Puerta del Sol
This is the heart of "old" Madrid and translates as the door to the sun. The semi circular junction of Plaza de Sol comprises of shops, bars and restaurants and serves as a great meeting point. Just to the left of one of the metro exits for Sol is the statue of the bear eating a strawberry tree or madrona - the symbol of Madrid. Just south of the bear you will find the statue of King Carlos III.
The Puerta del Sol is also known for being the point from where all distances are measured in Spain. This dates back centuries and so, when you travel around Spain, you can always find out how far you are from the Puerta del Sol.
Plaza Mayor is about a five-minute walk west from Puerta del Sol along the Calle Mayor. Plaza Mayor is yet another major meeting point and is buzzing with activity on sunny days as people enjoy a drink or meal at the cafes or simply sit in the square itself. The statue in the middle of Plaza Mayor is of Felipe III. The coloured murals of the front wall of the Plaza is the bakery that was built in the 16th century known as the Real Casa de la Panderia.
The Palacio Real or Royal Palace is very impressive. It has been kept in immaculate condition and parts of it are open to the public. There are over 2000 rooms in the Palace and it is therefore understandable why the Royal family live in the countryside in a smaller and more manageable abode. The décor in the palace is tasteful and the chandeliers hanging in every room are amazing. The dining room can seat up to 140 people and the collections of silver, string instruments and porcelain as well as the Farmarcia (pharmacy) make for an interesting visit.
Catedral Santa Maria de la Almuneda
Catedral Santa Maria de la Almuneda is the beautiful cathedral next to the Palacio Real. The domed decorated ceiling is high and the windows are stained with religious images.
Plaza del Oriente
Plaza Del Oriente is the magnificent square next to the Palacio Real. The statue of the man on the horse is Felipe IV and the statues that surround the Plaza Del Oriente are of monarchs. There are over 40 of them and were originally designed to be placed on the Palacio Real.
Parque del buen Retiro
The Parque del buen Retiro is a park within walking distance from the Prado museum. It is huge and the gardens are gorgeous and far more worth a visit than Madrid's botanical gardens. There is a large man made lake where you can hire a boat and go paddling and the park itself is host to some art exhibitions. It is also home to the Crystal Palace that looks like a large green house. A fountain springs up in front of the Palace making it a perfect place to sit on the grass and take it all in.
Museo del Prado
Museo del Prado needs no introduction. It is notorious for the large collection of Spanish art that it houses and rightly so. Artists include Goya, Rembrandt, Velazquez and El Greco. There are also numerous pieces created by other Dutch, Spanish, French, German, Italian and French artists. Be sure to get a map of the gallery when you enter to find your way around. The museum is open everyday and is free on a Sunday - but get there early to avoid the crowds.
For more information on the Museo del Prado, visit - http://www.museodelprado.es/en
Basilica San Francisco el Grande
The Basilica San Francisco el Grande may appear to be off the beaten track, unimpressive on the outside and may often be missed. Don't make this mistake. It is in the opposite direction and is actually the same distance away from the Palacio Real as the Plaza de Espana. The opening times seem to only be in the evenings but if you go on a Sunday you will be able to join one of the services. Be sure to visit this cathedral though as the interior and ceilings have been beautifully designed and decorated.
Plaza de Espana
The Plaza de Espana is a 10-minute stroll from the Palacio Real. The statue in the middle is a monument to Cervantes. Grass and trees surround the Plaza and the sound of the beautiful fountains form a barrier between the busy city streets and the Plaza making it a perfect spot to take a break and people watch.
Palacio de Communi-
The Palacio de Communicaciones must be one of Madrid's most amazing buildings. It is hard to believe that this architectural masterpiece is actually the Post Office!