Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

Madrid Introduction Walk I (Self Guided), Madrid

A city of elegant boulevards and expansive, manicured parks, the Spanish capital is renowned for its rich repositories of European art, portico-lined Plaza Mayor, baroque style Royal Palace and many other cultural and historical monuments.

Although the site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times, the first historical document about an established settlement here dates from the Muslim age, circa the second half of the 9th century. In 1085, the city was conquered by Christians and integrated into the kingdom of Castile. In the 17th century Madrid enjoyed a period of exceptional cultural brilliance, marked by the arrival of geniuses such as Miguel de Cervantes, Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Quevedo and Lope de Vega. In the early 20th century, however, Madrid still looked more like a small town than a modern city. During the 1930s, Madrid enjoyed "great vitality", being demographically young, but the erupted Civil War of 1936–1939 heavily affected it. A stronghold of the Republican faction and an international symbol of anti-fascist struggle, Madrid was bombed by aeroplanes and saw an all-out battle in November 1936.

During the economic boom in Spain from 1959 to 1973, the city experienced unprecedented, extraordinary development in terms of population and wealth, becoming the home of the new thriving middle class emerged as a result of the 1960s Spanish economic boom. Following the death of dictator Franco and the start of the democratic regime, the 1978 constitution confirmed Madrid as the capital of Spain.

Although the city possesses modern infrastructure, it has preserved the look and feel of many of its historic neighborhoods and landmarks. This walk starts in the city's most prominent neighborhood – Sol – and follows through Plaza Mayor and Mercado de San Miguel to the Palacio Real and Templo de Debod to discover Madrid that never sleeps and to show you a good time well worth remembering!
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Madrid Introduction Walk I Map

Guide Name: Madrid Introduction Walk I
Guide Location: Spain » Madrid (See other walking tours in Madrid)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 Km or 1.8 Miles
Author: emma
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Puerta del Sol
  • Calle Mayor
  • Plaza Mayor
  • Mercado de San Miguel
  • Plaza de la Villa
  • Catedral de la Almudena
  • Palacio Real
  • Plaza de Oriente
  • Jardines de Sabatini
  • Plaza de Espana
  • Museo Cerralbo
  • Templo de Debod
Puerta del Sol

1) Puerta del Sol (must see)

Puerta del Sol ("The Gate of the Sun") is a bustling plaza in the eponymous neighborhood of Madrid, and is one of the best known and busiest places in the capital. This square marks the center (Km 0) of the radial network of Spanish roads, and is located in the very heart of the city, not far from Plaza Mayor. The square is dominated by the monument to King Carlos III and the famous bronze sculpture of "the bear and the strawberry tree". Another key attraction here is the clock whose bells chime the start of the traditional Twelve Grapes eating at a New Year celebration which is broadcast live on the Spanish TV since 1962.

Why You Should Visit:
Indispensable for first-time visitors; the essence of Madrid and Spain – lively, boisterous, cheerful.
Many local restaurants serve food till well after midnight, and the pubs stay open till 3am on weeknights and 4am on weekends.
Unlike other areas in Madrid, most retailers here don't close for the afternoon siesta.

Keep an eye on your valuables at all times.

****Food Walk****
While in Puerta del Sol, you can have a chance to eat like a true madrileño in the number of family-run restaurants, authentic taverns and tapas bars abounding the area. Known to the locals for decades, these eateries are quite close by yet remarkably away from the trodden tourist paths. One such hidden gem is called La Mallorquina, renowned for its pastries, particularly the “roscón de reyes” (special ring-shaped cake for King's Day).
Sight description based on wikipedia
Calle Mayor

2) Calle Mayor

Running from La Cuesta de la Vega to Puerta del Sol, Calle Mayor has been the main street of Madrid since the Middle Ages, housing shops of silversmiths, coopers and fletchers who used to sell their wares to the rich merchants heading downtown. Today, Calle Mayor is as much popular for its boutiques, cafes and restaurants as it is for the festive atmosphere created by excellent street musicians playing here regularly, and for the numerous peculiar buildings associated with historic personalities and events.

