Madrid Tourist

Real.

Recently visited for a weekend during a month-long trip through Spain. Everything grandiose, lots of plazas, lots of history, Christmas lights (one night only), amazing olives, poor lighting, world-class art, Islamic influence, lines to leave a museum, touristy, siestas, late dinners, vermouth before meals, snacks with drinks, always eating and drinking, jamón legs everywhere, meat-cups, the many “museums” of jamón, ATM fees (never accept ATM conversion), ATM compatibility (lacking), Google Maps issues (sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English), incredible Tik Tok street dancing kids, old bars (Viva Madrid), oldest restaurant (Botin), not that much great food, intense flamenco (Eduardo Guerrero), Spanish dive bar (La Vía Láctea), Spanish hipsters (Sala Equis), the Central Park of Europe, Burning Man style art (Crystal Palace), Picassos (Guernica is huge), Real Madrid (4–1 against Valencia, stadium under construction, no soul), and so much seafood for being so far away from the coast!

Some decent things, but much prefer Barcelona.

Top Picks

  • Viva Madrid, Real Madrid FC, Temple of Debod, El Retiro, Sobrino de Botín, Museo del Prado, Arte Reina Sofía, Corral de la Morería (flamenco), El Gato Montes, La Buena Pinta, La Vía Láctea, Sala Equis
Madrid Coat of Arms

About

The capital and most populous (3.4 million residents) politically autonomous state of Spain — not technically a city at all! Capital of both Spain (almost without interruption since 1561) and the surrounding autonomous community of Madrid (since 1983), it is also the political, economic, and cultural centre of the country.

In the world, second-most (248,000) aligned trees behind Tokyo. In Europe, most trees and green surfaces per inhabitant; biggest seafood market (Mercamadrid); one of the oldest (1782) central banks; second-highest (700m) elevated capital (behind Andorra la Vella); one of the sunniest (over 300 days on sunshine). In the EU, highest life expectancy (82.2 years for men and 87.8 for women); second-largest populated “city” (after Berlin); second-largest metropolitan area (after Paris); second-largest urban GDP (after Paris).

The “Barrio de las Letras” owes its name to the Spanish Golden Age of literature, which included Lope de Vega, Quevedo, and Góngora. The first edition of Don Quixote was printed at 87 Calle de Atocha in 1604. Madrid was awarded the first World Book Capital.

Tapas originated in Madrid during the 13th century as a way to prevent stagecoach drivers from getting too drunk during wine breaks by passing a law forcing them to eat something — usually a piece of bread with ham on top (“tapas” translates to “tops” or “lids”). Notable cuisine includes cocido madrileño (chickpea-based stew), gallinejas (grilled pig’s ear), bocata de calamares (fried squid sandwich), sopa de ajo (garlic soup), and patatas bravas (spicy potatoes). Home to the oldest restaurant in the world.

Nightlife includes tapas bars, cocktail bars, clubs (stay open until 6am), jazz lounges, live music venues and flamenco theaters. Chueca is known as gay quarter, comparable to The Castro in San Francisco. In Lavapiés, there are “hidden houses” — illegal bars or abandoned spaces where concerts or botellón (illegal street party) take place. Locals are called “gatos” (cats) for their reputation for staying out all night!

Apparently, at one time the original name of Madrid was actually Ursaria, which means “land of the bears” in Latin. The bears lived in nearby forests that had many madroño trees (“strawberry tree”). A bear and strawberry is the official emblem.

Annual events include the Day of Isidore the Laborer (May 15), Suma Flamenca (Flamenco festival, June), Madrid Fashion Week (twice-yearly), LGBT Pride (since 1977, 1.5 million participants in 2018), Carnival, Vuelta a España (La Vuelta cycling), Madrid Open (ATP tennis), and Mad Cool festival (240,000 people over three days in 2018). Notable persons born in Madrid include Lope de Vega (writer), Jose de Echegaray (Nobel Prize in Literature), Julio and Enrique Iglesias, and Penelope Cruz. Notable residents include Cervantes (author of Don Quixote).

History

One of Europe’s most historically rich cities, its documented history traces back to the ninth century — although little medieval, Muslim or Renaissance architecture remains — but the area has been inhabited by humans since prehistoric times. Occupied by the Romand in the 2nd century BC, who named it “Matrice” (“water”) after the nearby River Manzanares. Around 450, the Romans were defeated by Visigoth king Theodoric II. In 852, the Arab occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by Muhammed I, Emir of Córdoba, who established the village of Mayrít. In 932, occupied by the Christian King of León, Ramiro II. Madrid gets it’s name from the Arabic magerit, which means “place of many streams.”

In 1083, King Alfonso I establishes the present location and removes most of the remaining Muslim influence. In 1185, captured by the Kingdom of Castille. In 1329, King Fernando V assembles the famed Court of Madrid. In 1478, start of the Spanish Inquisition. In 1492, destruction of the Jewish Quarter. In 1494, Moors and Jews (called “Moreria”) expelled from Spain. In 1520, Madrid surrenders after the Battle of Villalar. In 1561, a population of twenty thousand. In 1561, Philip II of Spain transferred the capital from Toledo to Madrid.

