Fodor's Expert Review Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
This 16th-century building was restricted for 200 years to women of royal blood. Its plain, brick-and-stone facade begets an opulent interior strewn with paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán, Titian, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder—all part of the dowry that novices had to provide when they joined the monastery—as well as a hall of sumptuous tapestries crafted from drawings by Peter Paul Rubens. The convent was founded in 1559 by Juana of Austria, one of Felipe II's sisters, who ruled Spain while he was in England and the Netherlands. It houses 33 different chapels—the age of Christ when he died and the maximum number of nuns allowed to live at the monastery—and more than 100 sculptures of Jesus as a baby. About 30 nuns (not necessarily of royal blood) still live here and grow vegetables in the convent's garden. You must take a (Spanish-only) tour in order to visit the convent.