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World > Spain > Madrid
City Guide Madrid
General information
Madrid is located in the middle of Spain and has been the country’s capital since 1562. It is the biggest city in Spain and is a cosmopolitan centre with a rich and varied cultural and artistic history. It is known for its great monuments and grand buildings, as well as for its museums, cultural events and exciting nightlife. Madrid is a surprising city, always full of activity and with even more treasures to offer than most people expect. While it is a very modern city and one of the great economic hubs of the country, it has also preserved its historic atmosphere to a great extent. There is a medieval city centre which was built during the Habsburg Empire, and many of the neighbourhoods and streets contain few if any modern buildings. Madrid is also the home of the Spanish royal family, and the impressive Palacio Real is one of the city’s main attractions.
Madrid has a temperate mediterranean climate and the weather tends to be beautiful with a lot of sun, though often very hot in summer. Temperatures from June - August average between 21 - 27° C (70 - 81° F), but regularly go over 30° C (86° F) and 40° C (104° F) temperatures are not unusual. Regardless of the season, the climate is generally dry and rain is rare. Even when it is very hot, the heat is not so oppressive because of the low humidity. Winters can be quite cold, with frequent temperatures below freezing in the months from Dec - Feb. Because of the high altitude in Madrid, there is often a wide range of temperatures over the course of a single day because the temperature drops considerably at night.
Castilian Spanish is the official language of Spain and the version of Spanish spoken in Madrid.
Roman Catholicism is by far the most common religion in Spain, and therefore the most prevalent one in Madrid. Almost 80% of the population declares themselves to be Catholic, though this doesn’t mean that they necessarily practice the religion. Madrid has more religious diversity than many other regions of Spain since it is a big city and has many immigrants. Muslims are the second largest religious group, currently numbering over 1 million throughout the country. Protestants and Jews are present but rare.
The currency used in Spain is the Euro. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5, and the coins in use are €2, €1, € 0.50, € 0.20, € 0.10, € 0.05, € 0.02 and € 0.01.
Service charges are almost always included in bills from restaurants, but a small tip is usually expected in addition. A tip of 5% is fairly normal, but can be less for a small meal or more if the service is exceptional. Tipping for taxis is likewise usually between 5 - 10% of the bill if you are happy with the service. In cinemas and theatres where someone shows you to your seat it is normal to give a tip of 50 cents. This is also done for services such as coat checks. Tipping in bars and cafés is done, but at a lower rate, usually around 20 cents per round of drinks.
Spain has two different sales tax rates, at 7% and 16% depending on the items purchased. The 7% tax is for all items or services considered “essential” and is always non-refundable. This tax rate is used for hotel and restaurant bills, for example. Most items you buy in a shop, however, will be taxed at 16%. This tax can be refunded to tourists who are not from the EU, as long as you spend more than € 90.15 in the same store. Not all stores participate in tax free shopping, but the ones that do will give you an invoice to present at customs when you leave the airport. The airport bank will reimburse you for the amount listed on the invoice.
The country code of Spain is +39 and the local area code for Madrid is 91. To call Madrid from abroad, dial 00 39 91 followed by the local number. There are several good mobile networks throughout Spain, and it is usually easy to pick up a signal with a foreign mobile. International phone cards with cheap rates can be found at a variety of newsstands or tobacco shops in Madrid. Pay phones accept both phone cards and change. Phone rates for both national and international calls are cheaper after 10 pm and during the weekend.
Madrid is well-provided for with internet cafés and there are several throughout the city. Rates are very reasonable, between € 1 - 1.50 per hour. Many of these internet centres also let you call abroad for discount rates, fax, print and make photocopies.
Emergency numbers
The general emergency number in Spain is 112. This covers police, fires and medical emergencies. More specific emergency numbers include: Ambulance: 061 Red Cross: 91 5222222 Fire: 080 National Police: 091 City Police: 092 Civil Guard: 062
Opening times
Most shops and other businesses are open Mon - Sat both morning and evening with a break in between. Typical opening times are from 9.30 am - 2 pm and from 5 pm - 8 pm, though with some stores the break may be shorter. Certain large stores stay open all day. Some shops in the centre stay open late, until around 9.30 pm. On Saturdays, it is not uncommon for small shops to close early, around 2 pm. Banks open earlier than stores, usually around 8.30 am, and close around 2 pm. Banks and government offices are closed on Saturday. On Sunday, almost everything is closed.
