Madrid is the capital and largest city in Spain . It is located on the Manzanares river in the center of the country. Sitting on top of a plateau at 667 m above sea level, it is the highest capital in Europe. The result is a rather extreme climate with very hot summers and bitterly cold winters. Spring is the best time to visit and explore this vibrant city famous for its ever-blue sky.
Due to its geographical location and history, Madrid has been considered, together with Lisbon (Portugal’s capital), the financial and political center of the Iberian Peninsula . As the former capital of the old Spanish Empire , Madrid has been bestowed with a degree of cultural predominance. Renowned museums such as Museo del Prado , the Museo Reina Sofia , and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza are major tourist attractions in the city. Other cultural highlights include the Royal Palace of Madrid and the nearby royal monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial .
Although one can safely say that architectural beauty or historical importance are not Madrid’s prime fortes, what the city lacks in these spheres it makes up for in its vibrant feel, boundless energy, ever-blue skies, art and culture - not to mention the most intense nightlife in the whole of Europe. The city center is compact and most of the tourist attractions can be found within the area between Palacio Real and Parque del buen Retiro.
Among the typical Spanish activities on offer in Madrid, a visit to the bullring should be on top of the list. Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventas is Spain’s largest bullring, where regular bullfights are still held.
If you are into somewhat less bloody sports, we reccomend a visit to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu to watch Real Madrid, or Atletico de Madrid, Spain’s most famous football teams.
Following the restoration of democracy in 1975 (After the 36-year rule of dictator Francisco Franco) and the integration to the European Union , Madrid has experienced an increasing role in European finances making it one of the most important Southern European cities.
Madrid has a continental climate with pleasant autumns and springs, and temperatures around 15 degrees. Summers and winters can be more extreme; during the summer the temperature can soar to 39° C, whereas winters can be really cold; the average winter temperature is around 5 degrees, but it can drop below zero, especially in January. Madrid is not rainy, its average annual precipitation being 438 mm. On average, the warmest month is July and the coolest one is January. November is the average wettest month.
January average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall February average temperature 7 deg Celsius, 43.2 mm rainfall March average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 38.1 mm rainfall April average temperature 11 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall May average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 40.6 mm rainfall June average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 25.4 mm rainfall July average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 10.2 mm rainfall August average temperature 24 deg Celsius, 10.2 mm rainfall September average temperature 21 deg Celsius, 30.5 mm rainfall October average temperature 14 deg Celsius, 45.7 mm rainfall November average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 63.5 mm rainfall December average temperature 7 deg Celsius, 48.3 mm rainfall
Madrid is the biggest transportation hub of Spain, which makes it easy to reach. The best option is by air. A train will get you there fast but they are expensive. Driving is also an option since the major Spanish highways lead you directly into the city.
Barajas Airport is located 13 km to the northeast of the city. Madrid has good international transportation connections, so it is easy to reach the city by air from almost anywhere. Flying time from New York is seven hours and from London around two.
The metro is the easiest and quickest way of reaching the city. Take line 8 from the airport to Nuevos Ministerios. From there you can connect to your final destination. The airport bus runs to Plaza de Colon into the city center every 15 minutes. A taxi will cost you around €15. They are stationed outside the airport terminal and it is a good option if you have a lot of luggage. Choose the official Madrid taxis; they are white with red stripes on the doors. Be prepared for an airport surcharge and an additional charge for each large piece of luggage. By car you can reach central Madrid by the A2 Barcelona route or the M30 highway.
There are two major train stations; Atocha (the city’s larges) handles most of the traffic within Spain, while the second one, Chamartin, handles international connections. Be warned, though, train fares are often as expensive as plane tickets.
Bus travel is less popular than train, but it can be faster. There is no central bus depot but rather 8 major stations, handling different destinations within Spain, around Europe and elsewhere.
Major national highways come to Madrid, so it is easy to arrive by car. The city is surrounded by two ring roads, the inner (M30), and the outer (M40) from which it is easy to reach main highways.
The Madrid metro is fast and efficient and the quickest and easiest way to get around and it only costs 1 EUR no matter how far you are traveling. www.metromadrid.es/
The red city bus runs from 6 am to midnight, after that the night busses, called buyos, run to suburbs from Plaza de Cibeles. Cost: €1 per ride.
Taxis are not expensive for European standards. However, be prepared for additional charges – on weekends, during holidays, beyond city limits, and at night.
