Fotolia’s local guides to world cities have so far taken us to ParisLondonBerlin, and New York City.

This week we spoke to the Fotolia office in Spain to get the lowdown on where best to visit in Spain’s capital city, Madrid. Europe’s third largest city (after London and Berlin) Madrid offers visitors an eclectic mix of architecture, culture, and artistic heritage.

We asked the team to recommend the best places in Madrid for anyone planning a visit. But be warned – if you aren’t planning a visit soon, then you sure will be after reading this!

Fotolia: Where would you visit in the city to get a sense of the ‘real’ Madrid? (not the football team!)

Plaza Mayor

Madrid: Madrid’s history has been extremely colorful and dominated by Royalty and this is exemplified in the architecture and monuments built within the city. The Plaza Major is a vast plaza, at the center of which stands a bronze statue depicting King Phillip III, surrounded by exquisite buildings, which were re-built after a devastating fire in 1790.

The Plaza once played host to a number of attractions including bullfights, public executions and soccer events. Nowadays it’s a slightly more civilized affair where you can have a spot of lunch or a drink whilst absorbing the surroundings.

A similarly spectacular, yet nonetheless unique attraction, within walking distance of the Plaza Major is the Plaza Puerta del Sol (or ‘Sungate’). The Plaza contains a beautiful selection of famous statues and buildings ranging from the old to the new included a mounted statue of Charles III of Spain, the infamous Tio Pepe lighted sign and a beautiful statue of a bear and a madrone tree (El Oso y el Madroño), a medieval emblem of the city.

statue of Bear and strawberry tree

To get a taste for 18th Century architecture then the highly detailed and lavish Cibeles Fountain is definitely worth a visit. Housed in the Plaza de Cibeles. Built by renowned architect Ventura Rodriguez between 1777 and 1782 it depicts the Goddess Cybele, who represents Earth, agriculture and fertility mounted on a chariot pulled by vast marble lions.

After a win by Madrid’s world-famous football team, Real Madrid, you’ll often find fans celebrating in the fountain. If the city’s other famous team however wins then you may want to head over to their fountain of celebration – the neoclassical Fountain of Neptune.

Madrid’s generally pleasant weather means another outdoor location comes highly recommended: one of Madrid’s largest parks, the Buen Retiro.

Parque del retiro

Belonging originally to the Spanish monarchy, it’s now a public park, but has preserved the original sculptures and monuments that it was originally designed to host.

If you want music with your rose gardens and fountains, then visit on a Sunday at midday from May to October, when the Madrid Municipal Band perform for free in the parks’ bandstand.

El Rastro is a hugely popular open-air flea market held every Sunday, and offers many rarities that you won’t find in any shops, from antiques to food . Its’ origins go right back to the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Meat Market was held there (“Rastro” means “stain” in Spanish, a reference to the blood which ran down the streets from the animal carcasses dragged to market).

Today, with the blood long washed away, visitors bask in the bustling atmosphere where a bustling mix of European and African traders haggle mercilessly with prospective customers.

Fo: Where can you see Madrid from a higher perspective?

Mad: The Teleférico, or cable car, is the best way for locals and tourists to see Madrid from a birds-eye view, 40 meters above the ground. It gives spectacular views of Madrid’s stunning architecture, including the modern, aptly named ‘Four Towers’ and many of the city’s green parks, crossing over the River Manzanares. The Teleférico shows you the whole city from a totally different perspective – perfect for photographers looking to capture something slightly more unique within the city.

You won’t be disappointed when you reach the end either, as from here you can see a panorama of Madrid from the restaurant – sit yourself down with a cold glass of sangria and enjoy that remarkable view.

Cibeles Fountain at Madrid, Spain

The Emperador Hotel has another convenient antidote to the summer heat, having built a swimming pool on its rooftop. Taking amazing photos of a city’s landscape has never been so refreshing!

Fo: Where can one go to get a taste for Madrid’s artistic influences and be inspired themselves?

Mad: The artist Goya is one of Spain’s most notorious painters, and he lived Madrid for part of his career. Many of his most famous paintings reside in the Museo De Prado, which has a number of rooms dedicated to his career and work – not least his scandalously unflattering portraits of the great and the good!

Goya’s work can also be seen in a small church, Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida, which has some of Madrid’s finest art on its frescoed ceilings. The artist himself was buried there in 1919, his body transported back from Bordeaux, where he died in 1919.

Spain’s National Museum of Modern Art, Reina Sofia Museum is, as you might expect perfect for those looking for more modern Spanish art. It’s home to some of the best examples in the world of works by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Other artists on show include the Spain’s Joan Miro, Juan Gris, and Pablo Gargallo, as well as international artists including Francis Bacon, Damien Hirst, and Man Ray.

There are numerous exquisite churches and buildings to visit whilst in Madrid; however, if you’re time-poor then see the Basílica de San Francisco El Grande - you won’t regret it. This magnificent and arresting church has one of the largest frescoed domes in the world (56m high and 33m in diameter!), and the rest of its’ interior displays fine examples of Renaissance paintings, including works by Francisco Zurbarán and Francisco Pacheco.

Madrid – it’s a wonderful place to visit and has inspired artists and photographers for centuries! Even those without a passion for art and architecture will be captivated by a historic past evident throughout the city streets.

See for yourself, with our specially selected gallery of Madrid images!