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Madrid and Central Spain

7 days in Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca
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Travaa Guides

5th February 2019
Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a most vibrant and artistic city in southern Europe. Littered with tremendous charm and beauty, this historic city is very walkable with metro trains and easy access to most neighbourhoods. With this guide, you will quickly get up to speed on what's there to see and do. Mingle among the Madrilenos and have an amazing time. For the more adventurous, days trips out of the city to nearby towns in the wider Castile region make for fun explorations. See Spanish alcazars, huge cathedrals and a massive ancient aquaduct left behind by generations before!
Plaza de Oriente
This is a square in the historic centre of Madrid. It is rectangular in shape and monumental in character and was designed in 1844 by Narciso Pascual y Colomer. This square is decorated with statues of Visigothic kings who ruled from 5th to 8th century. It faces the Madrid opera house - the Royal Theater.
Royal Palace of Madrid
The Palacio Real is an enormous palace, one of the biggest in Europe, with scorching plains of concrete around it. Though it is the official residence of the King of Spain, the royal family does not actually reside here and it is generally used only for state ceremonies. The Royal Palace is considered to be one of the most emblematic and beautiful buildings in Madrid, not only for its location on a bluff overlooking the river valley but also for its architecture and the artistic treasures to be found in its rooms. A simple one-way tour of the palace (both self-guided and guided are available) takes you up the grand stairway and through the lavishly decorated state rooms with their elegant tapestries, frescoes, porcelain, carvings and added decor like china, silverware, medals, etc. From the courtyard you can access the Farmacia (Pharmacy), which contains hundreds of bottles of early medicines and a reconstructed laboratory, and the Real Armorial (Royal Armory), a two-story collection of medieval weapons and armor. Explanations in the armory are in Spanish only, so do not expect to understand much unless your know the Spanish names for all that medieval weaponry. The lines to get in are very long, especially on weekday evenings when the place is free – try to go early. Photography inside the palace is not allowed, but is permitted in the foyer and courtyard. Free storage lockers are available behind the ticket office.
Catedral de la Almudena
When the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo and the new capital had no cathedral. Plans to build a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena were discussed as early as the 16th century but even though Spain built more than 40 cities in the new world during that century and plenty of cathedrals, the cost of expanding and keeping the Empire came first and the construction of Madrid's cathedral was postponed. Making the cathedral the largest that the world had ever seen was then a priority, all other main Spanish cities had centuries old cathedrals, Madrid also has old churches but the construction of Almudena only began in 1879.
Plaza de la Villa
This was the main square during the Middle Ages, as Calle Mayor (High Street) was the main street as well. It houses the former City Hall, the former Academy of Fine Arts, and the Archbishopric
Mercado de San Miguel
This is the most popular food place in Madrid among tourists. The Market of San Miguel (aka Mercado de San Miguel) is a great place for first timers to Madrid looking to try some Spanish bites. Originally built in 1916, it is now a covered iron structure market. You will not find groceries here, but instead a large selection of gourmet tapas food, beer, wine and champagne! Over 30 different vendors here offer a wide variety of freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, baked goods and other foods. This place can get very crowded on the weekends and happens to be on the pricier side for Madrid standards, but it’s worth trying out the different wines, tapas, and sample delicious seafood. Insider tip: There is a popular and absolutely delicious drink - it’s called Tinto de Verano; a mixture of club water and red wine. You can get it with lemon, which makes it taste even more refreshing. The best part about it: You can get it ANYWHERE in Madrid!
There are a few Mistura stores around town for a fine coffee or ice cream. Head down into the cellar (basement) and enjoy your break.
