Sexy, sophisticated and oozing exuberance, Madrid is not just a city; it’s a way of life. Madrid is Spain’s wild child who ignores all curfews. Maybe that’s because of the late-night tapas bars and clubs, which make Madrid a premier party city. Or maybe it’s because the Madrileños’ day is based around the afternoon siesta. Whichever it is, once there you will find yourself embracing both – particularly the siesta, because you’ll need all your energy to take in all that Madrid has on offer.
Madrid’s draw cards are countless: exceptional art galleries like the Museo del Prado and the modern Centro de Arte Reina Sofia house some of the world’s most significant artworks by Spanish legends like Goya and Picasso. Emerging from its dark past under Franco’s dictatorship, Madrid’s beautiful Plaza de Neptuno, Plaza Mayor and Plaza de la Villa are a spectacular reminder of its riotous glory days and provide the perfect backdrop to the rows of touristy restaurants and bars that line the plazas.
Madrid is not only the capital of Spain, it’s also its heart and soul. From barhopping to bullfighting, Madrid has so much culture and history and fun and passion and sheer sex appeal that it will exhaust even the most intrepid traveller.
Madrid's Top 10
5. Gran Via is the main shopping boulevard, with theatres, great architecture and even better shopping.
9. Juan Carlos I Park Madrid’s honorary park, dedicated to King Juan Carlos I, now has modern art and sculptures throughout.
4. Palacio Real The Royal Palace is the largest in Europe (which is really saying something), and has stunning stonework grounds.
3. Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s major city square, where fresco-clad façades provide the perfect setting for the hustling bars, restaurants and shops that line it.
7. Teatro Real: Madrid’s stunning Opera House, in front of Palacio Real, stages concert events and ballet.
2. Centro de Arte Reina Sofia The Sofia has an impressive modern art collection, including works by Dali, Miro and, most famously, Picasso’s Guernica.
6. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is a bit of a mouthful – but this gallery frames the ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ in Madrid, with English and Dutch masterpieces.
1. Museo del Prado is one of the world's most renowned and significant art galleries. See brilliant artworks from Spanish artists, and of course plenty of Goya.
- Casa de la Panaderia on the Plaza Mayor – This Madrid masterpiece boasts a wonderfully decorated facade.
- City Hall at the Plaza de Cibeles – A stunning building that displays Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance features.
- Kilometro Cero – A pavement plaque in Puerta del Sol marking the centre of the Spanish road network and the point from which all highway distances in Spain are calculated.
- Almudena Cathedral – Unique and impressive in size and stature.
- Statue of Carlos III at Puerta del Sol – A formidable equestrian monument.
Madrid Art & Culture
- Puerta de Europa – The dramatically tilting towers at the Plaza de Castilla are known as the "Gateway to Europe."
- Reina Sofia Museum – Spain's National museum of 20th-century art.
- Museum del Prado – Features collections of European art up through the end of the 19th century.
- Metropolis Building – An imposing sight with a stunning dome.
- Madrid Royal Palace – Home to dazzling paintings, sculptures, tapestries, porcelain, gold and silverware.
- Barrio La Latina – This cluster of tightly packed streets hosts Europe's biggest outdoor market every Sunday.
- El Jardin de Serrano – A shopping centre right in the heart of Madrid with outlets galore.
- Gran Via – One of Madrid's main thoroughfares, prominently featuring many of the top high-street fashion names.
- El Corte Ingles – A huge department store in the centre of the city.
- Casa Diego – A small, independent store on Puerta del Sol specializing in quirky handmade fans and other exclusive items.
Madrid Gay & Lesbian
- El Armario – Located in Chueca, the gay district of Madrid, and notably the first gay restaurant in the city.
- Rick's – One of the best gay clubs, attracting huge crowds especially at weekends.
- Black & White – A fun venue that showcases strippers at weekends to add to the entertainment.
- Madrid Gay Pride – Takes place every July and draws enormous crowds from all over.
- Gay Film Festival – A well-supported celebration held each November.
