) at one of the recommended spots from before, or you can stop at Plenti. This coffee shop is a few blocks from the Prado Museum and is a good option if you don’t go somewhere closer to your hotel or vacation rental.
Once you’re fueled up, head straight to the Golden Triangle of Museums. These three fantastic art museums are located within a 10-minute walk from each other.
- Museo Prado (the largest art museum with the most robust collection of art spanning eight centuries)
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (more modern, contemporary, and cubist art)
- Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza (mix of modern and renaissance art spanning seven centuries)
All three museums are worth visiting, but most first-time visitors with just 3 days in Madrid spend their time at Prado Museum because it is the largest of the three. We spent 4 hours exploring the Prado Museum and only saw a fraction of its collections.
We also went to Reina Sofia on our week in Madrid. We did the audio guide and skip-the-line tickets for both with Get Your Guide.
🖼️ If you like more structure when visiting museums, consider taking a guided tour at either museum.
After admiring the masterpieces of famous artists, you’ll want to grab a bite to eat.
2. Lunch at Mercado Anton Martin 1:30 / 2:00 pm
Many of Madrid’s historic markets once used to sell fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, and meats have turned into gastronomic markets. These markets can be found all across the city, but one fantastic market that is just a 15-minute walk from the Prado Museum is Mercado Antón Martín.
This market has so many amazing food stalls to choose from we could barely contain our excitement! We loved stopping here for lunch because there were so many great options to choose from.
We ended up going to La Saletta and had an amazing menu del día (pre-fixed lunch menu with three courses and a drink) for 13.50€. Other spots to check out are Cutzmala Mexican Food, Caracola Cheesecakes, and Asian Army.
3. Retiro Park
Don’t worry if you ate too much at Mercado Antón Martín, you’ll walk it off as you explore Retiro Park, your next stop on day 2.
Retiro Park is over 300 acres of lush greenery and a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Madrid. The park was once the private gardens of King Philip III (can you imagine?!). Queen Isabel opened the park to the public in the 1800s and it’s been an oasis for residents and tourists ever since.
There is a large lake where you can rent row boats and paddle under a fountain and statue of the King. Fun fact: King Phillip had gondalos shipped from Italy to traverse the waterways that moved through this park in the 1600s.
Or you can just relax under the shade of the trees. A very popular spot to visit in Retiro Park is the Glass Palace, or Palacio de Cristal, which was a greenhouse tropical plants as part of an exhibition on the Philippines. Today it holds rotating art from the Reina Sofia and is free to enter!
Also, don’t miss the rose gardens. They will blow you away! I could not believe how large or beautiful the rose gardens of Retiro Park are. No matter how many days we have to enjoy in Madrid, Retiro Park is a place we always visit.
4. Tapas in Chueca
Your final stop for day two in Madrid is in the neighborhood of La Chueca. This is known as Madrid’s “gay district” because it is very LGBTQ-friendly. There are fun bars and restaurants in this neighborhood making it a great spot for a tapa crawl.
Bodega de la Ardosa is a popular tapas restaurant in La Chueca. It’s been open for 127 years serving classic tapas in a really cozy traditional setting. Angelita Madrid is an upscale restaurant that serves small dishes and full-size entrees.
If you don’t want to hop from tapas bar to tapas bar this is a great option. Another alternative is Restaurante Morgana. This is a Galician restaurant (a region of Spain in the north) where seafood shines and cidre is poured liberally.
Sadly you’ve reached the last of your 3 days in Madrid, Spain. This day has the most stops, but many of them are quick sightseeing destinations where you’ll spend 10 – 15 minutes taking photos or admiring the architecture.
To start you’ll fill up on Madrid’s most famous morning treat, churros con chocolate before hitting some of the most iconic spots in the city like the Plaza Mayor, Cibeles Fountain, and Puerta de Alcalá. In the afternoon you’ll hit a local market and finish the night with a tapa crawl and a historic bar.
