Royal Palace - Palacio Real (Palacio de Oriente)

Commissioned by Philip V after the earlier Alcázar was lost to a fire in 1734, the Royal Palace is rarely used by the royal family, and many of its 3,000 rooms are open to view. The architects principally responsible for the final design of the Royal Palace, which reflects the taste of the Spanish Bourbons, were Italian - Giambattista Sacchetti and Francesco Sabatini - with contributions by the Spaniard Ventura Rodríguez. Filippo Juvarra, Philip V's first choice, had planned a palace four times as large, but after his death the project became a little less ambitious. Completed in 1764, the late-baroque Royal Palace is built almost entirely of granite and white Colmenar stone, and, surrounded as it is by majestic gardens, contributes greatly to the splendour of the city.

Inside of the Royal Palace you must keep to a fixed route, but are free to set your own pace rather than follow a tour. The entrance into the Royal Palace is awe-inspiring: you pass up a truly vast main staircase and then through the main state rooms of the Royal Palace, the Hall of Halbardiers and Hall of Columns, all with soaring ceilings and frescoes by Corrado Giaquinto and Giambattista Tiepolo. In the grand Throne Room of the Royal Palace there are some fine 17th-century sculptures commissioned by Velázquez, which were saved from the earlier Alcázar. Other highlights of the Royal Palace are the extravagantly ornate private apartments of the palace's first resident, Charles III, again decorated by Italians. Particularly striking in the Royal Palace are the Gasparini Room, the king's dressing room, covered in mosaics and rococo stuccoes by Mattia Gasparini; and the Porcelain Room of the Royal Palace, its walls covered entirely in porcelain reliefs. A later addition to the Royal Palace is another giant: the State Dining Room, redesigned for King Alfonso XII in 1880 and still used for official banquets. In the Royal Palace, there are also imposing collections of tapestries, table porcelain, gold and silver plates and finally clocks, a particular passion of the little-admired King Charles IV.

One of the real highlights of the Royal Palace is the Real Armería (Royal Armoury), reached via a separate entrance off the palace courtyard, with a superb collection of ceremonial armour, much of it actually worn by Charles V and other Habsburgs. Look out too for the suits of armour worn by El Cid and his horse - impressively displayed on life-size statues.

On the other side of the courtyard of the Royal Palace the Real Farmacia, the Royal Pharmacy, is also worth a visit. One of the oldest in Europe, it was wholly dedicated to attending to the many ailments of Spain's crowned heads over several centuries. In years to come, an opportunity to view the excavations of the older Alcázar and Muslim fortress beneath the palace will also form part of the visit.

The Royal Palace is closed to the public when official receptions or ceremonies are due, so it's a good idea to check before visiting. On the first Wednesday of each month the Royal Guard stages a ceremonial Changing of the Guard in the courtyard, at noon. There are tours of the Palace throughout the day, but frequency depends on the volume of visitors.

Address Plaza de Oriente, C/Bailén
Transport Metro Ópera .
Telephone 91 454 88 00
Open Oct-Mar 9.30am-5pm Mon-Sat; 9am-2pm Sun. Apr-Sept 9am-6pm Mon-Sat; 9am-3pm Sun.

Admission €9 with guided tour; €8 without; €3.50 concessions.
Free to EU citizens Wed.

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