How to Spend an Unforgettable 72 Hours in Madrid
If someone were to ask me to describe Madrid in one word, I'd have no hesitation. Simply put, this city is alive. Yes, it boasts exuberant charm and delight just like any other European destination, but what sets Madrid apart is how it thoughtfully threads together passion and culture in the fabric of daily life. Community makes up the warm soul of this city, and no matter how long you stay, it won't take long before you feel a part of it.
So if you're looking to experience Madrid and marvel at the contagious energy it radiates, I say go for it. Book that flight and pack your bags. Don't worry about your itinerary, as that's all covered ahead. Tackling everything from accommodations to eateries and must-see attractions, your ultimate travel guide awaits!
First Things First: Tackling Where to Stay!
When booking your home away from home, I highly recommend this charming loft via Airbnb. For starters, this quaint apartment couldn't have a more phenomenal location. It's close to so many attractions, yet because it's tucked away off a quiet street, it still radiates those desirable off-the-beaten-path vibes. Plus, at $61 per night, you can sleep soundly knowing this place isn't eating right through your travel budget.
Next Up: Tackling Where to Eat!
Another reason to stay at that specific Airbnb? It's right around the corner from the cozy coffee shop known as Martina Cocina. I kid you not, my husband and I ended up eating at this eatery about four times during our visit. This place was just that good. With scrumptious lunch, dinner, and dessert options — don't even get me started on the coffee — we simply couldn't get enough.
After about one or two meals, I quickly realized Madrid is not only home to an abundance of delicious food. No, this corner of Spain takes the festivities of eating to a whole new level. See, when it comes to the culinary scene here, it's all about serving up an unforgettable experience.
Take, for instance, Boho Bar, which is pictured above. Forget about mediocre seating when you come to this restaurant. Here, you can mingle and wait for your food as you lounge in swings.
And if you thought that was cool, just wait. The interior decor is even more eclectic at Ojala. While this might appear to be an average restaurant when your first walk in, head straight downstairs. That assumption will quickly melt away once you feast your eyes on the neon lights and sandpit lounge. Did I mention this place has amazing smoothies?
If your taste buds are craving something sweet, head straight to La Bicicleta Cafe, where you will find an excellent assortment of homemade cakes and pastries. Plus, this cozy cafe has an incredibly laid-back atmosphere, making it the perfect place to relax and unwind for a bit.
It won't take long before you realize this city is practically a gold mine of mouthwatering food. My advice? Just eat and indulge in it all.
If you're as much of a carb fanatic as I am, let me just say a delicious carb-fest will be waiting upon your arrival. No matter which neighborhood you wander, you will most likely find mountains of carbs resting patiently behind glass windows on every corner. I know, I know — true bliss!
And if salty chips are more of your cup of tea, well, you're in luck, because there's no shortage of them here!
If your stomach starts screaming for salads after all the carbs and salty foods, don't worry; I've got your upcoming health kick covered.
For starters, El Huerto de Lucas serves awesome organic dishes full of delicious spices and flavors. Another great option is Rayen Vegano, which offers a spectacular vegan menu. Last but certainly not least is El Jardin Secreto de Salvador Bachiller. This tea garden is located on the fourth-floor terrace of a department store and is pretty much a hidden gem.
How could I forget to mention the Mercado de San Miguel? While this covered food hall can be quite touristy, I highly recommend checking it out. Originally built in 1916, the San Miguel Market is the most popular market in all of Madrid. And with over 30 different vendors selling a dizzying array of freshly prepared food, there's something for everyone.
From tapas, meats, cheese, and olives to international beer, wine, and Champagne, this is one place you need to come with a big appetite.
With foods and flavors from all around the globe, there is no doubt a visit to the San Miguel Market will awaken all of your senses.
And the best part? Because the foods are served in smaller-size portions, you can sample just about everything!
Even the servings of ice cream are teeny-tiny. I mean, have you ever seen a cone that small? No guilt here with that bite.
Tackling What to Do, See, and Explore
As with the dynamic culinary scene, you won't have to be on Madrid soil for long before you realize there is so much to see, do, and explore in this city. No matter which neighborhood you decide to discover first, you'll be guaranteed an exhilarating experience.
One area in particular not to miss is the Paseo del Prado. This district is home to beautiful sights such as the San Jeronimo el Real, a breathtaking 16th-century Roman Catholic cathedral situated atop a hill, as well as the Prado Museum, which is the main Spanish national art museum.
