Moorish Mayrit, Mozarabic Matrit
It’s finally time I set myself to create the travel guide for my home town. I know it won’t be easy but rather a challenge in order to try to compile the best through my own experience and eyes, and if creating the guide for Barcelona was already a difficult task where of course, there is much more to see and do than what I shared, here I am still even deciding on how I am actually going to structure and divide the sections and areas within the city for the sightseeing list.
But first, let’s start with some interesting facts. Remember that I do not describe in detail the history of the cities in my travel blog; for that you already have Wikipedia, Wikitravel and many other sites on the web, but I do always provide a good input and some notes quite appropriate to give you an idea. Madrid is the largest city in Spain; 3rd largest city after London and Berlin, 3rd largest metropolitan area after London and Paris and 3rd largest GDP in the European Union. Capital of Spain since 1561 when King Philip II moved it from Toledo. It’s the largest transportation and communications hub in the Iberian Peninsula; media, business, banking, commercial, education, fashion, political, arts, entertainment and cultural centre making it one of the world’s major global cities. It is the major financial centre of Southern Europe. Ranking among the most liveliest cities in the world, you will find one of the friendliest and more welcoming people in Europe.
It is quite surprising that most of the tourists Spain receives per year do not consider visiting Madrid and instead quickly go to the Mediterranean coast, Andalusia, the islands, and the most visited city in Spain, Barcelona. And shocking in the other hand, it is for many people in the UK to believe that the capital of Spain is Barcelona. I get into such comments quite frequently where I have to teach politely the people a little bit of geography and basic history.
Thankfully Madrid is more, and more concentrated lately in selling itself around the world and letting the world know the beauties it has. Not long ago in partnership with New York City, Madrid’s Gran Via Avenue was renamed Broadway, and NYC’s Broadway renamed Gran Via. For those who don’t know, Gran Via (literally meaning Broad Street) is actually nicknamed the Spanish Broadway due to the amount of cinemas and theatres along its way, but also for it’s architecture; the first skyscraper ever built in Europe and many other buildings have that North American style look.
The large historic old town has three major world renown squares among many others, being Puerta del Sol the very heart, Plaza Mayor the centre point of the Madrid of the Austrians (or the Habsburgs) and Plaza de Oriente where the Royal Palace, Cathedral and Opera House are. Any street around those squares are full of history; old churches, palaces, monuments, many squares and beautiful buildings in general. As a knife cutting through a tart, Gran Via Avenue was built in the 1910s making it’s way through the old town, demolishing hundreds of buildings in its way. Now it stands as an urban landmark and a masterpiece collection of beautiful and grand 20th century buildings.
Surrounding the old city on all sides is the elegant late 19th century extension of the city. These extensions are common in most Spanish cities during this period; something I mentioned in the guide of Barcelona where that city hosts the best and largest example of them all. In Madrid it also follows an strict orthogonal urban plan although not octagonal as Barcelona’s one. Along these streets you will find an immense collection of buildings in all architectural styles that can certainly keep you wandering for days. A key player in the extension is the Retiro Park. The largest park inside a city anywhere in Spain is in fact the former gardens of the Retiro Palace from which only a few buildings remain, being one of them El Prado Museum, one of the best and largest art galleries in the world.
Visiting the city can be challenging if you do have only a weekend for example. Many people take the chance and spend the weekend abroad why not. I am doing this countless years! But unfortunately it will be physically impossible to visit all. It’s very large with so much to see and do that it will require at least 4 days. And then, if you are planning to get to any of the surrounding historical and cultural cities such as Toledo, Talavera, Segovia, Alcala, Avila, Cuenca, El Escorial and plenty more, then your time will increase drastically. There are just too many, and all so near and easy to reach.
For further information about Madrid visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Madrid
- Madrid of the Austrians Also knows as Madrid of the Habsburgs is the old town and most historical are in the city where most of the landmarks are located.
-Puerta del Sol Translates as the Door of the Sun. It is the absolute centre of the city, one of the must do when visiting Madrid and also a principal meeting point and transport hub. It is also the square where majority of the protest or mobilizations occur. The biggest celebration is New Year’s Eve when the square gets packed every inch on the waiting for the famous clock’ ball to drop down announcing the new year.
-Statue of King Charles III In the centre of the square.
-Royal Post Office Real Casa de Correos was the first post office building in Madrid, then served as the police headquarters before becoming the main office of the city major. The clock tower is world famous as being the one used for the New Year’s celebrations transmitted across Spain live from here.