At Number 48 you will find the Cervantes House Museum, a place where Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain's #1 writer was born. Number 61 is the narrowest house in Madrid, measuring only 5 meters across. Number 88 made history in 1906 when anarchist Mateo Moral attempted to kill King Alfonso XIII and his bride on their wedding day by throwing a bomb from the top balcony of this house; the royals were unhurt, unlike the many innocent victims in memory of whom now there is a monument opposite the house.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Plaza Mayor

3) Plaza Mayor (must see)

Plaza Mayor, known originally as Plaza del Arrabal, was built during the Habsburg rule, and is a central square in Madrid, located just a few blocks away from Puerta del Sol. Rectangular in shape, this square measures 129 by 94 meters and is surrounded by three-story residential buildings. There are in total 237 balconies facing the Plaza, nine entryways and a ring of old and traditional shops and cafes under their porticoes.

Dominating Plaza Mayor is Casa de la Panaderia, a municipal building. In the course of history, the square has been the site of many things including markets, bullfights, soccer games, and even public executions of condemned heretics during the Spanish Inquisition.

Why You Should Visit:
The place is excellent to hang out at or to start an interesting tour from.
Perfectly symmetrical, highly detailed architecture, with a walkway to shield from sun or rain around the perimeter. This layout has been copied in many squares Europe-wide and for a good reason.
Very photogenic and a great spot to have a drink or dinner and to watch the world go by.

If you look for cheaper but equally good food and drink options, try restaurants and bars just outside the square.

****Food Walk***
Plaza Mayor is skirted by many restaurants and cafes. Although most of them are somewhat overpriced and brimming with tourists, the place is still marvelous to sit out in and enjoy a sip of good Spanish wine and tasty tapas (most notably the calamari sandwich – Madrid's culinary specialty – a bun filled with calamari battered in flour and egg and then fried, craving to be washed down with an ice-cold beer).

One of the many delicious “corners” surrounding the square is the Los Galayos historic restaurant. Open since 1894, serving traditional Madrid recipes, its main specialty is beef tenderloin on a hot stone block. The restaurant has a number of dining rooms, plus two outdoor terraces for those who seek a quick snack of tapas. Unlike the many tourist traps nearby, most of which are quite pricey and not always up to a tee food-wise, Los Galayos – albeit not so cheap either – has the history and well-deserved reputation, in terms of food quality, that draws both locals and tourists in their numbers.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Mercado de San Miguel

4) Mercado de San Miguel (must see)

No holiday in Madrid is complete without a visit to the Mercado de San Miguel in the heart of the Old Town. It really is a must for gourmets and gourmands alike. The market is housed in a glass-fronted 20th-century Beaux-Arts building and is known as the Cultural Culinary center of Madrid.

There are over 50 individual stalls, each run by a specialist in their chosen field, e.g. fresh fruit, vegetables, fish or meat. You can browse through the stands of locally grown fruit and vegetables where the odor of herbs and spices fill the air; nothing here has seen the inside of a freezer, none of the produce is ready-packed in plastic and the layout of the goods is an art in itself. The fish stalls display a vast range of rather ugly-looking seafood, fresh from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.

Most of the produce on sale is of Spanish origin, but you will also find here charcuterie from France, Viennese Patisseries and a selection of fine European cheeses. The market also contains several cafes, restaurants and shops selling books on Spanish cuisine and kitchen utensils. The only thing a bit off-putting about this really great market is the number of signs forbidding potential clients from touching the produce, so you won’t be able to pick and choose your purchases.

Why You Should Visit:
To try from a seemingly endless variety of fresh tapas, paellas, seafood, produce, as well as cocktails and other interesting and refreshing drinks.
The prices are a bit high in places but the quality is here and you will walk away with a perfect introduction to "la gastronomia de Espana".

Don't be afraid to ask for a taster if you are not certain of what you're ordering.
If you're going to use the restroom, make sure to keep a receipt from one of your purchases, so you don't have to pay.
Also, watch out for pickpockets – after all, this is a popular tourist spot.

Operation Hours:
Sun-Thu: 10am-12am; Fri, Sat: 10am-1am
Sight description based on wikipedia
Plaza de la Villa

5) Plaza de la Villa

If you fancy a bit of quiet in the heart of busy Madrid, the best place to go is Plaza de la Villa, not far from Plaza Major. This small, medieval square is surrounded by lovely buildings, each with its own story. Among them is Casa Villa (Madrid’s old Town Hall), built in 1696 and renowned for its graceful stained glass windows and frescoes by Antonio Palomino. Remarkably, at some point, this building was used as a prison. Adjoining the town hall by an archway is Casa de Cisneros, an early Spanish Renaissance castle built in 1537. It boasts a Plateresque facade, quite rare in Madrid, and an outstanding collection of fine tapestries.

The nearby Casa and Torre de Los Lujanes are supposedly the oldest buildings in the city; the tower dates back as far as the early 15th century. According to a legend, King Charles I imprisoned here King Francis I of France after the battle of Pavia in 1525. The reason for that was the French king's refusal to show respect and bow head to his captor. Therefore, King Charles ordered that the tower door be lowered, so as to force Francis to bow head each time he entered and exited the building. That gave people an impression that the French monarch, indeed, was bowing to their king.

In the center of the square stands a statue of Alvaro de Bazen, the Spanish admiral who planned the Armada and, remarkably, never lost a battle in his entire 50-year-long career. The statue was sculpted in 1888 by Benlliure and was set in the plaza in 1980.

Why You Should Visit:
Not big a plaza with nothing very touristy about it; it is rather discrete and feels like stepping back in time, which is very cool.
The buildings are quaint and well maintained; the garden in the center is nice and well kept.

Come at night when it is beautifully illuminated for an even better shot.
Catedral de la Almudena

6) Catedral de la Almudena (must see)

Opposite the Royal Palace, you will find the Catedral de la Almudena, a Baroque-style cathedral which was completed only in 1993.

This lovely church was designed by Marquis Francisco de Cubas. Construction began in 1879 on the site of a medieval mosque. The original plans gave the church a Gothic Revival style with a Neo-Classical cupola. An unusual thing about this building is its orientation – North-South, instead of the traditional East-West.

The construction limped along for over 50 years and was abandoned entirely during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. The works resumed in 1950 under the direction of Fernando Chueca Goitia who adapted the original plans and gave the church its present Baroque look.

The interior of the cathedral is modern Neo-Gothic, with many small chapels and statues of contemporary artists in diverse styles. The crypt is Neo-Romanesque with a 16th-century image of the Virgin de la Almudena. In 2004, new paintings by Kiko Arguello were hung in the apse.

The cathedral was finally completed in 1993 and was consecrated by Pope Jean Paul II, the statue of whom is placed in front of the building.

Why You Should Visit:
Another gargantuan cathedral, conveniently located across from the Royal Palace for some time-effective sightseeing.
The museum section is a must for anyone interested in the history of the Catholic Church in Madrid.

Don’t miss the bronze doors by Sanguino which bear the legend of the discovery of the image of the Virgin in the 15th century.
After viewing the beautiful altarpieces and magnificent vestments, plus manuscripts of the clergy in the (paid admission) museum, you can ascend to the dome for a 360º view of the city, plus to see at close proximity the oversized statues of saints perched on top.

