Planning a trip to Madrid? Spain’s capital city is a top destination and has so much to offer.
If you’re staying in Barcelona and want to just make a day trip to Madrid – you can!
Despite the distance between the two cities, a day in Madrid is doable as long as you plan it right.
It can be tricky trying to squeeze everything you want to do into such a short time, but we’ve gathered up all the highlights to give you a starting point for your planning!
We’ll also give you the rundown of the most important part: getting there in the first place. We’ll cover:
- The transportation options
- Major attractions
- What (and where) to eat
- Shopping and souvenirs
- Top tips
- Frequently asked questions.
Ready to dive into planning your day in Madrid? Let’s go!
Best Way To Get From Barcelona To Madrid
There are multiple transportation options between these two iconic Spanish cities. What you choose is up to your personal circumstances, because there are distinct pros and cons to each option.
Please keep in mind that the prices are approximate and will vary depending on the provider, dates of travel, and other factors.
You can easily catch a high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid!
Price: Varies a lot, but usually under 100 euro and often as cheap as twenty-five. Make sure to book well in advance to secure the best possible price.
Travel Time: Two and a half to three hours.
- Cheap: this option can be very low cost, especially if you book an unconventional day or time ( i.e., off-season, not during rush hour, and/or on a weekday).
- Convenient: The train stations are right in the city centers, meaning you won’t have to travel out of town to catch your train.
- Flexible Timing: Trains run around every 20 minutes, so you can go when you like!
- Fast: These high-speed trains are much faster than taking the bus or driving.
- Unstable pricing: You could be looking at a larger fee if you don’t book well in advance or if you’re trying to travel at a popular time.
- Non-stop: While this could also be seen as a pro, you won’t get to stop and explore between the two cities.
Trains are one of my favorite ways to travel because you can really soak up the view without having to focus on the road or directions, while still being so much faster than a bus. They’re also the greenest transportation option!
The bus is the cheapest option on the list, and you’ll get great views of the Spanish countryside!
Price: As low as ten euro, but usually around twenty-five.
Travel Time: Seven and a half to eight hours.
- Low cost: the best choice for a budget.
- Comfy: The buses generally have ac and reclining seats, as well as luggage storage.
- Stops: You’ll get to take a break to use the toilet, stretch your legs, and take in the view.
- Overnight options: You can get an overnight bus, allowing you to sleep on the journey and make the absolute most of your day in Madrid.
- Slow: Up to eight hours on a bus isn’t for everyone, and you’ll have to adjust your schedule if you want a full day in Madrid.
- Less flexible: There aren’t as many buses leaving each day as trains, and you can’t choose your departure time like you can if you’re driving
- Minimal facilities: There are no options for purchasing food and drinks while on the buses, and most do not have onboard toilets. This means they may not be the best option for some.
- Transfers: While there are direct buses, cheaper options may require you to switch lines.
You can also get bus passes for thirty euro that allow you to make unlimited trips for a month – making this journey even cheaper if you plan on city hopping!
Price: Usually twenty-five to fifty euro.
Travel Time: an hour and a half.
- Shockingly cheap: plane tickets are even cheaper than trains sometimes!
- Super fast: Flying is the fastest option to get from Barcelona to Madrid.
- Non-stop: You can get direct flights cheaply and easily.
- Out of the way: You’ll need to arrange travel to and from the airport to get into the city center.
- Luggage: Many of the cheapest flights do not have overhead lockers, meaning larger bags are not allowed.
- High emissions: Planes are the least environmentally-friendly travel option.
Flying is the fastest option, and can still be really affordable. You’ll be trading off ground-level views of the countryside for a weather-dependent aerial one though.
Price: Around ninety euro, including thirty-five in tolls. This will vary based on the type of vehicle you take and current gas prices.
Travel Time: Six to seven hours, excluding stops.
- Most flexible: You’re in control of your own journey and can leave whenever you want.
- Stops: You can stop as much as you want to take breaks or explore along your way.
- Comfort: You’ll travel in the privacy of your own vehicle.
- Price: Driving isn’t the cheapest option, and it will cost even more if you have to rent a car.
- Time: It’s a long drive, and wouldn’t allow you a full day in Madrid.
- Stress: While the route is simple and the roads are in good condition, it’s less relaxing than simply sitting back and watching the view pass you by.
While the fastest option is to take the A-2, you can take the A-7 instead and drive closer to the coast – giving you a lot of beautiful seaside towns to stop at as well as going through Valencia.
Things To Do And See In Madrid
Madrid is a large and complex city with a very rich history, so you won’t be able to do everything in a single day. However, you can definitely enjoy some of the highlights!
Parque del Retiro
This sprawling park is a great starting place for your day in Madrid. Stretch your legs after your journey and enjoy the city’s number one attraction!
There are many beautiful historical buildings and art surrounding the park’s central lake and throughout.
Feel free to explore our comprehensive guide on Madrid’s Retiro Park.
