Visit Madrid, capital of Spain
Madrid is located in the heart of the Kingdom of Spain, where it is the most populous city and the capital with more than 3 million intramural inhabitants.
While it is quite naturally within these walls that most of the country’s political institutions are located, including the Royal Palace, the Parliament and the seat of government, it is also home to many institutions, including some international ones such as the World Tourism Organization, the Cervantes Institute…
The main financial center of Southern Europe, it is with Barcelona, the Spanish economic lung.
A city of art and architecture, it is home to both modern and neo-classical buildings as well as internationally renowned museums: the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum.
It is also home to numerous monuments, the oldest of which date back to the Muslim period or the medieval and Renaissance periods.
As in all of Spain, the streets of Madrid come alive in the evening and the nightlife is as intense as the sporting life of its two prestigious football clubs, Real and Atletico.
The districts of Madrid
Lavapiés, cosmopolitan and popular district, La Latina, historical center of Madrid south of the Plaza Mayor, Barrio de Huertas, Barrio de Chueca, Barrio Salamanca rather chic, Barrio Malasaña, youthful atmosphere, are some of the trendy districts of the Spanish capital.
This nightlife developed after the death of dictator Franco with the emergence of a creative cultural movement: movida, which developed through multiple European influences such as the underground libertarian, punk and new wave movements.
Whether in music, cinema, comics, graphic design, design or social mores, Movida has greatly contributed to the integration of Spanish youth into democratic Europe and has rapidly developed in other Spanish cities such as Barcelona Bilbao and Vigo.
In Madrid, where she comes from, she is called “La movida madrileña”: the Madrid movement.
Puerta del Sol
The gate of the Sun is the heart of the city, the zero kilometer of distances in Madrid and the geometric center of the country.
Occupied night and day by numerous demonstrators for a week, a place of contestation where tens of thousands of people gathered, it was in May 2011, like its Egyptian counterpart Tahrir Square for Egypt, the symbol of a struggle for true democracy in Spain.
Semicircular, central and pedestrian, the Puerta de la Puerta del Sol square is one of the most animated places in the city. A point of convergence of historic streets, it includes some very representative sites of Madrid.
First of all: the plate of kilometer Zero, near which so many Spanish and foreign tourists like to be photographed. It is located in front of Casa de los Correos, seat of the Community of Madrid, whose famous clock rings the 12 strokes of midnight every 31st December. It is at its feet that the public, celebrating New Year’s Eve, swallows the 12 traditional grapes at this time.
Another key place in the square is the statue of the Bear and the Tree Tree, part of the Madrid coat of arms, made by sculptor Antonio Navarro Santafe. The equestrian statue of Charles III, the king-mayor, which modernised the city’s infrastructure in the 18th century, stands in the centre.
Access to Plaza del Sol. Tourist area Sol – Gran Vía. Subway: Ground. (L1, L2, L3). Urban buses: 3,50,51. Suburban train: Madrid – Sol.
Deserted in the 1980s, due to having been the lair of heroin addicts while he was very busy during Movida, the Chueca district has since been rehabilitated.
Organized around the Plaza Chueca it has become a trendy district, meeting point of the gay population, fashion shops and bars, restaurants and discotheques. The streets Calle Fuencarral and Hortazela, very commercial streets lined with design shops, stylists or music, separate it from the neighborhood of Malasaña.
The Museum of Romanticism, formerly the Palazzo di Matalana, has a fine collection of 19th century paintings, furniture and decorative arts, as well as the Palazzo di Longoría.
Access: Plaza Chueca: Metro Gan Vía. Alonso Martinez.
Originally called Maravillas, the district changed its name in memory of a young girl, Manuela Malasaña, killed Calle da San Andres during the uprising of the “back of Mayo” during the Napoleonic occupation in 1802.
Malasaña is a lively and colourful area of Madrid’s nightlife. It is around Plaza del Dos de Mayo and the Metro station Tribunal that most of the bars, discotheques and restaurants frequented by a student and festive youth who did not forget that Movida was born in the streets of the district. Some of the locals, such as Via Lactea and Nueva Visión, still exist.
