Architectural Photography of a White Castle

Best Things to Do in Madrid: 4 Day Itinerary


My interest in visiting Madrid was inspired by a very close friend who has made the city her home. She always spoke of Madrid as the exciting heart of Spain, and I noticed that the city seemed to have heightened her already joyful spirit. What was initially meant to be a one-year, temporary stay for her, turned into three! I had to go and see for myself what exactly it was about Madrid that made one of my best friends delay coming back home to us. After just four days there, I quickly understood why Madrid had such a profound impact on her. I really couldn’t find any more reasons to bother her about not coming back home, because she had definitely leveled up by moving to Madrid. One of the best things about this trip was discovering all the free things to do in Madrid!

In this blog, I’ll get into the reasons to add Madrid to your travel bucket list. I’ll also share tips on how to make the most of your experience while you’re there! If you’d like a digital itinerary on the go, be sure to check out my free digital travel plan.

Templo de Debod (Temple of Debod)
Catedral de Segovia (Segovia Cathedral)
Why Madrid?

With its interesting history, lively culture, and dynamic energy, Madrid offers exceptional experiences, including free things to do. From world-class museums and historic sites, to exciting markets and streets, Madrid has something for everyone. Whether you’re into history, art, food, or adventure, this city has a lot to offer! Here are 4 key themes to consider when deciding if Madrid is worth visiting:

Madrid is Spain’s capital city and it combines a thousand years of history with a lively and modern vibe. This city has witnessed the rise and fall of empires, resulting in impressive architecture, historic sites, and a strong cultural heritage. While I was there, I loved admiring the monumental buildings in the city. I mean, I visited a single site (Plaza de Cibeles) at least 3 times because I simply couldn’t get over how incredible it looked. So, if you’re a fan of extraordinary landmarks, you’ll certainly be impressed during your visit.

If you’re visiting in the summer, this is a time when the city becomes a hot spot for festivals. I attended the San Isidro Festival while I was there, and the energy was phenomenal. Picture this: incredible food, lively music, and an exciting atmosphere, all complemented by the city’s rich culture. Attending on my first evening in Madrid made it the perfect introduction to my trip. It certainly set the tone for an unforgettable experience.

Madrid is famous for its tapas culture. These are small, flavorful appetizers or snacks that are often served with drinks. You can find various tapas bars while you’re in the city. To get the best of the best, be sure to ask locals to guide you to the city’s gems. Beyond its tapas culture, when it comes to food, the Spaniards take things seriously! Whether you’re savoring a Cochinillo Asado (Suckling Pig) or enjoying a simple Churros con Chocolate treat, the food scene in Madrid is a testament to its rich and diverse culture.

The nightlife scene in Madrid cannot be underestimated. Once the sun sets, the party begins with people out throughout the night and until the early morning. Although I’ve distanced myself from nightlife in recent years, I made an exception on this trip. Therefore, I decided to accompany my friend for a night out. After all, I was here to visit, and I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her. Coming from a place with a 2am curfew like Canada, it was interesting to witness the streets and nighttime establishments of Madrid being lively until 5am. It reminded me of home (Nigeria). Not only do the Spaniards know how to have a good time, but they are also great at making sure that the people they’re with feel welcomed and fully a part of the party! 

Madrid isn’t just a destination. It’s a multifaceted city that promises unforgettable memories for every kind of traveler.

Know Before You Go
Best Time To Visit

Madrid has a Mediterranean climate, which means hot summers and mild winters. The best time to visit depends on your preferences. Spring (April to June) and fall (September to October) are ideal for pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Summer (June to August) is perfect for those who love warm weather and outdoor activities. On the other hand, winter (December to March) offers a quieter experience with cooler temperatures.


The city has an efficient public transportation system, including buses, trams, and an extensive metro network. Taxis are readily available, and rideshare services like Uber are also an option. Consider getting a Public Transport Card (TTP) for convenient access to public transportation. To gauge the pricing, 10 ride passes including the purchase of the card, are usually under 20 euros.


