This lovely Spanish capital is the gateway to the rest of Spain. From here you can travel anywhere in this diverse country; therefore you might find yourself with only a short amount of time to see the main sights before you set off for the many different cities sprinkled around Spain. With the advice of lots of different people taken into consideration, I have constructed the ultimate 24 hours in Madrid to get a good feel of what the city has to offer.
I recommend starting your day around 8:30 or 9 am if possible to fit in this full day of sightseeing without rushing. Head over to Plaza del Sol via the metro or a take nice walk over there depending on how close you are staying. This is a bustling square where you can find many shops including Vodafone, which is a great place to get a SIM card for your phone if you need one. It only costs €10 for 1.5 GB of data which is usually a lot cheaper than an international phone plan from the states depending on how much data you use or which phone provider you have.
Also in this square, you will find an excellent bakery called La Mallorquina. If you are from the U.S. like I am, there might be a bit of culture shock when you walk in. The walls are lined with different areas with different kinds of sweets in glass cases and this place is filled to the brim with people. You need to push your way through and find some counter space where you can order some sweets and a coffee or a nice juice. The catch is that there aren't any tables and chairs in this area, but you just claim your spot along the counter and eat/drink your breakfast right there and pay afterward. I think there might be an area upstairs where you can sit down, but we stayed on the bottom level and did it the most obvious way. Everything there was incredibly delicious. You honestly can't go wrong with anything you decide to get.
Next, enjoy the short walk over to Plaza Mayor. It is a beautiful square surrounded by shops and restaurants. We were there in December, so they had a Christmas market in the square and it was fun to look around at all the cute trinkets they had in the stalls.
After Plaza Mayor, we walked over to the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral. They are right next to each other and they both offer tours. We did not have time to go inside both, but we did do the self-guided tour of the Royal Palace and I actually enjoyed it quite a bit! Everything was beautiful of course, but learning the history of the Spanish Royal family was my favorite part. It took us about an hour and a half to walk through the entire palace and cost €11 for adult general admission and an additional €3 for the audio guide. Many advise getting tickets online ahead of time, but because we went in the off-season we hardly waited to get them there at the palace.
By this point you have probably worked up quite the appetite, so head back on over by Plaza Mayor to El Mercado de San Miguel for a fun tapas lunch. You can really get a taste for the different types of Spanish cuisine at this beautiful market and I really encourage you to get outside of your comfort zone and try some new things!
Now you are probably tired of walking and in need of a good break, so head on over to Circulo de Bella's Artes Rooftop bar. They do charge a cover fee of €4 to get to the rooftop terrace, but the views are so worth it! Relax here and get a glass of wine while you enjoy the view.
After a good sit down, take a stroll through the beautiful Buen Retiro Park. Honestly, this is one of my favorite places in the entire city and I will keep going back to it every time I go to Madrid. My personal highlights of the park are Retiro Pond, The Crystal Palace, and The Rosaleda Garden.
Continue through the park and head on over to the famous Prado Museum. This is a world-renowned art museum and you absolutely cannot miss it when you visit Madrid. Even if art isn't your thing, give it a go and just get lost throughout the many halls with history hanging upon them.
So you have pranced across Madrid and have definitely had a marathon day exploring and sightseeing all over City. So, treat yourself to some Paella! Madrid isn't known for its Paella since it originated in Valencia, not the capital city, but there are a few places that get it right! One of them is called Juana La Loca. This place is known for its Paella and it is delicious. The portion is to share with one other person and it is still way too much food, but luckily it is one of the few places I have found in Spain that lets you take a doggy bag home!
I know you are probably stuffed from the incredible Paella, but you absolutely cannot go to Spain without trying Churros and Chocolate. The most famous place for this in Madrid is Chocolateria San Gines. The churros are not the sugar-coated fried dessert that you see at carnivals in The States, but they are much more doughy and decadent in Spain. You dip them in a super thick hot chocolate and I swear it warms your soul. So Delicious!
I hope this guide helps you in planning your next trip to Madrid! If you have any questions or recommendations please let me know in the comments below!