-Kilometro Cero Right at the front of the Royal Post Office is the plaque in the pavement where the measurement of the roads system across Spain begins.
-Oso y Madroño Statue Is the symbol of Madrid, a bear climbing a madroño (arbutus) tree.
-Tio Pepe advert After few years removed from it’s original place on the roof of what is now the Apple Store building, it is back completely refurnish on top of El Corte Ingles building. It’s a very old neon advert, protected landmark.
-Plaza Mayor One of the best known squares in Madrid and important tourist sight filled with many shops, cafes and restaurants on each of the sides.
-Statue of King Philip III Located right in the middle of the square.
-Casa de la Panadería Is the painted building with two towers on the north side of the square which once served as the headquarters of the bakers’ guild. Just opposite in the south side is another building with two towers, but painted only in pink as the east and west sides.
-San Miguel Market Built in 1913 and converted into a delicatessen food stalls heaven where yo can sample great vermouth with tapas for example.
-Calle Mayor/West of Puerta del Sol One of the oldest and historical streets in the city, linking Puerta del Sol with the Cathedral of La Almudena which is next to the Royal Palace, passing through Plaza de la Villa and many beautiful buildings and monuments.
-Plaza de la Villa Was the main square in the Middle Ages, located on Calle Mayor (High Street) which was the main street back then. It’s one of the most historical and visited places by tourists.
-Palace of Luján One of the few Medieval buildings preserved in the city from the 15th century in Gothic-Mudejar style.
-Cisneros House From the 16th century, one of the few Renaissance buildings in the city in Plateresque style.
-Casa de la Villa From the 17th century in Baroque style, is one of the buildings used by the City Hall.
-Calle Arenal/West of Puerta del Sol Almost parallel to Calle Mayor links Puerta del Sol with Opera Square passing through historical shops, cafes and discos as San Gines, Joy Eslava theatre-disco or Palacio Gaviria disco.
-Plaza de Opera Recently revamped it is surrounded by old buildings and nice landscaped square. The recently expanded metro station hosts the remains of the Arabic walls found on the excavated site.
-Royal Opera House Built in 1850 after orders of Queen Isabel the II presides the square.
-Queen Isabel the II Statue Right in the middle of the square and looking towards the Opera House.
-Plaza de Oriente Is another of the most important tourist sights in Madrid. Full of historical buildings at one side, the back façade of the Royal Opera House and the large and beautiful Royal Palace and Madrid’s Cathedral, all surrounded by the landscaped gardens which includes the statues of kings and queens.
-Royal Palace The official residence of the Spanish Royal Family although only used for official ceremonies as they live in the much smaller and modest Palacio de la Zarzuela. The site goes back to the 9th century Moorish castle, the Mayrit (from where the name of Madrid comes), then in the 16th century the Alcazar was built on the site and replaced by the current palace after the Alcazar burnt down. Was officially open in 1764. With 3418 rooms, it is the largest Palace in Europe in floor space. You can visit some of the rooms, admire the paintings, furniture, porcelain, armoury and other wealthy collections for 11 Euros.
-Gardens of Sabatini Located on the right hand side of the palace are worth a visit. The beautiful staircase leading down was also designed by Sabatini. You will get the most impressive view of the palace from the pond fountain, giving you an overview of how large the palace is.
-Campo del Moro Although not in Plaza de Oriente, these gardens are located on the opposite side of the Royal Palace, near the opposite end of the Gardens of Sabatini. Are listed on the Spanish National Heritage and worth the visit for the incredible views you get of the Royal Palace and the massive amount of different species of trees and plants and old pavilions.
-Principe Pio train station At one of the sides of Campo del Moro is one of original Madrid’s main train stations. This was referred as the north station as all destinations served were to the north of Spain. Nowadays it only handles commuter trains while the rest of the station has been turned into a shopping centre.
-Puerta de San Vicente On the roundabout between one of the sides of Campo del Moro and Principe Pio station. Originally built in 1775 was dismantled in 1890 loosing any track of its remains. The current one was rebuilt upon original designs in 1995.
-Cathedral of La Almudena Finished near the end of 20th century, it is where the Princes of Asturias Felipe and Letizia were married in 2004. The square right in front of the main façade, Plaza de Armas, is linked to the Royal Palace.
-Puente de Segovia On the left side of the Cathedral, on Calle Bailen is this bridge where you will get great views of Madrid due to the high location at the top of a hill respect the rest of the city below.
-Carrera de San Jeronimo/East of Puerta del Sol This street runs between Sol and Neptune Square at the intersection with Paseo del Prado.
-Canalejas Square Is a beautiful small roundabout full with historic 19th/20th century buildings and theatres. Las Cuevas del Sesamo, as mentioned in the section above of nightlife is meters away from here.
-Courts Square Where the Deputies Congress building is.
-Calle de Alcala/East of Puerta del Sol Is one of the longest avenues in the city where the most important and historical section is that running between Sol where this avenue ends and Retiro Park.
-El Retiro Park Without nay doubt the park by excellence in Madrid, one of the lungs of the city. Originally was the gardens of the Royal Palace of El Buen Retiro, which nowadays few buildings remain, being the most important El Prado Museum. Inside the park the main landmarks are the lake with its impressive monument, fountains and monuments, the Crystal Palace and other pavilions which were built for the Mine National Exhibition.
-Puerta de Alcala Is a neo-Classical monumental gate, one of the most picturesque and elegant in Madrid. It’s name derives for being located at the old road to Alcala de Henares.
-Cibeles Square At the confluence with Paseo de la Castellana (or Recoletos as it is known this section of the avenue) is the next landmark square of Madrid after Sol, and main international image of Madrid to the world. Surrounded at all sides with fine and grand buildings with one of the symbols of the city in the fountain in the middle of the roundabout.
-Cibeles Fountain Icon of the city, it is where Real Madrid football fans celebrate their team’s victories.
-Casa de America At the western confluence with Calle de Alcala is the House of America, occupying the neo-Baroque Linares Palace which was said to be enchanted few years back when it was empty for many years.
-Palacio de Telecomunicaciones Nowadays the main City Hall building, occupying the former Palace of Telecommunications. This building with Cibeles monument on the front is one of the worldwide images of the city. The largest and most impressive building designed by Antonio Palacios, who was said to be the architect of Madrid due to the amount of buildings he created plus designing some of the first metro lines and stations where the entrances can still be seen today and embellishment of the city. You are free to go inside the glass-roofed gallery while from the restaurant on the top you will get unparalleled views of the confluence of the square, Gran Via and Alcala; the best postcard image you will get in Madrid.
-Bank of Spain Built in 1891 to group to institution as it was lacking space, has eclectic influences on the exterior façades while the most modern addition was built in 2006 following designs of Rafael Moneo with a cubic style which perfectly fits with the old building.
-Circulo de Bellas Artes The Circle of Fine Arts building was designed by Antonio Palacios. In eclectic style makes a priceless addition to the already imposing collection of buildings nearby the confluence of Alcala with Gran Via. You can go up the roof where you will get some of the best views of Gran Via, Alcala, Cibeles and beyond.
-Rio de la Plata Bank Nowadays the Instituto Cervantes headquarters, is another of the imposing buildings in this area, also designed by Antonio Palacios.
-Teatro Cofidis Formerly known as Teatro Alcala is one of the many theatres that form what is called the Broadway of Madrid.
-Edificio de las Cuadrigas The former Madrid’s headquarters of the BBVA Bank is a landmark building in the city which became even more known nationally after the movie La Comunidad. Built in 1920 is a work of art in every corner, special mention the horse carriages sculptures on the roof.
-Banco Español de Crédito Is another former bank building, commonly known as Palacio de la Equitativa. Built in 1891 and just across the road from the Edificio de las Cuadrigas is another landmark structure in the street which famous feat is the clock and metal work on top of it. Nowadays restored as part of the huge complex of the Four Seasons Hotel and shopping mall.
-Ministries Most of the other buildings in this section of the street are ministries, most of them occupying former banks therefore their imposing appearance.
-Montera, Preciados and Carmen streets/North of Puerta del Sol Those streets lead directly towards Gran Via, either to Red de San Luis opposite the Telefonica Building or to Callao. Are principal tourist and shopping thoroughfares.
-Calle Carretas/South of Puerta del Sol This street leads to the southern side of the old town core, with an incredible thriving nightlife and culture, with theatres and opera houses.
-Plaza de Jacinto Benavente Just at the end of Calle Carretas with the Calderon Theatre and Ideal Cine, both art-nouveau buildings.
-Plaza del Angel Is the next square adjacent to Jacinto Benavente fully surrounded by historical buildings, many of them with great bars and restaurants on the lower floor, as Espana Cañi.
-Plaza de Santa Ana Historical square with beautiful buildings at all sides, all of them having restaurants and bars on the lower floor. Without doubt one of the best areas to go out. At one of the corners is the Hawaiian cocktail place Mauna Loa.
-Hotel ME Reina Victoria This landmark hotel is one of the finest examples of art-nouveau buildings in the city occupying the whole of the western side of the square. Don’t miss the rooftop terrace, the views are incredible.
-Teatro Español Built in 1897 in neoclassical style occupies the whole eastern side of the square.
-Hotel Room Mate Alicia Another fine art-nouveau building occupying one of the corners on the eastern side of the square.
-Calle de las Huertas Starts at Plaza del Angel and runs parallel to Plaza Santa Ana all the way down straight to Paseo del Prado. In this street and the smaller ones at each side you will find one of the largest nightlife areas in Madrid.
-Calle Atocha Starts meters away from Jacinto Benavente Square and runs also parallel to Huertas in straight line to end up in Emperador Carlos V Square corner with Paseo del Prado.
-Teatro Monumental Is a concert hall built in the 1920s in eclectic style housing the RTVE Symphony Orchestra.
-Teatro Kapital One of the best streamlined buildings preserved in Madrid, a former cinema (Cine San Carlos) now one of the largest discos in Madrid with 7 floors. The interior theatre decoration is kept intact and the stage is extremely well used for lighting effects.
-National Institute of Public Administration Large 18th century building with a beautiful façade and front door located almost on Emperador Carlos V Square.
- Gran Via Avenue The landmark avenue of Madrid running from Cibeles Square to Plaza de España is filled with cinemas and theatres, that’s why it’s nicknamed the Spanish Broadway, and with hundreds of shops and restaurants. It marks the limit between the old town (Madrid of the Austrians) and the newer 19th century enlargements of the city. Among the most impressive buildings along the avenue are:
-Metropolis Building Nationwide famous for being a key spot for movies and adverts also of international productions. It is the most beautiful picture you can get of Gran Via and Alcala with Metropolis dividing both avenues. Worth to mention its illumination at night.
-Grassy Building At number 1 Gran Via, is literally the next building after the Metropolis. Built in 1917 is another landmark construction with its fine pergola on the rooftop. The upscale Grassy Jeweller occupies the ground floor since 1952.
-Telefonica Headquarters The very first skyscraper in Europe, entirely of North American design even in the style of the windows, but with a more Spanish traditional finish at the top where the clock is.
-Red de San Luis This street in front of the Telefonica building boasts beautiful grand elegant buildings at all sides. It leads directly to Sol.
-Callao Square Perhaps the most remarkable square from the Madrid of the early 20th century, and the most similar to a North America city for the architecture of the buildings around. Important meeting place and transport hub, centre of cinema and theatres nearby.
-Palacio de la Prensa Built in 1928, once the tallest building in the city until Telefonica headquarters was built. Influenced by Noth American architecture, specially based on the Auditorium Building in Chicago with the difference that Palacio de la Prensa is almost in full extent using bricks. The cinema forms part of the same complex.
-Callao Cinema Another of the landmark cinemas in the city, built in 1926 in eclectic style, name that receives the art deco in Spain.
-Capitol Building and Cinema Although the real name is Edificio Carrion it is most commonly named after the cinema in the ground floors. The image of this beautiful eclectic building, the Gran Via Avenue and the Palacio de la Prensa across the street is one of the most memorable you can get. This building appears in most movies and adverts done in Madrid, either national or international productions. Among them, 2 famous national productions are Torrente and Abre los Ojos (which later an American production recreated the very same movie as Open your Eyes though not in Madrid). The cinema is an impressive piece of art deco keeping most if its interiors still original. The rest of the building are offices and the Vincci Hotel.
-Schweppes Neon sign Located across the top floors of the Capitol Building is a Registered National Monument, one of the very few signs to receive such title together with Tio Pepe in Sol.
-Plaza de España Continuing on the last section of Gran Via after Callao to the north is this large square linked to the Royal Palace which is a short walk away.
-Edificio España Completed in 1953 in Neo-Baroque style was for 4 years the tallest building in Spain. Will soon be renovated for luxury apartments in its full.
-Torre de Madrid Completed in 1957 was the highest building in Western Europe back then and still as of today one of the tallest residential buildings in Spain. It was the tallest concrete building in the world. You will have the best view walking from Callao towards Plaza de España along Gran Via.
-Don Quixote and Sancho Panza Monument Located in the middle of the gardens, with fountains at the sides.
-Debod Temple What majority of people would never expect to see in Madrid is a real ancient Egyptian temple complete with its three stone pylon gateways. It was a gift from the government of Egypt in 1968 for the effort and help of Spain in relocating the temples of Abu Simbel upon the construction of the Aswan Damn which would mean the lost forever of the temples. It is located in Parque del Oeste, just behind Plaza de España.
- Calle de la Princesa Is the name that receives the Avenue from Plaza de España until the end, Moncloa. Not to be mistaken in naming this section of the avenue Gran Via, which could easily be as it’s the continuation of it.
-Palacio de Liria Built in 1770 in Neo-classical style designed by Ventura Rodriguez. Unfortunately you cannot visit it nor see the beautiful façade. It is still private property belonging to the family of the now defunct richest woman in Spain, the Duchess Cayetana of Alba (which hosts the most nobility titles than anyone else in the world).
- Moncloa Is a large open space, square and transport hub on the west of the city right at the very end of Calle de la Princesa. The name of the district is Moncloa-Aravaca and it’s where you can find most of Madrid’s Universities and the Presidential Palace among other sights.
-Royal Air Force Building This impressive building and he surrounding ones to complete with the urbanism around is well worth the visit, although you cannot get inside. The best is, anyway, the architecture from the outside.
-Arch of the Victory In the middle of a busy roundabout at one of the principal road transport nodes is another good stamp from Madrid.
-Museum of America Holds a great collection of artistic, archaeological and ethnographic artefacts from the whole American continent.
-Faro de Moncloa Translates as the Lighthouse of Moncloa is a viewing platform and restaurant tower although unfortunately it is now closed but opens spontaneously at random days. Check over the internet if you will be lucky.
-House of Velazquez Opened in 1929 is a French School modelled on the Villa Médicis in Rome with beautiful landscaped gardens.
-Moncloa Palace This is the official residence of the Prime Minister of Spain. Originally built in the 17th century, the current building is a reconstruction from 1955.
- Paseo de la Castellana The main transport artery in the City running all the way from the very north to the south to end at Emperador Carlos V Square and passing through the most important communications nodes. It’s the main business district in the whole of Spain. For the entire length beautiful trees align at both sides, while for 3/4 of the length, extra sideways at both sides further expand the greenery making it a great place to walk with many nice terraces, parks, monuments and fountains.
-Cuatro Torres Business Area Those 4 skyscrapers of recent construction are the tallest in Spain (as of June 2012). located at the very north of the avenue, just north of Plaza de Castilla and next to the main hospital in the city. The metro station serving this area is Begoña on line 10.
-Torre Espacio Designed by Henry N. Cobb.
-Torre Bankia Designed by Norman Foster.
-Torre de Cristal Designed by Cesar Pelli.
-Torre PWC Designed by Carlos Rubio Carvajal and Enrique Álvarez-Sala.
-Plaza de Castilla Is the main transport hub covering the northern region of the community of Madrid. A large bus terminal is in the middle, one overground and a 3 floors one underground.
-Torres de Europa Previously known as Torres KIO (for Kuwait Investment Office) were designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. They were the first inclined skyscrapers in the world, and at 115 meters they are still an unique 21st century landmark in the city. The most obvious picture you can take is that of you “pushing” the tower so it appears it’s falling on you.
-Monument of Calatrava Right in between of the twin towers is this needle monument, gift of Caja Madrid to the city and designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Unfortunately it is rare to see it with the hundreds of little motors on movement.
-Azca Business District The main financial and business district in Spain. Originally planned in the 1940s but the first construction took place from the 1970s. It includes some of the towers that were for many years the tallest in Spain. Among some of the most important architecturally talking are:
-Torre Picasso Built in 1988 a landmark skyscraper designed by Minoru Yamasaki, same architect as the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. It is in fact a tower with the very same structure and design as a Twin Tower but a third shorter in height and white not grey.
-Torre Europa Designed by Miguel Oriol e Ybarra and built in 1985 is another of the landmark buildings in Madrid. The clock on the upper part is an unique feat.
-Torre BBVA Designed by Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza and built in 1981. It’s main feature is the colour of the glasses and the enormous variety of shades as the light changes.
-Torre Titania The latest addition just finished in 2013 occupies the space of the former Torre Windsor which burnt down.
-Santiago Bernabeu Stadium World famous stadium, a must stop for any football fan. Located right in front of AZCA.
-Paseo de Recoletos Is the name Castellana receives from Columbus Square with direction to the south up to Cibeles Square.
-Columbus Square A large open air square where you will find the gardens where the largest flag pole in Spain is located. The was museum, Fernan Gomez Theatre, Hard Rock and luxurious hotels are located around the square. Goya Street, full of up-scale shopping starts here.