Public Holidays
The following days are public holidays in Spain, and means that shops and banks will be closed. Transportation may also be more limited, and taxis add a small surcharge to the bill. 1st January, New Years Day 6th January, Three Kings’ Day 20th March, San José Day Easter Thursday and Friday 1st May, Labour Day 15th August, Feast of the Assumption 1st November, All Saints Day 6th December, Constitution Day 8th December, Feast of the Immaculate Conception 25th December, Christmas
Madrid is not an unsafe city, though there are things to watch out for. Pickpockets are prevalent at crowded and touristy locations as well as on certain bus lines. Their most common technique is to squeeze past you at a crowded or narrow point (such as when exiting a bus) and grab something. You can defend yourself against this by not carrying valuables in obvious places or places that are easy to get to, such as in a backpack that sticks out behind you. There have been increases in violent crime in Madrid in recent years, but increases in security and police presence also. To be on the safe side, though, it is advisable to not go out alone at night, especially in certain areas. Also, it is a good idea to be careful when you cross the street during the day, as there is a high number of pedestrians killed by car in this city.
Casa de la Villa y Casa de Cis
In the heart of “Madrid de los Austrias” (Madrid of the Hapsburgs) there is a pretty and charming square called Plaza de la Villa, which is home to a statue honouring Álvaro de Bazán (19th Century). This square is surrounded by Casa de la Villa, the site of the City Council. It was designed by Juan Gómez de Mora in the 17th Century and was originally the site of a prison. The large exterior balcony is impressive and the so are the entrance gates that jut out from the building. Next to the city hall is Casa de Cisneros, a 16th Century palace restored in the 20th Century. Inside, the Tapestry Room is worthy of note and features an impressive and high-quality collection.
Catedral Santa María la Real d
At the end of the 19th Century building work was started on the Almudena Cathedral, constructed on the site of the old Santa María la Mayor church to honour the patron virgin of Madrid. In 1883 the first stone of this impressive monument was laid, located in one of the most beautiful areas of the city. In 1911 the crypt was opened for worship, but construction was halted until after the Civil War, when architects Fernando Chueca Goitia and Carlos Sidro were placed in charge of the project. In 1993, the cathedral was consecrated for worship by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. The inside of the temple retains a Gothic style, although the outside is Classicist. Opening times: Mon - Sun 9 am - 8.30 pm
Monasterio de la Encarnación
Built on the directive of Felipe III''s wife, Empress Margarita de Austria, the Monasterio de la Encarnación was designed by Juan Gómez de Morain and begun in 1611. However, a fire in 1734 destroyed the church, which was then rebuilt in the 1760s in a classical-baroque style by Ventura Rodríguez. The granite facade of the church is the only remaining feature of the original construction. Nuns of the Agustinas Recoletas (Augustine order) still use the monastery; therefore, a 45-minute guided tour takes visitors around the areas such as the Royal Room, the monastery church with its reliquaries, the most famous of which is the dried blood of San Pantaleón which reportedly liquefies every year on 28th June, and the monastery museum. Opening times: Monastery and Reliquary, Wed and Sat 10.30 am - 12.30 pm and 4 pm - 5.30 pm, Sun 11 pm - 1.30 pm
San Jerónimo el Real
Founded in 1464 as the San Jerónimo el Real convent under Henry IV, this royal church was relocated and reconstructed in 1503 for Ferdinand and Isabel. During Felipe IV''s time in power (1621 to 1665), subterranean passageways were dug linking the church, also known as Los Jerónimos, to the Casón del Buen Retiro. This chiefly Gothic building came under severe attack during the Napoleonic Wars in 1808, resulting in rebuilding work between 1848 and 1883. It was at this time that the church''s towers were added. San Jerónimo el Real has been the site of many royal occasions such as the wedding in 1906 of Alfonso XIII and Victoria of Battenberg and the coronation of Juan Carlos I in 1975. It has a scenic location on the bank of the Río Manzanares. Opening times: Daily 8 am - 1.30 pm and 5 pm - 6.30 pm
Biblioteca Nacional
The most extensive library in Spain, the Biblioteca Nacional is also an architectural gem. Built in the neoclassical style during Isabel II’s reign in the 19th century, it features an impressive façade and spectacular archways as well as wrought-iron gates and elaborately carved stone. Statues and paintings of many famous Spaniards line the entrance ways and main staircase, including Cervantes, Antonio de Nebrija, and San Isidoro. The library’s collection covers virtually all genres and includes over five million books. It is located near the Plaza de Colón. Opening times: Tues - Fri 9 am - 9 pm, Sat 9 am - 2 pm
La Cibeles
A magnificent sculpture in white stone, this work was commissioned by King Carlos III to add grace and prestige to the city. Cibeles is a goddess, and she is depicted driving a carriage pulled by lions. The sculpture was designed by Ventura Rodríguez and created by Roberto Michel and Francisco Gutiérez. It has become an important landmark in general, but is particularly popular with football fans. Devotees of the Real Madrid football club come here to celebrate after their team wins.
