Madrid site-seeing tour

Spain, Madrid Guide (A): Madrid site-seeing tour

Let me take you on a tour of Madrid's top site-seeing spots including the Palacio Real, Almudena Cathedral, Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Gran Vía, Plaza de Cibeles, Puerta de Alcalá and Retiro Park. Along the way, you can divert from the tour to visit the San Francisco El Grande Basilica, as well as the Prado or Thyssen Museums, or go shopping on Calle de Serrano.
This article is featured in the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" on iTunes App Store and Google Play. You can download the app to your mobile device to read the article offline and create a self-guided walking tour to visit the attractions featured in this article. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and it works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Walk Route

Guide Name: Madrid site-seeing tour
Guide Location: Spain » Madrid
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 3.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: Palacio Real   Almudena Cathedral   Plaza Mayor   Puerta del Sol   Gran Vía   Plaza de Cibeles   Puerta de Alcalá   Retiro Park  
Author: Erin Ridley
Author Bio: As an American living in Spain, and married to a Spaniard, I've had the unique opportunity to experience the country from a native's point of view. I’ve been to just about every corner of the country and relish in sharing Spain's top spots, best kept secrets, culture and cuisine.
Author Website: http://www.latortugaviajera.com
1
Palacio Real

1) Palacio Real

Bienvenidos a Madrid and welcome to the first stop on your tour, the Palacio Real, or the Royal Palace. This is the official residence of the King, although unofficially he does not actually live here, but at a palace just outside of Madrid the city. While the location of the palace dates back to a 10th century Moorish fortress, the construction of the present day palace did not begin until 1738 and was finally finished in 1755. Now, the palace is just used for formal receptions and state ceremonies. Touring its ballrooms, galleries, bedrooms and more, it is exactly what you’d imagine it to be – out of a fairytale. Having done this tour countless times, I’d definitely recommend it. Take note though – it is best to arrive early when the palace opens. If not, you will encounter long lines at the ticket booth, which you will essentially be stuck in the whole way through. The palace typically opens at 9am, although may open at 9:30am depending on the season.
2
Almudena Cathedral

2) Almudena Cathedral

The Almudena Cathedral – so pretty and classic from the outside, so oddly modern from the inside. Plans to build a cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of Madrid, Almudena, date back to the 16th century when the capital of Spain was moved to Madrid. Despite this, construction did not actually begin until 1879. This construction was then delayed on various occasions due to the Spanish Civil War and lack of funding, so it wasn’t until 1993 that the building was finally finished and became the only Spanish cathedral consecrated by the Pope. Then, years later, in 2004, Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia wed there. You may pay to enter to see the inside of the cathedral, however if you’ve seen a cathedral interior before, you may find this one particularly underwhelming considering it is quite a contrast to its exterior. If you have time, you may choose to take a brief detour by heading farther south down Calle de Bailén, over the Segovia Bridge, and to the San Francisco El Grande Basilica, which was completed in 1784. It is quite the opposite of the Almudena – not so pretty on the outside, but breathtaking on the inside. Our tour continues onto Calle Mayor on the way to Plaza Mayor. Along the way, on your right you will pass the Plaza de la Villa, most well known as home to City Hall until 2007.
3
Plaza Mayor

3) Plaza Mayor

Entering the grand Plaza Mayor in the past, you might have seen bull fights or public executions take place, but now you are more likely to see it filled with terrazas where you can enjoy tapas and drinks, or during the holidays filled with kiosks overflowing with nativity figurines. The origins of the plaza trace back to the 14th century when the square was know as Plaza de Arrabal. In 1580, however, after Madrid became capital in 1561, Felipe II took charge of the project to remodel the busy plaza. Over the course of history, the plaza has suffered three large fires, therefore the version you see today is a result of the last restoration which was finalized in 1854. In the center of today’s plaza you will see the statue of Felipe III, which was erected in 1848, although it dates back to 1616. The plaza has nine entryways and is overlooked by an impressive 237 balconies lining the surrounding three-story residential buildings. The Casa de la Panadería, completed in 1619, is the most notable structure in the square and currently houses the Center of Madrid Tourism. The mural that blankets the building was only recently painted in 1992 and depicts various mythical characters.
4
Puerta del Sol

4) Puerta del Sol

Welcome to Puerta del Sol. This is truly the heart of Madrid, and is in fact from where all distances on the Spanish radial network of roads are measured – if you are on a freeway and see a kilometer marking, it is likely from a little spot in Puerta del Sol that it is measured. If you look on the ground in front of the building with the big clock, you will indeed see this small marker identifying it as the center. Note that this is not the exact geographic center of Spain, which is actually located south of the city of Madrid. This building, with the clock, that you are now standing in front of was erected in the 1700s to be used as the post office, making it a popular meeting spot until the 19th century for passing travelers and couriers looking to get the latest scoop. Now the building is home to the office for the President of the Madrid Community. Puerta del Sol is also where the big New Year’s Eve celebration takes place. This entails the chiming of the clock 12 times at midnight - for each chime everyone consumes one whole grape. The name Puerta del Sol, meaning “Gate of the Sun,” originates from the fact that this puerta, or gate, dating back to the 15th century, was the western border of the city and therefore the sun would set upon this old city wall illuminating it with sunshine. Within the plaza you will see a statue of Charles III as well as one of the iconic bear and madrone tree - which is the symbol of Madrid and can be seen in places throughout the city if you look carefully. While in Puerta del Sol, also be sure to stop by the famous over-100-year-old Mallorquina bakery to pick up a treat (Calle Mayor, 2).
5
Gran Vía

