If you are planning to visit Madrid in one day, you are up for a busy, but epic day of exploring the present and the past.
The heart of Spain and in its own way, one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. Madrid has become one of the most popular weekend breaks in Spain but is also a natural stopover when arriving in the country for a longer Spain itinerary.
Bustling with an energetic vibe both day and night, Madrid has a fabulous nightlife and an abundance of hip restaurants and bars catering to everyone (including an abundant vegan scene to my enchantment!)
Besides, there are plenty of attractions to visit and the shopping will enthrall any shopaholic.
I’ve visited the capital city a few times, but never really gotten the time to fall in love with it. Until my last visit.
I spent a few days just wandering the streets, with no stress, and trying all the vegan restaurants I could fit into my Madrid itinerary. Slowing down made me really fall in love with the city and appreciate the allure of Madrid.
It also gave me time to visit all the best things to do in Madrid, so I can easily help you with how to spend one day in Madrid in the best possible way.
Read on to uncover the best Madrid one day itinerary so that you can get the most out of your day trip to Madrid.
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How to get to Madrid in a day
Madrid is not only the capital of Spain but also a major hub for flights in and out of the country with the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport.
By bus and train
Located in the heart of Spain, Madrid has great train and bus connections to the rest of the country as well as to France and Portugal.
The main train station is Atocha Railway Station which dates back to 1851. It is the largest train station in Spain and connects with the neighboring countries as well as high-speed trains to multiple destinations.
The train station is located right at Plaza Mayor which makes it perfect for a Madrid one day trip.
Madrid Estación Sur Bus Station, or Méndez Álvaro, is the main bus station in Madrid and receives all international and intercity buses.
Getting to Madrid by car is also an option, but note that there are areas in the city center where it is not allowed to drive unless you live there.
I found it very stressful to drive to Madrid (and I’m NOT a stressed driver) when I went by car a few years back because I accidentally ended up in areas that were illegal to drive.
Luckily, my hotel had an agreement with a parking garage in the non-drive area so they cleared my number plate and I avoided a fine by parking there.
But this is a good lesson that if you drive, you should arrange parking with your hotel, especially if you stay centrally.
Otherwise, you are better off parking outside the center and taking public transport into the city center. I recommend paying for a parking garage when going to Madrid by car as it is a huge city and you will find it hard to look for street parking.
You can easily rent a car at the airport if you come by plane and plan on going on a road trip in Spain, spending one day in Madrid before you continue on your itinerary.
Best time to travel to Madrid
Madrid is a great destination all year round. But personally, I would avoid the summer months. Its location inland makes for extremely hot summers and there are no beaches to cool down or coastlines to give a nice sea breeze.
Madrid in winter means mild days with sun or rain and the occasional snowfall. Temperatures average 10 degrees Celsius.
The nights get a lot cooler at around 3-4 degrees Celsius. However, it is the holiday season with lights and joy filling the streets.
Spring and fall are the most pleasant seasons to travel to Madrid as temperatures don’t drop too low and they don’t rise too much either.
Where to stay with 24 Hours in Madrid
Madrid is a large city so it is natural to wonder where to stay in Madrid on a one day trip. My suggestion is to stay centrally (especially if you travel by public transportation.) Here are some of my top picks.
LUXURY: Mandarin Oriental, Ritz Madrid – the ultimate luxury with free parking, yet centrally enough to get around by foot, and a fabulous spa and wellness center to enjoy after a long trip.
MID-RANGE: UMusic Hotel Madrid – in the heart of Madrid, you can get fit in the gym, swim in the outdoor pool, and enjoy a luxurious meal in one of the hotel’s restaurants.
BUDGET: Cálamo Guesthouse – a great budget option surrounded by restaurants and bars within an easy walking distance from Madrid’s attractions.
HOSTEL: Way Hostel Madrid – by far my favorite hostel in Madrid, easy to meet other travelers as they organize events and it’s a clean and friendly atmosphere.
Things to do in Madrid in one day itinerary
Tour the Royal Palace
Start your 24 hours in Madrid with the biggest tourist attraction in the city, the Royal Palace.
It is not only the largest royal palace in Western Europe but also among the largest in the world with its 3418 rooms across 135.000 square meters.
The opulence of the palace is jaw-dropping and it’s well worth a visit. Rooms decorated with exclusive carpets, statues, marble columns, and exquisite paintings will leave you in awe, especially the Hall of Mirrors.
The palace garden is also exceptional and lovely to stroll around.
