10 great examples of spectacular architecture in Madrid

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Edificio Carrión, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

The Parisian rooftops and the Eiffel Tower, Gaudi’s magic in Barcelona and the ever-changing skyline of London. Iconic images of tourism Europe. Think Madrid, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting yet, you might struggle to mention even one structural icon? …not counting Santiago Bernabeu (Real Madrid’s famous football stadium).

The reason is simply that Madrid doesn’t have one stand-alone magnetic tourism icon, but instead a ton of extraordinary architecture spread out across the city centre – from hotels to palaces, market buildings and offices. Madrid is an absolute feast for architecture-lovers and this fact alone makes it wonderfully underrated on the scene of European tourism. Chances are you’ll be positively surprised when you first visit the Spanish capital.

This list could be much longer, but here are 10 great examples of Madrid’s architectural beauty…

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Edificio Metrópolis, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Edificio Metrópolis

Madrid’s own postcard and guidebook icon, the Metrópolis Building, is in fact “just” an office building (owned by the insurance company Metrópolis Seguros), with an excellent location and an eye-catching rooftop-sculpture. And so far this is the closest the city comes to a well-recognized icon. That said, it’s a spectacular building in the French Beaux-Arts style that stands just after the eastern end of Gran Vía and facing Calle de Alcalá – two of the city centre’s major thoroughfares.

The Metrópolis Building is a stunner when it’s illuminated by night, and you’ll get a good view of it from the rooftop of Círculo de Bellas Artes just across the road (another building that could be on this list). Originally it was another sculpture that adorned the cupola when it was inaugurated back in 1911 and housing another insurance company. The current sculpture – Winged Victory – replaced the old phoenix bird in 1975, and it sits majestically above the cupola clad in 30000 leaves of 24-carat gold.

Address: Calle de Alcalá 39
Nearest metro stop: Banco de España (Line 2)

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Palacio de Cibeles, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Palacio de Cibeles

I challenge you to find a European town hall that can compete with this one. Or a post office for that matter, because this was originally the headquarters for the Spanish postal and telecommunications service when it opened in 1919. In 2011 it was renamed from Palacio de Comunicaciones to Palacio de Cibeles – taking the name of the square in front, where the busy roundabout swirl taxies and tourist buses around the famous Cibeles fountain.

Today the palace itself is a multifunctional stunner of a building, housing the City Council as well as the cultural centre CentroCentro. But there is more. Much more. The building is free to enter (past a security control) and it’s definitely worth a look behind the white facade. Here you’ll find free exhibitions, a colourful lounge area, cafés, restaurants and a rooftop bar with a terrace offering spectacular views of the city’s fabulous skyline. A view that is even topped, literally, from the viewpoint in the tower above.

Address: Plaza Cibeles 1A
Nearest metro stop: Banco de España (Line 2)

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Edifico España, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Edificio España

This massive neo-baroque building that towers above Plaza de España has grown into one of my personal favourites in Madrid, ever since I lived “just around the corner” from the popular square. For me, it’s a mix of the architecture and its location at the end of the square. When it was finished back in 1953 it was the tallest building in Spain, but today it’s “just” the 8th tallest in Madrid.

Once it was housing a large hotel, hundreds of offices, apartments and a shopping centre, but it has since changed hands several times and was eventually left completely empty with a raw interior for years. Now it finally seems to get a purpose back, other than being a sad symbol of the real estate market collapse in 2008. In the spring 2019, we’re supposed to see the opening of the RIU Plaza Hotel with no less than 650 rooms, as well as extensive retail and event spaces and two restaurants.

Address: Calle de la Princesa 19
Nearest metro stop: Plaza de España (Line 3 and 10)

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Hotel Atlántico, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Hotel Atlántico

Gran Vía is an almost endless stream of magnificent architecture and a stroll down “Madrid’s own Broadway” is an absolute must. Forget the chain stores and the touristy tapas restaurants for a while and just take your time to admire all the beautiful buildings standing shoulder to shoulder. One of my personal favourites is found at number 38: Hotel Atlántico.

This 4-star luxury hotel is housed in an almost 100-year old building (from 1923), right in the centre of Gran Vía and just a few meters from Plaza del Callao. A spectacular French-style facade full of lovely details, that wouldn’t look out of place in the heart of Paris. It’s topped by a domed turret and it also features a Greek-style terrace, while the inside hides 9 floors in neoclassical style with nineteenth-century furniture and a breakfast restaurant. It especially stands out when it’s illuminated by night!

Address: Calle Gran Vía 38
Nearest metro stop: Callao (Line 3 and 5)

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Edificio Carrión, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Edificio Carrión – “Capitol Building”

A true Madrid icon – in line with the Metrópolis Building down the street. This unique Art Deco piece of architecture is being captured on endless snapshots each day, as tourists stroll down Gran Vía near Plaza del Callao. Not only is the shape of the building unique and resembles the Flat Iron Building in New York, but since 1972 it’s been famous for its eye-catching, 11 meters tall Schweppes neon sign that lights up in the Spanish night.

The building was finished in 1933 and got its name from its first owner, Enrique Carrión. It’s more commonly referred to as the Capitol Building though, as it’s housing the Capitol Cinema as well as a clothing store and the Vincci Capitol Hotel. A truly unique landmark in the skyline of Madrid, set in marble and granite and rising 14 floors above the pavement. In 2018 it was declared an ‘Asset of Cultural Interest’ by the government in Madrid – for its architecture and character as an icon on Gran Vía. Well deserved.

