This 3 day Madrid itinerary will help you make the most of 72 hours in Madrid Spain.
However, having a third day (or a fourth or fifth!) will mean that you get to have more tapas, you will visit more museums, you’ll be able to see more neighborhoods, and get another day of Spanish sunshine.
Getting Around Madrid
With only 3 days in Madrid, you will definitely want to get yourself a metro card to use on the subway and bus network. This will allow you to quickly and cheaply get from one side of the city to the other and see a whole lot more in a short period of time.
The Madrid metro is clean, efficient, and affordable. A single journey costs €1.50 and you can get a metro card at any of the stations. Simply look for the below image stuck to one of the machines inside the metro station you are in and you will be able to get the card there.
If you are arriving from the Madrid airport, you can take the metro straight into the city from here. You will need to pay €3 to come and go from the airport, however, you can pick up your metro card here and add up to 10 trips at a time to use during your trip.
If you are traveling with your spouse or a friend, you can both use the same card. You only ever scan onto the metro, not off of it (except at the airport), so you simply tap the card to get into the metro station and then pass the card to the next person and they do the same.
You can download the Madrid Metro app here which will help you navigate around the metro system very easily.
Where to Stay in Madrid
I have been looking for alternatives to Airbnb for a few months now since I continue to have mediocre experiences with their service and apartments. I used to absolutely LOVE Airbnb and used it for every trip that I went on. Now I tend to look more at Booking.com and Plum Guide.
If you are looking to self-cater or want your own space, I cannot recommend Plum Guide enough. These are the best Plum Guide apartments in Madrid that I’ve found.
- Sky Bright – This modern loft apartment is stylish, bright, and well-located. The downstairs area is where you find the kitchen and living room and then up a sturdy set of stairs, you reach the bedroom. It’s incredibly clean and located almost bang in the center of Madrid. The location couldn’t be better and all for less than €120 per night. Book a stay at Sky Bright here.
- Brick Rose – Slightly more affordable, this studio apartment is about €100 per night depending on when you book. It’s located in the Chueca neighborhood, you’ll be surrounded by amazing restaurants and bars and a short walk to the other popular central city neighborhoods like Malasaña and Puerta del Sol. The kitchen is perfect for coffee and a light breakfast and best of all it has a washing machine. Book a stay at Brick Rose here.
- Green Grass – A bit of a splurge at €200, this is the place to stay for families, a group of friends, or two couples traveling together. It has two bedrooms with plush beds, a full kitchen, and dining area as well as a living room with an incredible view out over the beautiful Malasaña neighborhood from your balcony. Book a stay at Green Grass here.
If you prefer hotels these are my favorite Booking.com options.
- Soho Boutique Opera – This is one of my favorite hotels in Madrid. This is the perfect place to base yourself for three days in Madrid because it is located right next to a central-city metro station and you can walk to so many different places from here including the Royal Palace and the La Latina neighborhood which is home to lots of great tapas bars. It’s incredibly affordable with rooms starting as low as €55 per night. Book a stay at Soho Boutique Opera here.
- Hotel Liabeny – Another fantastic city-center hotel, Liabeny is located in Puerto del Sol, so you can wake up and head out on the city’s main thoroughfare each day or hop on the metro at Sol station and get anywhere in the city. The rooms are clean and modern and there is a buffet breakfast included each morning. Room start as low as €75 per night. Book a stay at Hotel Liabeny here.
3 Days in Madrid Spain
During your 3 days in Madrid, you’ll have to prioritize what you want to see, do, and eat. You will definitely be able to see a lot of the city center as well as a suburb or two if you really pack your days full.
I try to balance my city breaks with relaxing moments at cute bars and cafes alongside seeing at least a top 5 list of the best things in a city (or the ones that are MY top 5 at least).
This Madrid itinerary tries to balance history, museums, amazing food, and plenty of fun evenings because those are the things I love most when I travel to a new city, especially one as full of these things as Madrid.
Day One of 3 Days in Madrid
I’ve separated each of the three days in Madrid into different areas of the city so that you don’t have to do a ton of traveling throughout the day. Day one will start with the west side of the city.
Royal Palace & Catedral de la Almudena
The Royal Palace is well worth exploring. This is the home of the royal family of Spain and it has over 2,000 rooms. At the time of designing it, the king said he wanted something bigger and better than Buckingham Palace in London which only has 775 rooms.
You can pre-book your tickets to the Palace here and choose the time to simply show up and walk straight in. Depending on whether or not the royal family is home, you can visit different areas of the palace.
Next door to the palace is the Catedral de la Almudena, the city’s cathedral. This church is one of the youngest in the city and was only consecrated as a cathedral in 1993.
