Madrid's Royal Palace may not be where the Spanish royals actually live, but it's a historic and architectural wonder that's well worth visiting anyway. This vast estate is the largest palace in Europe and it's been standing for nearly three centuries. You could spend an entire day exploring its lavish rooms and lush grounds.
History & Background
Back when Madrid was still under Moorish rule, a fortress sat where the Royal Palace was later erected in the 1700s. Known as the Royal Alcázar of Madrid, said fortress was originally constructed between 860 and 880 AD. After the Christian reconquest of Spain, the building took on a new life as the official residence of the Spanish monarchy.
Sadly, a fire took the original structure in 1734 and under the orders of King Philip V, the current Baroque edifice was constructed in its place. Despite it being considered the family's official residence, Spain's royals actually live at Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid. It is, however, still used frequently for important state ceremonies.
Things to See
The Royal Palace consists of more than 3,000 rooms spread out across six floors. While only a few dozen of them are open to the public, you can still get a feel for how magnificent and grandiose the palace is.
One standout is the main staircase, designed by Francesco Sabatini. This is one of the few areas inside the palace where photography is permitted, so snap a picture while you can. After passing through the main bit, you'll come across the Hall of Columns, a host to many important ceremonies past and present. It was here that Spain signed the agreement that granted entrance to the European Union in 1985. You'll even get a glimpse at royal life via the stately dining room, the royal chapel, and the crown jewel of the palace, itself: the throne room.
After you tour the palace, be sure to check out the Royal Armory located on the same grounds (admission is included in your ticket). Home to weapons and armor used by Spanish royalty since the 13th century, it's one of the most impressive collections of its kind in the world.
Tips for Visiting
It's highly recommended to book your tickets for the palace online in advance. You can get tickets in person the day of, but the lines can be long. Keep in mind that only individual visits are available for purchase online. If you'd like to book a guided tour, you can only get tickets at the box office. Audio guides are also available to rent for €3.
The palace is located on the western edge of the city center, and is very easy to reach on foot. However, if you're coming from further out, Madrid's excellent public transportation network can get you there quickly and efficiently. It's accessible via metro lines 2 and 5 (Ópera station), or bus lines 3, 25, 39, or 148.
The palace is close to some of Madrid's most iconic sights and monuments. Plaza Mayor and the famous Mercado de San Miguel are both less than a 10-minute walk away, and the central Puerta del Sol square is just a bit further out from there.
If you'd rather relax and get some fresh air, you're also within reach of a few green spaces. The Sabatini Gardens and Campo del Moro Park are directly north and west of the palace grounds, respectively. Sprawling Casa de Campo Park is nearby as well, as is Parque del Oeste. The latter is home to Madrid's famous Temple of Debod, a real ancient Egyptian temple that was gifted to Spain from Egypt. If you find yourself in this part of town in the evening, you're in luck—there's no better place in Madrid to watch the sunset.