Driving in the city can be stressful, since there are few parking spaces and traffic is heavy most of the time.
Walking is perhaps the best way of getting around, since the city center is compact and easily manageable on foot.
Address: Paseo de la Castellana 144 Phone: 91-398 4300 Web: www.realmadrid.es Access: Metro - Santiago Bernabeu
Real Madrid is, for many, the best football team in the world. The team plays at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. This enormous stadium can take 75,000 people and is located in the northern suburb of Chamartín.
Tickets can be obtained daily at the stadium from 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Expect prices in the range of €30 for a seat with a reasonable view.
Madrid is the second epicentre of buillfightling after Andalusia. The city has to bullfighting venues, the larger and more prominent is Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventas, which is one of the biggest and most famous bullfighting rings in the world. It was inaugurated in 1931 and is regarded as the home of bullfighting in Spain and perhaps in the world. Bullfights are a popular event and the atmosphere is always electrifying! The ring seats 25,000 visitors. The price depends upon how close to the "arena" you sit and whether you are in the sun or the shade (the latter is more expensive).
The bullfighting season runs from March to the end of October, every Sunday. Special shows occur on August 15 and October 12. Bullfights start at 6:00 or 7:00 pm and last for two to three hours.
The museum’s highlights include Diego Velázquez 's Las Meninas, and Francisco de Goya 's La Maja Vestida and La Maja Desnuda. Originally a natural history museum, it was converted into a museum for Spanish art in 1819. Today, over 7000 works are on display, the majority of which date back to the 17 th and 18 th centuries. You can also see some Italian and Flemish masters.
The entrance to the museum is free on Sunday mornings.
CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFIA
Address: Plaza Santa Isabel 52 Central 28012 Web: museoreinasofia.mcu.es / Open: Wednesday - Monday 10:00 am - 9:00 pm, Sunday 10:00 am - 2:30 pm
The museum has on display the cream of modern Spanish art. The most famous exhibit is Picasso's Guernica, a large canvass commissioned by the Spanish Republican government depicting the consequences of the bombing of Guernica.
Other famous artists represented here are Joan Miró, Vassily Kandinsky and Salvador Dalí.
THYSSEN BORNEMISZA MUSEUM
Address: Paseo del Prado, 8, Palacio de Villahermosa, Madrid, 28014 Web: www.museothyssen.org Phone: +1 34 91 3690151 Access: Metro - Banco de España Admission: €4.80 / €3 students, senior citizens / free – under 12 years of age.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza family collected art works over a number of generations and has become one of the finest private collections in the world. The Spanish state bought the whole lot in 1993 for 350 million dollars and converted the villa into a fabulous art gallery. You can see works by Van Dyck, Caravaggio, Rubens, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Kandinsky and others.
Address: Calle de Bailen Centro Web: www.patrimonionacional.es Phone: 91/454-8800 Open: April – September: Monday–Saturday 9:00 am – 6:00 pm, Sundays & holidays 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. / October – March: Monday – Saturday 9:30 am – 5:00 pm, Sundays & holidays 9:00 am – 2:00 pm. - Closed during official receptions Admission: €8/9 guided tour.
The Royal palace was commissioned by Felipe V in the early 18 th century. Inside are some 2800 rooms, each more opulent than the other. Visitors are allowed in around 50 rooms, and the guided tour takes approximately two hours. 1931 was the last time a monarch actually lived here, the current king and queen reside in the much simpler Zarzuela Palace outside Madrid and this is now the palace used for official occasions.
Address: Plaza Mayor Madrid de los Austrias 28012
Plaza Mayor is a quiet and grandiose arcaded square, where autos-da-fe (public burnings of heretics), criminal executions, royal marriages and bullfights took place. Today it still hosts fairs, bazaars and performances. It is one of the largest public squares in Europe, and as it is closed to motorized traffic, it makes an ideal place to sit in one of the street cafés and watch artists and musicians.
PARQUE DEL BUEN RETIRO
Open: May - September 6:00 am - 12:00 am; October - April 6:00 am - 10:00 pm
Escape the city in the huge, lush, green Parque del Buen Retiro public garden. The people of Madrid like to buy a bag of sunflower seeds or kikos (fried corn kernels), dress up in their best and stroll down the long paseo (promenade) in front of the artificial lake overlooked by a massive statue of Alfonso XII.
You can rent a boat on the lake; enjoy numerous musicians, poets, magicians and summer puppet shows for kids performing on the promenade. The park has a beautiful rose garden, La Rosaleda.
