There is a stunning number of internationally renowned museums and galleries in Madrid, three of which are essential in any tourist itinerary: The Prado Museum hosts the largest Spanish art collection in the world; the Thyssen-Bornemizsa gathers a comprehensive collection of Western art from the 14th Century to date, while the Reina Sofía museum stands out for its excellent collection of modern art. Other significant galleries, such as the Lázaro Galdeano foundation, are true Madrilian jewels not only for their art, but for the magnificent mansions in which they are housed.
With its numerous theatres, auditoriums, and cinemas -mainly concentrated in the old Madrid area, and Gran Vía and Fuencarral streets – Madrid currently hosts one of Europe ́s most vibrant leisure scenes, reflected in a varied offer of musical and theater shows.
You could say that the first commercial venue to open in Madrid was a tavern. In the 14th Century, there were already 50 of them on the streets surrounding the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) and the Plaza de la Villa (Town Hall Square). Two hundred years later, the number had grown to 800, and nowadays, more than 100 of the traditional taverns established during the 19th century are still open for business. In fact, Madrid is the home to the world’s oldest restaurant, founded in 1725: Casa Botín.
Madrid has been described as “the city with a thousand faces”, and it might well be due to the wide range of architectural styles it hosts.
THE HABSBURGS ́ MADRID
In the year 1561, King Philip II chose Madrid as the new capital of the kingdom. At the time, it was just a small Castilian town with only 20,000 inhabitants, but within a few years it grew into the center of a great Empire. Narrow streets lined with medieval churches rapidly sprouted to the east of the old Muslim fortress, which was initially replaced by a Gothic palace that burned down and eventually substituted by the Classicist-Baroque style Royal Palace which we can visit today. Many monasteries, churches and palaces were built in Madrid during the Habsburgs ́ Era.
THE BOURBON ́S MADRID
The once idyllic fields covered with orchards called “el Prado” (the meadow) was chosen by the Bourbon dynasty, and especially King Charles III, to expand and embellish the city of Madrid. Among numerous other works, Charles III commissioned the construction of the Prado promenade with elegant fountains, a botanical garden and a building that would eventually host the Prado Museum.
The long and tree-lined Paseo de la Castellana represents the central axis of modern Madrid, with the highest concentration of contemporary and high-rise buildings in the city. An extension of the long avenue formed by the Paseo del Prado and Recoletos which culminates in the Plaza de Colón (Columbus ́ Square), the Castellana was designed as part of the 19th century Castro Plan for the enlargement of Madrid.
The first investors in the development of this major artery were the aristocrats, who lined the Castellana with their mansions throughout the 19th century. To the east of the Castellana, the elegant neighborhood of Salamanca- thus named to honor the Marquis of Salamanca, who commissioned its construction, has become a place renowned for hosting the flagship stores of the main European and Spanish fashion designers. The neighborhoods of Chueca and Malasaña, southeast of the Castellana, have a more typical Madrilian flavor. The National Museum of Archaeology near Plaza de Colón was founded by Queen Isabel II in 1867, next to the National Library inaugurated by King Philip V in 1712 as the Public Library of the Palace, and Café Gijón, nucleus of the cultural scene in the early 20th century. In the heart of the Castellana avenue, Real Madrid Soccer Club built its mythical stadium, Santiago Bernabéu, which currently hosts its own museum and has become the fourth most visited exhibition space in the city, it is also one of the most visited in the world. The Castellana crosses Madrid from North to South. The Northern part of the avenue hosts the financial complex of AZCA, as well as the new Four Towers Business Area. Built on the site of Real Madrid ́s former sports complex, the Four Towers Business Area (CTBA) includes the four highest skyscrapers in Spain and is currently the third most important financial complex in the European Union, after London and Paris.