Aranzuez isn’t a huge, highly sought-after town, but it’s far from being hidden and obscure. It is actually one jewel of a Spanish pueblo, being the site of a spectacular royal palace. Still, many would consider it as low-key compared to the more popular day trip destinations like Toledo, Segovia, or even the faraway exciting getaways like Santiago de Compostela.
There’s no bit of a doubt, however, that this town 80 kilometers away from Madrid can hold its own, boasting of some of the most alluring sites and attractions.
Aranjuez, Madrid and its Royal Palace
This town presents a great appeal to those who are interested in royal history, and this is thru the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, an 18th century palace that once served as the residence of the King of Spain. With the collaboration of distinguished Spanish architects such as Juan Herrera, Juan Bautista de Toledo, and Francesco Sabatini, the royal edifice was built using a mix of Renaissance and French style in its design.
It was in 1523 when the palace was officially declared the royal property of the Spanish Monarchy. Beloved royalties who lived and died there were Elisabeth Fernese, wife of Philip V and Elizabeth of Valois, wife of Philip II. Likewise, the Palacio Real was the site of the signing of various important treaties.
If you haven’t been to Aranjuez, Spain, it’s high time that you do. The Palacio Real will certainly amaze you. it is easy to find since it is right in the midst, as if to assert its prime importance as the town’s top tourist attraction.
Apart from the palace, other major attractions are its sprawling plazas, the Tagus River, and the Casa del Labrador.
Where to start your Aranjuez tour
The Ayuntamiento Building at Plaza de Constitucion. The statue in front is Alfonso XII
Aranjuez is less than an hour away – whether by bus or by train. It’s one of those charming towns that are near Madrid, and very easy to reach — you’ll be there even before you know it.
You might want to start your tour at the Plaza de la Constitution, where you can see the Ayuntamiento — simple yet stately in its facade. On one side of the square stands a metal board marked on which is a map specifying all the major places of interest to see. Or you can head straight to the tourism office for a tour map plus instructions and advices on how to get around the town.
I spent the whole day exploring Aranjuez, and had a great time discovering all the reasons why the whole town was declared a World Heritage Cultural Landscape by the UNESCO. The Royal Palace was just impressive. You can see the grandness of the structure from the pictures that I took. I can proudly say that my shots of the palace are all postcard-worthy. Equally impressive are the gardens and plazas, the surrounding bodies of waters, and the Casas.
Aranjuez might be small, but it can very well compete with the much larger and more touristy Spanish towns. Needless to say, it must be one the first town-members of the community of Madrid that you must visit. Engaging locals, lots of eager tourists, amazing tourist attractions, what more can you ask for? Add Aranjuez to your must-see town list, do visit and explore it, and I assure you it is all worth your while.
What to see in Aranjuez, Spain
1. Royal Palace of Aranjuez
Palacio Real de Aranjuez in Spanish, this UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site was once the King’s official residence. One of the more popular Royal Sites, it now serves as a museum and is open to the public.
2. Iglesia de San Antonio
King Ferdinand VI assigned Spanish architects Gonzalez Velazquez and Santiago Bonavia to build what was intended as a royal church, and one dedicated to San Antonio de Padua – St. Anthony´s Church or Iglesia de San Antonio. This Italian-inspired church from the 1700’s sprawls in one end of the Plaza de San Antonio. Nearby is the Tourism Office.
3. Iglesia de Alpajes
The Alpajes Church, also called the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, is a small church located in the old Alpajes quarter. Eventually, the said quarter was incorporated into the expanded Aranjuez town.
4. Parterre Garden
The beautiful Parterre Garden is the most colorful of all that surround the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, I must say. It must be where beautiful flowers of all types and hues are found. The flowers were in blooming and exploding in all colors that the whole garden was such a fascinating sight. Parterre is in front of the West portion of the Palace.
5. Jardin del Principe
Literally, it means the Prince’s Garden. The Jardin was a pet project of Charles IV which started when he was still the Prince of Asturias. Consisting of 150 hectares of land, it must have been the largest Madrid garden that I’ve seen so far. It took 19 years to build the garden, and was finished in 1908, at the time when Charles finally became king.
6. Casa del Labrador
One of the royal family of Spain´s favorite residences in Madrid, the Casa del Labrador is a World Heritage site. Public viewing and visits are allowed although I wasn’t able to because I visited Aranjuez on a Monday, when most of the sites are closed.
7. Jardin de la Isla
A beautiful garden found in the northern portion of the palace, the Jardin de la Isla is so-called because it is situated in the middle of bodies of water, by the Tagus River or Rio Tajo, and a man-made river.
8. Cascada de las Castanuelas
Located beside the Jardin de la Isla, the Cascades was built to regulate the course of the Tagus River and to collect water for the gardens.
9. Tagus River
Rio Tajo in Spanish, it is one of the main bodies of water that surround the palace. Tagus River is of utmost importance to Aranjuez’ environment as it sustains the lives of a number of animal varieties, especially the waterfowl.
How to get to Aranjuez, Spain:
Via Bus: Take the 423 bus, found at Estacion Sur, Madrid’s biggest bus station. The latter can be reached via Metro Madrid Linea 6, at Mendez Alvaro.
Fare is 4.20 euros, and tickets are bought on the bus itself.
Via Train: Cercania train tickets are available at the ticketing counters of Chamartin and Atocha stations. Traveling by train is more or less the same as that with bus travel – around an hour.
