Madrid is Europe’s third largest city and is home to the Spanish Royal Family.
Museo del Prado
Museo del Prado (Prado Museum)
The Prado Museum was founded in 1819 and is one of Europe’s greatest art galleries. It’s 4,000-strong collection of paintings includes masterpieces by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Bosch (El Bosco), Titian, Rembrandt and Velázquez, as well as evidence of the astonishing development of Goya – from his sun-soaked early paintings of dances and festivities to the grim madness of his black period.
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum)
Madrid purchased the private collection of Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza after a nine-and-a-half-year loan. The collection contains over 800 paintings, sculptures, carvings and tapestries, ranging from primitive Flemish works to contemporary pieces. Highlights include works by Fra Angelico, Van Eyck, Dürer, Caravaggio and Rubens.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Reina Sofia National Art Centre Museum)
This museum is housed in a former hospital built by Francesco Sabatini for Carlos III in the late 18th century and was designed by the Spanish architect Antonio Fernánez Alba in 1977 and completed in 1990. Officially opened by the King and Queen in 1992, it is dedicated to Spanish 20th-century art, pride of place belonging to Picasso’s disturbing Civil War canvas, Guernica. Dalí, Miró and Juan Gris are among the other artists on show. The museum has recently been extended with a building created by the French architect Jean Nouvel. This entension houses the museum’s library, a 450-seat auditorium and temporary exhibitions galleries.
Palacio Real (Royal Palace)
Philip V commissioned Italian architects Giambattista Sacchetti and Francesco Sabatini to build the Royal Palace, following a fire that destroyed the medieval Alcázar in 1764. The present king, Juan Carlos I, resides in the Zarzuela Palace, just outside Madrid, so Philip’s 3000-room Royal Palace is only used for state functions. The rest of the time, this white granite building complete with Colmenar stone, is open to the public. Highlights of the Royal Palace include the Hall of Halberdiers and Hall of Columns, the Throne Room with its 17th-century sculptures, and the lavish private apartments of Charles II. Just off the courtyard is the Royal Armoury and Pharmacy.
Plaza Mayor (Main Square)
This beautiful cobbled square was begun by Philip II and completed by Philip III in 1619. Plaza Mayor was both a market place and the setting for public spectacles, from the ritual condemnation of heretics to bull fights and pageants. Today it is as lively as it was in the past, with shops and cafes in the covered arcades.
Parque del Buen Retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro (Retiro Park)
Set in the heart of Madrid, this lush park was originally the private garden of Philip IV. Visitors can take a stroll along the shady avenues and formal gardens, enjoy a boat out on the lake or picnic in the extensive wooded areas. Madrileños come here in their thousands on Sunday mornings, when entertainment is provided by fortune tellers, pavement artists and circus acts. There is a children’s puppet theatre and numerous refreshment points. Temporary art exhibitions are held in the Palacio de Cristal, Palacio de Velázquez and the Casa de Vacas.
Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Convent of the Royal Barefoot Sisters)
Founded by Juana de Austria, the daughter of Charles V, in 1559, as a retreat for noblewomen, the Convento de las Descalzas Reales is still a functioning convent. The convent is an excellent example of 16th/17th-century baroque architecture. It contains a hoard of artistic treasures, including Flemish tapestries, Italian and Flemish paintings and sculptures and religious artefacts. The convent is open for guided tours only.
Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
The best shopping area for tourists is around Calle de Preciados, between Sol and Gran Vía, home to El Corte Inglés department store, and high-street names like Zara, Gran Vía 32, and Casa Jiménez, Calle de Preciados 42, famed throughout Spain for its mantones and mantillas (lace and embroidered shawls).
The smartest shopping district of Salamanca has top designer names like Armani, Chanel, Versace, Hermès and Hugo Boss.
Calle Serrano is best for Purificación García, Roberto Verino, Ermenegildo Zegna and Yves Saint Laurent. Another trendy area is Chueca, especially Calles Almirante and Conde de Xiquena, while the place for youth fashions is Calle Fuencarral.
More unusual shops include
Mesquida, Calle Mayor 22, for religious and devotional objects, including crib pieces.
The Spanish guitar specialist, Manuel Gonzales Contreras, with the store at Calle de la Paz 8, and the workshop at Calle General Margallo 10.
El Flamenco Vive, Calle Conde de Lemos 7, which sells sheet music, videos and CDs as well as colourful costumes and accessories.
Seseña, Calle Cruz 23, makers of traditional Spanish capes.
El Amparo – has the reputation as one of Madrid’s top gourmet restaurants, serving traditional Basque recipes with nouvelle cuisine treatment. The restaurant is set in a former coach-house in Madrid’s smart Salamanca district. The décor is the work of leading Spanish designer Pascua Ortega, who also worked on the refurbishment of the Teatro Real.
