So you've got 48 hours in the most bae city in Western Europe - cool. Now here's exactly how to smash out the most important things in just two days.
Cosas Turisticas (Tourist Things)
Museo del Prado
The Prado museum is a classic, and still my favorite art museum of all time. Free for students (bring your ID!), you can wander around the Prado for hours without getting bored. Some artists featured are Goya, Van Gogh, El Greco, and Velazquez, just to name a few. My favorite painting is Las Meninas!
Parque del Buen Retiro
One of the most stunning parks in Europe, you can walk around for hours, visiting stunning rose gardens, fountains, the Crystal Palace, and a manmade lake where you can even rent boats. Retiro is perfect in the summer months for grabbing some sangria and pinchos (smaller tapas) and sitting by the water.
Madrid's major shopping street, you can get excellent views of the city, particularly of the Metropolis building, the Schweppes building, and the Teleferico building, once Madrid's tallest skyscraper (it's not very tall!) Gran Via is always hustling and bustling with tourists and locals alike, but be careful, try to avoid Gran Via during the Christmas period, as you'll find yourself in a traffic jam.
Plaza Mayor is gorgeous, but most of my photos of the square are awful because it's always under some sort of renovation! It's still completely worth visiting, and offers tons of cultural events throughout the year and Christmas time. Try to avoid eating in one of their tourist trap restaurants - they'll cost you a fortune and the food isn't even that good!
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del So, named because it's shaped like the sun (all its conjoining streets are like "sunrays"), l is where you can find the mass conglomeration of tourists and locals finishing up their shopping. Here, you can stand on the point that is exactly in the center of Spain, eat at La Mallorquina, Madrid's most famous bakery, enjoy the view of protesters, and be approached by gypsies. Sol is a tourist trap, but the wonderful center of life in Madrid.
Palacio Real / La Almudena Cathedral
The Royal Palace is inexpensive to visit, and definitely worth the tour. You can hang out in the courtyard afterward, and wander around the palace gardens. If you visit the Cathedral next door, you can climb to the top and get beautiful views of the surrounding city. I didn't discover this gem until i went back to Madrid to visit, and it's definitely not something to miss!
Templo de Debod
A random Egyptian temple in the middle of Spain? What? Well it's true! I have no idea how it got there or why, but it's free to look around inside, and the grounds around the temple are gorgeous.
Chocolateria San Gines
If you think you know drunk food, you have no idea until you get your hands on some greasy, deep fried churros and chocolate after a night out. Open 24 hours, San Gines has the best churros and chocolate in Spain. I can literally taste the melty chocolate right now.
Mercado de San Miguel
If you're running around throughout the touristy areas of Madrid during the day, or even if you aren't, Mercado de San Miguel is a perfect one stop shop for a quick lunch or snack. They've got pretty much everything, mostly in tapas form, from paella to squid to empanadas to sangria. And it's all delicious. You can't miss Mercado de San Miguel if you're in Madrid.
Tepic is a Mexican/Spanish restaurant in Chueca that has my heart. While this photo probably looks like a pile of shit, it tastes like a pile of amazing. Highly recommend.
Lateral puts a modern spin on both tapas and drinks for a decent price. Usually, I'm not a massive fan of tapas. I think they're difficult to coordinate and I'm never fully satisfied after tapas, except for at Lateral. They put modern twists on cultural favorites, such as patatas bravas, black rice with calamari, duck with pineapple chutney, etc. There are several convenient locations in Fuencarral, Plaza de Santa Ana, and others, so you're always nearby.
If you're only in Madrid for a few days, let's hope you have the opportunity to experience the nightlife, because it's unlike anywhere else in the world. Madrileños typically go out very late at night, and stay out until the early hours of the morning.
Personally, I despise Kapital. But just because I'm not a person who enjoys clubbing. But if you do, this is your place. It's a tourist fest, so be prepared to spend a lot of money. You'll experience 7 stories of dancing, different genres of music, karaoke etc.
A crowd favorite among my study abroad group, we frequented Star Studio pretty much every Tuesday. It's an Irish pub turned club, and weirdly, they had LMFAO lookalikes come out and dance on the bar to "Party Rock Anthem" every Tuesday. They play good music, drinks are reasonable, and it's always a fun, young crowd.
Famous for its "Panther Milk" El Chapandez is a great place to go that's further away from the tourists. It's a cave bar, and the panther milk comes out of the stalagmites (stalagtites?) in the ceiling! The dancing is great and it's a younger crowd, but watch out, it gets crowded after midnight!