The Royal Palace of Madrid (Spanish: Palacio Real de Madrid) sits on land formerly occupied by a medieval fortress of the Middle Ages. That fortress, which was built in the 9th Century, was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve, 1734. The then-reigning Spanish monarch, King Philip V, commissioned a new royal palace on the site. Construction began in 1738 and was completed in 1759. King Charles III became the first monarch to take residence in the palace, in 1764.
Today, King Felipe VI calls the Royal Palace of Madrid his official residence, but only uses it for state and ceremonial functions. When the palace is not in use by the Royal Family, it is open to the public for tours. I recently had the opportunity to tour the palace, and would now like to share details of its wheelchair accessibility.
Admission & Getting to the Palace
The price of admission to the Royal Palace of Madrid is €10 for adults. Children ages 5 to 16 are admitted for a reduced fee of €5. People with proof of disability are admitted free of charge. As someone with a distinctly visible disability, I was admitted without charge and did not need to show a disability ID card.
The Royal Palace is located on Calle de Bailén, in the western part of downtown Madrid. The nearest wheelchair accessible metro station, Opera, is 0.6 km away from the palace entrance. That station is served by lines 2 and 5 of the Madrid Metro. Alternatively, the palace is served by city bus routes 3, 25, 39 and 148.
The City-Sightseeing hop-on/hop-off tour bus also stops in front of the palace. While I cannot say whether all of the sightseeing tour buses are wheelchair accessible, I did not find a bus that was inaccessible over 3 days of utilizing the service.
The Palace Tour
While guided tours are offered throughout the day, I decided to explore the palace on my own. This allowed me to focus on the things that interested me, and breeze through rooms that were less interesting.
The tour starts just beyond the gates, and wheelchair users will have to negotiate the rough stone which lines the outer courtyard:
The exterior of the palace is breathtaking, and it's worth a few extra moments in the sun to take a photo of it. You'll likely also want to take a bit of a break after rolling over the stone pavements, which are indeed very bumpy.
Once you've taken a moment here, walk into the building and check out the Grand Staircase, which is constructed out of a single piece of marble.
You'll be able to see the Grand Staircase from the upper level later in your tour, which opens into a distinctly grand space, adorned with paintings and sculptures, and the Royal coat of arms. We'll come back to that in a bit.
On the ground floor, just across from the threshold of the Grand Staircase, is a statue of one of the Spanish kings. I believe it to be King Charles II, who ruled from 1665-1700, but it may also be King Philip V, who reigned from 1700-1724, and again from 1724-1746. If you have the answer to this mystery, please share!
In this area, you will also find a ramp, which leads to an elevator to the upper floors:
Once you head up the elevator, you'll be deposited on the 1st floor. You'll head down a hall of tapestries, then reach the top of the Grand Staircase:
The luxurious tapestries hanging from the wall of the interior hallway span the palace's history of more than 250 years.
Once you turn into the space encompassing the Grand Staircase, you'll be able to admire the incredible frescoes painted on the ceiling by Corrado Giaquinto. These frescoes are titled Religion Protected by Spain - fitting, considering the country's history of absolute faith in the Roman Catholic Church.
If it seems like I have paid a great deal of attention in this post to the first 20 or so minutes of the tour, there is good reason. Photography is prohibited throughout the majority of the tour, including in the royal quarters, throne room, banquet hall and royal chapel. These rooms are majestic and ornate in their beauty, and I was sad when I learned of the inability to photograph these spaces.
Staff were present throughout, and I dared not chance taking an illegal photo. It's hard for wheelchair users to do things unnoticed! :p
I'll leave you to discover the interior of the palace for yourself, but I will share my last photo and a stock image, to describe an interesting bit of recent history concerning the Spanish monarchy.
The image above contains the portrait of the royal family. A plaque nearby reads:
This family portrait, commissioned at the end of 1993 and completed 20 years later, is the result of a carefully thought-out process characteristic of the masterly painter from La Mancha, Antonio Lopez. The painting is completely different from the rest of his creative work and is indisputably the most publicly significant commission of his entire career.
The balance the artist achieves between a dignified representation, the ties of affection that bind the subjects and their proximity with the spectator, as well as the purely pictorial values of the portrait, result in a work of high symbolic value and great historical importance which is undoubtedly the main artistic testament to the Spanish Royal Family from 1975 to 2014.
The portrait is titled, The Family of Juan Carlos I. At center is King Juan Carlos I. His son and now reigning monarch King Felipe VI, is pictured at right.
The picture above is a stock photo of King Felipe VI's crown and scepter, which is on display in the Throne Room of the palace. Also on display in that room, and of most interest to me, is his father's letter of abdication, which was signed and put into force on June 18, 2014. The former king remains alive, having given up the throne in favor of his son after 39 years of rule. Juan Carlos I is reported to have said, "I don't want my son to grow old waiting like Prince Charles."
That quote is, of course, a reference to Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-reigning monarch in British history. Her son, Prince Charles, is 68 years old. Should Charles live to become the King of England, he will be the oldest person to be crowned in British history.
That would be quite a record, as the British monarchy has existed since 9th century - nearly 1,200 years! While the Royal Palace of Madrid has nothing to do with the British Monarchy, I couldn't help but share that factoid as a history graduate and general nerd.
I have visited a great many palaces in Europe. Were it not for the interesting history of this country and its royal family, I might advise that you keep the €10 in your pocket. The Royal Palace of Madrid is not as large or as ornate as Versailles. It does not possess gardens as beautiful as those at Charlottenburg. And, while its statues are grand, they are not nearly as grand as those at the Dutch Royal Palace, where Atlas bears the Earth on his shoulders.
That said, in what other palace will you see history preserved in such a magnificent way? In Madrid, you'll come within inches of the royal crown. You'll see the original paper record which brought about a historic transfer of power from father to son. And, you'll see the very toys King Felipe VI played with as a child.
The Royal Palace of Madrid tells the story of the King, his monarchy and the country he leads in a way few museums can. The palace's wheelchair accessibility, made possible by elevators, lifts and ramps, ensures that everyone has an opportunity to fall in love with Spain through the course of a royal tour. And, if you are a wheelchair user like me, admission is free - so don't miss out on the opportunity for some free entertainment!