Ermita de San Antonia de la Fl
This is a chapel with an impressive dome where Goya painted a series of frescoes in 1798. The frescoes are unusually detailed and are titled Milagro de San Antonio de Padua. Considered to be one of Goya’s most important works, they show the range of the artist’s originality and expression. Goya was later buried in this chapel. The church is 18th century and neoclassical, and is a mixture of simplicity and elegant Baroque decoration. The chapel is no longer used for mass, in an effort to preserve the frescoes. An identical building was built next door in 1928 and is where the services now take place. Opening times: Tues - Fri 10 am - 2 pm and 4 pm - 8 pm, Sat and Sun 10 am - 2 pm Entrance price: € 1.80
Faro de Madrid
Inconguously, this structure resembles a lighthouse, though Madrid is nowhere near the sea. It is the best place from which to see a panoramic view of the city, and the sights from here are truly breathtaking. The building is made up of a huge glass-fronted deck that circles on top of a 92 m tall tower. The ride to the top is quite an experience also, in a glass elevator on the outside of the building. To get a close up look at any of the scenery, you can use the coin-operated binoculars and telescopes at the top of the tower. Opening times: Jun - Sep: Tues - Sun 11 am - 1.45 pm and 5.30 pm - 8.45 pm, Mid Sep - May: Tues- Fri 10 am - 2 pm and 5 pm - 7 pm, Sat and Sun 10.30 am - 5.30 pm Entrance prices: € 1.20
Plaza de la Villa
An unusully quiet place in the centre of Madrid, this square is an old-fashioned sanctuary amid the bustle of the city. It still looks much as it did in centuries past, seeming almost unaffected by the passage of time. The buildings surrounding the square are all from the 15th - 17th centuries, most of them impressive aristocratic houses. There is also the Lujanes tower, which is one of the oldest buildings in the city with noteworthy brickwork and stone decoration, as well as old coats of arms around the doorway. Plaza de la Villa is a great place to begin a walk through the medieval part of Madrid.
Monasterio de El Escorial
This beautiful historic monastery is a drive or train/bus ride away from the city of Madrid, in a town called San Lorenzo, but is well worth the extra effort it takes to get here. One of the highlights of the entire region, this monastery was built between 1563 – 1584 to commemorate Spanish victory at the battle of San Quintín. It was commissioned by Felipe II and the construction was carried out by Juan Bautista de Toledo and Juan de Herrera. The monastery is like a huge complex and there are three different sections: the monastery itself, the palace, and the royal mausoleum. You can tour the magnificent rooms of the palace, where the kings and queens of old spent part of their time. The rooms are decorated with paintings by Titian, El Greco, Coello and more, as well as sumptuous 18th century furniture. The monastery proper has some famous frescoes by Lucas Jordán, and now contains an extensive museum. Do not miss the library, one of the real high points. It contains an amazing collection of illuminated manuscripts and old books, and has a beautifully painted ceiling. The monarchs of Madrid are still buried in the royal mausoleum here. If you drive to the monastery from Madrid, take the N-VI and then the M-505. Opening times: Apr - Sep: Tues - Sun 10 am - 6 pm, Oct - Mar: Tues - Sun 10 am - 5 pm Entrance prices: € 8 for adults, € 5 for children aged 5 - 16, children under 5 are free, and Wed is free for EU citizens
Centro Cultural Islámico
This beautiful mosque is the largest in Europe and is made out of white marble. It is known as the “M-30 mosque” because it is located right next to this motorway. Inside it’s much more than a mosque, however, and it is connected to a ritual bath house, a gymnasium, a college, and an Arabic restaurant called Zahara. This complex was built by three Polish architects in the late 1980s. Opening times: Sat - Thurs 10 am - 8 pm, Fri 10 am - 12 pm and 4 pm - 8 pm
Basílica de San Francisco El G
This is one of the largest churches in Madrid, and is made up of seven smaller chapels. It is an 18th century church built on a classical design and has one of the largest domes in the world. It measures 33 m in diameter, and is impressive both inside and out. The inside of the dome and the vaulted ceilings are covered with brilliant frescoes. The Basílica is known for its wonderful collection of paintings and other art works, and contains works by Goya, Zurbarán, Alonso Cano, Maella and Casado del Alisal. There are also several marble scuptures by Ricardo Bellver and Mariano Benlliure, and the stained glass windoes are beautiful works of art as well. Opening times for tourists: Tues - Sat 11 am - 1 pm and 4 pm - 7 pm
