There is so much one can do with 24 hours in Madrid. You can challenge yourself to eat as many churros as possible in one day and dub yourself the Churro Challenge Champion. You can also head to nearby Toledo so you can find a beautiful sword with which to track down the six-fingered man who slaughtered your father. But I think I have something even better in mind.
Come with me and we will spend a day looking at goth paintings, pretending to be Spanish royalty, and, of course, doing lots of eating and drinking. Spoiler Alert: We will drink at a bar where Hemingway drank. (PS. All of the bars in Spain when Hemingway was alive are bars where Hemingway drank.)
Morning: The Prado
Address: Paseo del Prado
Hours: 10-8 Every Day Except Closes at 7 on Sunday
Price: Your Firstborn Child. I mean 15 Euros.
Some cities, like London, are famous for more than one museum. But some cities have become synonymous with one major art museum, no matter how excellent the other options may be. When I say “Paris Museums”, you say “The Louvre”. When I say “NYC Museums”, you say “The Met”. And when I say “Stockholm Museums,” you say, “Stop quizzing me Travelerette! Get a real job!”
But when I say “Madrid Museums”, the only Pavlovian response can be “The Prado”. It used to the Royal Museum, it still looks like a palace, and it houses the finest collection of classical Spanish art you are likely to see. The Spanish royal family has followed in the time honored tradition of Very Rich and Classy People throughout history by funding many artists, most notably Goya and Velasquez. Lucky for us common folk, the Spanish royals are now nice enough to let us come and look at their shiny collection of art.
Sadly the Prado does not let you take even one picture inside the museum. Lucky for me, all the works I would want to show you are in the Public Domain and old PD doesn’t mind me borrowing a few of his pictures to share with y’all. So here are my:
approximately top five best paintings to see at the prado
1) Well, this work is extremely depressing and difficult to look at, and it’s in the Prado, so it must be by Goya. More specifically, it is El Tres de Mayo, by the renowned 19th century Spanish painter Goya. This work depicts the execution of Spanish patriots by the invading Napoleonic French soldiers in 1808. You can tell that the Spaniard in yellow pants is the good guy because he is bathed in golden light like an angel and that the French are the bad guys because they are hidden in the shadows and you can’t see their faces, as if they are some sort of Gallic dementors.
2) Next, Goya gets even darker, both literally and figuratively, with Saturn Devouring His Son. This is one of Goya’s famous Black Paintings, which makes me imagine that he spent a lot of this time in his life listening to Trent Reznor and wearing too much eyeliner. In fact, Goya painted this and his other Black Paintings directly on the walls of his house, which is one of the most terrifying things I can think of.
Can you imagine what it would be like to look at that painting of an evil god eating a baby all day? I could barely be in the room at the Prado that contains the Black Paintings without feeling like I was losing my mind a bit. Goya must have been made of sterner or crazier stuff than I am.
3) Now we move to a less neurotic Spanish court artist with Las Meninas by Velasquez. This is perhaps the most famous Spanish painting that has ever Spanished. It is the first painting people usually see when they study classical Spanish painting, and it was famously deconstructed by Picasso for his own Cubist Las Meninas.
I love the painting because, like all of my favorite things, it looks pretty and charming at first, but it is creepy and weird when you look at it more carefully. What is up with the dwarf? Who is the man lurking in the background? Why do we only see the Infanta’s parents through the mirror? If you have the answers to these questions, please email them to email@example.com
4) We come to the last of my favorite Spanish painters, El Greco. Of course, he was from Greece and not Spain, but he worked in Spain and his name is in Spanish, so I say he counts. This is his religious painting of Saint Andrew and Saint Francis. I love the abstract, angular quality of El Greco’s work. It feels so modern that it’s hard to believe he was painting in the 1500s.
5) It’s not all Spanish works at the Prado! Feast your eyes on the Garden of Earthly Delights by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. I love Bosch’s work because it’s so detailed. You can spend hours just trying to catch the little demons, sinners, and torture devices scattered all through his paintings. Come to think of it, it’s a shame Bosch and Goya never got to be friends. I bet they would have had a lot to talk about.
6) We’ve got one last Dutchy left with this work, Not Artemisia By Rembrandt. Okay, so it’s actual title is Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes, but I call it Not Artemisia because it was originally identified as a painting of a classical heroine named Artemisia who was mostly famous for…drinking the ashes of her husband. That doesn’t sound right. I’ve never been married, but if I was married and my husband told me he planned to drink my ashes after he died, I would probably have strong words to say about that.
Anyway, I want to know how they figured out that this was a painting of nice Jewish girl Judith and not Artemisia the Husband Drinker. Did Rembrandt’s ghost start haunting the Prado until the mystery was solved? That’s what I would do if I was a great artist and people were going around falsely accusing me of painting creepy Classical queens.
Travelerette Tip: I have two. The first is that you should buy your tickets online here because the line to get into the Prado without advance tickets is the worst. The second is that you should eat a big breakfast because the food inside the Prado is nothing to write home about, so we’re going to want to get a much better lunch elsewhere. We might not get to eat lunch until 1:30ish, so as Scar would say, be prepared!
