Many of us expats living in Madrid will need to play tour guide to our friends and family when they inevitably come for a visit. It can be a little stressful when you have been living here for a while and you realize you don’t actually know that much your new city. To help out with that I have put together a quick list of some of the historical and noteworthy sites to see to keep your guests entertained and impressed by your newly acquired cultural knowledge.
There is plenty of content online about the best experiences in Madrid. Even more information is available online in places like Wikipedia if you really want to dig down into the history of the city but I find it easiest to divide up the top sites in three categories based on the period they were constructed.
Although the area of where Madrid now exists has been populated since the Stone Age, the city isn’t like most European capitals because most of its landmarks are actually fairly recent. Plaza Mayor dates back to the early 17th century, it has been the site of countless events but now is mostly the location of over-priced restaurants and tourist traps. The Royal Palace is a short walk from Plaza Mayor and is opportunity to see Europe’s largest royal palace. In the opposite direction located in the middle of the independence is the Puerta de Alcalá, a neo classical monument that is actually older than the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg gate in Berlin, a great spot for photos.
Fast forward a few hundred years and you can start to find some new architecture starting to develop across the city. Palacio de Cibeles, for example was originally built to serve as a post office but acts now as a city hall and has a great terrace bar. You can even find a little American design influence in the Gate of Europe in the northern part of the city. You would probably recognize them as the slanted office buildings where Bankia currently operates. They were actually built that way to accommodate the metro interchange below. Down the street is a little stadium where apparently a famous soccer team plays called Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where you can take a tour of what is considered the 3rd most visited museum in Madrid.
There have also been some recent additions and transformations such as the Madrid Rio, which was 6 km of highway that was converted into an urban park space where the preferred method of transport is either rollerblade or electric scooter. Finally, the most interesting/out of place thing to see in Madrid is the Egyptian temple. Given as a gift to the city in 1972, it is an ideal location to visit near sunset to take in the view and get some nice photos.