Basílica de San Miguel
This church has a distinctive convex façade, a distinctive feature of its Italian Baroque design. Seen from the inside, this feature gives the small church a more spacious feel. The building was designed by Giacomo Bonavía and constructed between 1739 - 1746. The interior has beautiful decoration, and noteworthy items on display include sculptures by Roberto Michel, Salvador Carmona and Pascual de Mena as well as a series of paintings and frescoes. The paintings are by Ferrant and the frescoes are by the González Velázquez brothers. Opening times: Daily 10 am - 2 pm and 5.30 pm - 9 pm
Iglesia de San Antonio de los
This classic old church is distinctive because of its fantastic spire and the elliptical base the church itself is built on. The façade is intricate and classical in style, with a vaulted niche where an image of San Antonio hangs. Like many churches in Madrid, this one includes beautiful frescoes, painted by Lucas Jordán. There are also some masterful paintings by Ricci and an unusual alterpiece that is worth seeing. The church was originally built as a hospital chapel for the Portuguese passing through the city, and was designed by Pedro Sánchez. It was later passed into German hands, hence the name Alemanes, given to members of Mariana Neoburg’s entourage. Neoburg was Carlos II’s second wife. Opening times: Mon - Sat 9 am - 1 pm and 6 pm - 8 pm, Sun 9 am - 2 pm
Iglesia de Santa Bárbara
A highly ornate church, this one is known for having the most flamboyant Baroque decoration in the city. There are many important works housed here, including frescoes, paintings, and sculptures. The architecture is also striking and on a very large scale. There are huge Corinthian columns and lots of coloured marble inside as well as Ionic columns on the façade. The extravagant rococo pulpit fits in with the general style and is made out of alabaster. Tombs contained in this church include those of Gerneral O’Donnell and Fernanado VI and his wife, Bárbara de Braganza. Opening times: Mon - Sat 9 am - 1 pm and 5 pm - 9 pm, Sun 9 am - 1 pm and 6 pm - 9 pm
Iglesia de San José
A huge church with a grand and decorative façade, San José was designed by Pedro de Ribera and completed in 1773. It is thought to contain the best collection of religious imagery in Madrid, including paintings by Michel, Salvador Carmona, Alonso de Mena, Sánchez Barba, González Velázquez and Bautista Peña. The Santa Teresa chapel within the main church is done in an ornate rococo style and has beautiful frescoes on its dome. There are also some exquisite 19th century alterpieces displayed here. Opening times: Mon - Fri 7.15 am - 1.30 pm and 7.30 pm - 8.30 pm, Sat 7.15 am - 1.30 pm and 7 pm - 8.30 pm, Sun 8.30 am - 8.30 pm
The centre of Madrid has three distinct sections: the old town characterized by narrow winding streets and centuries-old buildings, the modern center with wider streets and both old and new buildings, and the outskirts where the architecture is primarily 20th century. The city is large, but a good deal of exploring can be done on foot, as many of the attractions within the centre are close together. The city’s many beautiful parks also invite walking, and are usually situated near important monuments. One of the famous main roads of the city is the Gran Via, which runs through the heart of the city and is home to many interesting buildings, cinemas and nightclubs. There are a variety of interesting markets that add colour and charm to the city, including the Rastro flea market that has been going on for 500 years and seasonal markets in the scenic Plaza Mayor.
Parque del Buen Retiro
This is probably Madrid’s most famous park, comprising 300 acres of land right in the centre of the city, in the fashionable Jerónimos district. The park was originally created as the gardens for the Palace Buen Retiro, and opened to the public in 1868. In addition to all the beautiful green space and trees the park provides, there is also a rose garden and boating lake. There are several shows and festivals that take place here in the warmer months.