Plaza Mayor
Perhaps the best known plaza in Madrid, this impressive square is now one of the main stops on any tourist visit. Originally built outside the city walls, this enclosed square has played host to bullfights, markets, symphonies, tournaments and executions. Today it is ringed with tourist shops, cafes and restaurants. The statue of Philip III sits in the middle across from the Casa de la Panadería, a beautifully painted building with two towers on the north side of the square (not to be confused with the other building with two towers on the opposite side) which once served as the headquarters of the bakers' guild and now houses a tourist information office. Access to the square is via one of the many arcades which connect to the surrounding pedestrian streets. Tip: This is a very touristy place and therefore the prices are up, so please be aware. Also, keep your belongings close to you at all times.
Puerta del Sol
The Puerta del Sol square is Madrid's centre of the centre and therefore the symbolic omphalos of the whole kingdom. Here is milestone zero of Spain's road network from which all distances are measured. At least once a year, the whole nation looks here, when national TV stations broadcast the New Year's celebrations on Puerta del Sol and Spaniards swallow their twelve grapes to the chimes of the post office's belfry. North of Puerta del Sol, around Calle de Preciados and Calle del Carmen, is the main shopping district of central Madrid.
Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree
The Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree (in Spanish “El Oso y el Madroño”) is a sculpture from the second half of the 20th century, situated in the Spanish city of Madrid. It represents the coat of arms of Madrid and is found on the east side of the Puerta del Sol, between Calle de Alcalá and St. Jerónimo run, in the historical centre of the capital.
El Corte Inglés Seguros Correduría
El Corte Inglés is a Spanish institution, the only remaining department store chain in the country. El Corte Inglés stores are ubiquitous and dominate the retail market, setting the tone and reflecting the preferences of the Spanish customers. While hardly as exciting as visiting the over-the-top luxury department stores in New York or London, they provide a nice shopping environment, and many feature nice (and reasonably priced) gastronomic options. So, if the weather is bad, one of their stores may be your last resort. This Spanish store occupies a few buildings here in the area - fashion, homeware, books, etc. There is a food street at the top floor of this building where you check out some fancy food and drinks, and perhaps take refuge from the sometimes packed streets down below.
Plaza de España
Plaza de España (Spanish for Spain Square) is a large square, a popular tourist destination. It features a monument to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Spanish writer, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the world's pre-eminent novelists). The figures that make up this emblematic monument have, on the one hand, a seated Cervantes and at the base of the monument, and under the feet of the writer, are the statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. The set was finalized when the figures of Dulcinea and Aldonza Lorenzo were added, also characters of the Cervantes novel. Alluding to the universality of Don Quixote, the monument also contemplates the five continents, all of them reading the work of Cervantes. On the other side and above the fountains, is represented the Spanish Literature, dressed in period and holding a book with his right hand. The tree that predominates in the landscaping of the square is the olive tree, in homage to the La Mancha fields in the wanderings of Don Quixote and Sancho. Adjacent to the plaza are two of the tallest buildings in Madrid, the 142 m (466 ft) Torre de Madrid ("Madrid Tower"), built in 1957 and the 117 m (384 ft) tall Edificio España ("Spain Building"), built in 1953.
Temple of Debod
An Egyptian temple, located in one of Madrid′s most beautiful parks. It was a present given by Egypt to Spain for its role in saving the temple of Abu Simbel from the floodwaters of Lake Nasser following the construction of the Aswan Dam in southern Egypt. A great place to watch the sunset.
El miniBAR
A small cosy bar restaurant which most walking by might not give a second look .. But, the food was modern, very tasty and with prices so decent for this part of town. Staff are nice and friendly too. Everyone raves about the goats cheese (pictured), we do too!
La Mallorquina
Here is a wonderful place for a coffee and a very delicious sweet pastry. Have breakfast (from 8:30am onwards) or a coffee break here. Head upstairs for the sit in area. If you are going to be on the move, pick up some fresh pastries to go. This is usually packed out, but the service is pretty fast.
