Madrid is divided into 21 area, or barrios, revolving around the centro district. In the north you can find the glittering skyscrapers and modern office blocks that house the capital’s administrative heart. The area south of the bustling Puerta Del Sol is known as the ‘peoples quarter’ and is a maze of tiny streets where you can relax with an aperitif before finding a tempting restaurant for dinner.
Madrid Sightseeing Travel Guide
Further south, the districts become progressively poorer which can be interesting to explore if you want to escape the usual tourist haunts and experience ‘authentic’ Spanish life. West of the centro is the colourful Plaza Mayor and stunning Royal Palace while east of the famous Prado museum lies the fashionable Salamanca district where the wealthy Madrilenos live and shop.
Madrid has one of the finest concentrations of art in any city in the world and apart from visiting ‘the big three’ (the Museo Del Prado, Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection) make sure you explore some of the numerous museos that the city can offer.
As with any major city, there are an abundance of shops with large chain and department stores such as El Corte Ingles found on the main shopping streets which include Calle Goya, Sarano and Las Cortes. If you’re looking for something more unusual then head to the area around the Plaza Mayor in the district of La Latina and the streets just off the Gran Via for Madrid’s specialist shops and admire their fantastic window displays.
1. Museo Del Prado
Paseo Del Prado Telephone – 91 420 36 62 Opening hours: Tue – Sat; 9am – 8pm, Sun; 9am – 2pm
One of the most famous galleries in the world, the Prado contains over 7,000 masterpieces by the likes of Goya, El Greco, Bosch and Rubens to name but a few. It is strongly recommended that you visit more than once to appreciate the works displayed which include technically the finest painting in the world – Velazquez’s ‘Las Merias’. Tickets are €6.
2. Coleccion Thyssen-Bornemisza
Paseo Del Prado, 8 Telephone – 91 420 39 44 Opening hours: Tue – Sun; 10am – 7pm
Described as ‘the world’s finest private art collection’, the sheer variety of work’s on display adds to the galleries quirky charm. The collection was begun by Baron Thyssen’s father and the Baron, along with his wife who was a former Miss Spain, have accumulated 775 works ranging from medieval times through to the surrealism and pop art of the twentieth century. Tickets are €6 for permanent exhibitions, €5 for temporary exhibitions or €9 for entry to both.
3. Centro Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia
Calle Santa Isabel, 52 Telephone – 91 467 5062 Opening hours: Wed – Mon; 10am – 9pm, Sun; 10am – 2.30pm
Madrid’s leading modern art gallery, the architecture was inspired by the Pompidou Centre in Paris with its transparent lifts that transport visit up the outside of the building. Inside, the works cover every modern art movement from cubism to realism and you can wonder about the Dali, Miro and Picasso rooms. If Picasso inspires you then make sure you see his commissioned ‘Guernica’ work outside the gallery – it is seen as one of the great anti-war symbols of the last century. Tickets are €3,01.
4. Palacio Real (Royal Palace)
Calle Bailen Telephone – 91 542 0059 Opening hours: Mon-Sat; 9.30am – 5pm, Sun & public holidays; 9am – 2pm
Although the Spanish Royal family don’t actually live here anymore, they still make the odd state visit to this huge (there are over 3,000 rooms) and spectacular palace. If you want to see the important rooms then you have to go on a guided tour where you will see a beautiful clock collection, architecture and paintings by Goya, Rubens and Caravaggio hanging on the walls. If you prefer to remain outside then walk around the lovely Sabatini Gardens in the sunshine. The guided tour costs
5. Plaza Mayor
Constructed in the fifteenth century by King Philip II to be the administrative centre of his new capital city, the pretty square is now a mixture of residences and town hall offices. The square has always been a scene of public gatherings which have, in the past, included hangings by the Spanish Inquisition and bull fights. Today, the scene is a little less bloody and you can watch people scurrying past a shop that dates back to 1790 while sipping a cool drink.
6. Puerta Del Sol
Considered ‘the heart of the city’ by the locals, all distances in Spain are measured from the ‘kilometre zero’ in the square. A good meeting place is by the bear with the strawberry tree monument where you can buy lottery tickets and newspapers from the myriad of stands while waiting for your friends.
7. Catedral La Almudena
Calle Bailen Opening hours: Daily 10am – 1.30pm, 6pm – 7.45pm
The first stone of Madrid’s cathedral was laid in 1883 but it wasn’t until 1993 that the final touches were added and the pope consecrated the cathedral. Although not the prettiest church in Spain, it is interesting to explore the 20 chapels which were partly built using donations from noble families buying their own chapels.
8. Parque del Retiro
Calle Alcala, Alfonso XII, Avenida de Menedez Pelayo, Paseo de la Reina Cristina
Wonder around these beautiful gardens on a sunny day and see the Madrid locals indulging in picnics, walking their dogs or just soaking up the rays. There is a lake where you can hire boats or visit the Rose Garden and see the glass palace, both of which provide a welcome oasis away from the hectic Spanish streets.
9. Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida (Panteon de Goya)
Paseo de la Florida Opening hours: Tue – Fri; 10am – 2pm, 4pm – 8pm: Sat, Sun; 10am – 2pm. Closed at weekends during July and August.
You need to make a little bit of effort to find Goya’s final resting place as it is nestled behind the Estacion del Norte near the Rio Manzantes. The church was decorated by Goya himself to Royal order and the pretty fresco in the dome is the artist painting his own people with joy. Admission is €2.
10. Jardines del Descubrimento
Plaza de Colon
Although not as attractive as the Parque del Retiro, these gardens contain some fascinating statues of Christopher Columbus to celebrate Spain’s contribution to finding the New World. Underneath the gardens lies the Centro Cultural de la Villa de Madrid – a modern arts centre where you can see concerts and performances throughout the year.
The city’s nightlife is legendary with people spilling into the streets and sipping drinks until the early hours – even during the week! Spend some time strolling around the medieval cobbled streets at sunset when they are at their liveliest or gaze at the illuminated buildings along the Salon Del Prado before indulging in a little pre-dinner tapas. So whatever you’re after – culture, clubbing or couture – then Madrid never disappoints.