09:00 Get your bearings on foot in the Spanish capital, with a walk around the very animated city centre. Start with the grand Plaza Mayor, surrounded by 17th-century spires. It’s a top spot for people-watching. Explore the streets before getting an essential dose of culture at the huge, late-18th century Palacio Real (Royal Palace, patrimonionacional.es). You’ll be able to see 50 of the 2800 ornate rooms in all their glory.
11:30 Now, it’s time for some art – something Spain does pretty well. Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (museoreinasofia.es) is the best place to start. It’s €3 (£2.50) or free on Saturday afternoons and Sundays and you’ll find modern Spanish art, from the 20th century to the present day. The gallery includes the more famous brushstrokes of Picasso, plus art from the Spanish Civil War, and canvases by surrealist Salvador Dali.
14:30 Hit up Las Bravas (lasbravas.com), to try some tasty patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce) in some wonky surroundings, with distorted mirrors and bar staff that have a reputation as a hilarious bunch.
16:00 For the best views in the city, go for a ride in the Teleferico Madrid (teleferico.com) cable car, which takes you on a 2.5km trip over the Casa de Campo urban park and Parque del Oeste. For €3.70 (£3), you’ll spot Palacio Real, Rio Manzanares and the city skyline.
19:30 Grab some Mexican (and a Margarita) for dinner at Taqueria de Birra (lastaquerias.com) and, if the weather’s looking good, dine on cheap-but-hearty fajitas, tacos and guacamole in the square outside.
21:00 If art is one half of Madrid’s lifeforce, the other half is all about staying up after dark. Madrid-dwellers have partied hard and prowled through enough nights to earn the nickname ‘gatos’ (cats). You won’t have to look far to find a piece of the action for yourself, but there are some spots that shouldn’t be overlooked. The true spirit of excess will be found in the bars of Malasana, where the city’s party scene exploded after the death of General Franco and his authoritarian dictatorship in 1975. Bodega de la Ardosa (laardosa.es) is a good place to start, with plenty of techno and an unpretentious crowd.
01:00 Bed down in a hostel with character at Hostal Orly (hostalorlymadrid.com), in central Madrid. The grand old 19th century establishment has double, ensuite rooms available for €45 (£37) a night, and if you ask for room number 11, you’ll get a glass terrace with some amazing views of the city.
09:00 Churros (doughnut-like sticks dipped in chocolate) are the only way to start the day in Spain. Get yours away from the tourist hubs, at El Botanico (C/Ruiz de Alarcon 27) on its chilled-out shaded terrace.
10:00 Head to the roof garden at Hotel Emperador (emperadorhotel.com) for more awesome sights and an invigorating dip in the pool in the cool morning sunshine. Non-guests can hang out in the roof garden – with a chillout area, cocktail bar and restaurant – for €33 (£27) a day.
13:30 But there’s still more of Madrid to see, so pack up your cossie and scope out the Museo del Jamon (museodeljamon.es). Yes. That’s right, the Ham Museum. There you’ll learn all about the world of ham, and its traditions and recipes – then you’ll eat plenty of the stuff.
15:00 While we’re on the subject of meat, head to the old slaughterhouse, Matadero Madrid (mataderomadrid.org) – which has recently been converted into a cutting- edge new-art hub. It’s a home for exhibitions, theatre productions, lectures and other creative gems. Right now it’s hosting a Martin Scorsese documentary on the blues, an illustration and painting show about the world at war, and a look at French design.
17:00 If bullfighting turns your stomach, watch basketball instead. Check out a game at Palacio de Deportes – buy tickets from €15 (£12.50) at the stadium’s box office.
20:30 Treat yourself to a drawn-out, satisfying tapas dinner. A meal at La Trucha (Calle de Nunez de Arce 6), which means ‘the trout’, will set you back about €20 (£16.50) – not too pricey considering it’s dubbed one of the best tapas bars in the area. Kick back and have a few drinks in the chilled-out setting before your evening gets bigger.
23:00 For your last night of high-energy revelry, head to Calle del Arenal where you’ll find all the big clubs. Don’t hang around – you’ll want to get straight into one of the mega-clubs to let the locals show you how to party. Palacio Gaviria (palaciogaviria.com), one of the most popular nightspots in the city, pumps out dance until the wee hours. Thursdays are international student nights – embrace it.