Museo Nacional del Prado
One of the best art museums in the world. The museum provides free entry from 6-8pm every day. You won’t be able to see all 3 impressive and gigantic floors in this time frame, but have the choice to spread it out through multiple evenings. Otherwise you have to get in line at least an hour before opening hours in the morning, and pay a standard admission fee. Some highlights not to miss at the Prado include the Bosch masterpiece The Garden of Earthly Delights, Velázquez's masterpiece Las Meninas, the Black Paintings and The Third of May 1808 by Goya, Adoration of the Shepards by El Greco, and David with the Head of Goliath by Caravaggio. Be sure to walk along Paseo del Prado, a pedestrian walkway full of fountains and trees near the museum.
El Retiro Park (Entrance)
In case you are wandering around on foot and trying to figure out how to get into this large park .. Enter the park via this entrance gate if you are coming from the city centre. Enjoy the manicured gardens and wide spaces here.
El Retiro Park
The main park of Madrid, the perfect place to take a rest during a sunny day, or take part in the drum circles around the statue of Alphonso XII on summer evenings. There is a large boating lake where one can hire a rowing boat - great fun for the children! There is a monument to the victims of the Madrid 3/11 terrorist bombings, the Forest of the Absent, and the Crystal Palace, a large structure entirely made of glass. Sunday afternoons in summer are a treat in the park, where young hippies play bongos and dance.
Palacio de Cristal
This is a nice building by a small lake within the larger park. There isn't much to see inside, but the peacefulness of the place and the nice exterior makes for a nice photo op.
Real Jardín Botánico
(Optional: Choose between this place or the Reina Sofia.) If you rather enjoy being around plants (versus artworks), visit the botanical garden of Madrid. The public entrance is located at Plaza de Murillo, next to the Prado Museum.
Atocha train station
Atocha train station – try to exit the park close to the train station and take a look inside. The entrance feels a bit like a rainforest, and there are turtles to see here.
Reina Sofía
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía Note: Sundays are free of admission, and it’s closed on Tuesdays. If you are interested in contemporary and abstract art, then this is your place. It’s located across from the train station, and one of the highly acclaimed museums of Madrid. Look out for Pablo Picasso's most renowned *Guernica*. Housed in a former public hospital with an adjacent modern wing, this museum contains Spain's largest collection of 20th century art. It includes many of Pablo Picasso's most revered works. The Reina Sofía also houses masterpieces by other Spanish masters including Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Juan Gris, and others, as well as works by a number of international artists, including Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Francis Bacon, and more. Purchasing tickets in advance online will give you a discounted entry (€6 for adults, €3 for special exhibits), as well as a way to beat the queues. During free admission periods, it is still required to pick up a ticket at the ticket office; these times are especially busy and it best to arrive a bit before the free period actually begins. Photography is permitted, except in the room with Picasso's Guernica and the other rooms adjacent to it. Backpacks are not permitted, but there are free lockers after both entrances.
Café Central
A great jazz club with international performers and a high-energy vibe. You can choose to have dinner here as well, which is great, or go to one of the many local restaurants in the area. Reservations (or an early arrival!) are a must, especially on weekends.
At the end of this nice looking street is the most authentic, most delicious, and in addition, cheapest place in Madrid, where the locals hang out! Do yourself a big favor and go for the fried calamari and Huevos Rotos - French fries with jamon (ham) and eggs on top of it. It might sound like a strange combination, but it works! The portions are big and 2 people can easily eat from it.
Chocolatería San Ginés
It's time to dig into some Spanish Churros. In a passageway close to a church (San Ginés), is a place which has been serving chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros) since 1894. The hot chocolate is served in Spanish style - thick, dark and strong - and the churros - deep fried batter, similar to a light, crispy, linear doughnut, cut to length by the staff - are served hot and freshly cooked, ready for dunking. You'll find coffee and cakes here too. This is an atmospheric place, decorated with mirrors and green wood panels, green velvet seats and marble tables.
