A perfect day in Madrid

From feisty flamenco shows to museums bursting with history, Madrid is home to plenty of attractions; here's how to spend your first 24 hours in the buzzing Spanish capital city
Coffee, chocolate and churros is the best way to start your day in Madrid
Fried churros on a table with chocolate bowl. Photo: Stoica Ionela, Shutterstock.

London, Paris and Berlin are European capitals tourists have flocked to for centuries... Madrid, on the other hand, has only recently emerged as a city break big-hitter. Take in beautiful architecture, classic galleries and unforgettable food on this 24-hour itinerary in the Spanish capital

Madrid was little more than a farming town on the arid central plains of Castile when Felipe II plucked it from his royal cap in 1561 and proclaimed it home to the Spanish Court. Ever since then man-made Madrid, which took the reins of Spain’s Golden Age, hasn’t stopped growing and asserting itself. Though one of Europe’s youngest capitals, it’s had time and the ambition to rival Spain’s more historic cities, including Seville and Valencia. Today it is Spain’s political and economic hub, and a cracking destination for travellers. Here’s how to spend 24 hours in this passionate, cultural and feisty city.

9am: Breakfast in Santa Ana

Join locals for coffee and fried churros as the day gets underway on this classic tree-lined plaza in the city’s 18th-century quarter. Don’t miss the colourful tiled friezes on bars around the square.

10am: Discover a green oasis

Explore the beautifully tended Real Jardín Botánico where dahlias were first planted in Europe. Three greenhouses are filled with desert and tropical flora and there is an appealing garden gift shop.

11am: Feel awe-struck at the Prado

Visit one of the world’s greatest art galleries: the Museo del Prado. Do not miss the newly restored Renaissance Patio de los Jerónimos. The Spanish paintings, largely collected by the royal family, include masterworks by Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya.

The Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid.The Real Jardín Botánico offers a respite from bustling tourists mid-morning. Photo: Lisi4ka / Shutterstock

1pm: Sample art and aperitivos

Take a break in the top floor café of Herzog de Meuron’s CaixaForum arts centre where you can sip an aperitivo and look down on the adjacent vertical garden, a rich tapestry of globally sourced plant varieties.

2pm: Tuck into classic cocido

Madrid’s celebrated chickpea stew, or cocido, with its own soup and vegetables, is cooked the old-fashioned way in earthenware pots over charcoal at La Bola, where you lunch with locals at a leisurely pace.

4pm: Marvel at Guernica

Pablo Picasso conceived Guernica, one of the 20th century’s greatest paintings, as a protest against the Nazi bombing of the Basque village, in 1937. See it hanging alongside his preparatory drawings on the second floor of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

5.30pm: Shop till you drop

Pedestrianised Calle de Fuencarral, running off Gran Vía, is the city’s most fashionable shopping drag. Here you can find hip Spanish fashion brands from Camper shoes to Custo and Hoss Intropia clothes, plus other European fashion. Cafés, bars and ice cream parlours offer retreats from the street.

Madrid's old town and backstreets.Explore Madrid's old town and backstreets to discover the best tapas bars. Photo: Alexandru Logel / Shutterstock

7.30pm: It's tapas time!

Enjoy the city’s magical dusk light with a paseo, or evening stroll, through the sloping old streets that link the Plaza Mayor to the Cava Baja in the medieval old town. Locals end the day there with a glass of fine wine and tapas in coaching inns and designer bars.

9pm: Enjoy a dinner date

Move on for dinner at Casa Lucio, a classic Madrid restaurant on Cava Baja that offers genuine Castilian cuisine for every pocket. Choose between wood- roast meats, ‘broken eggs’ or baked fish.

10.30pm: Experience Flamenco

Book ahead for the late show at one of the city’s tablaos, or flamenco clubs, like Casa Patas. Here you will witness an authentic flamenco experience and see artists perform flamenco song, guitar and dance in an intimate and atmospheric environment.

Ready to take your city break to Madrid? 

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