Madrid was once a little known 16th century rural backwater until Philip II decided it would make a good capital, probably due to its position at the geographical centre of Spain. It has a remarkably compact old town and this is where you’ll find most of interest such as government buildings, major cultural institutions, restaurants and nightlife. Three main reference points of Madrid are the Puerta del Sol, the city’s absolute centre, the Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Cibeles.
Attractions in Madrid
Palacio Real de Madrid
Palace of the Spanish Royal Family – highlights include King Carlos III’s private Rococo dcor apartments, the grand throne room, royal library, pharmacy and the banquet hall seating up to 140 for state dinners.
The Prado Museum
Madrid’s main attraction and this huge museum includes works by the Spanish masters Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, plus Flemish and Italian works.
Reina Sofia Art Centre
Modern art museum featuring Picasso’s Guernica, and works from Cubist and Surrealist artists.
Most important landmark in the city with arcades surrounding the square and featuring hundreds of balconies to view bullfighting and other events here in the past – now full of popular bars and restaurants.
Popular park with boating lake, lots of street theatre and cafes close to the Prado. Summer program of free events and performances.
Puerta del Sol
Large square which represents the centre of Spain and features the famous ‘bear and strawberry tree’ and To Pepe statues. The great avenues of C/Alcal and Gran Va lead from the ‘Sol’ with many impressive 19th-20th century buildings.
Barrios Chueca and Malasana (to the north and south of the Gran Via)
Colourful, now very trendy areas with fashionable clothes shops, bars and restaurants. Very lively bar scene at night.
Festivals in Madrid
Madrid Carnival (February/March)
Madrileos (residents of Madrid) like a party and one of the biggest festivals is Carnival. On the last day, Ash Wednesday, the traditional ‘Entierro de la Sardina’ (The Burial of the sardine) is held on Paseo de la Florida which marks the beginning of Lent, but religion tends to come a distant second to general partying.
Fiestas del dos de Mayo (2 May)
Celebrations include concerts, open-air dancing, sporting events and Bullfighting.
Fiestas de San Isidro (15 May)
This is another religious festival although you may not notice as the main focus is colourful street celebrations, concerts and bullfighting.
Madrid is also very big on bull-fighting and has the world’s biggest bullfighting ring, the Plaza de Toros Monumental de Las Ventas. The season starts in February and lasts throughout the summer reaching its peak during the Fiestas de San Isidro.
From late June until the beginning of September, it can be extremely hot in fact to escape the heat many residents of Madrid get out of the city for the whole month of August to the mountains or the coast. The winter can get very cold, with temperatures averaging 2-11C (36-52F).
Getting around Madrid
Madrid has good public transport and a compact, walkable city centre. Madrid’s metro is the quickest and easiest way to get around the city, with cercanas (regional trains) and buses also a good alternative option.