I recommend booking skip-the-line tickets in advance when planning a Madrid 1 day itinerary to make the day as smooth as possible.
If you would like to learn more about the palace and Spain’s Royal Family and history, I highly recommend going on a guided tour.
Monday – Saturday 10:00-19:00
Sunday 10:00-16:00 (Gardens are open until 19:00)
*Last entrance 1 hour before closing time.
Step into Almudena Cathedral
Almudena Cathedral is located right next to the Royal Palace and is a natural second attraction to visit when seeing Madrid in one day.
The cathedral was started built in 1883 and was the first ever to be consecrated outside Rome in 1993.
Inside, the modern stained-glass windows will not go unnoticed and you should check out the crypt beneath the church.
*Closed for tourists during mass hours.
Go back in time at the Temple of Debod
One of the top things to do in Madrid in one day is to visit the Temple of Debod. This Egyptian temple dates back to the 2nd century but was abandoned in the 6th century.
It was donated by the Egyptian government in the 20th century as a thanks for helping with the floods that followed when the Aswan Dam was constructed, thus transported to Madrid.
This is one of my favorite attractions and a cool thing to see when you visit Madrid in one day.
It’s a pretty small temple, but captivating enough to spend some time inside.
Have lunch at Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is located in the heart of Madrid and was once the center of Old Madrid. Still today, it is one of the most famous landmarks in Spain.
It was originally built in 1619 but experienced several devastating fires during the 17th and 18th centuries. The current design was finished in 1854.
There are several restaurants located on the square making it a great place for lunch.
Stroll through Puerta del Sol
Wondering what to do in Madrid for one day after lunch, going for a stroll through Puerta del Sol is a good start.
This is one of the busiest squares in Madrid with the metro line passing there and direct access to Gran Via where you will be going next.
Originally, Puerta del Sol was one of the city gates in the city’s 15th-century city walls. It was located to the east and the sunrise would shine straight through it – thus the name, the Gate of the Sun.
Walk along Gran Via
No one day Madrid itinerary is complete without walking down Gran Via. This iconic street is lined with splendid architecture. The street was built between 1910 and 1929.
Its importance in Madrid has given it the nickname Broadway of Madrid, but these days there are fewer cinemas and theaters and more shops along the 1360-meter-long street.
Whether you want to go shopping, window shopping, or just enjoy the beautiful architecture, a stroll down this street is a must to add to your itinerary. Madrid would not be the same without it.
Get artsy at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
If you fancy visiting a museum on your day trip in Madrid, I highly recommend the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
The museum holds a great collection of paintings from the Middle Ages and until the 20th century. A lot of it represents the Madrid region throughout the centuries.
But there are also numerous international art pieces there from Italy, the US, Japan, and other countries worth seeing.
Stroll through Retiro Park
Round off your Madrid 1 day trip with a relaxing stroll in the Retiro Park. This is by far the city’s best park with ponds, monuments, flowers, and trees.
It was originally built in the 17th century, but until the 19th century, when it was opened to the public, it was only enjoyed by the Royals and their visitors.
Going out for dinner in Madrid offers plenty of options and is a haven for vegan foodies too. I’ve never eaten out as much as I’ve done in Madrid because there are just so many great places to try out.
Some of my favorites are Mad Mad Vegan, La Oveja Negra, and Vega, and if you fancy some vegan junk food, check out Distrito Vegano.
Responsible tourism when visiting Madrid in one day
When visiting Madrid in one day, make sure you follow responsible tourism practices. In Madrid, I especially want to point out two things.
The Zoo Aquarium and the bullring.
I discourage any form of animal tourism that involves captive animals and marine life. You can read more about why here.
When it comes to the bullring, many agree that what’s going on in there is unethical. Yet, tourists keep visiting the bullrings in Spain outside of performances.
However, the ticket money you pay will still support the unethical practices and feed the money machine that feeds more bullfights.
Do you want to be a part of that?
I know I don’t.
Reflections on one day in Madrid
I hope you enjoyed this itinerary for Madrid in 1 day. There are definitely enough things to fill up a day in Madrid from shopping, art, and culture, to leisurely strolls in the park.
Spain’s capital city is without a doubt a great place to visit and isn’t short of entertainment. But if you think it will be tight exploring Madrid in a day, I won’t argue.
If you have more time, consider extending your visit by a couple of days. Two days in Madrid is a good option, but if you can stay longer, there are also plenty of fun day trips from Madrid that you can take while taking advantage of the vibrant nightlife of the capital when you return.