Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a cosmopolitan city that combines the most modern infrastructures and the status as an economic, financial, administrative and service centre, with a large cultural and artistic heritage, a legacy of centuries of exciting history.
Strategically located in the geographic centre of the Iberian Peninsula at an altitude of 646 m above sea level, Madrid has one of the most important historic centres of all the great European cities. This heritage merges seamlessly with the city's modern and convenient infrastructures, a wide-ranging offer of accommodation and services, and all the latest state-of-the-art technologies in audiovisual and communications media. These conditions, together with all the drive of a dynamic and open society –as well as high-spirited and friendly– have made this metropolis one of the great capitals of the Western world.
It has been populated since the Lower Palaeolithic era, although it was not until 1561 that King Philip II made Madrid the capital city of his vast empire. The historic centre, also known as the "Madrid of Los Austrias" (in reference to the Hapsburg monarchs), and the spectacular Plaza Mayor square –inaugurated in 1620 and one of the most popular and typical sites in Spain– are a living example of the nascent splendour of the city in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Near the Plaza Mayor is the area known as the "aristocratic centre" where the jewel in the crown is the Royal Palace, an imposing building dating from the 17th century featuring a mixture of Baroque and classicist styles. Beside it is the Plaza de Oriente square, the Teatro Real opera house, and the modern cathedral of La Almudena which was consecrated in 1993 by Pope John Paul II. The Puerta del Sol square is surrounded by a varied and select area of shops and businesses, and the "Paseo del Arte" art route –whose name derives from its world-class museums, palaces and gardens– are further elements in an array of monuments which includes particularly the Bank of Spain building, the Palace of Telecommunications, and the fountains of Cibeles and Neptune.
Art and culture play a key role in Madrid's cultural life. The capital has over 60 museums which cover every field of human knowledge. Highlights include the Prado Museum, one of the world's most important art galleries; the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, with over 800 paintings ranging from primitive Flemish artists through to the avant-garde movements. And the Reina Sofía National Art Centre, dedicated to contemporary Spanish art and containing works by Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Juan Gris, among others.
Madrid's extensive and beautifully maintained parks and gardens –like the Retiro park, formerly the recreational estate to the Spanish monarchs, the Casa de Campo and the Juan Carlos I park– offer inhabitants and visitors the chance to enjoy the sunshine, stroll, row on its lakes or feed the squirrels, in one of the greenest capitals in Europe. The importance of its international airport, which every week receives over 1,000 flights from all over the world, its two Conference Centres, the modern trade fair ground in the Campo de las Naciones, and over 80,000 places in other meeting centres make Madrid one of Europe's most attractive business hubs.
But if there's one thing that sets Madrid apart, it must be its deep and infectious passion for life that finds its outlet in the friendly and open character of its inhabitants. Concerts, exhibitions, ballets, a select theatrical offering, the latest film releases, the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of the best Spanish and international gastronomy, to savour the charms of its bars and taverns... all these are just a few of the leisure options on offer in Madrid. There is also a tempting array of shops and businesses featuring both traditional establishments and leading stores offering top brands and international labels.
Madrid's lively nightlife is another key attraction of Spain's capital, due to its variety and the exciting atmosphere to be found in its bars, pubs, clubs and flamenco halls. Other daytime entertainment options include traditional outdoor dances, popular festivities and the San Isidro bullfighting festival, regarded as being the most important in the world.
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An attractive blend of tradition and modernity
Madrid has many artistic attractions, thanks to the different styles that have left their imprint in the city over the centuries.
