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How to Spend 3 days in Madrid in the Fall

3 days in Madrid: Statue on Plaza Mayor
One of our most memorable trips to Europe was the time we spent 3 days in Madrid.  We covered nearly 30 miles on foot and enjoyed every minute of it.  Madrid is an ideal city break in Europe in the Autumn season after the heat of the summer breaks but before winter sets in. Come along on this 3 day Madrid itinerary.

Getting to Madrid

Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport is well served by both national carriers in Europe and low cost carriers like Ryanair. Madrid Airport is conveniently connected to Madrid City by the subway. We began by taking the subway from the airport to Estación Alonso Martinez. As usual, we flew in from Dublin early to make the most of our time on the ground and arrived in the center of Madrid in time for breakfast.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: A Layover in Madrid

The airport in Madrid is so close to the city centre that if your layover at Madrid Airport is long enough, you can get to the city for a drink and a snack and back again. We stopped in Madrid with a 4 hour layover on our return from a 3 day trip to Porto Portugal. We took the Metro to the Alonso Martinez stop which we knew was conveniently located and not too far from the airport.  We emerged from the station single-mindedly looking for beer and tapas. Within minutes we found it at Cerveceria Cruz Blanca. We ensconced ourselves in a spot of sunshine outside. We were surrounded on all sides by colorful art.  The atmosphere was just what we were looking for to break up a long day of flying. Our large mug of Cruzcampo was just what the doctor ordered. We turned away the olives that the waiter brought us as a snack.  He asked us if we wanted some patatas fritas instead.  Si! We sampled raciones of patatas bravas, ham croquetas, and spicy chorizo. We finished our tapas just in time to catch the Metro back to the airport for our return to Dublin.  Perfecto!

Churros for Breakfast in Madrid

We were hungry for breakfast and popped in to Gran Cafe Santander for breakfast. We tried churros and their 'gordo' cousins porras. Churros taste great dipped in cafe con leche.
3 days in Madrid: churros

Where to Stay in Madrid

After breakfast, we checked into our hotel - Gran Versalles. The hotel was a little off the beaten path but was nice and quiet in the evenings which is important because dinner and nightlife in Madrid extends well past midnight.

Walking and Shopping Madrid

3 days in Madrid: Museo de Jamon
We decided to explore for a bit on foot since the sun was shining and it wasn't too cold in Madrid on this Autumn day.  The architectural accents were really special. I spotted a majestic lion and zooming in, I saw two serpents surrounding a door knocker. The buildings were beautiful but often the lower levels were defaced with graffiti which seemed a real shame to me. Tile-work advertisements graced a number of facades. The Museo de Jamon was quite a sight with hundreds of legs of ham lining the walls and ceilings.

El Corte Inglés is a department store that literally has something for everyone. I like that you can buy sangria in a box in Spanish supermarkets. They don't just have a single brand but several to choose from.  I think single serving juice-box sized containers is the next logical step here.

We chanced upon an urban oasis in the city.  Concrete and wood benches surrounded well coifed planters. The street signs in Madrid are intricately decorated.
3 days in Madrid: box of wine

Lunch on Plaza Mayor

We stopped for lunch in the touristy Plaza Mayor. I'm not a fan of olives, but the servers put them on the table like bread in the U.S. so I had to give them a try with a glass of sangria. The buskers on Plaza Mayor were particularly mesmerizing. We ordered a tortilla (egg and potato omelet) which was huge! Having fortified ourselves after a 3+ mile walk, we made our way to Bravo Bike for a daring afternoon zipping around the Madrid City Centre.
3 days in Madrid Itinerary: busker on Plaza de Mayor

Bravo Bike

We decided to give our feet a rest and explore Madrid by bicycle.  Bravo Bike offers a 3 hour afternoon tour that covers a good cross-section of the city. We took in the view from the large parks located next to the Palacio Real. We admired the carefully trimmed hedges in the gardens surrounding the Palace. Fortunately, the first part of the ride took us through quiet park paths so we didn't have to tangle with traffic. That soon changed as we made our way through the heart of the Madrid.  We had to carefully dodge pedestrians near Puerta del Sol as we admired the Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue which is a much-loved symbol of Madrid. Continuing through the streets, we enjoyed looking at the statues on top of various buildings. The detail work was amazing -- I noticed a group of rather fierce looking elephants supporting a balcony.
3 days in Madrid Spain: Bravo Bike Tour
I definitely got the feeling that what we were doing was a little peligroso.  Our tour guide was riding really fast and essentially weaving in and out of traffic.  He assured us that he'd never lost anyone on the tour but that didn't make me feel much better.  I did, however, feel a bit better when we arrived at the Prado.  The Prado Museum marks the entrance of Parque del Retiro and thus we would expect no more encounters with cars. A beautiful lake featuring a mass of blue rowboats is the centerpiece of the park. We locked up our bikes and had a coffee and some snacks overlooking the lake. Re-energized, we continued out the northwest entrance of the park onto Calle de Alcalá, the longest road in Madrid.  It was eerily empty due to an MTV Europe concert taking place nearby. We passed Plaza de Colón and a giant Spanish flag fluttering in the breeze before making our way back across town to the bike rental shop.  It was an exhilarating tour.
3 days in Madrid: Boats on the lake in Parque del Retiro

Madrid Nightlife

The nightlife in Madrid is top notch and people come out in droves after dark. We took a stroll around the city starting near Plaza Callao.  A full band serenaded passersby. We browsed a nearby street market but didn't buy any of the decadent sweets on display.  They were too expensive and they wouldn't let us opt for a smaller portion. We opted to try chocolate covered pine nuts instead.

