El Teatro Real, Madrid Opera House

Maybe from the outside it isn’t the most impressive building in Madrid, but a marvelous surprise is hidden inside. The iconic Teatro Real (Royal Theater), established in 1850, surprises visitors with its elegant decoration, boundless luxury and wonderful acoustics. Without a doubt, this is a must-see for opera lovers in Madrid.

Royal Theater Madrid Opera
The majestic Royal Theater in Madrid, the most important Opera House in Spain / Image credits: OgoTours

In total, the building has 22 floors (14 above and 8 underground) which house dressing rooms, rehearsal studios, workshops, scenography, etc. A miniature city in which more than 500 people work each day so that audiences can enjoy their shows each night. All told, the Teatro Real de Madrid has an area of more than 65,000 square meters (about 700,000 sq. ft.).

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The Royal Theater in Madrid (Opera House)

Traditionally, opera theaters are built near water because the sound quality is richer. However, the Teatro Real in Madrid is not built near the water, but over it. The theater sits on top of a huge aquifer. In fact, its location once caused serious structural problems to the building, leading to mandatory remodeling.

Royal Theater in Madrid
Royal Theater Madrid - Panoramic views from the balcony of the Royal Theater. At the bottom of the image we can see the Royal Palace. On the left, the towers and the dome of the Almudena Cathedral / Image credits: OgoTours

A sarcophagus-shaped theater

To some, it might not seem like the most appropriate shape for such a stately building as an opera house, but the Teatro Real de Madrid was designed in the shape of a sarcophagus. This curious choice did not go unnoticed by the Madrilenians of that time, eliciting criticism in the press.

Opera House Madrid Royal Theater
Aerial view of the Teatro Real / Image credits: Google Maps

No legend or mysteries of the occult are hidden behind this sarcophagus shape; the architects simply took advantage of the available land without affecting the surrounding buildings. This solution allowed them to maximize the space and save on costs.

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More than 30 years under construction

This fantastic theater was the project of King Fernando VII, who wanted to give Madrid a grand opera house on the level of the major European capitals (Milan, Paris, Vienna, etc.). But it wouldn’t be an easy task.

In the same spot where the Teatro Real now stands, there used to be another: the Real Teatro de los Caños del Peral, built in the 18th century. First of all, the old Real Teatro de los Caños del Peral had to be demolished, because it was in very bad condition.

The ceremony of laying the first stone took place on April 23, 1818. However, the Teatro Real was not opened until 32 years later (1850). Political circumstances, the outbreak of the Carlist War and a lack of resources were the cause of constant delays in its construction. It was so held up that King Fernando VII never got to see it finished, with his daughter Isabel II being the one to inaugurate it.

Teatro Real Madrid Opera House
Interior of the Teatro Real - This theater has a hydraulic system of mobile platforms that allows the simultaneous assembly of up to three scenographies / Image credits: Wikipedia (C.C.)

Its opening was a huge success. Critics compared the Teatro Real de Madrid with the famous Scala in Milan, one of the most important theaters in the world. In fact, shortly after its opening, the theater received a visit from none other than Giuseppe Verdi, who was pleasantly surprised by the newly-inaugurated opera house in Madrid. Verdi’s visit was quite an event among Madrid’s high society.

If you want to discover the Teatro Real and many other places, book our Madrid Free Walking Tour. We are a small family business and we try to transmit our love for Madrid in every tour we give. After our tour, you’ll feel like an authentic madrileño.

Useful information:

-Capacity: 1750 people

Address: Plaza Isabel II s/n

-Opened in 1850

-Guided Tours:

Today, the Teatro Real de Madrid organizes different guided tours that uncover the secrets of Madrid’s opera house. Along with your guide, you can visit the stage, workshops, dressing rooms, rehearsal studios, etc. More information: http://www.teatro-real.com/en/tours/guided-tours


People under 30 can enjoy operas in Madrid for just €19 (90% discount). These tickets can only be purchased at the Box Office on the same day of the perfomance from 4PM (ID card is required).

About Javier

Hola! My name is Javier Redondo, tour guide in Madrid for more than 8 years.
As a good "Madrileño", I love football (I support Atlético de Madrid), eating tapas and walk the cobblestone streets of old Madrid 🙂

This Madrid blog is where I share tips on popular attractions, local food and off-beat spots.

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