I was in Madrid in the second week of October. My first visit to Madrid was in February 2000. This last visit was the 12th time that I was there. I usually stay for one week, however in July 2010 I stayed for 3 days before going to Ibiza. In November 2012 I stayed for only one day, before flying to Bogota. I am very familiar with the city and I love it. It is one of my most favourite European cities and it has always been my dream to live there for a period of time. The city is beautiful, full of history and culture and it offers superb entertainment. All that combined with the welcoming and friendly Spanish mentality creates a unique environment in which I always feel at ease and very comfortable.
Madrid is a very big city. The city proper has around 3.3 million people, but approximately 6.5 million people live in the wider metropolitan area. What’s very interesting about Madrid is that as a visitor you would never tell that the city is so big. In my opinion, there are two reasons for this. Madrid has excellent infrastructure, which means that moving around the city is very fast and efficient. All parts of the city are well connected. The second reason is that the city centre – Madrid Centro – where you will find almost everything of interest is relatively small. You can practically walk everywhere.
This is what I normally do. Unless you are in a hurry, there is really no need to use public transport within the central area. At the same time, you can enjoy the stunning architecture while you walk along beautiful streets. There are majestic buildings everywhere and together they form this uniquely beautiful city.
Spain is one of the most visited countries in the world, it had 82 million tourists in 2017. Equally, Madrid is the top tourist destination with over 6 million visitors. But, over many years in which I have been going to Madrid, I have noticed that Madrid had become significantly more expensive. Especially the accommodation! Also, eating out and going to bars is no longer as affordable as it is used to be in the past. That could be because many tourists switched from Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt in recent years. However, good news is that there has been a significant drop in visitors to Spain in the last two years, which will hopefully bring prices down to more reasonable levels.
HOTEL IN MADRID
Over many years I stayed in various hotels, mainly on or near Madrid’s main street – Gran Via. However, the last two times I stayed in a very nice 3 star hotel – Hotel Ganivet. This hotel is slightly away from the very centre of Madrid. It is in La Latina, very close to Puerta de Toledo. But, it is still within the walking distance from the centre. It takes approximately 10 minutes to walk from the hotel to Plaza Mayor. It is a good choice and prices were very reasonable when I stayed there. This hotel has bigger and more comfortable rooms than better rated hotels, with very small rooms, where I previously stayed. Overall the hotel is a very good value for money and I suggest that you check it when you consider where to stay in Madrid.
PUERTA DEL SOL
I have been to Madrid many times and have visited all its historical sites. But every time when I go back, I do it all over again. The city is very beautiful and walking around is a great way to spend a day and to enjoy in the beauty that surrounds you. This post is a retrospective of sites that I visited during my latest stay in the Spanish capital.
All Madrid visits should start in Puerta del Sol, its main and best known square, located right in the very heart of the city. It is also “km zero” from where they measure all distances. There are some very famous buildings and monuments in this square. The square is very busy as it also serves as a meeting point from where the action starts.
Real Casa de Correos is the 18th century building that occupies the south side of the square. They built for the postal service, but it no longer serves its original purpose. It is now the office of the President of the Community of Madrid. The building was the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior and the State Security in Franco’s Spain. A clock whose bells mark traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a New Year adorns the top of the building.
The monument to King Carlos III, also known as “el rey alcalde” (“the mayor-king”) because of his extensive public works programs, is in the centre of Puerta del Sol. Carlos III was the King of Spain between 1759 and 1788, after he ruled Naples as Carlo VII and Sicily as Carlo V. As the King of Spain, he promoted science and university research, facilitated trade and commerce and modernised agriculture. He also tried to reduce the influence of the church and avoided costly wars. Most of his reforms proved to be successful and he left an important legacy. They considered him “probably the most successful European ruler of his generation”.
One of the most famous features of Puerta del Sol is its iconic Tío Pepe advert. I remember it from my first visit to Madrid. For many years the sign was on top of the square’s eastern building, but they recently moved to another position. That was because a certain international corporation opened a shop in the original building and I am sure that they didn’t want it there. So, I wonder whether the authorities will return it to its original place when that shop closes down? Tío Pepe is a brand of sherry made from the palomino grape.
TEATRO REAL, PLAZA DE ESPAÑA & PALACIO REAL
Teatro Real is Madrid’s opera house. It opened in 1850, it closed in 1925 and reopened in 1997. Today, it is the great European opera house.
Plaza del Callao is a famous square in the centre of Madrid, formally opened in June 1866. Its name refers to the battle of Callao, between the Spanish naval forces and the Peruvian army. The authorities substantially reformed the square in recent years. Its most prominent feature is the Callao cinema.
