You will agree with me that spending just one day in Madrid could seem insufficient to explore this amazing city.
No worries! This 1-day itinerary will guide you step-by-step to make the most of your 24 hours in the capital of Spain. You will be able to visit the top-rated things to see in Madrid.
If you are in Madrid for just one day, this itinerary plan is for you! I have saved time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner but you´ll need to wake up early.
The good news is that the best Madrid attractions in this itinerary for one day in Madrid are all within walking distance.
For your convenience, I have included detailed maps for the morning and afternoon itineraries so you can step-by-step follow my indications.
Ready? Let´s start!
Table of contents
- 1 Step-by-step itinerary for just one day in Madrid
- 2 Night activities to end your day in Madrid
- 3 Is it safe to travel to Madrid right now?
- 4 Guided Tours to see Madrid in One Day
- 5 Touristic bus | Hop on Hop off
- 6 Getting from Madrid Airport to the City Center
- 7 One Day in Madrid: Where to Stay
Step-by-step itinerary for just one day in Madrid
Stop 1: Start at Puerta del Sol
Planning to spend one day in Madrid and not sure where to start?
Kick off your visit to Madrid in a day at Puerta del Sol.
No matter where your accommodation is you will have no problems getting here. Sol station is one of the most important transport hubs in Spain.
However, due to the limited time available, you will save time if you choose a place close to the city center.
Puerta del Sol is one of the most popular squares in Madrid and a meeting point both for locals and tourists alike. It houses some of the most famous monuments and buildings in the city:
a) The former House of the Post Office, known as Real Casa de Correos, was built between 1766 and 1768.
Hundreds of people have gathered for decades in front of its clock tower on new years’ eve. The chimes of the clock at midnight mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year.
On the front side of this famous building in Madrid, there are two commemorative plaques:
- One is in memory of the citizens who rebelled against the Napoleonic invasion of Spain on May 2, 1808.
- The other is a memorial to the victims of the March 11th, 2004 terrorist attacks, and to the heroes who helped them.
b) The Kilometer 0 (Km 0) is a plaque located on the pavement in front of the main entrance to the Real Casa de Correos. It is the starting point for the entire Spanish road network.
c) El Oso y el Madroño is a sculpture of a bear and strawberry tree which represents the coat of arms of the capital of Spain.
d) Don´t forget to take some photos of the mounted statue of King Charles III in the center of the square, the La Mariblanca statue close to Calle Arenal, and the famous Tío Pepe neon sign.
Spend some additional time exploring its surroundings, especially the Preciados and Arenal streets, which offer plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Stop 2: Breakfast time
You will be only one day in Madrid but what a day!
You need to be full of energy and San Gines is the perfect place to try “chocolate with churros”, a delicious Spanish breakfast.
Leave Puerta del Sol square and keep walking on Arenal street and turn left in the San Gines passageway as indicated on the map to find the authentic San Gines chocolate shop.
Depending on the day and time it can be quite crowded but be patient and enjoy this unique Spanish meal!
Stop 3: Plaza Mayor
Did you enjoy the chocolate with churros? I´m pretty sure you did.
Continue on the San Gines passageway and Los Coroleros street to find the famous Calle Mayor and Plaza Mayor.
Let´s start with Plaza Mayor, the most emblematic square of Madrid, and one of the most important things to do in one day in Madrid.
You will discover an outstanding arcaded square with a rectangular shape and a total of 237 balconies.
The origins of the square date back to the sixteenth century, when it was the main market of the town.
It has also hosted numerous historic events, such as crowning ceremonies, public executions, trials, and the beatification of San Isidro, Madrid´s patron saint.
There is a bronze equestrian statue of King Philip III at the center of the Plaza Mayor, created in 1616, by Jean Boulogne and Pietro Tacca.
There are ten different gateways to enter or exit Plaza Mayor. Arco de Cuchilleros, located in the southwest corner of the square, is probably the most popular.
