Europe, Spain

Madrid, Spain

A- Overview:

As a tourist destination, Madrid is filled with fascinating areas to explore. There are the wide, gracefully tree lined major avenues and boulevards, the trendy and cosmopolitan buildings, and, in contrast, the old areas that twist and wind with quaint streets and cozy cafes. Together, these combine to provide many days of discovery of the treasured past and the exciting present of Madrid.

Madrid is located in the center of the Iberian Peninsula and has served as the capital of Spain since 1562. Its southern and elevated location allows for warm, dry summers and cool winters, providing excellent traveling weather all year round.

One cannot help but notice a prominent green expanse on the map of Madrid. Parque Del Retiro is more than a nature walk. In fact, many visitors return several times during their stay for the wide variety of entertainment provided by street performers, boaters, skaters, and puppeteers.

The city offers many interesting museums, with the world-famous Prado National Museum leading the way. Housed in an 18th-century building, the Prado features the works of Rubens, Goya, El Greco, Bosch, Velazquez, Titian and many others. Madrid’s most famous contemporary art museum is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Its centerpiece is Picasso’s enormous antiwar masterpiece, Guernica. The highly acclaimed works of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection are displayed at the Villahermosa Palace.

The historic quarters of Madrid are filled with interesting sights and structures. Columns, arches, churches, fountains, even an Egyptian Temple await the traveler. The Madrid Card is a wise purchase, as it combines a transportation pass with free entry to various museums and attractions, among other discounts.

Madrid has hills and mountains in abundance for the climber and hiker. There are twenty local golf courses, some of which welcome nonmembers. Parque de Nieve is the amateur athlete’s dream. This is an indoor, artificial slope that can be configured with different terrains. There are separate areas for skiing, snowboarding and tubing, as well as an ice wall for climbers. Bicycling is also a popular sport, and bike trails are available. Spain’s national sport is futbol (soccer), and Madrid boasts three home teams. The season runs from September to June. A close second in the hearts of Madrilenos and Spaniards is the corrida (bullfight), for which the season is from March to October.

Madrid has impressive venues and well-regarded companies providing ballet, contemporary dance, orchestral concerts, opera, and theatrical productions. Shopping in Madrid is a delight. The shopping area of Serrano, just east of Paseo de la Castellana, is where shoppers will discover boutiques, home-decorating stores and stylish shops, including Chanel and Armani. Calle Ribera de Curtidores located in the heart of the Rastro market, has the largest concentration of antique shops in Madrid. The streets around Puerta del Sol form a more traditional (less exclusive) shopping area, where you can still find shops that have been in business since the 1800s.

Long lunches will be a necessity, as the rich variety of sights and sounds of this fabulous city require time for assimilation and reflection. Fortunately, to relax is to be Spanish. People sleep late. Shops seem to open and close of their own accord. Hundreds of restaurants, cafes and bars line the streets, not for the purpose of continuous eating and drinking, but because sociability and enjoyment of life as a community are cultural necessities. Lunch is more than a meal; in the right company, it can become an all-day activity.

Madrid by day is a social city, but the fun doesn’t end with the sunset. It is nearly impossible to describe Madrid’s unending list of evening activities. Nightspots in Madrid generally stay open until 4AM, giving visitors plenty of time to explore the excellent restaurants, tapas bars, open-air cafes, jazz and night clubs.

Most travelers arrive in Madrid with plans to stay for a day or two before striking out for other parts of Spain. Many, however, stay longer once they realize the infinite possibilities Madrid offers for fine cuisine, great sightseeing and shopping, outstanding sports venues, and a vacation to remember.

B- City Information:

Country: The Kingdom of Spain

Capital: Madrid

Time:
Spain uses Central European Time (CET). Hence, clocks are one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Currency:
Currency is the Euro (EUR). The notes are in denominations of 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, and 5 euro. The denominations of coins are 2 euro, 1 euro, 50 euro cent, 20 euro cent, 10 euro cent, 5 euro cent, 2 euro cent, and 1 euro cent.

Weather: Spain has a temperate climate. The interior has clear, hot summers, while the coast is more moderate and cloudy. The interior generally has cloudy, cold winters, versus partly cloudy and cool along the coast.

Electricity:
Spain uses 220 volts AC and the continental-style plug. If your appliance has a 110/220-volt switch, all you will need is a plug adapter. Otherwise a current converter is required. Pay attention to sockets in bathrooms and on trains marked “Shavers Only!” While these put out 110 volts, they will burn out with a more powerful appliance.

Tipping:
Europe doesn’t have the same tipping customs as in the United States. Pay attention to menus and bills in restaurants; gratuity may already be included. If not, then a safe bet in Spain is 10% in restaurants. Porters should be tipped in smarter hotels.

Getting Around:
The Spanish rail company, RENFE, has a complicated listing of its three color-coded varieties of train services. On top of that, there are a growing number of private super high-speed lines. A good way to avoid lines and figure out the schedules is to buy tickets at travel offices. Spain accepts both InterRail and Eurail passes, but supplements are required for reserved seating and on the fastest trains.

Buses are reliable and comfortable; often they are the only way to reach small villages. Prices are steady at 1000 ptas per 100k (60 mi.). Bus service is drastically cut on Sundays and holidays.

Spaniards drive on the right. Major roads are good and traffic is calm (except for cities) overall. Speed limits are 60k/h (36mph) in built-up areas, 90-100 (54-60 mph) on other roads, and 120k/h (72mph) on highways.

Public transportation in cities is cheap and efficient. Routes change periodically, so get a free map at any station, as well as tickets. Help desks are open in some places; trust these before any handout. The buses and metros generally run from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Night buses are available, but taxis are faster and safer, as well as surprisingly cheap.

