A visit to Madrid & Toledo Spain

After departing Nice, France we flew to Madrid, Spain and found that the Madrid Challenge bicycle racing event was taking place on the Paseo del Prado. As our hotel was located a short distance off the intersection of the Plaza de las Cortes & the Paseo del Prado, our taxi driver (after repeated attempts) finally told us that he could not get us to our desired destination. The bicycle racing event barriers were effectively blocking crossing access (cars & pedestrians), requiring pedestrians to walk to the Estacion del Arte circle, and then walk back up the Paseo del Prado to our hotel.

With tens of thousands of people watching the bicycle racing, we quickly realized that we were not going to be able to walk on the Paseo del Prado while rolling our suitcases behind us! Celeste fired up her cell phone mapping Application, and found us a "back street" route to reach the hotel.

Even though it wasn't exactly the arrival we had anticipated, we were glad to arrive and start our Madrid exploration. The back street route wound up revealing some interesting pubs & restaurants, so it was useful information for use later.

If you have never been to Madrid & either you are planning a trip there, or you just want to know more about it, here are some good sources of information;

Madrid, Spain

During our trip planning, we had researched VRBO for a Madrid rental that would give us quick downtown access, and be close to the places we wanted to see. Not finding anything that fitted our requirements exactly, we decided to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Madrid-Prado. We made that decision because the hotel is very nicely located, and within easy walking distance of most of the Madrid sites we planned to visit.

Here are examples of how well located this hotel is; a number of art museums are located within three blocks, the Royal Palace area is a 1.7 kilometer walk and the Paseo del Prado (a major Madrid street) can take you from one end of Madrid to the other.

Our first day's exploration was to visit the Royal Palace on Calle de Bailén. We took a taxi there to be sure that we were "early visitors". Even though we were early, the lines at the visitor's entrance were already filled with people waiting to purchase an entrance ticket (image #1). So we used our cell phone to obtain online tickets and we were immediately allowed to enter the "advance purchase tickets" entrance!

 Quick History Lesson 

The palace is located on the site of a 9th-century Alcázar ("Muslim-era fortress") , near the town of Magerit, constructed as an outpost by Muhammad I of Córdoba and inherited after 1036 by the independent Moorish Taifa of Toledo. After Madrid fell to King Alfonso VI of Castile in 1083, the edifice was only rarely used by the kings of Castile. In 1329, King Alfonso XI of Castile convened the cortes of Madrid for the first time. King Felipe II moved his court to Madrid in 1561.

The old Alcázar was built on the location in the 16th century. After it burned 24 December 1734, King Felipe V ordered a new palace built on the same site. Construction spanned the years 1738 to 1755 and followed a Berniniesque design by Filippo Juvarra and Giovanni Battista Sacchetti in cooperation with Ventura Rodríguez, Francesco Sabatini, and Martín Sarmiento. King Carlos III first occupied the new palace in 1764.

The last monarch who lived continuously in the palace was King Alfonso XIII, although Manuel Azaña, president of the Second Republic, also inhabited it, making him the last head of state to do so. During that period the palace was known as "Palacio Nacional". There is still a room next to the Real Capilla, which is known by the name "Office of Azaña".

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.
See that line in the picture above? We were there early and the line was already getting lengthy. Get your Royal Palace entrance tickets online. We got our tickets online at Patrimonio Nacional and had them delivered via email so we entered with our cell phone.

From the visitor's entrance, you have to walk across the Plaza de la Armería court yard and then walk to the entrance area - which is to my right below the flag.

The entrance to the Palace is in the center of this picture, and the walled area on the left overlooks the Campo del Mora gardens.

The entire Royal Palace complex is in really excellent condition, and considering it's construction was completed in 1755, it is in amazing condition.


The Royal Palace is a huge structure, with numerous stairs and a very large number of rooms to visit. If you have trouble walking, this tour may not be for you. Also, the only restrooms for visitors are on the first floor of the central building, next to where you must leave your backpacks. We did not see any restrooms while we walked about the Palace.

This bronze baroque statue of Felipe IV (Philip IV of Spain) stands at the centre of the Plaza de Oriente park across the Calle de Bailén from the Royal Palace.

