If you’re traveling to Europe, you always want to have more than two days to explore a new place. But if you’re trying to hit a few different destinations and the weekend is all you have in one, then you have to do your best to catch the highlights and experience all you can.
This is certainly a challenge in a place as big and interesting as Madrid. A first-time visitor could easily spend a month in town and still not run out of new things to enjoy. During a quick stop though, you can fit in a number of highlights. We’d recommend starting with these.
Royal Palace of Madrid
This is the largest royal palace in western Europe, built in the 1700s on top of the previous palace’s site (the original having burned to the ground earlier in the same century). One of the main attractions inside for visitors is the Royal Armoury, which houses weapons dating back to the 1500s. Another highlight is comprised of exceedingly rare instruments: While you may recognize the name Stradivarius because of the luthier’s fame for making violins, this palace contains the only Stradivarius quartet in the world, with two violins (los Decorados), and a viola and cello (Spanish Court). You can see all this and plenty more when you tour the palace – not to mention it’s a wonderful building to behold on the exterior.
Real Madrid Football
A major local sporting event is a great way to get a feel for the area, and all its pride, passion, and history. If you can, and if the schedule lines up, get tickets to go see Real Madrid at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Real Madrid has historically been one of the strongest clubs in Europe, and the UK’s leading bookmaking sites, which set the tone for a lot of the football outlook around Europe, almost always peg them among the favorites in Spain’s La Liga and the continent-wide Champions League. That means the quality of play is always high, and the crowd in the legendary stadium (built in 1947) is always “on.” You won’t want to miss out if you get a chance to attend.
Museo Nacional del Prado
This art museum is loaded with famous paintings, including masterpieces like Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) by Diego Velazquez and The Third of May by Francisco Goya. It’s an essential part of any visit to Madrid, with baroque masters and renaissance painters alike represented, along with plenty of traditional Spanish paintings. This year the museum turned 200 years old, and there’s home that it will soon be able to remodel its Hall of Realms, a building acquired three years ago but for which renovations have been stalled in Parliament.
Gran Via and Plaza Mayor
A walk along the pulsing Gran Via is another must, even if you have limited time in Madrid. Whether you shop around there during the day or dance in the nightclubs after dark (or both), it’s the recreational center of the city. You can also explore the Plaza Mayor, an historic square perfect for a stroll and a bit of easy sightseeing (and people-watching). You’ll enjoy the area even if you simply grab a coffee at one of the many cafés and revel in the ancient spirit of the city.
If you get hooked on all the Madrileños have to offer, you can always go back and see more, like the mercados (San Miguel, Maravillas, and Ribera de Cortidores), plenty more museums, and a whole city’s worth of delicious eats you could never enjoy all in one weekend. But at least as a beginning to your itinerary, focus on the above for an incredible time in Madrid.