Madrid travel guide Gran Via

Madrid Travel Guide: 14 Unmissable Things To Do In Madrid

Madrid Travel Guide

This Madrid travel guide is one of the best places to help you to decide if Madrid can tempt you, as it is written by one of Madrid’s top tourist guides, Patricia Morcillo; you can read her glowing reviews here.
Madrid Crystal Palace Retiro Park
Crystal Palace Retiro Park

The magic and charms of Madrid are almost endless. In fact, as experiential tourism continues to rise, around 12 million visitors were seduced by Madrid’s jewels in 2017. Traditionally, visitors flocked to Andalucia, the Balearic and Canary Islands, and Catalonia, but these days the many merits of Madrid are tempting travellers to discover this highly desirable destination. Many have fallen in love with Madrid, including the likes of Salvador Dalí and Ernest Hemingway, maybe you will join them soon?

Salvador Dalí 1939 aged 35

By Carl Van VechtenVan Vechten Collection at Library of Congress, Public Domain, Link Salvador Dalí 1939 aged 35

In fact, it was in Madrid that Dalí came out of his shell, significantly altering his image and dressing up as a dandy. He enjoyed wild nights out with his group of friends, but he needed lots of time to himself, honing his immense artistic gifts, alone in his room. He also made weekly visits to the Prado, where he learned from its great repository. It was a city that certainly inspired both Salvador Dalí and Ernest Hemingway, read on to find out why.

Madrid Travel Guide Royal Palace
Royal Palace

The Royal Palace of Madrid was built between 1738 and 1764, constructed in the image of Versailles, in Paris. Its first inhabitant was King Carlos III, the first monarch of the French Bourbon dynasty; up until that time, the Spanish Kings came from the Habsburgs, from Austria. The Royal Palace is twice the size of Buckingham Palace or Versailles itself, with a remarkable total of 3,418 rooms.

1. Hemingway’s Madrid

“Madrid is full of literature, poetry and music on all four sides, so much so that she herself is a literary character”. Ernest Hemingway.

Madrid is a city surprising for its culture, its history, its people, monuments, landscapes … Also, it is the most musical Spanish city, since it is mentioned in 2890 songs. And it is full of curiosities. It is not surprising that Hemingway was captivated by, as he defined it, “the most Spanish city of all and the most pleasant to live with the most sympathetic people, and the best climate in the world.”

Madrid loved by Ernest Hemingway
Madrid loved by Ernest Hemingway

By Lloyd Arnold –, Public Domain, Link

A spell that led the writer and journalist to spend long periods between Pamplona (where he made his famous Sanfermines known to the world), and Madrid. Assiduous visits that inspired him to write a good part of his bibliography, such as Fiesta, Death at Dusk, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Night Before Battle, The Denunciation and, his only play, The Fifth Column.

The first time he lived in this city was between 1923 and 1926; years later, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), he was a correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance press agency. With the victory of the dictator, Francisco Franco, and the end of the contest, the versatile writer decided not to return to Spain until all the Republican fighters (which was the side that he supported), came out of prison. Fifteen years passed until he travelled to Spain again. It was the year 1954, which, by the way, was the same year that he won the Nobel prize for literature.

Pamplona Santiago path
Pamplona Santiago path

From that moment, every summer, he split his holidays between Pamplona and Madrid. His reports about the bulls for Life magazine were written during this period. Hemingway became a regular at the Bullring of Las Ventas (the largest bullring in Spain, and the second biggest in the world after Mexico). And he didn’t stop visiting the Prado Museum; which is the most important in the world of European painting, with 1300 exhibited works. His other favourite haunts were the Botín Restaurant (the oldest in the world), and the Chicote Museum; a cocktail bar, located on the Gran Vía, which was a meeting point for many movie stars, such as Ava Gardner who went every single night, during the fourteen years that she lived in Madrid.

Madrid Travel Guide Restaurant Botín
Restaurant Botín

The summer of 1960, was the last time that Hemingway was in Madrid. Mentally ill, he locked himself in his hotel and refused to leave, until, in the fall, his family managed to get him out of there and put him on a plane back to the US. When he committed suicide, on July 2, 1961, he already had the tickets to see the bullfights of the Sanfermines a few days later. Today there are still many traces of his presence in the city. All you have to do is go around to the emblematic places to see them. In all of these sites, there are signs that say: “Hemingway was here”
2. Restaurant Botín: the world’s oldest restaurant

According to the Guinness Book of Records, Casa Botín is the oldest restaurant in the world. It was founded in 1725 by the Frenchman, Jean Botin, and his Spanish wife, Maria. The great painter, Francisco de Goya, worked here washing dishes when he was nineteen years old (in 1765). Apart from Hemingway, other famous writers mention it in their books; as in Monsignor Quixote, by Graham Greene, and The Manifest Black and Cobra, by Frederick Forsyth.

