Madrid, the capital city of Spain is certainly a city with class and culture. It is the largest city in Spain and one of the biggest in Europe with a population of three and a half million (2005) and a metropolitan population approaching 6 million.
Madrid is a vibrant and exciting city to visit and has much to offer tourists of all ages spectacular architecture, fine museums and art galleries, an exciting and pulsating nightlife and a varied gastronomy.
Madrid has a long and distinguished history, the area now occupied by Madrid being settled from prehistoric times and since then by many cultures including Iberian, Roman and Arabic. Madrid was named as the capital of Spain in 1561 by Felipe II who chose it due to its central location.
There is very little left of medieval Madrid but there are still some remnants of the old city wall dating from the times of the Arab Conquest (8th 13th Centuries). There was a Moorish palace built by Mohammed I on the same site as the present day Palacio Real.
Modern Madrid centres around the Playa Mayor (main square), first constructed during the 15th Century and the location for many fiestas and celebrations. Madrid of course boasts one of the finest museums in the world the Prado Museum, originally a natural history museum, has, since 1819 been the home of the Spanish Royal art collection and is now recognised as the largest art gallery in the world. The Prado has on display some famous and beautiful paintings by some of the best known artists including Botticelli, Correggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco, Murillo and Goya. The Prado Museum is part of what is known as The Golden Triangle of Art together with 2 other fine museums the Reina Sofia Museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, both containing important art collections.
Madrid also has some fine parks and gardens which are well worth a visit, one of the best being the Parque del Buen Retiro a beautiful and picturesque park with superb gardens, woods and a lake where you can hire a boat. During the summer months the park is very lively with lots of entertainment and shows taking place.
Madrid has an exciting nightlife scene with a huge number of bars and night clubs open until the early hours. Try the streets around the Plaza de Santa where there is a concentration of popular bars, cafés and clubs.
When most people think of Spain they think of bullfighting and whilst in recent years this tradition has died out through much of Spain, Madrid still has a popular bullfighting season (March to October). Madrid boasts the largest bullfighting ring in Spain, Las Ventas and its bullfighting season is generally recognised as the most important in Spain.
Madrid of course has many spectacular fiestas and festivals including the Fiestas de San Isidro (the festival in honour of Madrids patron Saint), the Virgen de la Paloma (August) and the Virgen de la Almudena (November).
Madrid has some fine restaurants offering cuisine from all over the world as well as the traditional Spanish cuisine. Whatever your tastes, you must at least try one of the many tapas bars during your visit, these sell small portions of various Spanish dishes including anchovies, sardines and other mariscos (seafood), olives, meatballs, calamares, chorizo and Spanish omelette. These tapas bars are an ideal opportunity to taste some typical Spanish dishes without having to order a full meal, they are usually served with plenty of fresh bread. Many Spanish bars include small portions of tapas free whenever you order a drink.
Madrid is located right in the centre of Spain and can be easily accessed via a variety of motorways and also by way of the Barajas International Airport. Madrid also has a metro (underground) system, the second largest in Europe.