With its architecture, tapas bars, and friendly locals, Madrid is a mandatory destination for any Spain itinerary. Offering activities for all tastes, there are a variety of ways to arrange a Madrid 2-day itinerary. In this post, I’ll show you two options; an itinerary showcasing Madrid’s must-sees and an itinerary that combines the must-sees with a half-day trip to Aranjuez.
Wheelchair Accessibility Note: If you’re a wheelchair user, head over to our guide on wheelchair accessibility in Madrid.
Itinerary Option #1: Must-see sights in Madrid
With two days in Madrid, you can visit the city’s most iconic highlights without feeling too rushed. Much of this is because the main attractions in Madrid form a near-perfect circle branching out from the Puerta del Sol Plaza.
To help you maximize your time, it’s best to visit the west side of Puerta del Sol Plaza one day and the east side of Puerta del Sol the other. For the sake of ease when talking about your second Madrid 2-day itinerary option, I’ll show you the route from west to east.
All attractions listed in this post are walking distance from each other, although I’ll let you know when the metro comes in handy to save you time.
Stop #1: Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol, which translates to the Sun Gate, is in the center of Madrid and where most main roads in the city branch off from. Despite this, you can enjoy wandering its large plaza without feeling cars flying by you as some of the streets are pedestrian-only.
One of the most unique parts about Puerta del Sol is that it’s in a semi-circular shape. I recommend getting to Puerta del Sol by 9:00am in order to snap photos before the crowds arrive.
Make sure to visit the Oso y del Madroño, a statue of a bear and tree on the east side of the plaza, which is a symbol of Madrid.
Stop #2: Chocolatería San Ginés
You may have not worked up an appetite yet, but your stomach won’t care; the churros and hot chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés are that good.
In order to get to Chocolatería San Ginés, walk down Calle del Arenal, which is one of the roads branching off from Puerta del Sol. Calle del Arenal is a pedestrian street full of tapas bars and shops, so make sure to take your time exploring them.
Once at Chocolatería San Ginés, be prepared to wait in line. This churro shop has been around since 1894 and even though it’s open 24/7, it’s crowded at nearly all hours.
This isn’t the place to get fancy with your order- ask for the “churros con chocolate”, which is the traditional churros and hot chocolate that makes Chocolatería San Ginés is famous. However, if you’d like to give the large, airy churros a try, request a plate of “porras” in addition to churros.
Stop #3: Plaza Mayor
Whereas Puerta del Sol is a plaza enjoyed by tourists and used by locals for practical reasons, Plaza Mayor is a plaza of leisure. Best of all, it’s a short walk from Chocolatería San Ginés.
With its painted walls, archways, and symmetrical shape, of all the iconic Madrid sights we’re discussing here, Plaza Mayor is perhaps the most iconic of them all.
Mornings at Plaza Mayor are quiet. At around 10:00am, shops lining the first floor of the plaza begin opening, with activity picking up by 11:00am. There’s plenty of outdoor seating where you can grab a cup of coffee or a meal, although you’ll be paying a prime price for the location.
Like Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor is filled with street performers and vendors during the day and in the evenings.
Stop #4: Mercado de San Miguel
Exit Plaza Mayor via the arched columns to the west and you’ll see Mercado de San Miguel.
This touristy market is filled with snacks, meals, and desserts of fine dining quality. The presentation of the food alone- especially the mini, open-face sandwiches, will have you wanting to sample them all.
Long benches line the interior part of the floor-to-ceiling glass market. However, if you don’t want to- or can’t- find a seat, you can get your food to go so that you can continue with your 2-day Madrid itinerary.
Psst…Looking to visit other markets? If so, don’t miss my post on eleven of the best markets in Madrid.
Stop #5: Royal Palace
Once you’ve eaten your way through Mercado de San Miguel, set your GPS to Calle de Bailén (Bailén Street). Regardless of the roads you take to arrive there, you can be guaranteed incredible views of architecture, walking through narrow streets, and salivating at tapas bar menus.
The Royal Palace is unmissable, expanding along a large portion of Calle de Bailén. If you’d like to enter the Royal Palace, consider purchasing your tickets online in advance for a set time slot.