Lunch: Bayres Beef
Address: Calle Espoz y Mina 22
Of course in Spain, you are going to want to eat Spanish food, and there are so many different kinds of Spanish treats to try that it is easy to not sample other types of cuisine. But why not at least branch out to the Spanish colonies? Unless you are vegetarian, you won’t regret the decision to check out Bayres Beef, an Argentinian meatery. I opted for the sirloin steak sandwich, which was served lean and toothsome on a warm baguette. The steak was as good as what you get in Argentina, and the staff is extremely friendly. This lunch will definitely tide you over until dinnertime.
Early Afternoon: Palacio Real de Madrid
Address: Calle de Bailén
Price: 11 Euros
Quick as a wink: name all the European countries that are still, at least technically speaking, monarchies! Here’s a hint: there are twelve of them. What do you think? I’ll give you ten seconds.
Time’s up! The answer is: Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, the Netherlands, the Vatican (where the Pope is king), Luxembourg, the UK of course, and Spain. And of course, since Spain has a monarchy, they need to have a palace in which to keep the monarchs. If you enjoy history, kings and queens, lots of gold leaf, portraits of royalty, and marble staircases, this palace is for you!
Travelerette Tip: Actually, the Palacio Real in Madrid is not actually where the Spanish royal family spends most of their time, but it is where the monarchs still sometimes host special occasions, so be sure to check in advance online to see if the palace will be closed for A Major Award.
Travelerette Treasure: Photography is not allowed inside the palace, except on the staircase. So you won’t be allowed to have mementos of your visit, unless you take a picture of this lion, who is a symbol of the House of Bourbon, which is the family of the current Spanish royal family. I like how he looks like he’s about to eat that poor tourist who is standing unsuspectingly right in front of his mouth.
Fun Fact: The current King of Spain is Felipe VI, the son of Juan Carlos I, who was made King of Spain after the death of General Franco. Juan Carlos was popular with many Spanish people because he helped turn Spain back into a democracy after its years of Fascism under Franco.
Juan Carlos is actually still alive, he just abdicated in favor of his son in 2014. So if you’re in Spain, you can still say “Hola” to Juan Carlos. I mean, you can’t because ex-kings don’t just go around saying “Hola” to random people from the Internet, but you could in theory and that’s what really matters.
Late Afternoon: Almudena Cathedral
Address: Calle de Bailén
Hours: 9-8:30, Museum Closes at 2:30
Price: Pay What You Wish
Madrid, like every other major traditionally Catholic city, has a giant and remarkable cathedral that should not be missed. Even though Madrid’s cathedral does not have the striking interiors of some other bishop seats, it is still worth paying a visit to for its images of saints, stained glass windows, and tiny beautiful hidden gems. It also could not be more convenient to visit right after the Palacio because the Cathedral is literally just across the street from the palace.
At first glance, the interior of the cathedral can seem rather plain. But that should just give you motivation to explore the church and find its hidden treasures. I especially like this image of this metallic Virgin Mary.
Between the metalwork, woodcarving, and painting, it’s mind boggling to imagine the technical skill that must have gone into creating her. But there are other marvels in the Cathedral, from stained glass, to flowers made entirely out of silver. You just have to be on the lookout for them!
Travelerette Treasure: As lovely as the Virgin Mary is, my favorite thing in the Cathedral was this semi-hidden ceiling painting. I love how it almost gives the illusion that you are looking from the cathedral straight up into the heavens and at the stars. After all, being in a cathedral should be an uplifting experience, shouldn’t it be?
Travelerette Tip: When you’re done with the Cathedral, you’ll have some time to kill before dinner. Rest your tired tootsies in the lovely neoclassical Sabatini Gardens right next door to the Palace. I’m not an expert on what constitutes a neoclassical garden, but I gather that it involves neatly-trimmed hedges, tasteful fountains, and lots of marble statues of dead people like this guy.
OK, I don’t know who this guy is exactly, but he’s done in marble, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet that he’s dead.
Evening: Madrid Tapas Adventure
Hours: 7 PM, Every Day but Sunday and some Mondays
After the earlier market tour, I decided to take another food tour with Cecilia, the nicest tour guide in Madrid. This time we were feasting on Spain’s most famous contribution to the culinary arts: the tapa. Tapas eating is really more of a social activity, so I was glad to be going on this tour with a charming older couple from Australia. Making friends with new people whose names I don’t remember and whom I will never see again is one of my favorite things about travel.
There were so many amazing things we ate (and drank) on this tour, it’s a wonder I fit them all in my stomach. But I’m just going to whet your appetite with:
the approximately top five best tapas in madrid
1) Our first tapas stop was at the upscale and trendy Mercado de San Miguel. Tapas are traditionally served with drinks, so we had an alcoholic beverage at pretty much every stop. There is nothing wrong with this practice as long as you are sure to eat a lot! All that food soaks up the booze. That’s just science! Our first drink was the Spanish herbal aperitif vermouth, served over ice. This sweet and refreshing drink was just the thing after a long, hot day exploring Madrid.
To pair with the vermouth, we snacked on olives stuffed with lomo, chorizo, anchovies & red pepper, and manchego cheese & dried tomato. They looked and tasted like little works of art. If there was some way to keep them from spoiling, I would vote for putting these guys in the Prado!
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day in Madrid, Spain!
What would you do with one day in Madrid? Which tapa looked like the best to eat? And how fast would you go insane if you lived in a home covered with Goya’s black paintings? Please leave your thoughts below!
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.