Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain, as well as the capital of the autonomous community of the same name (Comunidad de Madrid). The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million with a metro area population of almost 6.5 million. Madrid is best known for its great cultural and artistic heritage, a good example of which is the El Prado museum. Madrid also boasts some of the liveliest nightlife in the world.
Madrid is located just northeast of the geographical center of the Iberian Peninsula, in the middle of the Spanish central Castillian plateau (Meseta central), at an average altitude of 650m. Nearly all of the most famous tourist areas are located in the center of the city including Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, and Plaza de Colón. The major streets in Madrid include the Gran Via, Alcalá Street, and Paseo de la Castellana.
The climate of Madrid is continental; mainly dry and quite extreme at times. Madrid sees perpetual sunshine and a characteristically hot and dry summer, and a fairly cold winter with frequent frosts during the night and the occasional snowfall. Spring and autumn are mild with the most rainfall concentrated in these seasons. Spring and autumn are definitely the best times to visit, especially the months of April, May, June, September and October. There is very little rainfall during summer and also less rainfall during winter. During winter snow occurs sporadically; however, snowfall usually lasts only for a few days, but there is abundant snowfall in the adjacent mountain ranges nearby.
The culture of Madrid was dominated by its Royal history, centre of the Spanish Empire. The Royal Palace, big places and buildings used by the Spanish Monarchy, enormous cathedrals and churches are plentiful in Madrid, as well as medieval architecture, although nowadays Madrid is just as much a cosmopolitan city as Berlin or London, full of new architecture, lifestyle and culture.
As Spanish Capital, Madrid has meant the different “establishment” for most Spaniards. During the 2nd Republic (1931-1936) was a bustling city of new ideas. Being capital of the Franquist dictatorship (1939-1975) made the city still seemed to represent a conservative part of Spain to many Spaniards. However, the city is also the epicentre of the famous Movida, Spain’s 80s movement that bred personalities such as the director Pedro Almodóvar. The heritage of this era is indeed still visible in the city centre, where a party can be found at all times and one of the most liberal and colourful environments of Spain can be seen. The city is also known for its great gay tolerance.
The citizens of Madrid, who refer to themselves as ‘Madrileños’ or the more traditional and currently seldom used term “gatos” (cats), live by a daily routine that is heavily influenced by the climate. Due to the typically midday heat during summer, a “siesta” can be still observed during which some citizens take a break to cool off, though Madrileños can usually only afford this ‘luxury’ during holidays and weekends.
Most stores are open during all the day; just small stores are often closed during this time. Workers and those more afflicted by Western lifestyles choose not to observe this long break and work traditional business hours, which are usually between 9am and 6-7pm. During summer many offices, however, will have a summer schedule requiring workers to start at 8am and finish at 3pm (most commonly without the standard 1-2 hour break for lunch).
Offices usually close during the weekend but businesses are often open Saturday morning (downtown stays open until afternoon). Most grocers are closed on Sundays, but some major chain and department stores linked to “culture” (books, music, etc.) will be open throughout the day and all of them on the first Sunday of the month.
Shops and department stores in Puerta del Sol area are open every day.
Madrid possibly has the largest number of bars per capita of any European city and a very active nightlife; Madrileños are known to stay up until as late as 5am-7am. It is quite common to see a crowded Gran Vía on weekend nights. It is important to note that, due to this lifestyle, lodging located near the fun areas may end up a nightmare for light sleepers if your window faces the street.
Madrid has a very modernized and elaborate transportation network of buses and Metro. The city contrasts with some large European cities in that it is extremely clean, and city employees in bright yellow vests can almost always be seen cleaning the streets and sidewalks.
Madrid is one of the biggest and most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. Communities of West Africans, North Africans, other Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and (especially) Latin Americans are prominent.
Some popular neighborhoods are:
- Alonso Martínez – Many pubs and small discos. Until about 3am, a very young crowd, and if you′re around here before midnight, and over the age of 20, prepare to feel positively old. Most places close around 3am, then people move to nearby areas to continue partying (clubs in Gran Vía or Tribunal).