Otherwise, you can make your decision on whether or not to enter on the spot, knowing that you may have to stand in a long line to enter.
If you don’t wish to enter the Royal Palace, rest assured that you can enjoy incredible views of it from the outside. There’s a large plaza in front of the palace and sidewalks that run along it, allowing you to get up close to the building.
Travel Tip: Check to see if your visit will fall on a Changing of the Guard day so that you can watch this free event.
Stop #6: Royal Theater
If you’re already planning on attending a theater performance on one of your evenings in Madrid, you can skip this 2-day itinerary stop.
Otherwise, from the Royal Place, walk through Plaza de Oriente. This plaza is a destination in and of itself, so take your time exploring it. Once you pass through Plaza de Oriente, you’ll arrive at the stunning Royal Theater.
You can choose to either admire the theater from the outside or take a daily tour, which has set time slots.
Stop #7: Plaza de España
After your explore the Royal Theater, either backtrack to the Royal Palace and continue down Calle de Bailén, or turn on your GPS if you’d like to enjoy a route down narrow side streets. In either case, you’ll soon arrive at Plaza de España.
Plaza de España has more greenery compared to the other two plazas we’ve discussed so far. Above the treeline, you’ll get to enjoy a backdrop of a portion of the more modern end of Madrid’s skyline.
The monument for Miguel de Cervantes is what Plaza de España is famous for. Among the many books Cervantes wrote, he’s most well-known for being the author of Don Quixote.
Stop #8: West side of the Gran Vía
Alas, you’re nearly done with the first day of your 2-day itinerary of Madrid!
After you’ve snapped your photos with Cervantes’ monument, head to the entrance of Plaza de España and you’ll be at the westernmost end of the Gran Vía.
Strolling down the Gran Vía gives the feeling that you’re in New York City but with beautiful, old architecture instead of modern buildings. You’ll encounter a plethora of shops and restaurants along the way.
Travel Tip: Stop at the Museo de Jamón and order a bocadillo con queso curado. These cheese sandwiches are to die for!
Stop #9: Return to Puerta del Sol
If your legs have the energy, you can easily walk the entire length of the Gran Vía. However, since you have a 2-day itinerary in Madrid, I recommend slowly and thoroughly exploring the sites we discussed here, as we’ll get you visiting the remainder of the Gran Vía tomorrow.
Therefore, when you come to the intersection of the Gran Vía and Plaza del Callao, I recommend taking a right. Follow this street and you’ll soon arrive back to Puerta del Sol.
Since it will now be later in the day, re-visiting Puerta del Sol will offer you a fantastic opportunity to see the plaza alive with street performers and vendors.
Madrid has a hopping nightlife scene, so after you get some rest, consider an evening of tapas bar-hopping based on bars that enticed you during your explorations today.
If your legs are feeling unsteady after your exploration yesterday, give them a pat and let them know that today doesn’t have to require as much walking, if you don’t want it to. Your visits today will be on the east side of Madrid and will primarily focus on museums and a park. Ready? Let’s continue!
Stop #1: East side of the Gran Vía
Start your day with where you left off yesterday- at the Gran Vía by the intersection of Plaza del Callao. There’s a metro stop at the plaza if you aren’t staying within walking distance to the Gran Vía.
From there, head east on the Gran Vía so that you continue exploring the rest of the way.
The east side of the Gran Vía has more modern, brand name clothing shops built in historic buildings. Therefore, if you’re interested in shopping, aim to start here in the late morning.
Stop #2: Círculo de Bellas Artes Viewpoint
When you reach the end of the Gran Vía, you’ll come across an impressive, large roundabout surrounded by buildings of architectural eyecandy.
From there, head to the Círculo de Bellas Artes restaurant rooftop. This viewpoint is located inside the Círculo de Bellas Artes cultural center, which is a non-profit organization that deserves a tour if you enjoy art.
If you don’t want to have a meal or drink at the restaurant, no problem. For a small fee you can purchase a ticket. Then, take an elevator to the top floor and enjoy the stunning views over Madrid.
Stop #3: Retiro Park
The gigantic green area taking up the east-most end of Madrid is unmissable when looking at a map. This is Retiro Park, a place where locals and tourists alike go to take a break from the city.
