the heart of the old city to the showpiece architecture, Madrid can rival
Paris, Rome and Barcelona for the breadth of its monuments. Start your tour in
Paseo del Prado, a beautiful boulevard lined with museums and gardens.
Parque del Buen Retiro
Laid out in the
17th Century by Felipe IV, the gardens of El Retiro were opened to the public
in 1868 and are now a favourite haunt of madrileños. Just south of the lake is the
Palacio de Cristal, a beautiful steel and glass pavilion, and in the northeast
of the park is Ermita de San Isidro, one of the few examples of Romanesque
architecture in Madrid.
structure near the southern end of the Paseo del Prado is one of Madrid’s most
eye-catching and certainly one of its most unusual architectural innovations.
The brick edifice is topped by a summit of rusted iron. On an adjacent wall is
the jardín colgante (hanging garden), a lush vertical wall of greenery. Inside
there are four floors of exhibition and performance space awash in stainless steel
and with soaring ceilings.
Plaza de Cibeles
Of all the grand
roundabouts on the Paseo del Prado, Plaza de Cibeles most evokes the splendour
of imperial Madrid. The jewel in the crown of this stirring celebration of
Belle Époque is the Palacio de Cibeles (1917) – built by Antonio Palacios,
Madrid’s most prolific architect of the era – which serves as Madrid’s City
Hall. The fountain of Cibeles, named after Cybele, the Greek goddess of
fertility, lies at the centre of the plaza and is one of Madrid’s most
heart of the city, the Plaza Mayor was completed in 1619 by Juan Gómez de la
Mora. It’s built in typical Herrerian style, of which the slate spires are the
most obvious expression. Ochre-hued apartments with wrought-iron balconies and
17th-century frescoes overlook the plaza, which has borne witness to bullfights
and executions during the Spanish Inquisition.
The Royal Palace, finished in 1764, is an Italianate Baroque
landmark. Around 50 of its 2,800 rooms are open to the public – it’s popular,
so try to visit at 10am before the tour buses arrive. From the northern end of
the Plaza de la Armería, the main stairway leads to the royal apartments and
the Salón del Trono (throne room) – a lavish space with a ceiling painted by
the Venetian Baroque master, Tiepolo (Calle Bailén; £8.50).
Plaza de la Villa
The Plaza de la
Villa is enclosed on three sides by fine examples of 17th-century barroco
madrileño (Madrid’s Baroque architecture: an amalgam of brick, exposed stone
and wrought iron). On the western side of the square is the 17th-century former
town hall, in Habsburg-style Baroque. On the opposite side is the Gothic Casa
de los Lujanes, while the Baroque Casa de Cisneros, built in 1537, with later
Renaissance alterations, also catches the eye.
San Lorenzo de El Escorial
were razed to make way for this formidable palace-monastery complex,
conceived by King Felipe II in the 16th century as a royal palace and
mausoleum. It’s a one-hour train trip from Madrid to San Lorenzo de El
Escorial, now a prim town complete with quaint shops and restaurants (closed
Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventas
Las Ventas was
opened in 1931 and is the heart and soul of Spain’s bullfighting tradition. One
of the largest rings in the world, it has a neo-mudéjar (a Moorish
architectural style) exterior and a huge arena able to seat 23,000 spectators. Tours take
you out onto the sand and into the royal box (Calle de Alcalá, 237; £8.50).
With its signature
plaza, old-style shops and unmistakeable barrio feel, Chamberí is one of
Madrid’s most authentic neighbourhoods. Wander the tree-lined avenues, admire
the mix of architecture – from neo-Gothic to modern – and visit the Estación de Chamberí: abandoned in 1966, this Metro station has reopened as a museum that
recreates the era of the station’s inauguration in 1919 (free).
Iberia and Ryanair fly to Madrid from major UK airports (from £108 from London
Gatwick). The airport is eight miles northeast of the city – you can travel by Metro
(£4.25; 25 mins), Airport Express bus (£4.25; 40 minutes) or taxi (£21-£30; around
30 minutes). Moving around the city is simple and the Metro system is all you
are likely to need – there are 12 colourcoded lines and single tickets cost
Where to stay
Antigua Posada del Pez inhabits the shell of a historic
Malasaña building, but the rooms are contemporary, decked out simply and in
muted tones. The hotel is just a few steps up the hill from Calle del Pez, one
of Malasaña’s most happening streets. It’s a good deal, especially when you
book ahead (Calle Pizarro, 16; from £55).
façade of Room Mate Óscar is a striking local landmark. Rooms
are awash in bright colours and some have floor-to-ceiling murals. There’s also
a good tapas bar and a rooftop terrace (Plaza Vázquez de Mella, 12; from £85).
Each floor of the luxury Hotel Silken was designed by an architect – including Jean
Nouvel, Ron Arad, David Chipperfield, Sir Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid –
resulting in an intriguing pastiche of styles (Avenida de América, 41; £130).
The article 'Mini guide to architecture in Madrid' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.