Sol, 28013 Madrid, Spain
We are just starting off a main street here, the historical square we are meeting at is just straight ahead in the half moon shaped plaza.
Prta del Sol, 20, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Our first stop of our tour today is Puerta de Sol, which translates to “Gate of the Sun”. Makes sense doesn’t it? We are not only in the center most hub of Madrid, but it is also the actual geographical center of Spain. So calling it the Sun feels more than fitting. But where the name historically originated from is that this iconic square used to be one of the gates into the city, and it faced east, where the sun rises.
With a wonderful backstory, there are also many features to be mentioned here, so stay with me! As you walk the square, you will come across a plaque in the pavement inscribed with “Kilometer Zero”. This is the exact point where all six of Spain’s national roads measure their distances to and from Madrid.
There is also the Puerta del Sol Building, or the “Real Casa de Correos”, and is one of the most prominent and influential structures in Puerta de Sol Square. Built in the late 18th century, it stands as a magnificent example of NeoClassical architecture. You can notice this through the symmetry portrayed in its facade, with its central entrance and a wing on each side. It originally served as Madrid’s postal service, but throughout the years has evolved into many different government offices. Today, it acts as a cultural center, constantly hosting events and exhibitions all related to Madrid’s rich history. During New Year’s Eve, Puerta del Sol becomes the party of your dreams. Everyone is gathered, specifically to watch the clock tower, “El Reloj de la Puerta del Sol”, strike midnight. The bell chimes twelve times to signify midnight, and it is a tradition to eat a grape for each chime for good luck in the new year.
The most notable aspects of this lively and historic square is The Statue of The Bear and The Strawberry Tree. As you may know, this symbol has been associated with Madrid for centuries, as it appears on Madrid’s coat of arms. The iconic emblem is said to have originated during medieval times when Madrid was just a small town surrounded by forests. These forests housed many creatures and plants, but the bears and the strawberry trees were so commonly found, the two became a part of Madrid’s culture. The statue depicts a bear reaching up to a strawberry tree, representing Madrid’s connection to its natural environment.
C. Mayor, 1, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Puerta del Sol is a fantastic start to our tour! But, don’t worry, we have another plaza full of more awesome stories. We are going to start walking through the narrow streets of Madrid, let’s do this thing!
C. de Felipe III, 9, 28012 Madrid, Spain
Welcome to Plaza Mayor! This historical square dates back to the 16th century and was once a hectic marketplace for traders and merchants. Throughout Madrid’s history this square has held royal proclamations, bullfights,and cultural performances. Today, it still hosts many festive events such as street markets, concerts and art exhibits.
As I’m sure you can see, the large statue that sits in the center of the plaza. This is the equestrian statue of King Phillip III who reigned from 1598 to 1621. He is from the Habsburg dynasty, a family we will talk about more throughout this tour. With this statue comes a fascinating tale. In the beginning of the Franco dictatorship, there were countless acts of vandalism throughout Madrid, and his statute did not go unscathed. When the vandals had toppled the statue of the King, hundreds of bones fell out of the bronze statue. Those who were destroying the artifact, ran away in superstitious fear that the bones were that of the spirit of King Phillip III. These bones were discovered to be just ones of small birds who had found a hole within the statue to lay a nest. Somehow these birds saved the rest of King Phillip’s statue!
Do you notice all the red facades that surround you? As well as the many entrance arches? Nine to be exact? These are both characteristics of Habsburg style. The Habsburg dynasty in Spain began in the early 16th century and originated in the Holy Roman Empire. With their influences from Central Europe, they combined with traditional Spanish architecture. Thus the Habsburg style was born! Red brick is used in this style of architecture to give a warm appearance to the structures that were being created. It was also a unique style choice during this time period, so it was very obvious where the building elements were from.
Pl. Mayor, 22, 28012 Madrid, Spain
Pl. de San Miguel, 2, 28005 Madrid, Spain
The stylish covered market of San Miguel! The San Miguel Market may not be as old as some of the places we have already gone to, but it is still a heavily influential location for all things culinary. Originally built in 1916, it has gone through many renovations. The wrought iron and glass building that you see in front of you came to be in 2009, and has become one of the world’s main gastronomic markets. If you take a walk inside its walls, which I hope you do, there will be vendors on every side of you selling an array of dishes. You can find traditional Spanish cuisine such as tapas, charcuterie, fresh seafood and wine.
Mercado de san Miguel happily carries out what they call “Market Days”. These are different days throughout the year to offer culinary experiences to the public, like a wine and cheese tasting with renowned sommeliers and chefs. Registration is free up to full capacity, and all that is required is to send an email to them once you discover a Market Day you would like to attend!