From the remains of the old Arab wall, to small Gothic churches and early Renaissance works, Madrid boasts a multitude of rich and varied works of art. Madrid comes from the Arabic word Magerit ("mother of waters"), which was the name that was given to the fortress built on the banks of the Manzanares River by the Umayyad of Cordoba, Muhammed (823-886). Although the city grew under the Arabs for two hundred years, the only remains still standing from that period are the wall and a few towers, which were turned into bell towers. The arrival of Los Austrias –as the Hapsburg dynasty was known– in the 16th century, and at the period of maximum splendour in the 17th century, brought about the monuments that today make up one of the most famous parts of the city –the area of "Los Austrias"–, along with the Plaza Mayor square, and a number of beautiful sites churches and convents. The austere Baroque façades contrast with the luxurious interiors of the palaces. The 18th century left a Neoclassical imprint, with the Royal Palace, Sabatini Gardens, and Campo del Moro gardens, which are in the city centre. The church of San Francisco El Grande, the fountains in the Paseo del Prado, the Puente de Toledo bridge, the Prado Museum and the Puerta de Alcalá arch are also in the Neoclassical style. Madrid's more modern and avant-garde areas are the two avenues in the new urban expansion area –the Gran Vía and Paseo de la Castellana. The Gran Vía, which was built at the beginning of the 20th century, is a place for shopping, leisure and hotels. The Paseo de La Castellana crosses the city from north to south, and has some of the most elegant hotels in the city, as well as corporate offices in modern and avant-garde buildings. And although Madrid is home to a truly outstanding architectural heritage, there is no question that its greatest artistic wealth is to be found in its art galleries.
Three nearby museums, located a stone's throw away from each other, make what is known as the Paseo del Arte art route. These are the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Reina Sofía National Art Centre. The Prado Museum is considered by many experts to be the world's most important art gallery, thanks to its vast and comprehensive collection of 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century art featuring some of the greatest works of the Italian, Flemish and Spanish schools. The Prado is home to works by artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Rubens, Goya, Velazquez, Murillo, Fra Angelico, Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, Watteau, Tintoretto, El Greco, Ribera, Zurbarán, and a very long etcetera, in addition to a magnificent collection of classical sculpture. The Prado Museum offers private guided tours for groups, outside opening hours, to make this encounter with art an unforgettable experience. The Thyssen Bornemisza Museum is home to a private collection that was definitively bequeathed to the capital in 1993. It is regarded as outstanding because it contains a highly representative selection of art from a broad period of time, featuring primitive works of 13th-century painting through to the 20th-century avant-garde movements. Dürer, Tintoretto, Degas, Kandinsky, Goya, Cezanne, Matisse, Dalí, Miró, Picasso and Renoir are just some of the artists in this collection. The Paseo del Arte ends at the Reina Sofía National Art Centre, famous for housing Picasso's Guernica and for its collection of mainly Spanish contemporary painting. The importance of these three great art museums has unjustly eclipsed all the wealth and variety of the other museums to be found in Madrid. If time allows, visitors can choose from dozens of options, including such worthwhile art galleries as the San Fernando Royal Academy, through to the municipal museums and museums dedicated to particular themes such as the Romantic Museum, the Railway Museum, the Naval Museum, the Army Museum, the Museum of the Americas, the National Archaeological Museum, the National Museum of Natural Sciences, etc. Madrid is also the site of a series of palaces and monuments that together comprise one of the most important heritages in Western history. The National Heritage organisation is responsible for safeguarding these national assets subject to the use and service of the Crown, in addition to the administration of the convents and monasteries founded by the monarchs over the centuries. These institutions contain a great wealth of artworks, and for centuries served as a driving force for Spain's culture. This group of monuments, open to the public, includes the Royal Palace in Madrid, the Pantheon of Illustrious Men, the Descalzas Reales Monastery, the Royal Monastery of La Encarnación, the El Pardo Royal Palace, the Aranjuez Royal Palace, the Royal Monastery of El Escorial, the Casita del Príncipe in El Escorial, the Casita del Infante in El Escorial and the Benedictine abbey of Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caídos. One of the simplest and most convenient ways to discover the broad range of cultural attractions on offer in the Spanish capital is using the Madrid Card. It includes entrance to emblematic monuments and to more than 40 museums in Madrid and the surrounding area. It also offers the chance to take all the guided visits in the "Discover Madrid" programme offered by the City Tourist Board. It is on sale at tourist offices or online at www.madridcard.com.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Natural surroundings to be discovered
In Madrid there are many natural spaces with varied landscapes - from the Sierra de Madrid mountains, which is full of beautiful locations for practising snow and mountain sports, to the Aranjuez plain or the landscape of La Mancha in the area surrounding Alcalá de Henares.
Golf, sailing, windsurfing, horse riding, hot-air balloon trips and hiking are some of the possible activities. The people from Madrid also like to look after their many urban parks and gardens, some of them well-known historically like the Royal Residence of Aranjuez gardens, the Retiro Park in Madrid or the Casa de Campo park. Others were created recently, like the Juan Carlos I Park or the Tierno Galván Park. They can be found in different urban areas and are very beautiful green spaces.
