Plaza de Oriente


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This graceful square is one central Madrid's most beautiful, home as it is to a royal palace that once had aspirations to be the Spanish Versailles, sophisticated cafes watched over by apartments that cost the equivalent of a royal salary, and the Teatro Real, Madrid’s opera house and one of Spain’s temples to high culture.

At the centre of the plaza, which the palace overlooks, is an equestrian statue of Felipe IV. Designed by Velázquez, it's the perfect place to take it all in, with marvellous views wherever you look. If you’re wondering how a heavy bronze statue of a rider and his horse rearing up can actually maintain that stance, the answer is simple: the hind legs are solid, while the front ones are hollow. That idea was Galileo Galilei’s. Nearby are some 20 marble statues, mostly of ancient monarchs. Local legend has it that these ageing royals get down off their pedestals at night to stretch their legs when no one is looking.

The adjacent Jardines Cabo Naval are a great place to watch the sunset.