Traveling through Spain’s biggest city in just two days is not for the weak-willed. In a perfect world, I would have spent at least five days in Madrid instead of squeezing everything into two, but if you’re like me and 48 hours is the best you can do, here are the attractions and food you HAVE to experience:
What to Do & See
Retiro Park – El Parque de Buen Retiro is a vast gorgeous greenery with a name that literally translates to “Park of the Pleasant Retreat.” And trust me, the name does it justice.
Set aside a few hours to relax and stroll through this beautiful park that is home to some incredible sculptures, the Crystal Palace, a peaceful lake, and some darn good people watching. It’s the perfect place to escape from the bustling urban landscape of Madrid – I couldn’t get enough!
Plaza Mayor – This city square is right smack in the center of Madrid. The Puerta del Sol, Royal Palace and many other prominent attractions are all located within walking distance of Plaza Mayor, so definitely spend some time soaking up the atmosphere and grabbing a bite to eat in this area. It’s home to my personal favorite spot, the Mercado San Miguel (see the next point!) as well as tons of other bars and restaurants.
Mercado San Miguel – To all my foodie lovers, this place is for you. I’m not kidding when I say I would have been perfectly content eating every meal here. It’s basically a big indoor food market (a great way to escape the rain!) with stands ranging from drinks to desserts to every kind of tapa you could want.
I sipped on Aperol Spritzes and many tinto de veranos, enjoyed tapas from the Mozzarella Bar and El Señor Martín, and finished with cream puffs and a slice of almond cake. The food, drink and festive atmosphere does not disappoint!
Art Museums – Madrid is home to two of the world’s most prominent art museums: The Prado Museum and the Reina Sofía. Unless you plan to spend both days in just museums, I would recommend picking one and sticking to it. They are both incredibly vast and home to some of the most internationally-renowned artists in history, so you can’t rush through them!
The Prado is very traditional European art (Dürer, El Greco, Rubens) with a focus on Spanish royalty and religious history, while the Reina Sofía is more contemporary and surrealist with iconic works by Picasso and Dalí. You can’t go wrong with either one!
Royal Palace – El Palacio Real is one of those places that will blow your mind with its sheer wealth and size.
Although it no longer houses monarchs like it did for hundreds of years, the ornate decorations, massive ceiling paintings and 3000 gorgeous rooms are as glorious today as they ever were.
To me, the Throne Room and the Dining Room were the most grand of them all – I was completely blown away by how detailed and magnificent they were. I definitely recommend going and seeing how the Spanish royals lived!
Temple of Debod – This ancient Egyptian temple is definitely one of the most unique attractions in Spain’s capital. Dedicated to the goddess Isis in the second century B.C. (yes, it’s that old), this structure was expanded upon by various Egyptian rulers over time and is extremely sacred. However in 1960, the temple was threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam and Madrid stepped up to save it.
Now, the Temple of Debod remains an international spectacle in Madrid’s Western Park. Visit at night to see the temple glow, or during the day for a lively atmosphere and a gorgeous panoramic view of the city!
What to Eat
Paella – While most people have tried this Spanish rice dish at some point, there’s really nothing like eating it in the country where it originated. This dish does have its roots in Valencia, but Madrid is also praised for making some dang good paella. My absolute favorite meal in Madrid was at La Charca Taberna where we consumed the most enormous plate of paella I’ve ever had. The menu said “Paella for Two” but trust me, this could have easily filled up a family of four!
Bocadillo de Calamares – So I feel like a total failure because I never got around to trying this Madrid classic but I am confident it’s as satisfying as it sounds. You really can’t get much better than deep-fried calamari sandwiched between a fresh bread roll. Wash it down with a caña (small beer) and you’re living like a true Madrid native.
Cocido Madrileño – This “Madrid stew” gained popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries and is the star of many meals during the colder months. It’s warm and hearty, made with chick peas, meat and vegetables and stewed to perfection. There are tons of variations of this dish and it is served in most taverns and restaurants throughout Madrid, as well as most households. I had a version of this at La Charca Taberna but it was made with fava beans instead of chick peas. I wish I got to try the real thing!
Churros con chocolate – What’s a good day without dessert? In Madrid – and many other Spanish cities – churros dipped in melted chocolate is practically its own food group. And it’s not saved for after meals; I always see people enjoying churros on the street at all hours of the day.
When in Madrid, you HAVE to go to the Chocolatería San Gines and taste their famous hot chocolate. It’s super close to Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol, so you can’t miss it!