Address: Calle de Jacometrezo 2
Nearest metro stop: Callao (Line 3 and 5)

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Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Mercado de San Miguel

Since it reopened in 2009, after a major 6-year restoration process, Mercado de San Miguel has become the capital’s most popular food market with more than 10 million visitors a year – and for a reason. It might be very busy, due to its central location next to Plaza Mayor, but a stroll through this culinary tapas temple is an absolute must. Its solid cast iron structure is an architectural highlight of its own – and its heavy skeleton is balanced out by its large window panels, allowing its atmosphere to be absorbed from the outside.

The original, covered market was inaugurated in 1916, more than 100 years ago, and today it’s a perfect combination between historic architecture and a modern, high-quality tapas market. Mercado San Miguel offers an excellent mix of freshly prepared tapas and treats that you can enjoy on location, and it’s a favourite place of mine to pop in for a quick sip of sweet Spanish vermut. The building has rightly been declared ‘Spanish Property of Cultural Interest’.

Address: Plaza de San Miguel
Nearest metro stop: Opera (Line 2 and 5)

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Catedral de la Almudena, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Catedral de la Almudena

The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) might be a major tourist attraction in Madrid, but I prefer to include the neighbouring Almudena Cathedral (Catholic church) on this list. While the royal palace is most impressive behind its stately facade, the cathedral is equally beautiful outside and in, and you might get surprised by its modern and colourful interior. A stark contrast to its grey facade. This is due to its completion as late as in 1993, more than 100 years after breaking ground on the site.

Its architectural style is described as both Neoclassical, Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque. Because of its location, it can be tricky to capture the whole cathedral in a photo, but it’s best enjoyed from the square in front, from the streets behind or from the distance at the viewpoint of Parque de Oeste. Spain’s current king, Felipe VI was married in the Almudena in 2004 to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano.

Address: Calle de Bailén 10
Nearest metro stop: Opera (Line 2 and 5)

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Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Museo Reina Sofía

While Museo del Prado is the most famous art museum in Madrid, Museo Reina Sofía (the Spanish national museum of 20th-century art) is housed in the most spectacular building. A truly eye-catching combination of historic and contemporary architecture that alone is worth the visit. The museum is found just across the busy roads in front of the Atocha railway station (which is also found on this list) – and it hides Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica among its artsy treasures.

The main building of Reina Sofía was originally built as a hospital and functioned as such until 1969. In 1988 it was established as the current art museum, while the tall glass towers were added the following year. The complex has been renovated and expanded several times throughout its history, with the latest addition by Jean Nouvel being inaugurated in 2005. It’s a distinct modern expansion that contains several auditoriums as well as a library, a bookshop and restaurants. Whether you visit the museum or not, don’t miss a look inside the covered atrium, where you can grab a drink and feel small beneath the gigantic structure.

Address: Calle de Santa Isabel 52
Nearest metro stop: Estación del Arte (Line 1)

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Palacio de Cristal, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Palacio de Cristal del Retiro

One of my absolute favourite spots in Madrid seems like it’s ripped right out of a fairytale – Palacio de Cristal (The Glass Palace) in the city’s wonderful Retiro Park. Reflecting its transparent beauty in a large pond, home to many ducks and turtles, this giant conservatory was originally used as such, but today it’s a part of Reina Sofía and used as a venue for free art exhibitions. It’s normally accessible even when it’s empty.

The palace was built in 1887 and stands strong on a brick base clad in colourful, ceramic tiles. Above it, the 22-meter tall iron structure holds the many glass pieces in place and creates a unique feeling of being indoors and outdoors at the same time. It’s one of many highlights in Parque del Retiro and it was designed by the architect Ricardo Velázquez, who is also responsible for the nearby Palacio de Velázquez that is worth a closer look too.

Address: Paseo de Cuba 4
Nearest metro stop: Ibiza (Line 9)

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Estación de Atocha, Madrid / travelooneyblog.com

 

Estación de Atocha

If you arrive in Madrid by train, the Atocha station might be the first thing you see of the capital. A railway station has been found on this site since 1851, back then known as Estación Mediodía. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a big fire but was since rebuilt and opened again in 1892. The main architect behind the new station was Alberto de Palacio Elissagne, and if the style of wrought iron facade looks familiar, it might be because Alberto collaborated with Gustave Eiffel – the man behind the Eiffel Tower.

Atocha is Madrid’s largest railway station and it connects lines from the highspeed AVE trains with the intercity trains from Renfe as well as the Metro. The station has been remodelled and expanded several times. Today its highlight is found in the former terminal which has been converted into a concourse with a major tropical garden. A feature that makes the station a tourist attraction in its own right, while memorials for the victims of the 2004 train bombings is also found in the complex. The name ‘Atocha’ comes from the nearby basilica, Our Lady of Atocha.

Address: Glorieta Emperador Carlos V
Nearest metro stop: Atocha Renfe (Line 1)


There is a ton of other spectacular buildings and structures around Madrid. From an Egyptian temple to contemporary skyscrapers and everything in between. So don’t hesitate to book your ticket to the Spanish capital to admire it all up close.

If you already know Madrid, then share your own architectural favourites in the comments below…

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By Brian Schæfer Dreyer
www.travelooneyblog.com
www.travelooney.dk

travelooney@gmail.com

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