The market is open seven days a week, and is even open until 1:00am on Fridays and Saturdays, making this a perfect opportunity to socialize and meet new people with the same love for food.
C. Mayor, 70, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Pl. de la Armería, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Here we stand in between two of the most well known landmarks in all of Madrid. On your left is the Almudena Cathedral and on the right is the Royal Palace. We have arrived, your majesty!
The Almudena Cathedral, officially known as the Santa María la Real de La Almudena, is a religious landmark here in Madrid, Spain. The Cathedral’s foundation was laid in 1883, but was not completed until the late 20th century as construction was put on pause due to the Spanish Civil War, until Fernando Chueca Goitia took over in 1950.
With the Cathedral’s construction time spanning over different periods, the architecture mixes multiple styles. It is primarily Neo Gothic, but there are also Neo Romanesque, Baroque, and Neo Classical elements throughout. When Goitia took charge in 1950, he wanted the facade to match with the Palacio Real’s white and gray color scheme that lives directly across from the Cathedral. Once finished in 1993, the Almudena Cathedral was consecrated by Pope John Paul II, making it the first Cathedral to be consecrated outside of Rome. The interior is quite modern, especially one that was originally started in the 1800s, with stained glass windows allowing light to shine through the many colors and designs, as well as other art and statues that don't necessarily match to one another.
Beneath the Cathedral is the Crypt of Almudena, where many members of the Spanish Royal Family rest. I recommend taking some time to walk through the Cathedral, as well as the crypt. You will get to learn more about the Spanish monarchy, and the country’s royal history.
Now, The Royal Palace of Madrid is one of the most iconic structures in all of Madrid. It is not the actual home for the Spanish royal family, but it is where all of their state ceremonies and events take place. This magnificent palace originates from the 18th century, and stands where the Alcázar of Madrid once lived. The Alcázar was a medieval fortress that was once embellished with many great artworks during the Spanish golden age, but sadly it was burned down in 1734. Because of this, when building the now Royal Palace, it is made of vaults with absolutely no wood. No one would let a fire destroy priceless artifacts again!
As the years have gone by, the style of the palace has been developed by those who have ruled. Different monarchs have created different rooms within the palace, such as the Throne Room of Charles III, in rococo style. But, all of these palace rooms are decorated with the finest porcelain, tapestries and other artworks to commemorate the history and the strength of the Spanish monarchy. The Royal Palace of Madrid is one of the largest royal palaces in Europe, covering an area of about 135,000 square meters, or 1.45 million square feet. Not too shabby huh? Included in this size are the Campo del Moro Gardens that were created by Philip II. A gorgeous garden lined with many trees and curved walkways, a perfect place to reflect on your wonderful trip to Spain.
C. de Bailén, 4, 28013 Madrid, Spain
We have walked alongside the Royal Palace, and now we stand across from the Plaza de Oriente. Please head across the street towards the gardens and statue of King Philip IV.
Pl. de Ote., 9, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Among the gardens we are! This is the Jardines de Sabatini in Plaza de Oriente. Designed by and named after Francesco Sabatini in the 18th century, the gardens are meticulous and purposeful with symmetrical patterns and trimmed hedges, and detailed flower beds. Do you smell oranges? If you do, that is also because the gardens are lined with orange trees! A unique feature that makes this area one of elegance and fruitfulness. The jardines de Sabatini is also another excellent view of the Royal Palace, as well as the plaza’s fountains and statues.
The main statue that you see before us is another equestrian style statue of King Philip IV. This statute dates back to the 17th century, and pictures the King on horseback it rears, meaning the entire stability of the statute itself relies on the horse’s hind legs, and very discreetly, its tail. This is a design that had never been done before, and it truly stands the test of time.
We are now going to make our way to the eastern side of Plaza de Oriente, towards the Royal Theater!
Pl. de Isabel II, 3, 28013 Madrid, Spain
To your left is the Teatro Real, officially known as the Royal Theater of Madrid. It is one of the most prestigious opera houses in Spain, being the first institution of performing arts in the country with its rich history and important role in its art world. The Royal Theater opened its doors in 1850 after many years of financial and political difficulties that delayed the opera house’s beginnings, but it has now become a stage where performers and artists alike are honored to walk across.
With much of its original design still intact, it has also experienced many reforms to create the renowned opera house that it is, acoustics and architecture together. The theater’s facade features Corinthian columns originating from Italian style architecture, its exterior is a picturesque model for many others in the country. But, the interior boasts as much of a show as the one performing on stage! Royal seating, elegant balconies, and a chandelier that will have you starstruck. The opera house is also in a horseshoe design for optimal acoustics during the many shows they put on each year.
There are usually operas showcased during the months of September to July, as well as ballets, recitals, and special performances and events. If you haven’t already, I would go take a peek at the schedule for their shows, to witness a world class production of Verdi or Mozart in a theater like this would be a dream come true!
