One of Madrid's most iconic buildings, the Royal Palace of Madrid may not be the official residence of the King of Spain any more, but it's still used for state ceremonies, grand banquets and official business. The rest of the time it's open to the public and is a must-see on any trip to this beautiful city. The Royal Palace of Madrid is the largest palace in Western Europe. It covers an impressive 135,000 square feet and has 3,418 rooms. Built during the 18th and 19th centuries, the construction of this magnificent palace took 17 years. It's built around a square, and inspired by Bernini's sketches for The Louvre in Paris.
Take a guided tour of the staterooms and you'll be wowed by amazing frescoes, gold painted sculptures, hand-woven tapestries, and paintings. Highlights include the Hall of Halberdiers and the Throne Hall with its painted ceiling. In the Royal Chapel you'll find the only complete Stradivarius string quartet in the world, while the Royal Chemists still has old prescriptions for the Royal Family on display.
The Royal Armoury
Make sure you visit the Royal Armoury, which hosts a significant collection of armour and weapons dating back to the 13th century, many of which were worn by the Royal Family. The Painting Gallery is also a must, with works such as Caravaggio's ”Salome with the Head of John the Baptist', and pieces by Goya and Velazquez.
What to see
The Real Cocina (Royal Kitchen), which recently underwent an extensive renovation, is known as the oldest, best-preserved kitchen of any royal residence in Europe. Make sure you also explore King Charles III's apartments on the first floor. This is where you'll find the Halberdiers (Guards) Room and the Hall of Columns with its breathtaking ceiling fresco, as well as the Anteroom with a ceiling fresco dating back to 1774. Before heading out for a stroll around the Campo del Moro and Sabatini Gardens on sunny days, stop off at the Crown Room where you can see the proclamation speech of Felipe VI and Charles III's throne, crown and sceptre.
La Latina's top attractions
There's plenty of other attractions to see and do while you're in the area too. La Almudena Cathedral is a popular attraction to visit after the Royal Palace of Madrid, and it has a quirky history. Plans for a church here were first drawn up in 1879, with foundations laid in 1883. However, the plans were later changed to a cathedral and work was delayed by financial issues, stylistic disputes, and ultimately, a full-scale Civil War. This meant the building wasn't officially completed until 1993. The cathedral is now open seven days a week and admission is free.
An impressive dome
You might also want to stop off at the Basilica of San Francisco El Grande. Built in the 18th century, this striking basilica has a majestic dome which spans 108 feet in diameter. Inside you'll find a range of paintings by artists such as Goya and Zurbaran.
Shopping in La Latina
After all that art and culture, why not head for the heart of La Latina and go shopping at Cebada Market? Spanning two floors and 6,000 square metres, you can buy anything and everything here, from local produce like meat, fish, fruit and vegetables to textiles, flowers and cosmetics. There's a car park here too if you're driving, as well as a kids' area with food-related activities for four to 11-year-olds and a fun space where the kids can let off some steam. No trip to Madrid is complete without a visit to the Royal Palace but it can get busy, particularly during the summer months. To avoid the queues, come to Madrid in the spring or autumn when the weather is cooler and the city is generally a little quieter, or get up early in the morning to explore the palace before the crowds arrive.