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Spain's capital is a vibrant place, the hub of the country's government and commerce, and an exciting city bubbling over with creativity. Madrid may not have the effortless elegance of European capitals like Paris or Rome, but it has a raw energy that is infectious. Explore the old streets of the centre, relax in the plazas, soak up the culture in excellent art museums and experience the city's legendary nightlife.


Madrid was little more than a muddy, mediocre village when King Felipe II declared it Spain’s capital in 1561. By the early 20th century Madrid finally began to look like a proper capital.

The 1940s and ’50s were trying times for the capital, with rampant poverty. Nowhere was Franco’s thumb as firmly pressed down as on Madrid. When the dictator died in 1975, the city exploded with creativity and life, giving Madrileños the party-hard reputation they still cherish.

Islamic terrorist bombs rocked Madrid in March 2004, just before national elections, and killed 191 commuters on four trains. In 2007, two people died in a Basque terrorist bomb attack at the city’s airport. With remarkable aplomb, the city quickly returned to business as usual on both occasions.


Spain’s largest city, Madrid is a sprawling metropolis that can look daunting on a map. However, the easy-to-navigate metro system and relatively compact city centre make moving around pretty easy.

Puerta del Sol is the city’s physical and emotional heart. Literally kilometre zero (all distances in Spain are measured from this point), the plaza is a hotbed of activity.

Radiating out from this busy plaza are roads – Calle Mayor, Calle del Arenal, Calle de Preciados, Calle de la Montera and Calle de Alcalá – that stretch deep into the city, as well as a host of metro lines and bus routes.


Petra’s International Bookshop (Tel 91 541 72 91; Calle de Campomanes 13; h11am-9pm Mon-Sat; mSanto Domingo) A treasure trove of used books, mainly in English.


Servicio de Atención al Turista Extranjero (Foreign Tourist Assistance Service; Tel 91 548 85 37, 91 548 8008;; Calle de Leganitos 19; h9am-10pm; mPlaza de España or Santo Domingo) A help spot for tourists in trouble.

Internet Access

Madrid is full of internet cafes. Some offer student rates, while most have deals on cards for several hours’ use at much-reduced rates. The Ayuntamiento’s Centro de Turismo de Madrid (see below) on the Plaza Mayor offers free internet for up to 15 minutes. Bbigg (Tel 91 531 23 64; Calle Mayor 1; 1/5hr €2.50/3; h9.30am-midnight daily; mSol) A massive internet centre in the heart of town with separate sections for Skype, internet and games.

Left Luggage

At Madrid’s Barajas Airport, there are three consignas (left-luggage offices; h24hr). In either, you pay €3.60 for the first 24-hour period (or fraction thereof). After that, it costs €4.64/ 4.13/3.61 per day in a big/medium/ small locker. After 15 days the bag will be moved into storage (€1.85 plus a €37.08 transfer fee). Similar services operate for similar prices at Atocha and Chamartín train stations (h7am-11pm).

Medical Services

Anglo-American Medical Unit (Tel 91 435 18 23;; Calle del Conde de Aranda 1; h9am-8pm Mon-Fri, for emergencies 10am-1pm Sat; mRetiro) For medical help in English. Farmacia del Globo (Tel 91 369 20 00; Calle de Atocha 46; h24hr; mAntón Martín)

Tourist Information

Municipal Tourist Office (Centro de Turismo de Madrid; Tel 91 429 49 51;; Plaza Mayor 27; h9.30am-8.30pm; mSol) Regional tourist office (Tel 91 429 49 51, 902 10 00 07;; Calle del Duque de Medinaceli 2; h8am-8pm Mon-Sat, 9am-2pm Sun; mSevilla) There are also tourist offices at Barajas airport (T1 and T4), and Chamartín and Atocha train stations.

Get under the city’s skin by walking its streets, sipping coffee and beer in its plazas and relaxing in its parks. Madrid de los Austrias, the maze of mostly 15th- and 16th-century streets surrounding the Plaza Mayor, is the city’s oldest district. Working class, multicultural Lavapiés, alternative Chueca, bar-riddled Huertas and Malasaña, and chic Salamanca all reward pedestrian exploration. Build in time for top art collections at the Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen- Bornemisza museums, as well as the Palacio Real.

