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24 Hours

24 Hours in Madrid

The city to experience from sun up to sun up.

Madrid isn’t a particularly old city — not by Spanish standards, anyway. Indeed, while civilization has occupied this site since prehistoric times, Madrid remained just a village until 1561, when the country’s capital moved from Toledo. 

These days, national pride runs strong in the city, making it the place to embrace all things especially Spanish. It’s where you’ll want to let your red-and-yellow flag fly as you adopt a lifestyle of staying up late and going out for tapas, the small plates often consumed in one bar after the next. A walkable city, Madrid is easy to tackle, and its locals couldn’t be more pleased to share it with you.


9 a.m.

Start your morning at ① Chocolatería San Ginés, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. At this 100-plus-year-old establishment, sample the country’s favorite late-night and early morning snack, thechurro: a fresh-from-the-fryer pastry best dipped in a steaming cup of thick hot chocolate.


9:30 a.m.

Next, head toward the city’s balcony-bordered main square, Plaza Mayor, before wandering farther west to Madrid’s ② Royal Palace. Arriving early brings the promise of a line-free entrance and a quick-and-easy stroll through the palace’s many lavish salons. Upon finishing, take in the exterior views of the Almudena Cathedral, where King Felipe married Queen Letizia in 2004.

Double back toward ③ Puerta del Sol, very much the urban center of the city and country, given that it marks the beginning (measurement-wise) of Spain’s radial freeways. From there, go north up the wide, pedestrian-filled Calle de Preciados, which will lead you to the city’s bustling east-west thoroughfare, ④ Gran Vía. Wander in either direction to admire early-20th-century Madrid architecture at its best, and then carry on north to ⑤ Calle de Fuencarral.

Madrid’s Palacio Real, or Royal Palace
FARBREGAS / SHUTTERSTOCK


12:00 p.m.

Pop into the various boutiques and internationally known shops along this smaller, car-free avenue or slither off into side streets to check out two of Madrid’s most eclectic neighborhoods: Malasaña to the west and Chueca to the east. Both of these barrios are home to hipsters and bohemian types, along with the fashionable shops, cafés and restaurants they frequent. 

The Crystal Palace in Retiro Park
ELOI_UMELLA / GETTY

From Fuencarral, turn right down Calle de Augusto Figueroa toward Chueca’s ⑥ Mercado de San Antón, a recently renovated market offering multiple floors of foodie bliss. To enjoy the full experience, purchase fresh meat or fish from within the market, and then have it prepared at the rooftop restaurant, La Cocina de San Antón.


3:30 p.m.

Walk off lunch while journeying down Paseo de Recoletos toward Plaza de Cibeles. If you’ve got time, enter the grand ⑦ Cibeles Palace to see its rotating exhibitions or simply catch some unsurpassable city views from the rooftop. 

Continue past one of Madrid’s most recognizable sights, Puerta de Alcalá, and on to the sprawling ⑧ Retiro Park. Crisscrossed by paths, dotted by sculptures and fountains, and home to the almost-all-glass Crystal Palace, Retiro is the perfect place to go on a walk or just take a breather on a bench.


5:30 p.m.

Once you’ve had your fill of the park,head back into the city center. Stop by the ⑨ Prado Museum (home to some of Europe’s finest paintings) or just keep trucking, passing CaixaForum’s wall garden on your way to Plaza de Santa Ana. There, you can break for a beverage and tapa at modern Spanish-cuisine hotspot Lateral before moving on to La Latina.


A traditional Basque country appetizer engages the appetite.
YULIYA GRIGORYEVA / SHUTTERSTOCK

8:00 p.m.

Though tapas-hopping opportunities abound in the Spanish capital, the La Latina neighborhood is Madrid’s unofficial headquarters for the national pastime. Try ⑪ Juana la Loca for a tasty selection ofpinchos (essentially tapas on toast), and then head to ⑫ Taberna los Huevos de Lucio for a serving of huevos estrellados (fried eggs served over a bed of French fries, and even topped with sausage, if you wish). Wash down each order with acaña (a small glass of beer), and your tapas experience will be complete.


MATEJ KASTELIC / SHUTTERSTOCK

11 p.m.

Grab the metro from La Latina and take it to the Gran Vía stop, where you’ll pop out just west of ⑬ Hotel De las Letras. You can settle in for some rest here, keep the evening going by grabbing a drink on the rooftop terrace, or do as the Spaniards do: head back out to drink, dance and chat until the break of dawn. That way, you can end your day right where you started — with a cup of hot chocolate and a side of churros. 

Erin Ridley is a freelance writer from San Francisco (USA) who has spent the last seven years living in Madrid. A new mom, she’s also co-founder of Our Whole Village, a company focused on cultural immersion via family travel.