1. Fill up on churros con chocolate
One of the most popular morning treats for tourists to indulge in is churros con chocolate. There is no better place to try churros con chocolate than Chocolatería San Ginés in the Opera neighborhood. This restaurant has been serving up perfectly crisp, warm, and rich churros con chocolate since 1894.
If you are not familiar with churros con chocolate, it’s deep-fried dough that you dip into a rich cup of chocolate. It’s a bit savory and perfectly sweet with just the right crunch.
Churros are a popular dish in Spain, especially after a night of drinking. But at San Gines, you’ll mostly see tourists dining with you. Prepare for extremely long lines if you are coming during a busy tourist week or the weekend.
Your next stop is just around the corner from Chocolatería San Ginés, the Plaza Mayor.
2. Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor is the main square in Madrid with a history dating back to the 1600s when it was built by King Philip III (pictured below). This is where concerts, markets, theatre performances, announcements, and even executions took place for hundreds of years.
The Plaza has burnt down and been rebuilt numerous times over the years, but the layout and structure of the plaza remain as it would have been 400 years ago.
The Plaza is in the center of the historic center and has a vibe like no other. At night this plaza comes alive with performers, vendors, and lively outdoor terrazas to grab a drink or bite to eat on. We don’t recommend dining here though. Being such a popular tourist spot prices are higher here and quality isn’t always guaranteed.
🚫 A lot of Madrid itineraries will recommend you stop at San Miguel Market (Mercado de San Miguel) which is around the corner from the Plaza Mayor. However, we do not recommend visiting there. It’s extremely touristic, pricey, and the food quality isn’t as good as you can find elsewhere.
It’s a beautiful historic market but it solely exists to serve tourists today. Instead, we’ll show you where the locals go which has much better food at a better price.
3. Walk Puerta del Sol and Calle Alcalá
From the Plaza Mayor, you’re going to head to Puerta del Sol. This is another large plaza that is a popular meeting place for locals and tourists alike. It has a major metro stop here making it an important transportation hub. The iconic Tio Pepe sign is one of the must-see sites in the plaza.
There’s also a fountain of a former King and a statue of a bear (el oso) on a strawberry tree. El Oso y El Madroño is the official symbol of the Spanish capital. From there continue down Calle Alcalá which for the most part is a pedestrian-only street.
This road was where a lot of the historic buildings in the 1700s were built that continue to serve as banks or government buildings. The architecture of the buildings will blow you away. The most famous building is the Metropolis building which unfortunately was under construction during our trip.
4. Puerta de Alcalá
At the end of Calle de Alcalá, you’ll reach the Puerta de Alcalá. This monumental arch was built by King Carlos III to celebrate the arrival of the monarchy to the Capital city. It’s built solely of granite and is an icon for the city. There’s not much to do or see here other than to snap a picture before moving on.
On your way to Puerta de Alcalá, you’ll pass a stunning fountain, the Bank of Spain, and the Palacio de Cibeles building. Don’t stop here just yet, we’ll have you return here after grabbing a bite to eat at a local market.
5. Lunch at Mercado de La Paz 1:30 / 2:00 pm
Your next stop is to grab some lunch at Mercado de La Paz. This is a true local market that is still frequented by Madrileños who are doing their daily shopping or grabbing a bite to eat. There are a few cafeteria-style restaurants here to grab a menu del dia (pre-fix lunch menu that changes daily).
However, we recommend stopping at Casa Dani for their famous tortilla de patatas. This spot has been voted the best tortilla Española in all of Madrid for several years in a row. While everyone has their favorite spot it does serve a mean tortilla.
⏰ We recommend coming here between 1:00 and 2:00 pm. Most vendors and restaurants will close up shop temporarily after 3:00 pm. To be able to to hop from spot to spot and really see this place in action you want to arrive between 1:00 and 2:00 pm.
Feel free to walk around and enjoy the diverse shopping offered at the market before making the 20-minute walk back toward the Cibeles Fountain and Palacio de Cibeles.