We stopped into a store that sold freshly made potato chips.  The food in Madrid was tasty but definitely heartburn-inducing. Tapas at El Escaldon rounded out the evening meal. We passed Taberna Almendro 13 on a quiet side alley and stopped in for a glass of sherry. Our final stop of the evening was Mercado de San Miguel which features produce, fresh baked treats, tapas, and drink. We're more morning people than late-night people. Because of this, whenever we visit Spain, we usually fill up on tapas and are in bed by the time the dinner service begins well after 10 pm.
3 days in Madrid: fresh papas fritas (potato chips)

Practicing Spanish at Breakfast in Madrid

We took our high school Spanish for a spin and set out to find breakfast in Madrid in the neighborhood near our hotel.  We stopped at Restaurante Somosierra -- I like how many of the restaurants in Madrid print their name, logo, and contact details on the napkins. The menu was entirely in Spanish.  I noticed tortitas on the menu.  I could tell they came with cream and surmised that they were likely pancakes.  I decided to take a chance and order them.  I was right and enjoyed my tortitas with a hot fudge sauce - Yum! I love it when a meal turns out even better than expected!
3 Days in Madrid: Neon sign for Somosierra Cafeteria

El Rastro

Next up, we took the subway to El Rastro -- the largest Sunday flea market in Europe.  We had a great time browsing and people watching.  I purchased some lovely and fashionable scarves at rock bottom prices. We decided to head toward Retiro Park for the afternoon and made our way in that direction on foot.  Graffiti covered all available surfaces at street level. A quote from Don Quixote commemorates the life and death of Miguel de Cervantes:

“¿Qué aposento, o qué nada, busca vuestra merced? Ya no hay aposento ni libros en esta casa, porque todo se lo llevó el mesmo diablo.” 
"What chamber, or what nothing, does your worship seek? There is no room or books in this house anymore, because the devil himself took everything."

3 Days in Madrid: Books and junk for sale at El Rastro

Lunch at Taberna La Dolores

We worked up a healthy appetite from shopping and walking and stopped in to Taberna La Dolores for some canapes (mini-sandwiches) and beer. The place had a lot of character and was decorated with beer bottles and cans from around the world.  It was really crowded too but we managed to tucker into a spot near the window.
3 days in Madrid itinerary: Bocadillo and beer at Taberna La Dolores

Madrid Botanical Garden

After our refreshing snack, we stopped by the Madrid Botanical Gardens (Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid). There were still some flowers in bloom even though it was Autumn and the Fall foliage added an additional pop of color. Los Pantalones (The Pants) was my favorite tree.  He's hundreds of years old and looks like a pair of legs growing up from the ground. There were some exotic plants on hand as well including a palm tree with auburn fruity appendage.
3 days in Madrid: Tree at the Madrid Botanical Garden

Parque del Retiro

We continued back to Parque del Retiro to admire the gardens at a slower pace than we did on bicycle the previous day. Buskers line the area around the lake and I just happened to catch Silver-man leaving for the day.  He makes a striking contrast to his surroundings.

Tapas at Lateral in Salamanca

A colleague recommended that we try Lateral in the Salamanca neighborhood for tapas.  The food was fantastic.  The only disappointing thing was that at the time of our visit, they allowed smoking inside -- not just a smoking section but smoking everywhere.  Madrid finally eliminated smoking in restaurants in 2011 but we were just a few months too early. We headed back to our hotel on foot for a quick siesta before stepping out again in the evening.
3 days in Madrid: Tapas at Lateral in Salamanca

MTV Europe Music Awards

We stepped out to see what was happening with the MTV Europe Music Awards free concert.  We caught a quick glimpse of Katy Perry (from I Kissed A Girl fame) but that was about it. We decided to take a stroll up Gran Via and admired the ornate buildings bathed in lights. We also enjoyed the Tio Pepe sign in Puerta del Sol -- very jaunty.

Once again, we dined on some small bites and called it an evening.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: Do you have a little more time to spend in Spain? 

Why not add on a trip from Madrid to Segovia for a day? You'll find an impressive Roman aqueduct and great food. Definitely worth the trip!

Visiting Spain's capital is really just scratching the surface of this amazing country. I also strongly recommend spending up to a week in Bilbao to really get a feel for Basque culture. There are also some absolutely amazing places to eat in Bilbao. Valencia is another great choice in Spain, especially if you visit for the Las Fallas Festival. Girona, Lloret de Mar, and atmospheric Palafrugell in Costa Brava near Barcelona will give you a sense of Catalan culture.

Did you know that the Canary Islands are part of Spain? Discover fun things to do in Lanzarote and especially Lanzarote food and wine on a winter sun holiday.