-National Library This large Neo-Classical building keeps thousands of ancient manuscripts and unique books from all ages.
-Monument to Columbus Easily located at the centre of the roundabout.
-Torres de Colon Although at first look can lead you to think it’s just one tower, in reality are two. They were the first skyscrapers in the world to be built from top to bottom. This is, the main core was built and the floors hang from the top instead of rest as usual on pillars.
-Cibeles Square Already described above under Calle de Alcala.
-Paseo del Prado Is the name Castellana receives continuing southwards from Columbus Square.
-Naval Museum Housed on an impressive building side by side from the Palace of Telecommunications it’s full of history covering over 500 years.
-Neptune Square/Plaza de la Lealtad This beautiful fountain is where Athletic of Madrid followers come to celebrate the victory of their team. Surrounded by luxurious hotels and at the beginning of what is described the “Triangle of the Art”.
-Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum Not far from El Prado Museum, it is one of the largest private collections of art in the world, belonging to Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and later descendants, Dutch in origin although long time living in Spain where he died.
-Hotel Palace One of the first original three super luxurious Palace hotels together with that of Paris and London. You won’t miss the beautiful façade overlooking the square.
-Hotel Ritz Carlton On the opposite side from the Palace Hotel, is another of the late 19th century built luxurious hotels and still one of the top in the city.
-Stock Exchange Almost across the road from the Ritz Carlton and right in front of the Lealtad Square with the beautiful gardens. Built in classical style with the characteristic Doric columns on the front.
-Prado Museum Literally opposite the Thyssen-Bornemisza is among the best art galleries in the world, and largest too. The recent expansion is a work of art in itself that gave more than twice the original exhibition space and used the courtyard of San Jeronimo Church as one of the halls, beautifully integrating the old with modern architecture designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo.
-San Jeronimo Church Right behind the main 18th century building of El Prado Museum and gardens, it is one of the most beautiful churches in the city in Gothic style.
-Royal Botanical Gardens Side by side with El Prado Museum it is among one of the oldest in Europe, and forms with nearby El Retiro Park one of the largest urban green spaces on any city in Europe.
-Royal Academy of the Spanish Language Located side to side with El Prado Museum is another beautiful and historical building that completes the area.
- Emperador Carlos V Square/South of Madrid Marks the end of Paseo de la Castellana being one of the most important transportation nodes in the city.
-Atocha Train Station The most impressive of all the train stations in Madrid and of course the most beautiful. Designed by Alberto de Palacio Elissagne, collaborator of Gustave Eiffel. After many transformations, firstly to accommodate the high speed trains since 1992, then the expansion of the commuter services and then again a recently completely huge expansion designed by Rafael Moneo, it is now 3 stations in one, being the high speed one and airport like style one. The former station was converted into a green house housing many palm trees from around the world and ponds with turtles and fishes. It is a must see while in Madrid.
-Reina Sofía Modern Art Museum Occupying part of a former hospital, it is one of the largest Modern Art museums in Europe while one of the most important due to the huge collection of masterpieces. Among them, Picasso’s huge Guernika.
-Ministry of Agriculture At one of the sides of Atocha train station is this imposing classical style building where the sculptures decorating the front façade are the main highlight.
-Calle de las Delicias Running from Atocha towards the south west, is one the up-scale residential areas in the city.
-Delicias Train Station This former train station, now only served by the adjacent commuter train station is one of the oldest and nicest with difference. A fine example of Spanish industrial architecture from 1880.
- Barrio de Salamanca This is the name that receives the east neighbourhoods of Madrid. The 19th century expansion of the former city limits of the old town is a huge area of orthogonal urbanism where most of the exclusive and expensive apartments are. Tree-lined streets with beautiful urban design and incredibly elegant houses everywhere. It is also the up-scale shopping district by excellence. Streets like Goya, Serrano and Velazquez are a must, all named after famous Spanish painters. From Gothic to classic, to art-nouveau and art-deco, all styles are represented.
- Outside of the city There are many places you can go at very short distance and time, whether within the autonomous region of Madrid itself or around the neighbouring ones, most of which UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as El Escorial, Alcala de Heneres, Aranjuez, Toledo, Avila, Segovia, Cuenca or the countless villages all over the region and the mountains.
Food, drinks and nightlife
Please take in consideration that as I could roll and roll describing my favourite places, I need to shorten it to a simpler version compiling the best. Of course there are hundreds more places, but most of these mentioned below are the ones you would not even know they exist, being not touristy and pretty local. Surely you will enjoy them more rather than the ones every tourist go.
