Exploring the city centre of Madrid in one day

When people visit Madrid, many wonder what to do first, since there are so many things to see in Spain’s capital. It is particularly hard to decide what to do when we do not have much time to spend in the city. This is why today we bring you a simple, comfortable guide to explore the city centre of Madrid without worries. This way, you can make the most of your time in Madrid and enjoy the best its city centre has to offer. Here we go!

A morning of wandering through temples

We suggest starting up the day by visiting Plaza de España. Its last restoration works made it more attractive for pedestrians, hence it has become a space for leisure. Despite all the changes the square has undergone, the Monument to Miguel de Cervantes stands out there just as it did before.  

The Royal Palace of Madrid and its beautiful gardens

The Sabatini Gardens

The Sabatini Gardens. | Shutterstock

The next stop on our route around the city centre of Madrid would be the Sabatini Gardens. They were designed in the 1930s, following a classicist architectural style, and they make up one of the most beautiful sceneries of Habsburg Madrid. The gardens spread on the site where the old stables designed by Sabatini used to be. 

The Sabatini Gardens are known to embellish and complement Madrid’s Royal Palace. In fact, some of the sculptures that were supposed to decorate the latter can now be spotted scattered throughout the gardens. If you want to enjoy the green side of Madrid for a little longer, you can keep walking until you reach the city’s river: the Manzanares. Once there, we suggest visiting the gardens of Campo del Moro. They spread for more than 20 hectares and they are considered a historic-artistic monument. 

The Royal Palace of Madrid

The Royal Palace of Madrid. | Shutterstock

The history of the Royal Palace goes back in time to a period where Madrid was called Mayrit and it was still under Arab reign. Indeed, this is where they built the first fortress watching over Madrid’s mountain range. Over time, it evolved to become the great alcazar it used to be in the mid-18th century. However, a fire would completely destroy it, and it was then that King Felipe V made his architects build the current palace. Nowadays, it is a must-see for anyone visiting Madrid, no matter how much time they have. And its interior is really worth visiting too. 

The Almudena Cathedral

The beautiful Almudena Cathedral

The beautiful Almudena Cathedral. | Shutterstock

We suggest walking into the Almudena Cathedral as well. This building should be admired from all perspectives, and there are few sights in Madrid that overcome the picture we get from the road of La Vega. From there, the cathedral’s greatness can be admired in all its glory. It probably seems older, but the original church was first designed in 1879. Six years later, thanks to a papal bull, the project changed directions and headed towards the cathedral we know today. Its construction finished in 1993. 

Other temples in Madrid

Another spectacular temple, which happens to be less popular than the Almudena Cathedral, is the basilica of San Francisco el Grande. Its architectural style has beautiful Neoclassical tints, and we can blame the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini for them, since he finished the last works on the basilica in the 18th century. Besides, the interior of the basilica keeps works by renowned artists like Goya and Zurbarán. Its dome is the largest one in Spain and the fourth largest in Europe, only after the dome of San Pedro and the Pantheon, both of them in Rome, and Brunelleschi’s dome in the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, this one in Florence.

If you still wish to visit more temples, you can always go see the church of San Andrés Apóstol, which is one of the oldest ones in Madrid. Another old building that might not be sacred, but it can certainly provide a divine experience, is the market of San Miguel. It is more than a hundred years old and it provides a rich insight into the gastronomy of the capital of Spain. We suggest eating there if you have the chance.

The city centre of Madrid: a pleasant afternoon walk

Madrid’s most important squares: Playa Mayor, Sol and Callao

Aerial view of Madrid's Plaza Mayor

Aerial view of Madrid’s Plaza Mayor. | Shutterstock

After we lunch, it is always nice to sit down with a cup of coffee in the terraces of the Plaza Mayor. If you have not eaten yet, you can also grab the most typical sandwich of Madrid, the bocadillo de calamares, and enjoy it under the sun that usually caresses this square. After that, we will have to walk a little until we reach Puerta del Sol, one of the most emblematic squares in Madrid; and then head to Callao, which is equally emblematic, and only a few minutes away. 

The most popular streets in Madrid: Gran Vía and Prado

The fountain of Cibeles and the city hall

The fountain of Cibeles and the city hall. | Shutterstock

The square of Callao is right next to the Gran Vía, the backbone of Madrid connecting its most important landmarks. We can either stay there for a while and go shopping or keep walking until we reach the fountain of Cibeles. We will find the Círculo de Bellas Artes on our way, with its impressive rooftop and restaurants, perfect for grabbing a drink or a snack and enjoying Madrid from above. 

After we fall in love with Cibeles, we will take down the boulevard known as Paseo del Prado and head to another stunning fountain: the fountain of Neptune. This is one of the most beautiful sites of Madrid, and you will be able to enjoy a delightful walk surrounded by majestic buildings. However, you will probably be tired by now, and it is time to make a decision. You can either head to Barrio de las Letras, a charming neighbourhood with lots of history and many traces from the artists who inhabited it, or visit one of the museums we can find in this boulevard: the Thyssen, the Reina Sofía, or the Prado Museum. It would also be nice to enjoy the park of El Retiro and see the colours of the sky fading on its lakes as the sun sets over Madrid.   

The sunsets of Madrid

The sun setting over the Almudena Cathedral

The sun setting over the Almudena Cathedral. | Shutterstock

We could also go back to where we started and enjoy the sunset from a historical point of view. The Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral witness the sun sinking on the horizon every night, as the sky shines with bright shades and, little by little, one begins to understand why people say “de Madrid al cielo”.  

You can also read this article in the Feeling Madrid page of the Community of Madrid.

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