Europe, Travel

Madrid: A Weekend In The Vibrant Spanish Capital

How do you even begin to choose a place to visit in Spain? Rich culture and history run deep in every Spanish city and village, making it very hard to decide which destinations to include in your trip!

If you’ve only got a few days and you want to see as much as possible in that time, I recommend going to Madrid. It’s also a great central location to fly to and take short train rides to several different cities nearby.

Palacio Real de Madrid top left with Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena across it’s courtyard.

We flew in on a Friday afternoon and had two fulls days, then took our train to Barcelona on Monday morning. We packed in a lot during those two and a half days!

Day Trips From Madrid

As the capital of Spain and the third largest city in the European Union, Madrid is a central hub for traveling to other Spanish cities and beyond. There are regional and international train stations all over the city, and an international airport.

Valencia, Segovia, Toledo, and Seville are just a couple of hours away at the most and easy to get to by train. Madrid-Puerta de Atocha is where most of the regional train lines are serviced.

Barcelona is definitely more of tourist hot spot since it is a port city and has a generally mild climate, but Madrid is the place to be if you want to immerse yourself into the Spanish culture for a few days.

Note: We did go to Barcelona during this same trip, but I’m saving that for another post!

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I’ve saved every location mentioned in this post to a Madrid trip itinerary so that you can access it on the go and find each location easily during your trip! Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link. If you make any purchases from Tripadvisor after clicking this link, I may or may not receive a commission.

Getting Around the City

We were really lucky to be visiting my brother, who was living in Madrid for a year with his job. He had been there for 6 months by the time we got there, so we had our own personal tour guide! It made our trip even more special to get to explore the city and hang out with him.

We walked and used the Metro everywhere we went, and it was perfect. If you prefer taxis, there are plenty. But when the weather is nice, walking around the city is part of Madrid’s charm. There are markets and plazas everywhere and some of the most incredible architecture I’ve ever seen.

Palacio Real de Madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid, as it translates in English, was stunning to say the least. We chose not to take a tour of the inside, but I recommend that you do if you have time and don’t mind paying the admission.

Palacio Real de Madrid.

The exterior is ornate and magnificent. Standing there peering through the gates, I couldn’t help but imagine what it was like to visit the royal court centuries ago.

Palacio Real de Madrid.

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor was my favorite part of Madrid. We were there in January, so it wasn’t as crowded as it would have been on a nice spring or summer day. It was actually quite freezing, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying sitting outside for hours sipping espresso while huddled in a blanket under a heat lamp. Seriously, I loved every second of it.

Described as “Madrid’s vibrant main square” in Google Maps, Plaza Mayor is a melting pot of tourists and locals enjoying cafes, art, and community.

Plaza Del Sol

Plaza del Sol is just a few blocks away from Plaza Mayor and it is quite a bit more touristy. There’s a bunch of shops and restaurants, as well as a Metro stop. This is the probably one of the best ways to get to Plaza Mayor with public transportation, just take the Metro to Plaza del Sol first and then walk to Plaza Mayor.

View from middle of Plaza del Sol.

This is also where you can find the Oso y del Madroño, or the “Bear and the Strawberry Tree” statue. It’s the same depiction as what appears on the City of Madrid flag.

There were actually so many people in Plaza del Sol when we were there that we couldn’t even find the statue! I learned later that it’s actually pretty small, so it was just lost in a sea of people.

Mercado San Miguel

This was my first real foreign market experience, and it blew my mind. I’m not sure I can even accurately describe it. It reminded me a lot of Pike Place Market in Seattle but so much better!

I tasted the best sangria of my life here. I mean, fresh Spanish sangria in a Madrid market? Pretty sure it can’t get any better than that!

Retiro Park

Parque del Buen Retiro, or “Park of the Pleasant Retreat,” belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century. If you love parks, you don’t want to miss this one! It’s 350 acres of beautiful paths, trees, and monuments.

King Alfonso XII equestrian statue in Retiro Park.

Retiro was full of life, even in January. You can see from my photos that we were blessed with a beautiful sunny day in the park, and it seemed like half of Madrid’s 6.5 million residents were there enjoying it with us. I’m joking, obviously, but you get the picture.

Palacio de Cristal del Retiro.
Outdoor book market at the edge of Retiro Park.

Gran Via

The Gran Via, Madrid’s most famous street, is like the Spanish version of New York’s Broadway or Paris’ Champs Elysee. It’s a hustling and bustling grand boulevard with hundreds of shops, theaters, and restaurants. It has something for everyone and is definitely worth adding to your itinerary!

Be prepared for it to be crowded in the area and just always be aware of your surroundings and keeping your belongings safe. This is true for any big city, but especially in crowded touristy areas.

I didn’t take a lot of photos around here because it was just hard to stop walking in the middle of the crowd for even a few seconds!

Where We Stayed

I booked us a hotel in the Salamanca barrio (neighborhood) without really knowing much about it, except that is was fairly close to where my brother was living and also close to Retiro Park.

It ended up being amazing! Our hotel was nice and cozy, and a really great value. I highly recommend staying in Salamanca! There are dozens upon dozens of great restaurants and bars, and we found a place to walk to each morning to get our cafe con leches and chocolate croissants before we set out on our adventures.

I didn’t really take any photos in our neighborhood because I just wanted to experience it and soak it in as a fake local and practice my Spanish.


I hope you enjoyed my little mini tour of Madrid! We loved this city, and I hope you get a chance to experience it too! As always, feel free to ask any questions in the comments section.

Don’t forget to get my free TripAdvisor itinerary, so you can save all the spots that interest you!

Kyle and I, in the “Palacio de Cristal del Retiro.”

I’ve made it a tradition to end my posts with a photo of me or my family and I, so here you go!

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