For specific journey schedules and ticket prices, please refer to Cercania’s website.
The majestic Alcazar (fortress) lording over the whole town of Toledo
You need not travel for hours just to escape the frenzied Madrid crowd and enjoy the quiet of the countryside. For instance, if you want to go to Toledo Spain and wish to experience what the country’s former capital has to offer, you need only less than a hour, or roughly 45 minutes to reach this magnificent hilltop town.
A popular day trip destination, Toledo is a veritable cultural melting pot of sorts if only because it was formed from the influence of three different religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Such influences molded the place into the unique and historically rich town that it is now, as seen thru its Moorish walls and towers, plazas, cathedrals, museums, bridges, and Christian Roman ruins. Consequently, its overflowing uniqueness led UNESCO to declare it as a World heritage site.
Toledo is the heart and soul of Spain, being the country’s former premier city, long before Madrid became the current one. This “pueblo” within the Castille La Mancha community sets itself apart from the rest of the region because it drips in so much grandeur and history.
A major Spain attraction like Cordoba and Compostela de Santiago, what makes Toledo a preferred destination is that it requires less travel hours to reach, which means much more time to explore the place.
A marked edge of Toledo is that going there is cheaper especially if you’re from Madrid. Traveling via bus will cost you less than 10 euros if you purchase round trip tickets. Likewise, sites and attractions are near each other. You’d get to walk through the town´s cobbled streets, which can be narrow and confusing – much like a labyrinth — but exciting, nonetheless.
Visit Toledo now, see it, and in no time at all, you will fall in love with this Spanish gem. Explore the town to the fullest, and be ready to add Toledo to your list of favorite Spanish towns.
1. Alcazar de Toledo
This is Toledo´s famous fortress, standing at the highest point of the town. So-called because it was controlled by the town’s ancient conquerors, the Moors. It still maintains a vast military importance to the town.
2. Puerta de Visagra
Also called Puerta Nueva de Visagra, this imposing monument serves as the gateway to the walled city of Toledo, Castilla La Mancha.
3. Antiguas Murallas y Torres
The ancient towers and walls that surround Toledo are clear evidences of the Moorish influence on the town.
4. Puente de San Martin y Rio Tajo
One of the popular town attractions is the San Martin Bridge with its 5 arches, spanning over the historic Tagus River (Tajo Rio). San Martin was a Roman bridge, but was rebuilt by the Moors in 1212.
5. Iglesia de El Salvador
I’ll include the Church of El Salvador under the Moorish group since it was originally built as a mosque, at the time when the Muslims dominated the town.
1. Museo de Separdi
The Sephardic Museum boasts of a rich display of the history of the Jewish people in Toledo through its valuable Judaic artifacts. Where located: Calle Samuel Levi.
2. The Menorrah Tiles
The white Menorrah or the Jewish candle holder over a blue-background tile. Many of these tiles are embedded in the streets of Toledo, indicating a once thriving Jewish presence.
3. Transito Synagogue
The synagogue of the Transito is unique because while it is a bonafide Jewish place of worship, the edifice evokes a Moorish design. It is built by Samuel Ha-Levi (full name: Samuel Ben Meir Ha Levi Abulafia), a Jewish advisor to the 14th century King of Castile, Pedro I.
4. Sta Maria la Blanca
Santa Maria la Blanca, now a small Christian church and museo, was built as a synagogue, functioning as one until the latter part of the 14th century. Ownership was eventually transferred to the Catholic Church. Christian worship and cultural events are said to be held at the site.
ROMAN CATHOLIC LEGACY
1. Catedral de Santa Maria de Toledo
A popular Roman Catholic church patterned after the Bourges Cathedral of France, it is known by many names such as the Toledo Cathedral and Cathedral of Spain. It is considered one of the finest structures that utilized Gothic architecture. Entrance ticket price: 8 euros
2. Iglesia de San Ildefonso
The church of San Ildefonso is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, St Ildefonsus. Run by the Jesuits, the church is primarily baroque in design. It is simple and charming church that’s popular among tourists who wander within the Calle de Mejico area.
3. Convento de San Antonio, Dulces Artisanos
The Convent of San Antonio de Padua can be found in Santo Tome, one of the Town´s central streets. It sells pastries and sweets like yemas at affordable prices, to the delight of tourists and locals alike.
OTHER TOLEDO SPAIN ATTRACTIONS
1. Plaza Zocodover
The town´s main square, a tourist attraction, is bustling like most other main squares in Spain. People rush about in the plaza throughout the day, mainly because of the surrounding restaurants, souvenir shops, and the fancy, red-colored tourist train that brings riders to the spot where panoramic photos of the town from afar can be taken.
2. Museo de Santa Cruz
Its location is where an ancient hospital used to stand. Now, the Santa Cruz Museum features everything that represents the magnificent era of the country — the Spanish Renaissance. It presents works of Luis Trista and El Greco, among many other renowned artists. Direccion: Miguel de Cervantes
3. Museo del Greco
Located along Paseo del Transito, the museum is dedicated to Domenikos Theotokopoulos — or simply El Greco. As his name implies, he was from Greece but settled in Toledo Spain where he led a prolific life as an artist and architect. Here, he produced most of his beautiful painting-masterpieces.
