Madrid has some of the finest art museums and architecture in Europe, all within easy walking distance from each other.
Experience the unique Tapas nightlife with a night tour. Take a private running tour. Head to Toledo for an afternoon of breathtaking beauty. The choices are endless.
Save time queuing and book the Madrid Card in Advance. Gain entry to over 50 museums, partake in a “Discover Madrid” walking tour, enjoy a theater show or visit the Bernabeu Stadium Tour. With the choice of a 24 hour, 48 hour, 72 hour or 120 hour card, you can also enjoy discounts on shopping, restaurants and nightlife such as a flamenco show.
Royal Palace (Palacio Real)
The Palacio Real (or Royal Palace, also referred to as the Palacio de Oriente) is the lavish site of royal events, but is not home to the royal family (they have lived in the smaller Palacio de la Zarzuela for some time).The Palacio Real is still a fascinating place to walk through though, with its maze of 50 themed rooms decorated in the finest metals and richest fabrics – though this is only a small sampling of the total 2,800 rooms of the palace. On the guided tour, you will also learn much about the interesting history behind the Bourbon dynasty, during whose reign the palace
was most in use.
Just 50 mi (80 km) north of Madrid, Segovia transports you back to a distant time in history. From its ancient Roman aqueduct to its 13th century castle, this city is full of symbols representing its inhabitants of the past. Originally established by the Romans, Segovia later became a summer retreat for Spanish monarchs to hide away in their castle on the hillside. The castle, known as the “Alcazar”, was destroyed in the 19th century and rebuilt in the fairytale fashion we see today. It is even rumored to have inspired the fanciful castle of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
Plaza Mayor is a large square in central Madrid. It serves today as a meeting place for tourists and locals alike, and has played host to a variety of festivities throughout history, including bull fights, soccer matches, and executions during the Spanish Inquisition. Forming the outer walls are a series of three-story residential buildings with balconies overlooking the center, providing excellent views of the action below.
The most prominent of the buildings in the plaza is the Casa de la Panaderia – House of the Baker’s Guild, which today serves municipal and cultural functions. There are also several shops and eateries that occupy the ground level of the buildings and provide refreshments for hungry and thirsty travelers admiring the square.
Toledo, just 44 mi (70 km) south of Madrid, is the former capital of Spain and is known as “the city of three cultures”. Inhabited by everyone from the Romans to the Christians, Toledo has served as a homebase for each of its conquerors. There are traces of each major religion that still remain throughout the city: the Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, and the Catholic cathedral. The collections of Toldeo’s museums further reflect the city’s long and rich history, containing artifacts of the early Visigoths along with Renaissance art by the famed El Greco.
A walking tour is a must to truly see and appreciate Toledo’s treasures. Starting from the Plaza de Zocodover, make your way to the Alcazar (castle), all the while winding through the alleys and stopping at each religious institution and museum as you go.
Meaning “Great Road”, Gran Vía is a main thoroughfare in Madrid, built to connect Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de España. Lined with a mixture of high end shops, eateries, and bars that cover both ends of the spectrum, this lively bustling street is best enjoyed at night when the locals and tourists alike come out to eat, drink, and mingle into the wee hours of the morning.
Besides the shopping and nightlife scene, Gran Vía is best known for the 20th century architecture that creates landmarks along its way. One such example is the Edificio Metropolis, which stands at the head of Gran Vía and boasts a magnificent rooftop statue of the Goddess Victory. There are also several old movie theatres including the Capitol, built in the art deco style.
There are several hotels in this area, as it is well located amongst the cafes and clubs as well as the Prado museum and Retiro Park. It is also well connected in terms of metro stops – there are 5 along the way.
Once just a sleepy little resort town 28 mi (45 km) northwest of Madrid, San Lorenzo de El Escorial now hosts thousands of tourists coming in throngs to see the famous royal monastery. In addition to being home to an order of monks, this attraction also acts as a royal palace, museum and school. Commissioned by King Felipe II as a testament to Spain’s devout Catholic faith, El Escorial was built in the 16th century after defeating the French in the Battle of Saint Quentin (with help from the heavens).
Only 9 mi (15 km) from El Escorial is the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen). This monument was built under dictator Francisco Franco’s direction to honor those who had died in the Spanish Civil War. He is also now laid to rest there in the basilica. Go to see the immense cross atop the mountain and marvel at the mosaics in the basilica – it’s a moving experience for those on both sides of the war.
Prado Museum (Museo del Prado)
The Museo del Prado – Prado Museum – is considered to house one of the finest art collections in the world. It displays thousands of European paintings, sculptures, and other works of art throughout its halls – and this is only a fraction of their collection!
What doesn’t fit in the display space is stored or sent on loan to other fine galleries throughout the world. The Prado specializes in European art from the 12th-19th century (Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum is home to the post-19th century art), that was built from the Spanish Royal Collection.
The most famous piece in the collection that is on display at the Prado is Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez. He dedicated many of his own pieces to the museum and had a hand in obtaining several works from great Italian painters as well. In tribute to Velazquez, his statue is one of the few marking the entrances to the museum.
Adjacent to the museum are the Royal Botanical Gardens. Be sure to take a few moments to wander between the flower beds and admire the vibrant colors and intoxicating scents. The Parque de Buen Retiro is also nearby as is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, a museum holding a private collection of 13th-20th century paintings.
With one of the largest and most thorough collections of artwork in Madrid, ranging from the 13th to the late 20th century, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museumopened to much acclaim in 1993 and is now one of the city’s leading art museums. A veritable paradise for art lovers, the museum contains over 1000 works and is an important part of Madrid’s so-called ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ – formed by the streets connecting it with the Prado Museum and the National Art Centre Reina Sofia.
The museum’s permanent collection was once the personal collection of Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his son Hans Heinrich, amassed over half a century and renowned as one of the world’s most important private collections. Opened to the public by Hans in 1988, the collection was later purchased by the Spanish state and expanded in 2004 to include a further 200 works collected by Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. The new annex houses a number of primitive Italian and Flemish paintings, along with classic works by Monet, Degas and Renoir.
One of Madrid’s most innovative works of architecture, the angular exterior of the CaixaForum is so spectacular you might be tempted not to bother going inside. The cultural center and art exhibition space is housed in the former 19th-century ‘Central Eléctrica del Mediodía’ power plant, a restored industrial building that has taken on a new life in the hands of boundary-pushing Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. Standing in stark contrast to its surroundings in the historic center of Madrid, the real highlight of the building is the peculiar yet brilliant outdoor vertical garden. A living expanse of greenery climbing up a 460-meter square wall at the front of the building, the garden is an impressive feat of landscaping and gravity, featuring over 250 different plant species.
Inaugurated in 2008, the CaixaForum now hosts a series of art exhibitions, film screenings, concerts and workshops spread over 7 floors. Among the highlights are a permanent collection featuring works by artists like Cindy Sherman, Anselm Kiefer, Roni Horn and Sigmar Polke; a 5-floor spiral staircase winding through the center of the building; a colorful boutique design shop on the first floor; and the quirky ‘underground’ space created by lifting the original building of its base.
Transit: Trains: Atocha Line1; C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C7, C8 and C10, with stops at Atocha Station. Bus 10, 14, 27, 34, 37 and 45, stops at Paseo del Prado. Lines 26, 32 & 6, stops at Atocha St.
For a complete list of tours, dday trips and more available in Madrid, check out our Tours section and plan and book your tours in advance.