Access: Plaza del Dos Mayo. Subway: Tribunal.
Officially called Embajadores, in the fifteenth century Lavapiés was home to the Jewish community of Madrid. Its narrow and steep, zigzagging streets bear witness to its medieval origins, a time when it was only a suburb outside the city walls.
Today, it is home to a large immigrant population and has become one of the city’s most multicultural neighbourhoods. A popular district, it is home to restaurants from all over the world, bohemian people and artists, theatres, cultural centres and squats…
Access: Plaza Lavapiés. Métro Lavapiés.
Located south of the Plaza Mayor on either side of the Calle Mayor, La Latina is the bustling district of the historic centre of Madrid. Renowned for its gentle lifestyle and tapas bars, the area is animated on Sunday mornings for the Rastro. This famous flea market is one of the oldest markets in the city.
The district owes its name to the writer and humanist Beatriz Galindo, known as “La Latina”, an outstanding figure of the fifteenth century who was, among other things, the preceptor of Queen Isabella the Catholic.
Dating from medieval times, located in the suburbs outside the ramparts, its winding and narrow lanes traditionally housed merchants who were the originators of the name of certain squares and streets in the district such as the Plaza de la Cebada (the barley square) where the market halls were located.
Royal Palace of Madrid
‘For eternity’, suggests the inscription on the foundation stone of the royal palace, laid in 1738. Although it is not inhabited by the current royal family, the Palace remains the official residence of the kings of Spain.
Built of granite and limestone, the only woods used for doors and windows, at the time to make up for fires, is a symbol of strength and robustness erected in the heart of the city.
The origin of the Palace dates back to its construction by Amir Mohammed I in the village then called Magerit to protect Toledo from Christian incursions. The site was then used from time to time by the kings of Castile until the 15th century when the ancient Moorish fortress became the Antiguo Alcázar.
Charles 1 st of Spain then his son Philip II transformed him into the permanent residence of the kings of Spain. Ravaged by a fire in 1734, what had become the Habsburg Palace saw on its ruins the construction of this new palace.
It was Charles III, nicknamed the “king-mayor” for all the embellishments he decided to provide for Madrid, who was the first monarch to occupy this royal residence seven years after the laying of his first stone.
His successors, Charles IV and Ferdinand VII will embellish his ensemble with many decorative elements, including the Hall of Mirrors, chandeliers, clocks…
The most significant elements are: the Throne Room with its fresco of Tiepolo, the Prince’s Gate, the Royal Chapel, the main staircase composed of 70 steps, the extraordinary Royal Pharmacy or the Royal Armoury considered to have the richest collection of weapons and armour used by the Spanish monarchs.
Every Wednesday, except in July-August and on official acts days, the Relève de la Garde is held.
Access: Calle Bailén. Tourist area: Austrías. Subway: Plaza de España (L2, L3, L10). Urban buses: 3,25,39,148. Suburban train: Madrid – Sol.
Visiting hours: every day from 10 am to 8 pm, until 6 pm from October to March. Price: 11 € – reduced: 6 €.
Authentic oasis of greenery in the heart of the capital, the gardens of the Parc du Retiro are home to an unbelievable botanical treasure of more than 15,000 tree species on 125 hectares.
It is composed of several theme gardens: the Jardin des Vivaces, the Garden of Cecilio Rodriguez with Andalusian air, the Herero Palacios Garden, the Roselada rose garden and the Parterre Français, whose bald cypress, the oldest tree in Madrid, is said to be 400 years old.
The Retiro is also home to numerous fountains, sculptures and monuments, including the one dedicated to Alfonso XII whose statue overlooks an artificial lake overlooking an artificial lake that welcomes visitors on boats. A little further on the private quarters, the Reservado, Ferdinand VII.
Not to be missed: the only sculpture in the world representing the devil, the Statue of the fallen Angel.
