Sometimes it can be intimidating when you get off a plane and into a new country, thinking “what do I see?”. I felt that exact way when I arrived in Madrid.
Of course, there are always a multitude of things to see and do, but where do I go? What do I see? Where do I even begin?
But, like any adventure, you have to begin and explore in order to make new memories and learn new things!
So for those of you who may not know where to begin on your travels to Madrid, or might perhaps only have one day to explore, here’s a list of landmarks that you won’t want to miss!
1. Gran Via
The Gran Via (translating to “Great Way”) is a street located in the hustling city center of Madrid, which some even characterize as the city’s own Broadway.
Many shops, theaters, restaurants, and coffee shops line the sides of the street – not leaving you short of things to do.
Although I went into multiple shops, the highlight was definitely something I should not be admitting… ever…
Okay, so here’s the thing … *tries to justify her absolute silliness*
This is where I had my first Starbucks after over 1 year of
being deprived not being able to have one. Granted, I never went to Starbucks a lot back home to begin with – but it seems like when you’re deprived from something, you just crave it more, ya get me? – and thus my utter excitement when I got myself a Pumpkin Spice Latte (Starbucks sponsor me? give me a lifetime supply? I NEED MY FIX IN ISRAEL kthx).
Now back to something of actual importance about the Gran Via – its architecture!
The 20th century style architecture that characterizes the Gran Via is on another level of awe-inducing. Make sure to look for the Metropolis Building, one of the major highlights and symbols of the street, and you’ll know what I mean.
2. Plaza de Cibeles
Characterized primarily by the Cybele Palace (City Hall), this plaza is considered a landmark of Madrid.
Sitting in front of the Palace is a fountain, containing in its center the goddess Cybele on a chariot pulled by royal lions.
Again, the architecture of this building blew me away — which began to become a repeating theme during my time in Madrid.
3. Puerta de Alcalá (Alcalá Gate)
The Puerta del Alcala is found in the Plaza de la Independencia, just a 5 minute walk from the Plaza de Cibeles.
This monument is regarded as the first modern post-Roman triumphal arch built in Europe, which makes it older than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris!
Funnily enough, in 1759, King Charles III commissioned this gate because he was unimpressed by the gate that welcomed him upon his arrival in the city.
The gate itself is quite uniquely designed – I guess if you can’t impress King Charles III the first time, you have to go all out?
One side of the gate is crowned by sculptures of war trophies, while the other (the one travelers would see when arriving into the city) is decorated more ornately. And on the top, there are four figures of children engraved, alluding to the four cardinal virtues of
- (1) fortitude
- (2) justice
- (3) temperance
- (4) prudence
4. Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun)
This square is one of the busiest in the city, so make sure to keep your bag close and your wallet even closer! Pickpockets here and around this vicinity are on a whole other level. They even work in teams!
We almost got pick-pocketed three times – and two times it was close to this area. Keep your bags on your front and be vigilant!
On the plus side, this public square is stunning – with its lively atmosphere, (like always) stunning architecture, and its famous clock!
5. Plaza Mayor
A few blocks from Puerta de Sol is another landmark of Madrid: Plaza Mayor.
This Plaza is located in the heart of the old part of Madrid and has a special vibrancy to it.
This charming plaza is a place for tourists to relax, eat food, shop, and walk around.
6. Tim Hortons
Since when does Tim Hortons have locations outside of Canada?
My brain stopped computing. BUT BOY WAS I EXCITED TO SEE IT.
For those who may not know, Tim Hortons is a large quick service restaurant/coffee shop chain in Canada. Is it top-notch quality? I wouldn’t say that. Is it a cozy place that reminds me of home? 100%.
I can say that I definitely was not aware that I would be walking across one in Madrid. #blessed
7. Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral)
This Cathedral is a Catholic church which appears to have been built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1083.
It stands tall beside the Royal Palace of Madrid, its stunning architecture making it a picturesque cathedral to look at.
I’ve read that there is also a museum in it (6 euros admission fee) – though I have not personally seen it myself.
8. Royal Palace of Madrid
Contrary to what I thought, the Royal Palace is not the Spanish Royal Family’s home. Instead, it is their official residence, which is used for state ceremonies.
The palace has 135,000 square meters of floor space and is made up of over 3000 rooms. 3000 rooms!!
It’s huge, it’s massive, it’s extraordinarily large – and I don’t want to even begin imagining how long it would take to clean.
As you might have already guessed, it’s the largest functioning Royal Palace in Europe!
Fun fact: the palace inspired sketches made by Bernini for the construction of the Louvre!
9. Temple of Debod
This Egyptian temple dates back to second century BC.
It was gifted by the Egyptian government and was transported to Spain by being rebuilt stone by stone at its current location.
10. Arco de la Victoria
This arc was built to commemorate the victory of the Francoist troops in the 1936 Battle of Ciudad Universitaria.
For any interested in taking this path and visiting these beautiful landmarks in Madrid, I’ve included directions below on google maps so that you can have easy access to it.
Let me know if you visit any of these locations or if you’ve already been!