- Buen Retiro Park – Features a glorious lake that hosts many events throughout the year.
- Faro de Madrid – The city's main communication centre, with a 360-degree glass viewing tower at its top.
- Plaza de Espana – A large square that's home to a monument created for Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote.
- Puerta de Alcala at Independence Square – A striking archway said to be the "Gateway to the City.
- El Oso y El Madrono – The statue of the most famous symbol of Madrid: a bear eating fruit from a strawberry tree.
- Bernabeu Stadium –– The home of the legendary Real Madrid.
- Vincente Calderon Stadium – Where rivals Atletico play their matches.
- Plaza de Toros – The place to go for bullfighting, if you have the stomach for it.
- Lomas-Bosque – One of the more accessible 18-hole golf courses that is geared toward handicapped players.
- Tennis Masters – An annual tournament that takes place at the Madrid Arena in the second week of October.
Madrid is made up of 21 individual districts, known as barrios, each with its own distinctive character and personality. But consistent throughout is the Madrileños’ sense of fun – and whichever barrio you are in, the rising sun means the party is just getting started.
Salamanca is Madrid’s designer district, full of beautiful people. This cramped barrio, with its narrow streets focused on the Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s exclusive shopping spot. The main street, Calle de Serrano, abounds in fancy boutique shopping for die-hard fashionistas. But scratch Salamanca’s superficial surface and you’ll find some of Madrid’s best-kept foodie secrets, with intimate and sophisticated tapas bars hiding in secret pockets in the neighbourhood.
El Barrio de Salamanca offers a wonderful array of architecture, high art and culture. But don’t worry, like every good barrio in Madrid, the nightlife will probably be more memorable. Being a university town, students cram the Plaza Mayor on weekends, turningthe stunning square into an outdoor party zone.
HuertasOtherwise known as Barrio de Las Letras, the ‘district of letters’ is the historical epicentre of Spanish literature. It inspired Don Quixote, one of the first novels ever written, and author Miguel de Cervantes’ house is a serious drawcard for literary buffs.
Huertas has an historic, old-world Spanish charm. It will see you swooning to jazz at an ancient sherry bar before heading to see a Flamenco show. Weekends in Huerta up the ante, and the barrio turns into a party neighbourhood, with fashionable crowds heading out to the many clubs and bars.
Chueca is the liberal and lively setting of Madrid’s busy gay scene. Just off Gran Via, the narrow streets of Hortaleza, Infantas, Barquillo and San Lucasare packed with 20-something-year-old party animals making the most of the tapas, wine and bars, and some decidedly risqué-looking haunts.
It’s a great place to eat, drink then party the night away with the locals in a haze of red, red wine. The main square of Chueca is cluttered with chairs and tables of outdoor cafés during summer – perfect to soak up the sun and the Spanish way of life.
MalasañaBarrio Malasaña is like the cool, slightly more responsible older sister of Chueca. It has a laidback and alternative approach to partying, with casual cafés and grungy student bars displaying all the character without the hefty price tag. By day, get amongst Plaza Santa Ana’s vibrant scene of bars, restaurants and vintage fashion stores surrounded by some spectacular architecture. By night, barhop your way around Plaza Dos de Mayo to sample the best of Madrid’s underground dance scene.
La Latina is one of the most picturesque parts of old Madrid, with beautiful plazas and churches, as well as some of the best tapas bars in the city. La Latina acts as the wind down zone between all the party barrios of Madrid, where locals nurse hangovers the best way they know how – with more cerveza (beer) in the squares and streets of La Latina.
Every Sunday morning, the massive outdoors El Rastro flea market becomes a human washing machine of bargain-hungry Madrileños, shopping for second-hand clothes, books and arts and crafts. Visit the Basilica de San Francisco El Grandeto see fantastic frescoes, including one by Goya.
Madrid Food & Drink
Make the most of siesta time, because dinner isn’t served before 9pm at the earliest. Just a tip – avoid a restaurant if its menu is in more than five languages.
