The Madrid Vision bus tours last around 75 minutes and depart from Gran Vía 32 every 10-25 minutes, depending on the season, from 9.30 am to midnight (summer), from 8 am to 3 pm (winter). Cassettes with German commentary are available. There are currently three tours to choose from – Historic Madrid (the most famous sights of the city from the Habsburg and Bourbon period), Modern Madrid (including the Paseo de la Castellana and the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium – the home stadium of Real Madrid) and Madrid Monuments (man drives along the entire Gran Via and passes the Puerta del Sol). The journey can be interrupted as often as you like. Discounts are available.
Phone: (91) 767 17 43, 54 16 32 (Madrid Vision bus tours)
The Oficina Municipal de Turismo runs a series of 90-minute tours in July, August and September . Two of the most popular tours are Habsburg Madrid – it leads to the royal palace, well-known churches and monasteries – and legends of Old Madrid – an informative and entertaining introduction to the city’s history. Both start at the Oficina Municipal de Turismo on Plaza Mayor. On Monday mornings (only in summer) there is a tour of the Retiro Park. The meeting point is the imposing statue of Alfonso XII. in the park area (Puerta de la Independencia). Tours with an artistic theme are also offered.
Phone: (91) 588 16 36 (Oficina Municipal de Turismo)
This city, often referred to as the ‘soul’ of Spain, is 70 km south of Madrid and is easily accessible by bus (from the Estación Sur de Autobuses), by car (via the N401) or by train (regular departures from Atocha station). Toledo was the capital of Spain during the Visigoth era (AD 567-711) and was captured by El Greco in his famous dramatic cityscape (the painting was made in 1597 and is currently in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art). Domenikos Theotocopoulos, who was born in Crete and is now known only by his Spanish nickname El Greco, settled in Toledo in 1577 and stayed there until his death in 1614. He is considered the first genius of the Spanish school. Some of his most famous works can be admired here –El Espolio (the stripping of Christ) in Toledo Cathedral and the funeral of the Count of Orgaz in the medieval church of Santo Tomé.
The hilltop town, with its golden towers and heavy Gothic buildings spread across Tangus Gorge, has barely changed since it was immortalized in El Greco’s paintings. The communities of Mudejar Muslims, Sephardic Jews and Mozarabic Christians have all contributed to the architectural splendor. Visitors should not miss the Moorish city gate Puerta de Bisagrai , the Sinagoga del Tránsito built around 1360 – today a museum for Sephardic culture and the diaspora of Spanish Jews – and the Gothic monasterySan Juan de los Reyes (originally built for Ferdinand and Isabella). For more information, contact the Tourist Office, Puerta de Bisagra.
Phone: (92) 522 08 43 (Tourist Office)
Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial
This monastery is located just 50 km northwest of Madrid, in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, and is an extraordinary rectangular building with four spiral towers. It was built under Philip II – in memory of his father Karl V – and is a mixture of monastery, church and palace. It houses Philipp’s secret collection of El Greco and Hieronymus Bosch works of art as well as a library with over 50,000 volumes and has a painted vaulted ceiling.
You arrive by train from Charmartín station to El Escorial, from where you take a two-minute bus ride to the monastery. Buses also depart from Madrid’s Moncloa subway station and take passengers directly to El Escorial Monastery. The journey by car is via the NVI motorway (after 50 km departure to the A6). The monastery is open Tues-Sun from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Information is available from the Tourist Office, Calle Grimaldi 2, and the Cultural Center, Floridablanca 10.
Phone: (91) 890 53 13 (Tourist Office) and (91) 542 00 59 (Cultural Center)