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Travel Story by Ian Reynolds

  An Insider's Guide to Madrid
Madrid, Spain

Main Post Office in Madrid


Madrid may be the capital of Spain but for sightseeing it has less to offer than some of the country's other cities. Yet it is a fascinating city to stroll around with magnificent architecture, a few ‘must see’ attractions and a selection of Europe’s finest art galleries.

Five Things to Do in Madrid:

- The famous trio of museums: Museo Nacional del Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza & the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.
- El Rastro, the Sunday morning flea market.
- Santiago Bernabeu, home to the Real Madrid soccer club.
- The nightlife - La Latina & Huertas for the over-thirties, Malasaña & Chueca for those under 30.
- Take a picnic to El Retiro, Madrid's premier park. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon stroll.


The most popular destinations are as follows:

Puerta del Sol

Most people stay in the vicinity of Puerta del Sol when they stay in Madrid, as it is not only the geographical centre of the capital but also the centre of Spain and within walking distance of the major sights. Look out for the marker on the pavement in front of the Ayuntamiento (Council) building as all road distances in Spain are measured from this spot (0km).

Plaza Mayor

The impressive Plaza Mayor is just a two-minute walk from Puerta del Sol. Originally a small market square it was completely rebuilt after Madrid became the capital of Spain and was where the greatest festivals and ceremonies of imperial Madrid were held, as well as bullfights and carnivals.

Today there is a selection of pricey bars and restaurants on the outskirts of the square along with novelty shops selling hats and coins and artists working outside the tourist office.

Royal Palace (Palacio Real)

The Spanish Royal Family does not live at this 3,000-room palace, which is open to visitors.

Parque del Retiro

Lying within walking distance of the main attractions of the city centre, El Retiro is a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. On Sunday mornings you'll see Madrileños enjoying their leisure time with some wandering around before their 'aperitivo' (pre-lunchtime drink), others jogging, some reading the paper on benches or in a café and others rowing around the lake in rented boats.

El Teleférico de Madrid

This is a cable car that runs from Rosales in the west of the city to a restaurant in the Casa de Campo park. The 10-minute ride gives great views of Madrid's skyline.

The Main Art Galleries in Madrid

1. Prado Museum (Museo del Prado)

The Prado is one of the world’s great art galleries and is Madrid's premier tourist attraction with a higher concentration of masterpieces than any other museum in the world. There are many works by Goya, El Greco and Velázquez, the great Spanish painters as well as celebrated works by Bosch, Botticelli and Rubens amongst others.

It is open from 9am to 8pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays. Entry is free on Sundays. The General ticket price is 6 Euros.

2. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

This collection has been installed in chronological order to allow the visitor to take a historical walking tour of European Painting from the 13th Century to modern times.

The most outstanding works are from the Italian and German Renaissance, the 17th Century Dutch School, 19th Century North American Painting, Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism.

Opening hours are from 10am to 7pm, Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is €6.

Tip: The museum has less visitors between 2.30pm to 4.30pm while the tour groups have their lunch.

3. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

The Reina Sofia acquired Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ in 1992, which is the most visited individual work of art in Madrid and indeed in Spain. The rest of the permanent collection contains works by virtually every noted Spanish artist of this century, together with many others by non-Spanish artists.

Opening Times: 10am-9pm, Mondays to Saturdays; 10am-2.30pm, Sundays
Price: €6. Free admission on Saturday afternoons (2.30pm-9pm) and Sunday mornings (10am-2.30pm)

4. Museo Sorolla

A much lesser known museum but a ‘must see’ for the art enthusiast in Madrid is this elegant former home of the Valencian artist Joaquín Sorolla who lived and worked here. Today the mansion guards the works of Spain’s foremost Impressionist painter.

Real Madrid

Madrid’s most famous export is probably Real Madrid, one of the world’s richest and most successful football teams.

There are daily visits to Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu tour throughout the year. They take place every day from 10am until 7pm and from 10.30am to 6.30pm on Sundays and public holidays. They also close six hours before kick off on match days and on the day after a match (except Sundays when they do open).

The visit includes a panoramic view of the Stadium from the main stand which comes off the museum, entrance into the Presidential box and changing rooms and entrance to the player's tunnel, benches and coaching area.

You can also go on the playing area, visit the trophy exhibition and do some shopping at the official store on your way out. Access is restricted to some areas if you visit on a match day.

Entrance Fees are €9 for adults and €7 for children.

Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium lies in the north of the city just off Paseo de la Castellana.

Many visitors enjoy the 45-minute walk from Puerta del Sol where many hotels are located.

Public transport is easily accessible. Just take the dark blue line 10 on the underground to Santiago Bernabeu. Buses 14,27,40,43,120,147 & 150 all stop outside the stadium and there are always plenty of taxis available for the journey.


Madrid has some of the best day trips in all of Spain. Of the two 'main' day trips, Segovia and Toledo, Segovia is probably the best option as it is less touristy and is relatively easy to combine it with a half-day in El Escorial or Avila, whereas Toledo is a little more isolated, to the south of Madrid.

1. Segovia is home to a 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct, which is one of the best remaining monuments of the Roman Empire whilst the Alcázar was reputedly the inspiration for Walt Disney's Cinderella castle. It is also famous for its roast suckling pig – ‘cochinillo’.

You can get to Segovia by bus in 1 hour 15 minutes. Buses run every 30 minutes.

2. Further west is the ancient, walled city of Avila, which was the birthplace of Saint Teresa. It is a small and quaint town surrounded by old city walls and looks spectacular at night.

3. And further on is the university city of Salamanca, which has a rich heritage and impressive buildings. Salamanca is a bit further from Madrid than the other day trips (two-and-a-half hours away by bus or train) and it warrants at least a night there, but if pressed for time, it is certainly possible in a day trip.

4. Toledo was the capital of medieval Spain until 1560. To get there from Madrid take the high-speed train which takes 30 minutes. It has a big old cathedral, numerous small museums and an old prison.

5. Felipe II’s monastery-palace of El Escorial is one of Spain’s most famous sights. A few kilometres away is El Valle De Los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen), which is a monument to those who died in the Spanish Civil War.

All these places are accessible by train:


Trawl around the old-fashioned tapas bars in the Plaza Santa Ana for lunch; take a break in a laid-back café like La Ida. Soak up the atmosphere at a traditional restaurant like Viva Madrid followed by flamenco at Casa Patas.

All but the highest-category Madrid restaurants are legally obliged to offer a fixed menu (menu del dia) between 1pm and 4pm, usually offering a starter, main, dessert and drink. Don’t sightsee in the blazing heat of the afternoon; have a long lunch and sleep it off.

Plaza Santa Ana, a large square full of bars and home to the neo-Classical Teatro Espanol, is where Madrilenos go to sip a fino seco de Jerez (dry sherry) or cana (small beer).

Do not dine before 10pm, unless you want to eat alone. The Plaza Mayor area is the best place to try traditional Madrileno food: in the Restaurante Botin at Calle Cuchilleros 17, the same wood-fired oven in has been cooking cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) for nearly 300 years. A notice on the wall from the Guinness Book of Records declares it to be the world's oldest restaurant. Ask for a table abajo (below) in the atmospheric redbrick cellars.

But beyond sights, what Madrid’s really good at is partying. The city feels more alive at night; in summer terrace cafés spill into squares and streets are crammed until dawn. Nice areas full of pubs and bars are Huertas (around the Plaza de Santa Ana) and La Latina. Check out the Madrid club scene: celebrity-spot at Suite, one of the hot, new designer restaurant-bar-clubs, or hop onto a podium at Ohm. Most of the big clubs can be found along the Gran Vía and the Paseo Castellano, but Madrid also has hundreds of discobares, bars with DJs and small dance floors, spread all over the city

Finish up with some traditional churros con chocolate at the Chocolatería San Ginés. It has been around for well over a hundred years and is busy in the early evening and absolutely packed from 4am onwards, after a night out on the tiles!


Madrid's modern airport, Barajas, is on the north-eastern edge of the city's efficient metro, just over half an hour from the centre.

Line 8 of the Metro links the airport with the centre of Madrid at Nuevos Ministerios in just 12 minutes. The stop is on the first floor of terminal 2 and the service operates between 6.05am and 2.00am with departures every 5 minutes.

On arrival at Nuevos Ministerios there is a connection with over 50 other stations via lines 6 (circle), 8 (Nuevos Ministerio-Barajas) and 10 (Fuencarral-Puerta del Sur).

A metro ticket costs €1 for 1 trip or you can buy the cheaper 10-trip MetroBus for €6.40.

Airport Bus
The long standing special airport bus service from the airport to Plaza Colón no longer operates and has been replaced by regular bus services as follows:

No. 101 line from Canillejas-Airport (T1, T2, T3).
No. 200 line from Avda. de América-Canillejas-Airport (T1, T2, T3).
No. 204 line from Avda. de América-Canillejas-Airport (T4).
Intercity line no. 822 Coslada-Airport-Canillejas-Airport (T1, T2, T3).

There is a special bus service from Barajas Metro (Underground) station to T4.

From Avda. de América or Canillejas you would need to join up with the metro to continue your journey. The excellent metro service has taken over from the old bus route as the best way into the city (just watch your valuables!).

Airport Shuttle
Aerocity has been recommended - it provides a door-to-door service. You can book online and you know in advance how much it's going to cost and can print off the details. It works out cheaper than a taxi for the same distance travelled.

Note that the prices quoted are total prices and not per passenger.

Taxis to/from the airport
There are taxi ranks in front of the arrivals lounges of all three terminals at Madrid airport. A taxi to/from the airport to/from central Madrid should cost around 20 Euros though taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging recent arrivals (see below). Check that the meter is set at zero when you get in and that it begins the journey at the official minimum fare. There are also additional supplements at night, on Sundays and for each item of luggage placed in the car boot as well as journeys to bus and train stations and to the IFEMA trade fair. If in doubt about the charge be sure to request a receipt.

The Spanish Railway Network ( does not go to Madrid-Barajas airport directly. However, you can connect to the airport by using the underground in Atocha.

Click on photo to enlarge

Plaza Mayor  Prado Museum  Hot chocolate & churros

Date Submitted:
02 Jul 2007

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