Churros Not a restaurant, but the national delight – available pretty much everywhere. Fried doughnut-like strips are dunked in a deliciously thick, hot chocolate. Seriously yummy!
Cafe De Oriente’s outdoor terracehas great views across to the Palacio Real and Teatro Real, making it the perfect place to dine before or after a show.
Zalacain Elegant, romantic and Michelin-starred. Try an aromatic fish dish or the pigeon salad. The wine cellar has around 35,000 bottles of local and imported wine.
La Castela One of the best tapas bars in Madrid. Quality, seasonal produce is used to create little masterpieces on the plate. If you’re stuck deciding on what to go with – don’t be. It’s all good.
Casa Lucio A non-descript wooden entrance leads you into a cosy dining room. The flavours of the traditional Castilian food will have you jumping up and down inside.
Botin is the oldest restaurant in the world, dating from 1725. Almost three centuries later, the atmosphere remains vibrant. You must try one of the cochinillos (oak-fired pork).
El fogón de Trifón Generous lashings of red wine and fresh prosciutto off the bone. Not a bad way to start at this boutique restaurant. Try the fried blood sausage or the bull’s tail for something delightfully different.
Taberna El Rincón de Goya Enormously popular with Madrid’s beautiful people, it has a good variety of fresh, tasty tapas. Sit back and have a glass of wine with the noisy locals and enjoy.
Cava Blanca is much more reasonably priced compared to its gastronomic compañeros. An immaculate white dining room allows the bold Spanish food speak for itself. Try the crawfish fritters and mushroom risotto.
La Terraza del Casino is not in a casino, but an exclusive dining room, with a two-star Michelin rating (which justifies the expense). The degustation menu is created by El Bulli legend, Ferran Adria.
Carnaval marks the week before Lent by dressing up and taking to the streets, bars – anywhere really – for a wild party. The festivities start at Plaza Mayor, followed by a parade down Paseo de la Castellana. Mid-February.
Bullfighting season starts in March and continues weekly until Octoberat the Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventas.If you can look past the animal cruelty, you will see Madrileños cheering on their favourite bullfighters.
Dos de Mayo (2 May) commemorates Madrid’s bloody retaliation against Napoleon’s troops in 1808. It is now the Madrid’s official holiday and festivities kick off at Plaza Dos de Mayo.
Madrid’s patron saint, San Isdiro, is celebrated a week before and after the official day, San Isidro’s Feast Day (15 May). Concerts and street flamenco shows fill the streets till the early morning.
The Festival de Otoño en Primavera (Festival of Autumn in Spring – a slightly bizarre concept, but no stranger than ‘Christmas in July’ in parts of the southern hemisphere) showcases some of the world’s best performing arts at the Teatro de la Zarzuela, Teatro Albéniz and Teatro Madrid, the Círculo de Bellas Artes. Mid-May to mid-June.
The San Antonio de la Florida festival celebrates the 13 June feast day of San Antonio, the patron saint of seamstresses (hey, they need looking after, too!). Street parties take hold of the Paseo de la Florida in the Parque de la Bombilla.
The PhotoEspana is dedicated to photography and the visual arts and features exhibitions, workshops and talks in various museums from 1st of June up to the 24th of July.
Don an eye patch, a peg leg and a parrot and head to the Vallecas district in July for Spain’s largest pirate-themed water fight, the Batalla Naval de Vallecas.
The Verbena de la Paloma Festival is held each August in the La Latina. It features some of Madrid’s most popular pastimes; drinking, dancing, singing – and then some more drinking.
Madrid’s International Jazz Festival has featured legends like Chick Corea and Dizzy Gillespie in the past. Catch shows at Teatro Fernán Gómez and Teatro Circo Price. Late-October to November.
When To Go
Summer (June to August), is perhaps the best time to see Madrid. Temperatures are between 16 and 31°C (70-88°F), with long sunny days and no rainfall.
Spring (March to May) sees plenty of sun and only occasional rain, plus comfortable temperatures that peak at around 22°C (72°F).