Madrid is generally safe for travelers. Throughout my visit, at no point did I feel unsafe in the city. However, remember to exercise common-sense precautions to ensure a trouble-free visit. This includes safeguarding your belongings and being aware of your surroundings. One common oversight to avoid is leaving your cell phones unattended on restaurant tables or in open pockets. A solution that I’d recommend is wearing a zipped fanny pack across your chest during your visit. 

Current and Money Matter

The currency used in Madrid is the Euro (EUR). ATMs are widely available, and credit cards are accepted at most establishments. It’s a good idea to notify your bank of your travel plans to avoid any issues with card usage abroad. I made the mistake of forgetting to do this, and ran into troubles when it was time to pay for my hotel. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, so definitely try to avoid this hiccup on your trip.

Packing Tips

In addition to everything you’d normally pack when you travel, here are key things to keep in mind:

  • Pack comfortable walking shoes! You’ll likely do a lot of exploring on foot especially considering that Madrid is quite walkable.
  • Don’t forget a power adapter if you’re bringing electronic devices, as Spain uses Type C and Type F electrical outlets. 
  • Consider packing layers for variable weather and a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.
Top Attractions and Things To Do
Parque del Retiro (El Retiro Park)

Escape the city’s busy energy by visiting Parque del Retiro. This park offers a peaceful environment with a lake, greenery, and historic monuments. Here you can enjoy leisurely walks, boat rides, and relaxation in the heart of Madrid. It’s also the perfect place to have a lunch picnic with friends and family, or to simply sit in the open area and enjoy reading a book. What I loved about this park is that they have curated various spaces for anyone to simply sit with nature, and enjoy a beautiful day out.

Tip: Be sure to book your boat ride in advance, and you can book here. Also, while I didn’t personally encounter the need, local advice suggests that the park cafes are the best places for restroom facilities. It’s also recommended to have your own toilet paper with you.

Parque del Retiro (El Retiro Park)
Palacio De Cristal (Glass Palace)

This glass palace in Retiro Park combines the beauty of the park with modern creativity, and it’s simply breathtaking from the moment you step into the building. Here, you’ll find stunning art installations and exhibits. With its beauty, it’s no surprise that this is a popular spot for pre-wedding photoshoots and wedding ceremonies.

Palacio de Cristal (The Glass Palace)
Plaza de Cibeles

Plaza de Cibeles is a historic palace turned cultural center. Here, you can get into exhibitions, events, and a rooftop with stunning city views, all within a historic setting.  At night the palace is beautifully illuminated and lit up so if you happen to be in the area at that time of the day, definitely stop by. Throughout my stay in Madrid, I intentionally walked by this Plaza at least three times, simply because I was so fascinated by it. When you see it for yourself, I’ll let you decide if it’s worth three visits, or if I was simply being dramatic. 

Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid)

Visiting the Royal Palace of Madrid means you get to experience the grandeur of one of Europe’s largest palaces. This palace was everything that you would expect royalty to be. Looking at the beautifully designed gardens and the stunning craftsmanship of the palace’s exterior, I definitely felt like I was admiring a regal masterpiece. Unfortunately, the palace wasn’t open to visitors on the day that I went; however, normally you will be able to go in and see the luxurious rooms, historical chambers, and the Throne Room, all of which allow you to learn more about Spain’s royal history.

Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace of Madrid)
Catedral de la Almudena (The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Royal Almudena)

In the heart of Madrid is this stunning Cathedral. It is known to have been consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993. One of its notable features is the crypt, the final resting place of many Spanish royals. The building itself is quite unique with a Neo-Gothic exterior, complemented by a light filled interior as well as a bright aesthetic.

Gran Vía

Madrid’s famous street, Gran Vía has a lively atmosphere to say the least. Here, you’ll find some of the most well-known fashion brands, such as Primark, Zara, Stradivarius, Bershka and many more. Coming from Canada, where in-person access to most of these favorites is not an option, I had to go on a shopping spree to make sure I took advantage of the opportunity. There are also many places to dine, watch a show, and simply enjoy the city’s energetic feel. However, it’s important to note that during peak periods (all day on weekends and after 4pm on weekdays), the streets of Gran Vía will be very crowded, which can be unpleasant especially with warmer temperatures. The quietest times to shop are on weekdays before noon.

