Summer is here, so are your visitors, and they’re demanding that you show them the sights of the city. Great, except madrileño that you are, you’ve seen and done them all before. The August heat makes life difficult, plus Uncle Bernard hates walking, best friend Nigel is not exactly last of the big spenders, whilst your cousin Mabel and her daughter Posh insist on seeing everything. So how do you tour Madrid without getting overheated, tired and resentful of the city’s infamous lack of the sea?
Cue: the bashful but beautiful Madrid public transport pageant, starring buses C2, 3, 149 and 27. A perfect air-conditioned tour of the city’s most attractive spots, ideal for guests, but also an excellent trip for new expats or long-time city dwellers who want Madrid to pass them by for a couple of hours.
Route: Gta de Embajadores—Pta de Toledo (approx 60 mins)
Start on the C2 bus, designated for “Cuatro Caminos” from the Glorieta de Embajadores. A word to the wise here: sit on the left, the driver’s side, and you see much more. Within two minutes, you can’t fail to notice the striking metal red façade of the Reina Sofia, a modern addition to the 18th century hospital-turned-museum. Almost immediately you then catch the impressive redbrick railway station of Atocha on your right, and as the bus crosses the large traffic junction, to the left see if you can spot the crazy winged horses on the roof of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The route takes you around the back of the Retiro and through a picturesque, more residential area of the city, allowing you to relax, and watch the people and shops for 30 minutes or more. Below the vast array of balconies, just for fun, see if you can identify these shops along the tree-lined boulevards: colchonería, tapicería, ferretería and mantequería. (For your visitors, that’s a mattress shop, upholsterers, hardware shop and a dairy product store.)
Eventually crossing Paseo de la Castellana, the bus heads out of the centre until returning via Calle Princesa, a sloping street with its glitzy string of shops, leading to the famous fountains of Plaza de España. To the left, there’s a tempting glimpse up Gran Vía, after which you swing round the Plaza, downhill, and into Principe Pio, from where you see the back of the Royal Palace and its gardens on the left, and on the right the new River Manzanares development. There are two city gates—the Puerta de San Vicente is the first, albeit a 1990s replica, and then Puerta de Toledo, an original gate from the 1800s. These enormous arches were used as entrances to the old walled city of Madrid. Alight at Puerta de Toledo for photo opportunities, and refreshment at the local bars.
Route: Puerta de Toledo—Calle Hortaleza (approx 25 mins)
Taking bus 3 from Puerta de Toledo, the most breathtaking sight along this leg is undoubtedly las vistillas—the viewpoints. Within two minutes, to your left, your
gaze sweeps across the cityscape to the mountain range beyond. It feels epic, and your trusty steed (well, bus) has yet more to offer.
As the bus turns right into Calle Mayor, on the left you can briefly catch the front of the Royal Palace, and the Almudena cathedral. Calle Mayor leads to the Puerta del Sol, the white and cream balconied plaza, famous for the Madrid bear figure, the equestrian statue of Carlos III, and for being the city’s New Year celebration point. You glide through leisurely in your air-conditioned carriage, without getting embroiled in the crowds. Exiting Sol, the route winds a little, before entering the majestic Gran Vía. It’s only a brief visit to the street, but be sure to glimpse the Schweppes tower, famous for its convex neon sign, as the road slopes down to Callao.
However, the bus soon turns into the much smaller Calle Hortaleza, on the lip of Chueca, known for its many carnival- and gay-themed shops. Get off at the second stop in this street, immediately after an exotic underwear shop on the left, Lencería Ana Millán—we insist on choosing the best location points to identify. Here there’s a very short stretch on foot. Cross the road, backtrack a little, and turn into Calle Hernán Cortés. You come to Calle Fuencarral. Turn right, and at the entrance to Tribunal Metro station, you find the stop for route 149.
Route: Tribunal—Santiago Bernabéu (approx 12 mins)
A necessary link, going along Calle Fuencarral, this route reaches the impressive fountains of Plaza de Bilbao. It then takes you to the Santiago Bernabéu football stadium, where you alight for photo opportunities.
Route: Santiago Bernabéu—Embajadores (approx 20 mins)
The final leg of the trip goes along the elegant Paseo de la Castellana. After exclusive hotels and glass office blocks, you reach Plaza de Colón (Columbus), distinguished by the enormous Spanish flag flapping over its centre. There’s also a statue of Cristóbal Colón, perched on a column. From there, the bus heads onwards to the Plaza de Cibeles, famous for its fountain with a chariot drawn by lions, and known as the celebration point for Real Madrid victories. To the left is a striking white-icing cake of a building, Palacio de Cibeles, currently functioning as the town hall.
A few minutes after Cibeles, on the right, is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, followed by another centre-island statue: Plaza de Neptuno, which provides the celebration ground for Atlético fans. Both Cibeles and Neptuno were designed by Ventura Rodríguez, and the water jets and fountains around the horses of Neptuno’s chariot offer a hypnotic display. Almost immediately on the left, you can make out the Prado Museum through the leaves of the avenue’s trees, followed by the Botanical Gardens, and then on the right is the Caixa Forum, with its astonishing vertical garden.
At this point you are back to Atocha. To terminate proceedings, the bus returns to Embajadores, concluding, laydeeezungennulmen, the tour. The estimated time is about two and a half hours. By the way, did we mention about mingling with true madrileños in their natural habitat? On any bus, expect to be roughed about a bit by an orange-rinsed old lady, or queue-jumped by an octogenarian. It’s all part of the fun.