C- Attractions/Things To Do:

Royal Palace
Plaza de Oriente
248-7404
This massive 2,000 room Renaissance building is a fine example of classic Italian baroque style. While Charles III completed the palace in 1714, the square itself was designed by Joseph Bonaparte after his brother Napoleon conquered Spain. However, Napoleon’s final defeat cut short the French plan for a street inspired by the Champs Elysées. Madrid’s impressive opera house, completed in 1818 by Cuatodio Moreno, also makes for an interesting visit. The palace is open everyday, and tours are available to guide tourists though 50 rooms of art.

Museo del Prado
Paseo del Prado
420-3662
Built in 1785, the National Museum stands as one of the most beautiful neoclassic buildings in Madrid. Charles III commissioned Juan de Villanueva to begin construction on a museum of natural history in 1785. After the building served a stint as an arsenal during the wars against Napoleon, Ferdinand VII inaugurated it in 1819 as Madrid’s Museum of Art, consisting entirely of Spanish paintings. The Museum is now one of the elite art museums in the world with its collections of Goya, El Greco, Velázquez, Rubens, Titian, Tinoretto, Van Dyck, Hieronymus, Dürer, Veronese, Brueghel, Ribera, and Bosch. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza
Paseo del Prado, 8
420-3944
Inaugurated in 1993, this museum houses over 700 masterpieces of a private collection in the Villahermosa Palace. Open 10AM to 7PM, but closed on Mondays.

Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: National Museum Reina Sofía of Modern Art
Santa Isabel, 52.
67-5062
This contemporary building completes the “Arts Triangle of Prado” by focusing on modern masters including Joan Miro, Picasso, and Dali. The Museum is open 10AM to 9PM, but closed on Tuesdays.

Plaza Mayor
Many travelers miss this square. Don’t be one of them! This is perhaps the most architecturally and historically significant spot in Madrid. Philip III built this perfectly preserved arcaded square between 1617 and 1619 as the public meeting place of his new capital and to increase the prestige of his country. A statue of the king stands in the center. Renaissance styling dominates the surrounding buildings. Here kings were crowned, the Inquisition worked is terrors, men fought bulls, guilds held meetings, celebrants held festivals, and protestors held demonstrations. The square still serves the public today. It fills with stages for theater and music are set up during the summer and serves as a bazaar in preparation for the winter holiday season.

Parque del Retiro
Madrid’s biggest and most famous park was founded in 1631. Visitors often find themselves returning here for the fountains, statues, and great paths through 330 acres of trees and gardens. Rental rowboats are available on the picturesque lake. Street theater is an ever-changing attraction. The park is also home of the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), a beautiful metal and glass building built in 1887 to shelter exotic plants from the winter weather.

Soccer
Sports fans can catch a match at the Estadio Bernabeu, the stadium in the North section of the city. Real Madrid and the national Spanish team play here.

D- Family Fun Attractions:

Royal Palace
Plaza de Oriente
248-7404
This massive 2,000 room Renaissance building is a fine example of classic Italian baroque style. While Charles III completed the palace in 1714, the square itself was designed by Joseph Bonaparte after his brother Napoleon conquered Spain. However, Napoleon’s final defeat cut short the French plan for a street inspired by the Champs Elysées. Madrid’s impressive opera house, completed in 1818 by Cuatodio Moreno, also makes for an interesting visit. The palace is open everyday, and tours are available to guide tourists though 50 rooms of art.

Plaza Mayor
Many travelers miss this square. Don’t be one of them! This is perhaps the most architecturally and historically significant spot in Madrid. Philip III built this perfectly preserved arcaded square between 1617 and 1619 as the public meeting place of his new capital and to increase the prestige of his country. A statue of the king stands in the center. Renaissance styling dominates the surrounding buildings. Here kings were crowned, the Inquisition worked is terrors, men fought bulls, guilds held meetings, celebrants held festivals, and protestors held demonstrations. The square still serves the public today. It fills with stages for theater and music are set up during the summer and serves as a bazaar in preparation for the winter holiday season.

Parque del Retiro
Madrid’s biggest and most famous park was founded in 1631. Visitors often find themselves returning here for the fountains, statues, and great paths through 330 acres of trees and gardens. Rental rowboats are available on the picturesque lake. Street theater is an ever-changing attraction. The park is also home of the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), a beautiful metal and glass building built in 1887 to shelter exotic plants from the winter weather.

Soccer
Sports fans can catch a match at the Estadio Bernabeu, the stadium in the North section of the city. Real Madrid and the national Spanish team play here.

E- Events & Enterainment:

January – New Years Day
Like the rest of the world, New Year’s is one of the biggest celebrations in Madrid. Up to 40 million people crowd into the Puerta del Sol and try to eat 12 grapes in sync to the big clock striking midnight. Those that successfully munch down their handful of grapes can expect good luck for the coming year. After midnight, the city blooms into a huge party that never seems to stop.

January 5th
Like the rest of Spain, the people of Madrid celebrate the procession of the three Magi. The Magi stand as the Spanish alternative to Santa Claus by bringing gifts to children the next morning.

May 15th
Fiesta de San Isidro is celebrated in honor of the patron saint of Madrid. This is one the best times to come to Madrid, as the city offers numerous concerts, theatre, and other forms of public entertainment. The best bullfights of the season are held at this time.

July and August
Veranos de la Villa, (Summer in the Village) is held during this time in the town hall for a series of cultural events.

August 6th-15th
Popular customs are displayed with traditional costumes and dances during the festival Verbena de la Paloma.

September
The concert-houses and theaters wind up the season this month with their best performances

November
Madrid holds its annual International Jazz-Festival. Also held this month are the traditional Fiestas de la Almudena.

December
Plaza Mayor becomes the location for the traditional festival and judging of Christmas cribs.