6. Cibeles Fountain + Overlook at the Palacio de Cibeles
The Cibeles Fountain is another iconic tourist site in Madrid that is perfect for a photo opp. This fountain was built under the orders of King Philip III in 1782. The statue in the center of the fountain is a depiction of Cybele, the Great Mother of the Gods, and the Roman goddess of fertility in a chariot led by two lions.
Behind the fountain is the Palacio de Cibeles. The historic building is now a city hall. While most people just snap a picture and move on, you can go up to the top of this palace for an incredible view of the city.
Visitors can go to the Cibeles Observation deck Tuesday through Sunday starting at 10.30 am. Entrance is every 30 minutes approximately with doors closing at 2 pm. It reopens again from 4:00 pm to the last entrance at 7:00 pm.
Going up to the observation deck should be pre-reserved online. Tickets are 3€ for adults and 1€ for children under 2. Note, you should arrive 20 minutes before the start of a pre-booked time. If you time this right, it can be a GREAT place to watch the sunset! 🌅
If you have extra time or prefer to check out Madrid’s stadium, take a guided tour of Santiago Bernabéu Stadium during the time before sunset at the Cibeles Observation deck. You can also visit one of the other art museums you might not have been able to visit on Day 2. Another option is to just take a siesta and return for sunset at the observation deck.
7. Grab a glass of Sherry at La Venencia
After watching the sunset over the city, head to La Venecia. This sherry bar opened its doors in 1922 and not much has changed inside the bar over the last 100 years. It still has dusty barrels aging their house-aged sherry. A sticky wooden bar, dim lighting, and old posters and propaganda pieces from the Spanish Civil War.
This bar was supposedly frequented by Ernest Hemingway during the 1930s. While we’d love to share a picture of the bar, pictures are not allowed under any circumstance. This rule dates back to the Civil War days to protect its patrons from fascist spies. This bar is unlike any other in Madrid and in our opinion, is a must-visit on a trip to Madrid, Spain.
🧀 The best part, a glass of sherry is super affordable around 2€ or 3€ each and it comes with a small tapa of olives, cheese, or meats. 🙌🏼
8. Tapas crawl on Calle de la Cava Baja
After grabbing a glass or two of sherry you’ll want to fill your bellies. Head over to Calle de la Cava Baja, the most popular tapas street in Madrid’s centro. This spot is popular among locals, although in peak tourist time it’s mostly tourists you’ll see flooding the streets.
The block is lined with tapa bar after tapa bar and there is no shortage of fantastic places to eat at. We recommend Juana La Loca (our favorite tapas bar in Madrid), Huevos de Lucio, Casa Lucas, and La Perejila on Calle de la Cava Baja.
Hopefully, this guide is helpful as you plan your trip to Madrid, Spain. It should give you a unique experience in the city while hitting the top tourist sites.
If you have extra time (like a week here) make sure to add a day trip to one of the amazing nearby towns or go for a wine-tasting trip to Ribera del Duero, Spain’s second-largest wine region.
Below are a few of the popular day trips and tours in Madrid to check out.
Don’t forget to follow this packing guide which includes essentials for any trip to Madrid.
What to bring on a trip to Madrid, Spain
Here are a few things you should bring on a trip to Madrid, Spain.
- Travel Insurance: We always recommend having travel insurance to cover the “what-ifs”. While visiting Spain is considered safe, it’s nice to know you would be covered if there were any major medical emergencies or trip interruptions. Our go-to travel insurance is Safety Wing. You can get a free quote for coverage by clicking here.
- 🔌 European adapter: For anyone traveling outside of Europe, you will need a European adapter to charge things like your phone or computer. This is the adapter we chose which allows for items requiring up to 100W (like a laptop) for charging.⚡️ Be careful with high-wattage things like razors or straighteners. Electricity is stronger in Europe than in the US and certain gadgets have a hard time coping.
- 💳 Travel credit card with no international fees: Most places in Spain will take credit cards and debit cards, but most banks will charge an international fee! We always use this travel credit card when abroad because we earn points that we can redeem for future travel and it has no international fees.
Let us know if this itinerary on how to spend 3 days in Madrid, Spain was helpful for you in the comments below.