Stop 4: San Miguel market
Leave Plaza Mayor, and depending on the exit you choose follow Calle Mayor or Cava de San Miguel. Head to your next destination of this itinerary for one day in Madrid.
San Miguel food market is located next to Plaza Mayor. It was originally built in 1916 and it still retains its remarkable early-20th century iron structure.
Although you can still do the grocery shopping, most people come here to taste the excellent Spanish wines and beers, and to eat some tapas.
If you are already hungry, this culinary temple can be the perfect place to enjoy a Spanish appetizer.
There are more than 20 stands with the best quality products, such as Iberian ham, the freshest seafood Galicia, Mediterranean rice dishes, or the most exquisite cheeses from Castilla, Asturias, or Pais Vasco.
Stop 5: Plaza de la Villa
Return to Calle Mayor and you will soon find on the left the historic Plaza de la Villa.
This urban square has major historical relevance. And it houses some of the best-preserved monuments in Madrid such as the House and Tower of Lujanes, Casa de la Villa, and Casa de Cisneros.
Casa de la Villa was the town hall of the city of Madrid from 1693 until 2007.
Moreover, Casa y Torre de los Lujanes is the oldest civil building in Madrid, dating back to 1494.
In the middle of the square, you will find a monument in memory of the sailor Don Álvaro de Bazán (1526-1588), where he is shown stepping on a Turkish flag.
Stop 6: La Almudena Cathedral
Continue your walk on the historic Calle Mayor and you will get to the astonishing Almudena Cathedral.
If you are spending one day in Madrid you cannot miss this area of the Madrid de los Austrias neighborhood.
Almudena Cathedral is the most important Catholic church in Madrid and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid.
The building is dedicated to the Virgin of the Almudena, the patron saint of Madrid. And it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II on 15 June 1993.
The cathedral is a mixture of styles with a neoclassical exterior and a neogothic interior.
The access is free, just a donation of € 1 per person is requested for the maintenance of the building.
Stop 7: Royal Palace
Next to the Cathedral, you can admire the magnificent Royal Palace, also known as Palacio de Oriente. This will be your next stop on this itinerary for one day in Madrid.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family, although now it is mostly used for receptions, state ceremonies, and official acts.
It is the largest functioning royal palace and the largest by-floor area in Europe. There are more than 3,000 rooms decorated with fine paintings, sculptures, and ornaments.
The Changing of the Guard takes place every Wednesday and Saturday from 11 a.m. till 2 p.m.
Four members of the Royal Guard are relieved of their positions, two foot soldiers and two soldiers on horseback dressed in their official uniforms.
On the first Wednesday of the month at noon (except January, August, and September), the Solemn Changing of the Guard takes place.
The play lasts almost an hour and, in total, 400 people and 100 horses take part in the spectacle.
I have no doubt that the interior of Madrid´s Royal Palace is remarkable. But as you only have 1 day in Madrid, I advise you to not enter. It would be more like a race against the clock than a pleasant visit. It´s better to leave it for your next visit.
Stop 8: Plaza de Oriente
In front of the Royal Palace, you will find the Plaza de Oriente.
It is a monumental space surrounded by some of the most famous buildings in Madrid: the Royal Palace, the Royal Theater, and the Royal Monastery of the Incarnation.
A 17th-century bronze monument dedicated to Philip IV of Spain stands out in the middle of the square. It is considered the first equestrian statue in the world supported only by the hind legs of the horse.
With the advice of the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei, the sculptor made the rear part solid and the front part hollow.
The square has an excellent exhibition of sculptures of twenty Spanish kings, placed longitudinally on both sides of the central monument.
The gardens in Plaza de Oriente are remarkable too. They are a haven of peace and tranquility and it can be a good moment to take a small break on your itinerary for one day in Madrid.
The Royal Theater, located in the eastern part of the square, is a major opera house. It was officially inaugurated in 1850 and is one of the great theaters of Europe.
Also, you can admire the Royal Monastery of the Incarnation, which was founded in 1611 as a convent for cloistered nuns. The famous relic with the blood of St. Pantaleon is kept here, one of the most fascinating facts about Madrid.
