Madrid's Royal Palace may not be where Spain's royal family actually lives, but it's a historic and architecture wonder that's well worth a visit all the same. The lavish, ornate structure will take your breath away both inside and out, and is a must on any Madrid itinerary. Here's everything you need to know before you start exploring.
History & Background
The site that now holds the Royal Palace was originally home to a fortress back when Madrid was still under Moorish rule. Known as the Royal Alcázar of Madrid, it 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.
However, the original structure burned to the ground in a 1734 fire. Under the orders of King Philip V, the palace was rebuilt—and it's that magnificent Baroque structure that still stands today.
Despite it being considered their official residence, Spain's current royal family doesn't actually live at the palace (they call Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid home instead). However, it's still used frequently for important state ceremonies.
What to See at Madrid's Royal Palace
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 visitors, you'll still get a taste for how magnificent and grandiose the palace is.
One standout is the sweeping main staircase, designed by Sabatini. This is one of the few areas inside the palace where photography is permitted, so get your photo op while you can.
Another key room you'll come across relatively early on is the Hall of Columns, where many important ceremonies take place. It was here that Spain signed the agreement that granted them entrance to the European Union in 1985.
And of course, you'll even get a glimpse at royal life. The stately dining room will take your breath away, as will the royal chapel and the crown jewel of the palace itself: the throne room.
After you visit the palace itself, 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 the Royal Palace
It is highly recommended to book your tickets for the palace online in advance. You can get tickets in person the day of, but lines are much longer.
Keep in mind that only individual visits are available for purchase online. If you'd like to take a guided tour, you can only get tickets at the box office. Audio guides are also available to rent for three euros.
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 (Opera station), or bus lines 3, 25, 39 or 148.
What to See and Do Near Madrid's Royal Palace
The palace is easily within reach of 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 some of Madrid's best 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.