The Plaza de la Armería as it exists now was laid-out in 1892, according to a plan by the architect Enrique María Repullés. However, the history of this square dates back to 1553, the year in which Philip II ordered a building to house the royal stables. This picture is looking south from the Palace and that is the St Mary Royal of the Almudena adjacent to the Palace complex.

 Quick History Lesson 

This monument (image #1) to Philip IV of Spain (1605–1665) is at the Plaza de Oriente, a square beside the Royal Palace. It was inaugurated in 1843. The bronze equestrian statue was made between 1634 and 1640 by Pietro Tacca (1577–1640), who requested Galileo Galilei's advice to achieve its stability: rear part is solid and front is hollow. The statue was initially in the Buen Retiro Palace.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

The neoclassical Columns Room (Salon de las Columnas) in the Royal Palace, It was used for the celebration of dances and banquets until the year 1879 when Alfonso XII's first wife died.

The Palace Grand Staircase is composed of a single piece of San Agustin marble. Two lions grace the landing, one by Felipe de Castro and another by Robert Michel.

Our interior tour of the Palace was not a guided tour (there is a guided tour available), as we wanted to be able to move about at our own speed and to view rooms of our own selection. Needless to say, the entire interior is a stunning living museum.

Inside the palace rich materials were used: Spanish marble, stucco, mahogany doors and windows and important works of art, particularly frescoes by leading artists of the moment as Giaquinto, Tiepolo and Mengs and his Spanish followers Bayeu and Maella.

 Quick History Lesson 

The official residence of the Spanish Royal Family was built in 1738 and the palace contains 135,000 square metres (1,450,000 sq ft) of floor space and contains 3,418 rooms. This is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

After we completed our tour of the Royal Palace, we decided to walk north into the Parque del Oeste and find a place for a quick lunch. We wanted "quick" because we were on our way to the Teleférico de Madrid, which is a cable car from the park to the Casa de Campo. This isn't a long walk, and you will pass through a couple of nice parks along the way.

On our way out to Casa de Campo. It is the largest public park in Madrid (6.8 square miles), and was once a royal hunting preserve.

Taking the Teleférico de Madrid out to the park beats trying to drive out there, this is a direct route, and we didn't have to look for a parking location!

The views of Madrid & the Royal Palace from the cable car, cannot be duplicated anywhere! We recommend taking the ride to get a break from the city and enjoy the Casa de Campo from the air.

We had decided that the plan for our next day was for us to visit some of the nearby museums. We tried to obtain tickets for the del Prado, but it was "sold out" that day. So we decided to visit the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza which was only several blocks north of our hotel on the Paseo del Prado.

The art collection in this museum is quite large, to view a list of the artists that can be found on display, click here. Or to view an overview of the art collection contents, click here.

Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the Museum but they have a really good collection of art works and it is nicely laid out for visitors.

After the Museum, we we looked for a lunch spot by walking along the Calle de Antonio Maura to the Puerta de España. This is considered to be the entrance to El Retiro Park.

This is the Estanque grande del Retiro in the El Retiro Park, a beautiful lake surrounded by a huge number of trees and flowers everywhere! The park is an excellent place to enjoy nature, get some shade, or just stroll along admiring the park's natural beauty.

 Quick History Lesson 

The Park takes its name from King Felipe IV's 17th century royal palace that once stood on this site, but all that remains of it is now the Casón del Buen Retiro, a building that was then part of the Prado Museum but that after renovation is now an educational center. A second part of that palace housed the Army Museum ("Museo del Ejército") for years, but it was decided that it should move to the city of Toledo and make the building part of the Prado Museum.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

This walkway in the park gives you some idea of how well kept and how beautiful the entire park is.

This view is looking west toward the Prado Museum, as we were headed back to our hotel. You can see a few of the more than 4,000 rosebushes in the garden.

 Quick Facts 

El Retiro (“The Retreat”) Park is a large and popular 1.4 km2 (350 acres) park at the edge of the city centre, very close to the Puerta de Alcalá and not far from the Prado Museum. A magnificent park, filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake, and a host to a variety of events, it is one of Madrid's premier attractions. The park is entirely surrounded by the present-day city.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

We had read a number of people's reviews about Madrid, and many of those stated that one must try the chocolate churros at Las Farolas.

The Churreria-Chocolateria Las Farolas restaurant has been in business for over 100 years, and they have several other locations scattered about Spain.

