Madrid is, quite simply put, a Spanish dream. It’s a city that bursts with an intensity unlike any other – a city where siestas are the norm, fiestas run through the culture, and the art and culture scene is buzzing through every street, museum and cultural center. It’s the epitome of Spanish culture with a dreamy, yet fast-paced and cosmopolitan, feel to it. The best thing about Madrid is that, even though it is located in Europe, it’s the furthest thing from a conventional European city that you could imagine.
Astonishing attractions, and overflowing with energy – Madrid is alive. It’s alive with rushing pedestrians, it’s alive with the sounds of flamenco through the streets, with the hustle and bustle of life, and a general joie de vivre that perfectly reflects the happiness of Spanish people. Modern museums stand right next to cathedrals, streets are filled with a certain zest that is special to Madrid – and let’s not even begin to talk about the gleaming skyscrapers and gorgeous Spanish plazas.
Here’s how to spend 4 days in Madrid so you could fully experience all that this city has to offer and more.
4 Days in Madrid: Itinerary for First Time Visitors
How to get from Madrid Airport
There are plenty of ways to get from the airport to Madrid center.
- Train – You can take the train from Terminal 4 to any of the stops, specifically Atocha. If you don’t know how to get to Terminal 4, there is a free shuttle that takes you to there.
- Metro – You can get from the airport to the center in 15 minutes if you take the metro. Hop on line 8 from Barajas and then take it to whichever stop you like.
- Bus – You can take the Airport Express bus that runs for 24 hours every day of the year.
- Taxi or Airport Pickup – If you want a fast and comfortable way to get to the center, you can take the taxi. However, it will cost you significantly more than the other options. You can also pre-book your taxi with Welcome Pickups where you will be met by the driver at Arrivals. Book your Madrid Airport Transfer
4 Days in Madrid Itinerary: Day 1
Settling down and tapas
We arrived at Madrid in the afternoon with Aegean Airlines from Athens.
For the first day, you’ll probably need some time to settle down, unpack and rest a bit at the hotel, so I recommend spending your time lazily strolling around the center of Madrid.
There’s plenty of things to see if you just walk through the cobblestone alleyways and take in the bustling culture of the city. For the perfect introduction to Spanish food, we sat down at the Txapela Gran Via which was only a few minutes walk from our hotel and it was raining. The atmosphere is quite enjoyable, the tapas are good and the service is quite great as well.
4 Days in Madrid Itinerary: Day 2
Hop-on, hop-off bus
Start your morning by taking the hop on hop off bus so you can get acquainted with the city and all the attractions and then you can choose which attractions you’d like to further explore.
The best thing about the hop-on, hop-off bus is that it allows you to actually take in most of Madrid’s most famous attractions, without having to try and fit it all in one day. The open double-decker bus gives you the best of both worlds: beautiful constant sites of Madrid, and the chance to pass by Madrid’s top attractions. Some sights include Plaza de Neptuno, Plaza de Colon, Gran Via, Templo de Debod, Calle Segovia, La Latina, Basilica de San Miguel, Puerta del Sol and much more.
No introduction really prepares you for the sheer grandeur of Palacio Real and how huge it is. This is the largest building (and definitely the most beautiful) in Madrid and if you think that the sole reason for this place is to impress, then you’re actually right.
It rises from lush gardens and is characterized by all symbols of grandeur – 2600 rooms (yes, you read that right), beautiful columns, the backdrop of rolling hills and a stunning interior….You’ll find it all. Make sure you check out the staircase, the King Charles III apartments, the Royal Armory, and Plaza Oriente.
You can take a tour to skip the long lines to the Royal Palace, skip the line and get to experience the Changing of the Guard that takes place every Wednesday and Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm, except July, August and September when the ceremony is from 10 am to 12 noon.
Apart from that, you’ll also get to check out the unreal collection of all the artwork and the royal collection that is inside of the Palacio Real. From admiring renowned musical instruments, to checking out paintings by Goya – you’ll get to do it all, pretty much.
Right outside of Palacio Real lies the Plaza de Oriente. This is the perfect place to unwind after all the exploring you’ll be doing at Palacio Real. The semi-circular design is the ultimate “tranquil” place that is filled with over 44 statues of Spanish monarchs and important figures.
If you want to stay a little bit longer, have an espresso at Café de Oriente.
Weirdly enough, Madrid has only one cathedral. The classical cathedral is right next to Palacio Real and Plaza Oriente so you can visit it right after.
At first, you might think that the cathedral lacks the usual grandeur of what you’d expect from Spanish grandeur, but one thing remains unique. The cathedral perfectly blends in classical and neo-gothic, beautifully showcasing both styles together.
