We spent a week in Portugal in May of 2010 and on a sunny Sunday morning we flew from Lisbon to Madrid to begin the next step in our journey, a two-week vacation in Spain. It took a while to retrieve our luggage, clear customs, taxi from Barajas airport and settle down in our hotel. So it was mid-afternoon before we were ready for our first Madrid walk.
We had chosen the Best Western Atlantico Hotel on Calle Gran Via because it was rated # 1 by TripAdvisor and it seemed to be within walking distance of many of the sights we wanted to see. So off we went to test that theory.
We turned right and walked westward from our hotel past the Plaza Callao for about a mile to where Gran Via turns into Calle de la Princessa and there to our left was our first stop on our walk: Plaza de Espana.
The Plaza was full of Madrilenos out for their Sunday stroll. We lingered at a small flea market where most of the vendors seemed to be from one or another South American country. A singer and her guitar accompaniest provided some musical entertainment at the base of the market and beyond the stage several people, young and old, were happily climbing all over the huge memorial dedicated to Spain’s most revered literary hero, Miguel de Cervantes.
We ventured a few more blocks up Calle de la Princessa and then turned left and walked another four blocks to see the Temple of Debod, a 2000-year-old temple that the Egyptian government gave to the people of Spain in 1968. It was reassembled in this park and opened to the public in 1972. From the southern edge of the park there is a nice view of southwest Madrid, including the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedal.
We then walked down Calle de Ferraz and continued on Calle de Bailen to the Sabatini Gardens on the north side of the Royal Palace. Sabatini was an Italian architect who designed extensions to the Royal Palace in the 18th century, including the king’s stable which was originally on this sight. The gardens were designed in the 1930s to store several statues of Spanish kings that were formerly crowding the Royal Palace.
The Palacio Real de Madrid is the largest palace in Europe and is still used for official state functions even though the present royal family live in a smaller palace just outside Madrid. The last tour of the Royal Palace was at 2:30pm and we were too late (the palace is also closed to tourists on days where state meetings are scheduled). So we strolled past the palace to Madrid’s cathedral.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real de La Almudena was begun in the 1880s but not finished until 1992. There were lots of activities going on during our visit. A large group of mostly youths but also including some priests and nuns were singing, dancing and clapping near the cathedral’s front steps. Inside, many of Madrid’s devout Catholics were paying homage to Santa Maria and to a local Carmelite nun named Santa Maria Maravillas de Jesus who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2003.
We then doubled back toward the palace again and walked across the street and through the Plaza de Oriente and past the Opera House (Teatro Real) until we found a thoroughfare that would take us back to Plaza Callao and our hotel, confirming our guess that the hotel was within walking distance of the major sights we wanted to see.
We visited the Plaza Callao every day during our visit, once to take the Metro across town to the Prado museum and El Retiro park and other times to walk to and from two other popular tourist sites, Puerta del Sol and Plaza Major.
We will always remember the many interesting things we saw on our first walk in Madrid. We also remember how tired we were when we got back from our four-hour walk and how well we slept that night!