5) Gran Vía

Here you will find one of Madrid’s busiest streets – the Gran Vía, which began construction in the early 1900s and was finally completed in 1929. The large avenue was built in order to provide a means to cross the city east to west, from Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de España. The street is known for its shops, architecture, and many theatres - some of which still run shows, and others which have been converted for other uses (in fact, on your way to your next stop, if you have time, stop by at the H&M store at Gran Vía 37, just after you turn right onto Gran Vía. It used to be a theatre, so by exploring the shop you can see the well preserved theatre interior). Carrying on to the right on Gran Vía you will eventually reach the junction of Gran Vía and Calle de Alcalá, which provides stunning views in all directions.
6
Plaza de Cibeles

6) Plaza de Cibeles

Welcome to my favorite plaza in Madrid – Plaza de Cibeles. In its center is a fountain with the Roman goddess of nature, Cybele, which sits on a chariot pulled by two lions. Entering the plaza you will see that it intersects a large paseo (or walkway) – Paseo de Recoletos is off to the left and Paseo del Prado heading to the right. This long, tree-lined paseo (which to the north turns into the Castellana) is filled with flowers and terrazas, and provides the perfect shaded path for walks during hot summer days. To your immediate right when entering the plaza is the Banco de España, and then straight ahead to the right is the Palacio de las Communicaciones. This building was constructed in 1909 to serve as the post office headquarters, however in 2007 it became City Hall. To its left is the apparently haunted Palacio de Linares (now called the Casa de América), and finally to your immediate left is the oldest building in the plaza, the Palacio de Buenavista, which serves as the army headquarters. The fountain in the center was originally erected in 1782 in front of the Palacio de Buenavista, but was later moved to the center in 1895 when the paseos were linked with Calle de Alcalá to facilitate traffic. During the holidays, this intersection is crossed by hanging lights heading in all directions, when Real Madrid wins this same plaza is filled with thousands of proud Spanish fans, and during Three Kings Day the Kings arrive to deliver a message to all the Spanish children – a tradition enthusiastically watched by the kiddies of Spain either in person, or at home on TV. Now, if you are a fan of art, you may want to head right down the Paseo del Prado to either visit the Thyssen Museum, which will be on the right side of the street, or the Prado Museum, which is on the left. Then return to the Plaza de Cibeles to continue the tour.
7
Puerta de Alcalá

7) Puerta de Alcalá

Walking the gradual incline of the Calle de Alcalá, the Puerta de Alcalá reveals itself in the distance in the Plaza de la Independencia. Its construction was commissioned around 1774 by Carlos III who had originally arrived in Madrid in 1769 via a prior gate that existed in the same area. This previous Puerta de Alcalá, which sat slightly to the west, was built of brick in 1599 in anticipation of the arrival of the wife of Felipe the III, Margarita of Austria, from Valencia. The original gate, which served as one of the five main access points to the city, was destroyed in 1764 in order to expand the road to Alcalá. Carlos III, who wasn’t such a big fan of the original gate to begin with, then commissioned this newer gate in order to improve the appearances of the city. The Puerta de Alcalá that you see today stands 70 feet tall and was designed in the neo-classical style. The gate was inaugurated in 1778 as the primary entrance to the city and as an actual gate marking the eastern city limits, until finally the plaza was remodeled in 1869.
8
Retiro Park

8) Retiro Park

Now you’ve arrived at your final destination – El Parque del Retiro – one of the city’s two green lungs, as they say (the other being Casa de Campo, which is a large park on the western side of the city). The park was originally commissioned in the 1630s by the Count-Duke of Olivares when its main features included its gardens and particularly its small lake which you can now set sail on in one of the rented row boats. The park has been host to many events over the years, from mock naval battles, to Italian operas, and was at one time the center of court life when Spain was the most prominent world power. In its history, Retiro has gone through various renovations, the largest of which occurred when it was opened to the public in 1767. Over the course of time, monuments, sculptures and fountains have also been erected, making it a great place to enjoy both nature and art. If you aren’t beat at this point from traversing Madrid, you may want to head back to the Puerta de Alcalá and go shopping on Madrid’s famous shopping street, Calle de Serrano. Serrano will be the second street to your right if you are exiting the park from where you entered. Our tour ends here, so with that, happy shopping and buen viaje!

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