Though many tourists eschew it for its more popular sibling Barcelona, Madrid is one of the hippest, most vibrant cities in the world. When the Spanish sunlight softens, the city’s diverse architecture, vibrant streets, and leafy parks turn Madrid into a photographer’s dreamland. See for yourself by following the Travel Lemming’s Madrid self guided photography tour.
I started my year-long trip around the world determined to hone my amateur photography skills (which hopefully improved by the time I took my photos of Myanmar). Madrid was the first place where I dedicated serious time to simply training myself on how to make the most of my newly bought Sony a6000 mirror-less camera (highly recommended if you, like me, are worried about space in your pack). As someone who has to travel on a budget, I love takes photographs as a great cheap activity in any city.
What follows is a suggested walking route of Madrid (with one metro transfer), tracing some of my favorite spots from my week of shooting. This can be done in one day or split up over several to make the most of the dawn and dusk lighting. Each of these stops is also marked on this Google Map.
Madrid Self Guided Photography Tour Stop 1: The Temple of Debod
Start your morning in Madrid early by watching dawn over an ancient Egyptian temple. Yep, you heard that right – an Egyptian temple in Spain!
The Temple of Debod was originally built in 200 B.C. in Aswan, Egypt. The Egyptian government donated the temple to Spain in 1968 as a sign of gratitude for the help Spain provided in preserving an important archaeological area in Egypt.
Stop 2: The Royal Palace of Madrid
If you don’t whittle away the whole morning staring at the Debod’s reflecting pool, make your way south to the royal family’s official residence. Spaniards can boast that they have the largest royal palace in Europe — the Baroque building contains a shocking 3,418 rooms!
Don’t get too caught up in the sheer size of the palace, however, as nearby there are many cool statutes, cathedrals, gardens, and other spots to get photographically creative:
For example, if you turn to face the Plaza de Oriente, you’ll find some great opportunities to silhouettes against the rising sun.
Stop 3: Chocolatería San Ginés
This is the point in the tour where most guides would tell you to head over to the famous Plaza Mayor. But I know you’re not just another travel lemming, and I know you’re probably hungry by now. So our Madrid self guided photography tour instead heads to the most magical place in Madrid: Chocolatería San Ginés.
Hidden in a dark alley and open 24 hours a day, Chocolatería San Ginés serves up sumptuous churros accompanied by a large pot of drinkable chocolate. And at only a few euros, it’s quite a deal for someone who is trying to figure out how to travel cheap in Europe!
Stop 4: Puerta del Sol
Before the sugar rush wears off, skip a few blocks down the pedestrian street to Puerta del Sol:
A large public square, Puerta del Sol pulsates day and night with commuters, revelers, vendors, and street performers.
I’ll never forget spending an hour watching a man dressed as “Chucky” chase around unsuspecting tourists! If you’re unlucky enough to draw his wrath, the only way to satiate Chucky is, of course, to hand over a few pesos…
Stop 5: Gran Vía (Carrion Building)
Next head up to Gran Vía, a wide shopping thoroughfare bisecting the city and littered with examples of early 20th-century architecture.
The iconic neon Schweppes billboard lights up the top of the Carrion Building, imposing itself over the shoppers below. Note that better shots can probably be had if you can find your way to the top of one of the nearby buildings (see here for examples). Though many will tell you to go to the cafe in the Corte Ingles building, I found the angles there didn’t work (plus it required shooting through glass). So if you figure out a better way to get this shot from above, please do let me know so we can update this tour!
Stop 6: Atocha Railway Station
Hop on Madrid’s excellent metro system and find your way down to the Atocha Railway Station, the city’s main rail gateway and the site of the tragic 2004 terrorist attack.
The exterior of the station provides some great leading lines to work into shots, while the interior offers a spacious garden and several places to grab lunch. Be sure to check out the turtle pond, which apparently has become the favored spot for locals to illegally abandon their unwanted turtles!
Stop 7: El Retiro Park
From Atocha, walk north and into El Retiro park.
You could spend an entire day just taking photos of the Retiro’s beautiful greenery, glistening ponds, and interesting visitors.
Stop 8: Palacio de Cibeles
Exit the park from the northwest side and find your way to Palacio de Cibeles, an old post office that has recently be converted into a cultural center.
From a bar on the 8th floor, you can grab a sun downer and capture some shots of the traffic below along Paseo del Prado.
Stop 9: The Metropolis Building
Our tour ends a block away at the ornate Metropolis Building.
I have to admit that I am a bit embarrassed by the above shot. I was just learning to use my camera (still shooting on auto, mostly). My losing battle against camera shake gave me a real appreciation for the challenges of night photography. But since you are surely a better photographer than I was, you should be able to capture some iconic shots here.
Summary and Map
Taking a Madrid self guided photography tour is a wonderful, cheap way to explore the city while honing your shooting skills. There is nothing magical about the above itinerary and there are a great many other locations along the way that are perfect for shooting as well. The one thing I would strongly suggest is to make sure you hit the Temple of Dabod at either sunrise or sunset (the reflection doesn’t come out quite the same any other time).
Have fun and please feel free to let us Travel Lemming know on Facebook if you have any suggestions or tips of your own for our Madrid self guided photography tour!
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