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Sightseeing in Madrid

Museo del Prado - Prado Museum

Madrid is a truly monumental city with a rich history. Known for its many museums, Madrid's artistic heritage is synonymous with that of Spain as a whole. Madrid's signature museum is undoubtedly the Museo del Prado (Metro Stop: Banco de España, Line 2) whose collection begins with 12th century Romanesques and takes you on a journey through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment up to the end of the 19th century, featuring asterworks by Velázquez, Goya, Bosch and El Greco. It is a relatively small museum that can only display about 900 of the over 7,800 works in its collection at any one time. As a result, it is forced to be choosy about what is shown to the public and only the highest quality works are displayed. The museum has been described as "the greatest concentration of masterpieces per square metre in the world" and as having a collection of "painters admired by painters." Antonio Saura once said of it "This museum isn't the most extense but it is the most intense."

Museo Reina Sofía - Reina Sofia Museum

The Centro Cultural Reina Sofía (Metro Stop: Atocha, Line 1) is a chronological continuation of the Museo del Prado, covering the period in art history from the 19th century onward and up until the present day. The Reina Sofia's modern art collection includes a wide variety of works by Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Picasso's famed Guernica is, perhaps, the centrepiece of the museum's collection. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Metro Stop: Banco de España, Line 2) displays a impressive, chronological collection beginning with Gothic art and ending with contemporary styles. Together, these three prestigious museums form what is known as the triángulo del arte (The Triangle of Art) and are all conveniently located in the same area of Madrid. It is possible to visit all three in one day. A visit to Madrid's Wax Museum (Metro Stop: Colón, Line 4), on calle Recoletos, can round out a delightful afternoon.

Madrid Plaza Mayor

Perhaps the most well-known landmark in Madrid, the Plaza Mayor (literally "Grand Plaza") is right in the middle of Madrid's bustling city centre (Metro Stop: Sol, Lines 1, 2, 3). What is today Madrid's largest plaza was in the 15th century an intersection between two roads (Toledo and Atocha, nowadays transformed into streets). It was then known as Plaza del Arrabal (Plaza of the Periphery) and was located outside the city. King Philip II ordered the construction of what would eventually become the Plaza Mayor in 1580. There is always something on at the Plaza Mayor as it is one of Madrid's cultural magnets. Check out the programme of events for the dates of your stay to find out what's up. Don't forget to visit the nearby Mercado de San Miguel, a landmark building dating back to the early 20th century made entirely of iron.

Puerta del Sol

Puerta del Sol (Metro Stop: Sol, Lines 1, 2, 3) isn't just the centre of Madrid, it is also the centre of Spain. Here you can find Kilometre Zero just outside of the Casa de Correos (Post Office), the origin of all of Spain's radial roads. Just opposite Kilometre Zero, on the other end of Puerta del Sol, stands Madrid's most emblematic statue, El Oso y el Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree). The scene it depicts is also represented on Madrid's coat of arms. The area around the statue is one of the busiest parts of Madrid and serves as a meeting point for the city's youth. To the north is a bustling commercial district dominated by the Corte Inglés buildings and the FNAC tower.

Presiding over it all is one of Spain's most beloved and classical landmarks, the Tío Pepe billboard advertising a brand of sherry. Recently, in the course of the construction of a new train station beneath Puerta del Sol, the foundations of a church built in the 16th century and torn down in the 19th century were rediscovered. It was also the location depicted in one of Francisco Goya's most famous paintings, that of Napoleon's attack with cavalry in 1808 capturing the struggle of the battle and how the locals fought to save their city.

Royal Palace and Plaza de Oriente

The Palacio Real (Metro Stop: Ópera, Lines 2, 5, R), also known as Palacio de Oriente (Palace of the East), is largest royal palace in Western Europe and the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. Its origins can be traced all the way back to the 9th century, when Emir Muhammad I of Cordoba ordered the construction of a fortress near the the River Manzanares, which was named Mayrit, a portmanteau of the Mozarabic word matrice, meaning fountain, and the Arabic majrá, meaning riverbed. This settlement would eventually evolve to become today's Madrid. It was subsequently expanded by future Christian rulers and the city grew up around it, until it was destroyed in a fire on Christmas Day, 1734. King Philip V then contracted the Italian architect Juvara to draw up plans for a new palace to be built in the same location as the old. This palace was to be built exclusively with stone and brick so that it could not burn down. Upon the death of Juvara his disciple, Sachetti, took over the construction and the first brick was laid in 1738. Among the architects who woked for Sachetti was Ventura Rodríguez, after whom one of Madrid's metro stations is named. The palace was finally finished by Francesco Sabatini in 1755.

