Written by Jazmín Ortega
Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a young, lively, and cosmopolitan city. Going back in time to its possible origins-and we say possible origins because of the lack of information regarding the birth of the city-we could talk about a probable attempt by the Arab world to dominate it. This is reflected in various art pieces found not only the city but also in the surrounding areas. Later on, in 1083, Alfonso VI conquered Madrid.
With time, Madrid became a villa, a residence of monarchs who thought of it as their place of recreation, pleasure and rest. This sort of monotony was broken when Phillip II transferred the court of Spain from Toledo to Madrid.
During the sixteenth century, Madrid experienced a great artistic and cultural growth that helped it attain the title of capital. The following centuries aided in its development, with the Generation of 98, the first museums and libraries, and many other amenities onto the present date.
You should know that to really become acquainted with Madrid, you will need time. We recommend no less that 2 weeks. And before attempting to go anywhere, it is best to have learned how to move about in the city.
The easiest way to get around Madrid is by Metro (subway) or by the city's bus system. At the ticket counter of any Metro station you can ask for a Metro map. Also there you can purchase a "bonobus," a discounted, 10-rides ticket that you can use for either the metro or the bus. To get to know the smaller cities that surround the capital, like Alcalá de Henares, Torrejón, Getafe, Aranjuez, you can take the commuter trains. The central point of the commuter system is at Atocha train station. Any time after midnight, you can use the "Búho" (or owl), the nocturnal bus that goes around the center of Madrid-a different bus goes out to the outskirts. The main bus stop is at Plaza de la Cibeles and from there the buses depart to various points of Madrid.
Once you have learned all of this, you can begin to move around. If you have the time, there are a number of sites that must be visited by every tourist. We are talking about:
El Prado Museum, one of the great art galleries in the world, holds within it works by the best artists in history. Velazquez, Goya, and Leonardo are examples of what we can find within its walls. If after seen this splendid museum you wish to se more art, you can continue at Reina Sofia and the Thyssen Museums. These three museums are at a close proximity from each other.
Another visit that must be made is to El Buen Retiro Park, one of the best-known sites of Madrid. Home of the first kings of the Austria dynasty and the last of the Borbones, this is a place to fully enjoy nature. Numerous artists gathered there to share their artworks with the bystanders. This is a show in itself. There are other parks full of history and charm, such as Dehesa de la Villa, Parque and Quinta de la Fuente del Berro, as an example.
As we walk the streets of Madrid, we can appreciate the monuments that decorate it. We find the "el Oso y el Madroño" (the bear and the madrone tree) the emblem of Madrid, the famous Cibeles fountain, another distinctive sign of Madrid, the Neptune fountain, and a little further up the street the Alcalá archway.
In the historical part of Madrid, known as "Madrid de los Austrias," we find numerous monuments, museums and parks. Among them we shall mention the Royal Palace built under Phillip V. The building of the palace was started by Juan Bautista and finished by Francisco Sabatini and Ventura Rodriguez. Nowadays the Palace is used only during official ceremonies. The Sabatini Gardens and the "Campo del Moro" park surround it. Straight in front of the palace is Plaza de Oriente with 2 rows of statues to the right and to the left representing the medieval kings of Spain. Just in the center is the equestrian statue of Phillip IV. Behind the plaza we find the Royal Theater, the first opera house of the city.
We should not neglect to mention the entrance to the Royal Monastery of the Descalzas Reales, a monastery that suffered a devastating fire in the 18th century and was later on restored. It houses several works of great painters such as Tiziano, Rubens, and Murillo among others.
As we continue our walk down the Madrid de los Austrias, we cannot forget to tell you about Puerta del Sol. Its center clock becomes the focal point of Spain when Spaniards celebrate the arrival of the New Year. Puerta del Sol is also the geographical center of Spain at the Kilometer Cero. This is the starting point when measuring the distance to other cities in Spain. Plaza de la Villa is next to the old La Moreria Quarters and the ruins of the Arab wall. Madrid's City Hall is located at this plaza.
Plaza Mayor is the last site we shall mention as a required visit. This rectangular Plaza with its equestrian statue of Phillip III in its center has numerous sidewalk cafes in the summer where you can stop for a few minutes, take a rest from your visit and have a bite to eat or refreshment. Every Sunday morning you will find stamp and coin collectors buying, selling and trading under this square's archways.
No doubt you could think of a different approach to knowing Madrid. As any treasured place, Madrid holds within it unforgettable districts and symbolic walkways. Of those districts, we invite you to discover La Latina, a great place for dinning and Lavapies with its great cultural diversity. A different side of Madrid.
We cannot question that you will want to take a walk through El Rastro. At the center of Madrid you will find every Sunday morning a great number of stands where you can find anything you could ever want. It is like a great shopping center, but an inexpensive one. Rivera de Curtidores, Plaza de Cascorro, and Ronda de Toledo are the main streets where this peculiar ambulant market takes places every Sunday. One suggestion: do not loose sight of your purse and wallet.
Another good idea is to get to know the Gran Via of Madrid. It starts at Plaza de España and ends at Alcalá Street. This street is well known for its concentration of cinemas and bright-lighted sings that could remind you of any of the great American streets.
If you still have time, take a walk around the Planetarium, the Royal Tapestry Factory, the Botanical Garden, the Wax Museum, the City Museum, the Temple of Debob, the Quio Towers, the Castellana Boulevard, Colon Plaza, the Amusement park, the Zoo, Casa de Campo Park, the National Library…
Regarding eating out, Madrid offers a great gastronomic variety. You can taste the typical foods of all the other regions of Spain, such as paella or fabada, as well as its own typical dishes, Callos a la Madrileña or Cocido.
Lodging is another issue to keep in mind. As any other great city that hosts all sorts of people and life styles, it obviously offers all kinds of options. You will find topnotch accommodations as well as humble ones. Hotels, hostels, residences, rooms for rent, and camping are part of the lodging mosaic. Prices? Any price you wish to pay, from 15 euros a night to as much as you are capable of paying.
Prices in Madrid? To give you a general idea, an average price for lunch is 10 euros; to sleep one night minimum 15 to 20€; a coffee or a soft drink 1+ euro; transportation 1€ per trip; a local, 3-minute phone call 15 cents; a ticket to the movies 6 euros.HOLY DAYS: