Things to Do in Madrid - page 2
Flanked by two of Madrid’s tallest skyscrapers—the Torre de Madrid and Edifico España— Plaza de España sits at the western terminus of Gran Vía in the heart of the city. A statue of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra stands at the center of the square, with smaller statues of Don Quixote de la Mancha and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, at his feet.
With one of the largest and most comprehensive art collections in Madrid, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza) is a veritable paradise for art lovers. The collection contains more than 1,000 works of mostly Western art and is part of the “Golden Triangle of Art” along with the Prado Museum and the Museo Reina Sofia.
Shopping, sightseeing, and elegant architecture are all good reasons to head to one of the Spanish capital’s most famous neighborhoods, Barrio de Salamanca. This posh pocket of Madrid is where you’ll find the famous Puerta de Alcalá, the massive and path-filled Retiro Park, and the world’s largest Spanish flag, which waves proudly in Plaza de Colón.
It’s also the ideal destination for shoppers keen to hit up high-end boutiques as well as budget-friendly stops, such as the giant and many-floored Zara store (which, along with some of the area’s biggest shops, is located on Serrano Street). Foodies can find a bit of tasty heaven here, too, visiting places such as the traditional market, Mercado de la Paz, or the theater-turned-gourmet-food-court, Platea, and even the rooftop Gourmet Experience found at the country’s biggest department store, El Corte Inglés.
Lavapiés is an area of Madrid outside of the old city walls that was once the Jewish and Moorish neighborhood. In 1492, the residents of the neighborhood were forced to either convert or leave. The neighborhood then became a working class area for hundreds of years and eventually fell into decay. This all changed in the 1980s and 1990s when immigrants and artists started moving into the abandoned buildings. It now has a bohemian and multicultural feel and is filled with galleries, bars, ethnic restaurants, and cafes.
Popular activities in this district include going to an independent cinema to see an international film, enjoying flamenco, and wandering through the flea market on Sundays. El Rastro is supposedly the largest flea market in the world. Another way to soak up the atmosphere is to find a cafe with outdoor seating and relax with a coffee or a beer. You'll experience a less touristy side of Madrid in Lavapiés.
This historic Madrid structure was once home to one of Spain’s most celebrated writers, Félix Lope de Vega Carpio, who spent the last 25 years of his life here. Lope de Vega is Spain’s most famous playwright, sometimes referred to as ‘the Shakespeare of Spanish literature.’ In his lifetime he wrote over 2,000 plays. It is also one of the few three-story houses that still remains from the 16th century. The Lope de Vega House Museum (Casa Museo Lope de Vega) today not only tells the story of Lope de Vega’s life and work, but also of everyday life in Spain’s Golden Age of Literature. Period features such as whale-oil lamps and historic furniture bring the past to life. The bedrooms, his study, kitchen, and prayer room have been carefully preserved restored. Visitors can also see the courtyard and gardens where he would often sit to write.
The grand Paseo de la Castellana runs for nearly 4 miles (6 km), from the Plaza de Colón to the outskirts of northern Madrid. The most important north-south thoroughfare in the city also takes visitors past some of the city’s most important landmarks and neighborhoods.
There’s perhaps no more Spanish stop you can make in Madrid than Plaza de Colón. Spanish because not only is it home to the largest Spanish flag in the world, but the square commemorates one of the country’s most famous historic figures, Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón in Spanish, hence the plaza’s name). As such, the square has a statue in Columbus’s honor, in addition to three giant rock-like sculptures dedicated to the discovery of America.
The square is located along the border of the Chamberí and Salamanca neighborhoods as well as two of the city’s most famous streets: Serrano, known especially for its high-end shopping; and Paseo de la Castellana, the stroll-friendly, north-south thoroughfare. It’s also surrounded by other visit-worthy sights, which include the Spanish National Library, the recently opened National Archeology Museum, and the Fernán Gómez Theater (which sits below the plaza, and often hosts intriguing exhibitions).
Atocha Train Station (Puerta de Atocha) opened as Madrid’s first rail station in early 1851. The steel and glass structure was designed by Alberto Palacio Elissague, the architect most famous for working on the Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal).
Atocha continues to serve as Madrid’s main train station, but it now occupies a new building. Largely destroyed by fire, the original station was renovated and reopened in 1892, operated for 100 years, was decommissioned in 1992 and reopened as a shopping and entertainment complex soon after. A new modern terminal, designed by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, was built on adjacent land and now serves as Madrid’s primary station, servicing AVE and local commuter trains.