El Cenador del Prado – serving the best of Spanish regional cuisine, including salted cod in breadcrumbs with garlic and grape garnishing, medallions of venison with cheese ravioli and quince and beef carpaccio with pig’s trotters in a mushroom sauce.
La Broche Sergi Arola – La Broche’s master chef, Sergi Arola, has two Michelin stars for his original interpretations of traditional Catalan and Spanish recipes. Signature dishes include turbot con patas de puerco, where pan-fried turbot is sprinkled with coriander and served with a jelly of pig’s feet wrapped in onion, and solomillo de buey (ox steak stuffed with goat’s cheese, anchovies, cherries and pine-nut purée).
Jockey – Jockey has earned itself the reputation as one of Madrid’s top-flight restaurants since opening in 1945. The restaurant is small and intimate, with dark wooden panelling and framed prints of jockeys and their horses. Sea bass, wild fowl and game are all on the menu and are complimented with wines from the excellent wine cellar.
La Nicolasa – serves traditional Basque dishes. The restaurant is decorated with glass chandeliers and oak tables with several oil paintings hanging on the walls. The Basque cuisine consists mainly of fish, the most traditional dish served is sea bass with orange. Another favourite is baked hake. All of the cakes and pastries are made on site.
Botín – believed to be the oldest restaurant in the city, Botín first opened its doors below the Plaza Mayor in 1725. The wonderful old dining rooms retain the original painted tiles, oak beams and wood-burning oven. Traditional Castilian dishes are the speciality here, including roast suckling pig and Aranda lamb.
Las Cuevas de Luís Candelas – located in a brick-vaulted cellar with tiled bar, wall paintings, wrought iron fittings and an open fire for the suckling pig speciality. The restaurant is named after a 19th-century highwayman said to have hidden in one of the cuevas (cellars). Las Cuevas offers a typical range of tapas, as well as main courses such as merluza (hake) and shrimps in garlic or cheese.
Robata – This restaurant offers Japanese cooking, including grilled meats and fish, soups, tempura, sashimi, sushi and sukiyaki. Diners can sit at a table or around the central sushi bar.
Viuda de Vacas – The name ‘The Widow Vacas’ alludes to the Cánovas Vacas family from Segovia, who founded the restaurant more than a century ago. This is a homely taberna with faded wall tiles, marble-top tables and a spiral staircase. The menu is inspired by the Castillian countryside and is only available in Spanish.
Champagnería Gala – is one of Madrid’s trendier eating places, serving paellas, risottos and fideuàs (Catalan noodle dishes) that are Gala’s stock-in-trade.
Divina La Cocina – located on the fringes of trendy Chueca, this restaurant has created their own special brand of Spanish fusion, including salted cod in a soya and ginger sauce, seaweed salad with shrimps and eggs of sea urchin and prime beef steak with foie gras in port.
La Terraza del Casino – is a Michelin starred eatery. Foams, unusual combinations of flavour, constant surprises and an experience unlike a ‘normal’ restaurant are on the menu here.
Lombok – Located in the Chueca neighbourhood, this restaurant has minimalist décor, with spotlights, bare white walls and steel counter. Its clientele is young and stylish. The fusion cuisine here draws on ingredients and recipes from all over the world.
Mezklum Tech – Dress code here is black, black and black! Food here has lots of contrasting flavours and unusual combinations, with creations such as a ‘salmon hamburger’.
Casa Mingo – if you like cider and chicken then this is the restaurant for you. The roast chicken here is legendary and it is best washed down with a bottle of the Asturian cider.
La Galette – this is a well-established vegetarian restaurant where carnivores are also catered for. Diners sit elbow-to-elbow in the two small rooms, decked out in an appealing country-kitchen style.
Taberna el Almendro – this is a very small tavern with custard-yellow walls and big barrels that serve as tables. A bell on the kitchen window sounds when the food is ready. The wild boar blood pudding, the savoury toasted bagels, (roscas) or the famous egg dishes, in particular, los huevos rotos (fried eggs over potatoes) are the mainstays. A good selection of white wines and sherries are available to accompany the tapas.
The Wok – With no frills this Asian restaurant serves affordable, steaming bowls of noodles.
Vips – Close to the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums, this restaurant is open seven days a week until the early hours of the morning.The varied menu includes everything from ham and eggs to pizzas and bowls of tacos.
Nightlife centres on three major districts – Chueca (Madrid’s gay village, which specialises in trendy restaurants), Calle Huertas (traditional Spanish music, jazz clubs and bars) and Malasaña (mainly bars and clubs frequented by a young crowd). It can be hard to tell bars and clubs apart, since bars often have a dancefloor and not all clubs charge for entry.