First, get the lay of the land with a DIY walking tour. Start in Puerta del Sol, the center of the city and walk down Calle Mayor until you get to the Plaza Mayor. Stop and take a few photos of this impressive red square that dates back to the 1500s. We don’t recommend that you eat or drink here, as the prices are elevated for tourists and three or four times what they should be. Continue on down Calle Mayor until you get to the famous Catedral de la Almudena and the Palacio Real. Simply strolling the outside of these towering structures will give you your fill of romantic architecture.
After you’ve walked all morning, enjoy a delicious lunch of tapas on the outdoor patio at Lateral in Plaza Santa Ana. Then, head over to the Chueca neighborhood to browse the fancy boutiques along Calle Almirante. Once you’ve found the perfect outfit to wear to dinner later, spend the rest of the late afternoon at the Museo del Prado (it’s free from 6-8 pm Monday through Saturday and 5-8 pm Sundays). While it’s not as massive as the Louvre, you should still plan your museum route beforehand to avoid it becoming overwhelming. A good tip is to make sure to see the Goya, El Greco, Bosch and Velázquez masterpieces.
Dinner is late in Madrid, so it’s fine if you’re not ready to rock until 10 pm. Make a reservation at the trendy Amargo restaurant, where live tunes accompany Spanish fusion cuisine late into the night. Or for something requiring no reservation, head over to Platea, a huge market in a building that was once a theater, for a glass of wine and some Spanish cheeses.
Madrid is full of hotels to meet every price tag, but boutique hotels are currently all the rage. So spend the night in Madrid’s trendiest boutique hotel, The Only You.
After you’ve had a Spanish breakfast of churros dipped in thick chocolate from the famous Chocolatería San Ginés, burn it off with a walk in Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro. On your way in, stop to the see the looming Palacio de Cibeles and fountain, followed by the Puerta de Alcalá monument, which was once the ‘entrance’ to Madrid. Once inside the park, rent a boat for a few euros and row around the lake, then walk over to see the famous glass Palacio de Cristal. If you want to enjoy the sunshine even more, grab yourself a picnic. Stop off on your way to the park for a bottle of wine, some Iberian ham and Manchego cheese from a nearby supermarket and enjoy a Spanish-style homemade lunch in the grass.
Spend the rest of the afternoon at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and view some modern art, especially the famous Guernica painting by Pablo Picasso depicting the horrors of the Spanish civil war, along with the immense Dalí collection. Once dusk rolls around, head over to the Templo de Debod, a temple sent over from Egypt to Madrid, a wonderful place to view the sunset. Don’t forget to BYOB, as most people have snacks and drinks.
End the evening out with a dinner at Ochenta Grados in the hip Malasaña neighborhood, where you can sample elaborate, deconstructed tapas paired with hearty red wine. Then, walk the neighboring streets, finding a local bar for a nightcap. Weather permitting, the outdoor terraces in Plaza Dos de Mayo are the perfect spot to end the evening.