0700-0900. With most of the city either crawling into bed or just waking up, there’s no better time to take on a few of Madrid’s busiest areas than before they fill with people. Start with a stroll past the Palacio Real (Calle Bailén) – technically the official residence of the king, although he actually lives just outside of Madrid. Next to the palace, scope out La Almudena Cathedral, whose construction began in the 16th century, but was only completed in 1993 – just in time for the marriage of Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia in 2004. Then, to sample the ultimate late night and early morning snack, journey toward the city centre, past the Teatro Real, to Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo de San Ginés 5, 91 365 6546) for a traditional cup of thick hot chocolate and a side of fresh-from-the-fryer churros.
0900-1100. Zigzag your way around the corner to Plaza Mayor, and all 237 of its balconies. Serving as Madrid’s main square, it has played host to everything from bullfights to executions. These days, however, you’re more likely to encounter outdoor terrazas and seasonal events like the Christmas market. Then, just steps away from Plaza Mayor, visit Puerta del Sol. Not only the heart of Madrid, the square is virtually the centre of Spain, as it is from here that all distances on the country’s radial network of freeways are measured. While you’re there, stop by bakery go-to La Mallorquina (Calle Mayor 2, 91 521 1201) for a coffee or pastry pick-me-up if those churros didn’t manage to do the trick.
1100-1300. Leave Puerta del Sol behind you, travelling down Calle Montera, and out to the city’s main east-west thoroughfare, Gran Vía, an avenue originally built in the early 1900s as a means to cross the city. Traversing Gran Vía, head due north down Fuencarral, which divides Madrid’s most bohemian neighbourhoods, Chueca and Malasaña. Along the pedestrian street, you can indulge in shopping from both well-known and not-so-well-known boutiques alike. Split off down Augusto Figueroa for a selection of specialty shoe shops, or for an even more authentically Spanish shopping experience, break left into the Malasaña neighbourhood, setting your sights on Antigua Casa Crespo (Calle del Divino Pastor 29, 91 521 5654). The 150-year-old shop sells quintessentially Spanish alpargatas (espadrilles) for the wallet-friendly price of under €10. Polish off your shopping spree with coffee at local hotspots like the traditional-but-trendy Pepe Botella (Calle San Andrés 12, 91 522 4309) or hipster hangout La Bicicleta (Plaza San Ildefonso 9, 91 532 9742).
1300-1500. Time to quench your hunger Spain-style with a little pre-lunch tapas stop. Head to nearby La Ardosa (Calle de Colón 13, 91 521 4979), famous for its tortilla española (an egg-and-potato omelette), but also for its fresh-from-the-tap vermouth, typically consumed before lunch. After you’ve warmed up your taste buds, head for a fusion Spanish lunch at Maricastaña (Corredera Baja de San Pablo 12, 91 082 7142), or just continue on your tapas crawl by trekking over to El Mercado de San Antón (Calle de Augusto Figueroa 24, 91 330 0730). There, you can sample flavours from various tapas bars within the multistorey market, or, if you are keen for a rooftop meal, dine alfresco at the Cocina de San Antón (Calle de Augusto Figueroa 24, 91 330 0294).
1500-1700. Burn off those tapas calories with a healthy walk (or ride on the metro) to check out one of Madrid’s most unique but also relatively unknown museums: El Museo Sorolla (Paseo del General Martínez Campos 37, 91 310 1584). Situated in the once-home of Valencia-born artist Joaquín Sorolla, visitors get a healthy helping of art, but also an inside look at the paradisiacal urban getaway that was Sorolla’s early 20th-century house. Peruse his collection of landscape and portrait art, wander through his still-furnished salons, and take a rest in the fountain-filled gardens while leaving Madrid’s hustle-and-bustle behind.
1700-1900. While your itinerary might not allow for you to catch a proper match, that doesn’t mean you still can’t satisfy your football craving. With a visit to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium Museum (Avenida de Concha Espina 1, 91 745 7500) – home to the Real Madrid Football Club – you’ll have VIP access to step on the pitch, check out the presidential box and get up close and personal with the famous team’s trophy collection. Open almost every day of the year except on match days, you’ll have guaranteed access to football’s finest.
1900-2100. Finish up your day by visiting Barrio de Salamanca – famous as the city’s poshest neighbourhood – for an evening of drinks and dining. Head first to Harina (Plaza de la Independencia 10, 91 522 8785), where you can prepare for your late Spanish dinner while enjoying views of Puerta de Alcalá and Retiro Park. Make like a local by ordering a clara con limón (beer with lemon soda) or a tinto de verano (red wine with lemon soda, served over ice).
After 2100. When you’re ready to sit down for some proper plates, grab a table at theatre-turned-restaurant Teatriz (Calle de Hermosilla 15, 91 577 5379). Dine on fusion cuisine at tables where an audience once sat, or sip on cocktails on the former stage. If you prefer more fancy and inventive fare, go to one of the trendiest foodie spots in Madrid, Dassa Bassa (Calle de Villalar 7, 91 576 7397), headed up by award-winning chef Darió Barrio. After dinner, make an appearance just down the street at the Philippe Starck-designed Ramses (Plaza de Santa Ana 14, 91 701 6020). With multiple rooms for dining, drinking and dancing, it’s the perfect way to wrap up 24 hours in the Spanish capital with a swanky cocktail.
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Written by World Travel Guide.