The Capital of Spain is a cosmopolitan and elegant city, full of life at any time of the year and could well be summarized in incredible architecture, art, culture and entertainment. The center of Madrid is compact and very walkable, and it is often faster to walk than to take the metro if it is a short distance. The public transport system is excellent and the metro system extends to almost every corner of the city.
It is a place where you cannot get bored, there is much to see and do: Of course you cannot stop going to the Royal Palace, where you can tour the best rooms, halls and The Armory. Compared to the European royal palaces, it may not be as large as that of Versailles in Paris or that of Schönbrunn in Vienna, but its sumptuous decoration makes the other two pale. An imposing Franco-Italian baroque palace filled with Italian frescoes, French tapestries, gold leaves, chandeliers and Spanish porcelain. The Royal Palace is now used primarily for state functions and ceremonies; the royal family lives in a mansion in another part of the capital.
On the other side of the Plaza de Armas is the Almudena Cathedral. Most of the European capitals are centered around a great cathedral that goes back to the golden age of Christianity, Madrid is an exception, this Cathedral was not completed until 1993, and while its cavernous interior, in neo-Gothic style, lacks the historic grandeur of medieval churches (such as Seville, Salamanca and Santiago de Compostela) can be refreshingly modern.
There is something very particular about Madrid that I recommend you do not miss, it is the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian Temple, moved to Madrid. Originally located south of Aswan in Egypt, this temple, dating from the 2nd century BC. C., was dedicated to Isis, one of the most important deities of ancient Egypt. His cult spread throughout the Roman Empire, and Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius contributed to its design. In 1968, it was donated to Spain by the Egyptian government to thank Franco for helping to preserve several key UNESCO monuments that were threatened by the rising waters of the Nile. The temple was painstakingly rebuilt, stone by stone, in the Parque Del Oeste from Madrid which is particularly popular with locals to enjoy the sunset, when the temple is beautifully reflected in the waters around it. You can stroll through the rooms of the original temple, including the small sanctuary of Amun, the sun god, and admire the carved reliefs.
Another park that is very popular is El Retiro; created in the seventeenth century by King Philip IV and previously reserved for the Spanish royal family, this huge green area is favorite of locals and tourists. Since its public opening in 1868, people come there to read, rest, stroll through the gardens, play with their children, sail on the lake (El Estanque) or enjoy a cold drink in one of the many terraces of the park. On weekends, when it’s full, street vendors, tarot readers, jugglers and other street performers are grouped along the lake trails. But the 300-acre park is big enough to make it possible to find a quiet place even in those days. Do not miss the Palacio de Cristal, the glass conservatory south of the lake, in the afternoon the sun reflects spectacularly on its windows; inside you can find art exhibitions.
Another great meeting place in the city is the Plaza Mayor. Originally a market, during the seventeenth century, this square was the scene of the bullfights, the royal processions and the burning on the cross of the heretics during the Inquisition. Today, it is a meeting point for many, with cafes around, an attractive baroque architecture and a statue of Felipe III on horseback.
Madrid is particularly renowned for its gastronomy as many places in Spain. You will find a lot of traditional Spanish restaurants and international food, but particularly the tapas are very famous. From the Plaza Mayor, walk west and you will reach the Mercado de San Miguel, a beautiful structure from 1916 that is also a popular stop for tapas, usually full of people, looking for a place in one of the stalls and enjoying some specialty next to a glass of wine or a “caña”, as it is locally known as a glass of beer.
And if it’s art, Madrid has one of the best museums in the world: Museo del Prado, with a collection of over 7,000 works of art of incalculable value from European masters, such as Rafael and Tiziano, and of course Spaniards: Francisco de Goya heads this list, but he is also particularly strong when it comes to Diego Velázquez, Murillo, Rubens, Velázquez and El Greco. Do not miss the beautiful cloisters of the second floor or the Jerónimos Building, with its excellent temporary exhibitions, on the exterior the spectacular bronze doors that face the back street are striking. Together you will find the beautiful Church of San Jerónimo, do not miss it!
Originally the first public hospital in Madrid, it is now a gleaming museum, showing the main collection of contemporary art in Madrid, it is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Cubism, surrealism and other artistic movements of the twentieth century are well represented here, as is contemporary sculpture. Although there are some works by non-Spanish artists, such as Braque and Kandinski, most of the works are by Spanish artists, with a particular emphasis on twentieth-century greats such as Picasso, Dalí, Miró and Tàpies. The star of the collection is Picasso’s Guernica, a monumental canvas that was inspired by the bombing of Hitler in the Basque city of the same name. Visit the room behind Guernica to see the works of Picasso that became the basis of the final piece. Other highlights are the Cubist works by Gris and Braque, Dalí’s surrealist dream works, the daring primary colors of Miró and some rare Goya proto-modernist prints. In the square outside the museum is another place to walk or sit down for a coffee or a caña in a bar.
