Madrid holidays allow you to indulge in the beauty of yesteryear, the city is sprinkled with historic streets and sublime markers of heritage. Spain’s capital is a treasure trove of accessible historical sites, ranging from the glamorous to the cute and charming.
Palaces, plazas and cobbled streets of chic boutiques…we take a look at the finest historical sites in Madrid, each of them revelling in their grandeur and former glory.
1. Plaza Mayor
The smell of chocolate and churros (fried pastries) welcomes you to Madrid’s historic centrepiece, the grand Plaza Mayor.
Magnificently flanked by 16th to 18th century townhouses, this enclosed square is always alive with the chatter from al fresco cafe terraces. The Plaza Mayor makes a perfect introduction to your Madrid holidays. It’s easy to spend half a day here, caught up in an atmosphere that’s both lively and relaxed.
Once Madrid’s rhythm has taken hold on the Plaza Mayor, take a walk through the maze of pedestrianised streets that emanate from the square. Each of them is lined with boutique stores and further opportunities for indulgence. Don’t worry about getting lost, the rich cafe scents will guide you back to the masterpiece of King Philip III’s reign.
2. Royal Palace
The largest palace in Western Europe is an ode to the opulence of the Spanish Golden Age. Romanesque marble columns shimmer beneath the Mediterranean sun, stately rooms are marked by gilded gold, and each of its corridors is furnished with the excesses of a bygone era.
Make sure you check out the royal pharmacy and its strange thimbles of potions and herbs. If your Madrid holidays are all about sightseeing, then the Royal Palace is unmissable.
3. El Prado Museum
Perhaps only Paris’s Louvre can rival El Prado for its vast galleries of classical art. Canvasses fill entire walls, taking you on a journey from Nurillo and Morales to Valazquez and Goya. Part of the museum is dedicated to classical Spanish art, while the other galleries showcase the work of masters from across Europe.
Art lovers will also want to check out the Reina Sophia across the road; it’s where the great collections of Picasso and Dali are housed.
4. Cava Baja Street
History spills from all of Madrid’s central streets, the evidence of centuries etched into Renaissance windows and renowned Madrid hotels. One of the most famous streets is Cava Baja, the heart of the city’s tapas culture. Spend an evening on a tapas hop, dipping into taverns that specialise in individual tapa, or “lids” to use its literal translation.
Especially on the long balmy summer nights, Cava Baja is a great way to experience both the local and historic sides of Madrid.
5. Teatro Real (Grande Theatre)
Madrid holidays are all about entertainment. The historic sites are far more than just museum pieces, they’re living showcases of evocative Spanish culture. And there’s little the Spanish love doing more than a flamboyant display of fiesta.
Built in the late 19th century, the Teatro Real is one of the Madrid’s finest buildings, full of the pomp and razzmatazz that’s synonymous with the city. Rather than photograph rows of empty seats, get a ticket for an evening performance and absorb the building’s beauty with a night at the opera or theatre.
6. Plaza de la Villa
From the 15th to 17th centuries, Spain’s exploring conquistadores returned from the Americas with vast cases of silver. Money poured into the city and the wealthy built weird and wonderful houses. Plaza de la Villa offers an ode to this time, its three famous buildings dating from different centuries.
Admiring the juxtaposition of styles, while having a coffee at one of the Plaza’s cafes, is a classic way to spend a Madrid morning.
7. Temple of Debod
Holidaymakers booking hotels in Madrid can be forgiven for overlooking one of the less obvious historic sites when planning their trip. It’s an ancient Egyptian temple, dating back to the 2nd century AD, which stands in Parque del Oeste near the Royal Palace. Needless to say, this was not its original location. The construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt, and the threat it posed to numerous monuments and archaeological sites, prompted an international rescue operation. The Temple of Debod was donated by the Egyptian government in recognition of Spain’s help and was dismantled and relocated here in 1968.
8. Iglesia de San Nicolás de los Servitas
The intimate church is the oldest religious building in Madrid, first mentioned in 1202. The oldest part of its Mudejar bell tower was built in the 12th century by Moors, and it is believed that the church stands on the site of a mosque.
The rest of the building dates from the 15th century onward and contains some of the most impressive church ceilings in Madrid, as well as a museum which examines the history of the city from an Islamic perspective.
9. Basilica de San Francisco Grande
The other must-see church in Madrid is the Basilica de San Francisco Grande, which dates from 1760. It is believed that St Francis of Assisi first built a chapel on the site in the 13th century before it was developed into a Franciscan convent. The church has the fourth largest frescoed dome in the world, even bigger than that of St Paul’s Cathedral, with a height of 56 metres.
Best of all though are the three chapels adjoining the church, in particular that of San Bernadino where the central fresco was painted by Francisco Goya in the early stages of his career.
10. Lope de Vega Museum
Finally, make time to explore the home of Spain’s greatest playwright, Lope de Vega, who wrote 500 plays, 3,000 sonnets, three novels, three novellas and nine epic poems; one of the most prodigious outpourings of writing in the history of literature. Although his work is seldom performed in England, he is one of the key figures in the history of the Spanish Golden Century of Baroque literature.
Located in what is known as Madrid’s Literary Quarter, the Casa-Museo de Lope de Vega, in which the writer lived from 1610 until his death in 1635, offers an insight into his life and work, as well as life in Madrid in the 1660s. The museum includes the writer’s study and library, the kitchen and the servants’ rooms. It offers guided visits, which are available in English, French and Spanish, and reservations must be made in advance via email or phone. The venue also stages concerts, shows and film screenings. Bookings for these also need to be made in advance.