Madrid Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Madrid

A city of elegant boulevards, beautiful squares, and 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Although the site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times, the first historical document about an established settlement here dates from the Muslim age, circa the second half of the 9th century.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.

During the 1930s, Madrid enjoyed another period of great vitality, 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 development in terms of population and wealth, becoming the home of the new thriving middle class. 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 self-guided walking tour takes you to discover the top rated landmarks in Madrid and show you why this city is well worth visiting!
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Madrid Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Madrid Introduction Walking Tour
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: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: emma
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid)
  • Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral)
  • Plaza de la Villa (Town Square)
  • Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market)
  • Plaza Mayor (Main Square)
  • Calle Mayor (Main Street)
  • Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun)
  • Gran Via (Great Way)
  • Edificio Metropolis (Metropolis Building)
  • Palacio de Cibeles (Cibeles Palace)
  • Puerta de Alcala (Alcala Gate)
  • Parque del Buen Retiro (Buen Retiro Park)
1
Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid)

1) Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid) (must see)

The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, but today the palace is only used for official state events and is open for tours at other times. King Felipe VI and his family reside full time in the Palace of Zarzuela, a more modest lodging on the outside of town. The Royal Palace contains 3,418 rooms and is one of the largest palaces in Europe.

The palace is built on the location of the Royal Alcazar of Madrid, with was build between 860 and 880 by Muhammad I, Umayyad Emir of Cordoba. That castle held its position after the Moors were driven out of Toledo, and the complex had various additions and upgrades over the years as various leaders. After the War of Castillian Succession in 1476, the Alcazar was heavily damaged and needed repairs.

The Alcazar was destroyed by fire in 1734. Italian architect Filippo Juvarra laid out plans for a lavish and enormous palace to replace it, but he died before it could become a reality. His disciple, Giovanni Battista Sacchetti, completed the structure in a scaled-down way. In 1760, Charles III had a series of galleries and arcades added along the existing central courtyard. He was the first to occupy the new palace in 1764.

Why You Should Visit

Touring the palace is a tour of one of the best art galleries in the world. There are paintings by Velázquez and de Goya, along with frescos, porcelain, furniture, silver, and many other historical items of artistic beauty. Notably, the building houses the only intact Stradivarius string quintet.

Spots along the tour include the Royal Library and the Royal Armory. In particular, the Armory is considered one of the world's best, with many pieces going back to the 13th century. In the Crown Room, you can see Charles III's crown, throne, and scepter.

Tips

The palace is so large that tours are seldom the same. The route is changed every few months, with different areas and rooms highlighted. As such, if you've been before, you might see something different if you try again.

The palace is enormous, with extensive ground and many sights. Expect to spend three hours or more for the full tour. There are guided tours offered, or you can do an audio self-guided tour. Book ahead online to avoid any long lines or crowds.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm (Oct-Mar); 10am-8pm (Apr-Sep);
Box office and admission to the Palace close one hour earlier.
2
Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral)

2) Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral)

The Almudena Cathedral, also known as Madrid's Cathedral, is the most important religious building in the city. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid, and Pope John Paul II consecrated it in 1993. The cathedral was built on the site of a medieval mosque destroyed in 1083 and stands directly opposite the Royal Palace.

Even though the capital of Spain was moved from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, it took more than 400 years to complete the cathedral of Madrid. Why did it take so long?

For many years the Spanish Empire was occupied with the costs and burdens of expansion in the New World. As a result, the cathedral wound up getting a steady string of postponements. Construction finally began in 1879 by the Marquis of Cubas, but it was held up again by the Spanish Civil War and finally abandoned again until the 1950s.

The final structure is a modern Neo-Gothic cathedral that is like nothing else on the planet. There is a blend of classical and modern elements that makes it truly unique. Historical revival and pop-art decor sit side-by-side, along with statues of contemporary artists.

Since it's across the street from the Royal Palace, the cathedral makes a great stop along the same route. You can tour for a small donation. The crypt (Cripta de la Almudena), which is neo-Romanesque in style, houses a 16th-century image of Virgen de la Almudena. It is entered from the side of the building, not from the main entrance.

Tip:
After viewing the beautiful altarpieces and magnificent vestments, plus manuscripts of the clergy in the museum, you can ascend to the dome for a 360 degree 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
3
Plaza de la Villa (Town Square)

3) Plaza de la Villa (Town Square)

If you fancy a bit of quiet in the heart of busy Madrid, the best place to go is the town square, not far from Main Square. This small, medieval square is surrounded by lovely buildings, each with its own story. Among them is 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 Cisneros House, an early Spanish Renaissance palace built in 1537. It boasts a plateresque facade, quite rare in Madrid, and an outstanding collection of fine tapestries.

The nearby Lujanes House and Tower are supposedly the oldest buildings in the city; the tower dates back as far as early 15th century. According to a legend, King Charles I imprisoned King Francis I of France here 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 Bazan, the Spanish admiral who remarkably, never lost a battle in his entire 50-year-long career. The statue was was inaugurated in 1891 to commemorate the three hundredth anniversary of Admiral Alvaro de Bazan's death.
4
Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market)

4) Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market) (must see)

Located near Plaza Mayor, San Miguel Market is one of the most popular tourist stops in the town. It was opened in 1916 but was recently renovated and upgraded. It now houses 30 different vendors who serve gourmet tapas. It's not a grocery market in the traditional sense, but rather a spot for snacks (tapas) and drinks.

San Miguel Market is a foodie's destination that's worth a visit. You'll get to sample foods from all around Spain. It's a hip and busy market, full of tourists and locals alike.

Tapas are a uniquely Spanish idea that pretty much any foodie can get on board with. They're savory snacks or "small plates," typically served with drinks and shared among friends. They aren't quite a meal, but they give you the option to try many different things in an inexpensive and non-filling way.

Be on the lookout for regional specialties from all around Spain. Fine wines, Castile cheese, Iberian ham, and fresh fish and seafood from Galicia. You can eat your way around Spain in this one little market.

The market is a bit on the expensive side, but worth it, especially if you want a varied sampling of local cuisine. It can get very crowded, though, so consider visiting during an off-time for shorter lines!

Tip:
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.

Operation Hours: Sun-Thu: 10am-12am; Fri, Sat: 10am-1am
5
Plaza Mayor (Main Square)

5) Plaza Mayor (Main Square) (must see)

Madrid is a city of interconnected squares, with many broad avenues and narrow lanes connecting them. In the middle of the city, you'll find Plaza Mayor, an enormous square that is lined with bars, restaurants, and cafes.

Plaza Mayor was the center of Old Madrid and was built in the late 1500s. It was initially called the Plaza del Arrabal and was the primary market in town. The main buildings and architecture of the square were established in 1619 by architect Juan Gomez de Mora. But a series of fires destroyed the square, first in 1631, 1670, and finally in 1790. The buildings as they stand today are the renovated structures built after the 1790 fire by architect Juan de Villanueva.

For centuries, the square had hosted countless important public events such as bull fights, beatifications, crowning ceremonies, trials and even public executions. The equestrian statue in the middle of the square is monarch Philip III, under whose reign the square was first established in 1580.

Why You Should Visit

The square is always a hub of activity. Many special events are held here, like the annual city Christmas market. There are various religious ceremonies held in the open-air square for Easter (Fiestas de San Isidro and Semana Santa).

Tips

On nearby Arco de Cuchilleros Street, you'll find Restaurante Botin, the world's oldest restaurant, founded in 1725. It has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.

The restaurants here charge "tourist-prices," but the tapas bars are more reasonable. There are many souvenir shops and a tourist information office on the ground floor under the arches.

****Food Walk***
Although most of the restaurants on the square 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. Los Galayos has the history and well-deserved reputation, in terms of food quality, that draws both locals and tourists in their numbers.
6
Calle Mayor (Main Street)

6) Calle Mayor (Main Street)

On the north side of the Plaza Mayor is Calle Mayor, Madrid's main thoroughfare. It was first laid out in the Middle Ages and connected the Alcazar, the site of the present-day Royal Palace, to a long-gone gate in the city wall. The long street has been divided into three sections now - Almudena, Plateria, and Mayor.

