6 things to do in Madrid in just two days
About two months ago I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Madrid for a corporate event, at the end of which *extraordinary event* my whole group of university friends (in the photo, from the left: Luci, Ilaria, Angelica, Roberta, Ross, Veronica and Sabrina) joined me to spend the weekend together.
Having only two days at our disposal, we didn't have the chance to do a proper 100% all-round visit of Madrid, but I would still like to tell you about a few things that we particularly liked and that could help you as inspiration for future trips.
I'll start by saying that this time, unlike many others, I won't mention the specific place where we stayed, just the street (Calle De San Bernardino, located literally behind Plaza de España) - which we felt was in a perfect location to explore Madrid, even on foot. This is because (it happens rarely, but it happens!) the house we stayed in, although comfortable and nice, was not super clean.
So here are six things (some a little different from the usual) that you can do during a weekend in Madrid!
Visiting the Parco del Retiro and the Crystal Palace
One thing I did not do when I first visited Madrid (I think it was way back in 2017) is take a walk in the huge Parco del Retiro, known for its blue and white boats floating on the lake, but also for the presence of several botanical gardens within it. Fortunately, I was able to catch up this time, spending a couple of hours with my friends among the 15,000 or so trees in the area and, of course, a couple of cervezas.
Also inside the park is the marvellous Crystal Palace, built in 1887 to a design by Ricardo Velàzquez and with a curved glass roof. It stands in front of the park's pond and was originally built as a greenhouse for exotic plants and flowers; today it houses temporary exhibitions of the Reina Sofia National Museum and is a beautiful combination of architecture and nature.
Attending a Flamenco performance
Another thing I really enjoyed (as you can see from the video above) is watching a Flamenco show. After a short search, we headed to Platea, a venue not too far from the Retiro Park where you can eat or have a drink while watching an interactive Flamenco show, with free admission. On the website you can see the show times, so you can plan accordingly. The food is not excellent (let's say that for the same price we have eaten better), but the drinks are very good.
I recommend, therefore, to go "already eaten" (literal translation from the Italian dialect, meaning 'having had some food already') , so that you can enjoy the show while sipping a glass of sangria.
Admiring Madrid from the top of the 360° Rooftop Bar
If you like views from above, you can't miss the extraordinary panorama of Madrid at sunset from the top floor of the Hotel Riu Plaza De España, where you can admire the beauty of the city at 360° - the experience will surely leave you breathless!
A few practical tips for easy access, following empirical experience.
To get on the Rooftop, there are three possible ways:
Standing in an absurd queue for hours on end, paying 5/10€ (I don't remember exactly) and missing the sunset - not recommended! ❌
Get into the priority queue (which is at the entrance, on the right) by paying 20€ (excluding drinks - I know, a crazy amount but it avoids losing hours in line). When we went, there were at least 50 people in the normal queue, while the priority queue was empty! This also allows you to reserve a table on the Rooftop bar and enjoy the breathtaking view for as long as you want ✅
Book on their website access to the Sky Bar 360º, which is located on the penultimate floor, again for 20€, but this time with a drink included - this will allow you to enter skipping the line and then go up on the Rooftop whenever you want (we thank Mati for reporting her experience for the common good) ✅
Visiting the splendid Prado and Reina Sofía museums
This activity, however, is much more predictable: a visit to two of Europe's most beautiful museums, the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofía Museum. Both museums charge a fee, but there are some days when admission is free (read on to find out when).
The Museo del Prado is one of the apexes of the so-called 'Art Triangle of Madrid', the 'Paseo del Arte' in Spanish, i.e. the area of Madrid that encompasses the city's three main art museums: the Reina Sofía Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and, indeed, the Prado Museum. The latter was opened in 1819 and houses paintings from the 16th to the 19th century, including canvases from the Spanish Royal Collection and works by Goya (including the famous Maya Desnuda) and Velázquez.
Location: Paseo del Prado, 28014 Madrid
Cost of ticket:15€ (full price), 7€ (reduced); free for under 18s, EU students under 25 and over 65s
Free admission: Monday to Saturday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, on the other hand, houses works by famous contemporary artists such as Picasso (La Guernica), Dalí and Miró. It is only a 10-minute walk from the Prado Museum and often hosts temporary collections. If you are more attracted to modern and contemporary art and only have time to visit one museum among those the Spanish city has to offer, I would definitely recommend the Reina Sofía rather than the Prado.
Location: Calle Santa Isabel 52, 28012 Madrid
Cost of ticket: 12€ (full price)
Free entrance: Sundays from 1.30pm to 7pm and Monday to Saturday the last two hours (7pm to 9pm)
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Tuesday closed), Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Just a few steps away from the Reina Sofía is the Puerta de Atocha train station - which is worth a visit, as its interior has recently been transformed into a tropical garden for decorative purposes, measuring 4,000 square metres and consisting of more than 7,000 plants of 400 different species from America, Asia and Australia.
Taking a walk in the mural district (Lavapiés)
The Reina Sofía is located in a neighbourhood famous for its varied murals, called Lavapiés. If you have time, take a stroll through its streets and get lost between graffiti. You will also find many vintage shops and good restaurants.
🥘 Where to eat in the area
Tatema - 🌱 Vegetarian friendly ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
How could we not mention this place!
While strolling among the murals, we stopped at this very special place, with seating both outside and inside, which left us fully satisfied.
Their menu is not the most traditional, as they have a typical cuisine with local products, but revisited with a fusion twist. Their broccoli with cheese was excellent (we ordered two pans!). Not all the dishes are vegetarian, but the staff are very friendly and willing to explain everything and make small changes if necessary. Rated 10!
Visiting the Royal Palace
The last stop, and one of the most classic things to do in Madrid (right after visiting Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol), is to visit the Royal Palace (the ticket costs 12€ and can be bought directly from here). These photos date back to my first time in Madrid, but I have extremely pleasant memories of the visit and I am pretty sure I liked it a lot. By the way, there are also paintings by famous artists such as Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco and Caravaggio inside.
Location: Calle de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid
Cost of ticket: 12€ (full price)
Free entrance: Monday to Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. (October to March) and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. (April to September)
Opening hours: daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from October to March and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from April to September
I hope you find these insights useful 🙃