That’s because Madrid hasn’t always been the capital of Spain. The capital used to be located in the city of Toledo, so that is where you will find one of the country’s oldest cathedrals. When the country moved the capital to Madrid in the 16th century, the Church of Spain decided to keep the head of the church in Toledo.
It is free to enter the cathedral and is well worth looking up at the stunning ceiling which has been painted unlike any cathedral ceiling I’ve ever seen before.
Temple of Debod
Did you know that there is an Egyptian temple in Madrid? I didn’t before I visited.
Located not far from Plaza de España is an Egyptian temple that was gifted to Spain by the Egyptian government. This temple was originally built in the 2nd century BC. It was very carefully dismantled, shipped to Spain and put back together, piece-by-piece, to look exactly as it did when it sat along the Nile.
You can visit the temple for free now and read a little bit about the importance of this temple and why it was built. There are paintings and carvings in there that are as old as the original building. It’s a pretty special experience that I highly recommend adding to your Madrid itinerary.
Plaza de España
Plaza de España is a small plaza on the western side of the city which has recently (2021/2022) had a total remodel. There is a lot more greenspace and tons of benches for sitting in the sunshine here.
This is where you want to head during the Christmas season to see the Christmas market in action. Throughout the year there are different events and festivals here, so it’s always worth checking out to see what is happening here.
Hotel Riu Rooftop
Right across from Plaza de España is Hotel Riu. Head inside and take the elevator to the rooftop.
Here there is a bar and restaurant that offers an incredible view back over the city. In addition to the view, there is a glass balcony here that allows you to stand over the Gran Vía with nothing but a little bit of plexi-glass between the two of you.
Explore Malasaña Neighborhood
The Malasaña neighborhood is a historical neighborhood in Madrid that, like many cheap inner-city neighborhoods in the 90s and 00s has quickly become not so cheap anymore.
This is a wonderful place to explore the city’s older-style architecture while also checking out some great cafes and beautiful boutique shopping.
Head to Plaza de los Dos de Mayo at the heart of the neighborhood. There is a monument here that pays tribute to captains Luis Daoíz and Pedro Velarde, two men who helped lead the rebellion against Napoleon’s occupation in 1808.
Not far from Malasaña is one of the largest and most beautiful plazas in Madrid, Plaza Mayor.
This is the city’s heart and where you will find fan zones during the world cup, markets during Christmas time, and on any given day, great outdoor restaurants where you can sit in the sunshine with a cold beer.
It was first built between 1580 and 1610 and was used as the main marketplace for the city. Later it was the location of public executions. The plaza is now packed with restaurants and souvenir shops.
If you’re feeling hungry while in the area, I highly recommend grabbing a bocadillo de calamari, a fried calamari sandwich from La Campana.
Mercado de San Miguel
Mercado de San Miguel is one of the most famous markets in Madrid to head for tapas and drinks. It’s a little bit upscale and slightly more expensive than simply heading to a tapas bar, but it’s a fun atmosphere, especially on the weekends, and if you’re with a group of people, it’s a good way to share a lot of different foods and drinks all in one place.
If you’re not hungry, this is still a good place to head to use the free bathrooms. There is a staircase that leads downstairs, you’ll be able to easily find them and in a city where there aren’t a ton of free toilets (except in the parks, there’s always great free toilets in the parks in Madrid), it’s worth knowing about this one!
Lunch and Dinner Options for Day One in Madrid
There are so many amazing restaurants worth checking out during your three days in Madrid.
These are some of my top picks for this region of the city that you’ll want to add to your Madrid itinerary.
- La Bola – This is the place to come for the local dish, Cocido Madrileño
- El Anciano Rey de los Vinos – Amazing oxtail stew is the dish of the day here
- Taberna la Concha – One of the best tapas bars in town for Vermút made in-house. Their tapas are exceptional as well.
- Casa Revuelta – It’s all about fried bacalao here. Order at least two alongside a cold caña (small beer) and you won’t be disappointed.
- Bodega de la Ardosa – One of the oldest tapas bars in Madrid, they’re famous for the particular way they pour their pilsners and they have a huge tapas menu of very delicious things. In particular, I recommend trying all of their different croquetas.
Day Two of 3 Days in Madrid
Day two of your three-day Madrid itinerary will take you over to the east side of the city. This is where some of the city’s most grand architecture is, where some of my favorite food spots are, and where you’ll want to head on the sunniest day of your 3-day trip.
Stroll the Gran Vía
The Gran Vía is the city’s main boulevard and where you will sense, as the name suggests, quite a lot of grandieur.
Casa de Papel fans will be sad to know you cannot simply walk into the Bank of Spain and take a wander around, however, there is a small museum that is free to enter and has glass windows inside that look into the main area of the Bank of Spain.
