What to see in Madrid - the most popular tourist attractions of Madrid, Spain
Madrid is one of the most versatile city destinations in Europe. Amongst its major attractions are: the world class cultural heritage (Madrid is a part of the prestigious list of the European Capital of Culture cities) with lavish palaces and exquisite art collections, vibrant, cosmopolitan nightlife where the traditional flamenco shows coexist with modern discoes and night clubs. Last but not least, there is the finest of the traditional Spanish gastronomy to try out in countless tapas bars and restaurants to suit every taste and budget.
Plaza Mayor, one od Madrid's top tourist sights © Photo: Find-cheap-car-hire.co.uk
Many visitors to Madrid may be surprised to discover that the Spanish capital is a very modern city and its most of its emblematic historic monuments are located on a relatively small area in the very city centre, within a walking distance from each other. Do not underestimate, however, the wealth of the city’s tourist offer; the list of Madrid must-see’s is long!
Madrid museums – Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza
The Spanish capital is heaven for art lovers, be it classical art or modern. From the long list of Madrid museums three stand out: Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofia and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, are all located within a fairly short distance from each other, forming the so called Madrid Golden Triangle of Art. See map of major tourist attractions in Madrid city centre.
Prado Museum is famous for its renowned classic art collection which includes works of Goya, El Greco, Rubens, Caravaggio and Durer (just to mention some of the great masters of European painting). With over 9 000 artworks divided between permanent expositions and prestigious temporary exhibitions from world’s finest museums to see, any art enthusiast will hardly ever feel bored in Prado Museum. But if that was the case, there are also free educational activities also held in the museum regularly. Find more information about current exhibitions, tickets and opening hours of Prado Museum.
Reina Sofia Museum, just 10 minute walk from Prado, houses a unique collection of modern art, featuring works of Kandinsky, Bacon, Miró, Dalí and Picasso, amongst others. Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica is amongst the 10 most seen paintings in Europe. Visit Reina Sofia Museum website for more information.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, or shortly Thyssen is an comprehensive private collection which includes masterpieces from over 500 years of European painting, including works of Rubens, Van Dyck, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Goya, Renoir, Munch, Kandinsky, Chagall and Bacon, amongst others. Thyssen Museum is usually less crowded then Prado and Reina Sofia. Current programme of Thyssen Museum Madrid.
Thyssen Museum is located along Paseo del Prado, 5 minute walk from Prado Museum.
Plazas, large squares (not necessarily square in shape, also round or oval) are one of the most characteristic traits of old Madrid architecture. Apart from aesthetical function, plazas play and important role in the life of the city, being major transportation hubs but also places for both locals and tourists to get together for a cup of coffee with friends or join the crowds for important celebrations.
Puerta del Sol
The Sun Gate, Puerta del Sol, or simply Sol in the very heart of Madrid is the most popular of the city’s squares and the most central one. The so called “Kilometer Zero” – the radial centre of Spanish roads’ network is located here, as well as several other landmarks, amongst them the Old Post Office building, currently the office of Madrid’s mayor, the statue of king Charles III and the statue of The Bear and the Strawberry Tree.
It is at Puerta del Sol where Madrid celebrates New Year.
Just a few blocks away from Porta del Sol, there is another of Madrid’s most emblematic locations, Plaza Mayor. The largest of Madrid squares, Plaza Mayor is surrounded by elegant residential buildings cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops. The most recognizable landmark of Plaza Mayor is the beautiful building of Casa de la Pandería, once a bakers’ guild headquarters and currently Madrid’s tourist office.
Plaza de Cibeles
Cibeles Square, located at the intersection of two major Madrid roads, Paseo del Prado and Paseo de Recoletos is known for the elaborate neo-classical architecture of its main buildings, the palaces of Cibeles, Buenavista and Linares, as well as for the Cibeles Fountain, depicting Cybele, the goddess of earth, agriculture and fertility. The fountain is one of Madrid’s most important symbols.
Palácio Real – the “biggest” attraction of Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is simultaneously the city’s largest building and also one of its most popular landmarks. The stunning palace built in the 18th century by Philip V of the Bourbon dynasty is often referred to as “Madrid’s Versailles” greatly resembling the French landmark in its lavish baroque architecture, abundance of gold and ornamentation. The nearly 3000 rooms of the Palacio Real (only 50 of which are open to public) contain countless artistic treasures, including paintings, frescos and tapestry. When touring Madrid Royal Palace, do not miss out on the opportunity to visit the Royal Armoury boasting a brilliant collection of medieval weapons, very popular amongst tourists.
Although Palacio Real is still no longer the actual residence of the Spanish royal family (Zarzuela Palace is) it is still the venue for state ceremonies and important events.
The parks of Madrid
With over 40 parks within its city limits, Madrid is one of Europe’s greenest capitals. While beautifully landscaped parks are sought after especially during summer time, as they offer shade and needed rest from the scorching heat and bustle of the city centre, they rank high on the list of Madrid tourist attractions also throughout the rest of the year. Visitors to Madrid’s arks will find there a wealth of monuments as well as leisure activities and cultural events.
The largest and probably the most popular park of Madrid is El Parque de Buen Retiro meaning Park of the Pleasant Retreat – in the past the park used to be a private retreat of the royal family. The Retiro is located very centrally, close to the Prado museum and in a walking distance from most tourist attractions of central Madrid. Amongst the major attractions of Retiro park are a large artificial lake with boat rental available and a rose garden Rosaleda, a well as a number of emblematic buildings and monuments: the Crystal Palace, the Velazquez Palace, the Alfonso XII monument ad several fountains.
The Retiro park frequently features art exhibitions. For children, there are multiple play areas in Retiro park.
Other popular Madrid parks are: Royal Botanical Gardens (located just next to El Retiro, Casa de Campo park, home to Madrid Amusement Park and the city’s zoo, the Sabatini Gardens and Juan Carlos I Park, a perfect location for picnics and a venue for the Madrid Metrorock Festival held annually, in July.
Gran Vía Madrid – upscale shopping and nightlife
The most famous street of Madrid, stretching between Calle de Alcalá and Paza de España in the very centre of the city is Gran Vía, or the Great Way. Often compared to the American Broadway, Gran Vía is home to many Madrid’s movie theatres, some of the city’s best hotels and many iconic buildings of the Spanish capital. Amongst the architectural landmarks od Gran Vía are the famous Metropolis Building and the Telefonica Building, Europe’s first skyscraper.
Gran Vía is also the most prestigious shopping area in Madrid; along with the many luxury brand stores and fancy boutiques, there are also some “middle-shelf” shopping malls, more accessible for an average tourist’s budget.
Gran Vía bursts with life during the day and at night; Madrid is often referred to as “the city which never sleeps” and it is common for Madrileños to stay up all night. Many of the glamorous restaurants of Gran Via remain open until very late at night and then there are several clubs and bars in Gran Vía’s, amongst them the famous Museo Chicote bar, frequently visited back in the days by Hemingway, Grace Kelly or Ava Gardner.
Madrid football – visit Santiago Barnabéu Stadium
Spanish, much like other southern nations love football and two of the city’s teams, Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid are amongst world’s best. A special treat to any football fans in Madrid is a visit to Santiago Barnabéu Stadium, the Real Madrid’s home ground. The stadium with capacity for 85 thousands spectators, sold out on majority of matches, is open for public between the matches; the tour of the stadium includes a visit to the field, the dressing rooms, the press room and the Real Madrid museum. Find more information about Real Madrid stadium tour.