Although Seville is the undisputed capital of flamenco, this hypnotic and passionate form of dance is taken very seriously in Madrid. There are several places where highly professional shows are held every night, Las Tablas offers traditional shows, relatively cheap, with a good mix of tourists and locals; the entrance price includes a free drink. Taberna Casa Patas is the place to capture great names of flamenco, intimate and popular among groups of tourists and locals, it is important to book tickets in advance. The flamenco style that is performed here is more contemporary than in Las Tablas, and there is also a restaurant on site, for those who want to dine before the show. The least expensive Las Carboneras also offer dinner before the show, as well as unlimited free drinks if you reserve in advance.
The bullfighting tradition is strong in Madrid, and the best matadors in the country come to show their skills in Plaza Las Ventas, the largest in the country. If you want to see a bullfight, the season runs from March to mid-October, mainly on Sundays, and almost every day during the festival of San Isidro in May and June. There are no bad seats in the sand, but the most expensive seats are sitting in the shade and closer to the action, while the cheapest seats are in the sun and higher up. Even if you’re not interested in attending a bullfight, it’s worth it to tour the arena and visit the museum behind it, with its impressive collection of paintings related to the bullfight and spectacular costumes that belong to some of the most important bullfights.
If you have an extra day in Madrid, I recommend you take a trip to Toledo, capital of Spain until 1561 located on the banks of the curious Tagus River, amidst a tangle of narrow, cobbled streets, the best you can do is lose yourself among them . In the center of the city is the Catedral Primada, one of the most extravagant cathedrals in Spain; his sacristy houses a gallery of paintings by El Greco, Zurbarán, Velázquez and other masters. And if you like art, do not miss the Museo del Greco, home of an excellent collection of paintings by the master of the same name, or the Museo Sefardí where the Jewish roots of Toledo are exhibited and located in the 12th century El Transito synagogue . The only Moorish building that survived the Reconquest is the small but beautiful Mosque of Cristo de la Luz on the northern slopes of the city; although it has since become a church, the original arches of the mosque survive. There are many restaurants scattered around, do not miss the opportunity to try the local specialty, the cuchifritos: lamb, tomato and egg cooked in white wine.
In Madrid there is high level accommodation throughout the capital, I recommend some good options:
Villa Magna: Although it does not have much to see from the outside, inside, it’s an amazing mix of avant-garde design, old-style furniture and bold contemporary art. The purple and gray paneled rooms are more subdued than the common areas, but feature Art Deco lamps, large gray marble bathrooms and numerous modern amenities. There is a wide range of services aimed at families; from menus for children, games, cribs and parks provided upon request to recommendations for family-friendly restaurants. There are three restaurants in the hotel: Tse Yang (Cantonese, dim sum), Villa Magna Restaurant (cuisine, seasonal menu) and The Lounge (light meals, cocktails). In addition to an extensive list of individualized spa treatments, there is a sauna and steam room for guest use.
Unico Madrid Hotel: Combining the elegance of the nineteenth century with a modern and spectacular design and a Michelin-starred dinner, Unico is located in one of the most exclusive streets of Madrid in the exclusive Salamanca district. It has 44 rooms and suites with wooden panels, black and white and balconies. The facilities include a gym in the basement, a quiet garden and a library for guests, and the food on site is one of the best in Madrid: the Ramon Freixa restaurant with 2 Michelin stars is a magnet for lovers of gastronomy. With an ideal location for shopping and eating, with El Retiro Park, the Prado and other important attractions within walking distance.
URSO Hotel & Spa: A true urban oasis, this modern boutique hotel is one of the best spa retreats in Madrid, and is close to the restaurants and nightlife of the nearby neighborhoods of Malasaña and Chueca. Large windows flood the 78 spacious rooms and suites with natural light, with neutral tones and Japanese prints that contribute to the peaceful atmosphere. The nice touches include marble bathrooms with custom-made toiletries, and the service is attentive and professional. On-site meals include a breakfast buffet at The Conservatory, light meals and imaginative cocktails at Urso Bar, and creative local dishes at Media Ración. The Spa is excellent, with a wide range of treatments, hydromassage pool, steam bath and sauna.
Wellington: It is located in one of the most prestigious corners of the exclusive neighborhood of Salamanca. Upon entering the tree-lined streets, the feeling of grandeur is immediate in the light-filled lobby, with its polished columns and bright chandelier. You can expect the ultimate in luxury, from the 250 elegant rooms and suites to the Japanese cuisine of Kabuki with a Michelin star, all with an exceptional location just minutes from the leafy Parque Del Retiro.
NH Collection Madrid Palacio de Tepa: Housed in a 19th-century palace designed by the architect of the Museo Del Prado and the Plaza Mayor, it combines a rich history with modern luxury. Its quiet reading room, suitable for a hotel in the literary district, exhibits remains of a centuries-old canal system, and the rooms have exposed beams and vaulted ceilings. On the other hand, the design of the award-winning Ramón Esteve brings a modern touch with a minimalist decoration, contemporary furniture and a serene wellness area. In addition, all this is a five-minute walk from the Plaza Mayor, the attractive central square of Madrid.