Gran Vía (Madrid)
Gran Vía, is the Spanish capital's most splendid avenue. It is lined by tall, lavishly ornated banking, insurance and shopping palaces from the early 1900s. This street is one of the busiest avenues in Madrid. Running from Plaza de España to Plaza de Cibeles, it is the location of the cinema district and a number of shopping malls and is lined with large billboards and lights. There's a constant buzz of traffic and life – 03:00-04:00 early morning traffic jams are not unusual.
Calle de Fuencarral
Today, this is a popular shopping street and tourist area. Lots of smaller designer brands and shops here. The street is allegedly the fourth most expensive street to live on in Madrid.
Plaza de Cibeles
A massive roundabout at the intersection of Calle de Alcala and Paseo del Prado, this plaza houses one of Madrid's emblems, the Fountain of Cibeles, which portrays the Roman goddess of fertility sitting upon a chariot pulled by two lions. On the southeast corner dominating the Plaza is one of the world's most beautiful city halls, the Palacio de Cibeles (formerly the Palacio de las Comunicaciones), an impressive structure with a jaw-droppingly spectacular façade. Inside, the building holds a cultural center with changing art exhibits and info on Madrid, and you can climb to the upper floors for some excellent views out the window. On the southwest corner of the square sits the imposing Bank of Spain (Banco de España) building, while the northeast corner is home to the Palacio de Linares, which holds the Casa de América, a cultural center with an art gallery of Latin American works
Mercado de San Antón
A lesser known food market (i.e. smaller cousin to the Mercado San Miguel), this is place to head for if you prefer a smaller crowd. Do head up to the roof terrace for a break and alcoholic refreshment - before heading to a lower level for tapas. They serve dinners in the terrace too, but it does very packed out in the evenings.
Cardamomo Tablao Flamenco
When in Rome (or rather Madrid!), you shouldn’t miss out on the traditional Spanish Flamenco dancing. Originated from the south of Spain, in particular Seville, it has established roots all around the country to perform for visitors and on-lookers. A best performance can be found at Cardamomo Tablao. Note: It is recommended to prebook your tickets in advance.
Toledo is a historic city in Castilla La Mancha, sitting majestically above the Tagus River and denoted a UNESCO heritage site in 1986. It is a very worthwhile day-trip from Madrid, only half an hour by train. The history of Toledo dates back to Roman occupation (Toletum) circa 192BC. The ruins of the Roman circus are still visible just outside the walls of the city. Roman occupation was followed by Visigoth rule, Muslim rule and finally the Reconquest of Toledo in 1085AD. Toledo was the capital of the Spanish empire until the mid-1500s when the royal court moved to Madrid. The winding, cobbled streets of the old town are often crowded with locals and tourists, as well as a surprisingly large number of cars and vans.
Army Museum and Alcázar
The Museum of the Army is a national museum in Toledo, Spain. It is housed in two linked buildings, the city's historic Alcázar (castle) and a purpose-built extension. The history of the museum goes back to 1803 when the royal military museum was established in a building in Madrid known as the Palacio de Monteleón. The building also served as a barracks for artillery units and it was attacked and looted by the French when they suppressed the Dos de Mayo Uprising of 1808. The museum was set up again, but in 1827 it was divided into two sections: the Museo de Artillería and the Museo de Ingenieros. Later the collections were unified and housed in the Hall of Realms.
Catedral de Toledo
This place is the centrepiece of Toledo. It sits on top of the hill and is deceptively large. When you enter you will be confronted by sparkling gold reliefs, huge oil paintings and portraits of all of the Toledo Cardinals going back at least 500 years. The baroque Transparente, behind the main altar, is like nothing you have ever seen. The Cathedral also has a great art gallery with works by Raphael, Rubens, Goya, Titian, and one of El Greco's major works, The Disrobing of Christ. Buy combo tickets (includes tower and viewing of tapestry collection) from shop across the entrance to the cathedral.
