Spain Travel Itineraries

3 Days in Madrid, Spain: an Easygoing Itinerary

April 16, 2014

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With 3 days in Madrid, our goal was to do a lot of wandering, eating, with a bit of museums and sights thrown in. This easygoing itinerary for Madrid, Spain goes at a slower pace with actually enjoying your time instead of just checking all the sights off your bucket list. Not all trips need to be so easygoing, but that’s what you’ll find in this itinerary for this trip to Madrid.

I don’t believe in “once in a lifetime” trips.

First, “once in a lifetime” suggests you’re not traveling again. That’s 100% un-fun. Second, it sets ridiculous expectations of perfection. Travel can be tiring and silly, and confusing, but so amazing. Yes, that quote about travel being “the journey not the destination…” applies quite nicely. Third, every moment is “once in a lifetime” is it not? And we’ve come full circle…

One of things taking a round the world trip taught me about myself is that while I love playing tourist and seeing the major sights (hey, they’re sights for a reason!), I prefer to go at a slower pace.  Trying to see one big “sight” in the morning and one in the afternoon is a nice strategy. And if I don’t end up there, that’s fine too. Can you see most of the major sites in many cities in three days? Yes. It’s possible to whip through many of them. Instead, I like to say “I’ll see it next time!”. If you think about what you really want to see, experience, eat etc., it makes travel more easy going. If you have time for more, great. If not, even better, see it next time!

sunset in Madrid

Madrid – Day 1: 

Europe from the west coast can be a long trip. After a 4 hour layover in NYC, (yay for a United Club pass!), and then an overnight flight, we arrived in Madrid in the late morning. By the time we got to the metro, transfers, to Sol, and then walked to our hotel, there was no worry about being able to check-in early. We often stay our first night of a longer trip at a hotel. It’s nice to not having check-in issues be a worry, and to be able to get in, nap, shower, and feel a little refreshed. Then, the move to an Airbnb etc the next day is a quick adventure, and not at all stressful.

After a quick nap, we headed to Plaza Mayor for a cafe con leche and people watching. On my first visit to Madrid in 2008, I did a free walking tour (“free”, but you tip), and really enjoyed the opportunity to just follow and listen vs navigating. This time, I played tour guide and we did a less structured walk, reading about specific places (parks/squares/history) in the guide book . I ended up bringing the same little Lonely Planet Madrid Encounter guide I used last time I was here, that I bought in a used bookstore here in Madrid! I enjoy have a tiny tangible book with a few maps. It’s especially nice when I’m traveling sans-Internet and when my phone battery is low. These days, I don’t use guidebooks for restaurant/bar recommendations anyway, but places like the Prado and barrios aren’t going anywhere, so a book from 2007 still felt acceptably current.

Madrid-San Miguel market and wandering

It was the first day of spring and perfect to be wandering the streets of Madrid in a cardigan. Some trees were already blooming, while others with little buds just ready to pop. We stumbled across Mercado de San Miguel, and popped in for a wander and ended up getting some tapas, a dessert, cervezas and then a mandarin orange for the road. We went through Plaza Isabella II and then headed toward Plaza de Oriente by the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) where the sun was beginning to set, and up to the hill by the Templo de Debod.

It got cool pretty quickly after the sun set, so we walked through Plaza de Espana, grabbed a bocadillo (cheap and tasty sandwich, my favorite are with spanish tortilla inside) and back to our hotel in Plaza de San Martin. Later we went out for asian fusion tapas at StreetXO. It’s on the roof of the El Corte Ingles, as part of their “Gourmet Experience” area. We didn’t have the highest expectations, since it seemed kind of “food court”-ish, but it ended up being one of my favorite meals in Madrid.

Chocolate con churros in Madrid

Madrid – Day 2:

We started the day out right with cafe con leches y chocolate con churros at Chocolatería San Ginés near our hotel. If you have a sweet tooth, this is can’t miss. We followed up breakfast with a tiny bit of window shopping at a few bookstores and Lots of Colors, which appears to be Decathlon’s colorful small shop concept. Super fun.

Then it was time to check out of our hotel and head over to our Airbnb. I’d been looking forward to this place, based on the pictures, and it didn’t disappoint! So much has changed in the last few years, in the travel space, when it comes to lodging. I’m still amazed sometimes when I think about how cool it is that you can stay in a flat like this in center of Madrid. Something you couldn’t have done 5 years ago unless you were renting for much longer, or had a friend with the space! After checking in, I really could have just stayed in the flat the rest of the day. ;) But come on, we were in Madrid, so that would be silly.

After a little downtime we headed out towards the museum area (Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen are all out near Park Retiro). We stopped in at a coffee shop for a lunch/snack. The place was super cute, but we had one of those funny experiences of “this is totally not what I thought I was ordering” when the patatas bravas were a potato chip version. Random!

El Retiro park in Madrid

It was so fun to revisit the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. I like museums. I like art (yes, I did just say that), but I’m not the kind of person who wants to spend six hours in a museum. So I had a good second wander through the museum. If anything, Picasso’s Guernica will make you want to learn more Spanish history and about their civil war. After we’d had our fill of aaaaht, we grabbed a coffee at the museum cafe before heading towards the Parque del Buen Retiro and stumbled across the Cuesta de Moyano bookstalls (on the south side of the botanical garden) something I missed on my first trip to Madrid. We did a lot of wandering and people watching before staking out a spot in front of the pond area for a bocadillo. After a bit more wandering, we hit up the supermercado by our place for some cheese, bread, wine, and fruit. Dinner!

Madrid IPA day

Madrid – Day 3:

We started off day 3 in Hipsterville – Malasaña – at La Bicicleta Café for breakfast. Then we spent some time shopping and wandering in Malasaña and Chueca. In the afternoon we checked out a brewery Fábrica Maravillas (IPA in Madrid?!) did a lot more wandering around, before having tapas for dinner near our flat. After a few days in Spain, I was beginning to adjust to Spanish time. Our third day in Madrid was one of those days where you think “where did the time go?”. We didn’t really hit any big sights or museums, just a fun day filled with wandering and snacking and drinking!

Our Airbnb was just between Sol and Huertas, so we mainly wandered through Huertas during the day (and Barrio de las Letras). On my next visit, I’d like to explore that neighborhood’s nightlife a bit more. Also on my “list” for next time is wandering around the upscale Salamanca barrio. Next stop, a week in Portugal!

Although this was my second [short] trip to Madrid, it still felt like a new city, in a way, since I was experiencing it with someone else. I hope you enjoyed this itinerary for a chill 3 days in Madrid!

Have you been to Madrid? What are some of your favorites?