No trip to Europe would be complete without a visit to at least one palace. Visiting these larger-than-life residences gives you a chance to see how the Kings and Queens of yore spent their spoils of war and New World gold. No expense was spared, but if you think you would like to trade places, just remember where the bathroom is.
The Palacio Real in Madrid outdoes the other palaces of Europe. Feeling pretty good about upgrading your digs to a 2-bedroom? Nothing makes that feel smaller than 2800 rooms. Yes, that’s right. Two thousand eight hundred rooms. And at 1,450,000 sq ft, it should be no surprise that this checks in as Europe’s Largest Palace (and that’s saying something-we’re looking at you, Versailles).
The site has been home to royalty for over 1000 years. First there was a Moorish fortress, and then a castle built in the 1500s to replace it. On Christmas Eve in 1734, the castle burned to the ground. Damage was extensive because the bells used as fire alarms were confused with the bells from the Christmas Eve Mass, so the fire went unnoticed for some time. Las Meninas, the pride of the Prado, was saved by being thrown out of a window. Construction on a the replacement palace started in 1738 and was completed in 1755.
Visitors are only allowed to see a small fraction of the 2800 rooms. The tour follows takes you through the halls and living quarters, past paintings, tapestries (of course) and wooden furniture behind velvet ropes. To round out the tour, be sure to visit the armory to see the swords, of which Spain has the best (thanks, Toledo). Check out the extensive collection of shields, armor, spears, lances, and horse armor. The palace also boasts a Royal Pharmacy, which is an added bonus (ok-main draw) for Ryan. Walls of hand-painted jars held would-be remedies for everything but the Hapsburg Jaw.
At noon on the first Wednesday of the month, there is a changing of the guard ceremony in front of the palace. There are drums, horses, old-timey outfits and much fanfare. It is free to watch and you can get a great view from Plaza de Oriente across the street.
Admission is a steep 10 euros, but when are you going to be here again? The palace is open from 10am to 6pm daily, and from April through September, it is open until 8pm. The Palacio is located near the Sabatini Gardens and Campo del Moro, so be sure to visit these while you are here.
Go see this palace if you like armor or pharmacy or both.