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A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Madrid, Spain

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

one-day-in-madrid-spain

What started out as a 2-day visit to Madrid before heading south to the Andalusia region of Spain was abruptly condensed to just a single day due to a rather unfortunate and fierce storm named Callum. It disrupted flights into and out of Dublin, which was our transition city on our way to Madrid.

But, as is always the case with traveling, you need to accept adversity and adapt, and so our time in Madrid was now limited to but a single day. So, if your plans call for just one day in Madrid, and you’re up for a bit of walking, you may find our tour useful in planning your own day exploring Madrid.

one-day-in-madrid-spain

Madrid seems to get very little respect when it comes to the grand capital cities of Europe. Even within Spain, I suspect that Barcelona, Seville, and the Andalusia region probably are more sought-out destinations than Spain’s bustling capital. And while my disappointment at losing a coveted day exploring someplace new was clearly evident, we made the most of our time and scoured the city on foot.

The result, I must say, was excellent. Madrid is a beautiful, vibrant, and culturally rich city that has more to offer than most visitors think.

I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries. How easy it is to make friends in Spain.

— George Orwell

With just a day to explore, we knew it would be impossible to spend hours touring the world-renowned Prado Museum, taking a guided tour of the massive Royal Palace or strolling leisurely through the green oasis of El Retiro Park.

So instead we walked the city from end to end, discovering its numerous plazas, marveling at its fascinating architecture, and enjoying its crowded and bustling markets. There is no denying that Madrid is alive and well.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

With limited time, we headed straight from our hotel to the Puerta del Sol, arguably the center of Madrid and its most famous square. Plazas in Madrid are lively and always full of activity no matter the hour. Visitors congregate in masses to converse, eat, and simply enjoy the festive atmosphere.

Other than marking the unofficial center of historic Madrid, Puerta del Sol is famous for its clock tower building, known as the “Real Casa de Correos”. This is the clock that people come to see count down on New Year’s Eve in Madrid, and certainly, the plaza is the place to be as reveler's ring in the new year.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol

Plaza Mayor

From the Puerta del Sol, it’s a short walk to the Plaza Mayor, another of Madrid’s beautiful and classic squares. Surrounded by mostly residential buildings, there are over 230 balconies facing the plaza, which makes for an interesting architectural design. You can find a number of cafes and shops on the ground level of the buildings, and this draws tourists by the droves. It all makes for another vibrant and energized gathering spot that visitors have to experience.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Mercado San Miguel

From the Plaza Mayor, you are not far from the Cathedral de la Almudena, but you must first stop at the Mercado San Miguel, if not to eat, then simply to experience Madrid’s most famous market. Located just a few steps from Plaza Mayor, the San Miguel Market is “tapas central” in Madrid.

With over 30 vendors creating a wide variety of tapas, you will be hard pressed to not find something appetizing. Throw in a little wine or beer, some cheese, and of course some baked goods, and you may have trouble leaving the market. You may also have trouble finding a seat, as San Miguel is a magnet for foodies visiting Madrid.

Mercado de San Miguel

Mercado de San Miguel

Cathedral de la Amudena

After fueling up it’s a good time to head to Madrid’s grandest cathedral, the Cathedral de la Amudena. The cathedral and the Royal Palace are situated on opposite ends of Plaza de la Armeria. This is a beautiful part of Madrid and if you have just one day here it’s a good decision to spend at least a few hours in this part of the city. The cathedral is free to explore and you might be surprised by its somewhat modern architecture.

The site was originally a mosque and construction of the cathedral was not started until 1879, very recent by European standards. Surprisingly, it was not consecrated until 1993 by Pope John Paul II. The attached cathedral museum has a 6-euro entry fee, which includes access to the sacristy and the dome. The crypt, which lies beneath the cathedral is fascinating and is the final resting place of some of Spain’s most notable royalty.

Cathedral de la Amudena

Cathedral de la Amudena

Cathedral de la Amudena

Cathedral de la Amudena

Plaza de la Armeria

After enjoying the cathedral wander over to the Plaza de la Armeria. This vast plaza that sits between the cathedral and the Royal Palace is a great place to sit and soak in the majesty of your surroundings. There is always something going on here, be it local performers or just the frolicking of children entertaining themselves without any care to the history and grandeur that surrounds them.

one-day-in-madrid-spain

Royal Palace

As you try to digest the magnitude of the size of the Royal Palace that sits before you—it has over 3,400 rooms—you certainly begin to wonder who on earth could possibly need that much space. The palace was at one time the royal family’s home, but today it is designated the official residence of the royal family. I guess that means they don’t live their anymore?

