Madrid travel guide

Cities and towns

About Madrid

Madrid in the Community of Madrid is the bustling capital city of Spain, home to the seat of the Spanish king at the Palacio Real, and is famous for its brilliant arts museums and culture.

Born by the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the 9th century, Madrid was just a fortified village when it was reclaimed from the Moors by King Alfonso VI with the help of a teenage boy named Gatos, who climbed up the walls. The people of Madrid are nicknamed gatos after the boy. In the early 14th century the Court of Madrid was opened and in 1477 the Catholic kings arrived in Madrid. As a result, the population of the city swelled from 3,400 at the end of the 15th century to 40,000 by the end of the 16th century. Felipe III made Madrid the Court of the Spanish Kings in 1606 and his successor, Carlos III, made major improvements to the city before charging the Palacio Real, the Royal Palace, to be the seat of the Spanish king. In the 19th century, the arrival of Napoleon's troops at Madrid kickstarted the War of Independence and many conflicts followed, into the 20th century, including the Spanish Civil War. Today, Madrid is a cosmopolitan city, home to a large diversity of people from around Spain and across the world.

Madrid is a city where culture is king and the Prado museum is one of the most famous arts' museums in the world. Containing over 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures and many thousands of illustrations and drawings, the museum is home to works by revered artists including Bosch, Rubens, Tintoretto, van der Weyden and Goya. The Reina Sofia Museum is an extension of the Prado museum which focuses on works from the 19th and 20th century, including art from the schools of Cubism and Surrealism with artworks by Picasso and Dali on show. The museum's most famous work is undoubtedly Picasso's The Guernica. The trinity of arts museums in Madrid is completed by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum which also feautres 19th and 20th century art with works by Impressionist, post-Impressionist, Fauvist and German Expresionist painters including such artists as Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, and Picasso. A visit to the Palacio Real is a must in a Madrid. A gleaming white Baroque affair built in the 18th century, the palace is an opulent royal residence housing some glorious art and the Royal Armoury is a brilliant lesson in the history of the Spanish kings.

For a breath of fresh air, the Retiro Park is one of Madrid's most popular green spaces with a host of statues, fountains and commemorative monuments that make it seem like an open air sculpture museum. Look out for the fountain dedicated to the Devil and admire the beautiful glass palace and artificial lake. The park is a great meeting place and you will often see street musicians, painters and tarot readers bringing the area to life. Madrid's biggest green space is the huge Casa de Campo, which can be reached by a cable car from the city centre. There are lots of activities to enjoy such as renting a boat for a paddle about the lake, trails for walkers, joggers and cyclists and attractions in the park itself such as the Parc de Attraciones with big dippers and play areas for children, as well as many restaurants. Kids will also love the Zoo Aquarium which is a zoo, dolphinarium, aquarium, and aviary all in one! The city has a great nightlife and really comes alive in the evenings with something for everyone. Enjoy flamenco shows, live music from a range of genres, some fantastic theatres showing varied and prestigious shows, and countless pubs and tapas bars.

A trip to Madrid is not complete without doing a bit of shopping in the city's shopping districts. Whatever you are looking for, Madrid will have the answer. The Salamanca district is famous as the hub of luxury brands in Madrid and here you'll find big names such as Hermes, Armani, Valentino and Chanel, as well as Cartier and jewellers selling Bulgari diamonds. Or, for a completely different side to fashion, try the Cheuca district, home of avant-garde and contemporary Spanish fashion.  The Fuencarral market in Cheuca, is a unique shopping experience and no photos are allowed to be taken inside as the products sold here are so original! High street names like Benetton, Mango and Zara can be found on Preciados street and the Gran Vía, where, along with Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, you'll also discover more traditional shops selling handicrafts, musical instruments and flamenco costumes. Princesa street is famous for its shopping centres but why not also spend some time wandering around the many street markets? There are several traditional markets selling food and clothing but also a few more specialised ones, including the Old and Bargain Book Fair, and markets selling paintings, stamps and currency, and hippie-style clothing. Madrid's most famous market is probably El Rastro at Plaza de Cascorro, a flea market which has been running for 500 years.

The cuisine in Madrid is just as diverse as it shopping. There are 10 Michelin star restaurants for those who enjoy fine dining as well as countless tapas bars selling Spain's most famous food. Patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy sauce), calamares la romana (fried calamari), and empanadillas (meat or tuna-filled pastries) are just some of the morsels you wil be offered with your drink in the bars. Light sherries like Fino and Manzanilla are great with tapas and offer a real taste of Spain.The local Madrid cuisine has an historic Arab influence. Try a bowl of callos madrileños, a sticky casserole made with veal tripe and cheeks, or cocidos maadrileños, a stew of meat and chickpeas. Spanish omelette is popular, a thick egg omelette with potatoes that is fried in olive oil, or why not try a more unusual Madrid dish - gallinejas y entresijos - deep fried lamb's intestines and chicken giblets often served on top of a bowl of french fries? There is a huge selection of Spanish beers in the capital and wines from all across Spain especially La Rioja and Navarra, which are generally considered the best Spanish wines. Cheaper wines from Toledo and La Mancha are more often served if you ask for a 'house wine'. Red wines are most popular in Spain but if you prefer a lighter drink, enjoy a glass of Cava, a sparkling white wine from the region of Catalunya, with your meal.

Why visit Madrid?

  • Vibrant capital city of Spain
  • The Prado Museum
  • Hub of Spanish culture and flamenco 
  • Excellent shopping for all tastes

Overview

  • Country: Spain
  • Region: Madrid
  • Province: Madrid
  • Population: 3,265,000
  • Coordinates: 40.416927,-3.703773

Coordinates shown are based on the WGS84 system, please check driving directions before departing.

Nearby attractions

The Palacio Real is the seat of the Spanish kings in Madrid although, today it serves as a host for state diplomatic meetings and events rather than as the actual royal residence.

The Alcazar in Toledo is a palace built by Carlos V that today is home to the incredible Spanish Army Museum, the Museo del Ejercito, and the Castilla La Mancha Library.

One of the best preserved and most magnificent works that the Romans left behind, the towering Aqueduct of Segovia stands proudly right in the heart of the city.

An inspiration for Disney's Cinderella castle, the Alcázar of Segovia is a fairytale castle on a hilltop that was once the residence of the Royal Family during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Places to visit nearby

Aranjuez in the Community of Madrid is a charming town of historic and cultural interest, recognised by UNESCO, and is famous for its Royal Palace which was the spring residence of the Spanish kings.

Toledo in Castilla la Mancha is a fascinating historical city known as the 'City of Three Cultures' due to the way that Christians, Muslims and Jews all lived here together in the Middle Ages, and have all left their mark on...

Segovia in Castilla y León is a beautiful city renowned for its remarkably well-preserved ancient Roman aqueduct that was built almost 2,000 years ago and features on the city's coat of arms.