Here’s a walk that I have done many, many times and I thought I’d share it with readers of Mad About Madrid.
We will start off in the Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V (or the Glorieta de Atocha). Atocha station, which occupies the south side of the square, is the main railway station in Madrid, and trains from both the Madrid community and the Spanish regions arrive here. The station was inaugurated in 1851, destroyed and rebuilt in 1892. The old terminal building was taken out of service in 1992 and turned into a shopping centre and tropical gardens. The latter is a great place to chill and take in some of the 500 plant species. Atocha station is also well-known as the place where 191 people were murdered in 2004 and you will also find special consoles there where you can leave a hand silhouette and message.
To the West of the square you will see the Ministry of Agriculture, Fishing and Food. The building was completed in 1897 and with its Corinthian columns and winged statues on its roof is very impressive. Heading South-west of the Plaza you will find one of three museums which make up Madrid’s Golden Triangle (the other two are the Prado and Thyssen), the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. The art on display in this museum is mainly Spanish and includes one of the most well-known paintings in the world – Picasso’s Guernica.
Head north off the square and you start to walk up the Paseo del Prado. The word “Prado” in English means meadow and was the place outside the main city walls where Madrileños used to go for recreation. The Paseo del Prado is one of the main boulevards of Madrid and, like much of this part of the city, came about under the reign of Carlos III. Around this time the area was covered in trees and the idea was to convert it into a place with gardens and trees and with the urban design of José de Hermosilla fountains (Cibeles, Neptune and Apolo) would be added.
On the west side of this boulevard you will see the Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid (Royal Botanic Gardens), again under the command of Carlos III (in 1781). It covers around 8 hectares and has around 5,000 different plants and trees from around the world in its collection. Given the uneven terrain it occupies, the Botanic gardens have various terraces for different types of plants and trees. Towards the end of the boulevard, also on the west side, you will find one of the most finest art galleries in the world – the Prado Museum. The museum was opened in 1819 and over time two further buildings were “incorporated” into the Museum – the Casón del Buen Retiro and the Salon de Reinos. The former housed Picasso’s Guernica, when it was returned from the USA and before it went to the Reina Sofía Museum.
On the opposite side of the Paseo del Prado you will find some of Madrid’s “literary” streets leading off from there – c/ de Leon, c/ Huertas, c/ Lope de Vega, c/ Cervantes. Miguel de Cervantes – author of Don Quijote – actually died in c/ de León. Lope de Vega – another famous author lived in c/ Cervantes and other notable Spanish writers like Quevedo and Góngora also lived in this district. That is why the barrio is now called Barrio de las Letras. At night time this area becomes a hive of activity when Madrileños and tourists hit its many bars and restaurants.
At the end of this first stretch of the Paseo del Prado, you will find the Plaza de Cánovas del Castillo – often called Plaza de Neptuno because of Neptune’s statue in the middle of the square. The fountain was designed by Ventura Rodríguez in 1782 and created by Juan Pascual de Mena between 1780 and 1784. It used to be situated more towards the Plaza de Cibeles and actually looked towards it as opposed to looking towards the centre of the city.