4. Plaza del Ayuntamiento
Another popular town Square, where the Ayuntamiento, the body in charge of the town government, and the Cathedral de Sta Maria are found.
5. Hostal San Tome
Hotels in Toledo Spain abound, and so finding a nice accommodation is easy to be had if you want to stay in town overnight or for a few days. Hostal San Tome belongs to the list of fine Toledo hotels — for one thing, its location is right in the middle of the action. Booking a room here is the perfect thing to do. Here is its website.
How to reach Toledo:
Bus: An ALSA bus is bound for Toledo every 20 to 30 minutes. Go to the ALSA station at Plaza Eliptica and buy tickets for 5.39 euros apiece. You pay less, 9.70 euros, if you purchase ida y vuelta tickets. Duration of travel: approximately 45 minutes.
Train: Take the Renfe AVE service at Atocha station, the price is around 25 euros (round trip). The train option is much faster; time of travel via Renfe is approximately 30 minutes.
Before our trip to Valencia Spain, I decided to check out the city on a few vlogs on Youtube and travel sites as well. It looks pretty amazing. And everyone who’s written about the place only has raves about it. When I was finally there, I didn’t realize that it was THAT amazing. My advise to people is — get ready to be immersed in modern art and culture and explore the dizzying yet charming Old Town.
You’ll enjoy your Valencian vacation to no end – this I assure — if only because the place boasts of a plethora of wonderful Valencia Spain attractions, all of which are certainly worth seeing.
The third-largest Spanish city, Valencia is not only awesome and breathtaking, but mesmerizing as well. I reserve the last description for the City of Arts and Sciences complex. I was practically spellbound as I stepped into it, with its many lights still lit when the morning is just about to break. If you’re coming from Madrid, the complex must be the first site you will see as you enter the city. It is only 3 to 4 hours from Madrid, (depending on your chosen mode of transportation) but once you’re there, you feel that you are a world away, especially if you are in the science complex.
Valencia is recognized as the heart of the autonomous region this part of the country, not only in a historical sense, but in terms of economy as well. And even if it’s divided into the modern complex and Old Town, the two totally compliment each other, and in fact, forms a fusion that makes the city stand out from the rest of Spain.
Breathtaking — that’s what it is after emerging from the centuries of occupation of three major groups – Romans, Moors, and Catholics. Such are strong influences that contributed to what the city has become today – a modern metropolis that embraces its glorious past.
Suffice it to say that the city is all about dream holidays, rich Spanish culture and tradition, avant-garde art, modernism, warm beaches, and of course, paella, the delicious sticky rice-dish. Only a select Spanish city can promise immense vacation pleasure and enjoyment – and one of them is Valencia.
What to see in Valencia Spain
I. City of Arts and Sciences
Modern design, symmetry and strength are the obvious qualities that the edifices and structures at the arts and science complex want to convey
1. Prince Philip Science Museum
It looks odd, like a giant exoskeleton of some prehistoric animal. Yet inside, the Museu de les Ciencies Principe Felipe amazes, as it is home to a number of permanent expositions and events that delve in modern science and technology.
2. Hemispheric Planetarium
This ultra-modern science facility assures visitors the surreal experience of what’s it like to be in outer space. The planetarium employs equipment and gadgets like laser and IMAX that enhance the lights, sounds, and images of shows and displays. In effect, it affords every visitor a fantastic, out-of-this-world sensation.
3. The Agora
One can see how the edifice of the Agora takes on the shape of an upright purple-colored mullusk shell. A creation of Santiago Calatrava, it is located near the Oceanographic and asserts a stunning presence at the Sciences complex.
4. Assut de l’Or Bridge
Puente de l’Assut de l’or, the Dam of the Gold, is an impressive cable bridge by engineer Santiago Calatrava. Affectionately called the Serreria Bridge by its builder, locals on the other hand love to call it El Jamonero, the ham cutter.
5. Oceanographic Park
A gargantuan aquarium complex that features thousands of water species, the water park is also where dolphin shows are enjoyed by visitors. Design is done by famous architect Felix Candela.
II. Old Town
Museo de la Almoina
This section of the city is aptly named, as evidenced by the archaeological remains at the museum at the Plaza de la Almoina. There is also the Serranos tower, was once part of a wall that surrounded Valencia. For me, the Old Town is charming, with its narrow, rather convoluted roads that lead to precious sites such as the town’s famous markets, crowded squares, centuries-old cathedrals, and inviting cafes. The Old Town is the perfect next destination to cool the excitement down after that exhilarating tour of the City of arts and sciences.
1. Plaza de Toros de Valencia
The bullring is a staple feature in Valencia postcards, as the famous stadium is one of the city’s iconic symbols. Built in the mid-19th century, it stands right in the midst of the city, near the city hall and the North Station. Bullfighting events are still being held there, especially during the Fallas fiesta. The latter is a traditional festival that occurs in March, where there is a grand parade of puppets or gigantes. The festivity ends with the burning of the gigantes except the one chosen as the best of the lot.
2. Les Torres dels Serrans
My fear of heights didn’t stop me from climbing up the Les Torres dels Serrans, or Los Torres of Serrano. It is one of the 12 gates that guard the city during the late 14th century. Legend has it that the name was derived from a famous family the lived near the place.
3. Catedral de Santa Maria de Valencia
My visit includes attending the midday Sunday mass at Catedral de Sta Maria de Valencia, a spectacular Roman Catholic church — inside and out. It was built in the 13th century as a replacement to an ancient temple. The religious edifice speaks of Roman and Gothic elements in its design.