Museo Nacional del Prado

Spain’s premier museum, and one of the finest art collections in the world, the Museo Nacional del Prado (Tel 91 330 28 00;; Paseo del Prado s/n; adult/student/under 18yr & over 65yr €6/4/free, Sun free, headset guide €3.50; h9am-8pm Tue-Sun; mBanco de España) is a seemingly endless parade of priceless works from Spain and beyond. The collection is divided into eight major collections: Spanish paintings (1100–1850), Flemish paintings (1430–1700), Italian paintings (1300–1800), French paintings (1600– 1800), German paintings (1450–1800), sculptures, decorative arts, and drawings and prints. There is generous coverage of Spanish greats, such as Goya, Velázquez and El Greco.

From the first floor of the Palacio de Villanueva, passageways lead to the Edificio Jerónimos, the Prado’s modern extension. The main hall contains information counters, a bookshop and cafe. Rooms A and B (and Room C on the first floor) host temporary exhibitions.

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Opposite the Prado, the Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza (Tel 91 369 01 51;; Paseo del Prado 8; adult/concession €6/4; h10am-7pm Tue-Sun; mBanco de España) is an eclectic collection of international masterpieces. Begin your visit on the 2nd floor, where you’ll start with medieval art, and make your way down to modern works on the ground level, passing paintings by Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Miró, Picasso, Gris and many others.

Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

A stunning collection of mainly Spanish modern art, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Tel 91 774 10 00;; Calle de Santa Isabel 52; adult/student €6/4, 2.30-9pm Sat & 10am-2.30pm Sun free, audioguide €3; h10am-9pm Mon & Wed-Sat, 10am-2.30pm Sun; mAtocha) is home to Picasso’s Guernica – his protest against the German bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. There are also important works by surrealist Salvador Dalí and abstract paintings by the Catalan artist Joan Miró.

Caixa Forum

The Caixa Forum (Tel 91 330 73 00;, in Spanish; Paseo del Prado 36; admission free; h10am-10pm; mAtocha), opened in 2008, seems to hover above the ground. On one wall is the jardín colgante (hanging garden), a lush vertical wall of greenery almost four storeys high. Inside are four floors of topquality art exhibitions.

Palacio Real & Around

Madrid’s 18th-century Palacio Real (Tel 91 542 69 47;; Calle de Bailén s/n; adult/student €10/3.50, EU citizens free Wed; h9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 9am-3pm Sun & holidays Apr-Sep, closed 1hr earlier Oct-Mar; mÓpera) is used mainly for important events. It’s one of King Juan Carlos I’s official residences and you can visit 50 of its 2800-plus rooms.

Outside the main palace, poke your head into the Farmacia Real (Royal Pharmacy), where apothecary-style jars line the shelves. Continue on to the Armería Real (Royal Armoury), where you’ll be impressed by the shiny (and surprisingly tiny!) royal suits of armour, most of them from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Almudena (Tel 91 542 22 00; Calle de Bailén; h9am-9pm; mÓpera) is just across the plaza from the Palacio Real. Finished in 1992 after a century of work, the cathedral has never really won a place in the hearts of Madrileños. It’s worth a quick peek but is much less captivating than the imposing 18th-century Basílica de San Francisco El Grande (Tel 91 365 38 00; Plaza de San Francisco 1; admission €3; h8- 11am Mon, 8am-1pm & 4-6.30pm Tue-Fri, 4-8.45pm Sat; mLa Latina).

Parque del Buen Retiro

Popular with joggers, families out for a stroll, lovey-dovey couples and anyone else looking for a break from the chaos of the city, this park (h7am-midnight May-Sep, 7am-10pm Oct-Apr; mRetiro) is as much a Madrid tradition as tapas and terrazas (terrace cafes). Come on a weekend for street performers, clowns, puppet shows and the occasional theatre performance.

Real Fábrica de Tapices

Founded in 1721, this tapestry workshop (Tel 91 434 05 51;; Calle de Fuenterrabía 2; admission €2.50; h10am-2pm Mon-Fri Sep-Jul; mMenéndez Pelayo) still produces ornate tapestries and carpets by hand. Take one home for a mere €10,000 per square metre.