- Barrio de las Letras / Huertas – Many of Spain’s most famous writers lived there (Cervantes, Quevedo, etc.). It is among Lavapiés, Puerta del Sol and Paseo del Prado. It is an area full of history and interesting buildings and is also well-known because of its concentration of bars, pubs, restaurants and hotels. Plaza de Santa Ana is a beautiful square. It can be considered “too touristic” for some local people.
- Chueca – Near Malasaña and Gran Vía, it is the gay district (although no one is ever excluded) with a very strong personality. New design, trendy shops, cool cafes. Pop and electronic music. By far, the most cosmopolitan place in town. Has become quite chic and expensive.
- Tribunal / Malasaña – Alternative area. You can enjoy a café, a dinner, a book or just some drink. Mainly rock and pop music clubs, some of them still open from “La movida madrileña” (beginning of 80’s). Calle Manuela Malasaña is a great place to eat, Calle del Pez a great place to have some drinks and Plaza Dos de Mayo is the heart of the district.
- Conde Duque – Like Malasaña, this district shares a similar audience. Calle Conde Duque is full of cafés and restaurant. Between the main squares in the district, Plaza de Guardias de Corps and Plaza de las Comendadoras, you will also find other options to have drinks, cafés or tapas. The Conde Duque Cultural Centre usually hosts shows, concerts and exhibitions.
- Gran Vía – The place that never sleeps. Major street that includes many popular nightclubs, usually open from 1am to 6-7am.
- La Latina – Near Lavapiés, it is the place to go for tapas and full of bohemian young people looking for stylish bars. In the old section, many small bars and pubs, a generally older crowd (late 20s, 30s – you know, “adults”). Contains La Cava Baja street. Avoid places in the Plaza Mayor but for sunbathing and beers. Multiple bars serving fantastic tapas in the Cava Baja and Cuchilleros. The area centered on Calle Calatrava (what the locals call ‘Chuecatina’) is has developed into a gay (but very hetero-friendly) zone. It’s surprisingly very crowded on Sunday mornings, from 11am to late in the afternoon due to its close location to the flea market El Rastro.
- Lavapiés – Multicultural quarter of the city, with more than 50% foreign residents, mostly from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Plenty of world music bars and many alternative theaters and art galleries. Lavapiés is maybe the most cosmopolitan and hippy area at the same time in Madrid. Indian restaurants, alternative cafés, African music and South American shops. Walking around for a coffee is well worth it.
- Moncloa – Due to its proximity to the main University in Madrid (Universidad Complutense), Moncloa is associated with students and a student lifestyle, many cheap bars and discos as it is near the university, although some of the places are best avoided.
- Salamanca – Plenty of expensive boutiques, unique shops with impossible prices and department stores.
- Torre Europa. There used to be several posh pubs and clubs under the tower across from the stadium. There are 4 or 5 bars and discos in the avenida de Brazil area catering to a young and student crowd.
- Ciudad Universitaria. This area is where most of the students reside as there are several dorms in this area. There are many, many cheap bars with great nightlife starting from Thursdays.
How to get there:
Madrid-Barajas Airport (Tel: +34 902 404 704 / 91 321 1000) is located 13km from the city center. It is one of the largest airports in Europe and is serviced by many airlines, as well as being the home base for Iberia Airlines. The airport has 4 terminals. Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are close together and serviced by the same metro station, while Terminal 4 is far from those and has its own metro and commuter train stations.
The airport is connected to the city center by a 24-hours express bus service that passes all terminals. Alternatively, you can take the Metro (line 8 pink, from 06:30 to 01:30) to Nuevos Ministerios station, also available from all terminals. Public bus 200 operates between the airport and Avenida de América bus station in Madrid.
Renfe, (Tel: +34 902 320 320), operates the second largest high speed train network in the world, with services to and from Madrid, connecting frequent trains between Madrid and Barcelona (2h 40min), Seville (2h 20 min), Malaga (2h 30 min), Zaragoza, Tarragona, Lerida, Huesca, Ciudad Real, Puertollano, Lisbon, Milan, the French coast, Paris, with continuing journeys to most of Europe.
Madrid has two train stations: Chamartín and Atocha, both of which have excellent Metro and ‘Cercanias’ commuter train connections. Most northbound and international trains arrive and depart from Chamartín station, while trains to Barcelona, Valencia and southern Spain depart from Atocha. Madrid also has a comprehensive system of local trains (Cercanías) that connect outlying suburbs and villages with the city center.
There are car rental facilities available at the airport, train stations, and other main travel sites. Always be sure to have a street map handy! The roads within Madrid are difficult to navigate as there are no places to stop and consult a map or check your route.
Also, if you are relying on GPS navigation, be aware that there are several consecutive junctions underground near the centre and your GPS may not get a signal underground. Plan your turns before you enter the tunnels.
Madrid City is well covered by the main global car rental companies, such as Avis, Budget, Hertz, Thrifty & Europcar, some of these also provide Rent to Buy Facilities. All car rental companies offer competitive pricing for economy class vehicles and unlimited mileage options. Some local car rental companies may also offer competitive pricing.
For FREE parking but within walking distance of 20 mins. to city centre (Sol), try the street at Principe Pio metro stop. The place to park is the street near to the shopping mall called Calle de Mozart. It is packed with cars on weekday mornings because of people getting to the Metro station. During the evenings and weekends it’s easy to get a parking spot.
By Public Transport
Madrid proudly sports one of the best public transportation networks in the world and the second largest metro network in Europe, second only to London’s. Buses and subways form an integrated network and work with the same tickets.
The Metro de Madrid (Madrid’s Subway/Underground) is one of the better and less expensive metros in Europe. In addition, the underground tunnels of the Metro provide relief from the sun on hot days. Ticket machines are multilingual with instructions in Spanish, English, French, and German. Stamping the ticket one time allows you to use the Metro network as long and far as you like – make sure you stay inside the Metro zone, once you leave it, you’ll have to stamp your ticket again. When you travel to or from airport stations, there is additional supplement which can be paid at the entrance or exit. The Passes do not require this supplement – it is included in the price. You can catch some trains as late as 2:00am, although the official close time for the metro system is at 1:30am.
Announcements in the metro are made only in Spanish, though signs are bilingual in Spanish and English.
Whatever the Metro doesn’t cover, the buses do.
Madrid has eight enormous international and intercity bus stations. Information on where buses to a particular destination depart from can be found at the Tourist Office.
Many of the international buses, and those headed south of Madrid, arrive at and depart from Estación Sur de Autobuses (Calle de Méndez Álvaro, (Tel: +34 91 468 4200) which is accessible by metro.
Buses to and from Barcelona and Bilbao operate from the Avenida de América bus terminal, also accessible by Metro.
Night buses (Búhos, “night owls”), have their main hub at Plaza de Cibeles, covering most of the city at roughly 20-minute intervals.
Buses are equipped with free wifi facility (EMTmadrid), easy to use with any type of laptop or notebook.
The Madrid City also operates Hop on/ Hop off Tour Buses, the ideal way to get around and visit all the tourist attractions.
Taxis can be hard to find during late hours on weekends, especially if there is some rain. Unlike in other European cities, there are few taxi stands; just stand by the side of a major road or bus stop and wave your hand to signal an available taxi passing by. Available taxis have a green ‘libre’ sign in the windshield and a green light on top.
Official taxis are white, and have a red stripe and the flag of Madrid on the front door. The tariff is displayed on top of the car (a 1 during daytime, a 2 during the night, which become 2 and 3 on holidays such as Christmas Eve).
There are also special surcharges for entering or leaving the airport/train station. Ask for the written table of tariffs and charges (suplementos) (shown on small stickers on rear windows, compulsory by law) before paying if you think it’s too expensive.
Be aware there are some taxi drivers that will do what is called ‘la vuelta al ruedo’ which basically means they will drive you around or through the crowded avenues to increase the fare.
Most taxi drivers do not speak English, so you should have the names and/or addresses of your destinations written in Spanish to show your taxi driver. Likewise, get your hotel’s business card in case you get lost.