4. Turia Fountain
Wandering to the Plaza de la Virgin near the Cathedral, you will certainly not miss the Fuente del Turia, which displays a huge statue that represents the god Neptuno. The flowing water is supposed to depict the Turia River
Another Goth-inspired edifice masterpiece from the 15th century is the Lonja, one of the city’s important landmarks. Another popular Valencian monument-landmark, the Central Merkat, is just across the street.
6. La Playa
The urban beaches are but some of the reasons why tourists troop to the city during summertime. Here I took fancy of the dolphin statues on display at the Las Arenas Beach (Playa de las Arenas de Valencia).
7. Estacion de Nord train station
The North Station, or Estacion del Norte in Spanish, was constructed way back in 1917 by the Railways of the North of Spain, a top train station maker in the city during those times. The North Station boasts of a premier train railway system, seeing a steady traffic of commuters day in and day out.
Tasting Valencia’s Paella
It was a busy day — the exploration of the Sciences complex , the midday mass at the Catedral de Sta Maria de Valencia, and stroll along the Old town got me really starving. Come 2PM, we finally decided to try one of those Old town restaurants that serves the Spanish dish that the region boasts about – the paella. We found one right within La Plaza Mercado (Plaça Merkat) — Restaurante La Cava. This Mediterranean restaurant along Calle San Fernando is just one of the many at Market plaza, and I thought we made the right choice as the food joint serves really delicious paella.
Gazpacho con croutons – cold soup to start the meal
Enjoying a taste of Valencia food means having a plateful of sumptuous paella for lunch
The lamb dish (cordero) perfectly complements my Valenciana
I realized that a flan is a flan, whether you’re in Madrid, Barcelona, Manila or Valencia. It’s the perfect postre to have – para siempre!
Hotels in Valencia Spain
One of the modern medium rise Valencia Spain hotels, it is just a few-minute walk from the City of Arts and Sciences — we even passed by it as we proceeded to the Valencia beach. It is a little over a kilometer away from station Ayora and around 3.7 kilometers from the Central Market. All available rooms are furnished to the delight of guests, and feature vital amenities like Wi-Fi and satellite TV. The luxurious suites boast of a private balcony or terrace for some spectacular views.
Where located:Av. de França 33 València
For guests who want to be booked at a convenient hotel Valencia room that’s a stone throw away from the City of Arts and Sciences complex, the best option is the Tryp, considered by many as one of the finest Valencia Spain hotels. Common feedback are its large, spacious, and clean rooms and suites as well as quick and efficient services. Guests choose this hotel if only because it offers rooms with spectacular views of the city.
Its location is at Carrer del Pintor Maella 35
Traveling to Valencia Spain?
How to reach by bus:
Auto buses are perhaps the cheapest means of going to Valencia or any other Spanish city and town, for that matter. The first departure of buses from Madrid is as early as 8:00 in the morning. On the average, it will take you 4 1/2 hours to as long as 7 hours to complete your journey to Valencia via bus. ALSA bus company offers regular bus services to the city – just click on the its link here and enter the necessary information. You may also purchase bus tickets at the ALSA Plaza Eliptica station.
How to reach by train:
If you take the high-speed train by AVE at Atocha Renfe station, you now have a direct connection between Madrid and Valencia. Travel time is much less compared to bus — around 1.5 hours. There are a sufficient number of train trips daily, from 1 to 3 scheduled trips to Valencia every hour — the maximum frequency is usually during the day’s peak hours (late afternoons).
This could’ve been a more thorough blog post, with additional great photos, had I attended the stiletto race for men (and women?), an awaited segment of Madrid Orgullo 2016. MADO for short, Madrid Pride is undoubtedly the most popular gay pride event in Europe.
I always wanted to feature Madrid’s gay-friendly barrio Chueca, where the run will be held, but it was unfortunate that I didn’t learn about the event in time. In fact, I almost missed the whole MADO affair if hadn’t been for its advertisement on event details plastered inside an ad street panel at the corner of Bravo Murillo and Capitan Haya Street.
So last Saturday, I took the Metro Line 1 that passes through Atocha station one and a half hours before the parade’s supposed start at 6PM. While I didn’t witness the whole event since I left way before it was finished, I made sure that I collected fine photographs for my blog.
I took shots immediately upon reaching Calle Claudio Moyano in front of Plaza Emperador Carlos V, near Retiro Park. People were everywhere and in a perpetual motion, running around and waving their flags, securing the poles to the sides of their banners, and watching other people. Participants focused on their makeup and costumes, prepping like they never prepped before. It was obvious that everyone was excited for the parade to start.
What’s also apparent was that people appeared bold and unabashed, and brimming with confidence. An effect of Tinto de verano (a popular Spanish alcoholic beverage), I suppose. Some walked back and forth, and then back again, in the middle of the street like it is a catwalk, excited to show off their costumes and look. After one strutted down in the midst of an enthusiastic crowd, another would follow and try to outdo him by performing crazier antics.
And, just when you thought you had seen the craziest costumes, a naked pair arrived, each parading a prosthetic reproductive protrusion that dangled from his waist, to the amusement of the crowd.
I saw at least two groups with members in revealing outfits, one of them tripped to their underwear. The most popular materials for costumes at the event were mesh cloth and leather, and anything that carries the LGBT colors.
