Believe it or not, this huge building in the Paseo del Prado that isn't much to look at outside is one of Madrid's most beautiful on the inside. Originally the Palace of the Marquis of Alcañices, this Banco de España site was declared a Bien de Interés Cultural (Site of Cultural Interest) in 1999, and, after several additions and alterations, became the huge complex it is today. The interior patio, with a 27-metre-high ceiling, has more modern and Art Deco elements, including an impressive top window and a large clock at the centre of the patio. It's worth stopping in just to appreciate this marvel.
Tucked away in an indoor garden is this lovely café and tea room with home-made cakes and pastries, perfect for any breakfast or snack. It's located in the Museum of Romanticism, the perfect environment if the works of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Goethe, Lord Byron or Rosalia de Castro move you. The museum contains a charming collection of over 1,600 pieces including furniture, paintings, china, pianos and more, on display to the public after a major refurbishing kept it closed for eight years until its reopening in 2009.
After so many parks, churches, cafés and gardens, we had to give a spot to literature in our selection. La Cuesta de Moyano is a special corner of Madrid that streams of locals and tourists pass by every day, as it connects Paseo del Prado and Atocha with El Retiro, but few stop to admire it. Dozens of small bookstalls huddle together as if at any moment they're going to slide downhill. On their shelves and counters you can find books from the latest titles to rare out-of-print specimens. You could spend hours perusing and picking out what to read next.
The corner of C/Alcalá and Gran Vía boasts one of the most famous (and beautiful) buildings in Madrid. It was inaugurated in 1911 by the company La Unión y El Fénix that would then sell it to the insurance company Metrópolis in the 1970s, hence its current name. Its slate dome covered with more than 30,000 leaves of 24-carat gold is a symbol of the city. Curiously, the statue of the Winged Victory that crowns the building today is not the original. It replaced a bronze phoenix that the original owners took with them. It's worth going at dusk to see the whole place lit up with more than 200 bulbs.
Welcome to one of the most charming secret gardens in Madrid. El Huerto de las Monjas was protected by the walls of a convent of nuns who used it as a vegetable garden. You can reach it after going through a passage of modern buildings at C/Sacramento, 7. In 1972 the religious building was demolished to build apartment blocks, but, fortunately, the garden remained intact. In the centre is a small fountain with three bronze cherubs. What's more relaxing than sitting on a bench listening the sound of water? Silence and tranquility in the middle of the busy city.
This school, which is still in operation today, consists of four buildings. It is the work of Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, one of the most important architects in the history of Madrid. Granite, brick and limestone were used in its construction, which began in 1884. Restored in the 1980s, the site of the Technical University's School of Mining and Energy Engineering is one of the most beautiful and elegant in the city. If we had to highlight one part of the whole, it would certainly be the central courtyard, with two floors of arches on columns and covered by a metal and glass structure that provides a lot of light to the whole space. Do not miss the reconstruction of a mine, with its gallery and coal pit, which is located underground.
A half-ruined church is currently one of the headquarters of the UNED Open University in Madrid. Located in the district of Lavapiés, for decades it was part of the Escuelas Pías de San Fernando schools. The building suffered the consequences of the Civil War, and the works to transform it into a beautiful library and study centre didn't end until 2004. Inside, long metal lamps contrast with the brick walls, and there's an incredible silence. The architectural complex is even more beautiful, if that's possible, at dusk, when the dim lighting gives an air of mystery. The rooftop restaurant, Gau&Café, is among the best terraces in Madrid.
Previously it's housed a hospital and a scrap warehouse, and now it's one of the ministries of the Community of Madrid. This great architectural complex occupies almost an entire block in C/Maudes and still retains the walled enclosure that protects it from the outside. The octagonal design of the central courtyard, from where four galleries stretch out, is one of the most original of the city. In addition to administrative offices, the complex comprises a church and what were once nursing units. Known in the early 20th century as the Hospital of the Maudes Day Laborers, the building was later seized by the International Red Cross during the Spanish Civil War to become a scrap warehouse, and it was an abandoned building until it was purchased and refurbished in 1984 as part of the Community of Madrid.
The vintage décor shop Fedrica & Co is attractive as it is, but the garden at the shop's entrance at C/Hermosilla, 26, is a real beauty. Aged white wooden tables, coloured glass jars, linen napkins... all wrapped in a retro halo and with lovingly cared-for details. The bohemian and romantic air you breathe in the courtyard of the manor house the store occupies, in the Barrio de Salamanca, mixes with the scent of flowers and the absolute silence of this peaceful haven in the city. They organise flower workshops, cooking classes and other activities you can enjoy in these lovely surroundings.