Access: Parque de Retiro. Retiro tourist area. Subway: Retiro (L2). Numerous city buses, suburban train: Madrid – Atocha.
The park is open from 6 a. m. to midnight from April to September, until 10 p. m. from October to March.
The Crystal Palace
Designed in the shape of a Greek cross, the Crystal Palace is made up of a glass structure on a metal frame. Built in 1887, with a dome 22 metres high, it is one of the main examples of metal architecture in Spain.
Created by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco as a vast tropical greenhouse to welcome exotic plants, it now houses a showroom. Visiting hours: October to March from 10 am to 6 pm, until 10 pm from April to September. Paseo República de Cuba, 4. Free. Metro: Menéndez Pelayo (L1).
Built at the end of the 19th century on the occasion of the National Mining Exhibition with two-coloured bricks and earthenware from the Royal Manufacture of Montcloa, the Velázquez Palace is topped by an immense metal canopy in the shape of a semi-circle to illuminate its rooms.
Inspired also by the Crystal Palace in London, it now houses a temporary exhibition hall of the Reina Sofia National Art Museum.
Visiting hours: October to March from 10 am to 6 pm, until 10 pm from April to September. Paseo Venezuela, 2. Free. Subway: Retiro (L2).
The Fountain of Cibeles
Dedicated to Cybèle, Roman goddess of earth, agriculture and fertility, the statue that depicts her on a chariot pulled by lions is located in the centre of the square to which she gave her name.
Built on its present location in 1895, it is surrounded by prestigious buildings: the Buenavista Palace, the Linares Palace and the Communications Palace.
Conceived in purple marble from the village of Montesclaro (Toledo) and in Redueña stone, a small village in the Sierra de la Cabrera near Madrid, it is the work of two sculptors: Franciso Guitérrez and the Frenchman Robert Michel for lions.
More than an artistic monument, the emblematic fountain was of great use to the people of Madrid. With its two jets of water, it supplied the water carriers, usually Asturian or Galician, who delivered the water to the houses, the public and the mounts.
Plaza des Cibeles. Tourist area Paseo del Arte. Subway: Banca de España (L2). Suburban train (Cercanías): Madrid – Recoletas. Many city buses.
Places and avenues of Madrid
Madrid, capital city in the heart of the Kingdom of Spain, has a varied architecture that has shaped it over the centuries.
Some squares and avenues in the city centre are essential to discover and understand the architectural richness of these monuments and historic buildings.
Located in the tourist area of Sol-Gran Vía, Gran Vía is one of the emblematic and inescapable avenues of downtown Madrid.
Built from 1910 to 1931, inspired by the American skyscrapers, it reflects both the desire to modernize the capital and the need to decongest a city centre full of intertwined alleys, 22 of which disappeared during the works.
Built in three sections, each of them reflects the architectural trend of its time, and in order to preserve three prestigious religious buildings, the Oratory of Caballero de Gracía, the church of San José and the now defunct church of San Francisco de Borja, its layout is rather irregular.
From the Plaza de España to the Calle de Alcalá near the Park of El Retiro, you can see the famous Metrópolis building, the Telefónica building, the Casino Militar, the Capitol and the Callao cinema.
Access: Calle Gran Vía. Tourist area: Sol – Gran Vía. Subway: Callao (L3, L5), Gran Vía (L1, L5), Plaza de España (L2, L3, L10). Urban buses: 1,2,3,44,74,74,75,133,146,147,148, M2. Suburban train: Madrid – Sol.
Plaza de España
Located in the centre of Madrid, west of Gran Vía, the plaza is best known for the famous monument in Cervantes and its skyscrapers, revealing the taste of American-style giganticism during the Franco dictatorship of the Edificio de España and the Torre de Madrid.
Built in 1957 by brothers Julián and José María Otamendi Machimbarrena at the request of the Metropolitan Real Estate Company for which they had already built the building in Spain, the Tower of Madrid, 142 metres high, is one of the tallest buildings in the capital.