Finally, the Sabatini gardens were built in the 1930s on the site of the former stables, in front of the Royal Palace.
Their design and location make them some of the most beautiful landmarks in Madrid, especially at dusk, to watch the sunset.
Unfortunately, you need to keep moving!
Stop 9: Plaza de España
From Plaza de Oriente, continue your journey to Plaza de España along Bailén street.
This popular square has been recently remodeled and pedestrianized. It has several gardens and fountains with numerous trees that provide a refreshing shade during the hottest months of the year.
A monument to Miguel de Cervantes, the famous Spanish novelist, stands out in the middle of the Square. A sculpture of the writer overlooks two bronze sculptures representing his renowned characters Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
Plaza de España is surrounded by two of the most emblematic buildings in Madrid´s skyline, these are the Torre de Madrid and Edificio España.
On the ground floor of the Edificio España, you will find the largest store in the world of the famous Spanish brand Zara.
If you are a shopaholic, you should visit the store. But just a few minutes, as you will be already late for lunch!
Don´t worry, in Spain it is normal to have lunch around 3.00 p.m.
Stop 10: Gran Vía
I hope you are enjoying your visit to Madrid in a day.
Once you have completed your visit to the surroundings of Plaza de España, walk along Gran Vía street.
Watch the numerous theaters, shops, and historic buildings such as Capitol and Telefónica. Admire the facades of some of the most iconic buildings in Madrid´s history.
Keep walking until you get to the restaurant close to the remarkable Metropolis and Grassy buildings.
I recommend stopping for lunch in “La Primera” restaurant where you will be able to taste some of the best Spanish culinary specialties. Remember to book in advance.
You can opt for any other restaurant you like or just take a sandwich to go.
Stop 11: Plaza Cibeles
Depending on how you are doing with your itinerary, at this point of your day in Madrid you could decide to stroll around the Chueca neighborhood or Alcalá street.
But I would skip them and continue to the next stop, Plaza Cibeles. From the restaurant, continue along Gran Vía and Alcalá streets and will get there in just a few minutes.
The impressive fountain in the middle of the square was built in 1782 and shows the Greek goddess of fertility and nature on a chariot drawn by two lions.
Cibeles Fountain is the location where Real Madrid celebrates its trophies with the team´s supporters.
The fountain is flanked by some of the most striking and famous buildings in Madrid:
- Palacio de Cibeles (Cibeles Palace): The former Communication Palace has been the seat of the Madrid City Council since 2007. The Palace has a rooftop terrace that offers an amazing panoramic view of Madrid.
- Banco de España (Bank of Spain): Opened in 1891, this building is one of the most beautiful examples of 19th-century Spanish architecture. It currently serves as the Headquarters of the Bank of Spain.
- Palacio de Linares (Linares Palace): It currently accommodates the Casa de América cultural institution, promoting the cultural relations between Spain and Latin America.
Stop 12: Paseo del Prado
Leave Cibeles by the Paseo del Prado, one of the most emblematic boulevards in Madrid.
It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with El Retiro Park in 2021 and it houses some of the most popular monuments and museums in Madrid.
It is unique in the world as it houses the top 3 museums in Madrid in less than one mile: the Prado, the Reina Sofia National Art, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museums.
The exceptional location of these three top galleries in Madrid is also known as the Art Triangle.
As you only spend one day in Madrid, in my opinion you will not have enough time to visit the museums properly. You need at least 2 days in the capital of Spain.
But, in case you are decided to enter an art gallery, I would choose the Prado Museum.
The Prado Museum is probably the most important gallery in Madrid and one of the most famous worldwide.
It houses one of the most extensive art collections in the world by outstanding painters like Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco de Goya.
But try to optimize your visit by purchasing the skip-the-line ticket or booking a guided tour.
Next to Prado Museum, San Jeronimo el Real chuch stands out.
