Madrid surprised me. When we originally started planning our trip to Spain, I was considering Valencia, Seville and other parts in the southern region, or to just be lazy and soak up Barcelona for 9 days. But I loved the city so much, it makes me wish we planned an extra day or two to soak in the chic, Spanish culture. So you have 3 Days in Madrid? I’ve outlined the best spots to visit
One of the highlights of visiting Madrid was Retiro Park. If you’re looking for free things to do in Madrid, the park is your best bet! You can watch people in rowboats in the water, or visit art installations at the stunning Crystal Palace, or Palacio de Cristal.
If you have 3 Days in Madrid, definitely stop by Retiro Park and spend the afternoon. We visited twice during our trip, and I’ve recapped our favourite experiences in this blog post.
I loved visiting the Crystal Palace and the Roselada – a stunning rose garden. I also enjoyed watching the row boats and had a picnic in the park. This spot is great for children and those on a budget.
3 Days in Madrid: Royal Palace of Madrid
I’ve recapped my visit to the Royal Palace of Madrid here, but I’ll say it again, it’s a must-see in Madrid! The entrance price was fair and included an audio guide. The courts and gardens make an excellent photo opp, and the rooms of the palace are so beautiful.
My major tip is to stick around and visit the Royal Armoury, it’s one of the best collections in the entire world!
We were a bit disheartened that the Opera wasn’t on at the Teatro Real. We literally missed opening night of Madama Butterfly by one night! Definitely adding that to my list for my next visit.
3 Days in Madrid: Prado Museum
A list of what to do in Madrid wouldn’t be complete without the Prado museum. Everyone recommended this museum to me, and while I didn’t mind the student cost of entry (around 8 euros), I found the adult entry price a bit high. The museum is more of an art gallery, and hosts a large collection of masterpieces from the Renaissance and Spanish Masters. I really enjoyed seeing the Velazquez and Goya paintings of the royal court and daily spanish life, however the religious Renaissance paintings were a bit one-note for me, especially if you’ve been through the Vatican, Uffizi and Louvre before. I was disappointed there weren’t more contemporary pieces or decorative arts, however, seeing the out-of-this-world Hieronymus Bosch paintings made it all worth it!
I find I get gallery fatigue, but it was a great way to escape the heat in AC. Wear comfy sneakers as you will be on your feet all day. After the gallery, head to nearby Retiro Park to enjoy nature!
Where to go out in Madrid? Best Restaurants and Bars in Malasaña
Thanks to Joëlle of La Petite Noob, we had a bit of a tour guide! She was also in Spain at the same time, but a few days ahead. We went with her recommendation and started our night in Malasaña at Vacacciones Cocktail Bar. I had a classic mojito, while the BF indulged in a Caipirinha. The drinks were large and pretty well priced. There were also smoothies and desserts on the menu, but we wanted to check out other spots. I loved the laid-back Island decor.
Next, we stopped at Lolo Polos Artesanos – the most ADORABLE paleteria shop. These ice pops are a huge trend right now in Toronto, but this store was legit. We had a rose flavoured one that was divine.
We walked around the strip and ended up going to Restaurante Ojala. The bar enchanted us with its spider plants hanging from the ceiling, and we ordered a round of cava. You must go to the washroom, because you will pass by an all-pink kitchen that’s fit for Wes Anderson, and in the basement, you’ll be greeted with a beach! Their slogan is “Quién dice que no hay playa en Madrid?” or “Who says there’s no beach in Madrid.” With dim lighting and an intimate basement bar, it would be an amazing place to gather with friends.
Other highlights included a local restaurant, La Guleria, that we went to numerous times because it was on the same street as our AirBnB. They had 3 euro breakfasts complete with coffee and Spanish omelettes, the best loose-leaf tea (get the Ibiza tea), and prix fixe 3 course lunches that came complete with wine or beer for under 10 euros! It was quite a bargain, and I suspect more local restaurants off the main strip have similar deals. The dishes changed every day, but I had everything from a full fish to a chicken meal.
Where to shop in Madrid
Shopping in Madrid is incredible. I regret not shopping more in this city over the more touristy wares of Barcelona.
The Gran Via in Madrid is a must stop. We spent an hour in Primark, but I wish I had more time to visit the other shops like Zara, Bershka and Stradivarius. Also, it’s worth going on the streets perpendicular to the Gran Via. Here, I found smaller boutiques, like my favourite European makeup store, Kiko and shoe stores as well.
My whole trip, I was on a quest for the perfect espadrilles. I never found them in Barcelona, and the Casa Hernanz in Madrid was closed on Sunday when I visited. There are many more shops in Madrid that carry shoes and leather goods, so I recommend shopping there over Barcelona or other more touristy cities.
On Sundays, there’s El Rastro market. Frankly, I’d avoid this market. It was full of imported goods and the vintage clothes were more like thrift store garbage. I love bargain hunting and vintage shopping, so it was a huge let down. I also found it eerie how off the strip there are dozens of canary stores. Those poor birds! I was advised to keep my purse and belongings close, as it can get very busy.
Salamanca is the upscale shopping district, and though we stayed nearby, we never stopped. I didn’t want to carry around expensive items with me during the trip, however I’m living through Joëlle’s new bag from Gucci in Madrid!
What to see in Madrid: Flamenco
Again, another item to add to my list the next time I visit Madrid. We didn’t have time to catch a Flamenco show as the first two nights we were dealing with jet-lag and leftover work commitments, but I urge you to see a show in Madrid instead of Barcelona. I studied Flamenco for several years, so I opted out of seeing a tourist-oriented show in Barcelona. Do your research and find an authentic show, likely on a weekend. When I come back to Spain, I will make sure to have this experience!
P.S. I would never recommend to see a bull fighting show. Cruelty isn’t entertainment! I visited the museum (which was free, I didn’t want to give any money), and saw all the stunning (albeit blood-spattered) matador costumes. I found it grotesque that such beauty and theatre collides with this cruel spectacle. While it’s still part of Spanish culture, even the former King has said that he finds them uncomfortable. Catalonia banned bullfighting and it’s so interesting to see that the ring in Barcelona was transformed into a shopping mall. I guess that’s progress!
I also loved taking in all the stunning architecture of Madrid. Everything was so pristine, with wide roads and stately gardens. This surprised me so much! It felt like a less touristic Paris, with these gorgeous apartment buildings, but with a dash more Mediterranean charm.
I hope you enjoyed this roundup of what to do in Madrid in 3 days. There are so many things to see in Madrid, and definitely worth adding to your Spain itinerary! For us, it was easier to fly in to Madrid and fly out of Barcelona, minimizing travel days. I really recommend booking your AirBnB or Hostel earlier, as we booked last-minute, there wasn’t too much availability! If you’re planning a trip to Madrid, or would like me to share my great AirBnB host’s details, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on social media @natalieast on Twitter!