Many loved to use the rainbow flag as an accessory, draping it on their back like a cape. A few others wrapped the flag around the waist like a skirt. One wore a small-sized flag like a headband, which was the right thing to do considering that afternoon’s intensely hot temperature. It was indeed fun, even exhilarating, to get shots of the crowd.
Overall, many looked really fabulous, except for a few, which to be frank, didn’t look so fabulous at all.
One thing that quite surprised me is that people willingly posed for anyone who requested to take photos. People did have the right to refuse, but in my case, everyone was accommodating. Those with cameras must have had a field day since every other person in the event was a beautiful subject of photography. I myself had a hard time in choosing which one to shoot first since there are just too many. It was a prolific day for me, having gathered enough blog-worthy pictures from the MADO event.
Hopefully, I have chosen well and posted the best, most colorful, and most fabulous photos in my Madrid blog.
This Gothic beauty walked down the whole route of the parade to the enjoyment of the spectators. Exuding confidence, she strutted with a fierce look on her face like she was a top model, stopping only whenever photographers requested to shoot her
The water looked inviting, and it really was a hot afternoon, and so this lady decided to cool down by sitting at the water fountain along Paseo del Prado
The girl on the left, with the alpha and omega tattoo on her belly, thought I wanted her to take my picture. They gamely posed when I told them I wanted theirs. An attractive pair with comely smiles, brought close together by a beautiful lei of rainbow colors
Flags flashing the LGBT colors were everywhere and used as capes or what they’re intended to be – like in this picture
I requested this gentleman to close his eyes for a better look at his eyelashes. It was a colorful work of art that’s meant for everyone to see
Although there are many other Pride parades happening in different regions in Spain, such as Barcelona and Ibiza, the Madrid Orgullo is recognized as the biggest and most colorful parade event in the country This pair wears the attire that suits the occasion – a pair of sunglasses, glitzy ties, and nothing else
The Madrid Orgullo is recognized as the most celebrated and attended pride event of them all. It is everyone’s observation that MADO has become more and more conventional throughout the years, in the sense that not only members of the LGBT community attend it but those with straight orientation as well
The Plaza de Cibeles above, an hour before the event. The whole area was filled by onlookers by the time the parade passed through it. Notice the LGBT flag hanging at the facade of the Palacio de Cibeles
Girls just wanna have fun! Notice the girl on the left holding a glass filled with the wine-like beverage known as Tinto de verano, very popular in the country and often compared to sangria. La Casera, a top brand, was sold in many corners along the parade area
Groups position in the street upon the announcement that the parade is about to start
Four sailors and their muse
This exquisite lady projects her stunning look for the camera. Apart from the stilleto race and the gay parade, activities were also held at Barrio Chueca, known as the gay district of the city and the biggest one in Europe
Giving their best smiles, they strike me as cool, strong, and independent young women ready to have some fun at the event.
The winged man! Vive y deja vivir – Live and let live. Kindly use Google translate if you want to know what the second line means
Rainbow flag flies high over participants as they march along Paseo del Prado. The parade passed through Plaza de Cibeles, with Plaza de Colon as the final stop, where parties, dancing, and fun activities happened through the remainder of the day
One hears the word Atocha, and the mammoth train station immediately comes to mind. Dubbed as the “Estacion de Mediodia” and “Estacion del Sur,” the grandiose railway system is actually just one of the many wonders that this Spanish neighborhood offers.
A Madrid barrio situated within the distrito de Arganzuela, it boasts of a sprawling plaza, Emperador Carlos V, also a major roundabout where streets like Calle de Atocha, Paseo del Pradio, Infanta Isabel and Ciudad de Barcelona meet.
Carlos V is a beautiful square made grander by a stately fountain in its midst, the Fuente de la Alcachofa. It is a highly frequented plaza in Madrid, and surrounded by important landmarks such as the Reina Sofia Museum, the Ministro de Agriculturo, Pesca, and Alimentacion, and the Parque del Retiro de Madrid.
Beyond the plaza’s periphery but still within walking distance are the Museo CaixaForum and the Real Observatorio, among others. Apart from the tourist sites which are some of the barrio’s main draws, Atocha enjoys continuous growth because of the renowned Estacion de Atocha. Every day, tens of thousands traverse the railway mainly for two things – to catch their train ride and to tour the place. I haven’t seen many of these places myself that I thought it is high time that I visit this barrio.
I. The Atocha train station
A closer look at the station had me impressed by its entirety while appreciative of its fine features. The facade of the edifice, a creation of Spanish architect Alberto de Palacio Elissagne, is hardly stoic typical in that of other European stations. Its components of bricks, iron metal, and glass are put together to impress symmetry and proportion, common characteristics of classical architecture. A contrast is noticeable inside the building – obviously, modern structural changes and interior renovations are continuous processes happening in the interior to keep with the times – and booming retail businesses as well.
The sight had me asking, “Why have I not taken that trip to Malaga or Barcelona, or so many other places I’m dying to see, when I could reach them easily via train?
I now realized that train services of all kinds – those to and from the capital, within and around inner cities, and via the Cercania trains – all pass through this railway system. Known to be the oldest functioning railway system of the city, it is easily accessible since the location is strategic, being found in central Madrid.
