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Madrid is the capital city of Spain, and is located directly in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula.
Madrid is located in the heart of Spain, and features distinctly winding streets, all of which seem to be heading either up or down. Like other European cities, the street plan of Madrid - well, there simply is no street plan. It is very easy to get lost quickly in Madrid, especially if you lack a sense of direction (always have a map handy). It helps to realize that nearly all of the most famous tourist areas are located in the southwest section of Madrid, and range all the way up to the Gran Via (the largest avenue in Madrid, similar to Times Square).
The climate is continental: dry and extreme. With a constantly shining sun, and very hot temperatures in the summer and pretty cold temperatures in the winter. There is (nearly) no moderate spring or autumn, only "sol o sombra". Rainfall occurs sporadically, and snowfall is almost nonexistent, Although it might snow in the nearby mountain ranges.
The culture of Madrid is steeped in religion and royal history. Cathedrals and churches are plentiful in Madrid, and medieval architecture is as well. Citizens of Madrid (referred to by themselves as Madrileños) are heavily influenced by the harsh climate. Office workers do not have such a long break and work traditional business hours, usually between 9am and 6-7pm. Offices usually close during the weekend but business are often open saturday morning, and downtown also during the afternoon. Most grocers are closed on Sundays. Some major chain and department stores will be open througout the day, however, for example, FNAC.
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 even 6-8.00 A.M. It is important to note that due to the very active lifestyle, lodging located near the Gran Via can result in an aural nightmare at night; light sleepers should take heed.
Madrid has become very modernized as of late, with a very elaborate transportation network comprised of the Metro and buses. The city contrasts with some large European cities in that it is extremely clean, and city employees in bright green vests can almost always be seen cleaning the streets and sidewalks. Like most large cities, however, there is a substantial population of vagrants and beggars lining the streets.
The majority of Madrid residents do not speak very much English- the population speaks about as much English as the U.S. population speaks Spanish. Even employees at U.S. owned businesses such as McDonald's and employees at cash exchange centers rarely speak much English, therefore it could be essential to at least know very common Spanish words and phrases.
Essential Basic Words & Phrases to Know for Madrid
- Oficina de Turismo- "Tourist Office", this is the main information hub for tourists
- Horario- hours of operation/opening & closing times
- Cambio- "change", used during purchases and also designates Currency Exchange stations
- Bebidas- "drinks", designates places where refreshments can be purchased
- Comida- "food", designates places where food/meals can be purchased
- Tapas- "appetizers", broad term used to describe anything eaten before the main course
- Joyeria/Relojeria- "jewelry shop/watch shop", these can be seen in abundance in the city
- "sin"- "without", often used on food items to designate what it does not contain, for instance, "sin cafeina" means "without caffeine"
- "con"- "with", the exact opposite of "sin", "con" would designate what something does contain
Tropical gardin in Atocha
Not only is Madrid the capital of Spain, but it is also the hub of the country's rail network. Some of the more major routes include hourly trains to Barcelona on the east coast (5 hour journey), where it is possible to continue on to the French coast, and to Paris to the north with access to most of the rest of Europe.
Spain's high-speed train (AVE - Alta Velocidad de España) makes the Madrid-Seville run in less than three hours but costs significantly more than the 5-6 hour regular trains.
Barcelona and northern bound trains arrive and depart from Chamartín station, while trains to Seville, Valencia and southern Spain depart from Atocha railway station.
Madrid has eight gigantic international and intercity bus stations. Information on where buses to a particular destination depart from can be found at Tourist Offices.
Many of the international buses, and those headed south of Madrid, arrive at and depart from Estacion Sur de Autobuses (Calle de Mendez Alvaro, Tel: 91 468 4200) which is connected to the rest of the city by Metro. Buses to and from Barcelona are based from the Avenida de America bus terminal (Ave. de America), also connected to the Metro.
Take note if you have luggage or a baby stroller: You may not use the bus! Something I found shocking while traveling there in December-January 04-05.
The nearest airport is Barajas International Airport, about 15-20 minutes from Madrid. It is connected to the city by the Metro line eight.
Taxis from the airport to the city centre cost about ?20.
But it's also connected by underground("metro" in Spanish).
