Like the song says, “I love a parade“. I love the precision, the crowds, the music, and the excitement. Military parades have the added bonus of martial traditions and a celebration of a nation’s history. In the case of Spain’s parade at the Royal Palace, Madrid, the whole show is enhanced with a changing of the guard (on the first Wednesday of the month at noon) on the grounds of the courtyard, and is sometimes attended by royalty (though not when I was there). It’s certainly the best free show in town!
In any event, the parade is the largest of its kind I’ve seen by a wide margin. I counted over 40 horses, 2 artillery pieces, 2 caissons, and hundreds of infantrymen, including a precision drill team, which fires a 21 gun salute just when no one is expecting it. All are dressed in period costumes from around the 16th-18th centuries, but my favorites are the conquistadores, whose armor gleams in the bright sun like a mirror. It truly is an extravagant display of prestige and power, and I was just as likely as anyone in the crowd to applaud the effort.
If you go, here’s some pointers:
When to go: The parade is the first Wednesday of every month at noon. You should time your arrival for about 1130hrs just to get the “lay of the land” and secure a place in line.
Where to go:
Go to the east side of the palace. They will have a gate opened where Calle de Ballein meets Calle Requena. The parade will center roughly on that entrance, so once you pass through the breezeway and go inside the courtyard, use that as a reference. You can also go to the south side (where the ticket office is during normal business hours). That will be opened as well. When I went, both lines were similar…about 100 feet in length, but they moved fast. Allow 15 minutes in the line at most and you’ll be inside the courtyard in time to position yourself (however, keep in mind, I am tall, so I can see over most people and was OK with looking over some heads). If you want a “front row” experience, you will need to arrive earlier…I would estimate 30 minutes ahead.
You can also skip the lines, but your experience IMO will not be as good. To do this, simply go to the south side of the complex between the cathedral and the courtyard, which you can access freely. Position yourself as close to the center as possible. There, you’ll be able to see through the iron fence, but keep in mind, if you’re not front row from this position, some of the iron bars will block your view. In either case, you’ll mostly be further from the action than if you’re in the courtyard. However, you’ll get a closer-up look at the entire procession as they roll through the gates from this vantage point, since all of the parade accesses the courtyard by moving through the gates in that fence.
What to wear: You will be outside with no shade the entire time. Dress accordingly. Bring water.
Both before and after the parade, you can get a close-up look at the entire procession by positioning yourself along the east (Calle de Ballein) or southeast (plaza between cathedral and courtyard) side of the palace. I was, in fact, near the end of the parade, able to move quickly from the courtyard, through the breezeway, and back to the east side (this is only about 100 feet) in time to see much of the procession pass by within just a few feet.
After the parade, the band will set up on Calle de Ballein to play more music.