Madrid is the Spanish city of immigrants so the city's cuisine has had many influences; from Asturian, Andalucian, Basque, Navarran, Catalan, Valencian, Murcian and Galician cooking.
Of course there is also a variety of international cuisines from which to choose, for example French, Indian and North African.
Madrid also offers wonderful seafood and fabulous tapas. Note that in Madrid people eat late. Lunch is from 2:00 pm, and dinner from 9:00 pm.
Address: Ventura de la Vega 4 Phone: 91-429 50 92 Open daily for lunch and dinner. Access: Metro - Sevilla
Vegetarian food prepared in an informal setting with a lot of imagination - for example nettle soup and stuffed courgettes. The high-quality set menu is a bargain and has a good wine list.
Address: Belén 13 Phone: 91-308 20 89 Open daily for Lunch and Dinner Access: Metro - Chueca, Alonso Martínez
A friendly Mexican café offering good Mexican food, decorated with hand-painted murals. Also offers also vegetarian dishes.
El Ventorrillo Murciano
Address: Tres Peces 20 Phone: 91-528 8309 Open: Wednesday – Saturday: Lunch and Dinner / Sunday: Lunch time only Access: Metro - Anton Martín
A simple and unpretentious restaurant specializing in southeastern Murcian cooking. It also features Arabian salads and rice with good game, shellfish and vegetables.
You can accompany your meal with their selection of the region’s excellent red wines.
La Gloria de Montera
Address: Calle del Caballero de Gracia 10 Centro
A modern, minimalist Mediterranean restaurant with a young and vibrant atmosphere. The menu ranges from sole in an almond sauce to chicken fillet prepared in finas hierbas . Good food and reasonable prices means this restaurant is often quite busy.
The best tapas bars of Madrid are to be found around Plaza Santa Ana, southeast of the Puerta del Sol. Choose from the following bars:
Address: Alvarez Gato 3
The famous Madrid's tapas were invented here; try the patatas bravas (deep-fried potatoes in spicy pepper sauce).
Address: Calle Manuel Fernandez Gonzalez 3
An unpretentious Castilian place, offering good wine, canapés of smoked fish and excellent tortillas.
Address: Calle de Echegaray 7
A simple but genuine bar serving only sherries, finos and manzanillas and tapas of olives, jamón serrano and cheese.
La Casa del Abuelo
Address: Calle Victoria
Try the gambas and the unusual local sweet red wine.
People of Madrid love parties and festivals provide a great opportunity. The city's biggest festival is the Fiesta de San Isidro. There are numerous other festivities, from religious to purely cultural. For more information on festivals visit the city's website at: www.munimadrid.es /.
Date: a week before nand after 15 May Location: Plaza Mayor, Plaza de las Vistillas, Plaza de las Comendadoras, Plaza de Felipe II, Parque del Retiro and the Centro Cultural de la Villa in the Jardines del Descubrimiento
San Isidro fiestas Each May Madrid holds celebrations dedicated to the city’s patron saint. For this occasion Madrilennos dress up in traditional 19 th century costumes and head for the fair to visit San Isidro's chapel.
It is the liveliest and most popular festivity in Madrid, lasting for 10 days around May 15, the saint’s day. There are numerous free events, including theatre shows, traditional dancing, pop, rock, folk and flamenco concerts in Plaza Mayor and Las Vistillas. The big day is the Sunday closest to May 15, when the Spanish Army serves an enormous batch of cocido madrileo (typical tripe stew) for the masses in Plaza Mayor. San Isidro’s fiestas mark also the beginning of bullfighting season at Las Ventas.
Date: February/March Venues: various
The Carnival of Madrid is a popular event of both the capital and entire country. The festival was forbidden by the Spanish dictator Franco but was revived in 1947, after 40 years.
The festival takes place in several venues, the best known of all events is the opening parade along the Paseo de la Castellana. Many evening concerts and fancy dress competitions take place at Plaza Mayor. The Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday with the 'Burial of the Sardine' parade, where the participants all dressed in black carry a cardboard sardine in a coffin and bury it at the Fuente de los Pajaritos.
The largest art fair in Europe draws around 200,000 visitors every year. Madrid becomes the hub of international art for five days with over 200 contemporary art galleries represented in the exhibition, and accompanying program of lectures, social events and other activities.