Using the Metro de Madrid (http://www.metromadrid.es/) (Madrid's Subway/Underground) is efficient and usually easier than using the buses, especially if one is new to the city. Also, the underground tunnels of the Metro provide relief from the sun on particularly hot days. Single trip tickets with unlimited changes within Madrid city (zone A) cost ?1. If you plan to make at least five metro trips, think about buying the Metrobús tickets which offer a better value of 10 rides for ?5.80. You can buy these tickets at Metro stations, news-stands, and estancos (tobacconists'). They are valid not just on the Metro but also on EMT city buses (including the night bus network). 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 travelling by bus, the ticket needs to be stamped each time you enter a bus.
In addition to a bus pass, consider buying an Abono Turístico (tourist pass). This pass comes in five versions: lasting 1 (?3.50), 2(?6.30), 3 (?8.40), 5 (?13.20), or 7 (?18.40) calendar days. They are valid from the date they are first used. The date of expiration will be printed on the back of the ticket.
EMT operates the city bus network. A single trip costs ?1 (buy ticket on boarding), or buy a Metrobús ticket in advance (see "Metro" above) giving 10 rides for ?5.80 and also valid on the Metro. There are special night buses (called Búho - "night owl"). All the Búhos start at Plaza de Cibeles, going to all directions from there.
Taxis in Madrid are cheaper than in other European cities but much more expensive than travel by bus or the Metro.
They are widely available at all hours except Friday and Saturday night when they are difficult to catch due to diners and partiers fighting for them. Note that it can be next to impossible to get a taxi when it is raining. Unlike in other European cities, there rarely are Taxi Stations. Just stand by the side of a major road or bus stop, and wave your hand for a free Taxi passing by. Free taxis are labelled libre in the windshield, and have a green light on top.
Official Taxis are white, and have a red stripe and the flag of Madrid on the front door. The Tarif is displayed on top of the car (a 1 during daytime, a 2 during the night). Ask for a receipt (in Spanish 'recibo') if you feel the charge is too high - the driver is obligated to give you one.
There are also special surcharges if you go to the airport, like a surcharge for the bags and for entering or leaving the airport. Ask for the written table of tariffs and charges (suplementos) before paying if you think it's too expensive. A normal ride to/from the airport is about 20 euros.
Transportation by private automobile in Madrid can be very difficult. 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 three o'clock in the morning (Then again, three in the morning is early to some Madrileños). Looking for a place to park your car can be very time consuming, and difficult if one is not skilled in the art of close proximity parallel parking. On the other hand, travel by car can be advantageous; going home by car on weekends is, of course depending where you live, usually faster than by public transport.
Riding a bicycle in Madrid is quite dangerous because there is no reserved section of the road for bikers, and drivers are not used to seeing bicycles in the city. This is due to Madrid not being a flat city so Madrileños do not see travel by bike as being practical. The Metro limits the times when a bicycle can be carried on it. However, Madrid is not totally ridden of bicyclists- Madrid bikers can often be seen riding in El Retiro, Madrid's largest park.
The Madrid Card is the Madrid tourist card.
It may help you to figure out the more popular sights in the city and grants free access to over 40 museums, public transport (the Metro, buses), Madrid Vision tour buses (similar to tourist buses in other cities), guided tours as well as discounts in shops, restaurants, shows and leisure centres. When you buy the Madrid card you also receive a small guide with info, maps, etc.
- 1 day card (25?)
- 2 day card (35?)
- 3 day card (45?)
Note: There are discounts available when the Madrid Card is purchased online.
Additional Information can be found at (http://www.madridcard.com/en/Inicio.aspx)
Major Museums The "Golden Museum Triangle"
- The Museo del Prado (http://museoprado.mcu.es/ihome.html) is one of the finest art collections in the world, and the best collection of classical art in Madrid. It contains the famous Velazquez piece, Las Meninas, as well many of the Black Paintings of Goya. Closed on Mondays and some holidays. The nearest Metro stations are Atocha and Banco de España. Bus lines 9, 10, 14, 19, 27, 34, 37 and 45. Tickets are about 6?, with discounts for students, children, etc. Entry is free on Sundays. Here you can enjoy different Collections: the Spanish (El Greco, Velazquez, and Goya), the Flemish and Dutch paintings (Rubens, van Dyck, and Brueghel), Italian (Botticelli, Tintoretto Caravaggio, and Veronese),the German paintings (Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach, and Baldung Grien).