Madrid, a showcase for Spanish cuisine
Madrid's tapas represent almost all the Spanish gastronomy.
Thanks to the excellent seafood, Iberian ham and cold meat, a variety of pickled vegetables, typical dishes such as prawns in batter, tripe or snails, excellent cheese, "pinchos" and casseroles, and all types of wine from all over the country, Madrid is the capital of tapas.
For young people
Leisure and enjoyment, day and night
Madrid is a city where young people will find leisure and enjoyment, day and night.
There is a host of possibilities. The Dos de Mayo fiestas, the Veranos de la Villa festival or the Autumn Festival are some of the examples of an agenda full of cultural and leisure attractions all year round, and that includes many activities for young people, such as concerts, cinema, theatre or dancing. Coming to a large city always has its privileges, such as being able to go to gigs by international artists, or to watch Real Madrid play in the stadium. Madrid comes alive at night, especially at the weekend. Discos, bars, cafés and fashionable clubs in different leisure areas and districts offer the best nightlife. And when the weather starts to get hot, the best thing is to have fun and hang out until the early hours of the morning in one of the many summer terraces that appear on the streets and avenues. Malasaña and the area surrounding Dos de Mayo square are the main places to hang out at night in Madrid. The university atmosphere is in Argüelles and Moncloa, and there are many fashionable clubs in Paseo de la Castellana and the streets around it. There is also a series of public initiatives that offer an alternative plan for the night, with a whole range of free activities that take place in several centres: sports, Internet, games, theatre workshops, music, dancing, etc. Sports lovers will find magnificent facilities to practise their favourite sport professionally. And if they prefer open-air sports, the outskirts of the city provide an ideal environment for hiking, horse riding, cycling, mountaineering, and any of the winter sports, including skiing and snowboarding.
To those who prefer cultural activities, Madrid offers museums and exhibitions, with special prices for young visitors. Holders of an International Student Identification Card - ISIC card, or a student ID will get significant discounts at the doors of most museums and exhibitions. Visitors under 18 can get into important museums like the Prado and Queen Sofía museums free of charge, showing proof of age. Travelling around the city, youngsters also have it easy, as there is a monthly public transport pass with a special price for people under 23.
Fun all year round
Madrid has a wide variety of leisure activities for children. Animal and nature lovers will be able to enjoy memorable moments in the Casa de Campo Zoo Aquarium and at Faunia, a "bio-amusement" theme park, which offers a fun approach to nature. Those who like more action will love Madrid's Amusement Park and the Warner Bros Madrid theme park, one of the most spectacular in the world.
In Madrid, museums are not only for adults. The Planetarium, with its 3-D cinema screen, Acciona, the interactive science museum, and the Cosmo Caixa museum in Alcobendas are some good examples. But there are also numerous other museums and exhibitions that organise specialised guided tours for school trips and children in general. The Madrid Card Niños is a good option for ensuring your children make the most of everything on offer: it includes admission to the museums in Madrid aimed at young audiences, and, of course, to the city's three most important galleries (the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and the Reina Sofía Art Centre). It also includes all the guided tours in the "Descubre Madrid" programme, unlimited use of the Madrid Visión sightseeing bus, a tour of the Santiago Bernabéu (Real Madrid) football stadium, entrance to the Zoo-Aquarium, and discounts for other leisure attractions, shows, restaurants and shops. Aimed at children aged up to 12 years, they are available for one, two, three and five days, and cost between €29 and €45. They are on sale at tourist offices or online at www.madridcard.com.
Madrid con niños
Madrid's calendar of cultural events also takes into consideration the needs of the youngsters, including in its theatre performances intended for children, special seasonal activities such as the Cabalgata de Reyes (the Twelfth Night procession), and Juvenalia, the Annual Children's and Youth Fair, that takes place in the Juan Carlos I Trade Fair Complex. In addition, most cinemas in the city have weekend morning sessions for children. During the summer, children can enjoy the wonderful facilities available in Madrid, such as public swimming pools, or water parks , like the ones in Villanueva de la Cañada and San Fernando de Henares. Madrid's mountains, situated to the north of the city, are a great choice for playing in the snow with youngsters during the winter months.
