Madrid Spain

Madrid Unveiled: A Journey Through Spain's Capital - Culture, Cuisine, and More

by and - last updated on 5/9/2024

After departing Nice, France (on our 2018 Europe Adventure) we flew to Madrid, Spain and found that the "Madrid Challenge" bicycle racing event was taking place on the Paseo del Prado. As our hotel was located a short distance off the intersection of the Plaza de las Cortes & the Paseo del Prado, our taxi driver (after repeated attempts) finally told us that he could not get us to our desired destination. The bicycle racing event barriers were effectively blocking crossing access (cars & pedestrians), requiring pedestrians to walk to the Estacion del Arte circle, and then walk back up the Paseo del Prado to our hotel - a bit of a hike.

With tens of thousands of people watching the bicycle race, we quickly realized that we were not going to be able to walk on the Paseo del Prado while rolling our suitcases behind us! Celeste fired up her cell phone mapping Application, and found us a "back street" route to reach the hotel.

Even though it wasn't exactly the arrival we had anticipated, we were glad to arrive and start our Madrid exploration. The back street route wound up revealing some interesting pubs & restaurants, so it was useful information for use later.


Youtube Video Link

Paseo del Prado Race View

We decided to stop and watch (since we could not yet determine how to cross over) the bicycle racers, you can see how crowded it was, bicycle racing in Europe is widely followed. Click this image to see a video we took from this location on the Paseo del Prado.

We finally asked a policeman how to get to the Hilton Hotel and he told us to walk to the Réplica de la Fuente de la Alcachofa ("Fountain of the Artichoke") traffic circle where we could cross over. As you can see in this video, the bike racers are on the Paseo del Prado headed north, and the Hilton Hotel is on the other side of that boulevard.

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Interesting Facts about Madrid
Madrid Coat of Arms
Madrid Coat of ArmsImage is the property of Heraldry of the World

Travel Tile

  • Madrid lies at the highest altitude of any capital in Europe at 2,188 feet.
  • The Retiro Park in Madrid has the only statue dedicated to the fallen angel Lucifer. The statue is at the Fuente del Angel Caído in the park and has gargoyles which spit water at the base.
  • There are various explanations as to how Madrid got its name, but the most trusted explanation is that it’s over 2,000 years old according to Arabic records, 'Mayrit' or 'Magerit' were the old names of Madrid which mean 'place of abundant water' which then evolved to the Madrid we know now.
  • The Palacio Real is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area and although it’s the official residency of the Spanish Royal Family it is only used for state ceremonies. King Felipe VI and the Royal Family actually live in the Palace of Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid.
  • Known for its parks and green spaces, Madrid has the most green space per inhabitant in the world, encompassing 35% of the city’s total area.
  • Madrid is the third largest city in the European Union.
  • According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the oldest working restaurant in the world is Sobrino de Botín in Madrid.
Where is Madrid Located?        Map
Section Banner Image Click the image above to view a larger Google Map

Madrid lies on the River Manzanares in the central part of the Iberian Peninsula. It is the Capital city of both Spain (almost without interruption since 1561) and the surrounding autonomous community of Madrid (since 1983), it is also the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. The city is situated on an elevated plain about 300 kilometres (190 mi) from the closest seaside location.

We flew into the Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport from Nice, France. It is the second largest airport in Europe, and it is located approximately 30 kilometers outside the center of Madrid where our hotel is located.

Click the above map link to view a Google Map of Madrid.

Where to Stay in Madrid
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history

During our trip planning, we had researched VRBO for a Madrid rental that would give us quick downtown access, and be close to the places we wanted to see. Not finding anything that fitted our requirements exactly, we decided to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Madrid-Prado. We made that decision because the hotel is very nicely located, and within easy walking distance of most of the Madrid sites we planned to visit.

Here are examples of how well located this hotel is; a number of art museums are located within three blocks, the Royal Palace area is a 1.7 kilometer walk and the Paseo del Prado (a major Madrid street) can take you from one end of Madrid to the other.

Images are the property of Hilton Hotels

 

 
DoubleTree LogoClick the image above to go to the Hilton Doubletree Website
 
 
Royal Palace of Spain       Map
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history

This was our first adventure goal, and the Hotel warned us that it is a popular destination and to try and arrive there as early as possible. So we rode a taxi (early in the morning) there expecting to find a short line. Didn't quite work out that way.

As you can see, tourists and other visitors are already lined up to gain entry. The good news for us is that these people are waiting to buy tickets, and we had obtained our tickets online and were therefore able to walk right in.

