Madrid: The joy of living
Situated in the heart of Spain, Madrid is the capital of the country and of the Spanish "La Movida." Welcome to one of the most joyful, frantic and culture-rich cities in the world.
A little more than an hour by plane from Lisbon, Madrid reigns over the Iberian plateau. A seductive city with a unique character, which one should explore without haste, and with plenty of tapas, strolls, and museums.
Culture, art, and festive events for all tastes
Madrid boasts some of the most important museums in the world, such as the beautiful Prado Museum, which features works by Goya, El Greco and Velázquez, the Queen Sofia National Museum Art Centre, where you can admire Pablo Picasso's famous Guernica, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, whose collections range from Renaissance painters such as Van Eyck and Caravaggio to 20th-century avant-garde artists like Mondrian, Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock. These three museums make up the so-called Golden Triangle of Art (Paseo del Arte).
The iconic Cibeles Palace (Palacio de Cibele; officially Palacio de Comunicaciones) offers not only stunning views over the city and an extraordinary rooftop bar, but also a rich activities program with an emphasis on contemporary art.
To continue your cultural program, don't forget to visit the Matadero (Madrid's former slaughterhouse) - a group of early 20th-century neo-Mudejar-style pavilions, which is now a small town devoted to culture and artistic residences.
Outdoors, and enmeshed in Madrid's culture and identity, there are monumental events that rock the capital throughout the year.
From the Three Kings procession in January to the Festival of Saint Isidore (the patron saint of the city) and the Festival of La Paloma in August, ending with the traditional Christmas Markets in November and December (just like in any other Spanish town), these religious events are moments of celebration.
With a more pagan character, and absolutely not to be missed, are the Vallecas Naval Battle - a kind of aquatic paintball that takes places on the streets of Puente de Vallecas district, and in which locals arm themselves with water guns, buckets and any other container that can carry water - and the Fiestas del Orgullo, one of the largest and more inclusive Gay Pride parades in the world, bringing together more than two million people of all ages, genders, and sexual orientations.
One of the best ways to discover Madrid is on foot, although the city offers a good public transport network. Start at Puerta del Sol, a metonymy of Madrid's spirit, take a selfie with El Oso y el Madroño, the city's symbol, and try to find Km Zero - formerly known as the center of Madrid and the entire Iberian Peninsula - on the square's pavement.
Immerse yourself in the joyful atmosphere of the monumental Plaza Mayor and visit San Miguel Market, which is just a stone's throw away. Stroll along the elegant and dazzling Gran Vía, also known as the Spanish Broadway; this and Fuencarral are known to be two of the capital's best shopping locations.
Spend some time in Chueca, one of Madrid's trendiest districts, and in Salamanca, an area where you will find many Michelin-starred restaurants and some of Madrid's most exclusive nightlife venues.
Further south, taste some tapas at La Latina (don't forget to visit Rastro, the local flea market, and take a peek at Puerta de Toledo) and stroll through the picturesque Lavapiés neighborhood (take the opportunity to watch a movie at the Spanish Film Archive - Filmoteca Española).
Life tastes better with great food
Madrid is home to some of the best and most exclusive restaurants in the world. However, eating tapas is one of the most common habits in Madrid, and tourists are no exception in this respect.
It is at meal time that the city's spirit best reveals itself, with lively groups who seem to act as if they have all the time in the world to celebrate life. Whether accompanied with beer, sangria or verano red wine, tapas, as we have seen, is the staple food of Madrid, but you must also try the 'Bocata de Calamares' and the 'Patatas Bravas', as well as the delicious 'Callos a la Madrileña' and the irresistible 'Cocido Madrileño'. For those with a sweet tooth, nothing beats 'Chocolate Caliente con Churros' or the exclusive 'Caramelos de Violeta', which is also a city icon.
Finally, a small suggestion. Add a few extra days to your trip and take the opportunity to visit the cities of Toledo and Segovia, two real gems in the vicinity of Madrid; and if you travel in winter, don't miss the opportunity to do some skiing in Puerto de Navacerrada. You will feel more alive than ever.