We absolutely love Spain. I do not know if it is because the climate and the weather are always enjoyable. Probably because the way of living of Spaniards is very close to Italians and the sound of the language is very musical that one can barely understand everything, in any case, Spain is one of our favorite destinations in Europe – especially for a week end.
Read more to discover what it is possible if you plan to spend 48 Hours in this city!!
I have been in Madrid dozens of time. However, you would not believe me if I tell you that I have never visited the city center. Unfortunately, corporate offices are all in the outskirts of the city sorrounded by great restaurants.
Marina has probably been downtown just for another corporate-dinner-touch-and-go. One of those events that unfortunately only give you the illusion of having visited a place.
Back from one of my recent business trips in town, we finally decided to book a Random week end in Madrid.
So here we are – ready to explore the city for as much as 48 hours and get the most out of it.
What is absolutely clear is that Madrid is a big magnificent city, full of history, wonderful attractions (monuments, museums, etc), outstanding sport events and infinite corners to explore and characteristic hidden secrets to unlock.
48 hours are just enough to get bite and let you promise you will be back soon to keep exploring and enjoying.
In any case, we would want to leave you with the top things we did in Madrid during the 48 hours just in case you are planning for a similar trip and would like some inspiration. By clicking below you can read more about what we discovered:
- Visit El Prado Museum
- Visit Reina Sofia Museum
- Watch a Real Madrid match at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium
- Get (almost) Lost in the City Center
- Have a wonderful lunch on-the-go with tapas at Mercado de San Miguel – especially tasting those by La Casa del Bacalao
- Visit Basilica de San Francisco el Grande and mix yourself with locals when buying bakery at Obrador San Francisco
- Treat yourself with real Churros at Chocoloateria San Gines
- Have dinner at Meson Txistu – it is a little bit off the city center but where the locals go normally to have an absolutely traditional dinner (and also where a lot of football players go as well).
- Where to sleep
- How to fly
- How to move around the city
This is the itinerary we followed in our visit in Madrid city center. Click on top right corner to see the map full screen. Also if you want to read our reviews on Google Maps for the places we visited please click this link and check for Gianmarco Cicuzza reviews!
Reina Sofia Museum
Reina Sofia is another very important museum in the city. Differently than El Prado it is more focused on contemporary / modern art.
Masters in the likes of Picasso, Mirò and Dalì are featured into the majestic halls.
REINA SOFIA MAIN ATTRACTION FOR US: The main attraction of the museum is clearly the massive painting by Pablo Picasso – Guernica. This is a painting – dated 1937 – which I feel very close to. It is a manifesto for peace. In fact, Picasso painted it after the bombing of the Spanish city Guernica by German Luftwaffe and Italian Airforce. The bombing happened in supporting repression of Spanish revolution against Franco. The painting should be read from right to left because it was originally intended for the Paris Expo where it was exposed in such a way for people to discover it by right to left and it is full of symbols recalling what happened on that day and peace. Inside the museum you can find detailed guide explaining all symbolic presences on the 28m long painting.
TRAVEL TIP: Entrance to Reina Sofia museum is free from 7pm to 9pm. If you still have enough energy to visit the museum at the end of your day you can also enjoy it for free. Two hours are enough to appreciate the main attractions of the museum.
Get (almost) lost in the city center
As a true European Capital, Madrid has a very reach city center and the main attractions can all be reached and visited on foot.
We started our walk from the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande in La Latina quarter (which we will describe a little bit more in depth here) and walked straight into the Royal Palace where the Royal Family of Spain is still living.
Once there, you already have many choices about what to visit.
We decided not to enter the Royal Palace and just stare at its magnificent footprint from the outside.
TRAVEL TIP: If you do plan to visit, please make sure you are ready to stand the long queue that normally forms because of the security checks that are performed. We went there at 10.30 in the morning and the line of people waiting was at least 100m long already!!!
We visited the adjacent Almudena Cathedral. This is a very modern church and it is the main Catholic Church in the whole city. The main attraction is the altar in the right transept which is dedicated to the Virgen de la Almudena. At the bottom of the altar – where the symmetric stairs to visit the Virgen start you can also see the grave of the queen Mercedes d’Orleans.
After the visit to the cathedral if you keep walking on the side of the Royal Palace you can also eventually watch the Change of the Royal Guard at the the Royal Palace. This is quite nice especially for kids because you can watch also the change of the equestrian Royal Guard. We were there at 11.30am when this happened.
