24 hours in Madrid, Spain

Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid.
Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid.

What if you don’t have a week to experience the vibrant flavors and sights of one of Europe’s top travel destinations? Here are some of the best restaurants, hotels and shopping in Madrid, Spain, in case you’re only passing through for a day: 

9 a.m.: Wake and Bakery

A Mama Framboise outpost at Only You hotel in Madrid.

Luxury boutique hotel Only You, located in Madrid’s chill Chueca neighborhood, opened a brand-new Only You this fall near the Atocha metro station and Madrid’s cluster of museums known as the Golden Triangle of Art. Both hotels exude contemporary urban comfort, tucked inside thoughtfully restored 19th century buildings. Both also feature full-service bakeries off their lobbies, with an outpost of pastry chef Alejandro Montes’ beloved Mamá Framboise at the new property. Suites from $250.

10 a.m.: Treasure Hunt

El Rastro, one of Europe’s largest outdoor flea markets, takes over Calle de la Ribera and surrounding streets of Madrid’s La Latina neighborhood every Sunday and on national holidays. Some 3,500 vendors hawk everything from leather purses to traditional clothes to dog toys.

11 a.m.: Focus on Fashion

Shops along Salamanca.

When you’ve had your fill of Rastro’s frenzied flea-market finds, head to the Salamanca District for haute couture in a serene setting. The broad and ritzy streets that make up Madrid’s Golden Mile are lined with boutiques from international fashion houses like Chanel, Valentino, Bottega Veneta, Gucci, Etro, Louis Vuitton, Hermès and more.

Head south a few blocks toward Calle de Jorge Juan, where Spanish brands Pretty Ballerinas, Becara, bdba, If Shoes and others cater to locals as well as tourists.

1:30 p.m.: Lunch Like a Rock Star

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Salamanca also is home to the world’s best restaurant inside a department store. StreetXO, the casual offshoot of Spanish punk-rock chef David Muñoz’s three-Michelin-starred DiverXO, is on the top floor of El Corte Inglés. Ask for a seat at the kitchen counter and watch the chefs cook duck dumplings with dehydrated strawberry; tandoori lamb with Peruvian potatoes and truffles; and steamed pork buns topped with fried quail egg and Japanese shichimi spices. 

3 p.m.: Eye on Art

If you only have time for only one of Madrid’s marquee art museums, consider the Reina Sofía, currently celebrating its 25th year of showing mostly Spanish contemporary and modern art. The Reina Sofía flows through multiple floors and wings of a former hospital. Dalí and Miró are among the most notable artists in the collection. Picasso’s Guernica — with its violent stokes of white, gray and black — is the museum’s showstopper.

5:30 p.m.: Tapas to Tide You Over

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The historic Mercado de San Miguel, built in 1916 just off Madrid’s central Plaza Mayor, reopened several years ago as a destination food hall. More than two dozen kiosks sell all sorts of freshly prepared tapas for rarely more than a few euros. It’s the perfect place to get acquainted with jamón ibérico de bellota, Spain’s prized ham from acorn-fed pigs.

Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid.

8 p.m.: Drinking While Shopping

After freshening up in your room, head out for a predinner drink to … a grocery store? Yep. Mercado de San Antón features a fresh-produce market on its first floor, a number of tapas stands upstairs, and a rooftop bar and restaurant. Here’s your move: Enjoy a glass or two of cava upstairs, then venture downstairs to pick up some Spanish spices, chocolates and canned fish to take home for your foodie friends.

9:30 p.m.: No Menu, No Worries

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At La Tasquita de Enfrente, there is no set menu. Instead, if you’re fortunate enough to occupy one of Tasquita’s handful of tables, chef-owner Juanjo López Bedmar will cook for you. He sends out a progression of whatever he comes up with based on that day’s produce and catch: twists on Spanish classics like ensaladilla rusa to seasonal rarities like fried sea anemone and tiny, teardrop-shape peas that cost upward of $350 a pound.

Tasquita de Enfrente in Madrid, Spain. Photograph by David Morales.

Midnight: One for the Road

Tempranillo in Madrid.

Madrid’s La Latina neighborhood is loaded with tiny tapas bars that are a great place for a nightcap. El Tempranillo, true to name, serves an outstanding (and excellently priced) selection of Spanish wines. As with most tapas bars in Spain, you’ll get a generous plate of cured meats — here, roughly sliced chorizo — on the house when you order drinks. If you have room for more, don’t miss the cool foie gras over warm apple slices.