- Reina Sofía National Museum and Art Centre (http://www.museoreinasofia.es/) houses Madrid's best collection of modern art. It includes many of Pablo Picasso's most revered works including the renowned Guernica. The Reina Sofía also houses masterpieces by Miró, Kandinsky, Dalí, Bacon, and more. It is located near the massive Atocha train station.
- Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art (http://www.museothyssen.org/Ingles/) contains a large art collection including masterpieces by Monet, Goya, Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, Mondrian, Bacon and Lichtenstein. Opens from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. The ticket office closes at 6.30 p.m. The Museum is closed all day on January 1, May 1 and December 25. Tickets are about ?6.
- Atocha RENFE, a very large train station. The interesting thing about it is the winterhouse jungle garden inside the main building. Just outside the main building at the corner of Calle de Atocha and the Paseo del Prado is the best spot in Madrid to find three-Card monty and neon-lit Madrileño fast food. Worth visiting.
- El Retiro is considered to be the "Central 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. Occasionally, old ladies will accompany vulnerable young girls through the park after dark. 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.
- La Casa de Campo is another park, on the outskirts of the city, and much larger than El Retiro.
- The Palacio Real (http://www.patrimonionacional.es/) (Royal Palace) is a enormous palace, with scorching plains of concrete around it and the Real Armorial (Royal Armoury), a two-story collection of medieval weapons and armour. In spite of its name, it is not the residence of the current royal family. The Royal Palace, in the Calle de Bailén, is considered to be one of the most emblematic and beautiful buildings in Madrid, not only for its location but also for its architecture and the artistic treasures to be found in its rooms. The façades of the palace measure 130 metres long and 33 metres high with 870 windows and 240 balconies opening on to the facades and courtyard. It has a surface area of 100,000 square metres with 44 stairways and more than 30 principal rooms. Also located within the palace is the Pharmacia, which contains hundreds of bottles of early medicines and a reconstructed laboratory. The nearest Metro station is Opera.
- Catedral de la Almudena. This massive cathedral can be found facing the Palacio Real. Finished in the end of 20th century, it is where the Princes of Asturias Felipe and Letizia were married in 2004.
- Gran Vía. Literally, "Big Street", Gran Via is one of the busiest avenues in Madrid, and the location of the cinema district. The Gran Via is very similar to Times Square in New York City. "From the Hagsburgs to Manhattan in 2 minutes".
- Plaza de Cibeles houses one of Madrid's emblems, the fountain of Cibeles, and one of the world's most beautiful post offices, Palacio de las Telecomunicaciones.
- San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Art: Great art collection with paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints. Several Goya masterpieces.
- The Museum of the City: with five floors it tells the city's history, since it was founded by the Arabs. There are models of some urban areas.
- San Antonio de La Florida Hermitage: This small church is famous for its murals, painted by Goya. It's also the mausoleum of the painter.
- The Debod Temple: An Egyptian temple, located in one of Madrid´s most beautiful parks. Near Royal Palace and Plaza de España, it was a present given to Spain for helping in the salvage of a monument that was going to be destroyed.
- Real Madrid Museum: Located in the famous stadium ,Santiago Bernabeu, it showcases all the trophies of the considered most successful football club in the world. - Real Madrid.
- Warner Bros. Park Madrid, the Madrid installment of the amusement park franchise. Accessible by car or train (20 mintes from Atocha station).
- Faunia, a nature theme park, where ecosystems throughout the world are literally recreated, such as the Polar ecosystem (the largest in Europe). Entrance is free with the Madrid Card.
- Zoo Madrid, Madrid's zoo, located in the Casa de Campo. It features a huge aquarium with a variety of aquatic species. Entrance is free with the Madrid Card.
- Madrid Amusement Park an amusement park, also located in the Casa de Campo. An assortment of rides for children and young people. Entrance is free with the Madrid Card.
- Stroll on El Retiro (Madrid's biggest park near the Prado Museum and by Puerta Alcalá Monument), Madrid of the Hagsburgs (center of Madrid, where you can go out for tapas) and Paseo del Prado (a pedestrian walkway full of fountains and trees near the famous museum).
