Spain’s stunning capital city is well known for many reasons: its famous architecture, its art museums, and its two biggest football teams! However, Madrid is a large and vibrant city with much more to offer than what first meets the eye. From the bar with the best views of Madrid to the little-known secrets of some of its famous landmarks, here are six more reasons to visit Spain’s capital.
Stare at the ceiling in Madrid's Almudena Cathedral
When thinking of famous cathedrals in Spain, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the pilgrim-friendly cathedral in Santiago de Compostela are probably the ones that spring to mind. However, while Madrid’s cathedral is much less renowned, it is well worth a visit. Its dome and facade are extremely impressive, but what makes the Almudena Cathedral special is its interior: it is one of the most colourful Catholic cathedrals you will ever see. Building only began in 1879 and consecration didn’t take place until 1993, meaning it is one of Spain’s most modern cathedrals. This is clearly reflected in the beautiful patterns and rainbow colours found in all of the windows and all over the ceiling. Anyone who enjoys exploring cathedrals should definitely not overlook Madrid’s, in particular anyone who appreciates interesting architecture and modern takes on tradition.
Experience contemporary history in Plaza Mayor's market
The Plaza Mayor in Madrid is one of the city’s most famous spots, and deservedly so – this ancient square is steeped in history and atmosphere, and while it may not be the cheapest place in the city to enjoy a coffee, it is the perfect place to relax and watch the world go by. However, a little-known fact about this square is the fact that every Sunday between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm it plays host to a fascinating coin and stamp market, hidden under the arches that surround the square. Unlike other markets which can feel overly touristy, this feels truly authentic. You may feel that you have travelled back in time when wandering around the stalls, observing ancient stamps and coins among other treasures, circling the square that has played host to so many historical events.
Visit the home of Joaquin Sorolla
Anyone who likes art will love Madrid, a city famous for its amazing and influential art museums. However, the Prado and the Reina Sofia are not the only places of interest to an art-lover: one of Madrid’s hidden gems has to be the Joaquin Sorolla Museum. Open on weekdays between 9:00 am and 2:00 pm, the museum situated in Sorolla’s very own home. It is surrounded by a small but lovely and peaceful garden, and the house still has many of its original furnishings. This museum gives you a real chance to learn more about one of Spain’s most successful painters while getting to see huge numbers of his original paintings. Many of these paintings are of his family and of places that he loved, meaning you can gain a real insight into both 19th century Spanish life, and the private life of a very influential artist.
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Explore Retiro Park's hidden corners
Retiro is one of Madrid’s most beautiful places: this huge park is a firm favourite among locals and tourists alike, as a place to exercise, to take a gentle stroll or to seek some respite from the sunny streets. Located conveniently near the Prado Museum, its boating lake is well-known and often surrounded by tourists. However, those seeking to find new sites need only to wander from Retiro’s most walked paths and find the other lovely areas it has in store. About 10 - 15 minutes walk away from the main boating lake there is another pond, next to the Crystal Palace which plays host to a variety of ever-changing exhibitions and attractions. This pond is also home to lots of wildlife, most notably a large number of turtles! Anyone who goes to Retiro Park should definitely make sure they visit this area – then continue wandering and see what else you can discover.
Stand in the centre of Spain
The Puerta del Sol is another of Madrid’s most famous squares, although it is very different from the Plaza Mayor, being much more open and modern. This is where the royal family make their addresses, and is also where the statue of the bear and the strawberry tree can be found, an image that quickly became the symbol of Madrid. However, a lesser-known fact about this square is that is not only at the centre of Madrid, but at the centre of Spain itself, or more specifically of the Iberian Peninsula. Its ‘Kilometro cero’ (kilometre zero) square can be found in front of the post office on the southern side of the square. Come and stand on the spot marking the centre of a country!
The amazing azotea
Finally, the hidden gem that you really must not miss in Madrid is the roof terrace at the Bellas Artes Museum. This terrace, or ‘azotea’ as they are known in Spanish, is the best possible combination of a lovely outside bar and the best views of Madrid. The azotea is known as the ‘Círculo’ (circle) because of its panoramic views; you really can see every aspect of Madrid from many floors up while you relax with a drink from the bar’s lengthy drinks menu. It even has a number of loungers, complete with pillows and blankets for anyone that wants to take their relaxation to the maximum! This is a perfect way to end a trip to Madrid, to stand above the city and spot all of your new favourite places. For a truly magical experience come in time for the sunset for views that will take your breath away.
More than meets the eye
Like any big city, Madrid is full of famous landmarks that need to be visited. However, I hope I have convinced you to search further afield - there are so many other places to explore, and this list is just the beginning.
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