Travel Spain: Madrid - The best museums, palaces and churches

Madrid, the capital of Spain, is hot in summer, but it is oh so very cool to visit. If you haven’t been yet, please plan to go soon. It is really worth a trip, and it is so very different from Barcelona in Catalonia. It obviously is different, since it is in a very different part of the country. The actress Penelope Cruz and Enrique Iglesias the Spanish singer and songwriter were born in Madrid. How can one not love a city with romantic-sounding street names, like for example Costanilla de Los Ángeles?

With a size of 605.8 km² Madrid is huge, but still, you can walk everywhere, as a matter of fact, you wouldn’t need to use public transport at all. I’m a big fan of looking at towns on foot, which is when I attain the most unexpected finds. Start walking and you will discover Madrid slowly. Spend as much time as you like at the places you love. Go with the flow and walk for hours and hours, and don’t forget to eat, drink coffee and take photos. I spent two weeks in Madrid and here I show you the very best museums, palaces and churches I visited.

Costanilla de Los Angeles - Madrid

The best museums, palaces and churches in Madrid

Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport

First of all, and in case you arrive by plane, spent some time to look at the stunning architecture of the Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport. I didn't even have to go to town and I have already seen one of Madrid’s highlights. The airport is named after the first elected prime minister of Spain after Franco’s dictatorship. Suárez helped to turn Spain into a democracy. The redesign was done by London based architect group Richard Rogers. It is as futuristic as it is breathtakingly beautiful, there is lots of light, wood, straight lines, curves, and to help passengers orientate, everything is colour-coded. 

Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport

Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport

Palacio Real - Royal Palace of Madrid

So much to think about. Walk in front of Madrid's Royal Palace and look at the Catedral de la Almudena for a magical view of both properties. I love everything royal. Not in a way that I would want queens and kings to rule the world. It is a fairy-tale, right? I also love to visit cathedrals to look at the architecture of these places. Not because I believe in what the Vatican says …
The Royal Palace is the residence of the Queen and King (and their children) of Spain, but they don’t actually live here. Felipe, the King, is married to Letizia. He started his reign in 2014 when he took over from his father Juan Carlos. Whatever happens in their lives is (relatively) big news in Europe. People flocked to their TV’s when they got married, to be part of this magic moment.

The palace apparently has 2,800 rooms, imagine you’d have to clean all the windows. Let alone the time one would have to spend with spring-cleaning. It is a shame, visitors are not allowed to walk through all its 2,800 rooms (not), but anyhow 50 of them are open to the public.

Palacio Real - Royal Palace of Madrid

Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena

This huge cathedral in Neo-Gothic style was built between 1883 and 1993. Pay particular attention to the very colourful ceilings. The name is a little bit lengthy ...

Info: Calle Bailen 10, 28013 Madrid, Spain. Hours: Sunday to Saturday 9.30am to 8.30pm.

Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena in Madrid

Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena in Madrid

Catedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena in Madrid

Museo de Historia de Madrid

From the 9th century on Madrid’s history has been written down, events were archived. When Philip II relocated his court from Toledo to Madrid in 1560, the town became Spain’s capital city. If you visit the Museum of History of Madrid, which is housed in the former Royal Hospice of San Fernando, that was designed and built by Spanish architect Pedro de Ribera from 1721 to 1726, you’ll find the history of Madrid from 1561 up to the year 2007. Info: Museo de Historia de Madrid, Calle Fuencarral 78. Tickets: Free. Hours: Please check the website for opening hours and prices

Museo de Historia de Madrid - inside

Entrance to the Museo de Historia de Madrid

Prado National Museum

The Spanish National Art Museum with works from the 12th to the 19th century has works by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco and Francisco de Goya. Most pieces at the Prado are from the Spanish Royal family collection. If you can afford to, spend a full day at the museum. Don’t try to look at every single painting or sculpture. Just stop in front of the ones that really speak to you, and you will enjoy the visit throughout. The cafeteria in the underground is a great spot to have lunch.

Info: Prado National Museum. Ruiz de Alarcón Street, 23. Tickets: EUR 16 (buy it in advance to avoid the long wait). Hours: Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm. Sundays and holidays from 10am to 7pm. Closed on January 1st, May 1st, December 25th. Limited opening hours January 6th December, 24th and 31th, 10am to 2pm. Free: Monday to Saturday from 6pm to 8pm. Sundays and holidays from 5pm to 7pm. 

Prado Museum Madrid

Look at Street Art in Madrid

Simply walk through the borough of Justicia to see a building that sits on the corner of Calle Orellana and Calle de Campoamor. It is covered in the most wonderful mural. The artwork “Everything is Happiness" on this building from 1886 was done in 2008 by Spanish artist Jack Babiloni in just over three weeks. He painted the 68 heads in black, blue, ochre and yellow with silicone because it is highly UV-resistant and ensures conservation for the coming 300 years (we will never find out whether this is true, but I reckon engineers have their methods to test this before they make such statements).

There is amazing Street Art all over town, read Street Art favours a direct understanding of life in the city to see more of it

“Everything is Happiness" by Spanish artist Jack Babiloni in Madrid

“Everything is Happiness" by Spanish artist Jack Babiloni in Madrid

Palacio de Cristal in Parque del Retiro

The Palacio Cristal in Buen Retiro Park was built in 1887 to showcase flora from the Philippines. There are ever-changing exhibitions and events. 

Magical Palacio de Cristal - Parque del Retiro Madrid

Palacio de Cristal - Parque del Retiro Madrid

Palacio de Velazquez in Parque del Retiro

This is a venue for art exhibitions from the Spanish National Museum of Modern Art. It is a tiled red brick building, and pretty to look at from outside as well as from inside.

Palacio de Velazquez - Parque del Retiro in Madrid

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

It is here that you can walk through seven centuries of art. There are works from the 13th to the 20th century, look at art from Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, and Romanticism up to Pop-Art. The collection is made up from pieces by Claude Monet, Edward Degas, Van Gogh, Picasso, Kandinsky, Dali, Chagall, Edward Hopper, Roy Lichtenstein. The art stems from one of the biggest private collections in the world. Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza sold most of his Goya, Canaletto and Picasso in 1993 for the price of only EUR 286 million to Spain. The magnificent museum in Madrid is a monument to the passionate collector.

Info: Paseo del Prado 8. Tickets: General EUR 10/ Temporary Exhibitions EUR 11. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 10am - 7pm. Free Monday 12pm to 4 pm. Closed on 1st January, 1st May and 25th December.

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid

Museo de Romanticismo

This is a rather intimate museum in a neo-classical villa. Look at furniture, paintings, and objects of daily life and understand how life in 19th century Madrid was. Go for tea and cake in the garden after your visit.

Info: C/ San Mateo, 13. Tickets: EUR 3. Hours: Wintertime (November to April): Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30am to 6.30pm. Sundays and holidays from 10am to 3pm. Summer (From May to October): Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30am to 8.30pm. Sundays and holidays from 10am to 3pm. Closed: Monday, 1 and 6 January, 1 May, 24, 25 and 31 December.

Tea Garden at the Museo de Romanticismo in Madrid

Museo de Romanticismo in Madrid

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

You’ll have the chance to admire more than 21,000 Spanish artworks from the 20th century. This place is huge, bring enough time, It was easy to spend a whole day here. I also really liked the café for lunch. Info: Calle de Santa Isabel, 52. Tickets: Collection and Temporary Exhibitions EUR 8. Hours: 10am to 9pm. Closed on Tuesday. Please check the website for more information

Queen Sofia Arts Center (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia) in Madrid

Queen Sofia Arts Center (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia) in Madrid

San Jerónimo el Real

This 16th-century church is directly opposite of the Prado Museum. Why not get artsy and paint it? There is enough space for your easel in the wonderful little park by the museum. 

Painting San Jerónimo el Real in Madrid

Saint Isidoro Church and Museum Casa de San Isidro

This is an impressive baroque-style church in La Latina named after Isidore the Farmer, the patron saint of farmers. Isidore was born into a very poor family and became a day labourer, who was known for his goodness towards the poor. Legend has it that Isidore went to church every morning before work. On one occasion his workmates complained to their boss that he was always late for work. The boss followed up on it and found Isidore at prayer while angels were doing the ploughing for him. Isidore is also said to have brought back to life his boss's late child and to have created a fountain of freshwater to ease his boss's thirst.

He married Maria Torribia, who is known as Santa María de la Cabeza. They had a son, who once fell into a deep well and, at the prayers of his parents, the water of the well has risen miraculously to ground level, bringing the boy with it, alive. Isidore was canonized in 1622. Visit the well and learn about all the stories of wonder at the Casa de San Isidore.

Saint Isidoro Church. Calle Toledo 24. Tickets: Free. Hours: September to July: Monday to Saturday 7.30am to 1pm and 6.30pm to 8:30pm. August: Monday to Saturday 7.30am to 8.30pm, Sunday 7.15am to 8.30pm.

Saint Isidoro Church in Madrid

Museum Casa de San Isidore. Casa de San Isidro, Plaza de San Andrés, 2. Tickets: Free. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9.30am to 8pm. Closed on Monday.

After your visit, sit down for drinks at Plaza de San Andres. There is an amazingly fun atmosphere from roughly 6pm on (earlier on weekends).

Museum Casa de San Isidro Madrid

El Fernán Gómez Centro Cultural de la Villa

The centre, home of a theatre and exhibition space, is underground beneath the Gardens of Discovery on Plaza de Colón. Drama, Opera, Ballet, Flamenco shows, it is here where you’ll find it.

Info: Calle de Génova, 4. You can buy tickets here.

Royal Basílica de San Francisco el Grande

In the Madrid borough of La Latina is the Royal Basílica de San Francisco el Grande. As I step into the cathedral built in neoclassical style in 1760 I am blown away at the sight of its dome of 33 metres in diameter. It is the largest in Spain. The Basilica is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi and forms part of a convent of the Franciscan order. I was the only visitor for the most part of my visit, which felt spooky and magical at the same time. If you have read the novel "The name of the rose" by Umberto Eco you know what I mean. So many people tell me they can't stand visiting churches with all the gold, bric-a-brac candleholders and kitsch, plus the horrible smell of incense, I’d say it is mesmerizing really. There are three chapels and this place is also an art gallery, with lots of paintings and marble sculptures.

Info: Calle de San Buenaventura, 1. Tickets: EUR 3. Hours: Tuesday to Friday 11am to 12.30pm and 4pm to 6.30pm. Saturday 11am to 1.30pm. 

Royal Basílica de San Francisco el Grande in Madrid

What did I miss? Can’t wait to hear from you. I know you are hungry now, you really have to visit one of the fantastic food markets in Madrid.

From Berlin with love