In a forgotten corner of the Plaza de la Paja, in the neighbourhood of La Latina, you'll find this hidden garden. A brick wall jealously guards this best-kept secret of the Palacio del Príncipe de Anglona, who lived in the building and walked through its secret garden in the 19th century. In the centre of the space stands a small stone fountain from which several paved roads head off. There's also an iron gazebo, and a pergola that becomes a colourful rose garden in spring. Large shady trees cover the whole place, and, set on an elevated area, to bridge the gap between the square and C/Segovia, from one end to the other you'll get a great view of the whole barrio.
This is a classic among the most beautiful places in Madrid. Forests, parks, gardens, fountains and statues are part of this stunning space, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. This green space, located by the Tagus River and the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, is divided into various gardens, those of Parterre, Isla, Príncipe and Isabel II. Pagodas, pavilions and ponds dot the space, where it's worth getting lost for a few hours.
One of Madrid’s most traditional green spaces. Located in La Latina, next to the Viaducto de Segovia, the Fiestas de San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid, are held here every year. At the southern end, you’ll find Parque de la Cornisa, which surrounds the Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande, and which has an extensive area of gardens. Although you can always get spectacular views from anywhere here, the best are at sunset with orange sun rays bathing the Almudena Cathedral and losing themselves on the horizon.
There's a park in Madrid that's little-known, 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.
In our selection of the most beautiful spots in Madrid, we couldn't leave out a bit of urban art. And if we have to choose the best graffiti in Madrid, our favourites are those that decorate the walls of the Tabacalera de Lavapiés. They change as much as the activities and exhibitions organised inside this cultural centre, and getting lost in the corridors and admiring the works of art painted on their walls is one of our favourite things to do. Whether they're brightly coloured or black-and-white, humorous or demonstrate social criticism, they all have a place in this large exhibition of street art.
One of Madrid’s top markets takes place in the Railway Museum. On the second weekend of every month, dozens of stalls are set up among the old train carriages and locomotives, where you can buy everything from vintage clothes and décor to organic products and classic bikes. It’s been compared to London’s Camden Market for its cosmopolitan atmosphere and its variety, and includes a section for children where, in addition to buying clothes and unique toys, kids can have a ride on a mini train and take part in games and workshops designed especially for them. When you get tired of walking around the platforms, you can have a bite to eat and relax with a beer in the large courtyard or enjoy one of the free concerts on offer. Welcome to the most beautiful vintage market in Madrid.
This 1880s glass and wrought-iron construction, which dates from 1887 and was constructed for the Philippine Islands Exhibition, is an outpost of the Reina Sofía museum and a lovely, luminous space for viewing art. It occupies a stunning setting in the middle of the Retiro park, next to a lake with ducks, surrounded by nature and people relaxing and having fun. Shows here often involve large-scale installations, sculptures or pieces conceived specifically for the space.
This building has got somewhat of a bad reputation in recent years for being the headquarters of the General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE). Its façade is unmistakable and is the best-preserved and most important example of the modernist movement in Madrid. However, one of the best-kept secrets of the Palacio de Longoria is its impressive dome, the work of the Casa Maumejean, a family business founded in 1860 by Jules Pierre Maumejean and dedicated to works of stained glass. It's a wonderful sight to behold with its stained glass illuminated by the sun.
In Alameda de Osuna in the district of Barajas, you'll find El Capricho (literally, 'The Whim'), a garden that's a jewel of Romanticism and a monument to 18th-century taste. Within its 14 hectares lie an artificial river, lakes, woods, gardens, simulations of temples and other surprising nooks. Building work was begun in 1780 on order of the Duke and Duchess of Osuna, the most cultivated couple among the aristocracy of their time, supporters of the ideas of the enlightenment and patrons to many artists. Jean-Baptiste Mulot, a French gardener who had worked for Marie Antoinette, was the head architect, though most of El Capricho is in the English style.
This rose garden of over 30,000 square meters is the perfect spot for a date, to test your skill with photography, or just to stroll among beautiful flowers, fountains and bushes. It was built in 1956 by the head gardener of the City of Madrid, Ramón Ortiz. In the centre there's a pond with a sculpture of a nymph resting on real water lilies. In the pergolas distributed throughout the park you can find more than 500 varieties of roses; there's an annual competition that gives awards to the best of them. You can visit for free every day of the year.
Located in C/Alcalá, opposite El Retiro park, this church is barely even known by the locals themselves. It was designed by architect Fernando Arbós y Tremanti and is one of the finest examples of neo-Byzantine architecture in Madrid. Small in size, inside are the tombs of Catalan impresario Manuel Caviggioli and his wife Benita Maurici, who donated the land for the construction of the temple. Most impressive is undoubtedly its large green, blue and gold copula.
This Egyptian structure, which sits on the outskirts of the Parque del Oeste, dates back 2,200 years and is dedicated to the gods Amun and Isis. It was sent, block by block, by the Egyptian government in 1968 in thanks for Spain's help in preserving monuments threatened by the Aswan Dam. You can visit the inside of the temple, and the views from here at sunset are spectacular.