A trip down Calle Mayor today is the epitome of Madrid. The street is lined with restaurants, bars, pubs, and shops of every description. The street begins near the Royal Palace at the Almudena Cathedral and runs east to Gate of the Sun. Along the way, you’ll pass Plaza de la Villa, Plaza de San Miguel, and just north of Plaza Mayor. Many small arcades and alleys lead off into shopping districts and more plazas.

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 bomb exploded and killed many innocent bystanders, but the royals were unhurt. Now there is a monument opposite the house in memory of the victims.
7
Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun)

7) Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) (must see)

The Gate of the Sun is the most famous public square in Madrid. The square gets its name as it was one of the gates in the medieval city's walls in the 15th century. There was a rising sun on the wall here since the gate was on the east side of town.

The square is the beginning of the radial network of Spanish roads. You'll find a plaque here marking kilometer zero (km 0) of the road system. The spot is considered the symbolic, if not actual, center of Spain. As such a well known social center, the square has seen its share of political protests and demonstrations over the years.

The square is dominated by the monument to King Carlos III and the famous bronze sculpture of "the bear and the strawberry tree". According to the legend, there were a large number of bears and strawberry trees in the nearby forests. Hence, bear together with strawberry tree has been the symbol of Madrid since the medieval time.

Another important attraction on the square is the Clock of the Gate of the Sun. It has been a long tradition in Spain that people greet new year by eating twelve lucky grapes to the twelve chimes struck by this clock at midnight. Spaniards believe that eating grapes on New Year's Eve would bring them luck. Much like Times Square is in the US, the New Year celebration from the Gate of Sun has been broadcast live since 1962.

Tips

Under the square is the hub of public transportation in Madrid. The Metro's Lines 1, 2, and 3 serve the area, so connections are easy with Madrid's commuter rail system and the central railroads that connect to the Chamartin and Atocha rail stations.

The side streets are residential, and this area is full of nightlife and entertainment options. Street music is typical here, and many bars and clubs don't open until after midnight.

****Food Walk****
While at the Gate of the Sun, 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).
8
Gran Via (Great Way)

8) Gran Via (Great Way) (must see)

The Gran Via is an esplanade that leads from Calle de Alcala to Plaza de España. It's a central shopping area in the city, and the street is a showcase of early 20th-century revival architecture. It's probably the city's best-known road.

Construction was begun on the Gran Via in 1904 after decades of planning. So many buildings had to be demolished to accomplish the new route that the media called the project 'Gran Via' out of cynicism. The road did get built, and architects were elated to have a place to show off the latest styles.

The landmark Metropolis Building (Edificio Metrópolis) was built from 1907 to 1911. In 1917, Edificio Grassy was added, and later still, the first European skyscraper was added in 1929. The Telefónica Building, home to the Spanish telecommunications company, is 290 feet tall and was designed by American Louis S. Weeks.

The road is busy with tourists and locals day and night. It is widely known as the Spanish Broadway since there are many theaters along the route.

Why You Should Visit:
A great place to stroll and take in the sights, particularly the skyline and the frontage of many old buildings lining the street.

Tip:
Early evening is probably the best time to walk this walk, particularly on hot summer days.
9
Edificio Metropolis (Metropolis Building)

9) Edificio Metropolis (Metropolis Building)

On the corner of Alcala Street and Great Way sits another of Madrid’s famous landmarks, the Metropolis Building. One of the most photographed in the city, this graceful edifice was erected in 1911 by the French architects, Jules and Raymond Fevrier, for a building to house the insurance company Union and Fenix. The brothers created the facade in a lovely Beaux Arts style, featuring the first floor balconies separated by four pairs of Corinthian colonnades, with the statues of Mining, Industry, Agriculture and Commerce, placed above them.

The central dome is black with elaborate decorations in gold-leaf. Topping the dome was the statue of Phoenix with Ganymede on one of its wings, which was the symbol of the insurance company. However, when Union and Fenix sold the building in 1972, it took the statue with them. Today a statue of goddess Victoria graces the top of the dome.

The Metropolis Building is one of the main icons of the Great Way. At night, the pinnacle of the Metropolis' done is illuminated, creating a terrific view.