Madrid’s social calendar is packed with festivals and special events. Check with the tourist office or in publications such as the Guía del Ocio to see what’s on. Major holidays and festivals include the following: Fiesta de San Isidro Street parties, parades, bullfights and other fun events honour Madrid’s patron saint on and around 15 May.

Summer Festivals Small-time but fun, the neighbourhood summer festivals, such as San Cayetano in Lavapiés, and San Lorenzo and La Paloma in La Latina, allow hot and sweaty Madrileños to drink and dance the night away in the streets.

It’s possible to find just about any kind of cuisine and eatery in Madrid, from ageless traditional to trendy fusion. Madrid is a focal point of cooking from around the country and is particularly renowned for seafood.

From the chaotic tapas bars of La Latina to countless neighbourhood favourites, you’ll have no trouble tracking down specialities like cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) or cocido madrileño (a hearty stew made of beans and various animals’ innards).

Los Austrias & Centro

La Gloria de Montera (Tel 91 523 44 07; Calle del Caballero de Gracia 10; meals €20-25; mGran Vía) Minimalist style, tasty Mediterranean dishes and great prices mean that you’ll probably have to wait in line to eat here.

Sol, Huertas & Atocha

La Finca de Susana (Tel 91 369 35 57; Calle de Arlabán 4; meals €20-25; mSevilla) A well-priced mix of Spanish and international fare makes this a highly popular choice with locals and tourists. The softly lit dining area is bathed in greenery and draws a hip young crowd.

Maceiras (Tel 91 429 15 84; Calle de Jesús 7; meals €20-25; hlunch & dinner Tue-Sun, dinner Mon; mAntón Martín) Galician tapas (think octopus, green peppers etc) never tasted so good as in this agreeably rustic bar down the bottom of the Huertas hill, especially when washed down with a crisp white Ribeiro. Casa Alberto (Tel 91 429 93 56; www.casaalberto .es; Calle de las Huertas 18; meals €20-25; hnoon-1.30am Tue-Sat, noon-4pm Sun; mAntón Martín)

Casa Alberto has been around since 1827. The secret to its endurance is vermouth on tap, excellent tapas and fine sit-down meals.

La Latina & Lavapiés

Viva La Vida (Tel 91 366 33 49;; Costanilla de San Andrés 16; veg buffet per 100g €1.80; h11ammidnight; mLa Latina) This organic food shop has as its centrepiece an enticing vegetarian buffet with hot and cold food that’s always filled with flavour.

Malasaña & Chueca

This is the place for international food and creative, contemporary cuisine. Some of the city’s best (and best-priced) eateries can be found along the side streets of the trendy Chueca district.

Ribeira Do Miño (Tel 91 521 98 54; Calle de la Santa Brigida 1; meals €20-25; hTue-Sat; mTribunal) The mariscada de la casa (€30 for two) is a platter of seafood so large that even the hungriest of visitors will leave satisfied.

Bazaar (Tel 91 523 39 05;; Calle de la Libertad 21; meals €25-30; mChueca) Bazaar’s pristine-white interior design with theatre lighting may draw a crowd that looks like it stepped out of the pages of Hola! magazine, but the food is extremely well-priced and innovative.

La Musa (Tel 91 448 75 58;; Calle de Manuela Malasaña 18; meals €25-30; mSan Bernardo) The fried green tomatoes with strawberry jam and great meat dishes are fun and filled with flavour.


Madrileños live life on the streets, and barhopping is a pastime enjoyed by young and old alike. If you’re looking for a traditional bar, head to the Huertas district or La Latina. For an edgier feel and a gay-friendly crowd, hit Chueca. Malasaña is the place for alternative and grunge locales. In summer, the terrace bars that pop up all over the city are unbeatable.

Los Austrias, Centro & La Latina

Café del Nuncio (Calle de Segovia 9; mLa Latina) Lace curtains and red-wood panelling set the tone at this bustling bar. In summer, the outdoor terrace is divine.

Museo Chicote (; Gran Vía 12; h8am-4am Mon-Sat; mGran Vía) A timeless classic popular with socialites and film stars, the Museo Chicote has a lounge atmosphere late at night and a stream of famous faces all day.