 Quick History Lesson 

The palace is located on the site of a 9th-century Alcázar ("Muslim-era fortress") , near the town of Magerit, constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Córdoba and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. After Madrid fell to King Alfonso VI of Castile in 1083, the edifice was only rarely used by the kings of Castile. In 1329, King Alfonso XI of Castile convened the cortes of Madrid for the first time. King Felipe II moved his court to Madrid in 1561.

The old Alcázar was built on the location in the 16th century. After it burned 24 December 1734, King Felipe V ordered a new palace built on the same site. Construction spanned the years 1738 to 1755 and followed a Berniniesque design by Filippo Juvarra and Giovanni Battista Sacchetti in cooperation with Ventura Rodríguez, Francesco Sabatini, and Martín Sarmiento. King Carlos III first occupied the new palace in 1764.

The last monarch who lived continuously in the palace was King Alfonso XIII, although Manuel Azaña, president of the Second Republic, also inhabited it, making him the last head of state to do so. During that period the palace was known as "Palacio Nacional". There is still a room next to the Real Capilla, which is known by the name "Office of Azaña".

Wikipedia Logo
 See that line in the picture above? We were there early and the line was already getting lengthy - so get your Royal Palace entrance tickets online. We got our tickets online at Patrimonio Nacional and had them delivered via email so we entered with our cell phone.
Plaza de la Armería & Palace Entry
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history

From the visitor's entrance, you have to walk across the Plaza de la Armería court yard and then walk to the entrance area - which is to my right below the flag.

The entrance to the Palace is in the center of image # 2, and the walled area on the left overlooks the Campo del Mora gardens.

The entire Royal Palace complex is in really excellent condition, and considering it's construction was completed in 1755, it is in amazing condition.

 Warning 

The Royal Palace is a huge structure, with numerous stairs and a very large number of rooms to visit. If you have trouble walking, this tour may not be for you. Also, the only restrooms for visitors are on the first floor of the central building, next to where you must leave your backpacks. We did not see any restrooms while we walked about the Palace.

Philip IV of Spain
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This bronze baroque statue of Felipe IV (Philip IV of Spain) stands at the centre of the Plaza de Oriente park across the Calle de Bailén from the Royal Palace.

The statue was begun in 1634 and shipped to Madrid in 1640, the year of King Felipe's death. The sculpture, atop a complicated fountain composition, forms the centerpiece of the façade of the Royal Palace.


NOTE: Image # 2 is the property of Alvesgaspar via Wikimedia. All other images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.
Plaza de la Armería History
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The Plaza as it exists now was laid-out in 1892, according to a plan by the architect Enrique María Repullés. However, the history of this square dates back to 1553, the year in which Philip II ordered a building to house the royal stables. Both images were taken looking south from the Palace of the St Mary Royal of the Almudena ( AKA "Almudena Cathedral" ) adjacent to the Palace complex.


NOTE: Image # 2 is the property of Elena F D via Wikimedia. All other images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC.
 Quick History Lesson 

This monument to Philip IV of Spain (1605–1665) is at the Plaza de Oriente, a square beside the Royal Palace, and was inaugurated in 1843. The bronze equestrian statue was made between 1634 and 1640 by Pietro Tacca (1577–1640), who requested Galileo Galilei's advice to achieve its stability: rear part is solid and front is hollow. The statue was initially in the Buen Retiro Palace.

Royal Palace Interior
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Salon de las Columnas

The neoclassical Columns Room in the Royal Palace was used for the celebration of dances and banquets until the year 1879 when Alfonso XII's first wife died.

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Palace Grand Staircase

The Palace Grand Staircase is composed of a single piece of San Augustin marble. Two lions grace the landing, one by Felipe de Castro and another by Robert Michel.

Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Palace Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase as seen from the floor above - can you imagine the work required to construct this staircase?

IMAGE CREDITS: Image # 3 above is the property of xiquinhosilva via Wikimedia Commons and the CC BY 2.0 license. All other images are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.

Our interior tour of the Palace was not a guided tour (there is a guided tour available), as we wanted to be able to move about at our own speed and to view rooms of our own selection. Needless to say, the entire interior is a stunning living museum.

Inside the palace rich materials were used: Spanish marble, stucco, mahogany doors and windows and important works of art, particularly frescoes by leading artists of the moment as Giaquinto, Tiepolo and Mengs and his Spanish followers Bayeu and Maella.