It is often compared to other railway systems of major world cities when it comes to greatness not only in beauty but efficiency as well, like Paris Gare de Lyon and Berlin Central Station of France and Germany respectively, just two of the many European cities connected to Madrid Atocha via regular train trips. It was early Tuesday afternoon, and with the sun out and ablaze, it foreboded a fine weekend ahead. As I got off the 27 autobus at the Reina Sofia parada, the sight of the station immediately attracted my attention. Its massive structure imposes an overwhelming stance, unchallenged by other nearby edifices, except for the also-monumental Ministro de Agriculturo building.
I went inside and started to scout for some scenes worthy to be shot as I strolled along. Soon, I found myself in the middle of the lobby where situated is a garden-pond-zoo ensemble. To describe it amply: In the midst of the station is a lush tropical oasis, a small piece of land where palm trees jot out, lording over a thick clutter of unknown greenery. It is surrounded, in partial, by a small-sized, emerald-green pond. Positioned in the water are a few flat cement rocks with surfaces a little above the water level to make them appear like small islands – they are obviously meant to accommodate the numerous tortugas (Spanish for turtles).
One look at the slow-moving hordes clambering atop the rocks, and you know that these turtles are a territorial lot. You can quite sense, too, that they had already laid claim to these rocks for their own, as well as the greenish waters that surround them, and practically the whole lush oasis. The garden is host to a number of animal species, the most conspicuous of which are the “tortugas” or turtles. These shell-burdened creatures show their moves in the waters, unmindful of the fascinated onlookers. I have a hunch myself (excuse the pun) that they are showing off their swimming skills. Well, they prove to be a faster swimmer than walkerThe interior of the station is well-lighted – there’s no dim nook or corner. Much of the illumination is natural, lucent light that goes through the high ceiling of glass panels and steel. In the lobby area, lining a portion of the tropical garden are a number of metal chairs meant for visitors to the train station who needed to while away the time as they wait for their departure, or are on a momentary break from their Atocha adventure. I took a short respite on one of these seats, which proved to be beneficial as I felt invigorated afterwards.
I continued to loiter around the lobby, walking past the theme cafe that offers a direct view of the garden. Further down the station, I passed through the automatic sliding glass doors to reach the area where tickets booths and retail shops are situated. Here, I found myself in the middle of throngs of people rushing to different directions. I joined the flow of a few until I realized they were headed to where I’ve already been to. While I was very much impressed by the station, I thought I’ve seen enough and that it was time to go out and proceed elsewhere.
Who to do inside the station: Eat (Restaurante Samarkanda and tons of cafes, restaurants, and food kiosks), check out exhibits ( found in the lobby), shop (Body Shop, Relay, Chiefs), and purchase lottery tickets.
II. Next Stop: The Reina Sofia Museum
If you want some serious helping of Spanish art while in this neighborhood, the Museo Nacional y Centro de Arte: Reina Sofia Museum should be your top choice. A few might contradict and broach Prado Museum instead, and strongly so since the latter is just a few hundred meters away. Still, Reina Sofia is no push-over as a museum and is well within the barrio, just across the station and along Calle de Santa Isabel.
Looking at the edifice, you wouldn’t think that it was a former hospital. Undergoing major renovations to become a museum, Reina Sofia boasts of its panoramic glass elevators, which give riders a view of the goings-on in the front courtyard.
Recognized as one of the major Spanish museums, it houses the finest collections of modern art. Needless to say, if you are a true-blue museum lover, you’ll be inebriated by the countless artwork found at the museum. Imagine being presented with the works of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. If only for the superb creation of these two Spanish auteurs, the Sofía Museum is more than worth your visit.
Fortunately, taking photographs is not prohibited, but only in specific areas. Cameras are off-limits in floors that display the Guernica collection. Be amazed with the contemporary art collections of minimal, popular and abstract themes on display at Museo Reina Sofia. The edifice has floors and sections dedicated to seasonal art shows and exhibitsThe museum posts its permanent and seasonal exhibits on its walls. Ongoing is an exhibit by Cuban artist Wifredo Lam
III. Caixaforum Museum
There are a number of museums with the Atocha, but if you must see only a few, one should be the Caixaforum. What was once a tepid and neglected electrical station building is now one of the coolest and edgiest museums of Madrid. A creation of Herzog and de Meuron, prominent Swiss architects, it is conveniently accessible, being just a few minutes away from the railway station, at Paseo del Prado, 36.
One of the museum’s attractions is the wall in its front that acts as a vertical garden, an ingenious work of art by renowned botanist Dr. Patrick Blanc. Because of the perpendicularly-oriented vegetation, the wall virtually comes alive with all its flora of bright colors, making it a scenic delight to visitors and passersby. The wall is said to be a prelude to what you can see at the El Real Jardin on the opposite side of the paseo.
Caixa forum is regarded as a major museum that shows an excellent mix of contemporary and old art. I was impressed with the countless forms of spectacular artworks, particularly its paintings.
Schools must have chosen the museum as the best one for their students. I’ve seen quite a number of groups of schoolkids visiting Caixa the few times that I was there. The museum does cater to young visitors as it showcases regular exhibits, displays, film showings, and interactive events intended for children and teens.
