Madrid, the capital of Spain, is located in the very heart of the peninsula, in the centre of the Castillian plain. It is a cosmopolitan city with a population of over three million. Madrid traces its roots from the times of the Arab Emir Mohamed I (852-886). Today, Madrid is Spain's premier style city, a lively and vibrant metropolis.
Madrid offers a host of accommodation facilities for all travellers. Airport hotels close to Barajas provide easy access to Madrid's international airport. Hotels for business and leisure travellers can be found in the heart of the city, allowing easy access to shopping centres and tourist sites. Those who prefer a quiet location will have no problem finding a place to stay. There are apartments, flats and apart-hotels tucked away in quiet areas around the metropolis. Madrid also offers modest hostels and cheap hotels for those who are travelling on a modest budget.
Having fun in Madrid is something you can do at all hours of the day and night. In fact, if you want to really enjoy all that the city has to offer, you will probably have to take an afternoon nap - meaning you'll need a comfy hotel in Madrid to curl up in! Why? Most of Madrid's restaurants don't even open until 8 or 9 p.m. Walk around late at night, and you will see people out eating dinner until 1 a.m! In addition, the bars, pubs, and clubs stay open far later than that.
So, what do you eat that late at night? If you really want to dine like a native, feast on the tapas and the churros. Don't forget to try the traditional Iberian specialties like paella, tortilla Espanola, merluza and of course, cordero asado! Madrid is full of restaurants; you won't run out of places that will satisfy your palate. Just off the Plaza Mayor, is Botin, proclaimed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest restaurant in the world. Feast on the roasted meats, their specialty. Dominio de Antargi in Calle Ronda de Atocha 16 is a 'must' for wine connoisseurs. The ground floor and part of the upper floor sell wine and the small, stylish restaurant upstairs serves excellent Spanish food that greatly complements the assortment of wines. Artemisa at Ventura de la Vega serves vegetarian fare, and Museo del Jamón is a charcuterie, bar and restaurant with more than half a dozen branches in Madrid. Madrid has a rich café tradition and there are numerous cafes all over the metropolis.
But there's also plenty to do in Madrid during the day, too. To step back in time, head over to Plaza Mayor, in the heart of Old Madrid. The elegant area was once home to the Spanish Inquisition. Or visit the Royal Palace of Madrid, one of the largest palaces in Western Europe with 2,800 rooms!
Sharing a single courtyard with the Royal Palace is Almudena Cathedral. Begun in 1879, construction of the cathedral was completed only in 1993.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Madrid is El Rastro, a huge outdoor market that is full of colour, market stalls and people! For a fun afternoon with the kids, a trip to the nature park of Faurina is a must-see. You can spend hours looking at all of the different animals.
Or take a leisurely stroll in the Retiro Park (Parque del Reitro) filled with street musicians and sidewalk painters and take a boat out on its lake. Once a palace garden, the park now has a lake and many impressive fountains, Punch and Judy shows on Sundays, and lots of tarot card readers!
Then there is the enormous and imposing Palacio Real, built during the 18th to 19th centuries. Although it is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, it is now used only for state occasions. It has a vast courtyard and the palace has lavish halls and banquet rooms, an impressive throne room, residential area, the Royal Armoury and Royal Pharmacy. A guided tour around the palace grounds takes 45 minutes.
If you're an art buff, check out the 'Golden Triangle', where you will find three of Madrid's best art museums, all within a short walk of each other. These are the Reina Sofia National Museum, Museo del Prado, Art Centre and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art. There are 44 museums in Madrid, so be prepared. Luckily, there are plenty of Madrid hotels right in the middle of the action, in the downtown area. The cheaper Madrid hotels tend to be on the city's north side. However, you can also find some good deals on Madrid hotels downtown as well.
lcalá de Henares, or Alcalá on the Henares
This scenic Spanish city is about 30 kilometres from Madrid. Alcalá is famous for its rich culture and historical landmarks. There are picturesque meandering cobbled streets, a medieval centre and many historic buildings.
Located in the southern part of the autonomous community of Madrid, the beautiful town is between the rivers Tagus and Jarama that combines the spirit of the past and the present. During his reign, Felipe ll gave Aranjuez the title of a Royal Site. There are many monuments in this quiet town and other attractions such as the Royal Palace, the Tilling House, water springs and beautiful gardens.
Located in the mountain range of Guadarrama, 57 kilometres away from Madrid, this city has a ski resort and many attractions such as picturesque cycling routes, park adventures and bird watching spots.
45 kilometres away from Madrid, Chincón is best known for the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, where Goya's La Asunción de la Virgen is permanently displayed.
Top Things to do in Madrid
Watch a Flamenco show. Do not leave Madrid without watching the stellar performances at Casa Patas, Corral de la Pacheca, and Calle Echegaray. At El Jugar, flamenco is performed by students on Sundays.
Bask in the glory of Parque del Oeste. This park in Argüelles, is one of Madrid's most attractive places. The park offers a spectacular view of Palacio Real and Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple.
Go on a wine-tasting spree. Take one of the tours that visit the fruit vineyards or go to one of the respected bodegas (wine shops) like Bodegas Santa Cecilia, which frequently hosts tasting sessions and offer wine-tasting courses.
See Madrid from a different perspective. Ride the Teleferico Madrid cable car. Alternatively, go up the communications tower, Faro de Madrid, through a glass lift that takes visitors 92 metres up and gives the best view of the whole city.
Have a perfect cake in an old pasteleria. The lovely and old Antigua Pastileria del Pozo opened in 1830 and still maintains the same old décor and counter and continues to bake delectable pieces of perfection.
Kids and Family
Madrid is a fun place and offers so many options for families travelling together. Challenge the kids to try ice cream flavours they have never tasted before. Bruin at Paseo de Pinto offers 40 homemade flavours like olive oil, tomato or idiazábal cheese. A luxury campsite sits at the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, 45 minutes away from Madrid, where families and groups can rent wooden chalets, motor homes, and caravans or pitch a tent. Surprisingly, the campsite offers hotel facilities such as four swimming pools, football, basketball and tennis courts, two discos, a restaurant, café-bar, launderette, supermarket and activities for children.
Visit Faunia, part zoo, part theme park. It has a wonderful mix of jungle and ecological adventures. La Casa Encendida features impressive exhibits by emerging artists and sponsors activities for children. The Ice Palace near Barajas Airport has a 1,880 square metre ice rink, curling and skating school, bowling alley and a 15-screen cinema; a perfect place for a day with the family.