 Quick History Lesson 

The official residence of the Spanish Royal Family was built in 1738 and the palace contains 135,000 square metres (1,450,000 sq ft) of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms. This is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area.

Click the Wikipedia link below to go to the page where this information came from.

 More Info for the Royal Palace of Madrid 
  • Royal Palace of Madrid Wikipedia Article:
  • Royal Palace of Madrid Google Images Set:
Parque del Oeste       Map
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Lunch in the Park

After we completed our tour of the Royal Palace, we decided to walk north into the Parque del Oeste and find a place for a quick lunch. We wanted "quick" because we were on our way to the Teleférico de Madrid, which is a cable car from the park to the Casa de Campo. This isn't a long walk, and you will pass through a couple of nice parks along the way.

On our way to Casa de Campo via Cable Car
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Covering 1,535.52 hectares, this wonderful natural space to the west of the city is Madrid’s largest public park and the largest public urban park in Spain. Its history dates back to the mid-16th century when King Philip II decided to move his court to Madrid. He created an estate that extended from the Royal Palace to El Pardo hunting ground, acquiring farms and fields in the area. Used exclusively by the royal family for centuries, in the 1930s it was finally opened to the public.

King Ferdinand VI declared it a Royal Forest, and King Charles III chose to devote some of it to agricultural use and livestock farming. But with the arrival of the Second Spanish Republic, the new government ceded ownership of the property to Madrid City Council on 1 May 1931, and it has been public property ever since. During the Spanish Civil War it was extensively damaged, like many other sites in the city, but it also saw the construction of military structures that are still visible today.

Views from the Cable Car
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history

The views of Madrid & the Royal Palace from the Teleférico de Madrid, cannot be duplicated anywhere! We recommend taking this ride to get a break from the city and enjoy the Casa de Campo from the air. This was a pretty warm day, but being high up like this gave us access to a nice breeze which was very nice.

Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum       Map
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We had decided that the plan for our next day was to visit some of the nearby museums. We tried to obtain tickets for the del Prado, but it was "sold out" that day. So we decided to visit the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza which was only several blocks north of our hotel on the Paseo del Prado.

The art collection in this museum is quite large, to view a list of the artists that can be found on display, click here. Or to view an overview of the art collection contents, click here.

Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the Museum but they have a really good collection of art works and it is nicely laid out for visitors (HINT: Click the Google Images link below for a look inside the Museum). What sets the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum apart is its unique ability to complement the collections of other renowned Madrid art institutions, the Prado Museum, and the Reina Sofia National Museum. This triumvirate of museums forms the city's "Golden Triangle of Art," offering visitors an unparalleled and enriching artistic experience. Whether one is an art connoisseur or a casual admirer, the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum is a must-visit destination that showcases the splendor and diversity of human creativity.

After the Museum, we we looked for a lunch spot by walking along the Calle de Antonio Maura to the Puerta de España. This is considered to be the entrance to El Retiro Park.

 More Info for The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum 
  • Image Credit: The above image is the property of Kyle Magnuson via Wikimedia Commons using the CC BY 2.0 license. All other images are the property of Just Traveling Thru, LLC unless otherwise noted.
  • Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum Wikipedia Article: Here is the link to the Wikipedia Article..
  • Google Images set for Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum: Here is a link to that Images Set.
Parque del Buen Retiro (El Retiro Park)       Map
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Retiro Pond

This is the Estanque grande del Retiro in the El Retiro Park, a beautiful lake surrounded by a huge number of trees and flowers everywhere! The park is an excellent place to enjoy nature, get some shade, or just stroll along admiring the park's natural beauty.

Click here to go to the official Park Website.

Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Walkways

This walkway in the park gives you some idea of how well kept and how beautiful the entire park is. The major paths and walkways are used by families, runners, bikers and rollerbladers, and the circular route through the park is approximately 1.9 miles in length.

Explore Madrid, Spain's vibrant capital! Museums, palaces, tapas & flamenco await. Immerse yourself in art, culture & history
Rose Garden

This view is looking west toward the Prado Museum, as we were headed back to our hotel. You can see a few of the more than 4,000 rosebushes in the garden.

 Quick History Lesson 

El Retiro Park takes its name from King Felipe IV's 17th century royal palace that once stood on this site, but all that remains of it is now the Casón del Buen Retiro, a building that was then part of the Prado Museum but that after renovation is now an educational center. A second part of that palace housed the Army Museum ("Museo del Ejército") for years, but it was decided that it should move to the city of Toledo and make the building part of the Prado Museum.

 More Info for the Parque del Buen Retiro 
  • Parque del Buen Retiro Wikipedia Article:
  • Parque del Buen Retiro Google Images Set:
Churros at Las Farolas
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We had read a number of people's reviews about Madrid, and many of those stated that one must try the chocolate churros at Las Farolas.

The Churreria-Chocolateria Las Farolas restaurant has been in business for over 100 years, and they have several other locations scattered about Spain.

If you are ever in Madrid, we would suggest that you consider stopping at Churreria-Chocolateria Las Farolas. The best churros & chocolate we have ever had! They are located at Calle Mayor, 11, 28012, Madrid, Spain at the intersection of Calle Mayor and Calle de San Cristobal.

 History of Churros 

A churro is a fried-dough pastry—predominantly choux—based snack. Churros are traditional in Spain and Portugal, from where they originate, as well as the Philippines and Ibero-America. They are also consumed in the Southwestern United States, France and other areas that have received immigration from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries. In Spain, churros can either be thin (and sometimes knotted) or long and thick, where they are known as porras in some regions. They are normally eaten for breakfast dipped in champurrado, hot chocolate, dulce de leche or café con leche. Sugar is often sprinkled on top.

Flamenco at La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton
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One of our goals while in Madrid, was to experience a "real" Flamenco show, so we attended one at La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton. The singers & dancers were very good and the flamenco guitarist was excellent.
NOTE: Post Edit 1/20/2022 - Mister Pinkleton appears to have permanently closed.

Image # 2 was during a break in the Flamenco show, the musicians and dancers were changing costumes, so we ordered another round of sangrias - which by the way, were quite good.

You can acquire your tickets online at Viator in advance of the show, highly recommended, as we saw a lengthy line waiting to purchase tickets at the door when we entered with our reservations.

La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton serves drinks & food as well as dinner if you so choose. We don't have any flamenco experience, but we thoroughly enjoyed the show.

Tapas at La Meripepa
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We had decided to have tapas one night, and we only had to walk a few blocks from our hotel to this highly recommended restaurant.

They had a great beer on tap, and we ordered what we thought was going to be a couple of "small plates" and wound up with a full meal!

WARNING: We were hungry, but there was so much food that we could not finish it all !


Click here to go to their website.
Exploring Toledo
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This was a day trip we took while we were in Madrid, Spain because we had read about Toledo and how interesting an area it is. Nestled atop a hill overlooking the vast expanse of the Tagus River, Toledo stands as a living testament to Spain's rich history, cultural diversity, and architectural brilliance.

We took a ViatorViator Affiliate Link Image Bus Tour as it is only 87 kilometers from Madrid to Toledo, and using this method was a good solution for us as we did not want to rent a car while we were in Spain. Plus the tour was "guided", they spoke excellent english and they knew their way around Toledo.

 
 
Madrid Street Performers
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We had just exited Jardines del Cabo Noval (park near the Royal Palace) and had entered the Teatro Real area when we saw this street performer. Yes they are pan-handling, but you have to admit that it was a unique costume!

I should mention that it was a warm day, and we were wondering how this street performer could remain still for such long periods of time without hydration?

In Madrid, street performers are legal but they must audition in order to receive their license. Click here to read the story on NPR about licenses in Madrid.

A Madrid Restaurant: Fogg Bar Birras & Cheese
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This was our last dinner in Madrid, we ate at the Fogg Bar Birras & Cheese on the Calle de Moratín about 1.5 kilometers from our hotel.

That item in image # 1 is the Spanish version of nachos with a guacamole sauce and it was delicious! The restaurant had a very good draft beer selection, of which we put to good use too.

The name of this establishment might make you think that it was just another pub, but their food was quite good and the restaurant filled up rapidly while we were enjoying our dinner.

  • Just Traveling Thru European Travel Tips
  • Just Traveling Thru Travel Planning Tips
  • Things to do & see in Madrid on the "Crazy Tourist" site
  • Britannica Madrid Information
  • Google Search Results list for "places to eat in Madrid"
  • Google Search Results list for "accommodations in Madrid"
  • Madrid Travel Guide on 'Travel & Leisure' Site
  • Madrid on the "Wikipedia" site (good history article)
  • Google Image Gallery for Madrid
  • Youtube Search Results list for "Madrid Spain"
  • Visit our Youtube Channel
  • Madrid Royal Palace Tour on the "Get Your Guide" site
  • Our Image Gallery for Madrid
  • Wikipedia Article for Madrid
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