So we stopped at Churreria-Chocolateria Las Farolas. The best churros & chocolate we have ever had! They are located at Calle Mayor, 11, 28012, Madrid, Spain at the intersection of Calle Mayor and Calle de San Cristobal.

 Churro Quick History Lesson 

A churro is a fried-dough pastry—predominantly choux—based snack. Churros are traditional in Spain and Portugal, from where they originate, as well as the Philippines and Ibero-America. They are also consumed in the Southwestern United States, France and other areas that have received immigration from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries. In Spain, churros can either be thin (and sometimes knotted) or long and thick, where they are known as porras in some regions. They are normally eaten for breakfast dipped in champurrado, hot chocolate, dulce de leche or café con leche. Sugar is often sprinkled on top.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

One of our goals while in Madrid, was to experience a Flamenco show, so we attended one at La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton. The singers & dancers were very good and the flamenco guitarist was excellent.

This was during a break in the Flamenco show, the musicians and dancers were changing costumes, so we ordered another round of sangrias.

You can acquire your tickets online at Viator in advance of the show, highly recommended, as we saw a lengthy line waiting to purchase tickets at the door when we entered with our reservations.

La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton serves drinks & food as well as dinner if you so choose. We don't have any flamenco experience, but we thoroughly enjoyed the show.

We had decided to have tapas one night, and we only had to walk a few blocks from our hotel to this highly recommended restaurant, La Meripepa.

They had a great beer on tap, and we ordered what we thought was going to be a couple of "small plates" and wound up with a full meal!

Toledo, Spain

Our next day's adventure was to visit Toledo, only 87 kilometers from Madrid. We got our tickets from Viator. You would have to select from several different types of bus tours, we took the "Toledo half day" tour.

 Quick History Lesson 

Toledo is known as the "Imperial City" for having been the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and as the "City of the Three Cultures" for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its history. It was also the capital from 542 to 725 AD of the ancient Visigothic kingdom, which followed the fall of the Roman Empire, and the location of historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo. Toledo has a long history in the production of bladed weapons, which are now common souvenirs from the city.

Charles I of Spain moved the court to Madrid in 1561, and that city became the Spanish capital.

Toledo is surrounded on 3 sides by the Tagus River (yes, the same river that flows through Lisbon, Portugal) and the city contains a new area and an old area. The old area gives you a sense of what the city was like 500 years ago - however - when I say "old" let me point out that the city is mentioned in Roman texts as early as 193 B.C.

For more historical depth, see our Toledo Wiki link at the bottom of this page.

 The above information was extracted from Wikipedia.

This is the first view we had of Toledo as the bus crossed the River Tagus. I would assume that the bus followed this route to give our tour group a great view of Toledo, and if so they certainly made it nice for us!

The river nearly encircles Toledo, as it winds its way back to the west of Spain - and - if you look at a map of Spain & Portugal the River Tagus will eventually enter the Atlantic at Lisbon.

This Jewish emblem notes the boundary of the original Jewish section of the old city. However, during the Spanish Inquisition all Jews were expelled from Toledo and none live there today.

The courtyard of the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. This is a beautiful building and quite famous!

The original church was completed in 1504, commissioned by King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. Mass is still celebrated here!

The Monastery chancel is decorated with an altar (mid-16th century) from the former Santa Cruz Hospital by sculptor Felipe Bigarny and painter Francisco de Comontes, depicting scenes from the Passion and the Resurrection, as well as two scenes of the Santa Cruz legend.

This is a view of the Monastery nave looking away from the chancel. The nave is approximately 50 meters in length and 30 meters in height.

We had just exited Jardines del Cabo Noval (park near the Royal Palace) and had entered the Teatro Real area when we saw this street performer. Yes they are pan-handling, but you have to admit that it was a unique costume!

I should mention that it was a warm day, and we were wondering how this street performer could remain still for such long periods of time without hydration?

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This was our last dinner in Madrid, we ate at the Fogg Bar Birras & Cheese on the Calle de Moratín about 1.5 kilometers from our hotel.

That item in the picture above is a Spanish version of nachos with a guacamole sauce and it was delicious! The restaurant had a very good draft beer selection, of which we put to good use too.

The name of this establishment might make you think that it was just another pub, but their food was quite good and the restaurant filled up rapidly while we were enjoying our dinner.

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