Madrid is the capital of Spain and is a great center of the arts and entertainment. Much of Madrid’s allure, however, is its old architectural charm and the party lifestyle led by its residents.
The nightlife in Madrid is first-rate. There are thousands of restaurants, bars, cafés, clubs, discos, and tascas that stay open long into the night. The city’s Santa Ana district actually never closes down. The streets of Madrid are often turned upside down into bustling centers of uninhibited partying. Fiesta celebrations occur often and include the Reyes Magos (Feast of the Three Kings), Carnival, the San Isidro festival in May, and Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve). There are also cultural festivals such as the Veranos de la Villa in the summer and the Festival de Otoño in the fall when films, dances, theatre performances, and music are celebrated.
The milder side of Madrid offers a number of first-class museums. The Prado, Thyssen Bornemisza, and the Reina Sofia museums, for example, are world-famous. These three museums are known as the “Golden Triangle of Art” and together feature some of the finest collection of 14th through 19th century art and 20th century impressionist and expressionist art. The collection includes master pieces by artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Besides museums, travelers can also visit the Royal Palace, an enormous palace formerly belonging to the Spanish crown. The palace is an artistic treasure with 870 windows and 240 balconies opening on to the facades and courtyard. It also features a two-story collection of medieval weapons and armor. Opera-lovers should pay a visit to the Teatro Real where Spanish light operas called zarzuela are performed. Good flamenco shows can be found in several nightclubs like the Café Chinitas.
Shopping in Madrid is done best at the Salamanca district, the boutiques of Calle Serrano, and the shops at Gran Via, which is Madrid’s equivalent of New York’s time square, and the Plaza de las Cibeles and Puerta del Sol, where you’ll find major intersections with fountains, monuments, and of course shops. There is also a Sunday flea market in La Latina called the Rastro Flea Market.
Travelers should also visit Madrid’s beautiful parks including the Retiro Park, where you’ll find a small man-made lake, a Crystal Palace, and a Victorian greenhouse.
The best time to visit Madrid is between March and June and then between September and October. The heat in the summer months is unfortunately excessive and many locals during these months leave Madrid in spades for cooler seaside resorts. As a result, most of the shops and businesses are shut down.