A city tour - royal style
People who know Madrid always like going back there again - because of the wide range of cultural attractions, the impressive palaces, the monumental boulevards and the cosmopolitan atmosphere in the vibrant central district. It’s a fun city and it gets part of its charm from the very likeable Spanish royal family. You want to know where you might just possibly bump into Juan Carlos, Sophia, Felipe, Letizia & Co.? We’ll tell you.
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Palaces, cathedrals and shopping
The city center around the beautiful Plaza de Oriente is where Madrid reveals its full splendor and history. The centerpiece of this square is the huge Palacio Real, the royal palace. The Spanish monarchs resided behind its massive gray-white walls from 1764 until 1931. The palace is now open to the public because the present king and head of state Juan Carlos has his permanent residence outside the city. Visitors are rewarded with baroque ceilings, beautiful paintings by big names like El Greco and Goya, and collections of books and weapons. On the occasions when the king is actually in residence, a blue flag is hoisted and the palace gates are closed. Some of Madrid’s most elegant and exclusive cafés are located on and around the Plaza de Oriente.
Palacio Real, Calle de Bailén. District: city center, subway station: Ópera,
Tel: +34-91/454 87 00. Open October trough March Monday through Saturday 10am–6pm, Sundays and public holidays 10am-4pm, April trough September daily 10am-8pm. Closed to the public during official events. Admission (incl. guide charge): €10 (reduced rate €5),
Only a short walk from the royal palace on the Plaza de la Armería stands the Almudena Cathedral, recognizable by its slender steeples. Named after the city’s patron saint, it is where Crown Prince Felipe married his enchanting bride Letizia, a wedding that was broadcast across the world on TV and has since made the cathedral the most sought-after church for weddings in Madrid.
Almudena Cathedral, Calle de Bailén 10. District: city center, subway station: Ópera. Temporarily closed for renovations www.archimadrid.es/catedral
In addition to its palaces and many other cultural attractions, the Spanish capital has a truly royal abundance of shopping facilities – ranging from the expensive, high-end fashion boutiques in the city’s Salamanca district to the cheap souvenir vendors on the Plaza Mayor, from Prada and its like down to stalls selling plastic Don Quixotes and castanets. The currently very fashionable Chueca district in the center of the city is one place where tourists can find an attractive mixture of chic and off-beat. The old barrio has been transformed in recent years by hip designer stores, clubs and restaurants that have made it very popular with Madrileños looking for a good time. This is one place where you might, with luck, come across Crown Prince Felipe or some of the other royals. ¡Claro!
Chueca. District: city center, subway station: Chueca
Regal food and delicacies
Compared to the enormous Palacio Real, the current residence of the Spanish royal family seems very unpretentious. The Residenz Zarzuela nestles between olive plantations and pinewoods in the El Pardo Hills to the northwest of Madrid. The hunting grounds surrounding it provide a welcome change to Madrileños seeking refuge from the stresses of everyday city life. Here they can walk or cycle over some 16,000 hectares of unspoiled Nature. And the surrounding scenery is sufficiently attractive to counteract any disappointment they may feel about the unlikelihood of any chance encounter with Juan Carlos, Sophia, Felipe or Letizia, who prefer to keep themselves to themselves in their luxurious hunting lodge.
El Pardo Accessible by bus from Moncloa bus station
Culinary delicacies from Andalusia to Catalonia, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean – Madrid has them all, plus tasty international cuisine for those who prefer it. It’s all very much to Crown Prince Felipe’s taste and he is frequently to be seen eating with some of his cronies in one or other of the restaurants dotted around the Madrid scene. Royals have been sighted at Casa Lucio, at the Restaurante Horcher, at the Asador Imanol and at the Restaurante Chantarella. Best way to spot a place being honored by a royal visit is the crowd of paparazzi at the entrance.
Casa Lucio: Cava Baja 35, Tel.: +34-91/365 82 17, www.casalucio.es
Restaurante Horcher: Calle Alfonso XII 6, Tel.: +34-91/522 07 31, www.restaurantehorcher.com, Asador Imanol: Calle General Díaz Porlier 97,
Tel.: +34-91/309 08 59, www.asadorimanol.com, Restaurante Chantarella: Doctor Fleming 7, Tel.: +34-91/344 10 04, www.chantarella.es
Sweet temptation is to be found at the Chocolatería San Ginés in the city center. It’s not only for little princes and princesses, although some of them are known to have succumbed to it. Big-city sweet-tooths like to meet up in this charming, old-fashioned choco bar until the early morning hours to enjoy chocolate con churros – a sort of elongated doughnut that is freshly baked and then dipped into hot, thick chocolate just before eating. They’re delicious, they’re full of calories and just the thing to revive faltering night owls. A royal treat.
Chocolatería San Ginés, Pasadizo de San Ginés 5. District: city center, Tel.: +34-91/365 65 46
Pictures: Corbis, Mauritius (2), Pablo & Zurita/Bilderberg (2), getty images, Fleisher/Look