This imposing tree-lined avenue, adorned with fountains and sculptures, is home to no fewer than three world-class art galleries: the Museo Nacional del Prado, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. In the 18th century, the “prado” was a meadow crossed by a stream, but the rustic surroundings were deceptive, as the area had acquired an unsavoury reputation for muggings and amorous encounters. The solution, devised by Carlos IV, was a stately new boulevard between Plaza de Cibeles and Plaza de Atocha, lined with buildings devoted to the pursuit of scientific investigation. Work began in 1775 on a museum of natural history, which is now the Prado; the botanical gardens and observatory; and a medical school, which is now the Reina Sofía.
One of the world’s finest art galleries, the Prado includes a spectacular section of Spanish paintings by Francisco Goya within its vast collection.
What began as a private collection is now a superb public museum of some of the best European art from the past 700 years (see Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza).
In contrast to the Prado, this wonderful art gallery (see Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía) is devoted to the very best of 20th- and 21st-century art.
One of Madrid’s busiest traffic intersections also boasts the city’s most famous landmark. The Cibeles Fountain, designed by Ventura Rodríguez, depicts the goddess of nature and abundance riding her chariot, pulled by a pair of prancing lions. (The water-spouting cherubs were added at the end of the 19th century). The most striking architectural monument on the square is the over-the-top Palacio de Cibeles, now the Madrid Town Hall. Opposite is the Neo-Baroque Palacio de Linares, one of the city’s finest 19th-century buildings, and now the Casa de América. On the corner of Calle Recoletos, partly hidden from view by its steeply sloping gardens, is the former Palacio de Buenavista, commissioned in 1777 for the Duchess of Alba, a legendary beauty and one-time lover of artist Francisco Goya. Today it is home to the General Army Barracks.
This much-loved city park (see Parque del Retiro) is a constant source of pleasure to Madrileños, especially at weekends and during the hot summer months. There are open spaces to enjoy, as well as wooded areas and formal gardens.
Madrid Stock Exchange: Plaza de la Lealtad 1; Tours noon on Thu by appointment (email: [email protected] to book)
This leafy square honours the fallen heroes of the 1808 uprising against the French (see Luis Daoíz). The ashes of the rebel leaders, immortalized in Goya’s painting (see Museum Guide), were interred in the funerary urns beneath the obelisk when the project was finally completed in 1840. The Neo-Classical building occupying the north side of the square is the Madrid Stock Exchange, designed by Enrique María Repullés in 1884. Visitors may admire the Corinthian-columned façade at any time, but those wishing to see the trading floor (with its parquet flooring, painted vaults, stained-glass ceiling and gilded clock) will have to join the midday guided tour.
Plaza de la Lealtad 5 • Closed until 2019 for renovation
The Ritz first opened its doors in 1910 and the inauguration was attended by King Alfonso XIII, who had backed the project after complaining about the lack of quality accommodation in his capital. French architect Charles Mewes’ Neo-Classical building is surprisingly understated from the outside, but the interior is opulent. Outstanding features include handwoven carpets from the Royal Tapestry factory and the belle époque dining room. Stop for a drink on the terrace, and remember smart clothing is still required.
Plaza de Murillo 2 • Open 10am–dusk daily • Closed 1 Jan, 25 Dec • Adm (free Tue after 5pm)
These gardens were inaugurated in 1781 as a centre for botanical research. Beyond the main entrance is the herbarium – the aromatic, culinary and medicinal plants arranged in separate beds. The central terrace arranges plants by family, species and genealogical history. Look out for an ancient tree known as “El Pantalones” resembling a pair of inverted trousers – disease has split the trunk in half. Over 1,200 tropical and sub-tropical species are cultivated in the Exhibition Greenhouse, opened in 1993. But the Villanueva Pavilion and the arbours date back to the 18th century.
Calle de Montalbán 12 • Open Sep–Jun: 9:30am–3pm Tue–Sat, 5–8pm Thu, 10am–3pm Sun; Jul & Aug: 9:30am–3pm Tue–Sat, 10am– 3pm Sun • Closed 1 Jan, 6 Jan, 1 May, 24 Dec, 25 Dec, 31 Dec • Adm (free Thu afternoons)
Housed in a 19th-century mansion overlooking the Retiro is this compelling collection of furniture, silverware, ceramics and glassware from the royal factory of La Granja, as well as jewellery, tapestries, musical instruments, clocks and toys. But the museum is more than a showcase of handicrafts. Arranged chronologically over four floors are reconstructed rooms illustrating Spanish domestic life from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. On the fourth floor is the recreated Valencian kitchen, decorated with over 1,600 hand-painted azulejo tiles. The below-stairs life of an 18th-century palace is brought to life to show servants struggling with trays of pies and desserts while the cats steal fish.
Paseo del Prado 36 • Open 10am–8pm daily • Adm to exhibitions (free 15 & 18 May, 9 Nov) • Closed 25 Dec, 1 & 6 Jan
It’s hard to miss this cultural centre, which is set in a stunningly converted electrical station, crowned by a web of cast iron. Outside, there’s an enormous vertical garden, and inside are galleries for excellent temporary exhibitions. There are concerts, film screenings, talks and more, and a stylish fourth-floor café that offers a close-up view of the cast-iron shell.
These two monuments have earned a place in city folklore and have come to symbolize the rivalry between the city’s two main football clubs, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. When Real secures a trophy, the team and fans head for the Cibeles statue; when it is the turn of Atlético, Neptune is the focus for celebrations. Both fountains have suffered damage over the years so police now impose a cordon, limiting access to the players.
