Madrid is Spain's capital and largest city. It's the political, financial and administrative heart of the country, situated on a plateau 650m high, almost exactly at the centre of the Iberian peninsula. 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.
It's heaven for culture vultures: 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. Madrid is one of the greenest cities in Europe with several parks and forested areas. 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.
Finding cheap flights to Madrid is a doddle. As Spain is the top destination for UK tourists, there is lots of competition on the route. Madrid flights land at Madrid Barajas Airport, close to the city.
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In May through October, Madrid’s weather is usually warm and dry. 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 well in advance.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. The winters are quite cold.
When to fly to Madrid
The summer months are high season.
October is an ideal time for Madrid. Hotel rates are lower, Madrid flights are cheaper, the weather is lovely, and there are not too many visitors. Winter is cold, but Madrid’s cultural life is in full swing, and you can make a day trip to a ski resort.
Getting around Madrid
For cheap, inexpensive transport in Madrid, you can’t go wrong with the bus, Metro or a taxi – just 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.
- Madrid has many lovely 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.
- El Rastro is one of the best flea markets in Europe. If you like flea markets, you’ll find bargains here.
- 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.
- 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.