In 1670, the (Godolphin) Treaty of Madrid was signed between England and Spain ending the war in the Caribbean and giving England legal rights to the Americas. In 1750, the (Spanish–Portuguese) Treaty of Madrid was signed establishing South American borders and ceding much of Brazil to the Portuguese. In 1808, the War of Independence against Napoleon. In 1931, the Spanish Constitution legalized Madrid as the capital.

One of the most heavily-affected cities in the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). It was a stronghold of the Republican faction and suffered aerial bombing, a two-and-a-half year Siege of Madrid, and Battle of Madrid (1936). Madrid fell to the Francoists in March 1939. Due to the impact of the Civil War, Spain did not participate in World War II. Spain remained a dictatorship until Francisco Franco’s death in 1975!

During the 1980s, center of the La Movida Madrileña counterculture movement (punk rock, synth-pop, sexual expression, drug usage) emerged during the transition to democracy.

Maps

Temple of Debod (200 BC)

Egyptian temple from Nubia dedicated to the goddess Isis and decorated by Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius. In 1968, due to construction of the Aswan High Dam it was dismantled and donated to Spain as a sign of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the Abu Simbel temples. One of four temples: Dendur (Met), Taffeh (Rijksmuseum) and Ellesyia (Museo Egizio).

The reassembled gateways have been placed in a different order than when originally erected. one of the few works of ancient Egyptian architecture that can be seen outside Egypt and the only one of its kind in Spain. Unlike other donated temples, exposed to the elements — which has drawn criticism.

Located on Príncipe Pío, a popular sunset lookout.

Church of Saint Nicolas* (12th century)

The Church of San Nicolas de Bari, or the Church of San Nicolas de los Servita, is the oldest church in Madrid — dating back to medieval times. The bell tower was built in the 12th century (possibly as part of a former mosque), with the rest of the building rebuilt between the 15th and 17th centuries.

Church of Saint Peter the Old* (14th century)

The Church of San Pedro el Real (St Peter the Royal), also known as San Pedro el Viejo, is a small medieval church built by King Alfonso XI to celebrate his victory in the Battle of Algeciras in 1344.

Contains the tombs of Kings Alfonso I of Asturias and Ramiro II of León — and a statue known as Jesus the Poor. A new facade and portals were added in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Puerta del Sol (15th century)

The “Gate of the Sun” was originally one of the gates in the city wall that surrounded Madrid in the 15th century. The name comes from the rising sun hitting the gate from the East.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, an important meeting place to receive the latest news from the post office. In 1808, a revolt started the War of Independence against Napoleon. Site of various protests (2004 against the Iraq War, 2011 for Spanish democracy) and assemblies. In 2020, closed to road traffic — despite being the intersection of six major roads.

Contains the Real Casa de Correos (1768); a statue of Charles III; the famous Tio Pepe sign (1936) — the “Uncle Pepe” sherry company; a 2004 plaque dedicated the terrorist attack victims; kilómetro cero (1857, replaced 2009) plaque of kilometre zero, from which all radial roads in Spain are measured; and statue of The Bear and the Strawberry Tree (1967) or el Oso y el Madroño — the Madrid coat of arms. The square also contains the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year. New Year’s has been broadcast live from Sol since 1962.

Church of Saint Jerome the Royal* (1505)

San Jerónimo el Real is the remaining structure of the Hieronymite monastery that once stood beside the royal palace of Buen Retiro. King Philip II established a royal bedroom against the presbytery so he could hear mass from his bedroom!

In 1808, the monks were expelled from the monastery and French troops quartered in the monastery causing major damage to the building. Restored between 1848 to 1859 and 1879 to 1883. In 1906, the street staircase was built for the wedding of King Alfonso XIII. In 2007, the cloister was acquired by the Prado Museum.

Royal Palace of El Pardo* (1547)

A 1406 pavilion by King Enrique III of Castile, it was later transformed by Emperor Charles V as a royal hunting lodge. Served as an alternative residence for the kings of Spain and residence of dictator Francisco Franco following the Spanish Civil War. Currently a government state guest house, but open for tours when not in use. Features Goya tapestries.

In 1604, a fire destroyed many of the paintings, including masterpieces by Titian. In 1739, hosted talks between Britain and Spain in a failed attempt to avert war. In the 18th century, extended by King Charles III. In 1885, King Alfonso XII died in the palace.

Convent of Las Descalzas Reales* (1559)

The Monastery of the Royal Discalced resides in the former palace of Emperor Charles V. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries the convent attracted young widowed or spinster noblewomen who brought a dowry (usually relics), leading it to become one of the richest convents in all of Europe. However, the convent was forbidden to spend any of its money so by the 20th century all of the sisters were in poverty, which led to the pope granting a dispensation to open the convent as a museum in 1960.