Popularly known as “Los Jerónimos”, it is a Roman Catholic church from 1464. The monastery was an emblematic place in the Court, serving for centuries for the investiture of the Princes and Princesses of Asturias.
In Paseo del Prado, you will enjoy a beautiful route with numerous trees and iconic fountains such as Neptuno and Apolo.
Take a look at the monument to the heroes of May 2nd, 1808, in Plaza de la Lealtad, the Palace of Madrid Stock Exchange, and the CaixaForum cultural center with its spectacular vertical garden.
Finally, the Royal Botanical Garden, which exhibits over 5,000 different species of flowers and plants, and was declared an Artistic Garden in 1942.
Stop 13: El Retiro Park
Continue your 1-day itinerary and at the end of the Royal Botanical Garden turn left Paseo del Prado to find Cuesta de Moyano, which houses a popular permanent book fair.
Go straight and you will come across the renowned El Retiro Park.
This wonderful park was first opened to the public in 1868 and has become one of the most popular attractions in Madrid for both locals and tourists spending one day in Madrid.
Its paths and walkways are used by families, runners, bikers, and rollerbladers.
The park also offers an outdoor museum full of commemorative monuments, magnificent buildings, peaceful lakes, and outstanding fountains such as:
- The Glass Palace and Velázquez Palace, which host numerous art exhibitions.
- A large artificial pond close to Puerta de Alcalá where many locals and tourists rent rowboats.
- The Monument to King Alfonso XII, erected next to the lake in 1922, features a semicircular colonnade and an equestrian statue of the monarch.
- Fountain of the Fallen Angel, which represents Lucifer falling from Heaven, and the rose garden.
- Artichoke Fountain, where an artichoke can be seen at the top. This plant is much appreciated for its medicinal properties and culinary use.
- Paseo de la Argentina (or Paseo de las Estatuas), decorated with some of the statues of kings from the Royal Palace.
- El Bosque del Recuerdo (Forest of Remembrance) is a memorial monument to commemorate the 191 civilian victims of the 11 March 2004 train bombings.
Take your time to explore the park and take a break if necessary, sit back, relax, and enjoy the nice weather of the capital of Spain.
Visiting Madrid in a day is harder than expected?
Come on, you are almost finished!
Stop 14: Puerta de Alcalá
Say goodbye to El Retiro through the Independence Door at the northwest part of the park.
The Puerta de Alcalá, one of the symbols of the city, is a neoclassical triumphal arch made of granite.
It was the first of its kind to be built after the fall of the Roman Empire, making it even older than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
The gate has a total of five arches and six ornamental statues adorn the top of the gate.
Puerta de Alcalá was declared a National Monument in 1976 and is a must-see if you are spending one day in Madrid.
Stop 15: Plaza de Colón
From Puerta de Alcalá, continue your journey to the north along Serrano Street and turn first left to Recoletos street to get to Paseo de Recoletos, one of the most important boulevards of the city.
You will pass by the National Library of Madrid, founded by King Philip V at the end of 1711, on your way to Plaza de Colón (Columbus Square).
The square is presided by an outstanding monument of 17 meters high to the man who discovered America in 1492.
Behind this statue, you will find the Gardens of Discovery with the Monument to the Discovery of America, a series of concrete columns covered with inscriptions related to the discovery.
The square has had the largest Spanish flag in the world since 2001, which flies from a flagpole 50 meters high.
Finally, take a look at the two unusual twin towers (Columbus Towers), on the west side of the square.
Stop 16: Golden Mile | Salamanca neighborhood
The last stop of your busy day in Madrid is the exclusive Salamanca neighborhood.
Do you still have some time for shopping?
This area is home to sophisticated fashion stores and the most renowned national and international brands.
Ortega y Gasset, Serrano, Jorge Juan, and Claudio Coello streets are just a few of the most remarkable streets in the Golden Mile of Madrid. Take a stroll to explore the neighborhood.
By the time you finish this itinerary, you’ll likely be ready for dinner and some well-deserved drinks.
La Bien Aparecida, Casa Dani, Santerra, La Bistroteca, and La Maruca, are just a few examples of the unlimited list of top-rated restaurants in this area.
Remember that most locals do not have dinner until 9.00-10.00 p.m.
Night activities to end your day in Madrid
That’s it! Your epic day in Madrid is over.
You will probably feel exhausted but if the tasty dinner has helped you to recover some energies you need to know that Madrid is great for nightlife.
There are plenty of things to do in Madrid at night such as:
- Watch a musical or flamenco show.
- Admire an amazing sunset at a sky bar.
- Get tickets for a Real Madrid game.
- Take a guided tour at night.
- Enjoy the vibrant nightlife of La Latina and Chueca.
Is it safe to travel to Madrid right now?
Yes. Madrid is a safe destination. Like other well-developed European cities, the living standard and personal safety are very high in Madrid.
Pickpocketing is the most common form of street crime in Madrid, especially around popular tourist attractions. Scams are also a risk around tourist spots.
With the usual precautions and my safety guidelines, I am sure you will enjoy a wonderful experience in Madrid.
Remember that wearing a mask indoors or outdoors is no longer required in Madrid as of today. There are certain exceptions though, and you must still wear your mask in public transport, hospitals, and pharmacies.
Guided Tours to see Madrid in One Day
If you want to see Madrid in a day and don’t want to worry about planning your day, you can opt for booking a guided tour.
I love the guided tours in Madrid. The is a wide offer of activities for all tastes: free walking tours, tours by bike, and by segway.
They are a wonderful, sustainable, and healthy way to discover the history, culture, and top-rated things to see in the capital of Spain.
One of the main benefits of the guided tours to see Madrid in a day is that you do not have to worry about what to do.
All you have to do is turn up at the meeting point on time, ready to spend a nice time while listening to entertaining and educational information from your professional guide.
These tours are also a great opportunity to meet people who probably share your interests.
Touristic bus | Hop on Hop off
Madrid tourist bus is one of the easiest and most convenient ways of getting around Madrid and discovering the most popular attractions in the city.
I am not such a big fan of this type of tourism as I usually prefer walking to get more involved with the history and culture of the places I visit.
But this is indeed a convenient and pleasant option if, for example, you are just staying one day in the capital of Spain.
All you have to do is purchase your ticket, hop on the bus, put on your earphones, listen to the recorded commentaries and enjoy the tour, monuments, and other attractions you pass by.
You can hop off the designated route at the stop you want, as many times as you like. You will also benefit from free wifi on board.
Getting from Madrid Airport to the City Center
Madrid has just one airport serving all the routes arriving and departing from the city, Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas.
It is located in the northeast of Madrid, Barajas district, only 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the city center.
The total cost of Metro Madrid is under € 5, including a supplementary Airport charge. It is quite an affordable price in my opinion compared to other cities I visited all around the world.
But I know well how appealing it results to just get a taxi or a private transfer straight to your accommodation after a long flight. Moreover, if you are just in Madrid for one day.
The price of a taxi from the Airport to Madrid downtown is not high.
The fare for a taxi ride from the Madrid-Barajas Airport to the city center is a flat rate of € 30 one way. No supplements can be added to this price, for example for taking several pieces of luggage.
So, if you are too tired to go to the metro station while carrying heavy luggage, or you share the service with some more people, a taxi is also an excellent choice to go from Madrid Airport to the city center.
One Day in Madrid: Where to Stay
If you are spending one night in Madrid you need to know that the accommodation offer is wide, diverse and for all budgets.
That’s why it can make it tricky that you find the right place that fits your style, interests, and budget.
Accommodation outside the main tourist areas will usually be cheaper. However, you need to take into account the costs of transport and especially the waste of time to get to the old town.
If you stay in downtown Madrid you will be in the middle of it all.
Downtown is cultural, inspiring, and cosmopolitan. But don’t worry if you cannot find accommodation in the very old town.
Accommodation in contiguous areas like Chueca, Salamanca, Chamberi, and all along Castellana Street is very well located and communicated too.