The Prado and the Reina Sofia are must-see museums when in Madrid, but the often overlooked Lázaro Galdiano Museum (Museo Lázaro Galdiano) has been called “the best kept art secret” in the city. The elegant mansion housing the collection was once the home of José Lázaro Galdiano, a 19th-century Spanish publisher, entrepreneur, and art collector. Galdiano gifted his exquisite collection of almost entirely Iberian art — including works by Goya, El Greco, Velazquez, Zurbarán, and Murillo — to the state upon his death in 1947.
Today it is an impressive display of more than 13,000 works of art ranging from sculpture and furniture to jewelry and ceramic, among some of Madrid’s finest paintings. You’ll also find the work of French, Italian, and English painters on the second floor. The room dedicated exclusively to Goya’s work is particularly special, though the house itself with its fresco ceilings and magnificent ballroom is worth a visit alone.
To take in the passion and emotion of flamenco dance is to discover an essential piece of Spanish culture. Experience an intimate, traditional performance on a small stage surrounded by vaulted brick at Essential Flamenco. Attend a show after strolling Puerta del Sol, or before a late taberna dinner.
More Things to Do in Madrid
Drawing inspiration from London’s similarly named Crystal Palace, the sometimes contemporary art-filled Palacio de Cristal in Madrid was constructed in 1887 based on a wrought-iron and glass-dominated design by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco. A marvel of architecture, art, and engineering, which plays up its natural light, the Palacio de Cristal is a stand-out attraction conveniently situated in the heart of Retiro Park.
What was once an unremarkable stretch of the Manzanares River is now the Madrid Rio, a 2,220 acre (820 hectare) riverfront park boasting numerous attractions, from bike paths and urban beach to kids' play areas. Whether you dine at a parkside restaurant, or cross one of the 33 bridges for a photo, plan to visit the park on your next Madrid trip.
Velázquez Palace (Palacio de Velázquez) is a Spanish palace and exhibition hall in Madrid’s Parque del Retiro, primarily featuring temporary exhibits of Spain’s national museum of modern art. Built in 1883, the beautiful structure is covered by glass and cast iron meant to let in natural light. The architecture is said to be inspired by the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park. Its exterior features arches decorated with detailed, colorful tiles alongside red brick and rows of well-manicured trees.
Architect Ricardo Velázquez designed it for the Exposicion Nacional de Minería. It was meant to show Spain’s achievements in ceramics, glass, and mining at the time. After its use in the exposition it was utilized as center for Spain’s overseas territories until it was restored in the 20th century and revitalized as an important center for contemporary Spanish art.
With its baroque facade and grand frescoed dome — the fourth largest in the world and largest in Spain — Basilica de San Francisco El Grande is one of Madrid’s most famous and important churches. Situated in La Latina, the basilica was first built in 1760 on the site of a Franciscan convent which, according to local legend, had been founded by St. Francis of Assisi himself.
Aside from the 108-foot diameter dome, the basilica is notable for its seven American walnut doors carved by Spanish architect Juan Guas and a fesco painted by Goya in the chapel of San Bernardino de Siena. The Gothic-style choir stalls date back to the sixteenth century.
Situated in the heart of Madrid, Las Tablas Flamenco is one of the city’s most important flamenco venues. Founded by Antonia Moya and Marisol Navarro, two former flamenco champions, the venue presents a varied repertoire of talented flamenco singers, dancers, and guitar players—both established and emerging—since 2003.
Located in the center of the city, La Latina is one of the most authentic neighborhoods in Madrid. Medieval roads wind around Plaza de la Cebada and Plaza Paja, and this district was once inside of Madrid's first city walls. Some remains of the walls can still be seen. The area was once occupied by artisans and manual workers, which influenced the names of the two main squares. Cebada means barley and Paja means straw, and these squares were once home to busy markets.
This is a popular district for locals who enjoy frequenting the many bars, pubs, and traditional taverns located here, making for lively nightlife. During the day, be sure to check out the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande and the park of Las Vistillas. The park offers wonderful views of the sunset against the Cathedral of Santa María Real de la Almudena. La Latina also has plenty of options for flamenco and tapas.
The family-friendly Madrid Wax Museum (Museo de Cera de Madrid) is home to historical figures such as Cleopatra and Napoleon; modern-day celebrities including Brad Pitt, The Rock, and Antonio Banderas; and fictional characters such as Harry Potter, Snow White, and Gollum from Lord of the Rings.
Madrid’s Casa de Campo is the city’s 1,722-hectare verdant heart, an urban park that originated as hunting grounds for the Spanish Royal Family, whose decorative Palacio Real lies just to the south on Plaza de la Armeria. Since 1931, the park has been open for all comers to enjoy, and a favorite weekend picnic destination for Madrileño families.
