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Madrid Travel Guide

flights to Madrid

Situated at 2,200 ft above sea level at the very centre of the Castillian Plain, Madrid is the highest capital in Europe and the fourth largest after London, Paris and Milan. Its skies also boast more cloudless days than anywhere else in Europe. Although it may not have as much in the way of architectural wonders, as say Barcelona, it is still considered the country’s cultural and artistic centre and accordingly is home to some truly remarkable museums, beautiful parks and the wildest nightlife you’ll find anywhere in the world. It is not for nothing that the rest of Spain refers to Madrilenos as ‘gatos’ (cats), there penchant for nocturnal revelry is unsurpassed.

Madrid’s love affair with extravagance is probably best reflected in its premier edifice, the Royal Palace. Constructed on the site of the old Alcázar of the Austrias, which was destroyed by fire in 1734, King Charles III first took up residence there on December 1st 1764. Built of Guadarrama granite and Colmenar limestone with 870 windows, 240 balconies, 44 flights of steps, 110 doors, its interior a riot of Rocco décor, swirling inlaid floors and a spectacular 2 ton crystal chandelier, the Palace is considered to be one of the finest in Europe. Next to the Royal palace stands the neo-gothic Almudena Cathedral, which took 114 years to complete, the most notable hiatus in construction being during the Civil War of 1936 / 1939. It finally opened in 1992. Of more historical and artistic interest is El Escorial, a granite monastery that houses the bodies of Spanish Kings. The lavish interior is filled with priceless tapestries and paintings by the likes of Velasquez and El Greco.

The El Prado Museum was built at the end of the 17th century and is widely regarded as one of the very best in Europe. Originally a science museum it became one of the worlds first public art museums when it was reopened in 1819 to house the Royal art collection. Today it displays around 1,500 works of art from a complete collection of over 9,000, which are exhibited on a rotational basis. Amongst them are masterpieces by Italian and Flemish artists with pride of place taken by the Spanish masters including Goya, Velasquez and El Greco. Art lovers would also be advised to pay a visit to Reina Sofia Art Centre, a former hospital, which focuses on 3 modern masters of Spanish art Picasso, Dali and Miro. Other museums of note are the Thyssen-Bomemisza, which holds a private collection of paintings ranging from Titian to Pollock and Museo de la Escultra Abstracta with its fine examples of sculptures by the likes of Chillida and Miro.

One thing for sure is that you will never be bored in Madrid; there is a wealth of distractions to occupy and entertain even the most discerning of visitors. If Shopping is your thing, you’re in for a treat with top fashions and international designers well represented on the streets around Alirante and Conde de Xiquera and the district of Salamanca. The widest assortment of shops can be found in the vicinity of Puerta del Sol and the streets of Pricesa, Goya and Castellana where you’ll find everything from top department stores to trendy boutiques, gift shops to book stores. If you want a good mooch around then Sunday is the day and El Rastro is the place to be. Madrid’s most famous flea market lies between Plaza de Cascorro, La Latina and Street of Embajadores. There you’ll find antiques, bric a brac, second hand clothes, collectables, books records, paintings and much more.

When they’re not carousing, Madrilenos do enjoy a bit of the great outdoors. Of course this has to include some kind of entertainment. Golf appears to be top of the list and there is no shortage of excellent courses in and around the City. The international competition grounds of Club de Puerto de Hierro and Campo Villa de Madrid both within a couple of miles, not to mention the superb La Moreleja designed by Jack Nicklaus himself. For the more adventurous the surrounding countryside has some superb gaming opportunities. The hunting ranges from red partridge and an assortment of wildfowl to more imposing game, such as Ibex (permit holders only). Fishing is also widespread and includes common trout, pike, black bass, royal carp and bowfin.

Visitors should be warned that when indulging in any of the above, it is advisable to take it as easily as possible. You’ll still have a long night ahead of you, any day of the week! Things really don’t get started until 11pm and only start to fizzle out around 3am but you can carry on until 7am (even beyond at after hours bars). Dining usually takes place around 10pm and the choice is extreme to say the least. You can enjoy an hour or two tappas hopping, or grab a burger or fried chicken from one on the many fast food outlets. But dining out properly is an experience all of its own. Madrid is a melting pot of different cuisines from all over the peninsula. Andalusian, Galician, Asturian and many other immigrants flavours all make an appearance in the myriad restaurants (some that have been serving for over 200 years). The closest to traditional local fare is Cocido Madrillo a delicious mixture of chickpeas, garden vegetable and various meats. Then there is the famous gaspacho soup (served cold), garlic soup, potato omelette and, surprisingly, baked bream or cod. Despite their distance from the ocean, Madrilenos are very proud of their seafood dishes.

What Madrid lacks in aesthetic traditionalism is certainly more than made up for in the Madrilenos’ enthusiasm for Spain’s culture. More than any other Spaniards they celebrate life to the full, be it a Bullfight at Plaza de Toros Monumental (the largest bullring in the world) or during one of the plethora of City sponsored events held during the summer. Summer nights see the streets turn into a huge party. Music lovers can enjoy everything from world-class opera, symphony and ballet to traditional flamenco, hard rock to reggae. The atmosphere is vibrant and youthful without being particularly youth orientated and the people are amongst the friendliest you could wish to meet. It may not have beaches or lush countryside but after your first day in Madrid and you won’t even care.

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