Sol, Huertas & Atocha

Cervecería Alemana (Plaza de Santa Ana 6; h10.30am- 12.30am Sun-Thu, 10.30am-2am Fri & Sat, closed August; mAntón Martín or Sol) A classic and classy watering hole, this place is famous for its cold, frothy beers and delicious tapas. It was one of Hemingway’s haunts.

Taberna de Dolores (Plaza de Jesús 4; mAntón Martín) Here since 1908, this delightful little bar smothered in tiles has beer and wine flowing freely, along with sea salty anchovies.

La Venencia (Calle de Echegarary 7; mSol) Your sherry (in several varieties) is poured straight from dusty wooden barrels and your tab literally chalked up on the bar itself.

Viva Madrid (Calle de Manuel Fernández y González 7; mAntón Martín or Sol) A landmark covered in beautiful coloured tiles, Viva Madrid does tapas earlier in the evening and drinks late into the night.

Malasaña & Chueca

Gay-friendly Chueca is packed with bars for punters of all persuasions, and Malasaña is known for its funky, alternative venues. Areia (, in Spanish; Calle de Hortaleza 92; mChueca or Alonso Martínez) The ultimate lounge bar by day,

Areia has groovy DJs take over at night with deep and chill house, nu jazz, bossa and electronica.

Tupperware (Corredera Alta de San Pablo 26; h8pm- 3.30am Sun-Wed, 9pm-3.30am Thu-Sat; mTribunal) Unbelievably kitschy, with plastic dolls and pictures of old TV stars as decor, this fun bar plays danceable pop and ’80s music every night of the week.

You’ll be dancing until dawn in Madrid’s numerous clubs. Some big-name clubs are concentrated around Gran Vía, although Chueca, Malasaña and Huertas are good bets, too.

Palacio Gaviria (Calle del Arenal 9; mSol) Special international student nights and other theme nights bring the big crowds to this converted mansion near the Puerta del Sol.

Teatro Joy Eslava (, in Spanish; Calle del Arenal 11; mSol) Housed in a 19thcentury neoclassical theatre, Joy hosts lots of theme parties and student nights. It’s a megaclub, but can still be a good place to meet people.

Siroco (, in Spanish; Calle de San Dimas 3; h10pm-6am Thu-Sat; mNoviciado) One of the most eclectic nightclubs in Madrid, Siroco does everything from reggae to acid jazz, from 1970s pop to funk, house and hip-hop. It’s a good place to hear local music, too.

Kapital (, in Spanish; Calle de Atocha 125; mAtocha) This massive seven-storey nightclub has something for everyone: from cocktail bars and dance music to karaoke, salsa, hip-hop and more chilled spaces for R&B and soul.


The Guía del Ocio (€1) is the city’s classic weekly listings magazine. Better are Metropoli (, in Spanish), El Mundo’s Friday listings supplement; and On Madrid (, in Spanish), El País’ version. La Netro (, in Spanish) is a comprehensive online guide.

Gay & Lesbian Venues

Chueca is Madrid’s lively, gay-friendly neighbourhood, and you’ll find lots of gay and lesbian bars and clubs in the area.

Café Acuarela (Tel 91 522 21 43; Calle de Gravina 10; h2pm-3am; mChueca) For something lowkey, head to this quiet bar.

Why Not? (Calle de San Bartolomé 7; h10.30pm- 6am; mChueca) A hetero-friendly place where nothing’s left to the imagination (things get pretty amorous here). Pop and chart music are the standard here.

Two of the more outrageous gay nightspots in Madrid are Sunrise (Calle de Barbieri 7; hmidnight-6am Thu-Sat; mChueca) and La Fulanita de Tal (, in Spanish; Calle del Conde de Xiquena 2; h10pm-3am Sun-Wed, 10pm-4am Thu-Sat; mChueca).

Live Music

Populart (Tel 91 429 84 07;; Calle de las Huertas 22; admission free; hshow 11pm; mAntón Martín or Sol) Get here early if you want a seat because this smoky, atmospheric bar is always packed with fans yearning for some soothing live jazz, blues or flamenco.

Clamores (, in Spanish; Calle de Alburquerque 14; admission €5-20; mBilbao) Clamores is one of the most diverse live music stages in Madrid. Jazz is a staple, but world music, flamenco, soul fusion, singer-songwriter, pop and rock all make regular appearances.

