Madrid’s Circulo de Bellas Artes tends to get lumped in with the city’s galleries by guidebooks and tour guides, but this stunning 19th century arts centre is much more than that.
Consistently home to some of the most interesting exhibitions in Madrid (especially in photography), the Circulo de Bellas Artes is one of the few galleries in Madrid that push art beyond the confines of the strictly decorative: this is the place to visit if you like the kind of work that asks questions rather than just looking pretty (although there’s plenty of that, too). Recent exhibitions have included work by Barcelona photographer Alberto Garcia-Alix, Congolese journalist Caddy Adzuba and the late, great Francesc Catala-Roca. This is also the place to see the World Press Photo exhibition when it swings into town every year.
The building itself was designed by architect Antonio Palacios, the man responsible for many of the impressive buildings that line Gran Vía to this day. Doors opened for the first time in 1927, and have remained open on the Calle Alcalá ever since. Although the cavernous marble entrance hall and sweeping twin staircases with neoclassical details make a striking first impression, the building also contains a number of hidden secrets: from the ornate dance hall on the second floor, complete with marble columns and gilded moulding, to the idiosyncratic ‘fuentecilla‘ (little fountain) that makes the centrepiece for one of the function rooms up on the fourth floor (not to mention the members-only billiards room and opulent theatre that are tucked away on floors four and two respectively).
Many visitors (and locals) also pay the €3 to take the elevator to the Circulo’s roof terrace (azotea), boasting some of the best views in Madrid (open 0900 – 1400h Monday to Thursday, 1100-1430h Friday to Sunday). Even on a gloomy day, views of the surrounding buildings on Gran Via are worth the ride.
When you get tired of being all cultured, the ground floor Café La Pecera (open 0800-0100h, until 0300 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) is a charming spot to take a break and one of our favourite places in the whole of Madrid. The terrace outside is fine, although if you prefer to get away from hot, bothered tourists and the hustle and bustle of Gran Via, try and find a table inside. Presided over by a huge chandelier, the café is dotted with well-chosen artworks, and tables casually arranged around a stunning Moisés Huerta sculpture. Tea and cakes are good, and there is also a set menu and a la carte option.
Also on the ground floor are a worthwhile bookshop (most books in Spanish), and the cinema. Films shown are a mix of artsy new releases and foreign films with a few vintage titles thrown into the mix. Prices are reasonable, and if you are going to be in town for a while you can pick up a 5-film pass for €18.
Circulo de Bellas Artes
Address: Calle Alcala 42, 28014 Madrid
Nearest Metro: Sevilla/Banco de Espana
General admission €1, roof terrace €3, exhibitions €3, all-in-one €4
Tel: +34 91 360 54 00
Cover photo: Flickr/ Mauro Fuentes
Photos: Flickr / Cerfon – Pegatina1