Explore the Architecture along Paseo del Prado
If you thought the Gran Vía was spectacular, you won’t want to miss walking down the tree-lined Paseo del Prado. Once you reach the Bank of Spain, you’ll come to a large roundabout/rotary with the Fuente de Cibeles at its center. This fountain was built in the 18th century and depicts the goddess Cybele on her chariot being pulled by two lions.
Across the boulevard from the Bank of Spain is another breathtaking building, Palacio de Cibeles or Cibele’s Palace. Inside there is a restaurant, a post office, and the seat of the Madrid City Council.
Turn left or right to explore some of the best museums in Madrid or to simply grab a table at one of the restaurants that line the sidewalks.
Check out one of the city’s Museums
While you’re around Paseo del Prado, it’s worth knowing about the museums in this area of the city. This is where you will find not only some of the best art museums in Spain, but indeed in the world.
- Museo Nacional del Prado – This museum consistently ranks as one of the best in the world and is home to art from famous painters like El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, and Rubens to name a few. The collection is enormous and the building itself is a magical place to explore. Entrance is €15 per person or you can pre-book tickets for the evening between 6 pm-8 pm when the museum has free entry.
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia – The Reina Sofia Museum has a slightly more contemporary touch to it than the Prado. There is a mixture of 20th-century art from big names like Picasso, Rembrandt, and Dalí, but there are also pieces from Spanish and other international artists from the 21st century as well. General admission is €12, but just like the Prado, between 7 pm and 9 pm, you can prebook for free entry.
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum – If you have already been to the above two on previous trips to Madrid or art is your priority on this trip in general, then I highly recommend this as your next stop on your 3-days in Madrid. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum houses a collection of art ranging from the 17th to the 20th century. Inside you’ll find pieces from Rembrandt, Monet, Degas, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Kirchner, O’Keeffe, Dalí, Pollock, and so many more. General entry is €13, but the museum is completely free on Mondays.
- National Archeology Museum – The Archeology Museum in Madrid is definitely one of the best places to head for history-lovers. Inside a stunning historical building, you’ll find pieces of history and archeological discoveries from around the world. Entry is only €3 and it’s free to enter on Saturdays after 2 pm and Sundays until noon.
Parque el Retiro
Parque el Retiro is one of the largest parks in Madrid and is well worth exploring on a sunny day. This is where you’ll find locals going for a jog, taking their kids to run around, and couples canoodling on rowboats out on the lake.
There are tons of different paths and gardens and in spring and summertime, it is particularly beautiful when the rose garden is in full bloom.
One place not to miss inside Parque el Retiro is the Crystal Palace, which was modeled after the original Crystal Palace in London (which is no longer standing). It’s now a small museum with different exhibitions throughout the year.
Puerta de Atocha
The city’s main train station doesn’t necessarily seem like a place you would want to spend your afternoon, but I highly recommend checking out the inside of this historic station.
There has been a train station in this location since 1851 with the oldest current trainshed still remaining dating from 1892. During a redesign in the early 90s, they removed the tracks from the historical trainshed and replaced it with a tropical botanical garden.
There are also some shops inside and a few tapas bars and restaurants. The botanical garden is the main event though, with over 7,000 plants and 400 different species of plants from around the Americas, Asia, and Australia.
Lunch and Dinner Options for Day Two in Madrid
While you’re in this region of the city, be sure not to miss out on some of these incredible restaurants and tapas bars.
- El Brillante – It’s all about the bocadillo de calamari at this spot and they claim to make the best in the city. They come in a few sizes with the largest one being big enough for even the hungriest sandwich lover.
- Bodegas Rosell – Head here for a delicious glass of vermút, the crispy and cheesy croquetas de jamon, and the bacalao.
- La Catapa – It’s all about seafood here including the local favorite gambas or shrimp cooking in a mountain of garlic.
- Los Gatos – This tapas bar is an awesome spot to head before dinner or just for a drink and a light snack. They have a huge selection of tostas or tapas which are all served on a thick slice of crusty bread. The Iberico ham is always a good option.
- La Dolores – Another great tapas bar in this part of town, they have a few tables outside that fill up quickly with the after work crowd. Beers are cheap and the tostas here are even better than next door.
Day Three in Madrid
There are so many different ways to spend 3-days in Madrid. If you are an art lover, you’ll want to head to a few more of those museums that I listed above.
If you are a sports lover and in particular, a football (soccer)-lover, you’ll want to get yourself out to visit one of the most famous stadiums in the world.
Tour of the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is home to Real Madrid, one of the world’s most famous (and best some may argue) club teams in the world.
If there is a game during your trip, you can get tickets here. However, they can be quite expensive and hard to get depending on who they are playing.