Las Tablas (Tel 91 542 05 20;, in Spanish; Plaza de España 9; admission €10-30; hdaily show at 10.30pm; mPlaza de España) Las Tablas has quickly earned a reputation for quality flamenco. Most nights you’ll see a classic flamenco show, with plenty of throaty singing and soul-baring dancing.

Casa Patas (Tel 91 369 04 96;; Calle de Cañizares 10; admission about €35; mAntón Martín) One of the best tablaos (flamenco venues) in the city, this is a great place to see passionate dancing, although it’s one of the pricier options. Call or check the website for the latest showtimes.


Several movie theatres are huddled around Gran Vía and Calle de la Princesa.

Princesa (Tel 91 541 41 00; Calle de la Princesa 3; mPlaza de España) Head here for a selection of flicks screened in their original language (versión original), including English.

Cine Doré (Tel 91 369 11 25; Calle de Santa Isabel 3; hTue-Sun; mAntón Martín) The National Film Library offers fantastic classic and vanguard films for just €2.


Get tickets to football matches and bullfights from box offices or through agents like Localidades Galicia (Tel 91 531 27 32;; Plaza del Carmen 1; h9.30am-1pm & 4.30-7pm Tue-Sat; mSol).


Real Madrid plays at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (Tel 91 398 43 00;; Avenida de Concha Espina 1; tour €10; h10am-7pm Mon-Sat, 10.30am-6.30pm Sun, closed day of game; mSantiago Bernabéu). Fans can take an interesting tour through the presidential box, dressing room and the field.


Some of Spain’s top toreros (bullfighters) swing their capes in Plaza de Toros Las Ventas (Tel 91 356 22 00;, in Spanish; Calle de Alcalá 237; mLas Ventas) . Fights are held every Sunday afternoon from mid-May to October. Get tickets (from €5 standing in the sun) at the plaza box office, Localidades Galicia (Tel 91 531 27 32;; Plaza del Carmen 1; h9.30am-1pm & 4.30-7pm Tue-Sat; mSol) or from official ticket agents on Calle Victoria.

Theatre & Opera

Madrid has a lively cultural scene, with concerts and shows going on throughout the city.

Teatro Real (Tel 902 24 48 48;, in Spanish; Plaza de Oriente; mÓpera) The Teatro Real is the city’s grandest stage for elaborate operas and ballets. You’ll pay as little as €15 for a spot so far away you will need a telescope, although the sound quality is consistent throughout.

Teatro de la Zarzuela (Tel 91 524 54 00;; Calle de Jovellanos 4; mBanco de España) Come here for zarzuela, a very Spanish mixture of dance, music and theatre.

Salamanca district is the home of upmarket fashions, with chic boutiques lining up to showcase the best that Spanish and international designers have to offer. Some of it spills over into Chueca, but Malasaña is Salamanca’s true alter ego, home to fashion that’s as funky as it is offbeat and ideal for that studied underground look that will fit right in with Madrid’s hedonistic afterdark crowd. Central Madrid – Sol, Huertas or La Latina – offers plenty of individual surprises.

Mercado de Fuencarral (Tel 91 521 41 52;; Calle de Fuencarral 45; mChueca) With shops like Fuck, Ugly Shop and Black Kiss, this reverse snobs’ small is funky, grungy and filled to the rafters with torn T-shirts and more black leather and silver studs than you’ll ever need.

El Corte Inglés (Tel 902 22 44 11;; Calle de Preciados 1, 2, 3 & 9; mSol) Spain’s enormous department store has branches all over the city and sells everything from food and furniture to clothes, appliances and toiletries. It’s truly one-stop shopping.

Madrid’s 284km of metro ( is Europe’s second-largest metro system, after London. A single ride costs €1 and a 10-ride ticket is €6.70. You can also get a one-, two-, three-, five- or seven-day travel pass. The metro is quick, clean, relatively safe and runs from 6am until 2am.

The bus system is also good, but working out the maze of bus lines can be a challenge. Contact EMT ( for more information. Twenty-six night-bus búhos (owls) routes operate from midnight to 6am, with all routes originating in Plaza de la Cibeles.