This article discusses the best attractions in Madrid. The city’s unique culture and history are taken into consideration. Activities for children and families are included.
Madrid is an ancient city, centrally located on Spain’s Manzanares River. Since prehistoric times, a community has existed where modern Madrid currently sits. Over the centuries, the city has been inhabited by the Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, Moors, and Sephardi Jews, and each group has left its own unique footprint, combining into the colorful, multifaceted Madrid of today.
Rich in history, culture, and tradition, Madrid offers an almost endless choice of sights and activities for visitors. Covering over 200 square miles, one could spend weeks, if not months, exploring every fascinating nook and cranny of the old city. Unfortunately, few travelers are at forded such a luxury of time, so the following guidelines cover a broad spectrum of the best of Madrid.
Plaza Mayor: This plaza is practically synonymous with Madrid and is perhaps the most visited tourist site in the entire city. Built in the seventeenth century, the plaza has been the site for executions, bull fights, coronations, and celebrations. Giovanni de Bologna’s famous bronze statue of King Philip Ill stands guard over the area. Be sure to visit the eighteenth-century Casa de la Panaderia and its amazing murals. While you’re at the plaza, have your portrait drawn by a talented street artist and enjoy a typical bocadillo de calamares — a squid sandwich.
Museo del Prado: One of the world’s first art galleries, this museum is easily one of the most important on the globe. The Prado is home to more than 9,000 works of art, including paintings from the Flemish school, sixteenth-century Italian schools, and the Spanish schools, along with an impressive group of religious art works. Some of the most famous paintings housed at the museum are those by El Greco, Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, Tintoretto, Velazquez, Van Dyck, and Rafael.
Reina Sofia National Museum and Art Center: This museum houses one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the world. Perhaps its most famous occupant is Picasso’s Guernica. Works of Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Juan Gris, Jose Gutierrez Solana, and Roy Lichtenstein are also on display. Built in 1566, the museum’s building it self is a historical artistic monument. It was once Madrid’s general hospital.
National Archeology Museum: This fascinating museum houses exhibits ranging from prehistoric times through the Renaissance. One of the most popular is the replica of the famous Altamira cave paintings, which depict ancient man’s simplistically beautiful portrayal of the hunt. Other highlights include Renaissance lusterware, Talavera pottery, rare Andalusian glassware, Greek vases, and Roman mosaics. Many ancient religious artifacts are also on exhibit.
Palacio Real: This is the Royal Palace, the official home to the king of Spain. King Juan Carlos does not actually live here, but the palace is still used for important occasions. Located downtown, on Bailen Street, the palace is the largest in Western Europe, with 2,800 rooms. Completed in 1755, the structure contains impressive collections of antique weapons, armor, tapestries, porcelain, furniture, and musical instruments. The walls are adorned with works by Goya, Velazquez, Caravaggio, and other famous artists.