© Parque Warner
A whole range of options to please everybody
Everything from fabulous antiques to the very latest designs: the window displays with furniture, top fashion labels, gifts, souvenirs and speciality foods will delight visitors strolling through the city’s streets. There’s a whole world of shopping possibilities in Madrid’s shops, shopping centres and street markets.
Madrid has numerous shops and shopping centres to entice visitors of all ages out on a shopping trip… and many of them, both in the centre and in the suburban areas, are open all day. There are five main shopping areas in Madrid: Salamanca, Chueca, Centro, Princesa and Cuatro Caminos.
Other useful information
Opening times: most of the shops and shopping centres are open from 10am to 8.30 or 9.30 in the evening. Traditional shops open from 10.00 to 14.00 hours and from 16.30 to 20.30 hours. Sales: the winter sales generally begin in the second week of January and go on until the end of February, and the summer sales begin on 1 July and run until the end of August. How to pay: most people pay in cash or with a credit card, when you must show your passport or identity card. Tax free: residents from outside the European Union are entitled to have Value Added Tax (IVA) refunded on purchases of more than €90.15. Madrid Shopping Tour: this is a guided minibus tour of Madrid’s main shopping areas, and includes discounts in several different establishments. Another option is the Shopping Vip-Pack, which offers exclusive services such as delivery of your purchases to your hotel, and discounts and free gifts in participating shops. Las Rozas Village Shopping Tour: just 30 minutes outside Madrid, this option offers a day of fashion in over 95 cut-price outlet shops with goods by major Spanish and international labels, with a range of exclusive advantages. More information on www.lasrozasvillage.com.
A strategic point devoted to service
Madrid is exceptionally well equipped for trade fairs, conferences, and exhibitions, with two convention centres, and two trade fair complexes. Equipped with the most modern service facilities, the city's capacity and high standards attract more than five million professionals each year, who attend a variety of events.
Lavish palaces and castles mingle with modern buildings in Madrid, giving rise to a varied selection of venues for holding conferences, meetings, and all kinds of receptions. Here, each event will find a suitable venue, depending on the particular atmosphere it requires. All this makes of Madrid a rising travel destination, one of the world's favourites for holding business conferences and conventions. Fully aware of this, the city's range of accommodation is constantly growing and improving. Madrid's hotels are of exceptional quality, and the city has more than sixty-five thousand beds, half of which are in four and five star hotels. The premises, way above the European average, combine comfort with outstandingly professional, friendly, and personalised service. The accommodation, geared to conference, incentive, business, and cultural travel, is equipped with all the facilities necessary for holding meetings.
Madrid comes alive at night, especially at the weekend. Discos, bars, cafés and fashionable clubs in different leisure areas and districts offer the best nightlife. And when the weather starts to get hot, the best thing is to hang out at one of the numerous and lively summer terraces that appear in such profusion on the streets and avenues. Here are a few ideas to guide you when you set out to enjoy a night out on the town, from the early evening until the sun come up.
Early evening (between about 8 and 11 pm) Musicals and theatre: Madrid offers the chance to spend an unforgettable evening in the theatre with a whole range of musical shows every season. Some are completely original, and you'll only find them in Spain. Others are adapted classics not to be missed, and which in Madrid can be enjoyed in unique style. To get an idea of the wide offer of musicals you’ll find, just take a stroll down the Gran Vía avenue and see the theatres on both sides of the streets. Going out for tapas: Madrid is the ideal city for enjoying the popular custom of “going out for tapas”: moving from one bar to another with your friends and enjoying delicious bite-sized portions of typical local specialities (potato omelette, spicy fried potatoes in sauce, croquettes, squid, cod, bull’s tail…) accompanied by a refreshing glass of beer or a good wine, and interesting conversation. In the historic centre (mainly in the neighbourhoods of Huertas and La Latina, near the Plaza Mayor) you’ll find classic taverns (with their unmistakeable tile-covered façades) and modern venues where in addition to tapas you can order “raciones” (more plentiful dishes to share).
You’ll also have the chance to sample the typical gastronomy from each of the regions in Spain, as well as cuisine from all the five continents. You won't need to go far to find all the best-known dishes from any of the world’s countries, as there are numerous international and regional restaurants to choose from. Many of these are located in the Huertas area, near the squares of Jacinto Benavente and Tirso de Molina, and in the streets around Fuencarral and the Plaza de España.