Only 20 minutes away by metro from Puerta del Sol stands the Faro de Moncloa, a 110-metre tower with 360 degree views across the urban landscape of Madrid and the Guadarrama mountain range.
This former lighting tower, designed by architect Salvador Pérez Arroyo, was built in 1992 to mark Madrid’s year as European Capital of Culture. It’s easy to remember because its panoramic lifts go up exactly 92 metres to the observation deck, from which you can see the entire city, as if you were riding on a flying saucer. And I’m not kidding, the Faro seems to hover, just grazing the tops of the roofs in the Argüelles neighbourhood right over towards the centre of Madrid. Its metal casing and sharp-edged, curved lines hint at a certain fascination for technology, built in a style that was popular in the 1990s and intended to completely transform the area around the Ciudad Universitaria campus.
You can tour the Faro de Moncloa accompanied by a guide from Tuesday to Sunday between 9.30 am and 1 pm. From 1.30 through to 8.30 pm you can visit the Faro independently. Mónica, our guide through the clouds, tells us that distances from a bird’s-eye view are not what they seem. “Look how close the AZCA skyscrapers – with the slender Torre Picasso on top – seem to be, and Cibeles Palace too, but if you walk down Paseo de la Castellana it takes you a really long time to get from one place to the other”. The same thing happens when you look towards Casa de Campo Park, as green as a football pitch in the spring, and just behind that, the mountains, which look as though they’re merely a stone’s throw away. Mónica says that on a clear day you can even see the Monastery of El Escorial whose layout inspired the Air Force Headquarters, “its miniature version”, right in front of the Faro de Moncloa. On Gran Vía you can see the Telefónica Building, the first skyscraper to be built in Madrid, which as Mónica says, “looks like it’s wearing high heels”. But, for a few years now, the Madrid skyline has been dominated by the Cuatro Torres Business Area, although, surprisingly, we can only see three of the towers, as the Torre Espacio building is just hidden by the Torre de Cristal, the glass-cladded tower. My own favourite is definitely the tower built by Norman Foster, which looks like a chain hanging from the sky.
As the tour ends a French couple ask how many inhabitants Madrid has, and Mónica replies “more than 3 million, but there are around 6 million in the metropolitan area”. Then some young Americans, who had been wandering from one side of the observation deck to the other to see if they could spot the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, confirm with our guide that the home of Real Madrid can’t be seen from the Faro. “Visitors gaze at the horizon as if it were a map. It’s lovely, as each one searches for their own particular landmarks. People from Madrid always ask me where their neighbourhood is and tourists want me to point out the Moncloa Palace, Toledo or Segovia,” says this extraordinary guide Mónica Fernández before we say goodbye.
A very pleasant way of getting to the Faro de Moncloa from the city centre is to walk there. It takes about 45 minutes and you can either go along Calle Princesa, one of Madrid’s shopping hubs, or along Calle de Pintor Rosales, where you can take in other tourist attractions like the Temple of Debod, from whose gardens there is another fantastic view over the city, and the Cable Car that links the Oeste and Casa de Campo parks. Make sure you leave enough time to explore the Ciudad Universitaria campus, which has some of the most interesting museums in Madrid; just another way of making the most of your visit to the Faro de Moncloa. Right at the base of the Faro, in a building similar to the Franciscan missions built by the Spanish on the other side of the Atlantic, is the Museum of the Americas, with colonial and pre-Columbian art collections that include the Quimbaya Treasure. For people hungry for more culture, only five minutes’ walk away is the Garment Museum, which runs a flawless programme of exhibitions on clothing. Flying saucers, ocean voyages and a landscape of great natural beauty only a few steps away from the centre of Madrid, it’s all available in Faro de Moncloa and its immediate vicinity.