To the east of the Palace lies a stunning garden known as Plaza de Oriente, heavily frequented by tourists from around the world all year long. There you can enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee or tea in the afternoon shade. Plaza de Oriente was constructed and landscaped during the reign of Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother who took over Spain during the Napoleonic Wars.

Gran Vía

Madrid's main boulevard, whose name translates as "Broadway", is one of Madrid's central arteries. Cutting across the city centre, it is lined with shops and theatres and also constitutes the dividing line of several central barrios, each with its own distinct character, including Malasaña, Chueca and Sol. It is known as a crowded throughway where people from all walks of life can be seen passing by and mingling. No visit to Madrid would be complete without a stroll down bustling Gran Vía (Metro Stop: Gran Vía, Lines 1, 5). It is a relatively new street, only about 100 years old. First proposed in the late 19th century, construction only began in 1910 amid opposition by neighbours. Originally a tangle of small streets, many buildings had to be torn down to make way for the new boulevard. Gran Vía connects calle Alcalá, Plaza de Callao and Plaza de España.

El Rastro El Rastro (Metro Stop: La Latina, Line 5) is an open air market that opens every Sunday and on holidays between 9:00 and 15:00 in the barrio of Embajadores. It is the most popular open-air market in Spain. A maximum of 3,000 vendors gather in the area around Plaza de Cascorro in Madrid's historical centre to sell their wares to the teeming masses of locals and tourists. The Rastro is an institution in Madrid and you'll find one of a kind items here. But you must also be wary of pickpockets (rateros) and purse-snatchers (tironeros) who prowl the market and specifically target unsuspecting tourists, both foreign and domestic. Pickpockets in Madrid are not violent, but they are highly skilled and extremely stealthy; it is common that victims do not even realise they've been robbed until much later. It's a good idea to leave your bag and jewellery at home and carry your money in your wallet and your wallet in your front pocket and close at hand at all times. The Rastro is a perfectly safe and fun place to get a little shopping done so long as you keep your bearings, are mindful of your surroundings and take some common-sense precautions to deter thieves. Indeed, the same could be said for the rest of Madrid.
Parque del Retiro

Need an escape from the stressful, urban landscape? Nature is just a stone's throw away (or a short ride on the Metro), wherever in Madrid you happen to live. Remember, this one of Europe's greenest cities. For a leisurely nature break look no further than the parque del Buen Retiro (Metro Stop: Retiro, Line 2). Retiro Park, also popularly known as el Retiro, is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Stretching from Plaza de la Independencia all the way to Atocha, this park used to be an exclusive retreat for Spain's royalty until it was opened to the public in 1767. In the centre of the park lies a magnificent artificial lake called the Estanque del Retiro, which in times past was a royal staging area for mock naval battles. Today it is a highly popular spot where, for just a few euros, visitors can rent a rowboat and spend a laid-back afternoon on its placid waters. Ángel Caído El Retiro is a haven of hidden treasures to discover: monuments, sculptures, gorgeous landscaping and works of art are scattered all about the park. The stunning Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), inspired by the building of the same name in London, the monument to King Alfonso XII and the statue-lined Paseo de la Argentina, known popularly as Paseo de las Estatuas (Statue Walk), are among the many sights to be seen. It is also a cultural magnet that brims with intersting activities all year long. Throughout Spring, Summer and Autumn, the Banda Sinfónica de Madrid (Madrid Symphonic Band) puts on free concerts in the park and the city's Book Fair is held here, among other events.

The park's Ángel Caído statue is certainly a headturner, being perhaps the only public statue in the world dedicated to Satan. This rendition represents his banishment from Heaven, and many have said that it is quite provocative as it seems to present him as a poor, downtrodden fellow and elicit sympathy for his predicament, though others deny this interpretation. Curiously, its official altitude is registered as 666 metres above sea level. Assuredly just a coincidence (Madrid's mean altitude is 667 metres above sea level, after all), though one that has nevertheless attracted an esoteric following.

La Noche en Blanco

One of Madrid's most recent fiestas, La Noche en Blanco (Nuit Blanche or "Light Night") is Madrid's version of this now world-famous all-night artistic celebration. La Nuit Blanche started in Paris in 2002 and has since then met with remarkable success on this side of the Pyrenees since it was first celebrated in Madrid in 2006. Artists from around the world converge on Madrid on this spectacular September night in which museums, art venues and an increasing number of bars and stores, stay open until well after midnight and the city teems with activity throughout the twilight hours as if it were midday. Shows, art exhibits, concerts, poetry readings, theatres, museums, light shows or just a fun night out - whatever strikes your fancy, you can do it at all hours.

Though just a few years old, Madrid's Nuit Blanche has become in just the space of a few years something of a tradition, if not an institution, and is one of the most highly anticipated fiestas of the year. The enthusiasm of madrileños for the Noche en Blanco is evidenced by expanded Metro and bus service, which closes later and can even be brought to rush-hour levels to cope with the throngs of nighttime revellers in the sleepless city.

Casa de Campo

Casa de Campo (Metro Stop: Casa de Campo, Lines 5, 10), literally "Country House", is a staggeringly huge park straddled by the city of Madrid to the East and South and bordering with Pozuelo de Alarcón to the West. Once the exclusive hunting grounds of the Spanish Royal Family, at roughly 1,722 hectares, it occupies quite a decent chunk of the city and is home to many interesting spots. One of Madrid's most emblematic attractions, the Teleférico (Cable Car), runs from Parque del Oeste (West Park) to the heart of Casa de Campo and offers gorgeous views of the city. Casa de Campo has been inhabited by humans since the Paleolithic Age and archaeological ruins from the Neolithic are still present.

For a bit of light-hearted fun, head to the Parque de Atracciones (Metro Stop: Batán, Line 10), or "Amusement Park", located in Casa de Campo with its 39 attractions for kids and adults alike. Also in Casa de Campo, and very nearby the Amusement Park, is the Madrid Zoo, which dates back to 1770 and includes an Aquarium.

Palacio de las Telecomunicaciones

If you pass by the Palacio de las Cortes (Metro Stop: Banco de España, Line 2), the building that houses Spain's Congress, do as the local tourists do and snap a photo of yourself or your friends next to the emblematic bronze lion statues. If you're around the Moncloa area, pass by the Torrespaña (Metro Stop: Moncloa, Lines 3, 6), known popularly as the Pirulí. Be sure to go to the Plaza de Cibeles (Metro Stop: Banco de España, Line 2) to see the breathtaking Palacio de las Comunicaciones, the building that now houses Madrid City Hall.

La Cibeles

If you are looking to explore all that Madrid has to offer, a good choice is a tour guide. Now, you have the option of a taking typical tour bus that will give you a taste of the city, but if you're looking for what can only be described as a unique twist then check out segways. Yes, those segways. Madrid segway tours are an absolute first class way to get around. For those unfamiliar with a segway, it is an electronic two wheeled vehicle that combines a pogo stick and a push scooter. It sounds odd, but leave the scepticism at the door as you will be rolling off within 5 minutes, with the warm and friendly coaching of your guide. You will also be provided with tapas and refreshments to keep you going.

A fine example of architectural beauty is the Puerta de Alcalá. Commissioned in 1764 now classed as a national monument, it was constructed to replace a smaller Baroque gate dating from the 16th century. You can even see some of the bomb shrapnel that made its mark in 1823. It is absolutely stunning at night. Finally, for every football fan out there, you can't leave Madrid without visiting the legendary Bernabeu Stadium. Built in 1947, it hosts games for up to 80,000 fans and has the privilege of hosting La Liga and Champions League games.

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