Transportation by private automobile in Madrid can be a nightmare. The Spanish capital suffers from the typical problems of most big cities; far too many cars and not enough space to accommodate them. Sometimes there can even be traffic jams in the Paseo de la Castellana at 3:00am (early to some Madrileños). The problem is compounded by the narrow streets in the old town, where a lorry delivering beer barrels to a local bar can cause a huge tailback. Finding a parking space can be very time consuming, and difficult if one is not skilled in the art of close proximity parallel parking. Many Spaniards are also lacking in this art, prompting them to simply park in the street, blocking other cars in. If you find yourself blocked in by such a practice, honk your horn until the driver returns. If you parallel park your car in Madrid, be aware that most Madrileños park by sound alone. They will feel no remorse for repeatedly hitting the car in front and behind them while trying to get into or out of a tight spot. If you value your car’s paint job, or you have rented a car, it may be best to park underground. Though this is no guarantee for nobody hitting your car, the chances are somewhat diminished.
In short, renting a car is not only unnecessary, but not recommended for getting around downtown Madrid, and a car is likely to be more of a liability than an asset. Visitors should make use of Madrid’s excellent public transportation instead. Renting a car only makes sense if you are planning to leave Madrid and drive to the nearby towns.
Although Madrid does not appear as a bike-friendly city at a first sight, things are changing slowly to make bike experience more comfortable. Several streets in historical downtown have been transformed into mixed-traffic spaces where pedestrians and bikes have priority over cars. There are new easy-bike paths all along the river and connecting important parks.
It is also possible to use a lot of narrow easy streets where traffic is slow and calm to travel along the city without depending on exclusive bike paths. There are some official and unofficial publications with these streets along the web.
To avoid some of Madrid inconveniencies, such as hot weather or slopy streets it is also possible to get bikes on Metro and Railways trains with some schedule restrictions, and on every public transport without restrictions when using folding-bikes.
There is a public rent-a-bike service BiciMAD. There are also some rent shops on historical center area such as the company Baja Bikes and Urban Biking. These companies offer several rental points in Madrid (Retiro, Atocha, Madrid-Río, etc.). They offer Guided and self-guided bicycle tours, using electric or conventional bicycles.
Landmarks and Architecture
- Puerta del Sol. This plaza is the heart of Madrid and one of the busiest places in the city – a hub for the local transit system, a favorite meeting spot for locals, a visible area for festivals or political demonstrations, and a opportune location for tour guides, street performers, pickpockets and anyone else looking to take advantage of all the tourists on hand.
Plaza Mayor. Perhaps the best known plaza in Madrid (particularly since the Mayor of Madrid made her 2013 Olympic bid speech referring to a “relaxing cup of café con leche in Plaza Mayor”), this impressive square is now one of the main stops on any tourist visit. Originally built outside the city walls, this enclosed square has played host to bullfights, markets, symphonies, tournaments and executions. Today it is ringed with tourist shops, cafes and restaurants.
- Mercado de San Miguel. Near Plaza Mayor is this indoor market, identifiable by its ornate iron posts. Built in 1913, it’s full of a wide range of high quality food. Even if you’re not buying anything, it’s worth entering for the sights and smells of dried ham, fine wine, freshly baked goods and other treats from the vendors inside.
- Plaza de la Villa. The main square during Middle Age, as Calle Mayor (High Street) was the main street as well. It houses the former City Hall, the former Academy of Fine Arts and the Archbishopric.
- Palacio Real, Calle Bailen (Tel: +34 91 454 8700), Mon.-Sat. 9:00-17:00, Sun. and holidays 9:00-15:00, closed occasionally for official ceremonies. The Palacio Real (Royal Palace) is an enormous palace, one of the biggest in Europe, with scorching plains of concrete around it. Though it is the official residence of the King of Spain, the royal family does not actually reside here and it is generally used only for state ceremonies.
- Plaza de Oriente, Calle Bailen. Located between the Palacio Real and the Teatro Real. Baroque-style gardens surround a large monument to Philip IV. Dozens of statues of other kings line the gardens. In good weather there are often a number of street performers here.
- Catedral de la Almudena. This massive cathedral faces the Palacio Real. Finished near the end of 20th century, it is where the Princes of Asturias Felipe and Letizia were married in 2004.
- Plaza de España. A prominent square on the northwest side of central district, adjacent to two of the tallest buildings in Madrid: the Torre de Madrid (the taller, white one) and the Edificio España (the red and white one). The square contains a large fountain and a sculpture of Cervantes and his famous Don Quixote and Sancho Panza characters.
- Gran Vía. Literally “Great Way” (better translated as “Broadway”), Gran Vía is one of the busiest avenues in Madrid. Running from Plaza de España to Plaza de Cibeles, it is the location of the cinema district and a number of shopping malls and is lined with large billboards and lights. There’s a constant buzz of traffic and life – 3-4am early morning traffic jams are not unusual.
- Plaza de Cibeles. A massive roundabout at the intersection of Calle de Alcala and Paseo del Prado, this plaza houses one of Madrid’s emblems, the Fountain of Cibeles, which portrays the Roman goddess of fertility sitting upon a chariot pulled by two lions. On the southeast corner dominating the Plaza is one of the world’s most beautiful city halls, the Palacio de Cibeles (formerly the Palacio de las Comunicaciones), an impressive structure with a jaw-droopingly spectacular facade. Inside, the building holds a cultural center with changing art exhibits and info on Madrid, and you can climb to the upper floors for some excellent views out the window. On the southwest corner of the square sits the imposing Bank of Spain (Banco de España) building, while the northeast corner is home to the Palacio de Linares, which holds the Casa de América, a cultural center with an art gallery of Latin American works.
- Plaza de Castilla. On the north side of the city and bisected by Paseo de la Castellana, this plaza is in the center of Madrid’s skyscraper district. A tall obelisk sits in the center of the plaza while the Gate of Europe (Puerta de Europa) towers, two slanted towers which frame the boulevard, are situated on the north side of the plaza. Taking the #27 bus, which runs along Paseo del Prado and Paseo de la Castellana and ends at Plaza de Castilla, will take you pass several Madrid high-rises. North of the Plaza is the Four Towers (Cuatro Torres), four sleek new skyscrapers which are the tallest in Spain.
This is Madrid’s museum district, named for the three major art museums clustered along Paseo del Prado east of the old city: the Museo del Prado, one of the finest art museums in the world, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, a baron’s collection of classical art, and the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s modern art museum. However, a couple of smaller museums also occupy the neighborhood which is well worth seeing as well. It’s important to note that many of the museums offer free entry during certain times most days. It varies by museum and day, but to if you are looking to take advantage of these beautiful museums with a lesser budget, it is still possible
El Retiro Park. The main park of Madrid, the perfect place to take a rest during a sunny day, or take part in the drum circles around the statue of Alphonso XII on summer evenings. There is a large boating lake where one can hire a rowing boat – great fun for the children! There is a monument to the victims of the Madrid 3/11 terrorist bombings, the Forest of the Absent, and the Crystal Palace, a large structure entirely made of glass. Sunday afternoons in summer are a treat in the park, where young hippies play bongos and dance.
In addition, there are many more parks to visit in Madrid: Royal Botanical Garden (Real Jardin Botanico), Parque del Capricho, Templo de Debod, Rosaleda del Parque del Oeste, La Casa de Campo, Zoo Aquarium Madrid and Faunia.
Art Gallery Tour is a pioneer initiative that brings people closer to the world of contemporary art through guided tours of the best and most important galleries & exhibitions in Madrid situated in magnificent spaces in the three most historic districts of Madrid: Salesas, Letters, Salamanca and Dr. Fourquet St. It is a great opportunity to discover Madrid & its cultural heritage. Their main goal is to democratize art in Spain, raising awareness of contemporary art and stimulating the art market. For more information visit artgallerytour.
Four teams from Madrid play in La Liga (Spain’s premier division). The matches between Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid are known as “El Derbi Madrileño” (English: Madrid Derby).
- Real Madrid. For football fanatics, a trip to the Santiago Bernabeu, the home of local club Real Madrid is not to be missed. Real Madrid is the most successful football club in Spain and Europe, having been crowned Spanish champions a record 32 times and European champions a record 10 times.
- Atlético de Madrid. Plays games in the Vicente Calderón stadium. The club is one of the most successful in Spanish League history, having won both La Liga on nine occasions and the Copa del Rey on ten occasions, including a double in 1996. They also won the European Cup Winners Cup in 1962, were European Cup runners-up in 1974, Intercontinental Cup winners in 1975 and more recently won the UEFA Europa League in 2010 and 2012 and the European Super Cup in 2010 and 2012.
- Getafe Club de Fútbol. Plays games at Coliseum Alfonso Pérez in Getafe, one of the dormitory cities of Madrid.
- Rayo Vallecano. Plays games at Estadio Teresa Rivero. A popular team from the Vallecas area in Madrid, known for its alternative culture and left-wing ultras.
Madrid’s nightlife is too vast and varied to list here, but suffice to say offers the widest range of restaurants serving the very best Spanish and International cuisine, tapas bars, sidewalk cafés, cinemas and theatres, disco pubs and cocktail lounges, nightclubs and discotheques.
Likewise with Madrid’s nightlife, the city offers all and every type of hotel, hostel and apartment rental accommodation to suit all pockets.
Large, multi-storey shopping centers are spread across the city. Spain has its famous ‘El Corte Ingles’ chain of departmental stores, many of which can be found in Madrid itself. However, one of the smartest and most chic shopping areas can be found at…
Las Rozas Village Chic Outlet Shopping, Calle Juan Ramón Jimenez 3, Las Rozas, (Tel: +34 916 404 900. Mon. – Fri. 11am-9pm, Sat. 11am-10pm, Sun. 11am-9pm. Fantastic outlet in the suburbs of Madrid with villa-like shops. It is part of the Chic Outlet Shopping Villages in Europe which has other villa-like outlets in Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, London, Milan, Brussels, Frankfurt, and Munich. It offers up to 60% off in over 100 luxury brands such as Bally, Burberry, Hugo Boss Man and Woman, Pepe Jeans, Loewe, Desigual, Camper, Tommy Hilfiger and Versace. In Las Rozas Village you can also find some coffee places like Starbucks and a few bars. It takes around 40 minutes to get there by car from the center of Madrid. A fantastic experience for a warm Sunday afternoon.
It’s worth taking a trip outside of Madrid to see some of the best sites such as visiting Alcalá de Henares, Aranjuez or Ávila – all UNESCO World Heritage sites, Chinchon – A typical Spanish town that retains its character from the 1700s, El Escorial – A mountainous retreat home to Spain’s largest monastery, the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Segovia – A medieval city home to a famous Roman aqueduct and the Spanish Mint, Toledo – It’s about a 30 minute train ride from Madrid Atocha station, with plenty of art (del Greco) and architecture (one of the best cathedrals in Europe), Valle de los Caídos – The memorial to all soldiers killed during the Spanish Civil War, El Pardo – A little village near Madrid (8 km. from the city center, connected by bus) and close to the Palacio de la Zarzuela.
There are many tourist offices and information points throughout the city, at train and bus stations, underground (metro) and airport. These are the principal offices:Casa de la Panadería, Plaza Mayor, 27, 28012, Madrid. Email: email@example.com Tel: (+34) 91 588 1636. Fax: (+34) 91 480 2041. Plaza de Callao esquina Carmen, s/n., 28013, Madrid. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: (+34) 91 588 1636. Calle Alcalá, 31, 28014, Madrid. Tel: (+34) 91 276 71 87. Email: email@example.com Duque de Medinaceli, 2 Metro. Tel: (+34) 91 429 4951. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Mercado Puerta de Toledo Metro. Tel: (+34) 91 364 1876. Email: email@example.com Plaza Colón, 1 (underpass to Paseo de la Castellana), Tel: (+34) 91 454 44 10. Barajas Airport. Tel: (+34) 902 100 007. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Chamartín Train Station, Vestíbulo. Puerta 16, 28036, Madrid. Tel: (+34) 902 100 007. Email: email@example.com Atocha Train Station, Vestíbulo del Ave, 28012, Madrid. Tel: (+34) 902 100 007. Email: Turismo: firstname.lastname@example.org
Property in Madrid
Video of Madrid
Video – Top 10 Travel Attractions
Portions of this page are modifications based on work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License, in particular, reproduced from Wikitravel/Madrid.