Cost.ª de los Ángeles, 5, 28013 Madrid, Spain
C. de la Misericordia, 3, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Adorned with over 10,000 works of art and historical timepieces, the Descalzas Reales Monastery has not always been a museum open to the public. In the 16th century, Emperor Charles V’s youngest daughter, Juana of Austria, was born in her father’s treasurer’s palace. When she turned seventeen, she married Juan Manuel, Prince of Portugal. Only two years after the couple wed, Juan Manuel died and left Juana widowed at an extremely young age. She then decided to convert this palace into the Descalzas Reales Monastery.
In 1558, the Duke of Gandía sent Juana a band of Clarissa nuns to help her begin her journey with the church. Unfortunately Juana of Austria did not get to see her church open its doors as she passed away in the same building she was born in. In 1564 the church was finally completed, creating a space for these women, and a forever home for Juana to peacefully lay. As noblewomen married in, they would gift their own treasures to the monastery, but as it grew with these historical artifacts, the nuns’ financial circumstances changed in the 20th century. At this time they were also known as the Poor Clares due to their money trouble, but were unable to sell their priceless collection they had acquired over hundreds of years. The state decided to take charge and granted the convent to be turned into a museum in 1960.
As you walk through the museum you spend time in many areas that were once homes to the nuns. The Tapestry room where the nuns’ former dormitory existed, the Royal Room where Empress María lived, and of course the main staircase that has not changed since the beginning, covered in art from the 16th and 17th centuries.
C. del Maestro Victoria, 3, 28013 Madrid, Spain
I hope you get to walk around the monastery during your trip, such a special place! We are now going to take this street for a few blocks until we make our way to one of the main roads in Madrid. We will be walking along that for a little while to take in all of its sights!
Calle a, C.Gran Vía, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Lights! Camera! Action! Welcome to one of the most iconic streets in all of Madrid, Gran Vía! Nicknamed the “Broadway of Madrid”, Gran Vía is chock full of restaurants, shopping, bars, and theaters, and when the sun sets the nightlife here becomes one you don’t want to miss. If that’s your cup of tea of course!
Due to its central location in the heart of Madrid, many notable buildings call Gran Vía home. The Metropolis Building, the Capitol Building, and the Telefonica Building all reside on this busy and exciting street.
As we walk, you will notice very quickly how many people are around you. With the bountiful shops and restaurants, as well as the ideal location for public transport, this is a main hub for tourists and locals alike. If you are searching for a bite to eat or the perfect souvenir to bring home, Gran Vía is sure to have it all.
Gran Vía - Montera, 28013 Madrid, Spain
On your left is Edificio Telefónica. One of the iconic buildings I had mentioned! This building was designed in the early 20th century, and like many other buildings on Gran Vía, are built in Art Deco architecture style. With decorative details using geometrical forms, a streamlined appearance, all in a very concise and clean package are just a few noticeable traits of Art Deco. At the time of its completion in 1929, Edificio Telefónica was the tallest building in Europe at 89 meters, or 292 feet. It was originally built for Telefónica, a Spanish telecommunications company, but in recent years it has been restored to promote the innovation and technology of Spain. I would recommend making your way up to the observation deck to get a unique bird’s eye view of the city.
C.Gran Vía, 18, 28013 Madrid, Spain
C.Gran Vía, 12, 28013 Madrid, Spain
Mercado de la Reina! A delicious Spanish restaurant with an indoor/outdoor atmosphere, a chic vibe and absolutely amazing food! If you’re looking to rest your feet for a bit, take a seat here and order fresh Prawn Carpaccio with a glass of Sangria. I promise you will not be disappointed.
C. de Alcalá, 47, 28014 Madrid, Spain
We are going to stay across the street from it so you can take it all of its glory, but I have a feeling you can probably tell which building is the Cybele Palace? You got it, the massive Beaux-Arts structure with the large fountain and flags in front of it! Hard to miss huh? Situated right in the Plaza de Cibeles, the palace was constructed in the early 1900’s with its ornate and royal design for the Spanish postal. That massive dome atop? It was onced used as a communications tower for the telecommunications service that was also housed there. In 2007, the Cybele Palace became a cultural center, CentroCentro. There are many cultural exhibitions, concerts, lectures, events, and workshops constantly going on that you should definitely check out!
