It's impossible to be bored during a weekend in Madrid. Concerts, parties, exhibitions, tapas... Spain's capital city has always got so much going on. Feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly limitless options? Never fear – we've prepared this guide to help you make the most of your time in the city. If you're coming with your family, we've also got a special guide to enjoying Madrid with children. So grab your friends, kids or partner, put on some comfortable shoes and a good pair of sunglasses, and get out in town!
Start the day off right
To make the most of the day ahead, don’t even think about having a lie-in. Get out of bed at a reasonable hour (OK, not too early) and enjoy a quick breakfast at one of the many bars in the centre of Madrid. A great idea is to head for one of the lovely cafés in Malasaña, such as Café del Jardín in the Museo del Romanticismo, a beautiful space with excellent breakfast options for just €2.50. Other places worth checking out include La Bicicleta Café or Maricastaña.
Sightseeing and shopping
Enjoy the morning seeing the sights and stopping by some of the many shops in the centre. In Calle Fuencarral, a must-visit is the Mercado de Fuencarral (but be quick – it’s shutting its doors in 2015), which is the Madrid equivalent to London’s Camden Market. When you get to Gran Vía, head towards Callao, and from there take Calle Preciados to Puerta del Sol. This is where the shopping finishes and the sightseeing starts. Visit Plaza Mayor, stop by Mercado de San Miguel to recharge your batteries, and then head for Plaza de la Villa, with Palacio Real your final stop.
The best time of year to follow this tour is in spring or summer, when the weather is good. That's when you can have lunch on one of the many outdoor terraces that take over the streets of Madrid from May to September. Indeed, you’ll find it difficult to choose from among the vast amount of spots offering al fresco dining, so here are three recommendations: Mercado de San Antón, in the heart of Chueca; La Terraza del Casino for those with a bit of extra spending money; and El Viajero restaurant, in La Latina, where you can enjoy some snacks while people-watching from the rooftop terrace. If you’re in Madrid during the winter months, or you have the bad luck to visit on a day without sun, there are of course loads of excellent restaurants where you can eat well inside.
Saturday afternoon is the ideal time to visit a museum or art gallery. Although you’re likely to find more visitors than you would during the week, many museums and galleries open their doors for free for some hours on Saturday afternoons. For example, the Museo del Prado is free from 6pm to 8pm, and the Reina Sofía from 7pm to 9pm. Close to these two places of art worship, you’ll find the CaixaForum, an excellent destination for families with children as they often organise fun activities for kids. Whatever your interest, in Madrid there are always great exhibitions running and lots of alternative galleries that will offer you an unexpected art experience.
Watch the sun set while having a drink
Madrid becomes even more beautiful when the sun is going down. And the best place to take in this natural wonder is, without a doubt, from high up. The roof terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes will always be our favourite, thanks to its great views and location right in the city centre, and because you can have a drink and a bite to eat while you watch the spectrum of changing lights that fall on Calle Alcalá and part of Gran Vía. Nearby you will also find the terraces of Hotel Urban and Hotel de las Letras, which are more expensive but still lovely places to visit, and they also serve some amazing cocktails. We’re big fans, too, of Casa Granada, with its tapas and views of Tirso de Molina, although in the summer it can be difficult to find a free spot.
Music and nightlife
If you really want to get into the spirit of Madrid and you're not ready to call it a day, there’s nothing better to finish a Saturday in the city than a concert followed by drinks and dancing. The concert programme of the the city’s live music venues changes almost daily, and the acts that play Madrid's stages run the gamut from the biggest international stars to up-and-coming local groups. The range of nightclubs is huge, so it all depends on what kind of music you like to listen and move to and revellers you like to have fun with. Tip: The best gay spots are in Chueca, Moncloa is where the universities are, and the city’s most famous dance club is Kapital.
Sundays are the day to enjoy a relaxed breakfast, or even brunch, which now popular in Madrid as well as back home. After having done a lot of research on this subject, we can recommend some great places to eat like a king: Café Oliver is a classic and one of the brunch pioneers in the city; El Bistro at La Central has delicious eggs Benedict and is located in a bookshop, so you can pick up some reading material to enjoy while you eat; Dray Martina, with different options to choose from, is a light-filled spot, but you’ll have to reserve if you don’t want to wait; and Bristol Bar, where you can enjoy an authentic (and delicious) full breakfast.
After your copious breakfast, walk it all off by heading to the various markets (second-hand, flea, street...) held each weekend in Madrid. El Rastro is the most emblematic and the biggest, although it’s always very crowded, with locals and visitors. A good alternative is the Mercado de Motores, a place popular with hipsters and trendy Madrileños. You can pick up some great clothes, artworks and items for your home among the stalls, as well as gourmet and organic food products. Apart from these, you’ll find a whole range of markets with just what you’re looking for – there’s a different one every weekend.
Beers in La Latina
Join the locals and partake of this ritual, which no perfect Madrid weekend should be without. Meeting friends for a beer in La Latina is one of the greatest pleasures for any Madrileño. Going from bar to bar, trying different tapas with the drink of your choice, while chatting, laughing and sharing stories, always makes for a memorable experience. La Cava Baja and La Cava Alta are popular choices, and they stay busy right through the evening (and sometimes until morning). If you want to escape the crowds, you should head to Casa Lucio, where the 'huevos estrellados' (Spanish-style fried eggs with chips) are amazing, try the terrace at La Musa Latina or taste the scrumptious carrot cake in Delic.
Afternoon at the theatre
Enjoy a bit of downtime during your busy weekend, while at the same time getting a culture fix, by going to the theatre. You’ll find all kinds of shows on Madrid’s stages. If you love a good musical, Gran Vía is the place for you, with its Lope de Vega and Compac theatres. The more alternative works are usually shown in smaller venues such as Teatro Lara, Naves del Español in Matadero Madrid, or the Teatro del Barrio. If cinema is more your thing, we recommend Café Kino, where you can see a film on the cheap and feel at home on their comfy sofas, or take a look at our list of the best places to watch a movie without spending a fortune.
Dine in a great restaurant
And to finish your fantastic weekend, keep things simple but special – a good dinner, with a bottle of wine, dessert and a great ambience. In Madrid, you'll find plenty of restaurants run by amazing chefs, and prestigious cooks such as Ramón Freixa and Sergi Arola, and lest we forget David Muñoz and his DiverXO restaurant, recipient of three Michelin stars. If your budget doesn’t stretch quite that far, we also have a list of restaurants where you can eat your fill and not spend too much. Hamburger aficionados shouldn’t miss our guide to the best burger joints in the city. ¡Buen provecho!