When Madrid slips into night, it doesn’t go to sleep, but instead just wakes up. It’s a city of illuminated buildings that flicker to life just as its night-owl citizens do the same, stepping out for their first drink and tapa of the evening. Before joining them, though, I figured what better time to see the Spanish capital than a quick tour around the city as the sun started to set?
So that’s what I did, by taking a guided Madrid Illuminations Evening Tour. Now, I’m lucky enough to have lived in this, my favorite city in the world, for many years now, seeing it at all hours of the day, and through all the seasons. Whether during the dizzying summer heat or the alarmingly snow-worthy winters, I can tell you this: it’s a city that transforms at night. And especially during December, when Madrid puts on its biggest show, draping holiday lights over boulevards big and small.
In Plaza de Oriente, we boarded our coach bus that would zigzag across the capital, starting in Madrid’s oldest settlement, which includes the Royal Palace and the city’s main cathedral, La Almudena. With interior bus lights off and an English-speaking tour guide in tow, we hit every key sight: I watched the peach-colored sun rays bounce off the powder blue cathedral walls, shadows fall on the distant arches of the Plaza Mayor, and the lights turn on at the Puerta de Alcalá.
Stopping n Plaza de Colón, we even got off the bus to explore one of the city’s proudest spaces. Honoring Christopher Columbus, the square is home to the Gardens of Discovery, a Gothic revival-style Columbus statue, and most impressive: the world’s largest Spanish flag.
We finished our tour on the Gran Vía, where I stepped out onto the theatre and shop-lined avenue. Show signs flashed and sparkled, the Metropolis building glowed like a miniature palace, and the iconic Schweppes ad pulsated brightly as though on loan from Times Square. Wandering down the foot-traffic-filled sidewalk, the sun had fully set and I was ready to join the Spaniards as they officially got their night started.
All pictures courtesy of Erin Ridley.