A little older, 1953, and of neo-baroque inspiration, the Edificio España was also built by the Machimbarrena brothers. Very representative of the Madrid of the time, its silhouette shows four floors with 25 floors and 117 metres high. It is the eighth highest skyscraper in the city and is protected by the City Council of Madrid.
Access: Plaza de España. Tourist area: Sol – Gran Vía. Subway: Plaza de España (L2, L3, L10). Urban buses: 1,2,44,74, C.
In the heart of the Madrid of the Austrías, a historic district that preserves the traces of the Habsburg dynasty, the Grand-Place, once situated on the outskirts of the city, was known as Faubourg Square in the 16th century.
It was built on the former Place del Arrabal, which then housed the city’s busiest municipal market, several times ravaged by fire, and was built in its present form in 1854. Changing its name many times over the course of history, it regained Mayor’s name at the end of the civil war.
Surrounded by beautiful arcades, this large pedestrian square, on which popular festivals, corridas, beatifications and coronations have been held for centuries, has hosted the equestrian statue of Philip III since 1848, designed by Juan de Bolnia and completed in 1616 by Pietro Tacca.
The most famous building in the square, Casa de la Panadería was built during the last decade of the 16th century. She served as a model for other buildings surrounding the town, serving as the main bakery of the town, for which she earned her name, where the price of bread was also set.
Once a royal residence and then the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando, it now houses the headquarters of the Madrid Tourist Office, which displays wall paintings of Carlos Franco depicting mythological figures linked to the city’s history.
Access: Plaza Mayor. Tourist area Austrías. Subway: Soil (L1, L2, L3), Tirso de Molina (L1). Urban buses: 3,17,18,23,31. Suburban train: Madrid – Sol.
Puerta de Alcalá
Conceived on the occasion of the embellishments of the city initiated by King Charles III in 1778, this granite work by Sabatini is considered to be a model of harmony and elegance.
The Puerta de Alcalá, named after the road that linked Madrid to Alcalá de Henares, then to Aragon, Catalonia and France, is one of the five ancient gateways that controlled the entrance to the city.
It is the project of the Italian architect Francesco Sabatini who was preferred by Charles III to realize this triumphal arch, the first built in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire.
Situated between the Retiro Park and the Place de Cybèle, the gate, in neoclassical style, obtained the status of a property of cultural interest in 1976.
Its impressive width is 44 m wide and 22 m wide, the granite of the door and the limestone used for decorative elements come from quarries scattered throughout the community of Madrid: Colmenar Viejo, Alpedrete and Hoyo de Manzaneres.
The four children’s sculptures called “the angels of peace” that make up the decorative elements created by Francisco Guiterrez Arribas represent the four cardinal virtues.
Access: Puerta de Alcalá. Tourist area: Retiro. Subway: Retiro (L2). Urban buses: 1,2,15,20,28,51,52,74,146,202.
Alcalá de Henares
Founded by the Romans as Complutum, the town of Alcalá de Henares was conquered by the Muslims at the beginning of the 8th century. Alcalá is also the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, a writer and playwright of the Spanish Golden Age, to whom we owe the famous Don Quixote.
Each year, during the week dedicated to the writer, it is awarded, from the hands of the King of Spain, in the great amphitheatre, the paraninfo of the Colegío Mayor of San Ildefonso, the prestigious Cervantes Prize of Castilian Letters. Located Plaza San Diégo, the Colegío, created by Cardinal Cisneros in 1543, is one of the most important buildings in the city.
The Alcalá de Henares Historical University is one of the most important monuments and tourist attractions in the city. It is home to Renaissance colleges and also has important relics of modern buildings that have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Access: by the A2 road from Madrid (30 km).
C2, C7 suburban trains (cercanías) provide several regular connections. Ticket: 2,60 €.