Porras for Breakfast

We went to El Brillante for porras on our final day in Madrid.  The place had a weird vibe -- the clientele was a mix of people having breakfast before work and people having a beer at 8 am.  The porras were excellent though -- definitely worth a stop.

The Prado

We decided to visit the Prado to see some of the Spanish masters.  It was definitely worth spending a few hours exploring.

Tapas at Los Gatos

We then stopped for tapas at Los Gatos. I loved all the flair decorating the walls and ceiling. The place was packed but we managed to carve out a spot for ourselves next to the bar. I also love (I've mentioned this before) how the restaurants in Madrid brand their names like a calling card.  It makes it so easy to remember where you are and where you've been.
3 Days in Madrid: Bocadillos at Los Gatos

Observing Almudena

Our Fall visit to Madrid coincided with a holiday: Almudena.  People were dressed up all over town in traditional gear and were dancing and singing as they paraded through the streets.

Palace Gardens

3 Days in Madrid: The Royal Palace of Madrid
We walked across town and spent a good chunk of the afternoon in the well coiffed palace gardens. We also lingered near Madrid's Egyptian Templo de Debod. We passed more graffiti and then popped into a stand-up diner for a quick bite. It was easy to recall where we ate since I can reference the calling card napkin once again -- Gran Freiduria Bar Postas. I love chickpeas so was excited to see this traditional stew on the menu.
3 days in Madrid: traditional chickpea stew

An Evening Walk in Chueca

For our third evening in Madrid, we took a walk through the Chueca neighborhood in Madrid.  We first stopped into Cacao Sampaka and bought some tasty chocolate treats. We then passed the most 'Gaudi'-esque building in Madrid:  The Palacio Longoria. We went for tapas at another location of Lateral.  Once again, we dined on some small bites and called it an evening.

SIDEWALK SAFARI SPOTLIGHT: A Day Trip from Madrid to Toledo

If you have more than three days to spend on vacation in Madrid, the high speed trains in Spain that leave from Atocha train station make it easy to do day trips from Madrid. In less than two hours we were in Toledo, the former capital of Spain and a town that is over 1000 years old. The city was a confluence of Jewish, Christian, and Moorish cultures and that's reflected in the architecture.  The train station was distinctively Moorish.
Madrid Day trip: Alcázar of Toledo
Despite the age and beauty of the town there is always room for a modern delicacy -- a Churreria! We soon approached the city gates and passed inside Toledo's walls. Toledo is situated on a hill and the view is fantastic. We stopped to try a Spanish delicacy -- mazapanes (marzipan).  I don't typically like marzipan (the sickly sweet Austrian variety) but this stuff was delicious.  It was mild and nutty in flavor and very comforting on a cold day.  Don't miss trying marzipan if you visit Toledo. There were a number of shops including this one -- Mazapanes de Los Toledanos on Plaza de Zocodover.
Day trip from Madrid to Toledo: marzipan (Mazapanes de Los Toledanos)
We passed through an archway near Plaza de Zocodover and found a statue of Don Quixote. We walked toward the edge of Toledo and drank in the views of the surrounding countryside. We also got an up-close view of the Alcázar of Toledo (stone fortress). Continuing on our walk, I chuckled when I saw Calle Toledo de Ohio.  Apparently Toledo, Ohio in the U.S. has some pretty impressive roots.
Day Trip from Madrid: Toledo town wall

The cathedral was a great landmark for determining where we were in the winding alleys of Toledo town. Colorful and modern cartoons warned people not to park in the doorway and gave directions to various sights nearby. El Greco's house is in Toledo but unfortunately the museum was closed the day we were there. Toledo features two major synagogues (Sinagoga El Transito and Sinagoga Santa Maria la Blanca) which highlight the multi-cultural roots of the town.
Madrid to Toledo Day Trip: bread and wine included in our Menu del Dia
We stopped at Bar La Cuesta for lunch where we enjoyed a three course lunch with a full bottle of wine for only 9 euros a person - Amazing! The wind started to pick up but we decided to take one more walk around the Toledo before catching our train back to Madrid -- we found some great walking itineraries on go-toledo.com. I love the cobbled streets of Toledo although it was a little rough on the feet and knees after so many miles. We exited the city walls in grand style and made our way to the train station. We covered 6.5 miles exploring Toledo -- a satisfying day trip from Madrid. 

Is 3 Days in Madrid Enough?

As you can see, there is so much to see and do in Madrid. You could easily spend more than 3 days here just immersing yourself in the local scene. Even with 3 days in Madrid, we still had to save the Reina Sofia museum including a visit to see Picasso's famous Guernica for another time. Madrid also has great high-speed train connections making the city a great home base for a longer trip to Spain. For example, you can travel from Madrid to Seville in Southern Spain in less than 3 hours.

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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog: How to Spend 3 days in Madrid in the Fall
How to Spend 3 days in Madrid in the Fall
Learn how to spend 3 days in Madrid. Explore things to do in Madrid for 3 days. Discover Madrid with a 3 day itinerary.
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Sidewalk Safari | Part-time Travel Blog
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