The city: MadridMadrid, the capital of Spain since 1562, is also the geographical centre of the Iberian Peninsula. Its altitude, on the top of a plateau, and its vicinity in relation to the surrounding mountains, influence its climate, making for hot summers and relatively cold winters.
As one would expect, it is certainly a city offering some impressive, very important monuments; amongst its most notable are an incomparable historic centre, built at a time when the Habsburg dynasty ruled Spain, and from where the name "El Madrid de los Austrias" comes, and of course, one of the world’s most renowned art gallery, the Museo del Prado.
Although its culture alone is worth seeing, it is also an exceptionally lively capital city, offering a wonderful night life; it has for many years enjoyed a reputation for its pubs, cafés, theatres and discos, open well into the early hours. Don't be surprised when you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam at 4 o'clock in the morning on a Sunday, when you can be assured most people will not be going to work.
What more could you say in a few words about one of the largest capital cities in Europe…
Medieval MadridBeginning your tour in the Barrio de la Morería, which used to house a historic Arab Courthouse, you then come to the Casa del Pastor, the very first Government building, covering Madrid and Toledo. From here, you are in a brilliant location for exploring the three squares which formed Medieval Madrid: Plaza de la Paja, which was a centre for trading; Plaza de San Andrés, where one of the city's oldest parish churches once stood, and Plaza de Cruz Verde, where the cavalry which used to enter through the "Puerta de Moros" used to stand. Then, passing two Mudejar buildings; San Nicolás de los Servitas and the Torre de San Pedro el Viejo, you arrive at the Casa de los Lujanes, which stands in Plaza de la Villa.
Austrian MadridThis is the name given to Madrid from the time when the Habsburg dynasty ruled over Spain. This rule began with Carlos I, who brought sumptuous palaces and monuments to the city. Later, when Felipe II made it the capital of Spain, the city grew significantly. The Renaissance and Baroque buildings of the time are probably among the most picturesque and typical of Madrid.
This tour of Madrid starts at Puerta del Sol, which marks the starting point for measuring distances along Spanish roads. This lively, cheerful square is considered the very heart of Madrid. Continuing along the picturesque, narrow streets, filled with people, you come to the square where the Convento de las Descalzas Reales stands, then, very near the Palacio Real, the Monasterio de la Encarnación and the Capitanía General, then returning down Calle Mayor to Plaza de la Villa, with the Casa de la Villa, Casa Cisneros and the Torre de Lujanes.Just behind is the impressive Plaza Mayor, within which the Casa de la Panadería and Casa de la Carnicería may be admired. Its centrepiece is the statue of Felipe III.A visit to the Catedral de San Isidro is a well-worth detour, before returning to your route to marvel at the beautiful building which houses the Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores [Foreign Office] and the Casa de Lope de Vega, on Calle Cervantes.
Bourbon MadridMadrid’s monument and city plan was completed under the Bourbon dynasty, especially during the reign of Carlos III, known as the "Rey Alcalde", (King Mayor). Before beginning the tour, a place of great interest to visit is the Palacio Real, whose importance and beauty warrant a full day of your holiday. From there, you could continue this tour by visiting some of the era's interesting official buildings. Leaving the bustling Puerta del Sol, where you will find the Casa de Correos [post office], continue on to calle Alcalá, passing the Casa de Postas and the Real Casa de Aduanas [customs]. Now in the traditional Calle Alcalá, Madrid's fundamental backbone, we find ourselves by the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, a palace built by Churriguera, where you can also dwell a pause at its splendid cafeteria (entry fee payable). Within very easy reach, at Caballero de Gracia no. 5, you can visit the Oratorio del Caballero de Gracia, one of the best examples of neo-classical architecture, or stay on Calle Alcalá, on the corner with Gran Vía, going round the Iglesia de San José, a prime example of 18th-century Baroque architecture, and, on the corner with La Cibeles, the Palacio de Buenavista, built in 1777 at the request of the Dukes of Alba, which today houses the Cuartel General del Ejercito [Army Headquarters].
In any event, and if you do not have much time, do not forget the next section, one of the most famous in the capital: go through the famous arch of triumph, the Puerta de Alcalá, pass the Salón del Prado and end up at the most famous fountains in Madrid: the Fuente de la Cibeles, the Fuente de Apolo, and the Fuente de Neptuno. This route ends on the Paseo del Prado, built at the time of Carlos III as a planted walkway which was to become the site of a number of buildings dedicated to science. Very near here, you can visit the Jardín Botánico, the Observatorio Astronómico and the Fuente de la Alcachofa, a replica of the original by Ventura Rodríguez which may be found in the Parque del Retiro.