Plaza de España is a large square at the west end of Gran Vía. There is a monument to Miguel de Cervantes in the centre of the square. Two of Madrid’s most prominent skyscrapers are also in the square.
Edificio España is an example of the 20th-century Spanish architecture, built in the neo-baroque style. The building was under renovation and it will open as a hotel in 2019.
Miguel de Cervantes was a Spanish writer, widely regarded as the greatest writer in Spanish. His novel Don Quixote has been translated into over 140 languages and dialects and after the Bible it is the most-translated book in the world.
Palacio Real de Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, but now they use it only for state ceremonies. The palace is 135000m² big and it has 3418 rooms. It is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area. You can visit the palace, as I did some years ago. However, there was a very long queue when I passed by the palace. Probably the best thing to do is to go there as soon as it opens, hopefully there will be fewer people in the morning.
The palace is famous for its wealth of art. There are paintings by Caravaggio, Goya and Velázquez, but in my opinion the most impressive are Tiepolo’s magnificent frescoes. Other collections of great historical and artistic importance in the palace are the Royal Armoury of Madrid, porcelain, watches, furniture, silverware and the world’s only complete Stradivarius string quintet.
CATEDRAL DE LA ALMUDENA
Catedral de Santa María la Real de La Almudena is directly opposite the royal palace. Its exterior is neo-classical, while the interior is neo-gothic. King Alfonso XII funded its construction, to house the remains of his wife Mercedes of Orléans. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid. Pope John Paul II consecrated the cathedral in 1993.
When they transferred the capital of Spain from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church remained in Toledo and the new capital did not have a cathedral. Plans to build it in Madrid were discussed as early as the 16th century. Although Spain built more than 40 cities and plenty of cathedrals in the new world during that century, the expansion of the Empire came first and they postponed construction of Madrid’s cathedral. However, making the largest cathedral in the world became a priority. All other main Spanish cities already had centuries old cathedrals. Madrid also had old churches, but construction of Almudena only began in 1879.
The Marquis of Cubas designed and directed construction in a Gothic revival style. Construction ceased completely during the Spanish Civil War. They abandoned the project until 1950, when Fernando Chueca Goitia adapted the original plans to a baroque exterior, to match the grey and the white façade of the nearby Royal Palace. The cathedral was completed in 1993.
Plaza Mayor was once the centre of Old Madrid, while it is the heart of the city today. It dates back to the 15th century, as the main market of the town. Plaza Mayor’s architecture is credited to Juan de Villanueva. He handled reconstruction following a massive fire in 1790. Prior to this, buildings enclosing the square were five stories. He lowered the square’s buildings to three stories, closed the corners and created large entrances into the square and completed the works in 1854. Plaza Mayor is rectangular in shape and uniform in architecture.
While it hosted executions in its past, today Plaza Mayor is the focal point of every visit to Madrid. The square is beautiful, although with austere architecture. But, it is that simplicity that makes it so unique. Whenever I go to Madrid, I make sure to visit this square. There are also restaurants and bars there, but they are too touristy and rather expensive for my taste. Well, that’s understandable considering that they are in the prime location.
Casa de la Panadería is the most prominent feature of Plaza Mayor. Restored in 1880, it is a piece of the facade framed by two two-angled towers. Its name comes from its original use as the main city bakery. It is now a part of the Spanish culture.
The monument to King Felipe III, created in 1616, is in the centre of the square. In 1848, Queen Isabel II ordered its removal from Casa de Campo and placed it the centre of the square. The statue was a gift from the Duke of Florence.
Palacio de Santa Cruz is a baroque building that houses the foreign ministry or Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores de España. Its name comes from the nearby church of Santa Cruz. It was a jail until the reign of Felipe IV, but afterwards they converted it into a palace.
PLAZA DE SANTA ANA
Plaza de Santa Ana is a very nice square, not far from Puerta del Sol. It is very interesting because there are many restaurants, cafes and some very old looking tapas bars all around the square. There are also monuments to the Spanish Golden Age writer Pedro Calderón de la Barca and to the poet Federico García Lorca. Its name comes from the monastery Santa Ana, which was in that same location in the 17th century.
Teatro Español is the oldest theatre in Madrid. It is in the eastern side of Plaza de Santa Ana. It dates from the 17th century. In a photo below, the theatre is a building with a flag on top and with a banner for the Jane Eyre performance.
The most beautiful building in this square is the 19th century hotel, located in its western side.
The hotel is famous because that’s where the most popular bullfighters usually stay in Madrid.
PALACIO DE LAS CORTES
Palacio de las Cortes is the Spanish Parliament. This is where the Spanish Congress of Deputies meets (the lower house). It was built in 1850 in the neoclassical style and it is one of the most symbolic 19th century buildings in Madrid.
