One day in Madrid? No problem, because this city is totally conquerable by foot, bus, bike or Segway. No matter how you plan to tackle it, though, you’ll want to visit some of the city’s most fundamental spots. If you hit the capital by foot, here is what to do with one day in Madrid.
Get a head start on your day by heading straight to the Royal Palace – officially the residence of King Juan Carlos (and unofficially, not so much as he actually lives just outside the city). Arrive around 9:00 to 9:30am to beat the lines and ensure a wait-free stroll through all of the 18th century palace’s red velvet-clad and chandelier-decked rooms.
From there, snap shots of Madrid’s official church, the Almudena Cathedral. Plans to build the church date back to the 16th century, but it wasn’t actually completed until 1993; hence the mish-mash of styles seen in the traditional exterior and modern interior. If you’ve got time, pay to enter; if not, move on to your next stop without any regrets.
Now head east up Calle Mayor, passing by the Plaza de Villa – City Hall until 2007 – and then through the arches on your right into Plaza Mayor. Once the location of bull fights and public executions, these days you’ll mostly just find outdoor terraces, seasonal kiosks and cheeky street performers.
Just steps farther to the east, you’ll enter Madrid’s Times Square equivalent – Puerta del Sol — complete with a sky-high clock, below which locals and tourists gather on New Year’s Eve to count down the seconds until midnight. Almost the center of Spain (off by about 10km), this spot is also the point from which all major freeways in the country are measured.
Zigzag north on the pedestrian-only Calle de Preciados toward the city’s main east-west shop- and theatre-filled thoroughfare, Gran Vía. Carrying on eastward, Gran Vía will funnel you into Plaza de Cibeles, flanked by the freshly spruced up and refurbished Palacio de Comunicaciones. Have a few extra minutes? Head inside and grab a ticket to visit its rooftop, where you can scope out priceless and, incidentally, price-free views of the city.
For the final stretch of your cross-city journey, continue past Cibeles, up Alcalá to the Puerta de Alcalá, and into Retiro Park. Considered Madrid’s green lung, it’s the perfect place to take a Spanish siesta after scoping out the city west to east.
Seriously only one day? Check out this Madrid Combo: City Sightseeing and Skip-the-Line Prado Museum Tour