48 Hours in Madrid

An insider's guide to the Spanish capital

Words by Emma Tiernan
April 6th, 2018

The Spanish capital has always been overshadowed by its more famous neighbour Barcelona, however, no other city feels more alive than Madrid. Known for its renowned art galleries, stunning architecture and killer nightlife, Madrid is one of the richest culinary capitals in Europe. This city really knows how to live, and as an insider, I’m going to share some of the places I have discovered throughout my time here that are worth a visit.

What to See

Madrid may be the third largest city in Europe but when you have been here for a while you realise just how walkable the city is. The majority of sights are all within walking distance from the city centre, Puerta del Sol, which also happens to be the geographical centre of Spain.

photo: Emma Tiernan
Puerto del Sol
photo: Emma Tiernan
Almudena Cathedral

Starting off in Sol, which is the busiest plaza in Madrid, you can walk down towards Plaza Mayor, a huge square always bustling with people. Outside the plaza, you will find Mercado San Miguel, a stunning glass building filled with food and drink stalls. San Miguel is a perfect spot to grab a quick bite or a drink later in the evening. From there it is only a short walk to the Almudena Cathedral and Crypts. Almudena is a relatively new building, only completed in 1993. Because of this, the Cathedral has a Neo-Gothic interior which is uniquely modern. The cathedral is right beside the Royal Palace, which is the official residence of the Spanish royal family.

photo: Travis Grossen
Royal Palace of Madrid
photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos
Temple of Debod

After wandering the grounds of the palace, make your way over to Parque de la Montana where you will find the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod (it was a gift to Spain from the Egyptians and rebuilt in Madrid). The park also has great views overlooking the city.

For the last leg of the journey, walk towards Plaza de Espana and up to Gran Via which is the main shopping street in Madrid.

Another unmissable sight is Buen Retiro Park. As one of the largest parks in the city, walking around here is one of my favourite things to do. It’s a great place to escape from the city and has plenty of ‘instagramable’ locations dotted throughout.

The main entrance of the park is located in the Salamanca district, where you will see Puerta de Alcala. This arch is considered the first post-Roman triumphal arch built in Europe and is older than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Buen Retiro Park


Madrid is home to numerous museums, including three of the largest in Europe. An insider’s tip: unless you like spending the entire day at a museum you can get free entry into most of the museums in Madrid at certain times each day. This is normally two or three hours before they close but make sure to check their respective websites for more information.

The three major art museums are Reina Sofia, Museo del Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. If you only have time for one then I would recommend the Reina Sofia which holds works of some of Spain’s most famous painters such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Pablo Picasso - Guernica in Reina Sofia

Where to Eat

Brunch & Lunch

Carmencita Bar – First up is the most popular place for brunch, Carmencita Bar. Offering up stable brunch favourites such as Eggs Benedict and French toast, it is easy to see why this restaurant has become a go-to. However, my favourite part of brunch here is the €1 mimosas- yes, you read that correctly, €1! Not to mention they are very generous with the champagne. Note that since it is the most popular place for brunch, you should book in advance. You can book straight from their website so no need to call and try to make one in Spanish. They also do brunch throughout the week, so you won’t miss out if you are not here over the weekend.

Calle San Vicente Ferrer, 51, 28015

Federal Café – Another popular destination, this Australian café has a great selection of brunch dishes. Here you have to option to sit outside in a lovely little plaza so it is perfect if you visit in good weather.

Plaza de las Comendadoras, 9, 28015 | Plaza del Conde de Barajas, 3, 28005

photo: Emma Tiernan
Federal Café
photo: Emma Tiernan
Federal Café

Celicoso – A gluten-free restaurant and bakery that is perfect for both brunch and lunch. If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat grab one of their coffees and a cupcake but if you’ve got the time, I highly recommend coming here for lunch. They also offer plenty of vegan options too.

Calle de Hortaleza, 3, 28004 | Calle del Barquillo, 19, 28004


Lateral – If you’re looking for traditional tapas then Lateral is not to be missed. Thankfully, they have numerous different locations throughout the city. Their patatas bravas are the best but I would also suggest trying the salmon avocado tartar and the vegetable tempura.

Plaza Sta. Ana, 12, 28012 | Calle de Fuencarral, 43, 28004 | Calle de Velázquez, 57, 28001

Yokaloka – I’ve had difficulties finding great sushi in Spain but stumbled upon Yokaloka and the sushi is simply amazing. Yokaloka is located in one of the traditional Spanish markets, which is definitely worth the experience. It opens for dinner at 7:30 pm but I would advise getting here early as locals start to arrive after 8 pm, and it can fill up pretty quickly.

Mercado de Antón Martín, Calle de Santa Isabel, 5, 28012

Lamucca de Prado – Again, a tapas restaurant but when in Spain, right? Lamucca is a chain of restaurants dotted around Madrid with a wide selection of dishes. Lamucca de Prado and La Carmen both have a great atmosphere, making them my favourites to visit.

Calle del Prado, 16, 28014 | Plaza del Carmen, 5, 28013

Where to Drink


Acquolina – The best discovery I have made in Madrid is definitely this coffee shop. The coffee is good but it’s the cakes you stay for which I have to say are the best cakes I’ve had in a long while. The cake menu is updated with new flavours daily but I would recommend the Oreo cake (it’s almost always there) or one of their cheesecakes. At €3 a slice, you really can’t go wrong.

Calle de Velarde, 17, 28004

Toma – Toma is a coffee shop in the hip neighbourhood of Malasaña. Having been the first coffee shop in Madrid to start doing specialty coffee, it is no secret among coffee lovers. The coffee here is fantastic and definitely worth your time if you are strolling through.

Calle de la Palma, 49, 28004


HanSo – Another coffee shop in Malasaña, that is worth visiting is definitely HanSo. The coffee is great and it’s a perfect place to grab a light breakfast or lunch.

Calle del Pez, 20, 28004

Cocktails & Beer

Chinaski Lavapies – Located in the Lavapies area of Madrid (which is a great area for a night out) is Chinaski, a craft beer bar with a wide array of various beers to offer. If you are a beer lover, then this is the place for you!

Calle de la Fe, 19, 28012

Circulo de Bellas Artes – Not just a cocktail bar, the rooftop of this arts and cultural centre has the best views overlooking Madrid. There is a €4 entrance fee to access the roof but the view is worth it!

Calle de Alcalá, 42, 28014


Madrid is a very fashionable city; Spain is, after all, home to some of the biggest brands such as Balenciaga, Paco Rabanne, Zara and Mango. There is something for everyone’s taste, be that high street stores, designer shops or local boutiques, Madrid has it all.

Gran Via

Salamanca District – You may be tempted to stay around Gran Via and shop, but it is the busiest street in all of Madrid so instead, I would suggest going up to the Salamanca District. It is currently the most sought-after area to live in and it is easy to see why. Salamanca has beautiful architecture, great restaurants and is away from all the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Salamanca has a street known as “Fashion’s Golden Mile” where you will find all the designer and high street stores. The stores are also much quieter, making it easier to shop. Stick to the streets Calle Serrano (the Golden Mile), Claudio Coello, Calle Lagasca and Calle Hermosilla.

Malasaña District – One of my favourite areas in Madrid, Malasaña is a mecca for trendy boutiques and vintage stores. This is one area not to be missed when visiting Madrid.

Chueca District – Another young and trendy part of Madrid, Chueca is right next to Malasaña and is another great spot for boutique shopping. One of my favourite streets is Calle del Barquillo, the same street Celicioso is on!

You can find more from Emma at instagram.com/emma_tiernan.