Interesting locations in Spain
MadridMadrid is located in and serves as the capital of the province of the same name. It is also the capital and largest city of Spain, with a total population of 3.3 million in the city proper, and a population of 6.5 million when you include the entire Madrid metropolitan area. Madrid is the third-largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan area is the third-largest in the European Union after London and Paris. Geographically, the city spans a total of 604 square kilometers, or 233 square miles.
Located along the banks of the Manzanares River, Madrid sits at the center of both the country and the Autonomous Community of Madrid, an area that comprises the city of Madrid, its conurbation and extended suburbs and several smaller towns and villages. Being the capital city of Spain, Madrid serves as the political nexus of the country: the seat of the Spanish government and home to the Spanish monarch. It is also the economic and cultural hub of the country.
Madrid is a fun and fascinating city to visit, largely because of its friendly people, warm weather, laid-back lifestyle, delicious cuisine, exciting night-life, and its world famous festivities and folklore. In a city that is so culturally rich, there is never a shortage of sights and attractions to behold. Whether you are taking in its many famous landmarks and museums, attending a bullfight or exploring the city’s rich history, you will always find something enjoyable and enriching to visit. Some of Madrid’s most famous sights and attractions include:
- Parque del Buen Retiro. Known familiarly as Retiro Park, the Parque del Buen Retiro, or Royal Park, is the most popular park in Madrid. Belonging to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19 century, this now public park is one of the premiere destinations in the city for rest and relaxation. Among its many admired features is a monument to King Alfonso XII, a massive memorial featuring a semicircular colonnade and an equestrian statue of the King atop a tall central core. Adjacent to the monument is the Estanque del Retiro, or “Retiro Pond,” an artificial lake that offers some much-appreciated cooling during the hot summer months in Madrid. Other popular features of the park include the old Mining building, locally known as the Palacio de Velázquez, built in 1884 by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, who also designed one of the park’s other emblematic buildings, the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), a glass pavilion fashioned after the Crystal Palace in London.
- El Prado Museum and the Golden Triangle of Art. Located close to each other in the heart of Madrid, the Golden Triangle of Art is made up of three internationally-renowned art museums: the Museo del Prado (Prado Museum), a national museum featuring pre-20 century art; the Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofía (Reina Sofía Museum), also a national museum, home to modern art of the 20 century; and the Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum), a private museum featuring both historical and contemporary art.
- Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor is a grand symmetrically-designed city square surrounded by elegant arcaded red brick buildings. Located in the heart of Madrid, this historic and famous square is filled with majestic statues and landmarks, and is home to many festivals and festivities, from bullfights to royal coronations.
- Alcala Gate. The Puerto de Alcala, or Alcala Gate, was built in 1778 by the renowned Italian architect Sabatini. The neo-classical city gate stands in the Plaza de Indepencia and is one of Madrid’s best known symbols.
Like most major cities around the world, Madrid has a very modern infrastructure, but there are still many remaining signs of its Old World past, represented by the beautifully preserved streets, stunning landmarks and historic neighborhoods. This blend of architecture and attitude, in which the old and the modern seem to converge effortlessly, is what makes Madrid one of the most treasured and most oft-visited cities in the world.
BarcelonaLocated in the province of the same name, Barcelona is the capital of the Autonomous Region of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain, after Madrid, with a population of 1.6 million in the city proper, an area that encompasses 101 square kilometers, or 39 square miles. The Barcelona Metropolitan Area extends beyond the city limits, with a population of roughly 4.5 million and an area of 803 square kilometers, or 39 square miles. Barcelona is the sixth-largest metropolitan region in the European Union by population, following London, Paris, Madrid, the Ruhr and Milan. It is also the largest metropolitan area on the Mediterranean coast.
A former host of the Summer Olympic Games (1992), Barcelona is an important economic and cultural center of Spain; a city with a rich cultural legacy and proud heritage. The city is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, and its influence in commerce, education, entertainment, media, fashion, science, and the arts all contribute to its status as one of the world's major global cities.
Like Madrid, Barcelona is a fascinating and very enjoyable city to visit. Its people are friendly and welcoming, and its warm, breezy weather and proximity to white-sand beaches makes it a perfect locale for relaxing and working on that great summer tan. The nightlife is outrageously raucous in Barcelona—a place where people are known to dance the night away in the hundreds of bars and nightclubs located there—and its attractions are simply one of a kind. Some of the fun, exciting and historical places to visit in the city include:
- L’Aquarium Barcelona. Located on Moll d'Espanya del Port Vell, just steps away from its convenient Metro stop, the Barcelona Aquarium is home to thousands of varieties of sea life, with shows and exhibits featured throughout the day. This is a great place to take the kids for a fun and relaxing day when visiting the city.
- La Sagrada Familia. Designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, La Sagrada Familia is one of the top tourist destinations in Barcelona, with over 3 million visitors a year. This massive unfinished church was begun over 100 years ago, showcasing the amazing architectural styles of the past. Visiting the outside of the church is free of admission, but for those who desire to see the inside of the church, your best bet is to get reservations at least a month in advance, as the attraction is very popular among locals and tourists alike.
- Picasso Museum. The Picasso Museum is Barcelona’s most famous museum, attracting millions of art lovers each year. It celebrates the life and work of Pablo Picasso and features a unique collection of early sketches and lesser known works by one of the world’s most renowned artists.
- Las Ramblas Street. Las Ramblas Street is a must-see for anyone visiting the Barcelona area. Beginning at the Plaza Catalunya and ending at the Monument of Columbus at the Port Vell Harbor, this pleasant stroll is said to be the heartbeat of Barcelona, with hundreds of cultural displays, cafes, restaurants and bars. Of Las Ramblas, the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca once said, “It’s the only street in the world that I wish would never end.”
Barcelona is also home to some of the most stunning architecture in the world. In fact, in 1999 the city won the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, the first and only time that the winner has been a city, rather than an individual architect. The city is home to scores of World Heritage Sites (as named by UNESCO), museums, parks, beaches, gardens and historical landmarks, and its culture is warm and embracing. It may be known as Spain’s “second city,” but the truth is, once you arrive there you may never want to leave.
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