Anyway, built in 1735 and measuring over 1.4 million square feet, it is the largest still-functioning Royal Palace in Europe. Although we did not have time to tour the palace, we did notice the exceptionally long line waiting to enter. I would definitely try to purchase advance tickets online if you plan on visiting.

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

From the palace, a nice walking route is to continue heading north on the Calle de Bailen. With the palace on your left, notice the Opera House across the street sandwiched between the Gardens de Lepanto and the Gardens del Cabo Noval. Just in front of the Opera House is the Monument of Felipe IV, King of Spain from 1621 to 1665.

As you get to the end of the palace, to your left will be the Sabatini Gardens. These are the official gardens of the Royal Palace and offer a tranquil place from which to view the palace and relax in a shady spot.

Royal Palace

Royal Palace

Plaza de España

From the Sabatini Gardens, you are just a short walk away from the Plaza de Espana. This plaza features a monument to one of Spain’s most notable authors, Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes is famous for writing Don Quixote, and a bronze statue of the wandering knight and his squire, Sancho Panza, sits in front of the monument.

The large reflecting pool and fountain make Plaza España a great place to sit and relax, and there is sufficient shade to help cool you from the rigors of touring Madrid.

Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana

Gran Via

From the Plaza España, you can head down the Gran Via, which is best described as Madrid’s version of “Broadway”. The road extends for about a mile and is the hub of shopping, hotels, and entertainment in Madrid.

The architecture of the buildings along the Gran Via is quite interesting and represents a mix of Art Deco, Moorish Revival, and Vienna Secession style. At the far end of the Gran Via is one of the more eye-catching architectural structures, the Metropolis Building, which dates to the early 20th century.

Gran Via Architecture

Gran Via Architecture

Metropolis Building

Metropolis Building

Plaza de Cibeles

If you made it to the Metropolis Building, you are at the end of the Gran Via. Congratulations, you have survived Madrid’s busiest and most entertaining stretch. From here, a left onto Calle de Alcala will take you to the Fountain of Cibeles and the stunning Palace of Cibeles.

This iconic building is home to the Madrid City Hall, a number of restaurants, and CentroCentro, a Cultural Center that is packed with cultural exhibits and activities that revolve around Madrid. Head up to the observation deck located on the eighth floor for a stunning view of Madrid.

Palace of Cibeles

Palace of Cibeles

Prado Museum

From the Palace of Cibeles, head down the Paseo del Prado for a relaxing walk through beautiful gardens, by interesting monuments and fountains, the swanky Ritz Hotel, and by some of Madrid’s most fascinating museums, including the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and of course the world-famous Prado Museum.

General admission tickets to the Prado are 15 euro, 7.50 for those over age 65, and free for those 18 and under. Advance tickets are available online and are recommended, especially during peak seasons. Adjacent to the Prado is the Royal Botanical Garden and the massive El Retiro Park, where one could spend an entire day exploring.

Prado Museum

Prado Museum

By now it’s been a long day, but you have covered the historic center of Madrid from end to end. Certainly, you can adjust this to include any other sites of particular interest to you. The city is very walkable and most of the main tourist sites are located in the historic central district.

If you are spending the night in Madrid and you happen to wander across one of Madrid’s plazas after the sun goes down, you will find a festive, high-spirited scene with people thoroughly enjoying themselves. Madrid is alive and well and waiting for you to explore.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Walking Route Through Historic Madrid

3.6 mile walking route around historic Madrid

3.6 mile walking route around historic Madrid

© 2019 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Life Under Construction from Neverland on May 25, 2019:

I once dream of going to Spain...I met a lost of nice Spanish people 2 years ago at the ymca.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 25, 2019:

Thank you Suzette. Having lost a day we really had to hustle to see what we did. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great weekend.

suzettenaples on May 25, 2019:

I have been to Madrid and done your tour. Great article! And, you really did not miss a thing.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 14, 2019:

Hi Flourish. For just Madrid a couple of days will suffice to see most of the city. The problem is there are a number of easy day-trips that can be done from Madrid. We flew in and out of Madrid and did the Andalusian Region in the south. We did not have time to include Barcelona. We spent 4 days in Seville, 3 in Granada, a day in Toledo, and 2 days in Madrid, one at the start and one at the end of the trip. I would say 10 to 12 days for Madrid and the south. At least 2 weeks if you want to include Barcelona. We really enjoyed Spain and will plan to go back to see Barcelona.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 14, 2019:

I’m not sure how I missed this but I’m glad to have caught up now. How many days total would you recommend? I know your trip was cut short. I think Spain might be on the horizon for my family.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 13, 2019:

Thank you Nithya. It was a fairly long walk through the city, but we paced ourselves and stopped at various sites along the way. Madrid is certainly a beautiful city. Thanks for stopping by, have a great day.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on March 13, 2019:

Madrid seems to be a wonderful place to visit. It must have been a long walk, you have covered so many places. The photos are great, enjoyed reading, thank you.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 11, 2019:

Thank you, Linda. We did enjoy Madrid even though our time there was short. It's a beautiful city, perhaps we'll return someday to spend more time there. Have a great day.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 10, 2019:

You go to such wonderful destinations, Bill. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I love taking a virtual tour by reading your articles.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 04, 2019:

Thank you Karen. We really wanted to see the Prado, perhaps next time. Thanks for stopping by, have a great day.

Karen A Szklany from New England on March 04, 2019:

Thank you so much for this very lovely visual tour through Madrid! I was there in 1986 and enjoyed my brief time in the city. The residents are very eager to help tourists navigate the city and, in my case, practice their English. I was with a friend who was way more fluent in Spanish, so she spoke the native language and gleaned even more info.

We walked around the gardens outside the Palace and spent the most time inside the Prado (sort of compensation to ourselves for being in Paris on a day that the Louvre was closed). A wonderful museum! Can't wait for a return visit.

Liz Westwood from UK on March 04, 2019:

Thanks for your response, Bill. That's helpful to know that there's plenty to do in Madrid and we need to allocate a few days for a trip there. We have been to Dublin and also Belfast. Both are worth a visit. We would like to return to visit the Titanic museum in Belfast and also take a trip to Giant's Causeway on the north coast.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 04, 2019:

Based on what we saw I would return for a few days. I would like to see the Prado Museum and explore El Retiro park along with a few other places. We did not have time to spend in Dublin other than transferring from one plane to another. Ireland is on our list and we hope to get there in the near future.

Liz Westwood from UK on March 04, 2019:

Sorry to hear that your trip was shortened. You have put yogether a great itinerary for a day in Madrid with lovely illustrations. Madrid is on my list of places to visit. Did what you saw in a day there make you feel like you wanted to return in the future? Did you get into Dublin while you were there? If so, are you planning on writing an article on the Irish capital?

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 04, 2019:

Thank you Bill. The architecture is amazing! What they accomplished without the machinery of today really is hard to fathom.

I know it's coming, but we woke up to 7 inches of snow this morning. Ugh! Have a great week.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 04, 2019:

I know I sound like a broken record, but the architecture blows me away. I keep wondering about how long it must have taken to build those magnificent structures without modern machinery. Unbelievable!

Stay warm and safe, buddy. Spring is coming soon!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 03, 2019:

Hi Peggy. Before we lost a day in Madrid we had planned to spend a half day seeing the Prado. That was my one big regret, that we didn’t get there. At the end of our trip we did spend a day in Toledo, which was beautiful. We’ll have to plan a return trip so that we can get to see everything that Madrid has to offer. Always so much to see in so little time.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 03, 2019:

Hi Pam. Thank you. Yes, it was an exhausting day, but worth the effort to see the city. Thankfully the next morning we had a 3 hour train ride to Seville so we got to rest up a little.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 03, 2019:

Hi Bill,

You certainly saw a lot for only spending one day in Madrid. We spent 3 days there once. A good portion of one day was spent at the Prado Museum. We took a tour one day and saw many of the items of interest, however, it would take much longer to truly enjoy all that Madrid has to offer. One of our days we left the city and toured the walled city of Toledo. So, like you, we have impressions...but would enjoy spending more time there.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 03, 2019:

The pictures are so beautiful and I would love to visit. You ,ust have3 been exhausted after seeing so many unique places in one day. I enjoyed this article as I have never visited Spain.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 03, 2019:

Hi Alison. Thank you. Madrid is a beautiful city. Even though we only had a day we managed to get a good feel for the city. Would love to return someday.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 03, 2019:

Thank you Andrew. We did what we could with just and day. Would love to return to check out some of the places you mentioned. Overall, we enjoyed Madrid, it’s a beautiful city.

Alison Monroe on March 03, 2019:

Thanks for doing this tour and writing about it. I only ever saw Madrid in TV shows and was curious.

Andrew Spacey from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK on March 03, 2019:

Bill, a very useful guide for those with limited time in Madrid. I have a special interest in this capital - my son lives and works there - so I know certain parts of this city like the back of my hand. You've covered most of the major attractions. A walk around Barrio de las Letras is a taste of older Madrid where writers such as Cervantes lived. Hemingway's bar Las Cuevas de Sasomo is underground and great for a drink or two especially if the weather is hot! Muchas gracias por tu contribucion.