To wander around this part of Madrid is to be reminded constantly of its regal associations. The magnificent Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales and the Monasterio de la Encarnación are both royal foundations, dating from the Habsburg era (1516–1700), while work on the breathtaking Palacio Real, inspired by the Louvre in Paris, began during the first reign of Felipe V (1700–25). Joseph Bonaparte was King of Spain for only five years (1808–13), but he laid out the plans for the handsome Plaza de Oriente next to the palace. Further afield, the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida was commissioned by Carlos IV.
This 16th-century convent (see Monasterio de Las Descalzas Reales) is a treasure trove of art.
Avenida Reyes Catótilcos 6 • 915 49 26 41 • Open 9:30am–3pm Tue–Sat (to 7pm Thu), 10am–3pm Sun & public hols • Closed 1 & 6 Jan, 1 May, 24, 25 & 31 Dec and one local holiday • Adm (free Sun and after 2pm on Thu) • www.mecd.gob.es/museodeamerica
Spain’s links with the American continent have a long history, and this museum (see Museo de América) displays artifacts from all eras, including textiles, art and ceramics.
Calle de Ventura Rodríguez 17 • 915 47 36 46 • Open 9:30am–3pm Tue–Sat, 5–8pm Thu, 10am–3pm Sun & public hols • Closed Mon, 1 & 6 Jan, 1 May, 9 Nov, 24, 25 & 31 Dec • Adm (free Sun, 2–3pm Sat, 5–8pm Thu) • www.mecd.gob.es/mcerralbo
Don Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, Marqués de Cerralbo (1845–1922), was a poet, politician and collector, searching the world for treasures to adorn his palatial home. He bequeathed his collection to the state so that it could be enjoyed by others. Highlights of the museum include a majolica Nativity by Renaissance artist Andrea della Robbia (in the Sunroom) and El Greco’s Ecstasy of St Francis (in the Sacristy), but the jewel in the crown is Juderías Caballero’s Allegory of Dance in the dome of the ballroom (see Museo Cerralbo).
Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida 5 • 915 42 07 22 • Open Jul & Aug: 9:30am–2pm, 3pm–7pm Tue–Sun; Sep–Jun: 9:30am–8pm Tue–Sun • Closed Mon, public hols
Dedicated to St Anthony of Padua, this hermitage was completed in 1798. Goya began work on his frescoes in June, and by December they were finished. On St Anthony’s Day (13 June) unmarried girls would come to the hermitage to ask the saint to find them a husband.
Plaza de la Encarnación 1 • Closed 1 & 6 Jan, Easter,1 May, 27 Jul, 24, 25 & 31 Dec • Adm (free Wed & Thu afternoon for EU citizens and Ibero Americans) • www.patrimonionacional.es
The convent was founded in 1611 by Margarita of Austria, wife of Felipe III, for daughters of the nobility. It was also the church of the Alcázar – a picture gallery linked the two buildings. Unfortunately, when the castle was destroyed by fire in 1734 the flames spread to the convent and many of its treasures were lost. A great deal remains however: 17th-century paintings by Ribera and Luca Giordano; impressive sculptures, such as Recumbent Christ by Gregorio Fernández; embroidered vestments and gold and silverware. The guided tour takes in the cloister with its decoration of Talavera azulejos; the reliquary, where visitors are shown the phial containing the congealed blood of St Pantaleon; the carved stalls in the choir; and the church, designed by Ventura Rodríguez.
Plaza Isabel II • 915 16 06 96 • Open for tours 10:30am–4:30pm daily • Closed 1 Jan, Aug, 25 Dec • Adm (under 5s free) • www.teatro-real.com
The city’s state-of-the-art opera house has undergone several facelifts over the years. There were so many delays in constructing the original theatre that the architect, Antonio López Aguado, was long dead before the official opening in 1850 on Queen Isabella II’s birthday. Giuseppe Verdi wrote his opera The Force of Destiny for the Teatro Real in 1863 – he stayed at No.6 Plaza de Oriente. The dimensions of the restored opera house are impressive. The backstage area is large enough to contain the Telefónica building on Gran Vía (see Teatro Real).
Calle de Bailén 10 • Open July–Aug: 10am–9pm; Sep–Jun: 9am–8:30pm daily • Museum & dome: open 10am– 2:30pm Mon–Sat • Adm • www.catedraldelaalmudena.es
There were plans to build a cathedral on the superb hilltop site in the 18th century, but it was not until 1879 that the Marqués de Cubas got the go- ahead for his ambitious design; even then, only the Romanesque-style crypt was built. The cathedral was finally completed In the 1980s by architect Fernando Chueca Goitia and opened by Pope John Paul II in 1993. The Gothic interior comes as a surprise, as the exterior is Neo-Classical to harmonize with the Palacio Real. The magnificent bronze doors were installed in October 2000.
The focal point of this beautiful square is the bronze equestrian statue of Felipe IV, moved here from the Buen Retiro palace in 1842. The sculptor Pietro Tacca took advice from Galileo Galilei on the modelling of the rearing horse – the figure of the king was based on sketches by Velázquez. The statues of Spanish rulers were intended for the balustrade of the Palacio Real but they did not meet with royal approval.
A set piece from the Franco era, the huge square at the bottom of the Gran Vía is dominated by Madrid’s first skyscrapers, erected in the 1950s. In the centre, a monument to Cervantes features bronze statues of Don Quixote and his faithful companion Sancho Panza. Just visible off the northwest corner of the square is the splendid Templo de Debod, erected in the 2nd century BC near Aswan in Egypt and rebuilt here in 1972. The interior of the temple is closed for visitors. Behind it, leafy Parque del Oeste is an ideal spot for a picnic.