Gran Vía
Plaza Mayor (Town Square)

Plaza Mayor is an attractive square with charming arcades and a statue of Philip III. You can enjoy café culture, shopping, and street performances in this central spot. Being here was a reminder that Madrid is definitely a city that values social interactions and shared experiences.

Templo De Debod (Temple of Debod)

This unique attraction is a temple in Parque de la Montaña that has lovely surroundings and a beautiful sunset view. It may not match the grandeur of Egypt’s iconic temples, but it’s still a lovely place to visit in Madrid.

Day Trip to Segovia

While this isn’t free, it’s a great idea to escape Madrid for a day and visit Segovia. You can explore its UNESCO-listed aqueduct, fairy-tale castle, and charming old town. You can also enjoy its history, scenic streets, and local cuisine at various restaurants in the small town. For a bonus experience, try Cochinillo de Segovia (Segovia suckling pig) at any of their local restaurants. It’s definitely not for everyone (myself included) but it’s something you need to try for yourself.  

Acueducto de Segovia (Aqueduct of Segovia)

The opportunities to make memories in Madrid are abundant. Here is a list of more experiences and activities, as well as guided tours in Madrid.

Detailed Day-to-Day Itinerary
Day One
  1. El Retiro Park: Start the day at Retiro Park. There are several things to keep an eye out for while you’re here, so here’s a summary so you don’t miss any:
    • Lago del Retiro – A famous artificial lake in the middle of the park. You can rent a paddle boat here, or simply sit on the stairs and enjoy the view and surroundings. This is where you will also find Monumento a Alfonso XII.
    • Palacio de Velázquez – This is part of the Reina Sofia Museum in the park, and it houses contemporary exhibitions. If you’re into art, you’ll be interested in stopping by the palace.
    • Palacio de Cristal – The glass palace is one of the most popular attractions in the park and it houses contemporary art exhibitions. Depending on when you go, there might be a small queue to enter.
    • Jardines de Ceclio Rodriguez – This was my favorite spot in the park because it isn’t just your average garden. In addition to the beautiful greenery, here, you’ll find lots of peacocks walking around. 
    • La Rosaleda – This famous garden holds over 400 roses, so I’m sure you can already imagine how stunning it is here. 
  2. Puerta de Alcala: As you leave the park, be sure to stop by this gigantic granite door that you definitely can’t miss. It’s only about a 5 minute walk from the park and it’s a great spot for a photo-op if you don’t mind posing in front of all the passing cars, because it’s definitely a busy area.
  3. Plaza de Cibeles: While you’re in the area, it’ll be worthwhile to visit Plaza de Cibeles, which is a 7 minute walk from Puerta de Alcala. 
Palacio de Cristal (Glass Palace)
Monumento a Alfonso XI
Jardines de Ceclio Rodriguez (Cecilio Rodríguez Garden)
Day Two
  1. Plaza Mayor: Explore the traditional shops, Casa de la Casa de la Panadería, and Casa de la Carnicería. You’ll also find many cafes, bars and restaurants in the area. For a unique experience, take a 2 minute walk to Chocolatería San Ginés. This is known to be most famous churro bar in the city. I can’t say for sure that they have the best churros in the city seeing as I only tried 3 locations. However, out of those three, Chocolatería San Gines was definitely my favorite! Not just for the food but also the dining experience. It’s beautifully designed with a vintage-inspired interior. We all love an aesthetic establishment, which is a bonus reason to visit! 
  2. Catedral de la Almudena: This famous Cathedral is only a 9 minute walk from Plaza Mayor, so this is definitely a good opportunity to get your steps in! Just like every other building in Madrid, the architecture is simply stunning. It certainly stands as a testament to the city’s rich cultural history.
  3. Royal Palace: When you’re done visiting Catedral de Almudena, head over to The Royal Palace of Madrid, which is located right across Catedral de la Almudena.
Plaza Mayor (Town Square)
Catedral de la Almudena

With all these stops conveniently located close to each other, day two becomes an effortlessly cost-friendly exploration. This will allow you to cover quite a bit of ground on foot. Being in Europe is all about taking the 10,000 steps you normally wouldn’t take at home, so I definitely didn’t mind getting a little exercise in for the day!

Chocolatería San Ginés
Chocolatería San Ginés
Day Three
  1. Gran Vía – Explore the shopping scene at Gran Vía and visit some of the most well known fashion brands.
  2. Templo de Debod – After spending whatever your conscience allows you to in the streets of Gran Vía, visit Templo de Debod. It’s a 12 minute drive from Gran Vía, or about 20 minutes if you’re taking the metro.
Templo de Debod
Templo de Debod
Day Four
  1. Segovia day trip: The fastest way to get to Segovia is by the high speed train (the AVE). It’s a 30 minute ride and costs about 12 euros per person. Though Segovia may seem small, there’s plenty to see and do. Here’s how I squeezed the most out of my day:
    • Morning Departure: I suggest leaving Madrid around 9am or earlier. I personally grabbed breakfast on the go, and trust me, the AVE trains are so comfortable that having a freshly baked croissant while enjoying the view was pure bliss.
    • Iglesia de San Millan: When you get off the bus in Segovia, this is the first major landmark that you will see. It’s a church with a spectacular interior, so it’s worth going in to take a look.
    • The Aqueduct: I really don’t know how to describe this structure in a way that properly depicts how incredible it is. You’ll begin to see it from afar and as you get closer, it just gets better. Other than simply walking around it, for an even better view you can climb the stairs leading to the old part of the city.
    • Catedral de Segovia: This was one of the most unique Cathedral exteriors that I have ever seen. It’s Segovia’s main Cathedral and it’s located in the main square of the city. You can pay to go in to see the interior, or you can simply walk around the property and admire its architecture.
    • The Alcázar & The Nearby Park: A medieval fortress turned royal castle located in the heart of the city, Alcázar de Segovia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been home to 22 kings and many other notable historical figures. It was originally built by the Berber Almoravid Dynasty. Also, it’s often seen as a physical representation of the blend of Islamic and Spanish Gothic architecture. Make sure to book your tickets in advance as slots do visit fill up quickly! There is a trail you can take from the front of the Alcázar that leads down to the park below. From here, you can get a full view of the castle. I’d highly recommend this spot for taking photos away from other tourists.
    • Dinner: Return to the main square for dinner. If you’re usually curious about unique local cuisines when you travel, I would recommend that you try the town’s famous suckling pig. Unfortunately I do not remember the specific restaurant that I went to, however most of the restaurants there have it on their menu.
Iglesia De San Milan
Catedral de Segovia
Accommodation Recommendations
Where I Stayed In Madrid

Hotel Name: Room Mate Macarena – Gran Via Hotel

I wanted to be in the city center district of Madrid, which is why I stayed at Room Mate Macarena. The location is incredibly convenient, with not one but two metro stations just a 5-10 minute walk away in opposite directions from the property. Plus, you’ll find lots of restaurants and stores in the area. As I mentioned earlier, Gran Vía is the street with all the action in Madrid. This hotel is also no more than a 20 minute drive to all the main attractions in the city.

Despite being a 3-star hotel, Room Mate Macarena exceeded my expectations. This was mainly because of its incredible customer service, comfortable rooms, and beautifully designed common areas. The highlight of this hotel is the terrace that gives an incredible view of the city, especially during the hours of sunset. I was working remotely during this trip, and was able to use their lovely common area to get some work done during working hours.

One thing to take note of is that just like many European hotels, the standard room is quite small. I learned this firsthand when I initially booked a room without paying attention to its measurements. It honestly felt like while laying down in bed, I could stretch my hands to touch the bathroom door. I’m not exaggerating. Fortunately, I was able to upgrade to a larger room because for me, hotel comfort is a top priority. Needless to say that before you proceed with your booking, be sure to look at the specific measurement of the room and confirm that it’s something that you’ll be okay with.

Final Thoughts

From the iconic landmarks and world-class monuments, to the lively streets and energy of the city, this Spanish capital gave me an unforgettable experience. Honestly, if I were in my friend’s shoes, I wouldn’t want to come back home either! So, whether you’re looking for a short trip or an extended visit, Madrid will leave you with incredible memories that’ll keep you wanting to return. If you do plan on visiting Madrid, I hope you’ve found this blog resourceful. Feel free to share this with your friends, family and social media networks. 

¡Hasta la próxima vez!