Madrid may very well be Europe’s liveliest capital city, a place where people eat late and stay up even later. Get your bearings with a panoramic overview or a more intimate walking tour, both of which include a visit to the extraordinary Prado Museum. Tonight, enjoy dinner and a colorful, passionate, foot-stomping show at the city’s finest flamenco venue.
The capital of Spain, Madrid boasts incomparable artwork, an amazing range of architectural styles— from Moorish to postmodern—and exceptional food. Your Iberian adventure begins here as you sample some of its highlights.
Madrid city tour
Get a sense of Madrid’s layout and architectural highlights today with a panoramic tour that ends at one of the most famous museums in the world, the Prado. Roll along Paseo de la Castellana, the broad thoroughfare that cuts a swath through the city, past 19th-century family palaces, modern high-rises and the soccer stadium, and then take a look at the affluent Salamanca district, home to exclusive boutiques and elegant residences. Stretch your legs and pose for the camera in front of the 1929 bullring before heading through the center of Madrid along Gran Vía, a lively street lined with extravagant turn-of-the-20th-century commercial buildings. You’ll pass a surprising range of monuments, which include tributes to Christopher Columbus and Miguel Cervantes, as well as a gift from Egypt to Spain—the ancient temple of Debod. Your next stop is the royal palace, where you’ll stroll through the grounds, and the neighboring cathedral, which was begun in 1883 and finally finished in 1993. Board the motorcoach again and wend your way through the streets of medieval Madrid—make a note of the location of Mercado de San Miguel, which you may want to explore on your own later—and glimpse the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s “living room” for four centuries.
Exclusive guided “Let's Go” Madrid walking tour
Put on your walking shoes, catch a ride to the Royal Palace (the motorcoach will pick you up at the hotel), and set out on an up-close exploration of old Madrid. The palace—all 2,800 rooms of it—stands amid beautiful grounds that are the perfect start for a walking tour. The palace itself is vast, housing a range of museums and national treasures, and is not far from the cathedral, so you can easily take photos of both. Head down Calle de Santiago toward Plaza Mayor; you’ll pass Mercado de San Miguel, an attractive early-20th-century marketplace whose glass walls tempt you inside, and stroll through Plaza de Ramales and Plaza de la Villa. Many of the spacious squares and broad avenues in this neighborhood date to the Napoleonic era, when Joseph Bonaparte had Renaissance and medieval churches and monasteries—as well as houses—demolished. You can still see the outline of the church of San Juan Bautista’s apse in the granite stones of Plaza de Ramales. Plaza Mayor, however, has held a significant place in Madrid’s history for many centuries; it was the site of public penance during the Spanish Inquisition, bullfights until the 19th century and innumerable royal celebrations. Board a motorcoach again for a ride that introduces you to Madrid’s Salamanca district, the gold standard for elegant shopping in the city, and the Plaza de Cibeles, with its beautiful central fountain, which is near your next destination—the Prado. Note: Because this tour includes a special viewing of the royal family’s private rooms, groups are limited in size; visits are subject to change depending on official royal events.
Prado Museum visit
With either excursion you choose today, you’ll have an opportunity to visit the world-renowned Prado Museum. A local expert will guide you through this vast and dazzling collection of artistic treasures. Of course there are rooms devoted to Spanish masters—Goya, Velázquez and El Greco, the Greek-born artist who is inextricably associated with Spain—but, given Spain’s long rule over the Low Countries, Flemish painters are also well represented. Gems by Brueghel, Rubens, Rembrandt and Van Dyck hang here, and Hieronymus Bosch’s hallucinogenic Garden of Earthly Delights is not to be missed. At the end of the tour, you may remain to explore these extraordinary galleries further on your own or return to the hotel to rest up for your evening at Corral de la Morería, the legendary flamenco venue.
Dinner with flamenco show
Passionate, intimate and highly stylized, flamenco is Spain’s archetypal performance art, melding guitar, song, dance and a unique heritage. Born in the melting pot of Andalucia, where gypsies, Moors and Jews once mingled their cultural and musical traditions, flamenco has come to represent the nation. Experience the best flamenco show in Madrid at the world-famous Corral de la Morería, a tablao (literally, a floorboard, highlighting the importance of the floor as the dancers stamp out the rhythm of the dance) in the heart of the historic district. The featured dancers and musicians—considered some of the finest in the world—are sometimes joined by visiting stars in the art form, especially when the national competitions are held in Madrid. You’ll dine on Spanish specialties as you absorb the thrilling ritual that is flamenco. Will you experience duende, the mysterious, indefinable soul of flamenco, which Federico García Lorca claimed “could only be present when one sensed that death is possible”? Only you will know—but by the end of the evening you will certainly know why this tablao is listed in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.