Madrid: Top 10

(continuer en français) – Published: January 7, 2023

Madrid was not always the capital of Spain. The Moors were settled further south in Cordoba and Toledo. It was not until 1561 that Philip II moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid, which was only a small town. From that time on, the royal power decided on the urban planning with large avenues, parks and monuments, it was then the capital of a world empire.

01. Royal Palace

On their arrival in Madrid, the sovereigns settled in an old, uncomfortable fortress. A fire in 1734 led to the construction of a huge new palace, surpassing the Louvre and Versailles, which served as a reference. The royal family no longer lives there but the palace is used for official receptions. Outside these times the public can visit it.

02. Plaza de España

At the foot of the Royal Palace, the Plaza de España honours the writer Cervantes with his characters Don Quixote and Sancho Pacha. Around the square, two tall buildings from the 1950s mark a period when modernism was understood as gigantism, in the image of North American buildings. The square is very popular with tourists.

03. El Retiro Park

With a surface area of 310 acres, 125 hectares, the park was originally a place of recreation for the king and the court. It is dotted with monuments and sculptures, such as the one to Alfonso XII, which precedes a navigable lake. In the park there are also several cultural sites such as the Crystal Palace. The park is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

04. Botanical Garden

A street separates the garden from the park of El Retiro. In comparison the botanical garden offers a high density of plantation, it has more than 5000 different species, including specimens collected throughout the former colonial empire. It was created by royal decree in 1774 and has had its ups and downs. Entrance is charged, except on Tuesday afternoons.

05. Prado Museum

The national museum is one of the great museums of the world. Its most famous painting is Velázquez’s Las Meninas, but the whole collection is dominated by religious themes, as the churches were the main clients along with the king. It was not until Goya and Sorolla that lighter subjects could be found. Photos are strictly forbidden.

06. Cybele Fountain

Before having a decorative role, the fountain supplied water to the city’s inhabitants when it was built in 1782. Now a symbol of Madrid, the fountain stands in the centre of a lively roundabout, surrounded by official buildings, including the one formerly occupied by the Post Office and now by the City Hall. The exhibition area and terrace are open to the public.

07. Puerta del Sol

The square is a crossroads of several streets that have become pedestrianised, in the heart of the commercial district of Madrid, where passers-by cross in great numbers. Several monuments can be found here, such as the Bear and the Arbutus Tree or the equestrian statue of Charles III, who did so much for the development of Madrid. Traditionally, this is the place to celebrate the arrival of the New Year.

08. Plaza Mayor

Entirely surrounded by a uniform façade supported by arcades that provide a protected passageway, it is accessed through large arches that reach the second floor. In addition to the numerous shops installed under the arcades, notably cafés and restaurants, the square is often animated by various events, a classic place for public celebrations.

09. Madrid Rio

With Madrid’s growing number of visitors, it became necessary to increase the number of places to entertain them to relieve the city centre. The banks of the Manzanares River were therefore developed with several play and leisure areas. The route is overlooked by great monuments and also gives access to the vast Casa de Campo urban park.

10. Temple of Debod

This is an Egyptian temple from the 2nd century BC that was destined to disappear after the construction of the Aswan Dam. In gratitude for the cultural rescue campaigns carried out by Spain, Egypt donated the temple, rebuilt stone by stone. It is located near the Plaza de España, the entrance is free, but the queue is often long.

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    • This is a valid observation. During my last stay my hotel was in the Lavapiés district which I did not know well. It’s a maze of small, steep streets, mostly residential, with small shops, so different from the big commercial streets.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. We visited Madrid last summer for a day and a half and managed to see most of the places on your list. The Puerta del Sol was under heavy construction though, so it’s nice to see what it would normally look like through your pictures. The Royal Palace was such a highlight.

    Liked by 1 person

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