- Sol, Plaza Mayor and Opera Areas Although there are too many places to choose (you will be fine on any of them and specially now that many low cost bars have spread all around with great offers), you should consider my recommendations below:
-Las Cuevas del Sesamo Ranks number 1 as the place where to get the best sangria in Madrid. It’s atmosphere is also unique in the sense that it has retained the charm of what used to be a Bohemian place where writers and artists were meeting from the beginning of the 20th century. A pianist plays from time to time very traditional songs, noticeable Madrileñan ones. It’s few meters from Plaza de Canalejas, around 5 minutes from Sol.
-Las Bravas There are few locations nowadays, you will find them behind Sol Square. Their spicy sauce is patented and they do indeed, the best patatas bravas in town. You can also have many other dishes, quite competitive in price. It is very likely you will need to wait for a table to be available, don’t hesitate in doing so, it’s very worth it.
-Chocolateria San Gines For the very best chocolate and churros in Madrid you cannot miss this place. Hundreds of famous people have been through its doors, from Spanish actors and political figures to international ones. It is always very crowded and you will need to wait for a table to become available. Tue queue tends to be in the street, but you cannot leave Madrid without experiencing this place. Ask for both churros and porras, the later one is a much thicker churro, much more delicious to my taste.
-Sidreria Costanilla This is without doubt my favourite cider place in whole of Madrid. Located off Calle Arenal right before the Opera House on the little street Costanilla de los Angeles. Proper cider from Asturias, free tapas and as many free peanuts as you wish. You can also get a table and stay for dinner but gets busy very quick.
-Calamar baguette in plaza Mayor This is another of the must does while in Madrid. Fried calamari baguette, just as it sounds, nothing else, only if you want to add a hint of lemon. It is very cheap and delicious with a beer. Expect the queue well outside the bar, although it’s very quick, and you have two places to choose from. We always chose the second one (this is let’s say the “farthest” from the square, 3 meters away from the first bar).
-San Miguel Market Right after the arches of Plaza Mayor towards Opera is this newly refurbished market turned into a delicatessen food and drinks paradise. here is very famous to saviour vermouth. You will find it at some of the stalls, many varieties; obviously ask for Madrid one. They will serve it with a free tapas of nice olives.
- Santa Ana Area There are many beer places, all of them are local breweries where they create their own German style beer. Most of those places have two floors, being the lower ground floor big tables with your own beer tap! But be careful with this…you soon won’t realise and will end up too drank and paying quite a lot specially if you are with a group of friends. Those places are also restaurants with really good food, not the cheapest, but still competitive.
-España Cañi Ranking in 2nd place is this other bar place where you can also get excellent sangria with free tapas. It’s more traditional in the decoration and the best seats are at the back in what is called la Sacristia. Meters away from Plaza de Santa Ana, right behind Sol. You can order some nice “raciones” for dinner (larger portions than a tapas).
-Mauna Loa Is a cocktail place named after the mountain in Hawaii. The cocktails are superb but wait to see the enormous amount of free tapas you will get with your cocktail! The most famous it Volcano (for obvious name reasons). It will come to your table with smoking top. Although the place is big as it has several floors with rooms on the sides, the queues to enter can be well over 1h, but it’s worth the wait. Located at one of the corners of Plaza Santa Ana.
-Barrio de las Letras/Huertas Street Just off Santa Ana Square is Huertas Street where you will find one of the major nightlife areas together with the parallel and perpendicular streets nearby. You won’t find restaurants down this street as all the places are bars and discos.
- Callao and Gran Via This is the main artery of Madrid dividing the old town in two. What I wrote above this is one side of the old town, while what I will write from here below is located on the other side. Along Gran Via you will find countless bars and restaurants among the hundreds of shops, most of them flagship stores; theatres and cinemas.
-Lizarran Just off Callao Square is this Basque tapas restaurant style. It is in fact a chain of restaurants of the same name currently expanding all over. You can select among many “pintxos” which are like a tapas but bigger. You need to keep the stick in the plate after you eat and you pay depending on how many sticks you have and size of them; or you can opt for a proper menu. If you come on Thursday or Sunday every pintxo is 1 Euro, and so the beer! You can really have a copious and delicious dinner for very little money with the chance of taste many different foods.
-Vips Restaurants They are a chain of restaurants from Madrid and expanded across Spain where you can have a mix of food between Spanish to American style at very good prices. Vips is more international food while Ginos is the Italian option. In any case, any of them offer the same desserts which are a must on their own either if you go for food or not. Try the “small” glasses. At just 1.5 Euros each you will love them! And yes, my brackets in small are sarcastic, they are in fact quite large for the price.