The best way to see the stadium on a given visit is to take a tour of the stadium. You get to go into the changing rooms, the press room, you walk around the seats, and take in the view of the entire pitch. You also get an audio guide which gives you information about the history of Real Madrid.
If sports aren’t really your thing and you are interested in seeing a very cool side to Madrid, I highly recommend checking out Matadero Madrid.
This cultural center is a few stops south of the city center on the metro. Get off at Legazpi station and in five minutes you’ll arrive at this old slaughterhouse-turned-art-space.
The buildings in the complex date back to the early 20th century when it was a slaughterhouse and livestock market. The current use couldn’t be further from its slaughterhouse roots.
Today, Matadero Madrid is a community and art space home to a theater, cultural center, and art gallery. There are events throughout the year including live music, an ice rink in the wintertime, and art festivals.
You can also simply wander around or grab a bike rental and head towards the river. Carry on through the cultural center until you get to the other side where the riverwalk is. This is a beautiful place to spend the latter half of a sunny Madrid day. As you walk along the river with the river on your left side, you’ll come across tons of parks along the way.
Calle de la Cava Baja
No trip to Madrid is complete without a stop at a few places along Cava Baja. I recommend planning your third day in Madrid so that you are around Cava Baja for lunch and you finish the day eating at the places listed below in the Literary Quarter, however, if you want to do it the other way around that’s also a great option.
Cava Baja is a street that mimics the lines of the city’s original walls back when it was a fortified city. Some of the bars even still have a piece of that wall inside.
- Diaz y Larrouy: This bar is a wine-lovers paradise. They have a huge selection of Spanish wines from around the country. For food, it’s all about the tostas here.
- Posada del Dragon – This is both a hotel and a tapas bar and is also where you will find remnants of the city’s walls. All you have to do is look down. The wine list here is great and the tomato salad is a delectable option to share.
- La Concha: One of the can’t-miss spots on Cava Baja is La Concha. This place is famous for the vermút which they make themselves. People from across Spain head here just to buy a bottle to take home with them. The tapas are well-made and portions are generous here.
- Posada de la Villa: This is more of a restaurant than a tapas bar but is a great option if you don’t want to have just a bunch of different dishes and would rather have a meal. The grilled meats in particular are worth your time. However, they also have a bar downstairs with drinks and tapas.
- La Perejila: This is one of the best places on the street for tapas, which means it’s also one of the busiest. Order a few drinks and enjoy each of the different delicious snacks they bring out. Any tostas you order will be HUGE.
- Los Huevos de Lucio: If you want to try the drunken Madrid classic, huevos rotos or broken eggs, then this is the place to finish the night. This dish is basically a plate of perfectly fried French fries topped with runny fried eggs and any meat of your choice (with chorizo it’s truly magical). They also have a nice wine selection.
Walk and Explore (and taste Tapas) in the Literary Quarter
The Barrio de las Letras or Literary Quarter of Madrid is one of the coolest neighborhoods to explore and to have lunch or dinner.
This neighborhood was once home to Cervantes and you can walk over to have a look at his house if you want to. It’s also where Hemingway used to head for a drink, so you know there must be some good bars in the area.
These are the places I recommend going for drinks and food on your third day in Madrid.
- Malaspina – This is perhaps my favorite tapas bar in Madrid. It’s a big claim, but the beer and free tapas on offer here are the best combinations that I found in Madrid. The more drinks you order, the better the tapas get including tostas with jamon, slices of tortilla, plates of patatas bravas, and to top it all off, the beer is cold, crisp, and cheap.
- Casa Toni – Casa Toni is a good option for a larger meal rather than just tapas, but if you’re traveling with a group it’s also a great tapas option. The dishes here focus on perfectly grilled offal. Brave eaters and foodies will rejoice at their black pudding, sweetbreads, and kidneys. Fear not if that doesn’t sound delightful to you (although I DO recommend giving them a try), they also have chorizo, perfectly blistered pimientos de padron (mild chilis), and patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a creamy paprika tomato sauce on top).
- La Venencia – Famous more for its unique rules than anything else, this is the place to come for a unique experience and sherry. They only serve sherry, so don’t come in asking for beer. They keep track of your drinks order on a little chalkboard behind the bar, and they absolutely do not allow any photos or any tips.
- Taberna el Sur de Huertas – Another place that’s more than just a tapas bar, the food here is exceptional and the service is top-notch. They have a nice drinks selection and the shrimp with garlic is a true joy to eat. Mop up the rest of that olive oil with the crusty bread that’s served on the side.
- Taberna Maceira – This is a very popular spot and no matter what time of day you head here, if they’re open, then you’ll have to wait a few minutes for a table. It’s worth the wait though. This Galician bar and restaurant serve up seriously good stews and rice dishes that you will want to order seconds of. The wine selection is nice as well.
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