The fountain outside, is just as influential as the palace itself, if not more so. In the 18th century Madrid was the center of a strong and powerful empire, but did not always appear that way. Once King Carlos III took his seat in his throne, the city began to evolve. One of the first updates the king made to Madrid was to create a sewer system as well as a street light system. This kept the city clean and much safer in the evenings. He then began a process of adding even more beauty through monuments. Alas, the Cibeles Fountain was born! The fountain portrays a goddess by the name of Cybele being pulled in a chariot by two lions, representing Atalanta and Hippomenes, husband and wife in Greek mythology. The statue is a symbol for Madrid’s strength and resilience, as well as being a cultural landmark for the city. The Real Madrid football club will make their way to the statue after a victory as it is believed touching or kissing the fountain will bring good luck to their team. Keep an eye out for those jerseys!
C. de Alcalá, 51, 28014 Madrid, Spain
We’re just going to cross the street here and make our way down to do a very popular museum! If you’d like to walk around the small courtyard of the museum please go ahead and do so!
P.º del Prado, 33, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Looking for an art museum specifically for European art? Look no further! The Thyseen-Bornemisza Museum holds an extensive collection of European art dating all the way back to Medieval times, coming all the way back to the late 20th century. The museum was originally put together by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornem and his wife Carmen Cervera. It is one of the most extensive and inclusive private art collections in the world totaling over 1,600 paintings. The couple did not skimp on the quality of these pieces either, when walking around the museum you will have the opportunity to view work by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and much more.
Not only is the inside of the museum filled with priceless paintings, the building itself is also a work of art. It was originally a palace built in the late 18th century and is an excellent example of Neoclassical architecture. The courtyard you are standing in now? A very important aspect of Neoclassical design, as many structures built during this time included an inner courtyard, especially with a fountain in the center. The main entrance with its grand columns and made of stone are all a part of the symmetrical facade of the museum, another common trope for the time period.
It wasn’t until 1993 when the Spanish government purchased the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection. Spain wanted to make sure that it stayed put in their country so it could officially be enjoyed by the public. This was definitely a wonderful decision on their part, this museum has heavily added to Madrid’s artistic culture.
Pl. Canovas del Castillo, 5, 28005 Madrid, Spain
Just around the corner we are going to cross the street so we can walk through a small park to get a different view and to get some shade if you need it! We will walk this path to our next point of interest.
Pl. de Cánovas del Castillo, 10, 28014 Madrid, Spain
P.º del Prado, 11, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Museo Nacional del Prado, or more commonly known as the Prado Museum, is one of the most influential and important art museums on the globe. The Prado Museum opened in 1819 by King Ferdinand VII of Spain and was then going by the name of the Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures, as its original goal was to showcase the Spanish royal collections. It has of course expanded since then, and is now home to over 7,000 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, and other mixed media art pieces. There are works inside the museum from some of the most renowned artists such as Titan, Hieronymus Bosch, and Paul Rubens, but as its roots are in Spain, there is an exceptional amount of Spanish masterpieces. An iconic piece that you have the amazing opportunity to lay your eyes on is Francisco de Goya’s “The Third of May 1808”.
Goya also created many art pieces in his years, but at one point he put together a series of very disturbing and eerie paintings known as the “Black Paintings”. A couple examples are “Saturn Devouring His Son” and “Witches’ Sabbath”. You can tell just in the names right? Well, you can see them too at the Prado Museum, and you might even feel a sudden chill surround you as some people suggest this series of paintings are cursed. It is said that the paintings appear to share a sense of dread unexplainably to the human mind. But, who knows! Go check it out for yourself!
C. de la Academia, 2, 28014 Madrid, Spain
C. de Alfonso XII, s/n, 28009 Madrid, Spain
And here we are! We have arrived at the last stop of the tour! We currently stand at the Parterre Gardens of El Retiro. There are many gardens throughout the large park that is El Retiro, but this a great place to end our journey, so you are able to walk through the park on your own! As you walk through the opening of the gates there will be a map to your left where you can find the spots you would like to go to. There are many choices, but I will give you some background on a couple of my favorites.
The first being, the Crystal Palace. If you are traveling to Madrid, and you look up where you should go, Crystal Palace is a must. It is a stunning piece of architecture that will truly blow your mind. Built in 1887, it was originally designed to house exotic plants, but now is used for international exhibitions. It was inspired by London’s Crystal Palace, and uses glass and iron to create a magical structure. You truly will not believe it until you see it, pictures do not do it justice!
My second choice for you would be to make your way to the central lake. This might not be the most historical location you can take yourself to, but I’m sure along the way you will have no problem finding some, but because it is just so much fun! Here at the lake, you are able to take row boats out and enjoy all of the beautiful scenery around you. It’s a nice way to take some pressure off your feet, and see the park and city in a different light.
Well, that’s about it for me! I really hope you take the time to walk through El Retiro and take a look at those sites, but I also hope you have enjoyed our tour today! We learned so much, and even heard some smaller, more unique stories you might not have heard. I have had a great time with you today and wish you the best of luck on the rest of your trip!