Sightseeing in any major European city is an unforgettable experience, and Madrid is no exception. Following exhaustive itineraries of what you 'must see' can, however, become exhausting! Legs get tired, and you can easily find yourself clicking the camera at buildings and landscapes when it would be more worthwhile to simply stand and stare. Choosing carefully how to spend your time, and having leisure to enjoy the city as it is meant to be enjoyed, can be far more rewarding than any whistle-stop tour. With this in mind, some of the palaces, parks, galleries and plazas most loved by visitors to Madrid, as well as by its residents, are listed here:
The iconic Puerta del Sol is, for many, the heart of Madrid. In literal terms it is the point from which all distances to Madrid are measured, or kilómetro cero. It is a busy bustling square, with fountains and street entertainers, and from here it is easy to walk to most of Madrid's other main attractions.
From Puerta del Sol it is a short walk to Plaza Mayor. This originally dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries, and, in its time, has been an arena for bullfights, as well as the home to the various festivals and ceremonies of imperial Madrid. Today it is still a central space for the city's celebrations. It is also a lovely place to sit and enjoy a drink, and weekday mornings are a good choice, when the square is likely to be at its quietest.
Continue down Calle Mayor and you will reach the Palacio Real (or Royal Palace). This is the official residence of the King of Spain, Felipe VI, but visitors can tour much of the palace, provided it is not being used for any official engagements. Palacio Real faces out across Plaza de Oriente, a lovely formal space, and here you can also see the opera house, Teatro Real.
The Moorish Garden, Campo del Moro, is also well worth visiting. This is a fabulous space, with tree-lined walkways, formal planting, fountains and long vistas which afford views of the palace. The only entrance, however, is from the north side of the garden, which is a short distance from the palace.
If you get tired of trying to see everything on foot, why not consider a trip on the cable car from Parque del Oeste just to the north of the palace? The park itself affords views across the city, and from here a cable car can take you across the Manzanares to Casa de Campo, the extensive park on the far side of the river.
When time is more restricted, head back across the city in the direction of the Museo del Prado. Travel east from the Palacio Real towards Plaza de Cibeles, a main intersection in the city and home to Ventura Rodríguez's statue of Cibele, the Roman goddess of fertility. This is an iconic place in the city - the centre to which jubilant Real Madrid fans flock when their team brings home a trophy - and from here you can see many prominent buildings, including CentroCentro (formerly the Palacio de Cibeles). This is a striking and extraordinary five-storey building which was once a post office and is now an exhibition space. Visitors are welcome, and there is a viewing platform at the top with lovely views across the city. .
From this point in the city it is a short walk to Museo del Prado, the world-famous art gallery, and one of Madrid's premier visitor destinations. Visitors can take their time to stroll down Paseo del Prado, and, perhaps, walk down the tree-lined central pathway which divides the two streams of traffic and does much to make this part of the city an attractive focal point.
Whether or not you consider yourself an art lover, it is hard not to be entranced by the many fine works on display in Museo del Prado. The gallery itself is spacious and pristine, and the canvases are all in immaculate condition, so the paintings can really be appreciated. Masterpieces cover the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and include works by Spanish painters such as Velázquez and Goya, along with Titian, Rubens, Dürer and El Greco, to name but a few.
Walk just one block behind the Museo del Prado, and you will arrive at Retiro Park. This is a large and popular park which holds many attractions for visitors and locals alike. These include the large exhibition space, Palacio de Cristal (an outpost of the Reina Sofía gallery), and a delightful boating lake.