The museum includes (putative) relics from Christ’s cross and the bones of Saint Sebastian; Titian’s Caesar’s Money; tapestries woven to designs by Rubens; works by Hans de Beken and Brueghel the Elder; and rare portraits of royal children. Tomás Luis de Victoria, Spain’s finest Renaissance composer, worked at the convent from 1587 to the end of his life in 1611.

El Escorial* (1584)

The Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is the historical residence of the King of Spain, built by King Philip II it’s the largest Renaissance building in the world. As one of the Spanish royal sites. The floor plan is in the form of a gridiron, believed to be in honor of St. Lawrence who was martyred by being roasted to death on a grill.

Functions as a monastery (Order of Saint Augustine monks), Courtyard of the Kings, Basilica (inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome, 30m high altarpiece), Palace of Philip II, Royal Pantheon of the Kings (crypt), Pantheon of the Princes (crypt), Courtyard of the Evangelists (patio garden), Gardens of the Friars (formal gardens), House of the King (Hall of Battles frescoes), Royal Library, architectural museum, reliquaries (7,500 relics), university, school, and hospital. Also features a royal hunting lodge about 5km away. Visited by over half a million people annually.

Burial site for most of the Spanish kings of the last five centuries, Bourbons as well as Habsburgs. The Royal Pantheon contains the tombs of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who ruled Spain as King Charles I), Philip II, Philip III, Philip IV, Charles II, Louis I, Charles III, Charles IV, Ferdinand VII, Isabella II, Alfonso XII, and Alfonso XIII.

Contains art by Titian, Tintoretto, Benvenuto Cellini, El Greco, Velázquez, Rogier van der Weyden, Paolo Veronese, Bernini, Alonso Cano, José de Ribera, and Claudio Coello. Giambattista Castello designed the main staircase. Also features the marble sculpture Crucifix by Benvenuto Cellini, which is unusual for being fully nude — although for modesty it wears a cloth covering the genitals.

One of the world’s most beautiful libraries with marble floors, carved wood shelves, and ceiling frescoes depicting the seven liberal arts. The first library in Europe to break with medieval design and innovated by placing bookcases along the walls. Books transition from the profane (history, geography, and botany) to abstract (poetry, grammar) to the pure (theology, geometry, and mathematics) as it nears the Basilica so visitors can walk through in a specific order to “reach God.” In 1671, fire destroyed over five thousand codexes.

Contains over 40,000 volumes including the Ottonian Golden Gospels of Henry III (1045–46), the only known copy of the Kitab al-I’tibar (12th-century Syrian autobiography), and the collection of the sultan Zidan Abu Maali, who ruled Morocco from 1603 to 1627.

Plaza Mayor (1619)

The “Town Square” was once the centre of Old Madrid, first built between 1580 and 1619 during the reign of Philip III and used as the main market until the end of the 15th century. The plaza has hosted executions, bullfights and soccer games; it is now the location of an annual Christmas market and weekly (Sunday mornings) stamp/coin collecting market.

Former names include “Plaza del Arrabal”, “Plaza de la Constitución” (all major plazas were renamed this following the Constitution of 1812), “Plaza Real” (after the Borbón king was restored in 1814) and “Plaza de la República” (following the end of the Spanish Civil War).

The plaza has suffered 3 major fires in its history — 1631, 1670 and 1790 (destroying a third, surrounding buildings reduced from five to three stories). In the 1960s, closed to road traffic and added underground parking. Contains a bronze statue of Philip III on a horse (created 1616, relocated 1848) and the Casa de la Panadería (1673).

Zarzuela Palace* (1635)

Residence and working offices of the reigning monarch of Spain (King Felipe VI) in the outskirts of the city. Constructed by King Felipe IV as a country palace and named after the brambles of its hunting grounds. Altered by King Carlos IV who adorned it with tapestries, porcelain, furniture, and his much-loved clocks. The palace theatre was the place of origin of the Spanish genre of musical drama, zarzuela.

Home of King Juan Carlos I from 1962 until his 2020 departure to live abroad following allegations of financial impropriety. It has not been announced whether it will remain the home of his wife, Queen Sofía, who did not accompany Juan Carlos abroad. Although King Felipe VI has his office in the palace, he and his family live in the Pabellón del Príncipe on the grounds just east of the Zarzuela Palace.

Collegiate Church of San Isidro* (1664)

Basilica named after — and holding the remains of — the patron saint of Madrid, Isidore the Laborer, and his wife Santa María de la Cabeza. De facto cathedral until the completion of Almudena in 1993.

In 1936, a fire destroyed the altar, many works of art, and caused the dome to collapse. Following the fire a two-decade painstaking restoration took place. The Our Lady of the Carmen or the Lady of the Sailors chapel was paid for by the British Embassy and the British coat of arms can be clearly seen over the altar.

Casa de la Panadería (1673)

The original “Bakery House” was built in 1619 and destroyed during a fire in 1672. Survived a fire in 1790, serving as the reference for the reconstruction of the rest of the plaza — of which a third was destroyed. Over the years site of the main town bakery, then Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando headquarters, Royal Academy of History, Madrid City Council, Municipal Library, Municipal Archives, and currently the Madrid Tourism Center.

In 1880, remodeled. In 1988, a contest to replace the original 1914 facade; work carried out in 1992.

El Retiro (1680)

Parque del Buen Retiro (“Park of the Pleasant Retreat”), Retiro Park or simply El Retiro is one of the largest (1.4 km2) parks in Madrid. Former site of the Buen Retiro Palace, which was mostly destroyed during the Peninsular War (1807–1814). A royal hunting ground and park until 1868, when it became a public park.

Features sculptures (“Statue Walk” decorated with statues of kings from the Royal Palace sculpted between 1750 and 1753), monuments, rose garden, bandstand (free Sunday concerts May-Oct), large artificial pond (1887, boat rental), Royal Observatory of Madrid (1808), Monument to Alfonso XII (1922, 30m tall), Fountain of the Fallen Angel (1922, claimed to be the only public monument of Satan), Casón del Buen Retiro (collection of 19th- and 20th-century paintings), Salon de Reinos, Velázquez Palace (1883, exhibition hall, hosts Arte Reina Sofía temporary exhibitions), Forest of Remembrance (2005, commemorating the 2004 Madrid attacks), and the Crystal Palace (1887, inspired by its London namesake, originally a greenhouse for Philippines plants, currently hosts art exhibits).

In 1883, hosted the Exposición Nacional de Minería. In 1887, fairgrounds of the Philippines Exposition — which included a human zoo. In 2021, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sobrino de Botín (1725)

Oldest restaurant in the world! Famous for the suckling pig. Live music. Eat downstairs (the original area).

El Rastro (starting in the 1730s)

A large (700 stalls, 1000,000 people) open-air flea market named after “the trail” of blood on the street from the nearby 1497 slaughterhouse! Every Sunday 9–3am.

Notable stores include Tienda Hípica El Valenciano (oldest), Galerías Piquer (gallery-style collection of shops), Pedro’s (rural relics), Santa y Señora (vintage clothes, downstairs micro-theatre), and Ribera de Curtidores 22 (handmade ceramics).

Royal Palace of Madrid* (1755)

The official residence of the Spanish royal family (although now only used for state ceremonies) is the largest functioning royal palace and largest by floor area (135,000 m2) in Europe.

Built on the site of a Muslim-era fortress constructed by Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba in the 9th century, which was destroyed in a 1734 fire that lasted 4 days! Response to the fire was delayed due to the warning bells being confused with the call to mass. For fear of looting, the doors of the building remained closed, hampering rescue efforts. Many works of art were lost, while others were tossed out of windows!

Construction of the current palace tool 17 years. During the Second Spanish Republic the building was known as “Palacio Nacional”. Contains 3,418 rooms! It’s so large that only a selection of rooms are on the visitor route at any one time, with the route being changed every few months!

Features the Grand Staircase (1789), Plaza de la Armería (1892), Campo del Moro Gardens (19th century), Sabatini Gardens (1933), Halberdier’s Room (Tiepolo fresco), Hall of Columns, Throne Room (1772, Tiepolo fresco), Antechamber (Goya family portraits), Banquet Hall (1885), Crown Room (Charles III throne, scepter and crown), Royal Library, Royal Pharmacy, Royal Armory (1897, one of the best in the world), Royal Chapel (1748), and the Stradivarius Room (the world’s only complete Stradivarius string quintet). Also contains paintings by Caravaggio, Juan de Flandes, de Goya, and Velázquez; frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Corrado Giaquinto, and Anton Raphael Mengs.

In 1973, facade restoration. In 2004, wedding banquet of Prince Felipe.

Royal Basilica of Saint Francis the Great* (1760)

Former National pantheon and enshrined the remains of famous artists and politicians. Fourth-largest (58 meters high; 33 in diameter) dome in Europe.

Contains paintings by Zurbarán and Francisco Goya, and the only “change ringing” bells (1882) in Spain — and Europe until 2017. The bells are derelict.

Royal House of the Post Office (1768)

The Real Casa de Correos was formerly a post office and currently the office for the President of the Community of Madrid. Not to be confused with the City Council of Madrid, which is housed in another former post office (Cybele Palace)! The tower clock was inaugurated in 1866 by Queen Isabel II, and its bells mark the New Year in Spain.

Museum at the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts* (1773, founded 1752)

The Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando houses over 1,400 paintings from the 15th to 20th centuries, 600 sculptures and 15,000 drawings, as well as an excellent collection of decorative arts objects including tapestries, silverware, ceramics, porcelain, clocks, furniture and medals.

Notable alumni include Bárbara María Hueva, Felip Pedrell, Pablo Picasso, Kiko Argüello, Remedios Varo, Salvador Dalí, Antonio López García, Juan Luna, Oscar de la Renta, Ricardo Macarrón, Alicia Iturrioz, and Fernando Botero. Francisco Goya was one of the academy’s directors.

Highlights include Francisco de Goya (13 paintings), Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and Giuseppe Pirovani (one rare portrait of George Washington).

Puerta de Alcalá (1778)

Former gate of the Walls of Phillip IV, which surrounded Madrid between 1625 and 1868 in order to control access to the city. Marks from cannon shrapnel can still be seen. In the past, sheep flocks regularly crossed through the gate.

In 1921, the Prime Minister was assassinated (by a motorcyclist with handgun) as he drove past! In 1985, hit song La Puerta de Alcalá by Spanish singers Ana Belén and Víctor. In 2001, several gardens were added. In 2010, MTV Europe Music Awards performance by Thirty Seconds to Mars, Katy Perry and Linkin Park in front of around 100,000 fans.

Fountain of Cybele (1780, relocated 1895)

La Cibeles is a fountain in the centre of the Plaza de Cibeles depicting a Phrygian earth and fertility goddess riding a chariot pulled by two lions. One of the icons of Madrid.

Site of Real Madrid FC and the Spanish national team trophy celebrations. In 1980, a replica was inaugurated in Mexico City. In 1994, the goddess lost a hand following a celebration of a victory of the Spanish national team; in 2002, the goddess lost her hand again! Designed to flood the Bank of Spain’s gold chamber (38m below) in case of a break in!

Museo del Prado (1819, building 1785)

The main Spanish national arts museum is one of the most-visited sites in the world — and one of the Golden Triangle of Art. Considered to house one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection. The collection includes 8,200 drawings, 7,600 paintings, 4,800 prints, and 1,000 sculptures. The name prado means “meadow” for the area where the building once stood.

During the Peninsula War it was used as headquarters for the cavalry and a gunpowder-store for the Napoleonic troops based in Madrid. During the Spanish Civil War 353 paintings and 168 drawings were sent to Geneva; and returned from France on night trains during World War II. The museum was enlarged in 1960 and 1997. In 2012, special exhibitions included Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Matisse, Monet, and Kandinsky. In 2014, for the first time in its 200-year history Italian masterpieces were toured to NGV in Melbourne; many of those works had never before left Spain.

Highlights include The Descent from the Cross by Rogier van der Weyden, The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymous Bosch, Knight with his Hand on his Breast by El Greco, The Death of the Virgin by Mantegna, The Holy Family (“La Perla”) by Raphael, Charles V at Mülhberg by Titian, Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by Tintoretto, Dürer’s Self-portrait, Las Meninas by Velázquez, The Three Graces by Rubens, and The Family of Charles IV by Goya.

The Royal Theatre* (1850, founded 1818, remodeled 1997)

Teatro Real is a 1,746-seat opera house and one of the great theaters of Europe. Founded in 1818 by King Ferdinand VII, inaugurated in 1850, closed in 1925, reopened in 1966, and finally remodeled in 1997. The main concert venue for the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, Spanish National Orchestra and the RTVE Symphony Orchestra.

Notable performers include Alboni, Frezzolini, Marietta Gazzaniga, Rosina Penco, Giulia Grisi, Giorgio Ronconi, Italo Gardoni, Mario de Candia, Antonio Selva, Adela Borghi, Marie Sasse, Adelina Patti, Christina Nilsson, Luisa Tetrazzini, Mattia Battistini, Julián Gayarre, Angelo Masini, Francesco Tamagno and Enrico Tamberlick.

Teatro de la Zarzuela* (1856, reopened 1914)

Mainly devoted to Zarzuela (traditional Spanish musical) — as well as operetta and recitals — and resident orchestra of the Community of Madrid Orchestra.

In the second half of the nineteenth 19th it became Madrid’s leading opera house. In 1909, virtually destroyed by fire. In 1914, reopened. With the Teatro Real opera house closed from 1925 to 1997, became the leading venue once again. In 1984, expanded the range of activities beyond zarzuela and opera to encompass flamenco and other dance. In 1998, remodelled to restore much of the original structure and form.

Madrid Atocha (1892)

Site of the city’s first railway station (1851), which was destroyed by fire. Rebuilt in collaboration with Gustave Eiffel. The largest railway station in Madrid.

Features an inverted hull with a height of approximately 27 meters and length of 157 meters. In 1992, converted from a terminal to shops, cafes, and a nightclub. Also contains a 4,000 m2 covered tropical garden — complete with turtles!

On 11 March 2004, a series of coordinated attacks by an Islamist terrorist cell on commuter trains killed 191 people and injured 1,8000. A memorial monument sits above the station and contains writing sent in the days after the attack from all over the world, which are printed on a clear colourless membrane that is inflated by air pressure, rising balloon-like inside a cylinder. At night the cylinder is illuminated. King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero attended a ceremony at the site on the third anniversary of the bombings.

National Archaeological Museum* (1895, founded 1867)

MAN featured a collection of Iberian sculpture from southern and southeastern Iberia — along with Talaiotic, Iberian, Celtic, and Tartessian artifacts.

Highlights include the iconic Lady of Elche, the Lady of Baza, the Lady of Galera, the Dama del Cerro de los Santos, the Bicha of Balazote, the Bull of Osuna, the Sphinx of Agost, one of the two sphinxes of El Salobral, and the Mausoleum of Pozo Moro. It also contains some non-Spanish artifacts from Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, and the Near East.

Almudena Cathedral (1879, completed 1993)

Seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid built on the site of a mediaeval mosque that was destroyed in 1083. Construction was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War, lay abandoned until 1950, and only completed in 1993! Uniquely modern interior with chapels and statues by contemporary artists.

In 1993, consecrated by Pope John Paul II. In 2004, marriage of King Felipe VI, then crown prince, to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. Notable burials include Mercedes of Orleans, Queen of Spain; Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria; Prince Eugenio of Bavaria; Prince Alfonso of Bavaria; and Princess María of Bavaria.

Bank of Spain Building* (1891)

Main headquarters of the Bank of Spain, a central bank established by Charles III and with a current reserve of 62 billion euros. In 1936, 72.6% (510 tonnes) of the total gold reserves were transferred to the Soviet Union during the Spanish Civil War. In 1962, nationalized.

National Library of Spain* (1892, founded 1712)

Biblioteca Nacional de España is the largest public library in Spain and one of the largest in the world. The collection contains over 26 million items, including 15 million books and other printed materials, 4,5 million graphic materials, 600,000 sound recordings, 510,000 music scores, 500,000 microforms, 500,000 maps, 143,000 newspapers and serials, 90,000 audiovisuals, 90,000 electronic documents, and 30,000 manuscripts.

In 1892 the building was used to host the Historical American Exposition. During the Spanish Civil War, around 500,000 volumes were safeguarded in the building. In 1955, alterations to triple capacity. In 2000, further expansion completed.

Matadero Madrid* (building 1911)

Arts center in a former slaughterhouse (closed 1996). A lab for experimentation and promoting new cross-disciplinary formulae. This complex also served as the inspiration for the 1999 film, Chicken Run!

Features artist installations, consultation and research, workshops, design, dance, theatrical and circus performances, open air concerts, cinema, plant memorial (in the old water tank), garden, experimental laboratory, literature and music. Site of the Red Bull Music Academy until 2011.

Market of San Miguel (1916, renovated 2009)

Covered tapas market with over 30 vendors. Good architecture but tourist trap (avoid eating)!

Cybele Palace (1919)

The city’s main post office and telegraph/telephone headquarters (Cathedral of Communications), and currently the city hall and public cultural centre CentroCentro. Took 12 years to build. During the Spanish Civil War came under fire (bullet holes remain in the facade) and was seized by communist troops.

Impressive internal architecture (including spiral staircases) and lookout (not free). Houses free art exhibits. Avoid the rooftop terrace restaurant.

Círculo de Bellas Artes* (building 1926, founded 1880)

The CBA is a private, non-profit, cultural organization. Features exhibition rooms, cinema, theatre, concert halls, lecture halls, artists’ workshops, library, cafeteria, shop and rooftop with panoramic views. Programs include visual arts, music, film, radio, stage, literature, science, philosophy and poetry.

Las Ventas* (1931)

The largest (23,798 seats) bullfighting ring in Spain and third-largest in the world. During the Spanish Civil War bullfighting stopped and the bullring was instead used as concentration camp. Features ceramic representations of the heraldic crests of the different Spanish provinces, a Royal Box, chapel, and small infirmary with two operating rooms! Since 2014, can be set up as an 858-seat theatre named Gran Teatro Ruedo Las Ventas.

The bullfighting season starts in March and ends in October; bullfights are held every day during the San Isidro Fiesta, and every Sunday or holiday during the season. Bullfights start at 6 or 7pm and last for two to three hours. Tours available.

Notable concerts include The Beatles (1965), Diana Ross (1991), Depeche Mode (1993), AC/DC (1996, recording their No Bull video), Radiohead (2003), Kyle Minogue (2009) and Coldplay (2011). Other events include Red Bull X Fighters (2002), and Spanish Davis Cup (2008) led by Rafeal Nadal.

Naval Museum of Madrid* (1932, founded 1792)

Navigation instruments, weapons, maps and paintings. The building contains exhibition halls covered by a stained-glass roof with naval and decorative motifs and grand staircase.

Highlights include the map of Juan de la Cosa — the earliest preserved map of the Americas, Apollo 17 moon samples, and Ming ceramics rescued from the shipwreck of the San Diego.

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (1947, founded 1902)

The second-largest (81,044 seats) stadium in Spain and third-largest home to a top-flight European club after Camp Nou and Westfalenstadion. Occupies an entire city block in a built-up neighborhood and served by its own metro station. Named after a former president. Renovated many times — including currently. One of three founding members of La Liga (along with Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao) that have never been relegated from the top division since its inception in 1929.

Home of the Real Madrid FC “Merengues”, the most successful soccer team (record 7 club world championships, 26 international titles, 13 European cups, record 34 La Liga titles, 19 Copa del Rey, 12 Supercopa de España, a Copa Eva Duarte, and a Copa de la Liga); second-most valuable ($4.7 billion) soccer team in the world (behind Barcelona); fifth-most valuable in the world; and one of the most widely-supported teams in the world. Awarded the FIFA Club of the 20th Century, FIFA Centennial Order of Merit (2004), and Best European Club of the 20th Century (2010).