Museo Nacional del Prado
The Prado Museum is Spain’s national art museum and houses many famous paintings and other works – as well as just being a stunning building!
It’s less than ten minute’s walk from Parque del Retiro, so it’s a great place to visit at the same time (or instead of the park in case of bad weather).
You could easily spend days in the museum, but you should allow for at least an hour to ninety minutes to see the greatest hits.
Standard admission is fifteen euro, but many are eligible for reduced pricing so check their website to see if you’re applicable.
Alternatively, if you stop by towards the end of your day, admission is free from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm Monday to Saturday, or 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm on Sundays and holidays.
Mercado San Miguel
This historic covered market will give you a (literal) taste of the city!
There are many high-end stalls serving tapas and traditional dishes in the sprawling marketplace, making it a popular lunch pitstop in the heart of Madrid.
It’s a short walk (about twenty minutes) from the Museo Nacional del Prado, which will take you through a gorgeous area of the city including the famous Plaza Mayor.
Royal Palace of Madrid
This decadent and fascinating palace is just five minutes West of the market, and it’s definitely a must-see.
You could spend hours wandering among the gilded rooms and indulging in the sights and history, or even just stop by to admire the view of the building.
General admission is twelve euro, with reduced pricing for seniors, children, and students.
Discover the wonders of the Royal Palace of Madrid with our complete guide.
Places to Eat
Madrid is a city known for its incredible food! The city is known for its stews, squid sandwiches (and other seafood), and tapas of course.
It also boasts many excellent restaurants serving dishes from around Spain and internationally.
Stop for a light bite like pastries, tostadas, and coffee at any of the amazing cafes near Retiro or in the middle of the city.
If you’re after a fancier sit-down meal, try JUNGLEKING in Plaza Mayor! They offer amazing brunch (as well as lunch and dinner), serving everything from crazy loaded pancakes and a range of tapiocas to a carbonara croissant and burgers.
A light lunch from the stalls at Mercado San Miguel gives you the ultimate selection!
You can also check out different markets, like Mercado San Antón, for a more tailored dining experience. There are restaurants specializing in everything from ceviche to wine and puff pastries!
San Antón also may be less crowded and touristy than San Miguel.
For an ultimate dinner in Madrid, it’s got to be Sobrino de Botín. This restaurant is the oldest in the world – founded and operational since 1725, in fact.
Just the dining inside the historic building is enough to merit a visit, but the food is also super authentic and delicious. They specialize in roasted suckling pig, as well as a range of other classic Spanish dishes such as seafood and egg dishes.
Shopping and Souvenirs
There are so many fantastic souvenirs to be found in Madrid. Popular options include alpargatas (lightweight shoes), shawls, hats and other clothing, olive oil, wine, pottery, and thimbles.
If you’re coming back with sweets, you’ve got to stop in at La Violeta!
This charming candy shop specializes in violet caramels, Madrid’s most iconic candy, but also has a wide range of handmade chocolates and other treats. Plus, it’s right in the heart of the city between the Prado Museum and Plaza Mayor.
Tips for Planning Your Day Trip to Madrid from Barcelona
- Don’t overdo it: Madrid’s a massive city, so it’s better to pick a few things and do them well than spend all your time ruching between attractions
- Stay late: Many of the attractions are cheaper and emptier at night, but the city stays alive and many dining options go well into the night. If you’re not staying overnight, there are still late-running transport options.
- Book early: Especially for public transport tickets, the earlier you book the cheaper they’ll be!
- Walk if you can: on foot is the best way to experience the city, and it will probably save you time and money as well. Public transport is readily available if needed.
- Enjoy drinks and tapa: if you’re going for a wine or beer, you’re typically served a small free plate with it!
Is It Possible To Do A Day Trip From Barcelona To Madrid?
Yes! While a longer trip would be better to fully explore the city, you can do Madrid in a day. It’s a good idea to plan in advance to make the most of your short time.
Is The Train Ride From Barcelona To Madrid Scenic?
The train goes pretty fast, but you’ll still enjoy views of the Spanish countryside and small towns. While the ride is not known for its scenery, it’s still pleasant!
Is It Better To Fly Or Take A Train From Barcelona To Madrid?
Flying is a little faster and sometimes cheaper, but the trains are more flexible with timing, and drop you right in the center of the city. Trains are also better environmentally and will allow you to bring more baggage in some cases.
Is A Day In Madrid Enough?
A day in Madrid is definitely better than not visiting at all; it’s long enough to see some amazing sights and get a taste of the city. However, if you can stay for longer, go for it!
How Long Is The Speed Train From Barcelona To Madrid?
The high-speed train takes around two and a half hours.
Is Madrid Expensive As A Tourist?
Like any major city, Madrid can be pricey – especially if you’re going to high-end dining options and doing a lot of activities. However, it can also be visited cheaply! Take advantage of free museum times (and free attractions like parks), and try dining with small meals or from markets.