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Greetings, Internet Stranger! Though Madrid is Spain’s capital, nowadays one might say that the city has a bit of an inferiority complex next to its country’s more popular tourist destination, Barcelona. “Everyone’s always talking about Barcelona!” Madrid might say if it had a face. “Barcelona, Barcelona, Barcelona!” But don’t let the fact that everyone loves Barcelona dissuade you from enjoying this one day in Madrid itinerary.

Spain’s capital has plenty of charms of its own. In Madrid you will find history, Manchego cheese, royalty, cured hams, the best Madrid food market, Goya paintings, vermouth and sherry, lovely Retiro Park, and insanely delicious olives. Now I’m hungry! Let’s go get something to eat!

One day in Madrid Itinerary

Where to Stay?

I hope you’re looking for a convenient location for a hotel, Internet Stranger. Unless you’re one of those strange people who hates convenience. I was happy with my stay at Hostal Alonso, located right in the heart of Madrid. There were always people around, which made it easy for me to enjoy Madrid’s thriving nightlife. Plus it was super affordable. If you can go for something pricier, te salut! But I still suggest staying in the center of town. 

If you’re looking for a great deal on this hotel, click here. And if you’d rather explore deals on over 5000 hotels in Madrid, click here.

One Day in Madrid Itinerary

What to Pack?

You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do today around Madrid. It’s very frequently hot here, though not always, so it’s smart to wear sandals. I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.

Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! The sun can get scorching! My favorite is the Neutrogena spray bottle because it’s so easy to apply. And as a solo traveler, I can actually use it myself on my own back. I just put it in my purse and re-apply throughout the day.

Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. You don’t want to sling a heavy bag all around Madrid. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so you’ll never run out of juice!

markets madrid spain

One day in Madrid Itinerary

Morning: Markets of Madrid Tour

Madrilenos know how to do many things, but one of their primary areas of expertise is knowing how to eat well for minor ducats. That is why I was so excited about going on the Urban Adventures Markets of Madrid tour. I would get to sample the goods at three of Madrid’s most delicious markets, as well as some other assorted snacks from Madrid’s many wonderful pastry shops. As you will see, I got more than my money’s worth. I also ate enough for 12 men. Let me whet your appetite with…

Approximately top 5: madrid markets edition

one day in madrid itinerary
1) Churros and Chocolate

The first thing you must eat is the classic Madrid breakfast, Churros and Chocolate from Chocolateria San Gines. Our amazing guide Cecilia told us that they have been making chocolate and churros here since the late 1800s. The chocolateria is very popular in Madrid, which is why the walls are covered with photos of celebrities whom you probably will not recognize unless you are super up on your Spanish gossip mags like Nosotros Semanalmente.

We learned that there are two kinds of churros: the thin one that looks like a rope and the thick one that is darker in color. The thin one, as you can probably guess, tastes lighter. The way you eat these churro treats is by dipping them in the rich melted chocolate. Be careful, because the dipping chocolate isn’t like a cocoa. It tastes amazing, but it’s a bit too rich for me to want to drink it.

markets madrid spain
2) Spanish olives

Our next stop was at the Mercado de San Miguel. Cecilia told us this was a more gentrified market catering to tourists as much as locals, but that shouldn’t stop us from checking it out because there were some really delicious things there. Our snack here was my favorite: olives! I just love their bitter, briny flavor. Spaniards do olives like no one else, so if you are a drupehead like me, don’t miss out on them when you are in Spain.

We tasted little green Campoamor olives in oregano, Cacereña black olives with manchego cheese and sundried tomatoes, and Hojiblanca green olives from Seville with artichoke. My favorite were the Campoamor olives because they had such a green and fresh taste. But I’d be happy to eat them all again about a million times!

markets madrid spain
3) Secret nun cookies

Do you like almond cookies? How would you like almond cookies made behind a secret door by secret nuns? Then you’re going to love the pastas de almendra from the Monasterio de Corpus Christi. Cecilia took us to this intriguing key-shaped door:

markets madrid spain

Behind which live nuns who make these magical cookies. The nuns aren’t allowed to talk to anyone, so you need to place your order in advance and then pick up your secret cookies the next day. They leave them for you in a little dumbwaiter. I generally think my hometown NYC is pretty perfect, but one thing we could use is a secret cookie door, let me tell you.