- Bilbao, Tribunal and Chueca Areas Those 3 neighbourhoods near each others are full with trendy restaurants, bars and discos. From some places still remaining original from La Movida Madrileña to one of the largest gay districts in Europe, Chueca. Those areas combined make almost 50% of the nightlife in Madrid. From Sol you can easily walk towards Tribunal and Chueca which are just across Gran Via.
- Castellana Area Although in Castellana itself there are some posh discos and many restaurants, specially after Doctor Maranon Square towards Cibeles, there are 2 large specific areas with plenty of discos.
-Juan Bravo Is another spot in the city with thriving nightlife and nice discos.
-Torre Europa/Avenida de Brasil This is an area more orientated to adolescents. Plenty of discos, some quite trendy and thematic just meters away from the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
- Moncloa/Arguelles Area It’s been long time since I don’t come back here and from what I have heard it is not anymore as good as used to be. This neighbourhood is near the university therefore expect the clientèle to be universitarian. But here you will find my 3rd favourite place in the list, El Chapandaz. It’s a cave style decorated cocktail bar where you can try their famous drinks Leche de Pantera and Pantera Rosa. You can order from 0.5l to a 10l glass! As you hear, 10 litres glass.
Madrid Barajas airport is the largest by passenger numbers (and cargo) in Spain. The shiny Terminals 4 and 4S were the longest terminal building in the world until the recent construction of a new terminal at Dubai and still among the highest capacity airport terminal facility in the world. Getting from the airport to anywhere in the city centre could not be easier. The metro connects with 2 stops, Terminal 123 and Terminal 4. There is also a commuter rail link linking with Chamartin, Nuevos Ministerios and Atocha, from where you can connect to any other commuter line. Buses do also connect with Avenida de America station, a major transport hub in the city.
Of course you have another great transport network across the whole of Spain, the high speed train network. It was the 1st country in the world in number of operational kilometres, nowadays placed 2nd in the world’s list only after China (as of 2014). Travelling from anywhere in Spain to Madrid is very fast and efficient. Consider taking the train instead of the plane if you are in Spain, it will take you by far less time on high speed train. *Note that conventional trains do also the routes but at much longer time.
Within the city there is a huge bus, rail and metro network, with an increasing number of tram lines around the outskirts new neighbourhoods. You can reach any corner of the city without problem very efficiently as most of the bus routes now used their designated bus lanes while the metro system is at the moment of writing this guide, the 8th largest system in the world at over 300km of tracks encompassing 13 lines, 2nd largest in Europe after London. The commuter train system is formed of 10 lines covering over 370km reaching as far as the neighbouring regions of the autonomous communities circling around Madrid.
The fare system depends on distance travelled, and you can get a single ticket, or a bono, this is, 10 trips ticket where the total fare is reduced. Now recently introduced as of 2018 replacing any paper ticket is the plastic money wallet which you can load with single tickets or as a 10 trips bono. The system is the very same as it was with paper however with the reusable card. It costs 2 Euros to get the card, which are non-refundable. Consider getting tourist passes which are valid for 3, 5 or 7 days. It will save you a lot of money should you be planning to move frequently by public transport (which generally you will).
If taking the metro at the airport, or getting off there, then a special supplement of 3 Euros that needs to be added into the ticket. Don’t worry on this, as you can do it right there at the airport station, no matter if you are arriving in the airport station. The machines are there before you leave the barriers and there is always personnel helping any traveller.
Beware that commuter train tickets are different to metro and buses which use the same.
I wish I could tell you any precise recommendation, but with such a vast choice on every area of the city, this is quite a hard decision to make, not to mention that I have never been sleeping in a hotel in Madrid as I never needed it as I do stay at my flat.
Getting a good deal should be the less stressful or time consuming task. Obviously keep in mind that key dates will generally mean spending more, for example during Easter or Christmas periods. During summer, time of the year Madrileños escape the intense heat for the coasts of Spain and abroad, the city remains incredibly empty, therefore is when you can also get the best deals. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
Any hotel you get along Paseo de la Castellana (north to south does not matter where), Atocha, Alcala, Salamanca, Avenida de America, of course Gran Via, Princesa or Moncloa; are the places where you will find the large properties and big names; key transport hubs where the main broad avenues are. Around the old town you will find many boutique hotels, large to small, and thousands of pensions and low cost budget accommodation. It does not really matter where you stay as long as you are near a metro stop.
Album of the city
The city during Christmas time