FIESTA DE LA COMUNIDAD DE MADRID
Date: May 2
“The festival of the community of Madrid” commemorates May 2, 1808, when citizens rebelled against Napoleonic forces. It is a public holiday and includes a wide variety of concerts, open-air dancing, street theatre and fireworks.
FESTIVAL DE OTONO / Autumn Festival
The festival occurs in October/November. The emphasis is on cultural events. There are over 50 dance, theatre and musical groups from countries throughout Europe, the Middle East and America participating in a program of opera, ballet, dance, music and theatre at about 40 locations throughout the city. Many outdoor events are free of charge.
During August, celebrations are held at various districts of Madrid. From the 6th to the 15th, the Fiestas de San Lorenzo, San Cayetano and the Virgen de la Paloma are commemorated with processions, open-air dancing, and sidewalk concerts in the park of the Vistillas and vicinity.
Few cities have the vibrant nightlife found in Madrid. The city centre is crowded with night clubs, discos, late-night restaurants, bars and pubs. It happens every day of the week so don't be surprised if you find yourself in a traffic jam at 5:00 am on a Tuesday night.
In summer time, especially at night, there are many open-air terraces in the areas of the Paseo de la Castellana and the Parque del Oeste.
There is a wide variety of nightclubs and they can be found virtually everywhere. Prices vary a lot, from cheap to very expensive. They are open from midnight onwards but usually fill up at around 3:00 am. You can find techno, salsa, merengue, house, hip-hop, acid, disco and anything else you can think of. The Chueca district has mainly gay clubs. The Malasaña district offers rock, indie and alternative clubs. The Huertas district is the place for latin and jazz clubs. Note that drinks in some clubs can be really expensive.
Although originating in the south of Spain, Madrid offers many top acts. Visit Casa Patas or Candela, or just walk around the Plaza Mayor and you are bound to find something to suit your taste. Expect to pay a lot for it.
According to some historians Madrid was founded by the Romans but it is more probable that it has its origins as an Islamic garrison. In the 9 th century Moors built a military outpost against Christian attacks. The settlement was called Mayrit and remnants of the defensive wall can still be seen below the Almudena Cathedral. Christians launched numerous unsuccessful attacks to regain the lost land, succeeding eventually in 1086. Hegemony over the region was handed to the King Alfonso VI of Castile, but the town status was only marginal.
During the 14 th century nobility began to gather in Madrid, seeking a pleasant retreat from other parts of country distrupted by unrest. By the 15 th century Madrid became a center of trade and finance. The Catholic monarchs, Isabel and Ferdinand, united the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in 1474. Granada, the last Muslim stronghold on the peninsula, fell in 1492. In the same year, Columbus discovered the New World, which brought Spain great wealth. During that time most of the Jewish population was expelled from Spain.
Isabele and Ferdinand’s son, Carlos I, succeeded not only to the throne of Spain but also to that of the Habsburgs, thus becoming Holy Roman Emperor over a vast territory from Austria to Holland and from Spain to the American colonies. Carlos’ son Felipe II appointed Madrid the permanent seat of the royal court in 1561. Felipe was much too concerned with the empire and neglected the city. The next century saw Spaniards troubled by continuous wars and inflation. The rulers of the country fled to Madrid where they erected fantastic churches and palaces, while the rest of the nation suffered poverty. By 1656 the city was overflowing by immigrants, its population growing to 150,000.
In 1700 Carlos II died and was succeeded by French-born Felipe V. He set about regenerating the city, which was then in a sorry state. N ew palaces (including the Palacio Real de Madrid) were built during his reign. However, it would not be until Carlos III (1716 – 1788) that Madrid would become a modern city. Carlos III was one of the most popular kings in the history of Madrid, and the saying "the best mayor, the king" became popular during those times. When Carlos IV (1748 - 1819) became king the people of Madrid revolted. After the Mutiny of Aranjuez which was led by his own son Fernando VII, Carlos IV resigned, but Fernando VII's reign would be short: in May of 1808 Napoleon's troops entered the city. On May 2, 1808 (Spanish: Dos de Mayo) the Madrilenes revolted against the French forces, whose brutal reaction would have a lasting impact on French rule in Spain and France's image in Europe in general.
After the war of independence in 1814, Fernando VII came back to the throne, but after a liberal military revolution, Colonel Riego made the king swear fealty to the Constitution. This would start a period where liberal and conservative government alternated, that would end with the enthronement of Isabel II (1830 - 1904).