The Cervantes train: El tren de Cervantes, a picturesque way to reach Alcalà every Saturday and Sunday from the station of Atocha. Departure at 11 am, adult price: 20 €. Children from 11 to 14 years old: 15 €.
Tourist Office: Calle Santa María la Rica, 3.
Opening hours: every day from 10 am to 2 pm then from 4 pm to 6:30 pm from September to June, until 7:30 pm. in July-August. Guided city tours on weekends at 12 noon and 4:30 pm.
House of Cervantes
Calle Mayor, 48.
Miguel de Cervantes was born in this house on the Grand Rue on April 3, 1547. The house-museum retraces its youth and the daily life of the Cervantes family. It also has an interesting bibliographic collection on the writer. In September, the Jornadas Gastrónomicas Cervantinas take place, during which some of the city’s restaurants prepare menus inspired by Don Quixote’s cooking.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. Free admission.
Camino del Juncal.
Located in the Avenue of the Catholic Kings, the Complutum presents the remains of the ancient Roman city of Alcalá de Henares in the 4th century through terms, mosaics and the ancient pavement.
Opening hours: Open from 10 am to 2 pm from 6 pm to 8 pm from Tuesday to Sunday from May to October, from 10 am to 2 pm and then from 4 pm to 8 pm the rest of the year. Free admission.
Aranjuez, whose gardens in the Royal Palace built by Philip II inspired a guitar concerto by Joaquín Rodrigo, a blind Spanish composer who died in 1999, is located 50 kilometres from Madrid on the banks of the Tagus River.
Classified as a Historic Site, Aranjuez is as famous for its gardens as for its Royal Palace, jewel of the city whose current layout was designed in the 16th century by Philip II who gave it the status of “Sitio Real”. Royal residence, Philip V and Charles III established their court there for a time.
Aranjuez, known for its strawberry and asparagus crops, sees its “strawberry train” towed by an ancient steam locomotive every year between May and September from its neo-Mudejar railway station.
Access: from Madrid, 50 km by the A-4, N. 400 from Toledo 45 km.
Tourist Office: Plaza de San Antonio, 9. Open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
The Gardens of Aranjuez
Open from 8 am until sunset.
There are four of them: the Garden of Isabel II, the Garden of La Isla, situated on an island between a meander of the Tagus and a canal, is accessed by two bridges.
The Neo-classical Principe Garden is the largest and, with 150 hectares of wooded land, the largest garden in the Parterre. In French style, it is the closest to the palace and is decorated with white marble statues, fountains and artificial waterfalls.
Plaza de Parejas.
Its construction began at the end of XVI, victim of several important fires, it underwent many modifications. The palace castle, among others, a bust of Louis XIV realized by Coysevox.
Opening hours: from April to September from 10 am to 8 pm from Tuesday to Sunday, until 6 pm from October to March. Admission: 9 €, reduced price: 4 €.
The St. Lawrence Royal Site of the Escurial
This huge complex formed by the monastery which houses the greatest secrets of Spanish history, the museum, library, seminary and gardens of the Escurial, is an ancient royal residence located 63 kilometres northwest of Madrid.
Located on a magnificent site on the edge of the Sierra de Guadarrama, the St. Lawrence de l’ Escurial complex was commissioned by Philip II at the end of the 16th century as a votive monument and pantheon of the Spanish monarchs since Charles Quint.
With about 7500 relics distributed in 570 reliquaries, L’ Escurial has one of the most important collections in the Catholic world, housed in the monastery and basilica of Saint-Laurent.
Monastery whose plans were designed by Juan Bautista de Toledo, disciple of Michel Ange. In addition, its huge library has 45,000 volumes.
Access: by the A-6 or the picturesque M-505, by the N603 from Segovia.
Buses: lines 661 and 664 of the Moncloa interchange. Duration 1 h. Price: 5,20 €. Train line C8a from Atocha Station. Duration: 1 hour. Price: 3.30 €.
MUSEUMS IN MADRID
VISIT OF THE STADIUM AND ARENES
MADRID BAR TOUR