Notable games include the European Cup/UEFA Champions League final (1957, 1969, 1980, 2010), European Nations’ Cup final (1964), FIFA World Cup final (1982, Italy v Germany), Copa Libertadores Finals (2018). The first (and only) stadium to host the two most important premier continental cup finals (UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores). First team to win consecutive Champions League titles, then made it three in a row and four in five seasons in 2018.

Railway Museum* (1984, founded 1967)

One of the largest historic railroad collections in Europe housed in a former railway station called Madrid-Delicias (1880). The building has a single-span iron-framed roof.

Highlights include an 1860s steam locomotive, Yorkshire Engine Company “Taurus" and a hydraulic signaling system. Runs a heritage train service to Aranjuez known as the “strawberry train.” Featured in the films Dr Zhivago (1965), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), Reds (1981), The Violet Seller (1958), Travels with My Aunt (1972), March or Die (1977), and Lovers (1991). Television series include Cable Girls, The Time in Between and Velvet.

National Auditorium of Music* (1988)

Complex of modern concert venues comprised of a 2,324-seat Sala Sinfónica (Symphonic Hall), 692-seat Sala de Cámara (Chamber Hall), and 208-seat Sala General del Coro (General Choir Hall). The main orchestra venue in Madrid, it is home to the Spanish National Orchestra, and Chamartín Symphony Orchestra.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (1988)

MNCARS is the contemporary art museum of the Golden Triangle of Art and named after Queen Sofia. The sixth-most visited museum in the world, it is housed in the former General Hospital (1805). In 2005, a €92 million 8,000m2 expansion added a 200 and 500-seat auditorium; bookshop; and restaurant.

Mainly dedicated to Spanish art, it features extensive collections of Picasso and Dalí — plus works by Miró, Gris, Bacon, Calder, Ernst, Hirst, Judd, Klein, Rivera, Roghko, Serra, and Kandinsky. The most notable works are Guernica by Picasso, The Great Masturbator by Salvador Dalí, and Equal-Parallel/Guernica-Bengasi by Richard Serra. Featured in the films Noviembre (2003) and The Limits of Control (2009).

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum* (1992)

Third museum in the Golden Triangle of Art, it includes works that don’t belong in the other two such as Old Masters, Impressionists, Expressionists, and European and American paintings from the 20th century.

With over 1,600 paintings, it was once the second largest private collection (started in the 1920s) in the world after the British Royal Collection. Many items were acquired from American millionaires coping with the Great Depression and inheritance taxes. Currently loaned by the museum for €6.5 million annually. In 2022, The US Supreme Court ruled the museum was allowed to keep Rue Saint-Honoré in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain by Camille Pissarro — which was alleged to have been acquired under duress by Nazi officials in 1939.

Highlights include Duccio, Luca di Tommè, Bernardo Daddi, Paolo Uccello, Benozzo Gozzoli, Jan van Eyck (Diptich of the Annunciation), Petrus Christus (Madonna of the Dry Tree), Robert Campin, Rogier van der Weyden, Gerard David, Hans Memling, Antonello da Messina (Portrait of a Man), Bramantino (Christus Dolens), Goya, Delacroix, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Cézanne, van Gogh, John Singer Sargent, Gris, Munch, Kandinsky, Dalí, Chagall, Hopper, Pollock, Rothko, Lichtenstein, de Kooning, Bacon, and Caravaggio (Saint Catherine).

Metropolitano Stadium* (1993)

Home stadium of Atlético Madrid, the third-most successful (11 La Liga titles, 10 Copa del Rey, 2 Supercopas de España, one Copa Presidente FEF, one Copa Eva Duarte) Spanish football club and modest European success (1962 European Cup Winners’ Cup, 1974 Intercontinental Cup, 3 UEFA Champions League runners-ups, 3 Europa League titles, 2 UEFA Super Cup).

Built as part of Madrid’s unsuccessful bid to host the 1997 World Athletics Championships. Closed in 2004 due to the city’s unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics and in 2013 was passed into the possession of Atlético Madrid. Seating capacity of 68,456.

Notable games include the second leg of the 1996 Supercopa de España (Atlético beat FC Barcelona 3–1), Spain vs Argentina friendly (2018), Copa del Rey Final (2018), and UEFA Champions League Final (2019). Also hosted the 9th IAAF World Cup (2002).

Gate of Europe* (1996)

Also known as KIO Towers, are the first inclined (15°) skyscrapers in the world. Each tower is 114m tall. Featured in the film The Day of the Beast (1995).