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
Isabel II could not calm the political tension that would lead to yet another revolt, the First Spanish Republic, and the return of the monarchs which eventually led to the Second Spanish Republic and the Spanish Civil War. Madrid was one of the most affected cities by this war and its streets were battlezones. It was during the Civil War (1936 - 1939) that Madrid became the first city to be bombed by aerial attack specifically targeting civilians.
During the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, Madrid became very industrialized and there was a massive migration into the city. Towards the end of the dictatorship the Basque terrorist group ETA assassinated Franco's Prime Minister, Luis Carrero Blanco, in the Street of Claudio Coello. Like anything related to ETA, this incident is still today a matter of controversy; while some think that it created further instability, others hold that the terrorist action - by preventing Carrero Blanco from continuing the dictatorship after Franco's death - contributed to the country moving towards democracy.
After the death of Franco, emerging democratic parties (including those of left-wing and republican ideology) accepted Franco's wishes to be succeeded by Juan Carlos I (in order to secure stablity and democracy) which led Spain to its current position as a constitutional monarchy.
Benefiting from the prosperity it gained in the 1980s, the capital city of Spain has consolidated its position as the leading economic, cultural, industrial, educational, and technological center on the Iberian peninsula.
Contemporary Madrid came into its own after the death of the Fascist dictator Francisco Franco. Years of the Franco regime left Madrid and much of the country in economic shambles due to isolation. With his death, Madrid, and Spain as a whole, began to reassert itself on to the international stage. Within Spain, reaction against the dictatorial bureaucracy centered in Madrid and a history of centralism that predated Franco by centuries has resulted in the successful modern movement towards increased autonomy of Spanish regions, considered as autonomous regions united under Spain.
Modern Madrid ranks as one of the important cities in Europe, a leading southern European city and the most important link between the European Union and Latin America.
The modern metropolis is home to over three million people. As expected with any major European capital city, each district (or barrio in Spanish) has its own color and character.
When introduced expect to shake hands. Once a relationship is established, men may embrace and pat each other on the shoulder. Female friends kiss each other on both cheeks, starting with the left. People are often referred to as Don or Dona and their first name when in formal occasion as a general rule. Many men use a two-handed shake where the left hand is placed on the right forearm of the other person.
If invited to a Spaniard's home, you can bring chocolates, pastries, or cakes; wine, liqueur, or brandy; or flowers to the hostess. If you know your hosts have children, they may be included in the evening, so a small gift for them is always appreciated.
Unlike in the U.S.A., tipping is not an established custom in Spain. It is not customary to leave tips at bars and cafeterias, neither in cabs. If you decide to, you can leave some small change. The same rule applies to the restaurants. At posh restaurants with very good service, a 5% tip is considered generous.
Madrid is as safe as any cosmopolitan community; the problems usually encountered by tourists are bag-snatching and pick-pocketing. Major hot spots are shopping areas, parks, the metro and other crowded places. Especially popular are the fast food stalls at the Rastro market. Remember that pick-pockets usually work in pairs, so while you are being distracted your wallet is being stolen. Take extra care in crowded tourist areas, do not show large amounts of money in public, and keep your passport and other valuables in the hotel safe.
Madrid has a big drug problem so a large percentage of petty crimes are drug-related. This activity is most evident in the Piaza de España and some of the streets to the north of Gran Vía.
Tourists are often targets of muggers so it is best to keep jewellery, cameras and watches hidden, and to avoid dark, lonely streets at night.
Cars are often broken into, so it is advisable to park in a garage.
Emergency phone numbers:
Emergency: 112 (English uis usually spoken as well)
If you are robbed contact the local police station, or call 091 (national police) or 092 (municipal police).
The spring months of March, April, May, and autumn (October) are the best times to visit Madrid. The weather is nice and the city is not so crowded with tourists. Remember that Spain is the number-one destination for European travelers so if you want to avoid crowds come before June or after September.
If you love parties visit Madrid during May, when the city's biggest festival is underway. It is advisable to book ahead since there are bound to be many people around at this time.
During August Spaniards have vacations and the biggest traffic jams are expected on August 1 and 31. Be prepared for many restaurants and shops to be closed. Museums, however, stay open.
Summers in Spain are really hot, as temperatures can soar well above 30 degrees, reaching as high as 38°. So limit your sightseeing to early morning and continue your activities at night, when it is pleasantly warm.
Winters in Madrid can be bitterly cold, but you can go skiing in nearby resorts from December to March.