Vacationing in a city as big as Madrid and managing to see and do everything is no easy task. From sprawling museums to traditional restaurants and bars, every corner you turn uncovers a spot that draws in tourists and locals alike.
The city’s main tourist artery runs the famous Metrópolis building to the Plaza de España. Shops, bars and even a casino line this wide street that stretches for more than a kilometre. If you start walking at the Metrópolis building, with its stunning dome crowned by a bronze statue, the next landmark you’ll come to is at Gran Vía 1, the address for Grassy jewellers since 1952.
A bit further on, the Hotel de las Letras deserves a peek inside before you’re wowed by the window display at the Loewe shop or stop to have a drink in the legendary Museo Chicote, which, despite its name, isn’t a museum at all, though there is some art on the walls in the form of photos of celebrities who have passed through the swinging doors.
Madrid possesses a modern infrastructure, it has preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighbourhoods and streets. Its landmarks include the Royal Palace of Madrid; the Royal Theatre with its restored 1850 Opera House; the Buen Retiro Park, founded in 1631; the 19th-century National Library building (founded in 1712) containing some of Spain’s historical archives; a large number of National museums, and the Golden Triangle of Art, located along the Paseo del Prado and comprising three art museums: Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum, a museum of modern art, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which completes the shortcomings of the other two museums. Cibeles Palace and Fountain have become the monument symbol of the city.
Central and bustling, Puerta del Sol is one of Madrid’s best known squares. Several busy historical streets, such as Calle Mayor, Calle Arenal, Calle Alcalá and Calle Preciados, converge here and it contains several of the city’s best known landmarks.
One of these is the famous clock at Casa de Correos, the headquarters of the regional government of Madrid. On 31December each year thousands gather in front of the clock and follow the tradition of eating twelve grapes as it strikes twelve, in a televised ceremony viewed by millions of Spaniards.
In the same place, opposite the Casa de Correos doorway, is the plaque marking Kilometre Zero, the point from which the country’s radial roads are measured and alongside which many Spanish tourists have their photos taken every day. The Puerta del Sol also contains the statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, much loved by locals and a popular meeting point. The same image appears on the city’s coat of arms.
On the opposite side, at the entrance to Calle Arenal, is the “Mariblanca” statue of Venus, a replica of the seventeenth century original that used to adorn a fountain located here, now held at the Casa de la Villa. Very near to the statue, in the centre of the square, is the equestrian statue of Charles III, the king who modernised Madrid in the eighteenth century with a series of improvements to the city’s infrastructure.
The Plaza Mayor is an arcaded square which is the heart of Hapsburg Madrid, the historical centre of the city and one of its most charming neighbourhoods, full of small streets and passageways that were once frequented by swordsmen and rogues. Various stores selling craftwork and traditional products and the area’s typical restaurants recall the colourful market held here from the end of the 15th century to the mid-19th century, where meat, vegetables, fruit, groceries, clothes and fabric were on sale.
Over the centuries it has also been the scene of popular festivals, bullfights, beatifications, coronations and the occasional auto-da-fé, but today the arcades provide shade for artists producing paintings, drawings and caricatures, while on Sundays there is a small fair for collectors of stamps and coins. Before Christmas, the Plaza Mayor holds a traditional market specialising in nativity figures.
Notable among the buildings is the Casa de la Panadería, today the Madrid Tourist Center, whose 20th century decoration contains mythological figures related to the history of Madrid. In one corner of the square we can find the Arco de Cuchilleros, the most famous of the arches built after the fire in 1790.
Adjoining the arch are some picturesque buildings that are notable for the height and inclination of their façades, which recall buttresses. This arch was the location of the workshops supplying knives to the butchers in the square, where the Casa de la Carnicería, an old warehouse for meat, was also located. The central statue of Philip III dates from 1616 and for centuries guarded the entrance to Casa de Campo.
The Prado Museum presides over one of the most-visited tourist itineraries of the capital: the Art Walk. As well as Las Meninas by Velázquez and the Third of May 1808 by Goya, one can see in its galleries masterpieces of the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools. The Prado has a priceless collection of 8,600 pictures and more than 700 sculptures.
The museum can only display part of its vast collection, and in 2007 an extension to its premises, designed by architect Rafael Moneo, was opened. It consists of a building around the old Jerónimos cloister, which is linked to the main building. As well as holding one of the best collections of 16th and 17th century painting, with works by by artists of the stature of Hieronymus Bosch, Titian, El Greco, Murillo, Rubens, Goya and Velázquez, the museum houses important collections of decorative art, drawings and engravings, which are less well known but of great value.
The collection of Spanish Painting is what gives the Prado added value compared to other famous art galleries. In its halls one can contemplate works ranging from romanic murals dating from the 12th century to paintings created by Francisco de Goya in the 19th century. In these halls – distributed between the ground, first and second floors – one can find canvases by El Greco, such as Gentleman with his Hand on his Chest and The Adoration of the Shepherds.
Art lovers will appreciate the Golden Age paintings housed by the museum, especially the more than forty canvases painted by Diego Velázquez, including Las Meninas, Las hilanderas (The Fable of Arachne) and The Adoration of the Magi.
Also included in the Madrid must see list is the Madrid Rio. Madrid Rio is a huge recreational and cultural area both for its landmarks and leisure facilities and the culture it houses, and for being a reference point from which to contemplate and come into contact with monumental Madrid.
From the playful viewpoint of the new system on the bank of the Manzanares, it provides the perfect recipe for a good time with family. Children will have fun in the 10 play areas found along the Salón de Pinos, all with swings made from sustainable, natural materials such as wood and hemp rope, forming webs, hammocks, hanging bridges or climbing vines. Each zone has different characteristics according to age, so there are areas dedicated for younger and older children based on skill, balance and strength.
But it is also a place where adults can enjoy a great cultural offering. For all cultural activities (exhibitions, music festivals, theatre …) that are held in Matadero Madrid, you pass by new bridges and beautifully constructed bridges. In Madrid Río there is also the Puente del Rey, where the Spanish football team celebrated its victory in the South Africa World Cup in 2010.