One of my favorite activities while exploring Madrid was freely roaming and wandering my way around. It was during this time I stumbled upon some of the simplest — yet most beautiful — moments. Whether it was strolling past a random floral vendor arranging a stunning bouquet or looking down at the uneven cobblestone streets and thinking about all the many steps that took place before my years, there was tremendous beauty to embrace all over.
Although I am by nature a fast walker — who knows, maybe it's from those years of living in New York City — I forced myself to slow my pace down and simply observe throughout my time in Madrid. While beauty was overflowing the streets, I also had to remind myself to look up, as each building seemed to be an architectural masterpiece.
My wandering eventually led me to the world-renowned Plaza Mayor. Although this is another attraction that can be a bit touristy, I recommend swinging by. This iconic plaza left me speechless. I did go earlier in the morning to avoid the clusters of crowds, but I've read this spot is even more sublime at night.
See what I mean about every street exploding with charm?
Just as any other city, there were times where the main streets did tend to transform into quite the game of elbow pushing. But what makes Madrid unique is that once you veer off from the crowds and walk down a narrow alleyway, you are then greeted with peaceful plazas that infuse a special sensation of serenity back into your veins.
While I can't pinpoint the exact reason, something about this city continuously brought forth an ear-to-ear grin on my face.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize I fell in love with this city because of the people. With each new resident I met and struck up conversation with, I felt more and more embraced and welcomed. Everyone was extremely approachable and inviting, which spoke highly of the city's warm, vibrant culture.
Another thing I appreciated about Madrid was the communal vibes. People were out and about, soaking in the sunshine while enjoying the company of others. As silly as it might sound, I recognized this as a reminder to put away my phone and simply relish the present moment at hand.
Then there was the laid-back atmosphere. It was quite infectious, which I didn't mind one bit. In fact, I tried to bottle up this feeling for when I returned home.
Oh, and don't be surprised if you turn the corner and suddenly come across live music. No matter the time or place, this seemed to happen each day my husband and I were exploring, and I loved each and every encounter.
If you happen to be in the city on Sunday, be sure to check out El Rastro de Madrid aka the largest flea market in all of Spain. I'll admit, I've experienced my fair share of flea markets, but I had never encountered anything like this. Hundreds of vendors lined the streets, selling anything and everything you can imagine. It was awesome!
You really will have no idea what you might stumble upon next. But trust me, it's an unforgettable experience to take part in and will leave you with tons of decor inspiration!
And the best part? (OK, one of the best parts.) You can find beautiful local artwork at amazing prices. So if you're looking for a place to find souvenirs, this is it!
Yet if your trip doesn't happen to fall on a Sunday, no worries! Madrid has tons of other eclectic shops to browse your way through. From books and collectibles to vintage clothing and retro finds, this city truly has it all.
One bookstore in particular to check out is Panta Rhei. This shop has an amazing selection of graphic design and illustration books and carries options from both large and small independent publishers. Plus, the staff is extremely friendly and helpful.
Once you arrive to the other side, you'll be greeted with sweeping panoramic views of the city, and you will now be in the largest park of Madrid. With over 4,000 acres to explore, this is a great place to marvel in the fresh air and reconnect with nature.
Another must-see attraction is the Arganzuela Footbridge. Uniting the two banks of the Manzanares River, this spiraling and conical bridge is dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. Originally built to improve the urban connections between the north and south neighborhoods of Madrid, this footbridge has quickly become an iconic landmark within the city.
Plus, there are quite a few peacocks on the premises that are eager to show off!
Yearning for even more serenity? Head over to El Retiro Park. Also known as the "the green lungs of the city," this oasis is home to over 15,000 trees and over 300 acres. As you can imagine, there is an abundance of space to sit back, relax, and rest a while. Or, in my case, eat an entire crate of strawberries . . .
In the heart of the park lies the Retiro Park Lake, which is a popular spot for both locals and travelers alike. It is here you can indulge in a little sunbathing and even rent a rowboat if you're looking to get out on the calming water.
Another can't-miss attraction in the park is the Palacio de Cristal. This palace was originally built in 1887 and is made almost entirely of glass and metal. In other words, it is absolutely breathtaking.
Did I mention it's free to explore?
So at the end of the day, no matter where your curiosity leads you to in Madrid, I know one thing for certain: you'll have an incredible adventure. And if your journey is anything like mine, you'll leave as a different person than you were when you arrived. Happy travels!