Madrid is a vibrant city. The Spanish capital offers clean public transportation, fantastic arts, beckoning plazas, unique tapas, and sights that are open later than most European cities.
On your first day in Madrid, explore city center by doing your own walking and eating tour. Start in the great square called Puerta de Sol. It’s always lively and features a beautiful fountain by the post office building. Then, stroll west to Plaza Mayor. Enjoy the street performers and bustling activity in the 1600s square. Although the numerous cafes may tempt you, I suggest eating at the nearby Mercado de San Miguel. In fact, I suggest eating here a lot. This market has numerous vendors, where you can find fish, snail, octopus, and squid tapas, the largest oysters you’ve ever seen, fanciful olive dishes, paella, meat sandwiches, cheese, croquettes, Iberico ham, and of course drinks. The prices are reasonable, with wines around 3 Euros a glass and tapas ranging from 1 to 15 Euros (for larger seafood offerings). The famed Iberico Bellota ham costs more, but you simply must purchase a portion to try.
With your belly full, take a 10-minute walk up to the Gran Via. This is the entertainment and shopping hub of Madrid, and a good place to keep in mind for nightlife. After exploring, head back near the Puerta del Sol area to find the famed Chocolateria San Giles. It’s always a good time for an inexpensive yet delicious snack of churros with hot chocolate. Then pass through the active Plaza de Mayor on your way to The Hat for a drink. This rooftop bar has sunshades, cooling misters, and a great view of central Madrid. After your drink, walk along the beautiful Calle de Cuchilleros for dinner of suckling pig at the world’s oldest restaurant Sobrino de Botin. Or, keep walking up to the Mercado de San Miguel for round two./p>
It’s time to see the world famous Prado. There is an overwhelming amount of art here, including many works by El Greco, Velasquez, and Goya. I was most interested by the Bosch paintings. Even if you are a fast walker, you should leave about 2-3 hours for this museum. Nearby is a large park called El Retiro. It has shady paths and quirkly features waiting to be explored. At the artificial lake, you can grab a bite to eat or rent a rowboat. There are plenty of areas for children to play or adults to partake in relaxation, sports, or fitness
Although the Prado probably filled you to the brim on museums for the day, remember that some museums in Madrid are open later than customary. Therefore, you could see the Sofia Renia or the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum. However, you may wish to stroll by the Plaza de Cibeles to see the famous marble sculptures and fountain and then go to some of the numerous tapas bars nearby.
On the third day, start with a visit to the Royal Palace of Madrid. Timed tickets are recommended to have in advance to avoid a lengthy queue. There are 3400 rooms in this stately palace and the lavish interior contains many art masterpieces. In the same basic location are the Gardens de Campo and the Catedral de la Almudena. Catty-corner from the Catedral is El Anciano Rey de los Vinos, a good place for a snack and a view.
From here, you could visit Real Monasterio de la Encarnacio, but that must be done with a guided tour. Or, you could visit the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony de la Florida, a small chapel best known for frescoes by Goya and being his final resting place. If you're not into churches, consider visiting the El Rastro Market - a popular flea market. For the evening, consider a food tour or catch some Flamenco dancing.
If you are lucky enough to have another day in Madrid, head to the Plaza de España. This is where most day-trip bus tours depart. Consider Toledo, Segovia, and Avila.