by Amy Menchhofer
“Para gustos hay colores.” This common Spanish phrase, meaning more or less that there are as many preferences as there are colors, sums up the state of affairs when discussing the famous Palacio Real in Madrid.
The royal palace is clearly a gem among the city’s numerous historical spots. But, when it comes to the tour of the Palacio, I see red. As in a big red X. Avoid it. Don’t be swept away by the romantic idea of a grandiose palace with sweeping staircases, royal jewels, and hidden mysteries. Not that they don’t exist, but you aren’t likely to hear any details on the standard, very run-of-the-mill tour. This is no Tower of London. And these are no Beefeaters. The unenthusiastic guides barely manage to provide an adequate introduction to the numerous clocks, mirrors, and chandeliers throughout the palace. And the sheer number of rooms visited (and the time spent describing said clocks) can put you in a trance.
Although the guided tour will set you back just 2€ more than the unguided admission, I recommend saving those euros for a caña. Wandering through the palace on your own allows you the time to gaze out the windows, bypass the slow-moving tour groups, and dedicate more time to the highlights of the palace including the throne room and the numerous masterpieces by some of the Spanish greats. And if you find yourself craving more information on a particular room, you can always slyly dawdle around one of the groups.
One must-see on your palace visit is the exterior. The best parts of the compound are the incredible palace façade and the extensive Sabatini gardens to the north. Admission for the gardens is free and there you can wander through the greenery, indulging yourself in the romantic fantasies that went unfulfilled during the tour.
(Ed. note: Other highlights are the room with the quintet of Stradivarius stringed instruments, the royal armory, and the gorgeous Campo del Moro, the park below the western façade of the palace.)
Metro: Ópera Address: Calle Bailén at the Plaza de Oriente Hours: Monday-Saturday 9:30-17:00 (winter), 9:00-18:00 (summer); Sundays 9:00-14:00 (winter) and 9:00-15:00 (summer).
Entrance: Palace – 10€ with tour, 8€ without, 6€ reduced (youth, student, 65+, etc.); Royal armory – 3.40€ standard, 2.50€ reduced.
Changing of the guard: Wednesdays 11am-2pm on the half hour (foot) and hour (horse guard), the first Wednesday of the month is the full changing of the guard ceremony.
See map below: