Top Madrid attractions
Monuments, museums and parks are among the top must-see attractions when you're in the Spanish capital
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20 great things to do in Madrid
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Madrid al fresco
The origins of this 118-hectare park date back to the construction of the Monasterio de los Jerónimos by Queen Isabela I and King Ferdinand II (of which there remains only the parish church of San Jerónimo el Real and a baroque-style cloister). Philip II created an area of religious retreat and devotion, hence its name. But it wasn’t until the reign of Charles III when the citizens of Madrid, if properly dressed, were given access to the fenced-off site. Currently, it’s one of the most popular green areas for people to go jogging, boating, picnicking and walking with pets. It’s worth checking out the monument to Alfonso XII, a large colonnade by José Riera Grases overlooking the pond, the Casón del Buen Retiro, a majestic ballroom that nowadays belongs to the Museo del Prado, and the Palacio de Cristal, built for the 1887 Philippine Exposition. But the gardens of the Retiro have plenty of other attractive features, like a rose garden, the Casa de Vacas cultural centre, and numerous fountains and statues, including the famous Fallen Angel (Ángel Caído).
The roadworks everyone thought would never end to move the the M-30 motorway out of sight have finally been completed, and now it's a pleasure to walk along the banks of the Manzanares. Loads of parks with swings, slides and the usual kiddie attractions are dotted along the five miles of this green space. There are jet fountains the little ones can play in and cool off in summer. Parents can take a break from all the commotion at the bars with terraces that line Madrid Río. Don't forget your bikes or skates!
Casa de Campo
At over 1,722 acres, the Casa de Campo is Spain's largest green space. It dates back to 1553, when Felipe II moved his court to Madrid and bought the Vargas family’s country estate, which was later expanded through with the addition of surrounding farms. During the reign of Fernando VI it was declared a Royal Forest and continued to be crown land until the days of the Second Republic, when it became a place for public use. The park has a large lake, where you can hire a boat or a kayak, sports facilities, numerous paths through the trees and bushes for running and cycling, and various leisure facilities like the famous cable car, an amusement park, the Zoo Aquarium, a fairground and the Madrid Arena. There are plenty of restaurants scattered throughout the park, mainly around the lake.
La Quinta de los Molinos
There is a park in Madrid that is unknown, even to many locals, where the almond trees bloom each spring. It's the Quinta de Los Molinos, in the El Salvador neighbourhood. Its 21.5 acres are home to a large number of olive, pine and eucalyptus trees, as well as various fountains and a lake. But the real stars of the show are the white and pink flowers on the almond trees, which give off a heady scent. This garden once belonged to the Count of Torre Arias, but in 1920 became part of the estate of César Cort Boti, an engineer and architect. It was categorised as a historical park in 1997 and fills up with families playing ball games, couples of all ages, and groups of friends taking photos of the colourful trees with their mobile phones.
Culture in the capital
Located in the city’s former municipal slaughterhouse, this complex of 48 buildings is now a multifunctional space dedicated to art and contemporary culture. Although some of the buildings remain abandoned, the rest have been restored and now serve as an exhibition hall and theatre. Among the most important buildings at Matadero Madrid are the Music block with recording studios, rehearsal rooms and a small stage; the Spanish block, for the performing arts; the Reader's House, for literature; the Design Centre, where exhibitions and markets are held; the Cinematheque, which is the only one in the country dedicated almost exclusively to non-fiction films. The complex’s large square hosts concerts and festivals and there are also a couple of cafés with terrace seating and a bicycle rental shop.
This cultural centre managed by La Caixa savings bank is located in Madrid’s Art Triangle, very near to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Museo del Prado. It stands in the former Mediodía power station, has a surface area of 10,000 square metres, and was designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Its schedule of events is aimed at the general public and it boasts an extensive cultural and educational programme featuring exhibitions, workshops, conferences, courses and concerts. One of its attractions is the impressive vertical garden at the entrance. This 24-metre-high green space measuring 460 square metres has 15,000 plants of 250 different species that survive without soil, consuming only water and nutrients.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
This is a must for art fans and an essential part of Madrid's Art Triangle, together with the Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums. Occupying an immense, slab-sided building, the Reina Sofía boasts an impressive façade with glass and steel lift-shafts, designed by British architect Ian Ritchie. Now, though, the museum has just as impressive a rear, in the form of three buildings, principally built of glass and steel, arranged around a courtyard and all covered by a triangular, zinc-and-aluminium roof, the work of French architect Jean Nouvel. This ambitious extension project adds almost 30,000 sq m to the already vast art space in the patio to the south-west of the main edifice. It includes temporary exhibition spaces. The Reina Sofía's great jewel is unquestionably Guernica, Picasso's impassioned denunciation of war and fascism, a painting that commemorates the destruction in 1937 of the Basque town of Guernica by German bombers that flew in support of the Francoist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Certain art historians, sometimes encouraged by Picasso himself, have seen it more in formal terms, as a reflection on the history of western painting using elements from the work of the Old Masters. Picasso refused to allow the painting to be exhibited in Spain under the Franco regime, and it was only in 1981 that it was finally brought to Spain from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Guernica has been in the Reina Sofía since 1992, when it was transferred from the Casón del
Centro Cultural Conde Duque
Located in the former Real Cuartel de Guardias de Corps (the headquarters of the elite Royal Guard) of King Philip V, the magnificently restored Conde Duque is nowadays one of Madrid's most important cultural centres. It hosts shows, exhibitions, talks, book days and a varied programme of workshops. Don't miss its open air concerts and theatrical representations in summer, which are part of the Veranos de la Villa programme and feature top artists and shows every season. Institutions like the Archivo de la Villa, the Hemeroteca Municipal, the Biblioteca Histórica Municipal, the Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporáneo, the Biblioteca Musical Víctor Espinós and the Biblioteca Digital Memoriademadrid also have their headquarters here.