Two Nights in Madrid: Visiting the Spanish Capital
Only have two nights in Madrid? Don’t worry, I did too, and I promise you’ll have enough time to see most of the sights and explore as much as you can during your short time there! Madrid was the first stop on my recent Spanish interrailing adventure with my sister, where we took in the beautiful cities of Barcelona and Valencia too, and what better place to begin than the beautiful capital city? From the lively squares of Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol to the Royal Palace and the Temple of Debod, there’s so much to see and do that you’ll want to return again and again. Here’s what we got up to during our two nights in Madrid, and some top tips for making the most of your visit there too.
Visit The Royal Palace
One of the cities most famous attractions, the Royal Palace of Madrid should be the first thing you tick off your list during your two nights in Madrid. The palace is the official residence of the Spanish royal family and was built back in 1735. With over 3400 rooms and one million square feet of floor space inside, it’s the largest functioning royal palace in Europe. Today, both the palace and gardens are open to the public during certain times and are certainly worth a visit. My sister and I kickstarted our two nights in Madrid by wandering around the gardens and admiring the palace’s extraordinary architecture from the outside. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go inside and do a tour as they only ran at certain times of the day, but we climbed the rooftop of the cathedral opposite to get a good birds eye view of the palace and its forecourt. We did manage to watch the Changing of the Guard though, which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday at 11am.
TOP TIP: If you’re an EU citizen, admission to the palace is free Mon-Fri 4pm-6pm from Oct-Mar and Mon-Fri 6pm-8pm from Apr-Sept. Quick, make the most of it before Brexit happens guys 😉
Chill out in El Retiro Park
This was one of my favourite spots of Madrid because my sister and I stumbled upon it purely by chance whilst we were out wandering around the city on our first day. Located off the Gran Via, the main shopping district, El Retiro Park is a gorgeous green space stretching over 125 hectares with flowers, trees and plenty of places to sit and watch the world go by. There are small bars and cafes selling snacks, lunches, drinks and ice creams, as well as a gorgeous blue lake where you can rent a paddle boat and row across the water. The park is huge and is also home to Palacio de Cristal, a glass palace overlooking a huge pond filled with hundreds of tiny terrapins, and the Teatro de Titeres, the only theatre in Europe that puts on puppet shows every weekend! We walked a lot on our first day and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream and a mini siesta in the sunshine at El Retiro Park, but we could have easily spent longer there as it was such a beautiful place and didn’t feel too touristy either.
Soak up ancient history at The Temple of Debod
I am an absolute sucker for ancient history, particularly anything to do with Greek or Egyptian stuff, so when I found out that Madrid was home to an second century Egyptian temple I just HAD to go and check it out! Built waaaay back in 200 BC, the Temple of Debod was under threat in Egypt many moons later in 1960 due to the construction of the Aswan Dam. When Spain stepped into help with saving this and the nearby Abu Simbel temples, the Egyptian state donated Debod to the country in 1968. The temple was dismantled and flown over to Madrid, then rebuilt in Parque del Oeste, right near the Royal Palace. Since 1972, the modified Temple of Debod has been open to the public; entrance is free, but make sure you’re prepared to queue as only a small number of visitors are allowed in at a time. It really is a fascinating temple, with hieroglyphics and ancient markings carved into the walls, and it’s one of the few ancient pieces of Egyptian architecture that you can see outside of Egypt.
Explore the many cathedrals
The capital of Spain has GOT to have it’s fair share of cathedrals, right? Correct! There are plenty of churches and cathedrals to see during your two nights in Madrid, with some of the most stunning architecture and gothic style features. We made our way over to the Church of San Francisco, which was unfortunately closed when we got there but the gorgeous rose garden behind it was well worth a visit, with pretty views over to the city in the distance. We also visited the Crypt at Almudena Cathedral, a Neo-Romanesque church built below the ground that houses hundreds of ancient tombs as well as a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena. The star of the show however has to be the beautiful Almudena Cathedral itself, located right opposite the Royal Place of Madrid. Construction began back in 1879 but was not completed until 1993, the same year it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II. Nowadays, the cathedral is arguably one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, and you can climb the staircase to the rooftop for breath-taking panoramic views across the city below, and visit the onsite museum too.
Go shopping along the Gran Via
Likened to London’s West End, I enjoyed the Gran Via way more than I thought I would and actually loved strolling along it each day when we were getting around the city walking to and from our hotel. With gothic style buildings and designer stores lining the streets, the Gran Via was super lively both during the day and at night too. There were a handful of casinos and nightclubs as well as grand theatres showing amazing West End and Broadway shows like Anastasia the Musical, Ghost and The Lion King, making the Gran Via a fantastic entertainment district for locals and tourists alike. The Gran Via is absolutely buzzing at any time of day, and is the beating heart of the city, especially after dark when everything is lit up and it becomes a real hub with everything staying open until the early hours. You certainly won’t be short of things to see and do during your two nights in Madrid if you base yourself close to the Gran Via!
Where to eat
I suppose the bad thing about only having two nights in Madrid is that you can only try a handful of restaurants during your short stay, which is super annoying given that the foodie scene in the city is AMAZING! On our first night we ate at an authentic tapas restaurant just off the Gran Via and indulged in allll the patatas bravas, cheese and chorizo washed down with sangria. On night two we headed to Puerta del Sol to a tiny Italian restaurant just off the main square and ate up some delicious pasta. For lunches we did the classic supermarket food ‘picnic’ as we were out exploring all day everyday and were happy to just eat on the go so we could splurge in the evenings, but there were tonnes of cool places to stop for lunch too. The colourful Plaza Mayor, pictured above, also looked like a fantastic place to eat out as it was lined with tonnes of restaurants, but it looked quite a lot pricier than some of the other nearby restaurants. For something a little different, check out Mercado San Miguel, a covered market with bars and mini cafe’s serving every kind of Spanish food and drink you can think of, located a 5min walk from Plaza Mayor.
Where to stay
During our two nights in Madrid we stayed at the Hotel Madrid Plaza Espana by Melia, a stylish hotel right on the Gran Via, at the heart of the city. After taking the metro from the airport (tubes run every 5 mins from 6am-2am at either T2 or T4 and cost 3EUR per journey plus a small 2EUR airport supplement) we got off at the Plaza de Espana stop and our hotel was literally opposite, just a 10 second walk away. The hotel was in the perfect location for exploring all that Madrid had to offer and we walked absolutely everywhere, only using the metro on our last day to get us over to the train station. Our room was huge with spacious beds and modern bathrooms, and the view from our window wasn’t bad either! Make sure you ask for a room on one of the higher floors to get views like this too. There were other Melia hotels to choose from in Madrid, as well as Eurostars properties too, but we had a fantastic say at our Plaza Espana Melia and I would definitely stay here again if I ever came back to Madrid.
Although two nights in Madrid was enough time to tick off pretty much everything that we wanted to, there was so much going on that you could easily spend another day or two wandering around the city and discovering even more. Madrid is a charming place and we fell in love with the foodie scene, the ancient landmarks, the gorgeous green spaces (v unusual in a city as large as Madrid), and the great nightlife. Have you ever spent two nights in Madrid (or longer) before? I’d love to know what you thought of it too!
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