Plaza Mayor
This square is surrounded by beautiful Renaissance and Baroque buildings and is a symbol of Madrid. The plaza and most of its surroundings were built in the early 17th century under Felipe III and it is a bronze statue of him on horseback that is given pride of place in the square. Plaza Mayor was officially opened in 1620 and has been used for a wide range of public events such as processions, theatre performances, festivals, trials, excecutions and bullfights. It is a large rectangular area surrounded by arcades, and now these arcades are lined with all manner of shops, bars and restaurants. The square often houses temporary markets, particular during the holiday season. One of the most remarkable buildings around the square, the one everyone notices first, is Casa de la Panadería. This building was built in 1617 with impressive archways and is covered with beautiful frescoes that have recently been restored. The original paintings were destroyed in a fire, but artist Carlos Franco was commissioned to redecorate the façade in the 1980s.
Puerta del Sol
Another famous square, Puerta del Sol is literally the centre of Spain, the “kilometre zero” mark from which all roads out of Madrid originate. Most of the buildings surrounding the square are from the 16th century, but the square did not become important until the Casa de Correos building was constructed in 1768. It has been the site of some significant historical events, such as the Esquilache Mutiny in 1766 and the coronation of Fernando VII in 1812. Its name means “sun gate” and comes from the painting of a sun that was done on the original city gate. Within the square are some famous statues, of a bear and a strawberry tree and of Carlos III. At New Year’s eve Puerta del Sol is the place to be, and is shown on Spanish television nationwide. As the clock in the square chimes twelve, people all over the country eat a grape at each chime as is the tradition.
Real Jardín Botánico
Madrid’s botanical gardens are located in the centre of the city and is a great place to experience some peace, quiet, and amazing greenery right in the middle of things. These gardens were built during the reign of Charles III and opened in 1791. At this point it already had 30,000 different kinds of plants! Visitors can wander through the various gardens and discover all the exotic flora for themselves. There are plants from five continents, one of the most remarkable being a 250 year old cypress tree, and including medicinal herbs, aromatic flowers and plants, fruit trees and a rose garden. The gardens are elegantly landscaped and the greenhouse contains tropical and desert plants. Opening times: Oct 15 - Feb 28: Daily 10 am - 6 pm, Mar and Sep - Oct 14: Daily 10 am - 7 pm, Apr: Daily 10 am - 8 pm, May - Aug: Daily 10 am - 9 pm Entrance prices: € 1.50
Jardines de la Alameda de Osun
This garden was created for the Duchess of Osuna near the end of the 18th century. It a particularly elegant and peaceful garden with beautiful landscaping, and has been given the nickname “The Caprice.” It became famous from a historical perspective when it was used as a hideout during Napoleon’s War of Independence and the Spanish Civil War. The nearest metro stop is Canillejas.
Jardines del Campo del Moro
The name of these gardens means “Moorish camp” and refers to its origins as a war camp of the Moors. It is located at the foot of the Royal Palace, but an Arab fortress originally stood here. The Moors fought fierce wars at this location against the Spanish Christian army during the reconquest of Spain in the 15th century. The open green space here was later converted into a garden, and includes some beautiful old trees, some of which have stood here for 200 years. There are a number of other interesting plants as well, and in the spring and summer it is awash with many varieties of flowers. Two famous fountains are found in the park, called the Tritons Fountain and the Shell Fountain. Opening times: Oct - Mar: Mon - Sat 10 am - 6 pm, Sun 9 am - 6 pm, Apr- Sep: Mon - Sat 10 am - 8 pm, Sun 9 am - 8 pm
Jardines de Sabatini
Another beautiful garden right in the centre of Madrid, these are located very near to the Royal Palace and the Jardines del Campo del Moro. It was built in 1930 to honor an Italian architect (Sabatini) favoured by Carlos III and who designed many important buildings during his reign. The flowers that bloom here in the spring are truly incredible, and the garden is also full of stately trees, statues, fountains and prettily landscaped walks. This is one of the quietest parks in the city, as not many tourists know it is here.
Monasterio de las Descalzas Re
This convent is situated right in the centre of Madrid and was founded by Juana de Austria, sister of Felipe II. It is a building with a religious, enclosed atmosphere. Many ladies belonging to the nobility were shut away in this monastery and took their trousseau with them. For this reason, the monastery today preserves a great collection of paintings, tapestries and religious images. The interior houses paintings by famous artists such as Titian, Sánchez Coello, Brueghel or Luini, among others. Opening times: Tues - Thurs and and Sat 10.30 am - 12:45 pm and 4 pm - 5.45 pm. Frid 10.30 am - 12.45. Sun 11 am- 1.45 pm