Tip:
You can get a great view of the Metropolis Building from the top of the Circulo de Bellas Artes building across the street, if willing to pay a few euros.
10
Palacio de Cibeles (Cibeles Palace)

10) Palacio de Cibeles (Cibeles Palace) (must see)

Cibeles Palace, formally known as Palace of Communications and Telecommunications until 2011, is a complex composed of two buildings with their impressive, meticulously decorated white facades. Completed in 1919, it is located on Cybele Square, one of the historical centers of Madrid.

Cibeles Palace is one of the most important landmarks in the city from a Spanish architectural stance. With their Neoplateresque facade and Baroque Salamanca evocations, the buildings are among the finest examples of Modernism architecture in the center of Madrid. The architects were Antonio Palacios and Joaquin Otamendi, two up-and-coming young Spanish architects at the time.

Palacios and Otamendi were also the consultants for the Bilbao Bridge, Madrid Casino and the San Sebastian Bridge. The Cibeles Palace was the beginning of the brilliant career for both architects. The decorative motifs of the facade and interior were made by the sculptor Angel Garcia Diaz, a regular collaborator of Antonio Palacios.

The declining use of postal mail in the late twentieth century gradually reduced the functions of the complex, and, as a result, it began to lose its importance. In 2007 Madrid city government re-purpose it into a cultural center.

Today Cibeles Palace is open to public with exhibitions and events in the grand hall. Visitors can also enjoy food and drinks on the top floor terrace with a beautiful 360-degree view of the nearby historical neighborhood.
11
Puerta de Alcala (Alcala Gate)

11) Puerta de Alcala (Alcala Gate)

Once a gate in the city walls that led to the city of Alcala, the Alcala Gate is near the city center and near the Buen Retiro Park. It stands in Independence Square.

King Charles III commissioned this ornate neo-classical gate in 1774. Francisco Gutiérrez sculpted the ornamental details out of white stone and granite.

The gate is the first post-Roman triumphal arch in Europe, older than both the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. It has become a recognizable landmark of the city. It's often the site of live events and festivities.

The gate lies on the northwest corner of the massive Retiro Park. The park belonged to the monarchy until the late 1800s when it was gifted to the public. The park contains the remaining buildings of Buen Retiro Palace, which are now used to house museum collections. The Cristal Palace, an 1887 glasshouse, is especially worth checking out. The park is dotted with memorials, fountains, and lakes, making it a wonderful place to stroll and take a break from the city.
12
Parque del Buen Retiro (Buen Retiro Park)

12) Parque del Buen Retiro (Buen Retiro Park) (must see)

If you would like to mix history with greenery and entertainment, you should really take your picnic lunch and spend a day in Buen Retiro Park, not far from the Prado National Museum, because here you will find something to keep everyone happy.

Buen Retiro Park started out as a royal retreat in early 1600s. It was expanded several times in its history and finally became a public park in 1868. The park's main attraction, undoubtedly, are the lovely gardens, including the Rosaleda Rose Garden, where you can see the Fountain of the Fallen Angel, the only statue in Madrid depicting Satan.

In the northern part of the park, in front of an equestrian monument to King Alfonso XII, is a huge artificial pond. A special place within the park is dedicated to the Forest of Remembrance, a memorial garden commemorating the 191 civilian victims and one special force agent who died in the terrorist attack of 11 March 2004.

Among other interesting features of the park are the buildings for temporary exhibitions, such as the Velazquez Palace, the Crystal Palace, and the Study Center of the Prado National Museum and has a wonderful 17th-century ceiling fresco depicting the Apotheosis of the Spanish Monarchy by Italian painter Luca Giordano.

Aside from that, the park is a favorite haunt of street musicians, fortune tellers, puppet shows and plays host to the Annual Book Fair. If you are feeling muscular, you can hire a rowing boat, and if not, you can go for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

Why You Should Visit:
This park is a work of art; a dedication to getting outside and enjoying the beauty of nature. With more than 15,000 trees and a lake on 1,4 km2, it is a definite must-see in the capital of Spain.

Tip:
Pack a picnic & drinks. The food is on the high end, but there are plenty of spaces for you to sit and eat peacefully.
Note that food vendors have toilets for the public to use free of charge (bring toilet paper).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 6am-12am

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