We then walked all the way down into the city center by following Calle del Arenal which lead us to the Chocolateria San Ginés where we had outstanding churros as well – please read more tips about this place here.
After the visit of San Ginés you can keep walking on Calle Mayor which will take you straight into Puerta del Sol. Puerta del Sol is a very big and traffic congested square which is worth visiting because it marks the Kilometer Zero (Kilometro Cero in Spanish). In the square you can search for the point where the crowd is thicker than others. This is where you have the milestone engraved in the ground indicating that all distances in Spain area measured using this point as notional zero (see picture at the opening of this article).
From Puerta del Sol we reached Plaza Mayor by walking by a very nice neighbor plenty of shops specialized in religious goods such as sacred books, altar candles, church decorations, etc… In strolling around we also found a very amazing shop which brought us back to the days of our childhood when we went shopping with our grandmas.
This is the cloth shop Tejidos Julian Lopez. Just have a look at the pictures and experience the place if you want to walk back in time.
Finally we got into Plaza Mayor. This can really be considered THE City Center as it has always been so historically since it was founded approximately around 1580. This place has always been used for trades and markets and this can be told by the very regular shape of the square which is also surrounded by a porch all around the square. Despite having suffered three fires which burned the square down almost completely, Plaza Mayor is now fully back in shape. The access to the square is given by nine doors and among all, the most famous one is Arco de Cuchilleros. This is where, in ancient times, all knives crafters (Cuchilleros) had their laboratories and were providing their extremely performing knives to the butchers selling meat in the square. The arch is very very high because of the difference in level between the grounds in Plaza Mayor and Cava de San Miguel.
It is worth mentioning that Plaza Mayor is also hosting the certified oldest restaurant in the world – Sobrino de Botin – which was founded already in 1725. We did not enjoyed the restaurant as I personally do not believe in this world record….I am sure Romans had their restaurants way before that date 🙂
Basilica de San Francisco el Grande & Obrador San Francisco
The Basilica de San Francisco el Grande is one of Madrid hidden secrets of Madrid.
It is located in La Latina quarter and it is dedicated to San Francesco d’Assisi.
WHY WE RECOMMEND THE VISIT OF THE BASILICA:
- It has an impressive dome. It is actually considered the third biggest dome with circular footprint in the world. With its 33m diameter and 58m height it is only behind the Pantheon and St. Peter’s in Rome/Vatican. Which is quite impressive.
- It is almost a small museum per-se by featuring paintings by Goya and Zurbaran.
However, the artistic beauty of the Basilica is not the only reason to visit. Outside the Basilica, just few steps away there is another food gem of the city of Madrid where we absolutely suggest you to go.
This is the Obrador de San Francisco which is a bakery shop still producing bread and other delicacies using all the processes and ingredients of the tradition. Once you leave the Basilica, if you cannot physically find it, you will be simply guided to it by its paradisiac smell of freshly baked bread.
Depending on your tastes (and the time of the day) you may want to try Las Pistolas – i.e. the bread baguettes – or the Panquemao which is a super soft, tasty sweet bun which melts in your mouth as you keep exploring the rest of the city….mmmmhhh!
Chocolateria San Ginés & Churros
You cannot say you visited Madrid if you did not taste the amazing hot chocolate and churros at Chocolateria San Ginés.
This is a very traditional place which probably offers one of the best hot chocalate and churros in town and it is also an historical place as it exists since 1894.
TRAVEL TIP: you will most arrive to Chocolateria San Ginés from Calle de Arenal through Pasadizio San Ginés. If this is the case, we advise you to not stop into the first Chocolateria San Ginés shop you find. We recommend you to pass by the arch and keep walking ahead into Plazuela de San Ginés. You will find another Chocolateria San Ginés called “La Escondida” (literally The Hidden). Typically, there are much less people queuing into this one and there are also more table outside where you can seat to enjoy your chocolate and churros on a sunny day. You can reach “La Escondida” directly if you arrive via Calle de Bordadores as you immediately turn into Plazuela de San Ginés or if you walk by Calle de Los Coloreros – at the end of which you just need to turn left.
Tapas at Mercado de San Miguel
Since you will be hovering in the city center to discover all the beauties the city has to offer, you will definitively have time to stop at Mercado de San Miguel to savor the real taste of Madrid and have a lot of fun in the messy halls of this food temple.
