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Madrid Travel Guide

  • Photo: S.Borisov / Shutterstock

Plan Your Madrid Vacation

Madrid—the Spanish capital since 1561—celebrates itself and life in general around the clock. A vibrant crossroads, Madrid has an infectious appetite for art, music, and epicurean pleasure, and it's turned into a cosmopolitan, modern urban center while fiercely preserving its traditions.

The modern city spreads east into the 19th-century grid of the Barrio de Salamanca and sprawls

north through the neighborhoods of Chamberí and Chamartín, but the Madrid you should explore thoroughly on foot is right in the center, in Madrid's oldest quarters, between the Royal Palace and the midtown forest, the Parque del Buen Retiro. Wandering around this conglomeration of residential buildings with ancient red-tile rooftops, punctuated by redbrick Mudejar churches and grand buildings with gray-slate roofs and spires left by the Habsburg monarchs, you're more likely to grasp what is probably the city's major highlight: the buzzing bustle of people who are elated when they're outdoors.

Then there are the paintings—the artistic legacy of one of the greatest global empires ever assembled. King Carlos I (1500–58), who later became Emperor Carlos V (or Charles V), made sure the early masters of all European schools found their way to Spain's palaces and this collection was eventually placed in the Prado. Between the Prado, the contemporary Reina Sofía, the eclectic Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, and Madrid's smaller artistic repositories—the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the Convento de las Descalzas Reales, the Sorolla Museum, the Lázaro Galdiano Museum, and the CaixaForum—there are more paintings than you could admire in a lifetime.

The attractions go beyond the well-known baroque landmarks. Now in the middle of an expansion plan, Madrid is making sure that some of the world's best architects will leave their imprint on the city. This is certainly the case with Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who are responsible for the CaixaForum arts center, which opened in 2008 across from the Botanical Garden. Major renovations of the Museo del Prado and the Centro Reina Sofía are by Rafael Moneo and Jean Nouvel, respectively. Looming towers by Norman Foster and César Pelli have changed the city's northern landscape. Other projects include the Madrid-Río project, which has added new green spaces along the banks of the Manzanares River; the controversial and sustainable Museum of Art and Architecture that Argentinean architect Emilio Ambasz plans to build across from the Prado; the new Royal Collection Museum, expected to open sometime in 2015, by Tuñón and Mansilla; and the daring renovation of the whole area of Paseo del Prado, which has been entrusted to Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, although after several delays this project seems to have come to a halt due to the downturn in the economy and political wrangling over the detail.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Hit the Centro Histórico The Plaza Mayor on any late night when it's almost empty is the place that best evokes the glory of Spain's Golden Age.
  2. Stroll down museum row Find a pleasant mix of art and architecture in the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen, all of which display extensive and impressive collections.
  3. Nibble tapas into the night Indulge in a madrileño way of socializing. Learn about the art of tapas and sample local wines while wandering among the bars of Cava Baja.
  4. Relax in the Retiro gardens Visit on a Sunday morning, when it's at its most boisterous, to unwind and take in the sun and merrymaking.
  5. Burn the midnight oil When other cities turn off their lights, madrileños swarm to the bars of the liveliest neighborhoods—Malasaña, Chueca, Lavapiés, and more—and stretch the party out until dawn.

When To Go

When to Go

Madrid is hot and dry in summer—with temperatures reaching 95°F to 105°F in July and August—and chilly in winter, with minimum temperatures...

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Check historic weather for your trip dates:



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