Retiro Park offers over 125 hectares to explore by means of dirt paths through forests and paved roads that lead to some of its biggest attractions. Of these main attractions are the Glass Palace and Retiro Lake.
The lake is a man-made body of water where you can rent a paddleboat and take the most classic photos of Retiro Park. This is also where you’ll find the greatest concentration of vendors and street performers.
If you’re looking to enjoy even more nature, there’s a botanical garden adjacent to the park.
Stop #4: Prado Museum
The Prado Museum is one of the most famous museums in all of Spain.
It’s a national art museum, and even those who aren’t big museum buffs will surely be in awe of the building’s architecture.
However, if you do love museums, you’ll want to allow at least a couple hours, and upwards of a half-day, to explore all that it offers.
Stop #5: Reina Sofía Museum
Your 2-day itinerary of Madrid will end with the Reina Sofía Museum. This museum is a short walk from the Prado Museum and even if you don’t go in, it’s worth passing by, as the museum and the area around it offers interesting sightseeing in Madrid.
If you do go in, you can expect an array of 20th-century art and fewer tourists, relatively speaking, compared to the Prado Museum.
Bonus: If you’ll be visiting on a Sunday, a visit to the outdoor El Rastro Market, located in the southern part of Madrid’s historical center, is an excellent addition to your 2-day itinerary.
2-day Itinerary Summary for Option #1
Congratulations! If you visit all the sites described in this 2-day itinerary, you’ll leave Spain with a well-rounded grasp of Madrid. As mentioned before, all of the sites listed here are within walking distance from each other.
That being said, when you finish your visit of the Reina Sofía Museum, you’ll be a good distance from the centermost part of Madrid. Therefore, I recommend hopping on the metro and taking it to revisit any sites you wanted to spend more time at before you leave Madrid.
Itinerary Option #2: Must-see sights + Trip to Aranjuez
If the itinerary above didn’t quite tickle your Madrid fancy, this one just may. Aranjuez is a town south of Madrid. Although it’s not technically in the city limits, it’s considered by locals to be in Madrid’s outskirts and is an easy half-day trip to take.
Let’s take a look at how a 2-day itinerary of Madrid would look if you want to include a trip to Aranjuez.
Today is easy; simply follow the route of Day 1 in Itinerary #1. Of the must-see sites in Madrid, the stops on Day 1 are the extra must-sees!
This is where we change things up. I recommend taking your half-day trip to Aranjuez in the morning. This is both to beat the crowds at the Royal Palace of Aranjuez and so the museums in Madrid are open when you return in the afternoon.
In order to get to Aranjuez, hop on the metro to the Atocha train station. Then, buy the next train departing for Aranjuez. You shouldn’t have to wait very long, as there are typically a few departures per hour.
Once you arrive in Aranjuez, it’ll take you ten minutes to walk from the Aranjuez train station to the Royal Palace of Aranjuez. If you’re traveling during the high season, I recommend purchasing your ticket in advance to avoid the line. Otherwise, you can purchase your ticket in person.
Whether you choose to join a guided tour, rent an audio, or wander the palace on your own, you’ll get to enjoy countless rooms with ornate decor and beautiful gardens surrounding the property.
Travel Tip: The best time to visit Aranjuez is during the spring and summer since this is when the gardens are filled with flowers.
There’s not a lot to do in Aranjuez other than visiting the palace and gardens. Therefore, when you’ve gotten your fill, and perhaps taken a short walk through town, hop back on the train to the Atocha Train Station.
Atocha is located at the southern point of Retiro Park. This means that you can spend your afternoon visiting the park, the Prado Museum and/or the Reina Sofía Museum, depending on your interests and what you have time for.
Madrid offers an array of interesting sites that can be seen with a 2-day itinerary. Do you have questions about your Madrid itinerary? Leave a comment and I’ll be happy to help. Alternatively, if you’ve already been to Madrid, share your tips for the top places you recommend for a 2-day itinerary.
P.S.- Are you a market lover? If so, make sure to check out our guide on eleven of the best markets in Madrid.
Laura has been wandering the globe for over a decade. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.