The museum boasts of an area that can house a number of exhibits and displays at any given time. It has a good-sized auditorium that seats more than 300 guests, a library, audio-visual rooms, areas for workshops and lectures, and cafes and food shops. While the CaixaForum is a modern, contemporary building, it also displays the fine works of artists from earlier times. Suffice it to say that the museum is consistent in presenting only the best works on contemporary art that it is now recognized as one of the most respectable Atocha, Madrid museums. Entering the Caixaforum museum, I was greeted by its cast-iron stairs. So resplendent, I didn’t dare leave without taking its picture
IV. Feria de Libros, Cuesta de Moyano
If you’ve been on a long search for that book you’ve always wanted to read, at least land one that’s more or less about your favorite book genre or topic – a good place to go to is the Feria de Libros, Cuesta de Moyano. Located along Calle Claudio Moyano, and near Paseo del Prado, here is where books of all sorts, themes, and sizes can be found. Peruse to your heart’s content, sellers will not mind. Hardbound, softcover, Spanish, English, or any other language, romance, fiction, non-fiction, 1 to 10 euro books, every store is stocked with books of all kinds.
There are history books, recipe hardbounds, books about Kama Sutra, NBA coffee table books, children’s – all sorts. Calle Moyano is a busy little street where enthusiasts go to for its bookshops and kiosks on the sidewalk. The street is a virtual paradise for bookworms and lovers; undoubtedly, all books that you want to read must be here.
While brand-new items are available, a lot are second-hand. If you don’t mind used books, I suggest you go and take a look and you’d be convinced that this is the best place in Madrid to shop for them. Needless to say, if you can’t find it here, you won’t find it anywhere. Cuesta de Moyano has about tons of unique books at really low prices, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you end up buying many.
More Places of Interest – Other Attractions to see Atocha
1. Ministro de Agriculturo, Pesca, y Alimentacion
Also known as the Palacio de Fomento, only the Ministry of Agriculture can compete with the Atocha train Station as far as the beauty and magnificence of edifice is concerned. Its huge size covering a great expanse as well as its rows of four pairs of columns are more than enough to impose its presence in this part of Atocha. Prominently standing in the middle top of the building are marble figures of winged horses by Spanish sculpture Querol Subirats, called the La Gloria e los Pegasos.
The Magrama (acronym for the (Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente) is responsible for food, and its production in Spain, and a lot of other things like climate change, ecology, and natural heritage.
You might get some recharging – physically and spiritually – after a tiresome tour of the barrio by making a stop at the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Atocha. It’s the church closest to the railway station, which is the reason why the latter is named as such. It is well within the vicinity, proudly standing along Avenida Ciudad de Barcelona. The basilica is famous for its fine sculptures, classic architecture, well-manicured garden, and the beloved Virgin of Atocha.
Location: Avenue de la Ciudad de Barcelona, Madrid
Prominent in Mediodia’s main webpage is its logo “En el Corazon de Medrid,” which means “In the heart of Madrid.” And indeed, the hotel boasts of a strategic location, right in the center of the city. Many tourists do opt to book an accommodation at Hotel Mediodia to enjoy panoramic views of the Atocha Metro Station and Plaza Carlos V. The edifice is just medium-rise; yet, it boasts of amenities and services typical of a luxury hotel. Just a few meters away are the museums Reina Sofia and Caixa forum. Simple, classic, and comfortable are the common feedback and comments clients give about Mediodia hotel.
There’s no doubt that Teatro Circo Price is a premier theater, after having experienced watching a concert here last year by an artist from the Philippines, Gary Valenciano. I seldom go to a concert, and so the experience was a rare and riveting one, not only because of Valenciano’s exceptional performance, but also because of the state-of-the-art theater facilities. The lighting and sound effects, for instance, were breathtaking that they made for an exceptional concert overall. I embedded here one of the clips I shot at the concert, the part where the singer rendered his version of Mocedades’ Eres Tu.
As he sang Eres Tu, it was obvious that Gary Valenciano guessed parts of the lyrics. Notwithstanding, his ridiculously melodious voice more than made up for a rather unseemly faux pas. The predominantly Filipino crowd didn’t mind, and was enthusiastic of his performance.
Location: Ronda de Atocha No. 35
June offering: Carlos Rivera Concert – Yo Creo Tour.
Built in 1875, the Museo National de Anthropologia offers a closer look at the diversity of races and cultures. The museum holds regular exhibits that promote a better understanding among countries and cultures from continents like Asia, Europe, the Americas and Africa. Ongoing is a temporary exhibit of the works of a top Filipino designer, Patis Tesoro. It includes her masterpiece collection of Pina-made clothes that boast of both traditional and modern details. Entitled Ang Pagbabalik, the show will last up to June 12, 2016.
Location: Calle Alfonso 12th Madrid
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, from 9:30AM to 8:00PM; Sundays and Holidays: 10:00AM to 3:00PM
Another popular site that’s worth visiting when in Atocha is the Real Observatorio de Madrid, or the Royal Observatory of Madrid. It stands on top of an elevated portion of land adjacent to Buen Retiro Park. Its main building, called the Villanueva, contains most of the observatory’s astronomical instruments and books. Some of its famous instruments are the Foucalt’s pendulum, precision clocks, and meridian circle. Also included in the observatory’s collection is the bronze mirror of Herschel. Private tours must be booked beforehand.
