A Tour of Madrid's Architectural Landmarks

Cibeles | © Lori Zaino
Cibeles | © Lori Zaino
The capital city of Spain is full of stunning buildings from many different periods in history. Here’s the lowdown on the top architectural landmarks you should take in when visiting Madrid.

Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor dates back to the early 1600s. It was originally designed by architect Juan de Herrera, and completed in 1619. Unfortunately, it was plagued by a series of fires. The first struck in 1631, and afterwards, the plaza was reconstructed by Juan Gómez de Mora. The second fire was in 1670; the plaza was then reconstructed by Tomás Román. A third fire struck the plaza in 1790 and the building you see today was created by Juan de Villanueva. The construction took years, and was finally finished in 1854, by which time Juan de Villanueva had passed away. The process was completed by his students Antonio López Aguado and Custodio Moreno.


The Palacio de Cibeles was originally constructed as a post office, and is now Madrid’s City Hall. The site was chosen in 1904 and a contest was created to see which architectural firm would get to design the building. Three were considered: Felipe María López Blanco and Luis Montesinos, Carrasco-Saldaña, and Antonio Palacios and Joaquín Otamendi. The Palacios–Otamendi proposal won, and the building was completed in 1919. The square also features a beautiful fountain depicting the goddess Cibeles.

Madrid Río

In the 1970s, after the M-30 highway was constructed, Madrid’s Manzanares River was an area full of car exhaust fumes and plagued by excessive traffic and smog. This all changed in the early 2000s, when the city planners created underground tunnels for the traffic and made the area around the Manzanares River an enjoyable destination once again. Bridges, statues, fountains and play areas were constructed and trees and flowers planted.

Madrid Rio © Madrid Destino Cultura Turismo y Negocio

Almudena Cathedral

While Madrid is full of churches, it went many years without a cathedral. It wasn’t until 1879 that the capital of Spain finally started planning to construct one. Construction got underway in 1885 and was initially slow due to lack of funding and the death of the original architect. During the Spanish Civil War, construction ceased entirely. The project was resumed in 1950, with yet another new architect. The cloister area was finally completed in 1955 and the facade in 1960, but the project wasn’t considered finished until 1993, when the Almudena Cathedral was finally consecrated by Pope John Paul II.

Puerta de Alcalá

This monument used to be the entrance of the walled city of Madrid; however, what you see today wasn’t the first Door of Alcalá that was built. A smaller and less grand version of the door was located closer to the city center in the 1500s. When King Carlos III came into power, he insisted that a new door be constructed. After viewing proposals from famous architects Ventura Rodríguez and José de Hermosilla, he selected the design of Italian architect Francisco Sabatini. In 1764, the original Puerta de Alcalá was demolished and construction began on the new door. The Puerta de Alcalá that stands today was completed in 1769 and was officially inaugurated in 1778.

The Puerta de Alcalá © The World in HDR/Shutterstock

Palacio Longora/SGAE

This modern palace, constructed in 1902, actually belongs to the SGAE: Sociedad General de Autores y Editores, or the Society of Authors and Editors. The building was designed by Catalán architect José Grases Riera, and is one of the most important modernist buildings in Madrid. The inside of the building features a gorgeous circular staircase.

Metropolis Building

This stunning landmark building sits on the corner of Alcalá street and the famous Gran Vía street. Designed by Jules and Raymond Févrie in 1907, the building is owned by insurance company Metropolis Seguros, hence the name the Metropolis Building. Among the building’s most notable features are the statues on the rounded top, and the 30,000 leaves of 24-carat gold that cover the tower.

The Metropolis Building and Gran Via Street © Lori Zaino

Palacio Real

After the original 16th-century palace burned down in 1734, King Philip V insisted that a new palace be constructed in the exact same spot. Construction lasted over 15 years, and finally in 1755, the new palace, designed in the style of Bernini, was completed. It now houses paintings of great historical importance, including works by Velázquez, Caravaggio, and Francisco de Goya. It’s the official residence of the Spanish royal family, but is nowadays mostly used for ceremonial purposes.