Pass by Plaza De La Villa With Statue Of Alvaro De Bazan And Casa De La Villa On The Left Used By Madrid Town Hall
Pass by this charming square which is home to a statue in honor of Alvaro de Bazan, and where you’ll also find Casa de la Villa House (which, by the way, was formerly used as a prison.)
Mercado San Miguel
There is no better way to experience Madrid than by going to Mercado San Miguel, in my opinion.
Apart from its gorgeous architecture that’ll make you feel like you’ve fallen right into a museum instead of a food market – the Mercado is a perfect reflection of everything that Madrid is.
The chatter of the locals over glasses of wine, the rich assortment of all types of foods, and food stalls, the mixture of tourists, and the friendly baristas – all make it the perfect food market to introduce yourself to the Spanish gastronomy scene.
Watch a flamenco show
Can you really be in Madrid without immersing yourself in its flamenco scene? You can choose to have dinner with a flamenco show, at Torres Bermejas tablao – one of the most important flamenco tablaos in the world.
The interior is a replica of the classical Alhambra from Granada – an unforgettable interpretation of art, and culture and of course – the perfect flamenco show. Revel in the claps, moves, dances and guitar tunes of the flamenco performers.
We also got to have dinner, the platter had Spanish omelettes with caramelized onions, croquette selection of ham and cheese, squids in tempura , shrimp scampi, mini breaded chicken, tots Iberian sirloin with brie cheese — with red or white wine on the side.
4 Days in Madrid Itinerary: Day 3
Morning food tour
You can have a morning food tour that will take you through the best of Madrid’s restaurants. Tapas is more of a food type in Madrid, it’s a cultural activity that is very similar to drinking in the UK for example. Go through local-run jamonerias, Madrid’s oldest bakeries, bars, and more. Read all about my food tour Devour Madrid: Discovering the Best of Spanish Cuisine
Walk around Gran Via
This is definitely Madrid’s most famous street. It feels like more like New York’s Times’ Square than a street in Madrid, but if you want to do a little bit of shopping, there’s no better place than there!
The energy that permeates through the streets, the shimmering lights, the large buildings all add to the pulsing energy of the street that never sleeps.
Head to Prado Museum
This should be on top of your things to do in Madrid. El Prado is one of the world’s finest museums with artwork from Europe’s greatest masters.
I’m talking artwork from giants like Bosch, Goya, Rubens and Velazquez. There are over 8600 paintings, 700 sculptures, and the architecture itself is enough to have you in awe.
However, the lines are extremely long so I definitely recommend buying a skip-the-line ticket so you don’t wait in the long queue.
For football fans: Bernabeu Stadium Tour
For all football fans out there, check out this top-UEFA stadium where you’ll get to be right in the middle of it all and experience what it feels like to be in the presidential box or the coach’s viewpoint. Book you tour here.
4 Days in Madrid Itinerary: Day 4
Madrid Day Trips
I highly recommend spending the last day four of your Madrid itinerary on a tour to Segovia and Toledo.
The first stop is Segovia, a dreamy Spanish town characterized by orange, golden hues and beautiful palaces along with a very distinct Spanish atmosphere. The most distinct of all is the Alcazar Palace – a palace so beautiful it actually turned out to be the inspiration of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty’s Palace.
After that, head to Toledo where you’ll get to revel in gorgeous gothic architecture, the effortless juxtaposition between Muslim mosques and churches, and grandiose edifices.
You’ll also be taken to the Toledo Cathedral where you’ll get to enjoy the rich collection of artistic masterpiece and portraits – specifically the ones by Goya and El Greco.
Where to stay in Madrid
I stayed at the Hotel Santo Domingo and it turned out to be a great choice, specifically due to its super close location to the center. We were quite close to all the attractions and major tourist areas and there was an emblematic rooftop with drinks and a swimming pool. There’s also a restaurant and a bar that perfectly reflect the gastronomical journey of Spain. Check out availability and rates.
The Principal Madrid – This is another good hotel right at the beginning of Gran Via – meaning you’ll be right in the center of all the action. The hotel actually has a Paris/New York feel to it and is huge with over 76 suites, all with small balconies. Think high ceilings, large windows and cool interiors. The best thing about the hotel in general is the rooftop terrace; the ultimate place to get drinks in summer. Check availability and rates.
Westin Palace Hotel – There is no doubt that the Westin is one of the top hotels in Madrid. It’s the embodiment of sumptuous décor and is very close to some of Madrid’s best attractions (including the renowned Prado museum.). The hotel will give you the feeling that you’re inside of a Parisian hotel – with white stucco walls, paintings, stained-glass domes and more. Check availability and rates.