Spain Guide


Madrid Spain

Madrid is the capital of Spain, located in the centre of the Castilian plain at the very heart of the Iberian Peninsula. At 646 metres above sea level this is the highest capital city in Europe. It's also one of Europe's most fascinating cities with its blend of renaissance, gothic and modern architecture, museums which house some of the world's greatest art treasures and a throbbing nightlife which causes traffic jams at 4am!

This cosmopolitan city is the artistic and cultural heart of Spain home to the Spanish government, the royal family and of course the revered Real Madrid soccer team. It's a city of bullfighting and designer boutiques, fiestas and flamenco dancing, gay bars and royal palaces.

They call it the city that never sleeps so make sure you follow the delightful Spanish tradition of taking a mid afternoon siesta after a morning's sightseeing. It's common practice here to sit down for the evening meal in a restaurant at 10pm before heading off to the tapas bars and clubs which are packed until the small hours.

Flying time from London to Madrid's Barajas International Airport is around two hours. The airport, 13 kilometres north east of the capital, handles more than 25 million passengers a year and has Europe's best air connections with central and south America. There's a fast and comfortable metro service into the city but car journeys can vary from 15 minutes to an hour depending on the traffic. Official tourist site for Madrid. (See top right button for English)

Major attractions include the famous Prado Museum, generally regarded as being one of the world's greatest art institutions (though it was originally intended to be a science and natural history museum when it was commissioned in 1785). The museum's crown jewels are the works of Spain's great masters Francisco Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco.

The Reina Sofia Museum of modern art focuses on priceless works by the country's 20th century legends Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro.

The Royal Palace is another mega visitor attraction with its 3,000 rooms, dazzling décor, opulent banqueting hall and beautiful gardens. The palace was the official royal residence until 1931 but is now only used by the royals on official state occasions.

Wander the streets of this surprising city and you'll find ancient elegance side by side with modern chic. Enjoy a spot of people watching over a café con leche in the 17th century cobbled Plaza Mayor, once the nerve centre of the Spanish Inquisition, now a popular meeting place peppered with street cafes.

Relax at Parque Del Buen Retiro where the atmosphere changes drastically from weekdays when it is quiet, to Sundays when it throbs with life and entertainment. If it is this excitement that keeps you going, be sure to experience the El Rastro Sunday market.

Visit the world's second biggest fish market, the huge "rastro" market on Sunday mornings and the bars and restaurants which serve everything from the finest of Spanish and international cuisine to delicious local tapas snacks.

After dark you can enjoy world class opera, ballet, symphonies and theatre (as long as you don't expect everything to be in English!). Pubs and clubs here provide everything from reggae and rock music to pop and hip hop.

Before you decide that you have seen everything in Madrid, make sure you haven't missed out the Caixa Forum. This incredible building is multi faceted with nature creeping into the walls (literally with its verticle garden). While the exterior of the building is enough to satisfy most, it is in fact a post modern art gallery and one of the most popular in Madrid at that.

As for when to visit, spring and autumn are best in terms of the weather. Madrid is dry most of the year with very little rainfall and can be fiercely hot in the summer and decidedly cold in the winter. There's a mass exodus in August when the factories shut down and the Madrileños head for the Costas.