72 Hours in Madrid: A Perfect Itinerary

72 Hours in Madrid: A Perfect Itinerary

Just be warned, 72 hours won’t be enough to experience everything Madrid has to offer!
23 May 24

Whether your travel passion is trying out new restaurants, experiencing different cultures, having outdoorsy adventures, shop-hopping, or all of the above and more, Spain’s ancient, green capital and its surrounding countryside will hit all the right spots.

Madrid is multi-layered, probably far more so than you might think. Spain’s capital is ancient – founded around 860 AD and overflowing with iconic, one-off architecture. It’s also cutting-edge – home, for example, to Europe’s most exciting new hotel scene right now.

It’s one of the greenest destinations in the world, with more than 55% of its streets lined by trees (and roughly 20 trees per every inhabitant), and it’s the central hub of all major roads in Spain, even with a Kilometre Zero sign. It’s buzzing with the most sought-after designer boutiques, world-class restaurants and bars, and a legendary art scene, but it’s also only 20-minutes’ drive from miles of peaceful rural scenery – including four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, castles, fields of flowers, mountain ranges and much more.

So, here we bring you an ideal schedule planned by local madrileños to ensure you make the very most of a three-day stay in this alluringly multi-faceted and unique destination.  

Day 1  

Check into your accommodation  

As mentioned, Madrid’s hotel scene is on fire right now, with more than 30 new hotels either in development or launched since last summer, and 50 percent more upscale rooms than 10 years ago. Whether you’re after a historic grande dame with as many stories to tell as it has suites, a chic art-gallery-with-rooms, or simply somewhere sweet and central to sleep, the city is bursting with beautiful beds to pick from. In 2020, the enormous and extravagant Four Seasons Hotel Madrid boldly opened, spread across seven buildings in the Centro Canalejas, a vast triangular building that now includes small designer mall Galería Canalejas, a food hall, the capital’s largest wellness centre set over four floors, and 1,500 pieces of local art.

If you want somewhere slightly more residential in vibe but still satisfyingly sleek, there’s original 1970s icon the Rosewood Villa Magna, revamped and relaunched in 2021 and located by smart-boutique central, the Salamanca district. Book one of the hotel’s ninth-floor “Houses” – these stunning suites boast Europe’s largest private hotel terrace, along with 360-degree views of the city and mountains beyond. Alternatively, for somewhere sprinkled with the stardust of such former guests as Gregory Peck, Rita Hayworth, the Beatles, and David Beckham, make your way to Hotel Fénix Gran Meliá, a neoclassical landmark at the city’s centre with its own Zuma, as well as the sultry Art Deco Fénix Cocktail Bar.  

Walk the city  

There’s no better way to familiarise oneself with a city than to walk it – in Madrid’s case, to feel its sun-beaten concrete under your soles, hear its sci-fi-like traffic-light bleeps, and the scent of nearby wheatfields in the air. Start from the middle and work your way out. Plaza Mayor or the main square is always filled with street musicians and artists to watch while savouring a classic Madrileño treat, bocadillo de calamares (fried calamari sandwich). Don’t miss the chance to grab this iconic street food, a delicious and affordable way to experience local flavours.

Move along to the aforementioned start of Spain’s main roads in Puerta del Sol (or Sun Gate). Don’t miss the city’s Oso y Madroño symbol, a statue of a “bear nuzzling a strawberry tree” (apparently, it’s about a – very cute – ancient land-animal rights dispute). Next up is the Royal Palace with over 3,000 rooms, in time for the twice-weekly Changing of the Guard if possible, taking in the striking 1850-completed Teatro Real Opera House next door. Follow this by Almudena Cathedral, which took 114 years to complete (check out the Mirador de la Cornisa observation deck in between it and the palace), Plaza de Cibeles for its formidable fountain and pretty buildings,  and finally the Gran Via (Great Way), Madrid’s ultimate shopping thoroughfare with a relatively newly pedestrianised 70,000 m2 Plaza de España at the end. 

Eat lunch at Botín  

Founded in 1725, Casa Botín is officially the oldest operating restaurant in the world, apparently even using the same, much-loved oven. Today it still serves traditional Spanish cuisine to visitors eager to sit between the same walls as such legendary former patrons as Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, and María Dueñas, and try its fail-safe signature Castilian style roasted lamb.  

Shop and shop some more  

Probably Madrid’s most desirable district since its creation in the late 19th century, Barrio de Salamanca is brimming with flamboyant frontages and chic shops, the pinnacle of which is Calle Ortega y Gasset, known as the Golden Mile of shopping, including some of today’s finest couture, while Calle Serrano flaunts the likes of Versace, Prada, Armani, and Gucci footsteps from each other. To experience another side to Madrid’s retail charms, head to homegrown and much-adored department store brand, El Corte Inglés. Here you will indulge in a personalised shopping experience with a team of fashion experts who will analyse your style and curate the perfect wardrobe to elevate your look.  

Have dinner at Paco Roncero  

For an only-in-Madrid dining experience, get to chef Paco Roncero’s self-entitled two-Michelin-starred restaurant. Book a table on the summer terrace if you can, to take in dreamy cityscape views along with the emotional, edible journeys of its two tasting menus.      

Day 2

Experience a UNESCO World Heritage monastery   

Take a 45-minute train ride outside Madrid to walk around one of the world’s most beautiful religious buildings: the 33,000-square-metre, 16th-century San Lorenzo de El Escorial monastery, set in the mountainside town of the same name. For further relaxation, explore the officially “Picturesque Landscape” of Abantos Pine Forest and La Herrería Area, and look and listen for birdlife (it’s specially protected here), such as the Great Spotted Woodpecker.     

Sit in a square built in the Middle Ages  

The village of Chinchón is an hour’s drive away (car is the quickest way there from your last stop). It’s famed for its formidable central Plaza Mayor de Chinchón lined by bars and restaurants serving fine traditional Spanish cuisine and host to everything from bullfights (in August) and a mega Mediaeval Market (in February) to a Garlic Festival (in October). It’s also the location of La Casa del Pregonero, a restaurant set in the “last town crier’s house,” its seasonal tasting menu made up of ancient dishes given a modern twist. After lunch, explore beyond the square’s corners to see the rest of the village, as well as the many olive groves beyond.  

Return to the city for dinner  

Take your pick between two of Madrid’s three-Michelin-star-winning chefs in the evening: Quique Dacosta at Deessa restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Ritz for locally-sourced “soulful Mediterranean,” or chef Dani García at the colonial-style Dani Brasserie in the lavish Four Seasons for traditional Spanish supper – and a killer roof terrace.  

Day 3

Marvel at masterpieces  

For a flavour of Spain’s celebrated art scene, head to Madrid’s Art Walk strip, where you’ll find The Prado Museum, home to the country’s biggest collection of Spanish paintings with works by the likes of Velázquez and Goya (from 5pm visitors can enter for free for two hours), and the Reina Sofía Museum – for dazzling Dalí plus Pablo Picasso’s renowned Guernica.  

See you at Cebo 

For lunch, go simple: Michelin-starred Cebo’s central concept is using essential but still supremely high-quality, seasonal produce for every dish. And it confidently offers only two tasting menus: classic or seasonal.     

Stroll through a city-based UNESCO World Heritage Site 

El Retiro Park is probably the most pleasant park on the planet. With 15,000 trees offering dappled shade, glittering fountains, and a serene lake teeming with swans, it's a haven for relaxation. Pedal a boat across the water, unwind in the meticulously maintained gardens, or marvel at the intricate architecture of the beautiful Glass Palace, which showcases a constant stream of creative art exhibits. As dusk settles, don't miss the park's enchanting Paseo de la Luz (Walk of Light). Witness the trees and monuments illuminated with artistic flair, creating a magical atmosphere perfect for a leisurely stroll or a romantic evening. El Retiro caters to every mood, making it a must-visit for any Madrid itinerary. 

Finish with flamenco 

Considered the beating heart of Spain’s flamenco scene, four-table restaurant Corral de la Morería is also a Michelin-starred showstopper. As the in-house troupe of dancers, singers, and guitarists mesmerise you with their magic, chef David García works your remaining senses with a personalised multi-course meal of a lifetime.  

This itinerary is just the beginning. So much more awaits – consider extending your stay and discovering the true soul of the city.

Discover more about Madrid here.