Madrid is the capital of Spain and is packed with important attractions for any tourist. Because of Spain’s prominence during several of the major dynasties of Europe, there are sections of the city which are referred to a "Bour (bon" Madrid and "Hapsburg" Madrid. The city was also a center for artistic excellence and contains several world-class museums. Below is my top ten list for this dynamic city. A photo album will follow shortly.
1. Palacio Real (Royal Palace) – This grand residence is still used for state functions although the Royal Family does not actually live here. Notable rooms within the palace include the Throne Room and Royal Armoury. It is the largest Royal Palace in Western Europe.
2. Plaza Mayor – This large and elegant square is one of the city’s major gathering places. Its origins go back to the early 17th century and it has been the scene of bullfights, soccer games, public executions and markets. The Casa de la Panaderia is the largest building on the square.
3. Prado Museum – One of the best art museums in the world, the Prado’s collection of Spanish paintings is unrivaled. It also contains one of the most important collections of European Art from the 12th to the 19th century with notable masters such as Titian, Rubens, and Bosch. The museum opened in the early 19th century and is a necessary stop for all art lovers. More recent works have been transferred to the Reina Sofia Museum nearby.
4. Retiro Park – This pocket of greenery near the Plaza de Cibeles (see below) is a popular stop for both locals and tourists alike. There are ponds and fountains, miles of walking trails, as well as places to rest and find solitude within this busy city. Be sure to check the lovely Crystal Palace, a glass-enclosed exhibition hall sitting on a tranquil pond.
5. El Escorial Monastery – Located less than 30 miles from Madrid, this summer palace and monastery is probably the most popular day trip from the capital. The building dates to the 16th century and contains the remains of most of the Spanish monarchs since that time in its pantheon. The building also has an extensive library and the woodwork and furniture in the rooms is exquisite.
6. Plaza de Cibeles – This large and busy traffic circle is noteworthy for several reasons. In the center is the elegant and beautiful sculpture of the goddess, Cibele riding a chariot pulled by lions. The lovely ensemble has become a symbol of the city. Around the square a regal buildings, including the Buenavista Palace, the Linares Palace, the Main Post Office of the city and the Bank of Spain.
7. Plaza de Toros de las Ventas – Madrid’s bullring is one the most important in the world and attracts the best matadors in the country and the world. Although there are many more objections to the sport of bullfighting these days, it is still popular with locals and a must-see for visitors to the capital.
8. Puerta del Sol – This busy intersection is the starting point for measuring all distances in Spain. It is also a major hub for public transportation in the city and is thus crowded with people throughout the day and night. For the reasons stated above it makes a great meeting place as well.
9. Valle de los Caidos – Located near El Escorial (see above) and often combined with it in a day trip from Madrid is this memorial basilica, the Basilica de la Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos. It is one of the largest basilicas in the world and is carved out of a granite ridge. Above the basilica is the largest memorial cross in the world, a stone monster which soars over 150 meters high. The basilica also contains the grave of Generalissimo Franco, Spain’s infamous dictator.
10. Casa Botin – This restaurant, made famous because Ernest Hemingway called it the best restaurant in the world, also claims to be the oldest restaurant in the world (1725). The roast suckling pig is the most popular menu suggestion and is excellent.
Other sights considered:
Temple of Debod
Puerta de Alcala
Reina Sofia Museum