By Amina El Fayoumy
Bienvenido a Madrid!
From seeing the most prominent sights and attractions to enjoying the local tapas, history, art, architecture, and nightlife, tackling the Spanish capital in a few days is attainable!
The city is also well positioned for day-trip opportunities in nearby historic Toledo or Segovia. Madrid is an easy city to get around whether by foot or by public transportation. If you opt for the latter, consider investing in a Tourist Transport Season Ticket as soon as you land in Madrid Barajas Airport to save on the fare to the city center.
If you want to be a typical tourist, the “Hop on Hop” bus, which tours the city’s major landmarks, is the safest and easiest way to discover Madrid. A four-hour tour lets you experience different angles of this splendid historic city. Listen to insider information about the past glories of Madrid, and have lunch at Sobrino de Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world! If you’re more on the adventurous side, consider roaming the city by bike. Simply rent a public bike for 50 cents an hour and tour the city on your own, using your GPS or local map.
El Palacio Real
You might want to start off your tour with El Palacio Real, or Royal Palace, Madrid’s most famous landmark, largest building and possibly its most beautiful. It is the most spectacular royal palace in Western Europe, located next to the equally stunning Plaza de Oriente square and surrounded by beautifully landscaped courtyards and gardens.
The palace’s rooms are a wonderland of crystal chandeliers, red velvet thrones, and ceiling murals. They showcase furniture, tapestries, paintings and ceramics as well as other important works of art by Tiépolo. Velázquez, Goya, Giordano and Mengs. It remains open to the public almost year round. If you’re lucky enough to be there on the first Wednesday of the month, you can watch the glorious changing of the royal guards at the palace’s courtyard.
Opposite El Palacio Real is the breathtaking Almudinah Cathedral. Entrance is free, although a small donation is appreciated. Visitors can see the vivid colorful mosaics in the church sacristy and the Chapter Hall. There is a cathedral museum where you can learn about the history of the edifice and the archdiocese of Madrid. It is possible to go up to the dome and get breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
The Golden Triangle of Art
Madrid’s “Golden Triangle of Art,” located next to Atocha, Madrid’s main railway station, comprises the Reina Sofia and Prado museums, as well as the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. If you are a traditional art aficianado, the Museo del Prado is for you. It is Madrid’s top cultural sight, and one of the world’s greatest art galleries exhibiting the world’s most extensive collection of Spanish art from the 12th to 19th centuries. It houses works by the great European masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, and Bosch.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía boasts one of the foremost collections of 20th and 21st-century Spanish art, with highlights including Picasso’s Guernica. Another highlight is “Woman in Blue” also by Picasso. Miró and Dali are two other influential artists well represented in the collection.
The collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is owned by a former Miss Spain and is perhaps the most diverse of the lot. Many critics see this museum as the world’s most important private art collection. Compiled by Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his son Hans Heinrich, it demonstrates the history of Western art from the primitive Flemish and Italian painters, to 20th century Pop Art.
The Gardens of Madrid
Of Madrid’s many green corners, Parque del Buen Retiro is a popular and magnificent place for a stroll. Home to several sculptures, monuments, statues, fountains, floral features and a boating lake, this is where all of the Spanish city residents go to get a dose of fresh air. Head there to take a stroll, row a boat on the main pond, or sit back and sip a beverage at one of the many outdoor cafes.
Opposite the Prado Museum is the Real Jardín Botanico de Madrid, the perfect complement to a visit to the Museo del Prado and Parque del Retiro. The botanic garden displays an amazing collection of plants from around the world, not to mention the green houses showing plantations from desert, tropical and subtropical climates. You’re in luck if you happen to visit in spring when all the flowers are in full bloom.
This is Madrid’s main square and most classic meeting point where many metro and bus lines cross. It is located right in the centre of the city and is mostly surrounded by three-storey houses with balconies looking out onto the square. It’s usually packed with street performers and life-sized cartoon characters and the go to place if you’re looking for traditional Spanish souvenirs.
Mercado de San Miguel
Off Plaza Mayor, it is a hip spot with lots of restaurants and stalls where the food is delicious and relatively inexpensive. It’s usually jammed with tourists and locals seeking drinks and tapas.
La Puerta del Sol
Located just a short walk from the Plaza Mayor is La Puerta del Sol, Madrid’s most famous central square. This is a vibrant part of the city – full of bars, restaurants and shops.
Feel like going on a shopping extravaganza? Head to Gran Vía or Great Way, as its name translates. This is Madrid’s famous and arguably its most attractive street and home to hundreds of businesses, internationally known stores, hotels, banks, restaurants, bars, cinemas and theatres – making this perhaps one of the important commercial districts in the city. This energetic and vibrant shopping street is also the pulse of Madrid’s nightlife, hence its nickname: “The Spanish Broadway!” Go there to see a show, to shop, or simply to experience the city’s hustle and bustle.
For Football Fans
If you’re a football fan, you’re definitely in the right city. Madrid is home to three football clubs in the renowned Spanish La Liga, namely Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid and Rayo Vallecano. You can plan attending one of the league or cup games at Real Madrid’s magnificent Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Atletico de Madrid’s Vicente Calderon or Rayo Vallecano’s more moderate Campo de Vallecas. Or simply tour the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home of Real Madrid, walk the pitch, visit the dressing rooms, and marvel at the club’s huge trophy cabinet!
La Plaza de Cibeles
There’s perhaps no panorama more picturesque than that of La Plaza de Cibeles with its chariot-topped fountain and grand Cibeles Palace. Located in the heart of the city, the monumental Cibeles Fountain has become a Madrid icon. It shows Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility and nature holding a scepter and a key while being pulled by two lions on a chariot. Real Madrid has unofficially adopted the fountain. If you happen to be in town during one of Real Madrid’s bigger soccer matches, and Los Blancos win, you’ll see how it’s used as a meeting point for the fans and often for the players themselves whenever the team wins the Spanish La Liga or Copa del Rey.