Mercado de San Miguel offers a very typical food experience in the city of Madrid. Despite it is clearly visited by many tourists as it is one of city’s main attraction it has not lost its authentic character both in terms of quality of food and prices. There are many Spanish people mixed with tourists to enjoy the wonders of Spanish tapas.
Despite the crowd, I can reassure you that the experience at Mercado de San Miguel is absolutely amazing. We walked our way through without too much of an effort and managed to have a look at the different bars offering wonderful tapas and here is what we recommend and recommend less:
ABSOLUTELY RECOMMENDED: La Casa del Bacalao for tapas all fish based. From tuna to “bacalao”, from anchovies to herring. They are gracefully served with tasty sauces and guarniture and…the tray is also very stylish. If you want to locate La Casa del Bacalao easily we recommend you to enter the market from the side of the street Cava de San Miguel. If you enter from there this is the second or third tapas bar on the right side. Please check our google map itinerary where we have pinned La Casa del Bacalao exactly. (https://goo.gl/maps/7jN53HzvgZ92)
NOT SO RECOMMENDED: we had a not so positive experience with fried calamari rings. Apart from being extremely expensive they were not freshly fried and so not that tasty. In general, we recommend not to go for fried food into Mercado de San Miguel. The various tapas bar cannot fry into the Mercado itself and so they are bringing fried food from outside which clearly hampers the quality.
Watch a Real Madrid match
To be absolutely honest – we came to visit Madrid on the week end of March 16th because I got an invite, for the four of us, to watch a Real Madrid Liga match vs. Celta Vigo in a VIP box at Santiago Barnabeu stadium – which is kind of the temple of football in Europe.
I am no big fan of football but I like attending big sports events.
However, the main reason why we did it is because we wanted to surprise Federico and Flavio who have been dreaming about both going to Santiago Bernabeu and watching a game in a VIP box for quite some time. Do not ask how they got to desire such things because that is still a mystery to us as well. In any case, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands when it was presented to me and we managed to keep the secret till we got in front of the stadium’s gate. You can see their faces once we finally unveiled the secrets – i.e. when we entered the stadium 😉
For football lovers and sport statistics’ fanatics, Real Madrid actually won the match 2-0 with goals by Isco and Bale. By pure chance, the match will also make history because it marked Zinedine Zidane come back as Real Madrid coach…so not only because of our presence :-)!
The whole experience at the stadium, before and after the match has been outstanding. We recommend to take the subway to come back into the city center unless you want to wait for a taxi or Uber forever!
Even if you do not plan to watch a football match, the visit of Santiago Bernabau is highly recommended. You can wander around the different areas of the stadium and also have the chance to visit the changing rooms of Real Madrid as well as stepping on the actual pitch – which is a quite impressive experience if you only imagine for a second the crowd on the massive tribunes all around. Please note that on match day the visit to the stadium may be restricted in times and accessible areas.
For tickets to visit the stadium and more information on Real Madrid matches we recommend you to have a look at official Real Madrid website: https:/www.realmadrid.com/
El Prado is by any doubt one of the main attraction of Madrid.
You cannot say you have been in Madrid if you did not spend some good time enjoying the incredible art masterpieces displayed.
This is just perfect for your soul. Every time I have the pleasure of enjoying art at the finest imaginable level I always feel incredibly lighter and inspired – this was exactly what happened also after having visited El Prado.
You visit El Prado and you think life is better, you still believe the world can be a better place if a bunch of very talented humans have been capable of gifting the world with such incredible artistic wealth…at times in which technology was clearly not at the levels of today.
Like many other international museums, also El Prado features both a permanent collection and some other temporary exhibitions. Given we spent only 2 hours and 30 minutes into the monumental alleys of the museum we decided to only focus on its permanent collection which is all centered around super famous painters active between late 1400 and 1800. They range from Tiziano to Leonardo da Vinci, from Tiepolo to Velasquez, from Antonello da Messina to Caravaggio, from Rogier van der Wayden to Goya, from Tintoretto to Rubens….and the list is not exhaustive.
OUR MUSEUM’S FAVORITES: We mostly focused on the Italian painters but I think you should not miss:
– “Las Meninas” by Velasquez
– “The washing of feet by Tintoretto” – truly amazing use of perspective there. These paintings are preliminary tests of serious 3D technology – simply hand made.