Plaza de las Cortes is the square in front of the parliament building. The statue in the square is of Miguel de Cervantes.
Monumento a los Caídos por España or ‘Obelisco’ or ‘Monumento a los Héroes del Dos de Mayo’ is in Plaza de la Lealtad, next to Paseo del Prado. The monument is in the place where General Joachim Murat ordered the execution of numerous Spaniards after the Dos de Mayo Uprising of 1808. The inauguration of the monument was on the 2 May 1840.
PARQUE DEL BUEN RETIRO
Parque del Buen Retiro is a park in the centre of Madrid. It contains beautiful sculptures, monuments and galleries. It belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. The park is a must see and if you go to Madrid make sure that you visit it.
Close to the northern entrance of the park is Estanque del Retiro – a large artificial pond. There you will find the monument to King Alfonso XII, as a semicircular colonnade, with an equestrian statue of the monarch on top of a tall central column.
The Fountain of the Fallen Angel was erected in 1922 and its main sculpture El Angel Caído represents Lucifer falling from Heaven. This statue is the only public monument of Satan. I should have taken a photo from a different angle as you can’t clearly see the sculpture in a below photo because of the tree behind.
Since becoming a public park in the late 19th century, it was a venue for various international exhibitions. Several buildings remain as a testimony to those events, including Palacio de Velázquez, which is now an exhibition hall.
Palacio de Cristal is a glass pavilion inspired by Crystal Palace in London and it is undoubtedly the garden’s most extraordinary building. They built it together with its artificial pond in 1887 for the Philippine Islands Exhibition. It displayed flower species indigenous to the Philippine archipelago. It is no longer a greenhouse.
Paseo de la Argentina is a section of the park with statues of kings from the Royal Palace, made between 1750 and 1753.
Puerta de Alcalá is near the main entrance to the Parque del Buen Retiro and it was the first modern post-Roman triumphal arch in Europe. It is older than Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. In the late 18th century Madrid was still a dreary city, surrounded by medieval walls. King Carlo III commissioned construction of this monumental gate. The gate was completed in 1778.
PALACIO DE CIBELES & GRAN VIA
Palacio de Cibeles and the 18th century fountain in front are probably the most recognisable symbols of Madrid. The building is very beautiful. It opened as the headquarter of Correos in 1919 – the Spanish postal and telecommunication services and until 2011 it was Palacio de Comunicaciones. It is now the seat of the City Council.
Banco de España is the Spanish central bank. It was established in 1782 by King Carlos III.
Edificio Metrópolis is also one of Madrid’s most recognisable and most beautiful buildings. Its construction was completed in 1911.
Gran Vía is Madrid’s main street. It starts from Calle de Alcalá and it runs to Plaza de España. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful of all main streets that I have seen in various European cities. They were completely renovating the street when I was there. I am very interested to see it once they have completed the works. In any case, the street can only look even more impressive.
PUERTA DE TOLEDO & PLAZA DE CASCORRO
Puerta de Toledo became Bien de Interés Cultural in 1996. Its construction started in 1812 and lasted until 1827. It was one of 19 city gates in the walls that surrounded the city at that time. I think that this gate is more impressive than Puerta de Alcalá. It is a bit further away from usual tourists areas and maybe that is the reason why people don’t know about it. As a matter of fact, the hotel where I stayed is nearby and the nearest metro station is Puerta de Toledo.
Plaza de Cascorro is also near the hotel where I stayed and that was the first time that I came across this small, but very beautiful square. It is in the part of the city called Embajadores. In the square, there is a monument to Eloy Gonzalo García – El Hero de Cascorro. He was a heroic Spanish soldier during the war of Cuba.
Finally, I came across the monument to Tirso de Molina, which is one more thing that I have never seen before. His name was Gabriel Téllez and he was a religious Spanish “mercedario”. He was also a Baroque dramatist, poet and speaker, although he was the most famous as a playwright, specialising in comedy of intrigue. The creation of the myth of Don Juan is traditionally attributed to Tirso de Molina.
There is a lot to see in Madrid. Sites and monuments that I mentioned in this post are all within the walking distance. However, you don’t need to see absolutely everything and in one day. You can do many other things in Madrid. You can visit some of its superb museums! Many interesting attractions are outside of the city centre. You will also find many nice restaurants and bars and surely a visit to Madrid would not be a proper visit without enjoying it the Spanish way – with tapas and a glass of Spanish wine.
Also, there were works everywhere. A lot of buildings were covered in scaffolding and they were also renovating a lot of squares and whole streets. So, I look forward to going back, to see the improvements. Hopefully, that will be very soon!