Madrid’s only cathedral is a definite crowd-pleaser, with a mixed architectural style and breathtaking panorama of the city from its viewing platform.
Originally designed in the 16th century, Almudena Cathedral, or Santa María la Real de La Almudena, was only completed in 1993, and the resulting potpourri of design features from over the ages make it a remarkable stopping point on any sightseeing tour of Madrid. The combination of ancient and modern is interesting enough, but there's also a museum and viewing platform on-site to make your visit even more worthwhile.
As you approach the cathedral, you'll be struck by its impressively tall façade. You may notice that the neoclassical exterior of the building was designed to fit in with the style of the nearby Royal Palace. However, the neo-Gothic interior conjures a completely different atmosphere, especially when you walk down to the crypt, the oldest part of the cathedral. This offers a further contrast with the stained-glass, pop-art style windows and dazzling array of colour on the underside of the roof. Throughout the cathedral you can also enjoy artwork by artists both ancient and modern.
At 104 metres long and 76 metres wide, with the diameter of the central dome at 20 metres, there’s plenty of space to walk around. Soak up the sense of pomp and grandeur, and breathe in the ambience that surrounded Prince Felipe and Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano's royal wedding ceremony in 2004. A visit to this cathedral wouldn't be complete without going up to the dome and gazing out from the viewing platform; you're unlikely to find a better view over Madrid anywhere else in the city.
There are a number of specific features in the cathedral worth looking out for. One of these is the statue of Pope John Paul II which commemorates his consecration of the cathedral in 1993. The image of the Virgin of Almudena in the crypt is also an important piece, harking back to the 16th century, while the 15th-century altarpiece at the western end of the transept is also a must-see for all visitors. The on-site museum gives a detailed history of the cathedral and diocese. It also has clerical attire and other artefacts on display.
The cathedral is on Calle Bailé, next-door to the Royal Palace, and is accessible via the Ópera metro station. The cathedral is open every day but you should check opening hours if you want to go to the museum. Admission is free, although there is a fee for the museum and viewing platform.