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Do as the Royals do

Just like King Juan Carlos and his family, who only use their “official residence” for the occasional state visit, tourists may be inclined to marvel at the enormity of the Royal Palace of Madrid without wishing to live there for one moment.

The Spanish Royal family much prefer the cosier and far more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela beautifully situated at the outskirts of the city. With a Madrid Card tourists gain free entry into the Royal Palace of Madrid, a state owned monument at the Calle de Bailén in the western district of central Madrid. It is possible to see all of the palace, but parts of it are open to the public, unless a state visit or other official business is being conducted at the time.

It is perhaps just as well the Royal Palace of Madrid is just partially open to the public: there are 2,800 rooms to explore, perhaps a little too tiring for even the most hardened of tourists! With 135,000 sqm of floor-space, the Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest palace in Europe and boasts some of the world’s finest art treasures with paintings by Tintoretto, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Van Dyck, Caravaggio, El Greco, Francisco de Goya, Velasquez and Bosch as well as frescoes by artists such as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

There are collections of silverware and furniture, porcelain, watches and the Royal Palace also houses the Royal Armoury, library and Royal Pharmacy on the ground floor. The palace façade is richly decorated with statues of saints and kings such as Reccared II and Liuva II, two Visigoth rulers, and allegorical figurines from Greek mythology. The enormous plaza in front of the palace was designed by architect Enrique Maria Repullés in 1892, but he used earlier designs dating back to 1553 to inspire his work.

Also part of the palace complex is the Almudena Cathedral facing the palace square. Inside the cathedral is neo-gothic in style, but the façade was kept neo-classical in design to match the rest of the palace complex. Adjacent to the Royal Palace square is the rectangular Plaza de Oriente with its rows of Gothic kings, the Central Gardens, the Lepanto and Cabo Naval Gardens as well as the Teatro Real. The five Visigoth and fifteen kings of Spain’s early Christian period are made from limestone and flank two sides of the Central Gardens. Their important role is to commemorate the rulers of Spain.

Also part of the Royal Palace are the Campo del Moro Gardens, a beautiful formally landscaped park that was largely designed during the reign of Maria Christina of Austria and inspired by formal English gardens of the 19th century. Celebrating the 1930s French style of gardening, the Sabatini Gardens are located to the north of the Royal Palace complex. The gardens are home to several fountains and other water features.

Getting to the Royal Palace is easy and convenient by metro train, as the Ópera station is close by.