Madrid Travel Guide Restaurant Botin cellar
Restaurant Botin wine cellar
3. Madrid’s unique climate

Madrid is a unique city for many reasons. Hemingway alluded to its climatology, which is certainly very unique thanks to its endless summers and winters, because of the lack of intermediate seasons. Madrid’s extreme climate swings from days of suffocating heat in the summer to freezing cold temperatures in winter, yet always, the city is framed by bright, clear blue skies by day and starry nights, that make it easy to distinguish the different constellations in the sky.

Madrid Travel Guide Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol…in the rain

For better or worse, it is also notable for its scarce rainfall that totals, at most, about fifty-eight days per year, which tend to occur in April and October, the rainy months. Madrid is windy, so forget about protecting yourself from the city’s sudden showers with your umbrella. No self-respecting Spaniard knows how to really handle one. In fact, after a storm, Madrid’s rubbish bins are full of these devices, completely dismembered and entirely useless.

4. The tradition of eating twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve

The centre of the city is in Puerta del Sol, where Kilometre 0 is located, which is the point from where all the Spanish radial roads depart. In the middle of the square is the old Post Office Palace (built in 1768), which today is the seat of the Presidency of the Community of Madrid. Crowning the building, is the clock, which is the one that chimes the last day of the year. The tradition is that when you turn to the clock, you have to eat twelve grapes; this tradition dates back to 1909. That year there was surplus of grapes and the producers decided to give them away at the Puerta del Sol, so that those gathered in the square could take them during the bells.

Madrid Travel Guide Puerta del Sol KM-0
Puerta del Sol KM-0

Cold or hot, Madrid invites people to be on the street at any time of the day and night, seven days a week. Therefore, the dawn of the day or its sunsets are true spectacles for the inhabitants of the city, who look for romantic settings, like the park next to the Temple of Debod, to enjoy them.

5. Madrid’s beautiful skies

Madrid’s beautiful skies, are called Velazquenos, in honour of the illustrious Sevillian painter, Diego de Velázquez, creator of Las Meninas and camera portraitist of King Felipe IV, who depicted the city’s skies in his paintings.

Madrid Travel Guide Madrid twilight
Madrid twilight

Madrid has many green areas. So much so, that it is the first European capital and the second city in the world, after Tokyo, with more urban trees, almost 300,000, with a variety of 210 different species. In fact, fifty-five per cent of its streets are tree-lined.

6. Madrid’s Retiro Park

Its most beautiful park is El Retiro, which dates back to 1630 and is located in the centre of the city. The Retiro park consists of 118 hectares, and has 9,000 trees of 167 different species.

Madrid Travel Guide Retiro Park
Retiro Park

But apart from nature, you can also see wonderful works of art such as the Fuente del Ángel Caído (one of the two monuments in Madrid dedicated to the devil); the central pond that shelters 8,000 fish, most of them carps, and is crowned with the statue dedicated to King Alfonso XII, which, in fact, is a viewpoint that you can visit. But a special highlight, is the Crystal Palace, built in 1887, which you really shouldn’t miss.

Madrid Travel Guide Retiro Park Crystal Palace
Retiro Park Crystal Palace
Going to Madrid with children? Then why not download this free, fun colouring page:

Madrid Park Retiro free colouring page Colour & Learn Travel Inspires

7. Temple of Debod

The temple is located on the top of a promontory where, by the way, the Spanish rebels were shot by Napoleon’s French troops after their capture of the city on May 3, 1808. This Egyptian sanctuary is 2,200 years old and is dedicated to the God Amun Debod (Father of all Winds).

In 1968, the Egyptian government of Gamal Aber Nasser, gave it to Spain for the money that this country gave him to build the Dam of Aswan. The USA, Italy and the Netherlands also contributed to its construction and received a similar gift, although the Temple of Debod is the largest monument of the four. The temple was dismantled, and the 1724 stones were put into 1359 boxes and moved by boat and train to Madrid, where they arrived in 1970. The experts took two years to assemble it, due to the lack of plans since, during the journey, several pieces were lost.

Madrid Travel Guide Temple of Debod
Temple of Debod
8. Madrid: Spain’s capital city and an autonomous community

Madrid is not only the capital of Spain and the most important and largest city in the country, it is also an autonomous community of the seventeen that exist throughout Spain. The Autonomous Community of Madrid covers an area of 8,030 km2 and has a population of 6,467 million inhabitants, of which 3,166 million live in the city, which occupies a space of 604.3 km2.

But it must be said that its capital is not very old. When the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled the Arabs from the country, in 1492 (the same year of the discovery of America), Toledo was the capital of the Kingdom. However, Toledo is a town located on a hill embraced by the River Tagus, making it impossible to expand. It was in June of the year 1561 when King Felipe II decided to move the court to Madrid, a city that offered more possibilities of development than the previous one.