- Enjoy the famous nightlife of Madrid.
- Sports: Two teams from Madrid play in the Spanish Premier Division, Atletico de Madrid (at Manzanares stadium) and Real Madrid (http://www.realmadrid.com) (at Santiago Bernabeu stadium). In basketball, there are also two major teams, Estudiantes and Real Madrid. The football season starts in September and ends in May/June depending on the year. Another important event held in October is Madrid Tennis Masters series, where the best ATP tennis players participate. More info about Madrid TMS: (http://www.tennis-masters-madrid.com)
- Cinemas offering international o.s.t. movies can be found in inner city, consult the daily press or websites like Guía del Ocio (http://www.guiadelocio.com/madrid/cine/index.cfm) for what they show at the moment.
- Other resources (mostly in Spanish): http://madrid.lanetro.com/
- El Rastro: Madrid's largest flea market, only open on Sunday mornings, featuring rows upon rows of private vendors selling a variety of homemade goods, and a wealth of live entertainment. It is very important to note that the Rastro is notorious for having an abundance of pickpockets, so watch your handbag closely and do not bring along valuables. The closest Metro station is La Latina.
- Cuesta de Moyano: A quaint outdoor book market, near Museo del Prado.
- Chueca and Fuencarral street area: This part of the city used to be an abandoned and marginal area. But lately it has quickly turned into the most avant-garde and modern part of Madrid. Thanks to the gay community, old shops were taken over and turned into the coolest places of Madrid. Today, it is an example of modernity, a paradise for entertainment where everything is possible. The streets are filled with restaurants, alternative cafés and shops, a good example is the Market of Fuencarral (Mercado de Fuencarral, in Spanish) a novel shopping centre concept. Apart from the purely commercial, this area proposes a wide range of gastronomy and party clubs by night in the weekends.
- Fuencarral Market (Mercado de Fuencarral):The market is one of the most daring and dynamic spaces in the city. Besides shops selling clothes, shoes, accessories and decorative items, that will delight the most daring and fashion conscious shoppers, this modern market also offers avant-garde cultural activities on a continuous basis. Frequent disc jockey sessions are put on in the centre?s café, and also exhibitions in the art gallery and cinema projections and theatre pieces in the old cinema room. The Cinema and activities until midnight. It's is located in Fuencarral street, number 45, between Tribunal and Gran Via. Its 3 floors crowded of modern shops are aimed specially for young people.
- El Corte Inglés (http://www.elcorteingles.es/) It's a "Harrod's Like" store, multiple buildings, several floors, you can find anything in a wide range and stocks. It sells almost everything, from gastronomy to pneumatics. Several locations in Madrid.
Food in Madrid is heavily influenced by Merranean cuisine. The most famous dishes from Spain are the appetizers, Tapas, that are often served at bars and small cafes before a main meal. These Tapas can be almost anything, from French fries to heavily seasoned octopus medallions (and can be very hard on one's pocketbook). A very popular dish, for tourists seeking the Spanish cuisine experience, is Paella, a rice dish that includes a variety of seafoods and vegetables. Remember that Spanish people have lunch from 2:00pm and dinner after 9.00 pm.
- Callos (tripe with hot sauce)
- Cocido madrileño (chickpea-based food, includes a soup, boiled chickpeas, and different kinds of meat)
- Fish and Seafood
- Bocadillo de calamares (a sandwich of fried squid rings)
- Regional cuisines
- Including paella from Valencia (see below), fabada, lacón and almost any regional cuisine of Spain.
- Paella the rice dish from Valencia.
- Tortilla de patatas a spanish omelette
List of Selected restaurants
- Casa Mingo - Paseo de la florida street, number 34. Near the church with the Goya's frescos in San Antonio de La Florida Hermitage.
- EL JARDÍN SECRETO - C/ de CONDE DUQUE 2 (Plaza España) 28015, TEL: 0034 91 541 80 23, FAX: 0034 91 559 35 43, - Cakes, chocolate and other sweet confections. Includes Chocolate Death, a 4-tiered chocolate cake and Aire de coco y mango (Mousse).
- El Inti De Oro - Amor de Dios, 9 (Antón Martín) and Ventura de Vega, 12 (Sol). Fantastic Peruvian food with a fine selection of wines. Prices around 28 Euro per person including wine and dessert.
- Zara - Infantas, 5 (Gran Vía). Five different dishes from Cuba (six on Thursdays), and probably the best Daiquiri you can get in Europe. You may have to wait half an hour until you get a table. Prices around 30 Euro / person including drinks and dessert.
If you are not fond of Spanish cuisine, and are staying near a tourist area- you are in luck. Fast food chains have become extremely popular in central Madrid in the past few decades, and areas such as Gran Via are home to several Burger Kings on one street alone. Most international fast food chains have a restaurant in Madrid, including Burger King, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, KFC, and more.
There is of course the Hard Rock Cafe Madrid (located in the Plaza de Colón) and the Planet Hollywood Madrid (Plaza de Neptuno).
Madrid-exclusive restaurant chains
- Bocatta (French bread sandwiches)
- Cañas y Tapas (Tapas; they don't use to have main courses).
- Forster's Hollywood (international food according to google, this seems to be a local chain, but I'm not sure)
- Gambrinus (Tapas; they don't use to have main courses).
- Museo del Jamón (tapas, food store; it is more like a bar: they don't use to have neither main courses nor tables; products are slightly overpriced, but best quality).
- Pans & Co (French bread sandwiches - based in Catalonia)
- Rodilla (Sandwiches of all kinds and flavours).
- VIP's (International food along with convenience stores). Most VIP's also include a Gino's restaurant, specialized in pasta and pizza.
- Telepizza (Pizzas, usually to carry out)
On weekends, the time to go out for a drink (Spaniards call it copas) starts at about 12-1.00 a.m., which is somewhat later than elsewhere in Europe. Before that, people usually have some tapas (raciones, algo para picar), have "real" dinner in a restaurant, stay at home, or go to cultural events. Some pubs and clubs close in the morning. It is not unusual to have breakfast (chocolate con churros), thick, melted chocolate with sweet fritters before going home.
Where to go for a night out
the law bans drinking in the streets and the minimal age to take alcoholic drinks is 18 (so if you're under this age, you may not be allowed to go into some pubs)
- Plaza de Santa Ana, Huertas
- La Latina
- Chueca, the gay neighborhood; and, by far, the most cosmopolitan place in town.
- Alonso Martínez
- Plaza Mayor
- Plaza del Dos de Mayo
- Torre Europa
List of Selected Bars
- Esquina de Eusebio, Calle de Caramuel, Metro Puerta de Angel. A nice bar to start with. Guests of all ages, mostly locals. People drink normally beer, wine, clara (beer and lemonade) or soft drinks, and eat canapés. You only pay for the drinks.
The national youth hostel association can be found at www.reaj.com. Prices range from 7.80 to 16 Euro per person and night, including breakfast.
For hotels, camping and pensions take a look at the site of the Municipio de Madrid (http://www.munimadrid.es/Principal/ciudad/turismo/turismo_eng/index3.asp).
List of Selected Lodging
- Hostal Villagarcía, - Calle Fuencarral 10 3º Metro station Gran Via, +34.91.522.05.85(fax +34.91.531.56.21, hostal -at- villa-garcia.com). This Hostal is so centric that most famous Monuments and Museums can be visited by walking (such as Prado Museum, Thyssen museum, Sol, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real). Inside the room you can find: bathroom, TV, air conditioning, central heating, laundry and baggage storage facilities. Rooms with kitchen, washing machine and fridge are also available. Free Internet wireless access in the rooms. €30-€65 (single - room for four).
- Spain Select, - If your stay in Madrid for a week or more, there are now a number of companies offering short term apartment rentals as an alternative to hotel accommodation. One such company is Spain Select. Their apartments are well-equipped (all are air conditioned), centrally located and suitable for business or holidays. Note that for some apartments the minimum stay is one month.
- Hotel De Las Letras, - Gran via, 11 Madrid, 28013. Lovely hotel in central location. Old building with tasteful modern interior. Well sound-proofed against the busy Gran Via outside. Very comfortable beds. Rooms with TV, hi-fi, mini bar, bath/shower. Optional breakfast buffet with wide choice of good quality food and drinks. Pleasant, comfortable bar. Restaurant. http://www.epoquehotels.com/h.php/madrid-hotels/boutique-hotel/h/lasletras/l/en/