Different and fun
We are arriving at Plaza de Cibeles, in the center of which lies the emblematic Cibeles Fountain which was sculpted in 1782 following a design from Ventura Rodríguez. During the Spanish Civil War, it was covered with sandbags to protect it from damage, as were many of the capital's great public works.
Each of the four corners of the square is dominated by imposing buildings, which were built between the late 18th and early 20th centuries. The most impressive is the Communications Palace, which has been the seat of the Madrid City Council since 2007 and remains one of the most iconic buildings in the city. You can also see Palacio de Linares which is the current headquarters of the House of America. The building is believed to be haunted. In the other corners, we have the Bank of Spain and the Army General Headquarters.
The Plaza de Cibeles is where triumphant celebrations take place for the victories of Real Madrid. The team has won countless national and international titles over the years.
We are now entering Calle de Alcalá. With 720 residences, this has been the longest street in Madrid since 1992. In this part of the street we can see the gardens of the Buenavista Palace which surround the General Army Headquarters and date back to 1777. Right in front of these, we can see the Banco de España building, then the Zurich Building, and then the Círculo de Bellas Artes Building, which was built by Antonio Palacios in 1926. It is crowned by a 3,000 kg statue of the goddess Minerva that stands six and a half meters tall. Up top, there is also a rooftop terrace which is popular among locals on hot summer evenings to relax over a drink with magnificent views of the city.
We are now entering the Gran Vía, one of the main arteries of the city and one of its most distinguished avenues. Frantic, delirious, and at times chaotic, the pulse of the Gran Via is undeniably addictive. Nowadays, the avenue and its surroundings – such as Fuencarral street, the Callao Square, and Preciados Street - are full of restaurants, fashion retailers, cinemas, and theaters, making it one of the most popular leisure spots in the city. The area is often crowded with locals and visitors, so it is best to visit outside the rush hour.
The Gran Vía has been the scene of all kinds of events, one of the most interesting of which was an impromptu bullfight that took place on January 23, 1928. The incident began when a brave bull ran amok on the streets of Madrid after it escaped on its way to a slaughterhouse, causing widespread panic and injuring several people in its path.
First, it went on a rampage in the San Ildefonso Market, devouring vegetables in front of a crowd of shocked shopkeepers. Next, it made its way down the Gran Vía to cause more mayhem, forcing frightened onlookers to hide behind lampposts to escape the carnage.
As fate would have it, the rogue bull would eventually face off against bullfighter Diego Mazquirán, who taunted it with his cape until an onlooker could bring him his sword from his home on nearby Valverde Street.
They say that after the final fatal thrust, the bullfighter was carried to a nearby bar on the shoulders of an adoring crowd to celebrate the great triumph. The story was the talk of the town for some time and was picked up by numerous international newspapers.
We are arriving at Plaza de Callao, Madrid’s "Times Square" which is full of life and color at all hours. We will continue along the Gran Vía towards Plaza de España. This section of the Gran Vía is full of theaters and musicals, making it one of the most valued entertainment hubs of the capital.
Further on we have the Plaza de España, one of the largest squares in Madrid. In the center, you can see a monument to Miguel de Cervantes who is the author of Don Quixote.
Within the square stands the Torre de Madrid, a massive tower designed by the Otamendi brothers who finished their prized construction in 1960. For some years, Torre de Madrid was the tallest concrete building in the world. It was the also tallest building in Spain until the Torrespaña telecommunications tower was completed in 1982. Not to mention the tallest building in the European Union up until 1967.
Now we’re arriving at the Principe Pio Mountain, the home of the old Cuartel de la Montaña barracks where General Fanjul proclaimed the Spanish Civil War on July 19, 1936. Today you can see a monument to those who perished during the assault on the barracks.
At the top of the hill, you will find the Temple of Debob, an authentic Egyptian temple in the heart of Madrid. The Egyptian government donated the temple to Spain in recognition of the scientific and financial assistance they provided in saving a vast heritage area during a flood of the Aswan Dam. The 2,200-year-old temple was brought over from Egypt, stone by stone. We recommend visiting at sunset to enjoy the magnificent city views.
Now we are going to enter the heart of the Madrid de los Austrias, which was the name given to the old town during the reign of the Habsburg dynasty, which began with Charles I.
These Renaissance and Baroque buildings are among the most picturesque in the city. The area includes Plaza de Isabel II, popularly known as the Opera Square, the Royal Palace, the Almudena Cathedral, the Plaza Mayor, the San Miguel market, and much more.
We are now looking at the Sabatini Gardens. Despite their name, these were not designed by the architect Francesco Sabatini. They are, however, located around the old royal stables which the famous architect did indeed design. The two-hectare gardens feature geometrically arranged flower beds, fountains, sculptures, and ornamental plants, all of which create a peaceful and reflective atmosphere that sharply contrasts with the hectic concrete world outside.
Past the gardens and next to the Cathedral lies the Royal Palace, which is one of the best preserved in Europe. As the royal residence from Carlos III until Alfonso XIII, the Royal Palace of Madrid takes us on a journey through the history of Spain. Although it is not inhabited by the current monarchs, who live in the Palacio de la Zarzuela, the site is still considered the official royal residence. Its fantastic Royal Kitchen is a highlight of any visit, given that it is the most outstanding example of a historic kitchen of any European royal residence. Between October and July, visitors can watch the changing of the guard at 11 a.m. The palace itself can be visited from 10 a.m.
We are now outside the Royal Theater. Despite being inaugurated in 1850, it was not until 1997 that it became the magnificent opera house that it is today. It is located in Plaza de Isabel II, which is known by the locals as Plaza de la Opera.
The square is presided over by a statue of Queen Isabel II, a great lover of churros and chocolate, which are still popular in Madrid today. The most famous place to taste this local delicacy is the nearby San Ginés Chocolatería, which attracts both early birds and night owls looking for a sweet snack. It is open 24 hours a day.
Next to the Royal Palace is the Almudena Cathedral. Even though its first stone was laid way back in 1883, it is one of Spain’s most modern cathedrals because it was not consecrated by Pope John Paul II until 1993. This is because religion in Madrid depended on the diocese of Toledo until the end of the 19th century. The diocese of Madrid-Alcalá de Henares was created during this time, which motivated a construction project that would last 110 years. For this reason, Madrid does not have a medieval cathedral, unlike other Spanish cities.
The Almudena Cathedral was the scene of the wedding between King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia. Its museum houses the Patrons of the city - the Virgin of the Almudena and San Isidro Labrador – and takes us on a tour through the life of the Church through the seven sacraments. Some of the best panoramic views of the city can be enjoyed from its dome.
Next, we have the San Francisco el Grande, a monumental basilica which houses the paintings of Zurbarán and Goya. Its enormous dome, which is the third largest in Christianity, is a structural highlight. It was built by Francisco de las Cabezas between 1761 and 1768, the year in which Antonio Polo relieved it. The church consists of a circular central floor which is covered by a giant 33-meter dome. Surrounding it are several smaller chapels, each with their own mini domes. An exhibition of paintings from the 17th to the 19th century can be found within.