The Spanish capital offers fiesta, flamenco and flea markets aplenty
Madrid is the capital city of Spain and also its largest city with roughly 3.3 million inhabitants. Tourists flock to this Mediterranean hot-spot each year to enjoy historic squares with bustling tapas bars, world-class art galleries and 24-hour nightlife.
The Spanish capital is compact and pedestrian-friendly, so perfect for exploring on foot. The main hub is the Sol area around the Puerta del Sol square. To the east lies leafy El Retiro Park and Madrid’s world-class art museums, and to the west are the Plaza Mayor and Royal Palace. Cutting across the city is the busy Gran Via with trendy quarters Malasaña, Salamanca and Chueca to the north. To the south is fashionable La Latina, home to the El Rastro Sunday market, and the cosmopolitan Lavapiés district.
A Madrid city break offers world-class art, tasty tapas, Sunday markets and a buzzing nightlife. The city seamlessly blends old and new with cobbled streets and 17th-century churches sitting alongside chic shops and gleaming skyscrapers.Sunday’s lively El Rastro flea market in La Latina is a must on any Madrid itinerary. Go before 2pm to barter for trinkets, quirky fashions, antiques and handicrafts along the winding streets of one of Madrid’s oldest residential neighbourhoods. If you want to catch a traditional bullfight, head to the plaza de toros at Ventas. Then after midnight, Madrid's young people flock to the lively bars of Chueca and Huertas for drinks. When the temperatures rise, Madrileños catch a cool breeze in the Retiro Park, where you can catch live music at the bandstand on summertime Sundays and party with locals during May’s Fiesta de San Isidro celebrations for Madrid’s patron saint.
When to go?
Spring and autumn are ideal times to visit Madrid, with May and October offering balmy sunshine without too many tourist crowds. If you’re visiting in peak summer season, make sure you pick an air-conditioned hotel as temperatures often reach 40-degrees. August is the quietest month, as the locals escape to the mountains or the beach – as a result, many restaurants and shops will be closed.
How to get there?
Low-cost carriers including easyJet and Ryanair offer affordable direct flights from major UK airports to Madrid. Iberia, British Airways and Air Europa offer direct flights from London, while KLM offer flights from Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Glasgow and Edinburgh via Amsterdam.
Forming a ‘golden triangle’ near El Retiro park is Madrid’s trio of art museums on the Paseo del Arte: the vast Museo del Prado, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, displaying everything from Old Masters to contemporary American art and some of Picasso’s most famous works.
After exploring those, head Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s most impressive square surrounded by cafes ideally situated for coffee and people-watching. Alternatively, take a trip to Plaza de Oriente where you might get lucky and see an impromptu flamenco performance.If you’re peckish, Madrid has the world’s second largest fish market with a whole host of seafood bars to sample the local fare, or a wealth of bars serving up tapas. Chueca has several stylish eateries and Plaza Dos de Mayo is a favourite spot for informal tapas. Look out for a good-value ‘menú del día’.Madrid is a 24-hour city, so you’ll never be short of a late night drinking den. The outdoor terraces of Paseo de Recoletos are packed in summertime, or on cooler nights, explore the cosy taverns around Plaza Mayor. If you’re keen for a cultural night out, try and catch a performance at Teatro Real, Madrid’s Opera House.