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Madrid City Guide
- Places of Interest
- Getting to
- Getting around the city
The capital of Spain since 1562, Madrid located in the heart of the Spanish Peninsula and right in the centre of the Castilian plane and is Spain's largest city with a population of over three million. At least 17% of the population are immigrants and many Spaniards are from elsewhere, therefore you can be known as a "madrileño" without having been born in Madrid. Madrid's history is an odd one. An insignificant medieval city, it was only named capital in the 16th century and struggled to live up to the reputation of other great European cities.
Nowadays Madrid is a cosmopolitan city and has all the features of any European city: a centre for business and commerce, home to amazing architectural structures, characterized by intense cultural and artistic activity, an energetic atmosphere and it also the home of the Spanish Royal Family.
However if there is one thing Madrid is famous for it is the passion for life it possesses. With concerts, theatre, ballet, cinema releases, restaurants, parks, museums and not to forget the nightlife, Madrid does not leave anything to be desired. Its myriad of bars will ensure that anyone will find themselves bouncing from one to the next and then staying out until the early morning experiencing the "movida madrileña" in true style.
Madrid is well worth visiting - and getting lost in - if you're looking to enjoy a unique experience.
Places of Interest
La Plaza Mayor
The origins of Madrid's beautiful Plaza Mayor date back to 1581, when Phillip II of Spain asked Juan de Herrera to remodel the old Plaza del Arrábal in honor of the new capital. 129 meters long by 94 metres wide, three stories high and boasting 237 residential flats, it is one of Madrid's most important landmarks yet.
El Palacio Real
The royal palace in Madrid is the official home of the King of Spain but he doesn't reside there. The current building is the second largest palace in Western Europe (after the Louvre), and was built after the previous Alcázar which was destroyed in a fire in 1734. Its interior is richly decorated with works by Velázquez, Caravaggio and Goya, to name but a few and is kept in excellent condition with the throne room being preserved since the reign of King Carlos III. A visit to the palace allows you to discover the intriguing history of the Spanish monarchy.
El Museo del Prado
More than 8,600 catalogued exhibits make El Prado, established in 1819, Madrid's biggest cultural attraction and the most impressive museum in Spain. Displaying some of the world's most famous pieces of art, this museum pays particularly close attention to the masters of Spanish art: Velázquez, Goya and El Greco. The building itself was designed to be a palace, housing a natural history museum and science centre.
Monasterio de Descalzas Reales
This must-see convent is one of Madrid's most mysterious attractions, steeped in history and extremely wealthy, it is a vestige of Spain's Golden Age. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the convent attracted many young noblewomen who were disappointed with love and searching for religion. Each brought with them a dowry which quickly made the convent one of the richest in Europe.
La Reina Sofia
With the Prado being the mother of Madrid's art scene the next is the Reina Sofía. Dedicated to 20th century art the permanent collection is located on 2nd and 4th floors. The museum has many pieces from Spanish artists and the most important piece in the museum is the Guernica by Pablo Picasso. The building itself is a pleasure to walk around with big open spaces and high ceilings.
Puerta del Sol
Puerta del sol is the official centre of Madrid and the point to which all routes to Madrid are measured. There are two prominent statues, one of Carlos III and one of a bear guzzling a madraño tree. Over the years this Puerta del Sol has turned into Madrid's favourite local meeting point.
El Parque del Buen Retiro
El Parque del Buen Retiro is right in the centre of Madrid and one of the most significant places in Madrid. In the park there are many monuments like the Palacio de Cristal, La puerta de España, and many fountains. This garden is ideal for strolling around and getting lost and makes good for a good visit.
La Casa de Campo
Currently Madrid's largest park situated in the Moncloas-Aravaca district this park has more than just abundant green space. It has an amusement park inside, a lake, a zoo and an aquarium, tennis courts, pools and more. There is a cable car connection to this park from el parque del oeste.
Parque del Oeste
A nice park to stroll through el Parque del Oeste is situated in the university district in Moncloa. Every year a rose competition is celebrated here in the Jardín de las Rosaledas.
El Real Jardín Botánico
The Royal botanic gardens can be found at the side of the Prado museum. The garden has many flowers originating from the Americas and the Pacific and inside there are fountains and benches to relax.
Getting to Madrid
Flying to Madrid's international airport, Barajas is the easiest way of getting there and almost all major airlines fly there. The airport itself is very easy to get around as everything signaled with directions.
The city has excellent links for getting to and from the airport. The cheapest and easiest option is to take the metro for a cost of €2 (1€ surcharge for airport metro stations)
The bus is also an economic option of getting to and from the airport. This is good option especially if you need to get to an area of Madrid the metro doesn't cover. Red buses charge normal rates to and from the airport. Buses go from all terminals and cover a variety of districts.
Taxis are also another option for airport access. However this method of transport is probably the most expensive at around €30 plus to and from the centre. On arrival at the airport some taxi drivers may ask you to pay a supplement charge for baggage. DO NOT ACCEPT THIS and ask for a receipt for the journey.
Direct services run from Madrid to France - Paris and Portugal - Oporto Lisbon. These are operated by the national train companies of both countries in a co-operative effort. Travelling in luxury whilst seeing the sights of rural Spain can't be a bad way to go!
If you're already in Spain you might want to get to Madrid by bus from other destinations in Spain. Here are some bus companies which operate journeys to and from Madrid:
- AUTOCARES LARREA
- AUTOCARES SAMAR
- CONTINENTAL AUTO
- LA SEPULVEDANA
- LA VELOZ
Getting around the city
The centre of Madrid itself is very compact so for trips between school, the shops and eating out you don't actually need to use public transport. However Madrid is served by a metro system so you should take advantage of the cheap fares and explore as much of the city as you can! An efficient urban bus system serves the city center and the suburbs, providing a reliable and economic means of getting around. A single journey costs approximately 1€, although a Bonobus pass can be a more economical purchase should you plan on using the bus service.
Climate and Temperatures
Located inland and set high on the Spanish plains, Madrid's Mediterranean climate is dry and one of extremes. In winter, the minimum temperatures frequently drop below 0°C although in the city itself it rarely snows. Fortunately temperatures start to rise in March/ April although the weather can be mixed at this time of year and spring and autumn are the wettest seasons. During the summer months of July and August, it tends to be very dry and hot with daytime temperatures rising as high as 40°C (104°F), although it is still very pleasant in the shade.
Cost of living
Madrid is the capital of Spain, the center of Spanish business and a huge tourist trap, unfortunately the cost of living tends to reflect this. Having said that, it is still possible to live very well on comparatively little. Meals in restaurants can vary from as little as 12€ for a fixed-price lunch menu, the menú del día, to much higher prices in Madrid's top restaurants. Partaking in the Spanish tradition of the tapeo, a tapas bar crawl, can also be a very reasonable way to eat and a delicious way of tasting typical Spanish cuisine. A single tapa with your drink costs as little as 2€.
Equally the cost of drinks can vary enormously. A coffee taken outside on the Plaza Mayor is an unforgettable experience but can set you back anything up to 5€, whereas a coffee or a glass of beer/wine standing at a bar can cost as little as 1.50€. Food and drink is also available cheaply in the supermarkets, of which there are several dotted around the city center. A baguette will set you back about 0.80€ whilst a liter of milk costs approximately 1€.
The madrileño nightlife is renowned across Spain and the world for its exuberance, and the large student population ensures that every night is a fiesta. Most nightclubs charge an entry fee of about €12 which normally includes a free drink of any kind. Once inside, drinks are much more expensive than in bars, beers cost 5€, large mixers or cocktails cost a minimum of 6€.