I did not eat any cookies that day, but I did make them my breakfast for the rest of my time in Spain. They were delightfully fresh, nutty, and crumbling, even if they did cover my fingers in powdered sugar. Be prepared, own a napkin.

markets madrid spain
4) Fruit, cheese, meat, wine, bread, and olive oil platter

After the more touristy market of San Miguel, we got to visit a real neighborhood place: the Mercado de la Cebada. Here we had a ridiculous amount of tastings. We snacked on some fresh cherries from Valle del Jerte and combined them with the famously pungent Queso Azul of Cabrales from Asturias.

markets madrid spain

If you are a blue cheese lover, you need to eat this.

markets madrid spain

Then we went to an olive oil shop and gorged ourselves silly on a gargantuan supply of olive oil from the fruity to the herbal. We paired these libations with a glass of Chardonnay from Zaragoza and tapas of manchego cheese and jamon serrano. The other people on the food tour were veg, so I got to eat all the jamon myself. #jamnoregrets. I especially liked the Chardonnay because it is made in clay jugs, which gave the wine an earthier flavor than I am used to Chardonnay having.

24 Hours: Madrid Food Market
5) meat and cookies

Our last stop was at the Mercado de San Fernando, which was more hipster than Cebada, but less upscale than San Miguel. I couldn’t believe how much food there was provided on this tour because we had white wine from Madrid with manchego cheese and cecina de leon (cured beef). Once again, all that cured meat was for me and only me! MWAHAHAHAHA! (Don’t worry, veggie people. Cecilia had a lovely meatfree empanada ready for the meatless among us.)

24 Hours: Madrid Food Market

Then it was time for pastries: rosquillas de San Isidro, pesquiñas of honey and mantecados from Valladolid. The honey pesquinas were sumptuous, dark brown, and delicious, the mantecados were full of layers of pastry and flakiness, and the rosquillas look like donuts, but much lighter. Basically they are angel donuts. It was a perfect cookie plate because the tastes complemented each other, but none of the cookies were that similar.

markets madrid spain
6) coffee and a pastry

Can you believe there was another stop on the tour? Well believe it! Cecilia wanted us to finish with a coffee and pastry at one of the oldest pastry shops in Madrid, La Mallorquina Bakery. At her suggestion, I got this insane thing pictured above, which was a light as air whipped sugary egg white concoction covered in chocolate. I could only eat about half of it, which made me sad, but not as sad as I would have been had I collapsed into a food coma.

madrid royal botanical gardens

One Day in Madrid Itinerary

Afternoon: Royal Botanical Gardens

After all that food and two glasses of wine, you’re not going to want to do anything but take a load off and allow your stomach to deflate. Of course you can go back to your hotel room for a siesta, but I suggest you make the most of your one day in Madrid itinerary head to the relaxing and verdant Royal Botanical Gardens. You won’t have to worry about anything here except which plants are the prettiest. Is it these?

madrid royal botanical gardens

How about these? Let’s have a furious internet debate about it. Have at thee, trolls!

madrid royal botanical gardens
24 hour tip

It was 97 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade when I visited Madrid in June, and Madrid has that kind of intense dry heat that makes you want to smother yourself to death with a thousand ice cubes. Fortunately, there is a small exhibition hall inside the Botanical Gardens, it costs nothing to enter it, and…it is air-conditioned! So if the heat is unbearable, come inside, feast your eyes on some Spanish photography, and cool down until you are able to venture out into the furnace once more.

madrid royal botanical gardens
24 hour treasure

I’m no flower expert, but I loved seeing all the different kinds of dahlias in bloom when I was in Madrid. They had every color from pink…

madrid royal botanical gardens

to yellow and white…

madrid royal botanical gardens

to this intriguing burgundy color.

madrid royal botanical gardens

I also have fond feelings about this tree because its shade stopped me from getting a sunburn. Gracias, árbol!

Retiro Park

One Day in Madrid Itinerary

Late Afternoon: Retiro Park

So, now’s the portion of the one day in Madrid itinerary when I…urge you to put aside the travel itinerary and live a little! Find a promising portion of Madrid and wander aimlessly until it is time for dinner. (Yes, you have to have dinner. This is Spain and dinner doesn’t start until 9, so you’ll be hungry again by then.)

