Madrid Travel Guide


Plaza Mayor
The Plaza Mayor, a grand arcaded square in the center of Madrid is very popular with tourists and locals alike. The symmetrical rectangular square features a uniform architecture, very similar to the contemporary Place des Vosges in Paris.

During the middle ages the site was just a market place outside the city walls. In the 1560s, King Philip II asked Juan de Herrera, architect of the Escorial, to turn the market place into a real square. It would take until 1617, during the reign of King Philips III, before the construction of the new Plaza Mayor started. Under the direction of Herrera's successor, Juan Gómez de la Mora, the plaza was completed in just two years.

The result was a large square, measuring 120m long and 90m wide (394ft x 295ft). It was surrounded by wooden buildings, at one point up to six stories high. Fires destroyed all the buildings around the Plaza Mayor three times in history: in 1631, 1672 and 1790. Each time they were rebuilt, the last reconstruction after a design by Juan de Villanueva is what we see today.

Palacio Real
The Palacio Real or Royal Palace is the largest and certainly one of the most impressive palaces in Europe. It has more than 2000 luxuriously decorated rooms, 50 of which can be visited. It is located on the east of Madrid's historic center, within walking distance of the Plaza de España.

Soon after the Royal Fortress burned down on Christmas Eve of 1734, King Philips V wanted to replace the fortress by a palace, this time built from limestone and granite to make it fireproof. It was to be modeled loosely on the Versailles Palace near Paris, where Philips V had spent part of his youth.
Construction of the new palace started in 1938 based on a design by the Italian architect Juan Bautista Sachetti. 26 Years and three kings later, the huge palace, covering an area of 135,000m2, was completed. It would take another 100 years before all the rooms were decorated.

Moorish quarter
Just to the south of Palacio Real is the Moorish quarter, one of Madrid's oldest districts. There's a short stretch of city wall here, built by the early-medieval Muslim rulers in the 9th century. In summer the area is a venue for open-air theatre and music performances.

Museo Municipal
If you can't tell your Felipe II from your Alfonso XIII, head to this interesting (but hardly masterful) museum. Pedro de Ribera's Baroque entrance to the former hospice building is a highlight, as is the huge model of the city dating from 1830.

The collection begins with Iron and Bronze Age artefacts, with odds and ends from the Visigoths and Muslims thrown in for good measure. The Habsburg and Bourbon periods are brought to life with paintings, models and period furniture, and there are a couple of Goyas on display.

Parque del Buen Retiro
The Parque del Buen Retiro is the most popular park in Madrid. It can get crowded during weekends when many Madrilenian families go for a stroll in the park and street musicians, sidewalk painters, fortune tellers, jugglers and street performers animate the crowd.

The Retiro Park was a royal park; it belonged to the Real Sitio del Buen Retiro palace. In 1632, the palace was built by King Philips IV as a retreat for the Royal family. Retiro stands for retreat, hence the name of the park and palace. At the time the park was well outside the city walls, but now Madrid has completely enclosed the Retiro park. The 130ha or 320acre large royal park opened to the public in 1868. It is partially laid out in a formal French style, while other parts are more natural.

Gran Via
This lively street is one of the city's most important shopping areas. It also contains a large number of hotels and large movie theaters. But what makes this street so special it the architectural design of many of the large buildings. While walking through this crowded street make sure you look up once in a while and admire the often lavishly decorated grand 'edificios'.

In the mid 19th century, Madrid's urban planners decided that a new thoroughfare had to be created, connecting the Calle de Alcalá with the Plaza de España. The project required many buildings inMetropolis Building the center of the city to be demolished. Decades after the first plans were made, construction still hadn't started and the media ridiculed the project, cynically calling it the 'Gran Via' or 'Great Road'. Finally in 1904 it was approved and construction started a couple of years later. The last part of the street was completed in 1929.

The new road created opportunities for architects, who had the ability to create large buildings in the latest architectural styles. The first eye catching building starting from the Calle de Alcalá is the most famous of all, the Edificio Metrópolis or Metropolis building. The landmark was built between 1907 and 1911 after a design by the architects Jules & Raymond Février. The original statue was replaced in 1975 by a statue of a winged Goddess Victoria.

Plaza de España
The Plaza de España is one of Madrid's largest and most popular squares. On a sunny day it is filled with street vendors, tourists and sunbathing locals. The square is located at the end of the beautiful Gran Via, one of Madrid's busiest streets. The green square is surrounded by streets, but it is still a very relaxing place during daytime. It features a large fountain and famous statue honoring the Spanish writer Cervantes.

Located close to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), the site was occupied by a barrack. After it was demolished, a new public square was created. It became a popular meeting place in the 1950s, after two of Madrid's largest buildings were constructed: the Edificio de España and the Torre de Madrid. Both buildings were constructed by the project developer Metropolitana and designed by the Otamendi brothers.
The Edificio de España was built between 1947 and 1953 and is the most elegant of the two skyscrapers. It consists of a central 25 story tower flanked by two wings.
The Torre de Madrid was built in 1957. At the time of construction, it was the tallest concrete building in the world with a height of 142m or almost 466ft. Nicknamed La Jirafe or 'giraffe', it was the tallest building in Madrid until the Torre Picasso was built in 1989.

The Archaeological Museum
Madrid's Archaological Museum contains 43 rooms of archaeological artifacts and a reproduction of the roofs of the caves at Alta Mira.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
The principle location in Madrid for national and international exhibitions like London's Tate Gallery or Paris' Pompidou centre. The third of Madrid’s famed art galleries, the Reina Sofia, is dedicated to 20th century Spanish art, having been designed to give Spain a museum to equal France’s Pompidou Centre and London’s Tate Gallery. The museum was opened by Queen Sofia in 1986, and is housed in the former Hospital de San Carlos at Calle Santa Isabel 52. The artworks displayed here include those of Juan Gris, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso. The star attraction of the museum is Picasso’s controversial Guernica, depicting the Nazi bombing of the Basque town in 1937 in support of Franco’s cause in the Spanish Civil War. Until 1980 this painting hung in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
An international collection of paintings that compliments the Prado and the Reina Sofía.

The Prado
Madrid's world-famous attraction is the 213-year-old Prado Museum, one of the world's greatest art galleries, with more than 7,000 paintings that include masterpieces by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, El Bosco, Titian, Rembrandt and Velazquez. The museum began as a Royal collection, which succeeding dynasties have added to. The collection naturally focuses on the Spanish masters, particularly Goya, whose exhibited works follow the development of his painting from the sun-soaked early scenes of joyful festivities to the grim madness characterising his ‘black period’. The Prado has few equals - whether you are an art lover or not.

Goya’s Tomb
The Panteon de Goya is situated in the Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida and is known as Goya’s Sistine Chapel. The artist decorated the dome and cupola of the little chapel with a fresco depicting the miracles of St Anthony, with the use of sponges, a project that took 6 weeks to complete. Mirrors have been placed in strategic places to provide better glimpses of the art. The chapel also contains the artist’s tomb.

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