Winter (December to March) is the low tourist season, so it can be a good time to visit if you don’t mind the rain, freezing cold (we’re talking temperatures below zero!) and snow.
What To Miss
Avoid eating in the major squares like Plaza Mayor. The restaurants there are mostly tourist traps, with overpriced food that has been horribly bastardised to suit Western tastes. Instead, buy a bocadillo at a nearby deli and head back to enjoy the plaza without the ludicrous expense.
Lavapiés has a reputation for drawing some dangerous bohemian types on weekends – so keep obnoxious tourist chanting to a minimum to avoid running into any danger.
Pickpockets prowl all the popular tourist haunts. Especially the crowded El Rastro flea market, Puerta del Sol and, of course, the metro.
Walking is the best way to see Madrid, but the public transport is easy and efficient and a good way to rub shoulder with the locals.
Madrid’s metro is very fast and so easy to use. Single fares cost €1, but a 10-trip ticket or Metrobus is available and can be used on both trains and buses.
Buses in Madrid are efficient and reliable – and cheap.
Taxis are fairly inexpensive in Madrid and can be picked up at any street corner. They do have a reputation for ripping off tourists, so make sure it’s metered or you negotiate a fair price before travelling.
Leisure & recreation
Madrid is a shopper's paradise, with some of the best shops in Europe selling just about everything you can think of. Small, quirky antique shops mix with large department stores, as well as colourful and vibrant markets, so there is a shopping experience here to suit everyone. Salamanca is Madrid's up market 'golden mile', and definitely a place to exercise your credit card to the max. Chueca is packed with designer stores, while Rastro attracts tourists and locals alike for its antiques, jewellery, and second hand stalls.
The nightlife in Madrid is legendary with bars, theatres, cinemas and nightclubs which stay open until the early hours. Early risers will not appreciate the late hours which are the norm - most people only head to the nightclubs at around 1am.
As one of the most expansive and populous travel destinations in Europe, frenetic Madrid is a top-notch city for tourism. Home of the Gran Via, Prado Museum and Real Madrid football, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain welcomes millions of visitors every year.
In addition to the city's considerable worth as a vacation paradise, the actual Community of Madrid, one of seventeen autonomous areas in Spain, is replete with charm beyond the urban confines of the capital. Made up for the most part by Madrid city, the community of 6.2 million people is within the literal geographic heart of the country. As such, the area contains the beautiful Guadarrama mountain range and scenic Lozoya Valley. With campgrounds, picnic spots, national parks and ski resorts, visitors who need a respite from the hustle bustle of Madrid will appreciate the proximate towns outside of the capital. Even a cursory tour of the Community of Madrid is a momentary and welcome breath of fresh air from the museums and nightclubs.
Attraction & Activities
- Cerro de los ángeles
- Catedral de Nuestra Señora de La Magdalena
- Peñalara Nature Reserve
- Alcalá de Henares Historic Centre
- San Juan Bautista Church
- Castle of the Mendoza
- Parque Bolitas del Airón
- Bullring of Chinchón
- Virgin of Navalazarza Festival
- Vía Verde del Tajuña Cycle Path
- Santísimo Cristo de la Salud
- Getafe Carnaval
- Feria Barroca
Restaurant & Nightlife
- Las Moreras
- Restaurante Sabores
- El Aljarafe
- El Campero
- Casa Patas
- Los Gabrieles
Madrid has a continental climate, which is mostly dry but can be a little extreme. There is always an abundance of sunshine in the city, with long hot summers, but winter can be cold with many frosty nights and the odd snow fall. Spring and autumn are generally mild, but there is a high likelihood of rain. There is less rainfall during the summer and winter.
Although Madrid has four seasons, with a continental Mediterranean climate, the weather is quite temperate in the winter, despite occasional subzero temperatures. Summers are notorious for intense heat waves and temperatures that soar above 40°C.
- Winter (December to February) 3-12°C
- Spring (March to April) 6-18°C
- Summer (May to September) 11-33°C
- Fall (October to November) 6-19°C
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