Madrid is similar to a Spanish version of New York City with over three million people. We can speak of American cities being rich in their history, but they are infants compared to Spanish Madrid’s political, religious, and artistic histories. This capital of Spain has given birth to writers like Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Don Quixote) and Felix Lope de Vega. Its artists include Diego de Velazquez and Francisco de Goya. If you are visiting Madrid, plan to stay longer than a few days as this bustling city has much to offer, no matter what your tastes may be.
Museums of Madrid
Madrid also is a city rich in culture, typified by its stunning museum, the Museo Nacional del Prado. One of the largest and finest art museums in the world, the Prado features the works of Spanish painters, notably Goya and El Greco, as well as other European artists from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Admission is free on Sundays.
Another of Madrid’s outstanding museums is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. This museum features contemporary works from the late 19th century to the present. The museum also houses Picasso’s famous Guernica, which depicts the infamous bombing of that Basque city during the Spanish Civil War.
Madrid also boasts a third art museum of note, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. This exceptional collection features a survey of European paintings from the 13th century to the late 20th century. On display are works by Durer, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Kirchner and many others.
Plaza de Toros de las Ventas
One of the proudest histories of the Spanish people is its bullfighting history. If you would like to see a bullfight, then the Plaza de Toros de las Ventas is THE place to go in Madrid. The Plaza de Toros, constructed in 1929, is considered one of Spain’s gorgeous bullrings. In front of the Plaza de Toros are statues dedicated to two famous matadors, Jose Cubero and Antonio Bienvenida.
If you are interested in the history of bullfighting, visit the Museo Taurino next door. Here you can view portraits of some of the more famous matadors, their capes, and banderillas (darts that wound the bull during the bullfight). For the macabre, you can see the heads of some of the bulls killed at the Plaza de Toros or the blood-stained cape worn by one of the matadors during his fatal bullfight.
If you want to have a relaxing lunch at an outdoor cafe or shop for art, visit the Plaza Mayor in Old Madrid. Plaza Mayor was built almost 400 years ago on orders of Felipe III, whose statue stands in the centre of the square. This square has much history, including Inquisition trials, bullfights, and executions. On the north side of the Plaza Mayor sits a beautiful building called Casa de la Panaderia, which is decorated with beautiful allegorical paintings.
The Plaza Mayor has been the city’s centre since Philip II made it the seat of his court in 1561. The plaza has been the site of many historical events, including a notable auto de fey in 1680. Now it serves as a civic centre, a venue for theatrical performances, and a market. The relaxed atmosphere, scenic locale, and profusion of nearby tascas have made the Plaza Mayor a favourite with tourists and locals alike.
A statue of Álvaro de Bazán, victor of the battle of Lepanto, presides over the Plaza de la Villa. Located in Hapsburg, Madrid, this mid-sized square with its 15th to 17th-century buildings and its environs represent Golden Age Madrid.
Many regards the Plaza de Cibeles as one of Madrid’s greatest landmarks. Its fountain honouring Cybele, the Phrygian goddess of nature and abundance, is the centrepiece of this scenic square, which also includes the Palace of Communications (City Hall), the Bank of Spain, the House of America, and the Palace of Buenavista. It is here that the Real Madrid soccer team hosts its victory celebrations.
Located in Bourbon Madrid, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is considered by many art enthusiasts to contain the most important privately created collection of art in the entire world. This inspiring collection contains Western art spanning from ancient Italian and Flemish art to contemporary Pop Art. Here you can view a collection of artists, including Picasso, Van Gogh, and Titian.
Museo del Prado
Also located in Bourbon, Madrid, is perhaps the best collection of Spanish paintings. The visitor will see paintings from the 1100s to the 1800s with works by the likes of Goya and van der Weyden. Especially prominent in this collection are critical religious paintings. See famous paintings, including The Deposition, David Victorious over Goliath, and The Annunciation.
Although the present king does not call Palacio Real home, this rich palace is fit for a king. It is hard not to be impressed with the Palacio Real and its lavish rooms, collections, and furnishings. In the Throne Room, see two gold thrones, which are reproductions of the ones used by Charles V. The Dining Room has a table long enough to fit an entire extended family reunion and is decorated with gorgeous tapestries.
Other Madrid Attractions
Visitors gain a unique perspective of Madrid at the El Rastro Flea Market. Open Sundays and public holidays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., the market features every conceivable kind of merchandise, new and used. El Rastro has long been a favorite with Madrid residents.
Once the haunt of royalty, El Retiro offers one of the most extensive green areas in the city. Madridilenians and tourists enjoy an outdoor sculpture museum, boat rides, concerts, and puppet shows.
The Las Ventas Bullring, which seats 25,000 spectators, hosts bullfights every Sunday from March to October. The most spectacular occur during the San Isidro Fair in May. The adjacent Bullfighting Museum houses exhibits that describe the art and history of the bullfight.
Although no longer the official residence of the King of Spain, The Royal Palace boasts a spectacular art gallery with works by Velázquez, Goya, and Caravaggio. The palace also houses Stradivarius violins and a notable armoury. The military-minded will not want to miss the Solemn Changing of the Guard. This ceremony, which recreates the times of Alfonso XII and Alfonso XIII, occurs on the first Wednesday of each month (except August and September) at noon. Participants include 429 men and 105 horses.
Madrid offers an abundance of sights and experiences. Getting around is easy on the excellent Metro, and the city hums with life well into the night. If you want to blend in with the locals, make your dinner reservations for 10:00 p.m. Or instead, hop from tasca to tasca, enjoying tapas and vino tinto at each stop. Or go to a flamingo club. The possibilities are endless in this vibrant, world-class city.