When is the best time to visit?
Fly to Madrid to sample the cultural delights and impressive architecture of Spain’s capital and largest city. It's the political, financial and administrative heart of the country, situated on a plateau 2133 ft high, almost exactly at the centre of the Iberian Peninsula.
During October, the weather is lovely, hotel rates are lower and there are not too many visitors, making it an ideal time to book cheap flights to Madrid. The city has a wealth of galleries, museums and is home to El Rastro which is one of the best flea markets in Europe and has plenty of bargains waiting to be found. Madrid is one of the greenest cities in Europe with forested areas several parks, of which the foremost is the Parque del Retiro. Originally the private gardens of King Philip IV, the park consist of 350 acres of formal gardens, fountains, lakes, sculpture, playgrounds, and outdoor cafes.
In 1561, Philip II established his royal court there, and successive kings commissioned grander and grander palaces, cathedrals, public buildings and triumphal monuments, turning Madrid into a splendid world city. If you’re interested in bull-fighting, Madrid gets the best matadors in the country. There are fights on Sundays and holidays throughout the year and for longer periods in the spring, especially starting with the feast of Madrid’s patron San Isidro.
The plateau on which Madrid is sited is high enough for clear skies and dry air. Summers are very hot (often hotter than 37 degrees Celsius), but it’s a dry heat. And the warm summer nights are a great pleasure. During May through to October, Madrid’s weather is usually warm and dry.
The winters are quite cold, but Madrid’s cultural life is in full swing, and you can make a day trip to a ski resort. The spring brings some of Spain’s most spectacular fiestas, starting with Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter. Madrid’s biggest holiday is the feast of San Isidro, the city’s patron saint, which begins on 15 May. It’s a popular party, so book your flight and hotel well in advance. This is a great time to travel to the city if you would like to be immersed in authentic customs and traditions, especially as the activities are free. Expect local residents dressed in typical chulapo and goyesco costumes, concerts, street parades and music.
Culture vultures love to fly to Madrid from all over the world because of the rich history and galleries displaying unique works of art: the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia galleries are within a few minutes' walk of each other, boasting magnificent religious paintings and royal portraits. Other landmarks include the enormous Royal Palace of Madrid, the National Library and the Royal Site of El Escorial. When it comes to going out, nobody does it better than Madrilenos. They start late and finish later - almost breakfast time the following day. Tapas in Madrid is representative of Spanish cuisine - from sausages to snails and good, local wines.
The city hosts big celebrations for New Year's Eve, particularly in the area of Puerta del Sol which is heaving with big crowds in the party spirit. Visitors can join in the festivities in Madrid's central plaza. Make sure you have 12 grapes at the ready when the bells ring at midnight. This is a tradition, with each grape signifying each stroke of midnight. Bear in mind that transport is usually stalled and overcrowded, taxis are hard to find and most areas will be packed. If this doesn't sound like you're kind of thing, you may want to choose to celebrate somewhere a little less central.
Just outside Madrid are a number of other fascinating attractions. To the northwest is El Escorial, a large monastery in the mountains listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Just past it is the Valley of the Fallen, where you’ll find a cathedral carved out of a mountain with a phenomenal giant cross sitting on top of it. This memorial to soldiers killed in the Spanish Civil War is also the burial place of General Franco. To the south west of Madrid is Toledo, a medieval walled city that is at its most beautiful during late spring and famous for its large collection of art by El Greco.
Getting from the Airport to the CityMadrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) is located 8 miles from the city centre. There's an express bus that runs 24 hours. Cercanias commuter train and Metro are also options. Taxis are readily available.
Getting around Madrid
For cheap, inexpensive transport in Madrid, you can’t go wrong with the bus, Metro or a taxi (but make sure your taxi driver has turned the meter on). Don’t bother trying to drive in the city. Traffic is crowded to the point of becoming dangerous, and parking garages are very expensive. If you need a car to get out of town, major rental agencies are mostly found at the airport, with a few located in the city’s centre. You can also take a train on Spain’s excellent rail system.
Madrid insider information
- Madrid has a wealth of art museums. In addition to the world-renowned Prado, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia for modern art, and the formerly private collection the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, there is a little-known jewel, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales. This elegant convent was built in the 16th century for aristocratic nuns. Each new arrival brought a dowry, many of them priceless works of art. Now open as a museum, the convent has a superb and eccentric collection of religious relics and art, including works by Rubens, Breughel, and Titian.
- The Museo Sorolla exhibits the work of Spain's most important impressionist painter, Joaquin Sorolla, in the house where he lived and worked for most of his life. The house and the gardens are charming. In addition, the Museo Sorolla is one of several museums that host occasional concerts under the Ministry of Culture’s programme called Tiempo de musica en los Museos.
- The tower of the church of San Nicolas de las Servitas is one of the oldest buildings in Madrid, believed to date to 1085. The exhibits in the church are devoted to the Moorish history of early Madrid.
- Much of Madrid’s nightlife is unique. In the summer, cafes spill out onto the terrazas, and the eating, drinking, and partying often go on till dawn. For a typical Spanish experience, visit several tascas, the pubs that serve tapas, those wonderful Spanish appetizers. Each tasca has its specialties in tapas and wines. And you will find the soul of Spain in flamenco music. At a flamenco tavern, you can experience these haunting gypsy folk songs and dances.