Centered on a vast boating lake, this sprawling green oasis is a haven for walkers, joggers, cyclists and skaters; for kids there’s a small amusement park with a Ferris wheel, water slides and rollercoasters, plus a zoo and aquarium. Free classical and rock concerts are held in the park in summer.
Casa de Campo is linked by the Teleférico de Madrid cable car to the Paseo del Pintor Rosales; the cabins travel at a height of 40 meters (130 ft) above Madrid and the single 2.5-km (1.5k mile) journey takes 10 minutes, looking down on Plaza España and the Palacio Real en route, with far-reaching panoramas over the Manzanares River. The terrace of the restaurant at the Casa de Campo cable-car station also has panoramic views over Madrid, and is just the spot for a reviving glass of sangria.
If you wish to try Spanish cuisine while in Madrid, then perhaps it doesn’t get more traditional than the dishes found at Sobrino de Botín. Considered the oldest still-in-business restaurant in Spain, and one of the oldest in Europe, Botin (as it is affectionately called) is a destination you’ll want to both see and sample.
The restaurant’s roots date back to 1725, when, in the years to follow, it was simply considered a tavern, and served diners on its main floor. Its humble beginnings originate with a French cook Jean Botin, who, with his Spanish wife, began the establishment just off of the relatively newly bustling Plaza Mayor. After the couples’ passing, and with no descendants, the restaurant was taken over by their nephew, or sobrino, hence its official name today. These days, however, it is in the hands of another family—the Gonzalezes—who have managed it for three generations now.
Botin isn’t just famous for how very old it is but also for its notable history, during which it has been graced by a host of important figures, and mentioned in many pieces of both English- and Spanish-language literature. The artist Francisco de Goya worked there for a time as a dishwasher, and Ernest Hemingway—who had become friendly with the then owners (the father and grandfather of the current owners)—even mentions the restaurant inThe Sun Also Rises, in which he refers to Botin’s famous suckling pig (cochinillo).
Featuring unique exhibits in zoology, paleontology, evolution, biodiversity and geology, this is a wonderful place to get a sense of our natural world while in Madrid. With over 6 million objects on exhibit, there is not only a wide collection of species from around the globe but also an excellent representation of the plant and animal life in Spain and the Mediterranean.
Founded by King Charles III, the Museum of Natural Sciences (El Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales) dates back to the 18th century. Since then it has been promoting environmentalism and groundbreaking scientific research in Spain. The permanent collection on museums and fossils includes impressive dinosaur skeletons, while tools, arms, and artistic objects from all continents and periods of history represent humanity’s presence. A walk in the Mediterranean garden allows for an understanding of the local habitat. The Stone Garden composed or rock and petrified trees is particularly unique. Together the many collections of centuries-old objects allow for a walk through the history of the natural world.
As one of the oldest churches in all of Madrid, the Church of San Ginés (Iglesia de San Ginés) is full of history and art. It is believed to date back to as early as the 9th century, when it was the site of a Mozarabic community in medieval Madrid. Rebuilt in 1645, its walls feature works from artists such as El Greco, Alonso Cano, and Luca Giordano. Famous Spanish figures such as Lope de la Vega and Francisco de Quevedo were born or baptized here.
Several fires have caused for the church to be reconstructed several times over the centuries. The original campanile, however, remains in tact. From its arched entrance visitors can walk through the many naves and side chapels. The high ceilings, ornate altars, and restored artworks are well taken care of. Though the entire church is worth seeing, many come to see the painting “The Purification of the Temple” as it is considered to be one of El Greco’s finest works.
A former royal residence and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Royal Palace of Aranjuez (Palacio Real de Aranjuez) is one of the grandest palaces in the Madrid region. With origins dating to the 16th century, the palace housed generations of the Spanish monarchy. Today, its opulent looks and grounds make it a popular tourist destination.
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 CaixaForum seamlessly blends old and new elements to create its striking brick and cast iron façade. The real highlight though, 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.
Translated from Spanish, “ La Casa Encendida” means the House of Fire — and it is here that social, cultural, and artistic flames are lit. Founded by the nonprofit organization Fundacion Montemadrid, the building encourages and showcases a range of local performing arts, including films, concerts, activities, and exhibitions. Though the building once housed a bank, it has become a hub for modern Spanish art and operates in support of emerging artists.
Programs at the center revolve around four themes: education, culture, solidarity, and environment. There are often live performances and film screenings taking place here. Sustainability is a priority, and there is a small orchard atop the building’s rooftop (with excellent views of the city!) There are also libraries and multimedia labs available for use, along with classrooms, a cafe, a fair-trade shop, and activities for children.
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