Viva Madrid

See

  • Dolmen de Dalí* (only urban sculpture by Dalí), Fabrica De Tabacos* (cultural center), Gran Vía (the “Great Way” or “Spanish Broadway,” shopping area, mentioned in The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway), Paseo del Prado (tree-lined boulevard)

Do

  • Cine Doré (Art Deco cinema), Corral de la Morería (flamenco dancing), Mapfre Foundation* (2008, 1884 building, exhibition of plastic arts), Parque Warner Madrid* (2002, Warner Brothers theme park)

Coffee

  • Bucolico, HanSo Café 2 (Japanese), Hola Coffee, Urbano Specialty Coffee

Eat

  • Casa Lucas (ponchos), Chocolatería San Ginés (1894, famous chocolate and churros), Churrería Madrid 1883*, El Gato Montes (great food), Kiosko de Horchata Miguel y José* (Madrid’s last horchata kiosk), La Primera*

Drink

  • Bee Beer (small craft beer selection), Clavel*, La Buena Pinta (excellent range of craft beer, food nearby), La Vía Láctea (super cool dive bar), Sala Equis (hipster hangout in former porno theatre), Salmon Guru (#24 bar in the world, to much reliance on kitschy glassware, operated by Viva Madrid), Taberna La Concha (vermouth), Viva Madrid (1856, icon bar, excellent drinks)

Shop

  • Chopper Monster (rockabilly), Chucky Sneakers (streetwear), MAS (jamón), Mercado de la Paz, Saint Ferdinand Market (food and drink), Tienda Hípica El Valenciano* (1893, oldest shop in the Rastro, botas de vino)
Metropolis Building

Honorable Mentions

  • Plaza de España* (1929). Features a monument to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (with statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza) and is adjacent to two of Madrid’s most prominent skyscrapers. In 1808, one of the locations used by French firing squads to execute prisoners taken during the May 2nd uprising.
  • Chapel of Our Lady & of St John Lateran* (16th century). “Bishop’s Chapel.”
  • Bridge of Segovia* (1584).
  • Palace of the Councils* (1613). Duke commission that later housed the mother of Charles II of Spain, the queen mother Mariana of Austria, who died there in 1696.
  • Royal Monastery of the Incarnation* (1616). Convent founded by the Queen Margaret of Austria to celebrate the expulsion of resident Moors. When Joseph Bonaparte entered Madrid as king, a hanged cat was found on the monastery gate with the writing “If you don’t leave this town soon/ you’ll end up like this cat.” In the 19th century, the composer Lorenzo Román Nielfa was professor of music here. Opened to the public in 1965.
  • Santa Cruz Palace* (1636). The Palace of the Holy Cross was used as a jail until 1767, when it was converted into a palace. In 1791, a fire destroyed all but the facade.
  • Pontifical Basilica of St. Michael* (1745). Minor basilica.
  • Parish of Santa Bárbara* (1758)
  • House of Gallardo* (1911)
  • Metropolis Building (1911). An office building featuring a cupola covered in 30,000 24-carat gold leaves. The original statue on top of the building depicted the mythological Phoenix and Ganymede. Restored in 1996.
  • Edificio Grassy* (1917). Triangular building with rotunda topped by two superimposed Renaissance-inspired belvederes. Since 1952 houses Grassy Jewelers. The basement houses a museum of ancient clocks from the 16th to the 19th century. Featured in the 1981 painting La Gran Vía.
  • Caryatid Building* (1918). First office building in Madrid! Former head office of the Central Bank and later of the Santander Bank. Contains a 1,200-person exhibition hall and auditorium.
  • Telefónica Building* (1929). One of the first European skyscrapers and tallest (89m) in Europe until 1940. Inspired by Manhattan. Lookout during the Spanish Civil War. Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry sent their reports from inside the building. Currently a flagship store.
  • Lázaro Galdiano Museum* (1951, building 1903). Private art collection.
  • Edificio España* (1953). The Hotel Riu Plaza España is a historic skyscraper, the 8th tallest (117m) building in Madrid containing a hotel, offices, apartments and shops. Tallest building in Spain until 1957. In 2019, reopened as the 585-room Hotel Riu Plaza España. Featured in the film The Hit (1984).
  • Torre de Madrid* (1957). One of the tallest (142m) buildings in Madrid and contains offices and apartments. Conceived as the tallest concrete building in the world upon completion, it was equipped with 12 high-speed elevators. The tallest office building in Western Europe until 1967 and tallest building in Spain until 1982. Featured in numerous films such as The Hit (1984).
  • Torrespaña (1982). Spain Tower is the tallest (231m) structure in Spain; a television tower built to commemorate the 1982 FIFA World Cup. Generally known in Madrid as the “Pirulí” given the similarity to a lollipop popular in Spain in the eighties.
  • Torre Picasso* (1988). Tallest (157m) building in Madrid until 2007. Currently the fifth-tallest in Madrid and the tenth in Spain.
  • CaixaForum Madrid (2007). Museum and cultural center in a former 1900s power station. Features a vertical garden.
  • Cuatro Torres Business Area* (2009). Four Towers Business Area contains the four tallest skyscrapers in Spain (Torre Espacio, 224m; Torre de Cristal, 249m; Torre PwC, 236m; Torre Cepsa, 248m), and four of the ten tallest in the EU. Construction of the buildings finished in 2008. A fifth tower, Caleido, is under construction.

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Interesting.

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Daniel Lanciana

Daniel Lanciana

Interesting.

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