A niche in the wall next to the cathedral contains a statue of the Virgin. According to legend, the original was hidden from the Moors in the 8th century. More than 300 years later, it was rediscovered by Alfonso VI when part of the city wall fell away. On 9 November the statue is carried from the cathedral in solemn procession (see Virgen de la Almudena).
Catch the first guided tour of the morning (11:30am) at the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales. On leaving, cross Plaza San Martín to Calle de Hilera, then turn right onto Calle del Arenal. Follow this busy street to Plaza de Isabel II, the best place to admire Madrid’s opera house, the Teatro Real. Follow Calle Felipe V alongside the theatre until you come to Plaza de Oriente and the Palacio Real. The palace is closed at least once a week for official functions but, if it is open, it is worth allocating an hour to looking around.
There are plenty of places to eat in the vicinity of Plaza de Oriente, for example the café of the same name. A plaque on the wall nearby reminds visitors that this was once the treasury house where the artist Velázquez had his studio.
After lunch, walk over to the Templo de Debod. Beautifully reflected in a shallow pool, this temple was a gift to Madrid from the Egyptian government in the 1970s. Continue walking beyond the temple into the quiet, shady paths of the Parque del Oeste, where you’ll find the Teleférico de Madrid cable car to the Casa de Campo. From the cable car station, stroll about 30 minutes through the park to reach the lake (follow signs for lago), where you can hire a rowing boat or enjoy a drink at one of the cafés.
Plaza San Martín 1-B
This large store specializes in second-hand records. Every taste and period is catered for and the staff are helpful and knowledgeable.
Calle Flor Baja 8
A treasure trove for admirers of pottery and an excellent place to shop for gifts. Products from all over Spain at very reasonable prices.
Calle de Isabel La Católica 2
If you’ve been bowled over by the 18th-century Talavera ceramics in the Palacio Real, you’ll find that the modern descendants of these craftsmen have not lost their touch. This outlet (see Antigua Casa Talavera) offers a wide range of hand-painted jugs, plates, mugs and more.
Calle Segovia 57
This historic workshop is where true guitar enthusiasts come to buy a handcrafted instrument.
Calle Conde de Lemos 7
This family business (see El Flamenco Vive) specializes in all things flamenco, from beautiful dresses, dance shoes and shawls to guitars and castanets, as well as CDs, DVDs, sheet music and books.
Calle Mayor, 44
An excellent gourmet shop where a wide variety of products ranging from beauty products, oils and candles are available. The prices are reasonable and cater to all budgets.
Calle de Martín de los Heros 11
Located in the centre of Madrid’s main cinema district, this bookshop is a treasure house for film buffs, with books, posters, postcards and more.
Calle Mayor 47
This design company started as three friends selling T-shirts on the streets of Pamplona during the 1989 Sanfermines fiesta. The bright graphics proved hugely popular, and Kukuxumusu now sells its products throughout Europe.
Calle Mayor 10
Founded in 1855, this pretty, old-style pastelería caters for none other than the Spanish royal family. Shop here for seasonal Madrid specialities such as tocino de cielo, a silky-smooth crème caramel.
Plaza Mayor 30
Founded back in 1886, this shop has a hat for every occasion, from bowler hats and flat caps to trilbies and beanies. Largely aimed at men, with some items for women and children, the shop also stocks gloves, hatboxes and military accessories.
Pasadizo de S Ginés 5 • 913 65 65 46 • €
Head here after a night out for a traditional breakfast of chocolate con churros.
Calle de Felipe V 6 • 915 47 25 77 • €€
Snack on jamón Ibérico or croquetas in the tapas bar, or eat Basque food in the adjoining restaurant.
Calle de las Navas de Tolosa, 9 • 915 21 38 96 • Closed first 3 weeks Aug • €
This American-run restaurant gives a transatlantic treatment to Spanish fare. Be sure to leave room for dessert, after their value menu of the day.
Plaza de Oriente 2 • 915 41 39 74 • €€
An elegant café with velvet seats, a stucco ceiling and summer terrace.
Calle de Caños del Peral 3 • 915 42 06 44 • Closed Sun, 22 Dec, 25 Dec • €€
Delicious and creative Mexican dishes include pollo al mole – chicken breast prepared in a chocolate sauce with 32 different spices.
Calle de la Bola 5 • 915 47 69 30 • Closed Sun D, 24 Dec • No credit cards • €
Cocido (various meats cooked in a rich broth) is the highlight at this 19th-century restaurant.
Calle Conde Duque 2 • 915 41 80 23 • Closed L daily • €
A well-kept secret in downtown Madrid, with a terrace café offering light meals amid an oasis of greenery.
Calle de Amaniel 25 • 915 48 39 35 • Aug • €
This bar has a good choice of seafood tapas. Mahou beer originally came from the factory next door.
Calle de Ferraz 36 • 915 48 31 14 • Closed 1 Jan, 6 Jan, Aug, 24 Dec, 25 Dec, 31 Dec • €
Speciality snacks include salmorejo (cold tomato and almond soup with spider crab) and omelette with shrimp and spinach. The wine list is great.
Plaza de San Miguel • 915 42 49 36 • Open 10am–midnight Sun–Thu, 10am–2pm Fri–Sat (to 7pm on 24 & 31 Dec), noon–midnight on 25 Dec & 1 Jan • €
An early 20th-century market where the best shops have stalls, selling ham, cheese, sushi, foie gras and pastries.