Church of Santo Tomé
The Iglesia de Santo Tomé was founded after the reconquest of this city by King Alfonso VI of León. It appears quoted in the 12th century, as constructed on the site of an old mosque of the 11th century. This mosque, together with other mosques in the city, were used as Christian churches without major changes, since in the taking of the city there was no destruction of buildings. View the very famous painting of El Greco - “The Burial of Count Orgaz” - here.
Segovia is a town in Spain, known for its Aqueduct. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city of Segovia is located 50 miles from Madrid and is only one hour away by bus, two hours by train (Cercanias) or thirty minutes by AVE (high speed train). Note that it shares its name with the province of which it is the capital. The Segovia bus station is on Paseo de Ezequiel Gonzalez, near the Aqueduct. In December 2007, a new high-speed train line was opened connecting Segovia to many Spanish cities, in particular Madrid (30 minutes) and Valladolid (40 minutes).
Aqueduct of Segovia
The Aqueduct was built to supply water to the Roman fort and settlement here, probably around 100 AD. Originally it gathered water from Rio Frio, in the mountains 17 km south, flowing to the south edge of town to be stored and filtered. From there it turns and makes its spectacular leap across the valley, 28.5 m above Plazas Artilleria & del Azoguejo, to enter the Old Town. You can't walk on the structure, the best vantage point is at the head of the stairway into Old Town at Postigo del Consuelo. It's often floodlit at night.
Casa De Los Picos
This is the most famous palace in Segovia. Its most characteristic feature is its façade, which is covered entirely by granite blocks carved into pyramid-shaped reliefs. The portal has a round arch with large voussoirs. Above the balconies is the coat of arms of the De la Hoz family, owners of the house. The entranceway and courtyard are decorated with tiles from Talavera, which have some of the buildings of Segovia painted on them. Currently it houses the Segovia Art School and exhibition hall.
Catedral de Segovia
The Cathedral was built in Gothic style between 1525 and 1768, but with font, choir and cloister recycled from the previous destroyed cathedral.
Alcázar de Segovia
Built around the 11th century, with the current facade added by Phillip II. The interior is decorated in a variety of styles including Romanesque, Gothic, Mudejar, and Renaissance. It's variously hosted the royal court of the Trastamara Dynasty, Isabella the Catholic, the wedding of Phillip II, and the Spanish Artillery Academy. The full entry ticket includes Palace, Artillery Museum and Tower of Juan II. Scenes from Orson Welles film Chimes at Midnight were filmed here.
Casa de las Conchas
The House of Shells (La Casa de las Conchas) was built 1493-1517 by a University professor who was also a Knight of the Order of Santiago de Compostela. The facade is studded with 350 sandstone shells, symbol of Santiago (St James) and the pilgrimage. Inside is now a public library.
Catedral de Salamanca
There are actually two cathedrals in Salamanca. Head inside and discover how the two can actually look like one from the outside. The New Cathedral (Spanish: Catedral Nueva) together with the Old Cathedral was constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries in two styles: late Gothic and Baroque. Building began in 1513 and the cathedral was consecrated in 1733. It was commissioned by Ferdinand V of Castile of Spain. It was declared a national monument by royal decree in 1887.
Convento de San Estéban
Dominican monastery with striking facade, and impressive church interior, with good exhibition on of missionaries in the New World. It's off the tourist beat so you may well have it to yourself.
Plaza Mayor de Salamanca
Plaza Mayor is a large elegant square, bustling with cafés and restaurants (notably pricier than in the nearby streets). Plaques of monarchs and nobility gaze down upon the square: check in the north-east corner whether Franco is currently in or out of this pantheon. He's often vandalised, but his plaque is designed for speedy cleaning. Enjoy a drink here, you deserve it!
Cable car in Rosales
(Not in the winter season.) Teleferico and Casa de Campo – During every season, except winter, you can enjoy this cable line called the Teleferico, which is leaving from the center of the city to Casa de Campo.
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