Hours open: Friday: 4:30PM to 6:00PM; Saturday: 12Noon to 2:00PM, 4:00PM to 6:00PM; Sunday: 12:00Noon to 2:00PM. (The observatory is closed from Monday to Thursday)
Entrance ticket prices: 5 euro; children below three is free
I’ve always known Retiro park’s entrance to be at Plaza de la Independencia, at Puerta de Alcala, and so I was surprised to find out that Atocha is also a boundary of the park, with the main gate, the Puerta del Angel Caido, located along Calle de Alfonso XII. This entrance leads to Paseo de Fernan Nunez and into the park.
El Retiro is not always accessible to the public like how it is nowadays. It was meant as a haven of recreation for the Spanish Royals during its early times, up until the 19th century.
I had been to the park a few times in the past, entering via Alcala. And like before, I was excited to roam around because I’d get reacquainted with the numerous monuments and sculptures scattered around, all of which must have great histories behind – and interesting stories to tell. After a few minutes of loitering at the Atocha side of the park, I can tell that much of the greens, trees, and rest areas concentrate here. People pick a nice spot and just lie on the ground or sit around with families and friends for some chat. Many bikers and skaters use the Angel Caido gate as a point of entry to the park. I then decided to go and see the lake, even if it was quite far from the Atocha gate. I walked through Fernan Nunez until I reached the Estatua del Angel Caido. I turned left at Paseo de la Republica de Cuba, then continued to Paseo Nicaragua until I reached the famous man-made lake (Spanish: estanque). The lake is such a beautiful sight, with a number of boats plying it. There were many the middle, with passengers rowing while obviously ecstatic because of the experience. One boat was in a complete stop, floating for awhile at the edge of the lake near where I was. While many were graceful rowers, a few seemed to be in a futile attempt to stop their boats from going aimlessly around. By the lake is the magnificent monument of Alfonso XII, looking over it. Tall marble columns and lion statues accompany the monument, making for a grand sight overall.
Location: Plaza de la Independencia 7 Madrid
The park is open everyday of the year; entrance is free
8. Botanical Jardin de Madrid
Gate of Botanical Jardin de Madrid along Paseo del Prado. Purchase of tickets and entry, however, is at the gate near the Museo del Prado The Royal botanical Garden boasts of thousands of live plant species that can be viewed by the public via private and guided tours. Included in its prized collections is a herbarium, with over a million preserved plant entries. The garden maintains a plant and natural science library, and archive of almost 10,000 drawingsThis is the gate nearest to the Prado Museum, and serves as the main entrance to the garden
Location: 2 PlazaMurillo Madrid 28014
Tickets: Adults-3 euros; students-1.50 euros (you need to present in ID)
I deemed the best way to cap my tour of Atocha is by having some ice-cold cola and a special bocadillo de calamares. The neighborhood does boast of a good number of squid sandwich cafes, but where exactly do I order the best? There is a consensus on the Internet that the finest in the neighborhood is El Brillante, which is just across the railway station and right in front of the Fuente de la Alcachofa. The restaurant takes pride in serving what according to it are the most delicious calamare sandwiches. It is not shy to post a sign saying theirs is the best in the whole of Madrid. After finishing mine, I’d say its bocadillo de calamares scores big in taste. Es muy bueno y rico is how I would express it in Spanish. It’s comparable if not superior to those sold at Plaza Mayor. The only downside is the price of the drinks. A small 200 ml Cola, the same thing Museo del Jamon serves and sells at a mere 1 euro, is 4.25 euro (if you dine on the terrace). Staff is courteous and graciously answered my questions when I asked about the prices of other tapas.
El Brillante Restaurante
Where located: Glorieta Emperador Carlos V
Business hours: 6:30AM to 12:30AM
Upon checking the menu of nearby establishments, it’s clear that food is generally expensive in the area. Restaurants found nearest the Plaza Emperador Carlos V charge have prices that are higher than usual. If you want fast food, KFC and MacDonald’s are right within the area. Shoestring tourists are advised to walk further down the side and interior streets to find restaurants with more budget-friendly prices.
Few tips and suggestions on your trip to Atocha
1. I took the photograph above of the station at around 2.30 to 3PM. You can see that the sun is in front of the subject at this time. Perhaps, this will be true through the rest of the summer months. While some photo professionals say the golden hours of after sunrise or before sunset is best for outdoor photography, I can work with this shot with the sun up high, blazing hot and delivering glaring light, resulting in the picture showing all details and having minimal shadows.
2. Speaking of summer, touring the barrio’s many sites and attractions means hours of possibly being under the sun (especially if you decide to check out El Retiro Park). Bring at least two bottles of water to help you stay hydrated.
3. Streets at Atocha are wide. Before you even crossed them, you’re already sapped of your energy because the searing sun. Go from one Atocha metro entry point to another instead, which means some time away from the debilitating heat. (Like if you need to cross Paseo de la Infanta Isabel or Paseo de Santa Maria de la Cabeza, passing through the Metro keeps you away, albeit temporarily, from the frenzied crossing crowd of pedestrians, red lights taking forever to turn green, and the summer heat.
4. Sticking to your budget no matter what? You can have the cheapest eats here. Along Paseo del Prado, at 44, is Museo del Jamon, where you can take advantage of their 1-euro bocadillo, 1-euro bebida offer.
5. Museo Reina Sofia is one of the most popular Atocha attractions. If you don’t want to shell out 8 euros for a general ticket, plan your trip around any of the museum’s free entrance days, which are Mondays and Wednesdays to Saturdays, from 7 to 9PM; and Sundays, from 1:30 to 7PM