Madrid is not a city I had ever thought about visiting, but after my Madrid city break I was pleasantly surprised. It isn’t just all about football! Who knew?! There’s so much to discover about Madrid from food to flamenco and more.
The city is vibrant, bustling, young and full of little side streets to explore. 48 hours in Madrid won’t be enough to see everything (it never is), but you’ll certainly get a great taste for the Spanish capital, especially if you do what I did and spend your days being shown around by the wonderful people at Mad Snail Travel.
A Madrid City Break
How to Get to Madrid & Getting Around
Being the capital of Spain, Madrid is easy to get to. I flew with Ryanair, but Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia all fly direct from Dublin. The city itself is well served by trains making it easily reachable from other cities within Spain. Within the city the metro and buses make getting around easy. It’s a big city, you won’t be able to walk everywhere. Trust me, I tried, my feet were not pleased with me.
If you’re going to walk around the city center make sure to bring a Marco Polo Madrid City Guide with you so that you don’t get lost in the labyrinth of Madrid. I’m a bit obsessed with their guides because they’re small enough to fit in my handbag but also have all the tips and information I need.
Things to do in Madrid
There are so many things to do in Madrid that I could never list them all. But if you only have 48 hours in Madrid then these are some of the absolute must-dos/visits.
- Prado Museum – This is the Spanish national museum of art. So if you’re looking for some culture it’s worth a visit. The art dates from the 12th to the early 20th century, so you won’t find any modern art here. Keep your eye out for “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Bosch, it’s mental.
- Caixa Forum – This stunning building, created from an old abandoned electrical station, is a sort of cultural centre. My favourite feature is actually the vertical garden outside the Caixa Forum, it’s such a refreshingly green bit of life in the city. The exhibitions change all the time. I’m personally looking forward to the Disney one opening in 2018.
- SHOPPING – Being a capital city there’s plenty of shopping to be done. As we all know, Zara is a Spanish brand and hence the Zara stores in Madrid are like a sartorial wonderland. If you’re a Penneys/Primark addict like myself then you NEED to visit the Primark store in Gran Via. Give yourself a few hours here as the place is absolutely HUGE. There’s four floors and it’s open from 10am-10pm every day. They have make-up demonstrators showing you how to use all the products and helping you to find the right shade. It’s just a whole new level of Primark. BUT if you want a more authentic, boutique experience then make sure to check out the Salamanca neighbourhood.
- Botanic Gardens – These gardens are a lovely space in the city to relax and have a nice stroll in the sun. You have to pay an entrance fee (€4), but it’s not much and it’s a nice spot if you appreciate plants. They house an impressive collection of bonsai trees (not a sentence I ever thought I’d say). It’s right next to the Prado, so you can tick the two off in one day.
- Mountain Bookshop (Libreria de Montana Desnivel) – This place is absolutely incredible. If you love adventure, mountains, skiing or just exploring in general then you’ll want to move into this spot. It goes on and on and is full of maps, travel guides, compasses, mountain climbing equipment and more.
- View From Centro Centro – At the top of this old palatial building is an incredible viewpoint. Entry is usually €2 to the viewpoint, but it’s well worth it. There are also several lounge areas open to the public with free wifi. A couple of the floors are also used for exhibitions. It’s an interesting building to explore.
- Plaza Major – How could you visit Madrid and NOT stop in Plaza Major?! As touristy as it may be, it’s still a sight to see. My top tip would be to look up, there are apartments all along the plaza and you see some weird and wonderful scenes on the balconies. The square dates from 1617 and has plenty of little cafés around the edges selling the traditional calamari sandwiches. Wander around at your leisure.
- Behind the Scenes at Teatro Real – Find out what it takes to create and perform an opera! I must say, I didn’t think the tour was going to be as fascinating as it turned out to be, and we didn’t even get the full tour because the King and Queen were visiting at the same time. This tour shows you where and how they make or rent the costumes, how they create each wig from human hair, where the orchestra, cast and dancers rehearse. It really shows you how much blood, sweat and tears go into a performance even before anyone steps on stage. If you are into theatre or the arts at all this is an absolute must.
- Flamenco – Maybe dinner and a flamenco show seems too typical for you, but honestly, you will be blown away by this dance display. We visited Corral de la Moreria, the oldest flamenco “bar” in the city. We had a table right up front by the tiny stage in the corner. We could literally feel the passion and sweat coming from the dancers. As they stamped, stomped, clapped and paraded around like coiled springs about to release we all had to pick our jaws up from the table. It was an incredible display and the food was incredible too. The chef has a Michelin star! Definitely worth a visit.
- Mad Snail Walking Tour – If you feel like having a local guide show you around then I highly recommend these guys. We had three different guides show us around three different parts of the city and they were all extremely knowledgeable. You can let them know what your interests are and what you want to see and they’ll tailor and itinerary for you. Enrique in particular is full of enthusiasm and will get you excited about exploring the city of Madrid.
What and Where to Eat/Drink in Madrid
Food is one of the best things about visiting Spain in general. I’m a vegetarian and I was a bit concerned about the cuisine being rather “meat-heavy”, but it was absolutely fine. Taverna-hopping is a must while visiting Madrid. It’s like a more sophisticated version of a pub crawl. You hop from taverna to taverna, but always spending enough time in each place to have a couple of drinks and a few plates of tapas. Done right, you should remain relatively sober(ish).
During my taverna hopping experience I discovered that I LOVE “tinto de verano”, meaning “summer red wine” in Spanish. It’s a cocktail of red wine, lemonade and sometimes a touch of vermouth. I recommend “Quevedo” and “Casa Alberto” for great food, authentic ambiance and low prices.
What better way to end a night out in Madrid than to head to the best churros place in town, Chocolatería San Ginés. You can opt to have churros or porras (giant, fat churros) with chocolate or coffee for dipping purposes. This place is super popular with locals and is open 24/7, 365 days a year, which is insane yet delightful all at once.
For a proper meal I highly recommend checking out the gourmet foodhall, Platea, set within an old theatre/cinema. My favourite meal of my trip was in Canalla Bistro within Platea. The spicy tempura vegetable dish was by far my favourite, but everything was spectacular. My only regret was that I couldn’t make enough room in my stomach to finish everything. The decor was a strange mix of classy, modern and whimsical. There were giant animal heads and distorted ceramics dotted around the restaurant.
Where to Stay in Madrid
When it comes to the best places to stay in Madrid, there are plenty of options. Whether you’re a budget traveller or a couple looking for a luxury weekend getaway, you’ll find the perfect place to stay in Madrid. Personally, I stayed in the NH Hotel near the Atocha station. I love NH hotels (I stayed in one in Amsterdam for a citybreak earlier in the year). The rooms are modern, spacious, clean and beautifully decorated. They even have a “welcome area” in reception full of freshments, and most importanly, jellies and marshmallows. The breakfast was delicious and the location is excellent. I’d highly recommend this hotel for anyone visiting Madrid. But if you fancy a browse, click below.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about Madrid for your next city break. I covered as much as I could without boring the pants off you (hopefully). If there’s anything I left out that you would add in feel free to leave me a comment below.
**I was hosted on this trip by the Madrid Tourism Board meaning everything was complimentary for me. However, all of my opinions and views are, as always, my own.**