Madrid is truly a world class city, home to magnificent museums, nonstop nightlife and architectural wonders at every turn. This amazing city has so much to offer the visitor that it would be impossible to see it all in a single visit. Perhaps that is why so many first time visitors to Madrid end up coming back to this beautiful city again and again.
As the capital of Spain Madrid is the center of political life in the country, but chances are most visitors will not be thinking about politics as they explore the city’s many fine museums, cultural landmarks and historical artifacts. And politics will certainly be far from your mind if you decide to live like the Spaniards do and stay up all night dancing at one of the city’s famous night spots. But not matter what your style, you are sure to find plenty to see and do in this magnificent world class city.
While it would be impossible to list every wonderful attraction in this vibrant and ever changing city, this travel guide will provide first time visitors with an overview of what the city has to offer, and past visitors with fond memories of their adventures.
1. The Prado Museum
For art lovers the Prado Museum is perhaps the premier attraction – not just in Madrid but in the entire world. This amazing museum is widely recognized as one of the finest in the world, with some of the best works by the likes of Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, Rubens, Raphael, Boticelli, Fra Angelico and others on display. The Prado is also home to virtually every work ever created by famed medieval artist Hieronymous Bosch. The spectacular Garden of Earthly delights is the centerpiece of the collection, the other works in the room are just as impressive. Lovers of modern art will see lots of parallels between the works of Bosch and works of the surrealists, while lovers of religious art will revel in the spiritual symbolism that is at the heart of all Bosch masterworks.
Of course there is much more to this world class museum, and art lovers from around the country and around the world flock to its doors to examine the masterpieces and experience the unique beauty of art. The Prado Museum is home to some 7,000 paintings, each one a masterpiece. Simply walking down the main hallway is enough to fill any art lover with awe.
2. Queen Sofia Arts Center (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia
What the Prado is to classical art the Queen Sofia Arts Center is to more modern works of art. From painting and sculpture to video installations, films and other forms of expression, visitors to this world class modern art museum will find plenty to engage their imaginations and educate their minds.
While the Queen Sofia Arts Center is famous for its many works by Dali, Magritte, Bacon and other modern masters, is the a work by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso that garners the biggest crowds and the most attention. For this museum is home to the magnificent mural sized Guernica, Picasso’s visceral reaction to the savagery and pointlessness of the Spanish Civil War.
For years this work hung not in Madrid but in New York City, since Picasso decreed that it would not return home until Spanish dictator Francisco Franco had left the scene. When Spain once again become a vibrant democracy this famous work returned to its rightful home, where it continues to delight and astound visitors year after year. Be sure to leave plenty of time for the other modern masterpieces in the Reina Sofia, but do not miss the spectacular Guernica.
3. Parque de Retiro
Spaniards are known for their love of nature, and the city of Madrid is known for its beautiful parks and gardens. One of the most beautiful is the Parque de Retiro, a 350 acre park in the middle of Madrid. Even though it sits in the middle of the city, the Parque de Retiro is a world away from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Locals and tourists alike come here to relax and unwind, and you will often see local residents enjoying their midday siestas in the shade of a beautiful tree.
In addition to its beautiful green spaces the Parque de Retiro is also home to some of the most beautiful fountains and statues in the city, along with a magnificent lake for boating and relaxation. So when you have had a long day of sightseeing and need a place to relax, unwind and watch the world go by, head over to the beautiful Parque de Retiro.
4. Royal Palace (Palacio Real)
In a former live the Royal Palace was the home of the Spanish Royal family, and this magnificent building is still the site of many official state functions. But these days the Royal Palace is also one of the premier tourist attractions in Madrid, attracting everyone from local children on field trips to visitors from half a world away.
The Reception Room and the State Apartments are not to be missed, as they signify the grandeur of this one time royal residence and the kings and queens that once called it home – one of the rooms even features a diamond clock. The Royal Chapel is a delight as well, as is the banquet room, which is still home to many state dinners.
5. The Neptune Fountain (Fuente de Neptuno)
Whether you are a student of mythology or not, you will surely recognize the imposing figure of Neptune as he rises from the waters of this magnificent fountain. This famous fountain, sculpted in 1780 by famed sculptor Juan Pascual Mena, features Neptune wielding his famous trident from the back of his chariot. This beautiful piece of outdoor artwork is a must see for any first time visitor to Madrid.
6. The Madrid Bullring
No matter how you feel about the tradition of bullfighting, the magnificent building that houses the Madrid bullring is an architectural wonder. This imposing structure is one of the largest bullrings in the entire world, and it has a long and storied history all its own. Whether you buy a ticket or not, be sure to take a look at the exterior of this beautiful structure and marvel and the beautiful architectural touches you will find at every turn.
If you would like to get a peek inside without the guilt, the bullring also plays host to a number of cultural and musical performances throughout the year, so keep an eye on the local events guide during your visit.
7. Casa de Campo
Just south of the Royal Palace lies the former hunting grounds of the royal classes. These days the parklands are no longer open to hunting, but they are open to visitors and tourists, who are free to wander the lush grounds, walk through the tree lined paths and go swimming in the pool. Children in particular are sure to love this beautiful park, so if you have been looking for a place to take the little ones the Casa de Campo is a perfect choice.
With so much to see and do Madrid is truly a delight for all the senses, and it is truly a 24 hour city. By day visitors can stand in awe of the great works of art at the Prado Museum, relax by a fountain in the city’s many parks or just sit on the grass and watch the world go by. And when the sun goes down those same visitors can break out their finest clothes, have a bite to eat at one of the wonderful Tapas bars, then dance the night away at one of Madrid’s famous dance clubs. And when the sun comes up they can head out and do it all again.