Madrid Travel Destinations

Madrid Travel Destinations


Madrid, large as it may seem, is a walker’s city. Its fantastic public transportation system should only be used for longer distances, or between the day’s starting and ending points. Although the word paseo refers to a major avenue (such as Paseo de la Castellana or Paseo del Prado), it literally means a stroll. Do just that from Sol to Cibeles and from Plaza Mayor to the Palacio Real sights will kindly introduce themselves. The city’s art, architecture, culture, and atmosphere convince wide-eyed walkers that it was once the capital of the world’s greatest empire. While Madrid is perfect for walking, it also offers some of the world’s best places to relax. Whether soothing tired feet after perusing the triangulo de arte or seeking shelter from the summer’s sweltering heat, there’s nothing better than a shaded sidewalk cafe or a romantic park.


The area known as El Centro, spreading out from the Puerta del Sol (Door of the Sun), is the gateway to the history and spirit of Madrid. Although several rulers carved the winding streets, the Habsburg and Bourbon families left behind El Centro’s most celebrated monuments. As a result, El Centro is divided into two major sections: Madrid de los Habsburgs and Madrid de los Borbones. All directions are given from the Puerta del Sol.


Kilometro 0, the origin of six national highways, marks the center of the city (and the country) in the most chaotic of Madrid’s plazas. Puerta del Sol (Gate of Sun) blazes with taxis, bars, and street performers. The statue El Oso y el Madrono, a bear and strawberry tree, is a popular meeting place. (M: Sol.)


Old Madrid, the city’s central neighborhood, is densely packed with both monuments and tourists. In the 16th century, the Habsburgs built Plaza Mayor and the Cat-edral de San Isidro. When Felipe II moved the seat of Castilla from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, he and his descendants commissioned the court architects (including Juan de Herrera) to update many of Madrid’s buildings to the latest styles. In 1620, the plaza was completed for Felipe III; his statue, installed in 1847, still graces its center.


Juan de Herrera, architect of El Escorial, also designed this plaza. Its elegant arcades, spindly towers, and open verandas, erected for Felipe III in 1620, came to define Madrid-style architecture and inspired every peering balcon thereafter. Toward evening, Plaza Mayor awakens as madrilenos resurface, tourists multiply, and cafes fill with lively patrons. Live flamenco performances are a common treat. (M: Sol. From Pta. Sol, walk down C. Mayor. The plaza is on the left.)


Designed in the Jesuit Baroque style at the beginning of the 17th century, the cathedral received San Isidro’s remains in 1769. During the Civil War, rioting workers burned the exterior and damaged much of the cathedral only the primary nave and a few Baroque decorations remain from the original. (M: Latina. From Pta. Sol, take C. Mayor to Plaza Mayor, cross the plaza, and exit onto C. Toledo. Open for Mass only.)


Plaza de la Villa marks the heart of what was once old Madrid. Though only a few medieval buildings remain, the plaza still features a stunning courtyard (around the statue of Don Alvara de Bazon), beautiful tile-work, and eclectic architecture. Across the plaza is the 17th-century Ayuntamiento (Casa de la Villa), designed in 1640 by Juan Gomez de Mora as both the mayor’s home and the city jail. (M: Sol. From Pta. Sol, go down C. Mayor, past Plaza Mayor.)


Weakened by plagues and political losses, the Habsburg era in Spain ended with the death of Carlos II in 1700. Felipe V, the first of Spain’s Bourbon mon-archs, ascended the throne in 1714 after the 12-year War of the Spanish Succession. Bankruptcy, industrial stagnation, and widespread disillusionment compelled Felipe V to embark on a crusade of urban renewal. The lavish palaces, churches, and parks that resulted are the most touristed in Madrid.

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