Opening Hours:
(Cathedral) Daily: 9am-8:30pm
(Museum) Mon-Sat: 10am-2:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palacio Real

7) Palacio Real (must see)

Palacio Real de Madrid (The Royal Palace of Madrid), also known as Palacio de Oriente (The East Palace), is the official residence of the King of Spain in the city of Madrid, used solely for state ceremonies. King Juan Carlos and the Royal Family never resided here, living instead in the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of the capital. The palace is owned by the Spanish State and administered by the Patrimonio Nacional, a public agency of the Ministry of the Presidency. The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest palatial building in Western Europe. It is located on Bailen Street, in the western part of downtown Madrid, east of the Manzanares River. The palace is partially open to the public, except when it is used for official business.

Why You Should Visit:
There are 25 rooms you can see inside the palace, featuring original silk wallpaper, decorations, furniture, clocks, and other interesting items.
The gardens and the views out the back are also very impressive. At night, the palace is lit up with 1,000 lumen spotlights, making it the brightest building in the world.

The audio-visual guides are really informative. If you want to see the kitchens, you need to check the times as they are open for guided tour only.
Do check the opening hours on a day of your visit, as it might be closed early due to special occasions.
The Sabatini gardens can be visited without having to enter the palace itself.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm (Oct-Mar); 10am-8pm (Apr-Sep);
Box office and admission to the Palace close one hour earlier.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Plaza de Oriente

8) Plaza de Oriente (must see)

While holidaying in Madrid, you will surely visit the Royal Palace, and if so, make sure to stroll through Plaza de Oriente on the eastern side of the palace. This plaza, featuring a rectangle shape with one of its long sides curved outwards, was designed by Pascual y Colomar in 1844.

Within the plaza there are series of small, beautifully tended gardens separated by gravel walkways leading to a central stone basin fountain with an equestrian statue of Philip IV as its centerpiece. The statue was cast in bronze in 1843 by Pietro Tacca, who had an idea to make the back end of the horse very heavy and the front part very light, so that the horse would balance on its hind legs without toppling over before it was fixed to its stone base.

Surrounding the plaza are rather disproportional limestone statues of Spanish monarchs – 5 Visigoth and 15 Christian kings. The statues were originally intended to stand on the palace roof and were sculpted to appear tall if looked at from the ground. However, when finished, they proved to be too heavy for the roof, so they decided to place them around the plaza.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautifully decorated sculpture garden with a great view of the Sabatini gardens and the Royal Palace.
Many places for relaxation; you can even sit at one of the cafes and enjoy the quietness as no car traffic enters the square.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Jardines de Sabatini

9) Jardines de Sabatini

Jardines de Sabatini are the two-hectare gardens located on the north side of the Royal Palace in Madrid. They are named after Francesco Sabatini, an 18th-century architect who designed the Royal Stables, which once stood on the site of today’s gardens. The layout was based on the designs that he made with the same idea in mind for the use of the land before the stables were built.

This layout is similar to the classical French gardens that you would see on a grander scale at Versailles. Formal Neo-classical, with small walkways and neatly trimmed hedges in geometrical patterns, you will find a haven of peace here. The trees, which are also planted in geometrical patterns, include pines, cedars and magnolias, whose waxy flowers perfume the warm air.

The gardens were first opened to the public in 1978. Inside, they are graced with the statues of Spanish kings surrounding the long rectangular pond, from where you can have a good view of the northern face of the Royal Palace.

Why You Should Visit:
To find a shady spot and have a rest, especially on a hot summer day, or to enjoy a colorful view in the autumn.
A very convenient stop to make on a combined visit to the Palacio Real and Museo Cerralbo.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-9pm; Free entry
Sight description based on wikipedia
Plaza de Espana

10) Plaza de Espana

Plaza de Espana is a large square and a popular tourist spot in the heart of Madrid, located at the western end of the Gran Via. The square is a short walk north from the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and is bordered by two of Madrid's most prominent skyscrapers, Torre de Madrid (Madrid Tower), built in 1957, and Edificio España (Spain Building), built in 1953.