Madrid Travel Guide Temple of Debod

9. Madrid Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor (Main Square) of Madrid was the nerve centre of the city from the time it was built, in 1580. At first, it was the city’s main market. Later, it has been the scene of bullfights, naval battles, public executions during the Spanish Inquisition, the site of Christmas Markets, Carnivals and many other recreational activities. It has suffered three major fires, the last in 1790, but it has always been rebuilt following its original model.

Madrid Travel Guide the Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor
10. The origin of the city and its name

Madrid’s history has also been shaped by a melting pot of cultures. It was founded by the Arabs in the year 852 AD. It was Umayyad Emir Mohamed I who settled in Spain and decided to build a fortress here to protect Toledo from possible Christian invasions. He named it Mayrit, which means a land rich in water, since in the subsoil of the city there are numerous streams and wells. In the year 1085, the Christian King Alfonso VI, conquered the city and expelled the Arabs. From that moment, the pronunciation of the name became Magerit, which, over time, turned into Madrid.

11. Madrid’s Arab wall and fortress
Madrid Travel Guide Arab wall
Arab wall

The fortress erected by the Arabs was located where today, visitors can see the crypt of the Almudena Cathedral, next to the Royal Palace. Little remains of the original 9th century construction, only part of the wall that, in fact, is the oldest remains in the city. Moreover, this is the only remnant left of the Muslim era.

Madrid Travel Guide Almudena Cathedral
Almudena Cathedral
12. Forty museums

Madrid is home to some forty museums. Probably, the best known are the art museums: the Prado (for lovers of classical works), the Reina Sofía (whose building was the first public hospital in the city and which was set up to house its most emblematic work: El Guernica, Picasso), and the Thyssen (which has the most important collection of private art in Europe, an authentic delight) ..

13. The incredible streets of Madrid

But, in themselves, the streets of the city are the best museum, where the most incredible can occur. In little more than the one kilometre that measures the Gran Vía, the city’s most emblematic street, Christmas rides have been developed, Holy Week processions, demonstrations and it has also been the scene of films, concerts, and even a bullfight.

Madrid Travel Guide Gran Via
Gran Via

And, on 23rd January 1928, a cow and a bull escaped when they were being taken to the slaughterhouse and ended up on the Gran Vía. By chance, in the area there was a bullfighter, Diego Mazquiarán, whose bullfighting name was Fortuna, who lived nearby, so he asked a spectator to go to his house and get his rapier. Meanwhile, he used his coat as a cloak and dedicated himself to tire the immense bull, until his bullfighting tools arrived. Finally, he finished with the bull and became a celebrity.

In spite of everything, there is no need to be apprehensive, since according to the annual report by The Economist Intelligence Unit on the safest cities in the world, Madrid is the sixth safest in Europe and the twelfth in the world.

Madrid Travel Guide Gran Via
Gran Via
14. The history of the Gran Vía

In 1906, King Alfonso XIII married Victoria Eugenia, granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, and the couple spent several months of their honeymoon, which lasted a year, in New York. The monarch fell in love with its tall, imposing buildings and when he returned to Madrid, decided that he wanted to have a street just as cosmopolitan, in the image and likeness of the American style. Therefore, due to his expressed wishes, the The Gran Vía was built from 1910.

In its time, this street came to house up to forty theatres, hence it was known as Broadway. The street ends at the Plaza de España (Spain Square), where the highest buildings in Europe stood between 1948 and 1967. But, perhaps, the most significant monument is the statue dedicated to Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote de la Mancha.

And now, after reading this, do you feel tempted to discover Madrid?
If you are, be sure to check out Patricia’s brief biography and tour offerings below.
Madrid Travel Guide Gran Via
Gran Via

Patricia Morcillo Mostaza

Madrid Tour Guide & Journalist

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Patricia is a journalist, professor of Spanish Language and Literature and, lately, a tourist guide. In her photo above, you can see Patricia broadcasting on RNE – Radio Nacional de España (National Radio of Spain), where she worked for nine years.

Patricia was born in Barcelona, but has spent most of her 49 years in Madrid; a city that she adores for its culture, its museums, its gardens, its monuments, its people, its history and, especially, for its thousand anecdotes.

She is absolutely delighted to convey her love for Madrid, through her Facebook and Twitter accounts, and her blog……..and of course, when tantalising visitors on her tours.

Visit Patricia’s blog:

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Tours Offered By Patricia

Highlights of Madrid

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Patricia offers  a wonderful tour that is extremely well reviewed, which features the highlights of Madrid.

This tour gives you three or so hours of Spain’s capital city’s top attractions, with Patricia, who is a very enthusiastic, knowledgeable tour guide.

To learn more about what is included, please go to:

Patricia’s Highlights of Madrid Tour

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