– “The dead Christ supported by an Angel” by Antonello da Messina – you could just stare at it for hours and probably cry for the intensity of the moment it depicts and the realism of the subjects (see picture).
CURIOUS FACT: if you think that Mona Lisa is only shown at Louvre Gallery in Paris then you will have a nice surprise in visiting El Prado. There is actually a Mona Lisa also in El Prado which was supposedly the test Leonardo and his pupils made before going for the final shot. We definitively prefer this one as it is more colored and she appears to be even happier!
ORGANIZE YOUR VISIT: We made our way into the museum by discovering it bit by bit on our own and also by following the audioguide – which can be purchased inside the museum (also recommended – 4€). In any case, if you want to be more organized you may want to check this web link where you get expert views and recommended itineraries depending on how much time you plan to spend in the museum and what you want to see: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/mi-prado
BUY TICKETS ON LINE: We clearly recommend to buy tickets on line (15€) to skip the queue and we also recommend to buy tickets at this link https://www.entradasprado.com/ – i.e. the official website of the museum. However – please note that link does not allow to buy tickets on the same day – as such please plan to buy your tickets the day before the visit. If travelling with kids, please bear in mind that children under 18 are admitted for free and the link above is the only one giving the opportunity to “buy” a free ticket also for your children. Audioguide for children is also free, however, it only covers few paintings here and there and it is only in english. Our boys are quite curious and eager to know what they watch so we ended up giving them our audio guide :-).
DON’T: We did not know about the impossibility to buy tickets on official website on the same day of the visit. As such, we bought them via Get Your Guide because we attempted to buy them on the same day of the visit. Get Your Guide did not offer the opportunity to buy free tickets for kids. Hence, we just did not skip the queue because we were forced to stop by the cash desk to get a voucher for the little ones. Maybe something you want to avoid!!!
Where to sleep
When it comes to sleeping, Madrid can be a difficult city. Not only the offer is virtually unlimited but the prices range a lot. Assessing the value for money of the offer might also be difficult.
We decided to stay at Roisa Suites – a nice set of apartments located just few steps away from Puerta de Toledo and La Latina neighbor – very much downtown – in a characteristic building. The location is very convenient because all main attractions in the city center are easy to reach on foot and it is sorrounded by multiple subway stations.
The price per night was in the range of 110€ for the four of us.
If you are arriving late in Madrid (we landed at 10pm) please make sure you make precise arrangement with the staff of the accomodation. They are overall very friendly and do speak english but it took us couple of iterations to sort out that they actually have a pick-up service at the airport for as much as 40€ (very good price). They pick you up at the airport and drive you at Roisa Suites and the guy driving you also takes care of the late check-in. In any case just ask for this!
Here you can find the top things we liked and those we liked less about Roisa Suites:
+ Nicely decorated interior / recently renovated
+ Fully functioning kitchen + dining table (microwave, coffee machine, fridge)
+ Very good shower with lots of water jets similar to a small SPA
– Size of the apartment just enough for four people / not very spacious
– No room service to make up / clean the room during the day / no towel change
– Reception not attended overnight and difficult to arrange late check-in
How to move around the city
Madrid is not a very expensive city when it gets to public transport.
The subway network is able to connect very well various parts of the city and you can buy 10 rides for 10€. This can be used by the entire family. In addition to the 10€ you need to add 2,5€ for the card were you can load your credit.
Alternatively also Uber is very convenient and not very expensive compared to other major cities. We have been using Uber as main way of moving around the city and hardly spent more than 10€ per trip also to cover big distances.
How to reach
Madrid is obviously very easy to reach from everywhere you are.
Madrid Barajas is the international airport and all airline companies fly into it.
TRAVEL TIP: Madrid Barajas is a very big international airport. Many airline companies use it as a stop over airport for flights connecting Europe to South America. For this reason, if you are flying from Europe you can find very cheap flights to Madrid. As an example, we flew from Frankfurt and we paid a total 250€ for round ticket for the 4 of us with Latam. The plane was actually connecting Frankfurt to Santiago del Chile with stop over in Madrid and that’s why the Frankfurt to Madrid was so cheap…they just had to fill a very big and comfortable plane.
If you want to review all the places named in this article please refer to our Google Maps List at this link: https://goo.gl/maps/7jN53HzvgZ92 and check for Gianmarco Cicuzza reviews!
All Pictures in this article are by Random Odissey Crew apart from those otherwise specified.