In the center of the plaza stands a monument to Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, designed by architects Rafael Martinez Zapatero and Pedro Muguruza and sculptor Lorenzo Coullaut Valera. Most of the monument was built between 1925 and 1930. The tower portion of the monument includes the stone sculpture of Cervantes, which overlooks the bronze statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Next to the tower are the stone images of Don Quixote's two "true loves", a peasant woman, named Aldonza Lorenzo, and the beautiful, imaginary Dulcinea del Toboso.

Why You Should Visit:
A typical tourist destination with nice sculptures, beautiful fountain and plenty of seats to sit, rest and watch the sunset/world go by.
There are plenty of food vendors around and the surrounding streets are teeming with cafes, bars and restaurants.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Museo Cerralbo

11) Museo Cerralbo

The Museo Cerralbo (Museum Cerralbo) in Madrid houses a private collection of artworks – the biggest collection of its time – created by Don Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, Marquis of Cerralbo. There in total more than 50,000 pieces, including the works of 177 artists of different ages and trends, allowing visitors a rare glimpse into an everyday life in Madrid before the end of the 19th century. The museum is located in the former residence of its founder and was opened to the public in 1944. In 1962 the museum was declared Bien de Interes Cultural (cultural heritage).

Why You Should Visit:
A rare example of a 19th-century Madrid mansion preserved with its original decoration in the ballroom, games room, gymnasium, and general living areas – adorned with paintings, carpets, porcelain, weaponry (even a samurai suit of armor), coins and medals, jewelry and books – reflecting the lifestyle of its owner.
There is a good free English audioguide too, but they don't provide ear plugs.

Arrive early because the house cannot accommodate too many people at once, and a line starts to form after 11am.
Seniors enter free of charge but will have to produce their passport; otherwise, the entry fee is €3 except on free Sunday (expect long queues).
If you are short of time, make time for the final few rooms as they are the most spectacular.
The small outside gardens are also beautiful and pleasant to behold.

Operation Hours:
Tue-Sat: 9:30am-3pm; Thu: 5-8pm; Sundays & holidays: 10am-3pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Templo de Debod

12) Templo de Debod (must see)

A building one hardly expects to find while visiting Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace in Madrid, is an Egyptian temple. But don’t you worry, it's not too much Sangria that you had – the Temple of Debod really does exist! It was constructed during the 2nd century BC in ancient Egypt as a small single chapel dedicated to the god Amun. Later, the temple was enlarged by the pharaohs of the Ptolemaic Dynasty and dedicated to Isis.

In 1960, during the construction of the Great Dam of Aswan in Egypt, several ancient buildings were menaced by flood water. Spain helped with the relocation of the twin temples of Abu Simbel, and in gratitude, the Egyptian government donated the Temple of Debod to Spain. Upon that, the building was carefully dismantled and shipped, first by sea and then by railway, to Madrid where it was reconstructed near a small lake in the park.

The temple has two narrow gateways leading to the central porch with four colonnades. Inside, the West Hall is richly decorated with hieroglyphics. In the room, which is the original chapel, is a photographic documentary of the temple’s history and its journey from Egypt to Spain.

This is the only edifice of its kind in Spain and one of the rare pieces of Egyptian architecture outside Egypt. It is particularly lovely at sunset and in the evening, when it is lit up, reflected in the still waters of the lake and producing the impression of being transported back in time to a long forgotten world where people raised places of worship to their strange gods.

Don't take the opening hours too seriously because there's not that much to see inside.
Do bring a mini-picnic with you, so you can laze about like the locals.
Also, try arriving 30 minutes before sunset to see the place transform with the change of lighting.

Opening Hours:
(Oct 1 - Mar 31): Tue-Fri: 9:45am-1:45pm / 4:15-6:15pm; Sat, Sun & holidays: 10am-2pm
(Apr 1 - Sep 30, except August): Tue-Fri: 10am-2pm / 6-8pm; Sat, Sun & holidays: 10am-2pm
(August): Tue-Sun: 10am-2pm
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Madrid, Spain

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Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
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Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles

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