Begin at Plaza de Cibeles and take a quick peek at the palatial central hall of the Town Hall (see Architectural Sights). Plans to redirect traffic away from the Paseo del Prado have been frustrated, but the central boulevard still provides a pleasant walk, with plenty of shade in summer. Cross the road to Plaza de la Lealtad and the garden terrace of the Hotel Ritz – a delightful spot for coffee.
Continue past the Neo-Classical façade of the Museo Nacional del Prado and you’ll come to Plaza de Murillo and the Real Jardín Botánico. Allow at least an hour here to make the most of the verdant tranquillity.
Upon leaving the garden, cross the Paseo del Prado and double back to Plaza Cánovas del Castillo and Ventura Rodríguez’s splendid Neptune Fountain. The little side streets here are crammed with plenty of tempting tapas bars and restaurants. You could try La Platería for a light lunch.
After lunch, take a small detour into Plaza de las Cortes, to admire the portico of the Congreso de los Diputados. Return to Paseo del Prado and on your left is the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza which will occupy the rest of the afternoon. Take the central boulevard to return to Plaza de Cibeles, but before that head to Estado Puro at Plaza Canovas del Castillo for innovative tapas.
Calle Fuenterrabía 2 • Open 10am–2pm Mon–Fri (tours in English: noon) • Closed 1 Jan, 6 Jan, 1 May, 2 May, Aug, 24–31 Dec • Adm
Artisans of the Royal Tapestry Factory (see Real Fábrica de Tapices) still weave using the original 18th-century wooden looms.
This Neo-Classical gateway was designed in 1769 by Francisco Sabatini.
Calle de Moreto 4 • Open Jul & Aug: 5:30–7:30pm Mon, Wed & Fri; Sep–Jun: 10am–1pm & 5–8pm Mon–Sat, 9:30am–2:30pm & 5:30–8pm Sun
The Castilian parliament, the Cortes, met in this historic church in 1510.
Calle de Cervantes, 11• 914 29 92 16 • www.casamuseolopedevega.org
A museum set in Lope de Vega’s house features period furniture and his works as a tribute to the author.
Paseo del Prado 5 • Open 10am–7pm Tue–Sun (to 3pm Aug; partially closed for refurbishment) • Closed 1 & 6 Jan, 24, 25 & 31 Dec
Among the highlights here is a 16th-century Flemish galleon and the first map of the New World.
Paseo de las Delicias 61 • Open Jun–Sep: 10am–3pm Tue–Sun; Oct–May: 9:30am–3pm Mon–Fri, 10am–7pm Sat, Sun & public hols • Closed 1 Jan, 6 Jan • Adm
The railway museum has a wonderful collection of old steam locomotives on display and is the departure point for the Tren de la Fresa.
Plaza de Cibeles 1 • www.centrocentro.org • Adm
Madrid’s former main post office now houses a cultural centre (see CentroCentro chill-out lounge) with a spectacular viewing terrace.
The train station (see Estación de Atocha) combines a sleek modern concourse and a charming 1880s glass-and-iron construction, now housing a lush garden.
Calle Alfonso XII 3 • Open Fri–Sun (by appointment; check website for times) • 915 06 12 61, 915 97 95 64 • Adm • www.ign.es
Marvel at the historic telescopes and other astronomical instruments here.
Calle de Floridablanca s/n • Open noon Fri, 10:30am–12:30pm Sat (by appointment) • Closed Aug, public hols
Admire the Renaissance-style sculptures as well as the portico of the congress building on a guided tour.
Calle Almadén 15 • 914 29 80 29 • Closed D, Tue & Wed • €
This cosy place serves homemade cakes, and lunches made with market-fresh produce. Enjoy the classical music while you dine.
Plaza de Cibeles 1, 6th floor • 915 23 14 54 • €€€
Award-winning chef Adolfo Muñoz prepares innovative dishes using local ingredients. The terrace offers beautiful views of Madrid and the Cibeles fountain.
Calle de Alfonso XII 6 • 915 22 07 31 • Closed Sat L, Sun • €€€
One of Madrid’s most exclusive restaurants specializing in Central European cuisine. Jacket required.
Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 27 • 914 20 23 42 • €
Close to the Botanical Gardens, this restaurant has great drinks and food.
Glorieta de Carlos V, Estación del Arte Station • 915 30 97 46 • Closed Sun D • €€
Enjoy Mediterranean cuisine, coffee and cocktails here.
Calle de Jesús 2 • 914 29 30 67 • €
With quirky decor, this unique tapas bar (see Los Gatos) is a cool place for quick bites and beers.
Plaza Cánovas del Castillo 4 • 917 79 30 36 • €€
Indulge in an early lunch on the terrace of this restaurant (see Estado Puro) set close to the Prado and Thyssen museum. On offer are innovative tapas with a modern twist, as well as local wines.
Moratín 49 • 914 29 17 22 • €
Situated off the Paseo del Prado, there’s a terrace where you can snack on Castilian dishes such as jamón Ibérico and goat’s cheese while you watch the world go by.
Calle Juan de Mena 14 • 915 31 10 39 • €€€
Master chef Abraham García’s bistro offers a sensational, innovative menu and a superb wine list (see Viridiana).
Calle General Lacy 14 • 914 67 84 58 • Closed Easter; Mon L Jun–Oct; Sun D & Mon Nov–May; Aug • €
This classic Madrid tavern (see Bodegas Rosell) serves great value wines and generous portions of splendid tapas. Booking is recommended.
For a three-course meal for one with half a bottle of wine (or equivalent meal), taxes and extra charges.
€ under €35 €€ €35–€70 €€€ over €70