But if you need a bit of help, there is not a finer place to get lost in all of Madrid than Buen Retiro Park. Retiro Park is literally fit for a king because it used to be the exclusive park of the Spanish royal family, and you know what they say about monarchs…they know how to build parks. There are enough plants, crystal palaces, sculptures, decorative garden houses, and tree-lined boulevards in Retiro Park to keep you entertained for hours. Go close this webpage and find them all! Don’t come back until 9 PM!

Retiro Park Madrid Spain
24 hour tip

Well, you’re a little needy, aren’t you, Internet Stranger? Fine, I will try to give you a little advice. If you like street performers, check out the giant lake in the middle of Retiro Park, which has the wildly understated name of Retiro Pond. Here you will find as many free shows as your cheap little heart desires. I believe these gentlemen above were performing some Middle Eastern music.

I also saw some Hare Krishna performing in Retiro Park Madrid Spain, but I didn’t take their photo because I don’t know that the HK go in for that kind of thing, and I was afraid they would maybe surround me and yell Hare Krishna at me until I gave them my cell phone camera.

Retiro Park Madrid Spain
24 hour Treasure

So if you want to know my favorite thing to do in Retiro Park, it’s to pick a very regal looking section of Retiro Park Madrid Spain, like the one above, and swan about pretending I’m the Infanta and sneering at people. It’s basically what I do at home in NYC, only it feels like more appropriate behavior in Madrid. We haven’t declared someone Infanta of New York City since the 1970s, during the famous “Ford to Infanta: Drop Dead” incident.

La Tragantua Madrid Spain

One Day in Madrid Itinerary

Evening: Dinner at La Tragantua

La Tragantua was, for me, the definition of a hidden gem. It’s just a small restaurant with a few tables hidden on a side street in Retiro Park. If you’re following this itinerary in the summer, it should still be light in Retiro Park by the time you head to dinner. Because of its diminutive size, you need to make reservations online in advance before going. But once you are there, you will be treated to a dizzying variety of creative tapas. I had a fresh tomato salad with poetic swirls of vinaigrette…

La Tragantua Madrid Spain

There were skewers of fried shrimp and squid with perfectly pungent garlic aioli. I’ve never had garlic aioli with fried shrimp before, but the combination was flawless.

La Tragantua Madrid Spain

24 hour treat: korean dumplings

Next came the house specialty: piping hot Korean dumplings with sweet chili sauce. The dumplings were delicious plain because the meat was so well seasoned, but the chili sauce kicked them up that extra notch of class.

La Tragantua Madrid Spain

24 hour treat: fried brie

I finished my tapas with another dish La Tragantua is famous for: fried brie cheese with tomato marmalade and jalapeno peppers. You need to get the savory warm cheese, cold sweet marmalade, and spicy pepper all in your mouth in one bite if you want to experience the full potential of this dish. Unless you don’t like spicy food–then don’t eat the pepper. But you shouldn’t really need me to tell you that, Internet Stranger!

La Tragantua Madrid Spain

My dessert was a not-too-sweet mango and mascarpone combination served adorably in a little retro Mason jar. It was a soothing and light way to end the meal after all the different spices and flavors in the tapas.

I especially appreciated how the chef made all the dishes into a half portion for me so I could try more tapas. He said the regular portions would be too much. Of course he only charged me half price for each dish, so the whole meal didn’t amount to much more than 30 Euros. Thanks chef! You’re as helpful as a shady tree on a 90 degree day in Madrid!

Further Reading: One Day in Madrid Itinerary!

Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Madrid right now? Then let me help you get started with some further reading. I like Lonely Planet’s guide to Madrid. It’s divided into sections according to neighborhood, which makes it useful for planning purposes.

You can’t go to Spain without reading a little Hemingway. Otherwise, how will you understand when you go to a Spanish bar and they tell you about how Hemingway used to drink there? I suggest The Sun Also Rises because part of it is actually set in Madrid.

And if you want a nonfiction book about Madrid, Hotel Florida tells the amazing story of Hemingway and five other Leftist activists who worked in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Spoiler Alert! It did not end well. But you have to read the book to find out why.

Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have a one day in Madrid itinerary. If you’re able to add another one day in Madrid itinerary, check out this itinerary. And if you want to add a trip to Valencia, add this itinerary or this itinerary.

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