Guide to Madrid
At the heart of country, the Spanish capital Madrid is home to around three million inhabitants. From small beginnings, Madrid grew quickly to become an influential empire. From 1561 when Felipe II chose the city as his capital, by the 17th-century a swarm of spectacular churches, palaces, monasteries and squares arose.
The stunning Palacio Real (Royal Palace) typifies Madrid’s 17th-century exuberance. The vast palace was the home of the Royal Family right up until the 1930’s. The main attractions include the painted ceilings of the opulent Dining Room and the lavish Throne Room.
At the core of the city sits Plaza Mayor (main square), a beautiful 17th-century square that has witnessed many of Madrid’s historical political and sporting events. Visitors once came here to enjoy bull fights, theatre and executions. Today its arcades play host too many charming cafes and shops.
For more insight into the Spanish art of bullfighting, visit Plaza de Toros de las Ventas. This magnificent building is one of the most beautiful in the country. There is an adjacent museum (Museo Taurino) where you can learn about the ancient spectacle.
Just along from the Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol (Gateway of the Sun), is one of Madrid’s more lively neighbourhoods. This former castle gateway entrance bustles with visitors that flock to see a collection of historical landmarks such as the Casa de Correos - a former 18th-century post office and municipal building, the Kilometer Zero – the centre of Spain’s road network, and centrepiece statue of Carlos III.
Contemporary Madrid is best experienced at the Gran Via, the main avenue sweeping across the city’s central zone. Above the many modern hotels, shops and restaurants, sit some architectural wonders such as the 1930’s Art Deco Capitol cinema and Edificio La Estrella.
During your stay you are likely to spot one of Madrid’s tallest skyscrapers, the magnificent office block, Torre Picasso at Plaza Picasso, stretching 43 floors into the sky. Other noteworthy skyscrapers in the surrounding commercial area include the Torre Europa and Banco del Bilbao Tower.
Cultural Madrid is best enjoyed on the Paseo del Prado, home of the city’s best galleries and museums. The Museo del Prado and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza house infamous art collections by Goya and Velazquez.
In the neighbourhood you’ll spot more of Madrid’s spectacular monuments, the Plaza de Cibeles, an impressive Romanesque fountain, the stunning Ritz Hotel and the dominating Banco de Espana.
El Rastro, Madrid’s famous open air flea market is popular with tourists and locals alike. Dating back to the 19th-centruy, here can buy anything from furniture items, antiques, vintage clothing and more. For more upmarket and designer shopping try the Salamanca District. Here you’ll also come across upscale restaurants and style bars.