Madrid, the capital of Spain, is a cosmopolitan city that combines the most modern infrastructures and the status as an economic, financial, administrative and service centre, with a large cultural and artistic heritage, a legacy of centuries of exciting history.
Strategically located in the geographic centre of the Iberian Peninsula at an altitude of 646 m above sea level, Madrid has one of the most important historic centres of all the great European cities. This heritage merges seamlessly with the city’s modern and convenient infrastructures, a wide-ranging offer of accommodation and services, and all the latest state-of-the-art technologies in audiovisual and communications media. These conditions, together with all the drive of a dynamic and open society –as well as high-spirited and friendly– have made this metropolis one of the great capitals of the Western world.
It has been populated since the Lower Palaeolithic era, although it was not until 1561 that King Philip II made Madrid the capital city of his vast empire. The historic centre, also known as the “Madrid of Los Austrias” (in reference to the Hapsburg monarchs), and the spectacular Plaza Mayor square –inaugurated in 1620 and one of the most popular and typical sites in Spain– are a living example of the nascent splendour of the city in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Near the Plaza Mayor is the area known as the “aristocratic centre” where the jewel in the crown is the Royal Palace, an imposing building dating from the 17th century featuring a mixture of Baroque and classicist styles. Beside it is the Plaza de Oriente square, the Teatro Real opera house, and the modern cathedral of La Almudena which was consecrated in 1993 by Pope John Paul II. The Puerta del Sol square is surrounded by a varied and select area of shops and businesses, and the “Paseo del Arte” art route –whose name derives from its world-class museums, palaces and gardens– are further elements in an array of monuments which includes particularly the Bank of Spain building, the Palace of Telecommunications, and the fountains of Cibeles and Neptune.
Art and culture play a key role in Madrid’s cultural life. The capital has over 60 museums which cover every field of human knowledge. Highlights include the Prado Museum, one of the world’s most important art galleries; the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, with over 800 paintings ranging from primitive Flemish artists through to the avant-garde movements. And the Reina Sofía National Art Centre, dedicated to contemporary Spanish art and containing works by Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Juan Gris, among others.
Madrid’s extensive and beautifully maintained parks and gardens –like the Retiro park, formerly the recreational estate to the Spanish monarchs, the Casa de Campo and the Juan Carlos I park– offer inhabitants and visitors the chance to enjoy the sunshine, stroll, row on its lakes or feed the squirrels, in one of the greenest capitals in Europe. The importance of its international airport, which every week receives over 1,000 flights from all over the world, its two Conference Centres, the modern trade fair ground in the Campo de las Naciones, and over 80,000 places in other meeting centres make Madrid one of Europe’s most attractive business hubs.
But if there’s one thing that sets Madrid apart, it must be its deep and infectious passion for life that finds its outlet in the friendly and open character of its inhabitants. Concerts, exhibitions, ballets, a select theatrical offering, the latest film releases, the opportunity to enjoy a wide range of the best Spanish and international gastronomy, to savour the charms of its bars and taverns… all these are just a few of the leisure options on offer in Madrid. There is also a tempting array of shops and businesses featuring both traditional establishments and leading stores offering top brands and international labels.
Madrid’s lively nightlife is another key attraction of Spain’s capital, due to its variety and the exciting atmosphere to be found in its bars, pubs, clubs and flamenco halls. Other daytime entertainment options include traditional outdoor dances, popular festivities and the San Isidro bullfighting festival, regarded as being the most important in the world.
Madrid is the main communications hub for the Iberian Peninsula. All the main routes to the rest of Spain and Europe lead out of the city. The region has a modern transport network with airports, trains and roads, which are constantly being renovated and extended. Madrid has a good road network –mainly motorways– which takes you quickly around the region. This –mostly free– network has six major routes that link Madrid with other Spanish cities. Within the Region of Madrid there are four ring roads around the capital with access from all the motorway routes. These ring roads provide easy access to the population centres in the metropolitan area of Madrid.
Madrid is also the centre of the Spanish railway network, with international, inter-city, high speed and regional services. The Renfe national railway company runs all these rail services, as well as the local lines.
The airport is just 13 kilometres outside the city centre. Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport is Spain’s busiest airport, and one of Europe’s top five. It is also the main European hub for flights to Latin America.
- A-1 Motorway Irún (Basque Country).
- A-2 Motorway Barcelona.
- A-3 Motorway Valencia.
- A-4 Motorway Seville.
- A-5 Motorway Badajoz (Extremadura).
- A-6 Motorway A Coruña (Galicia).
- More information: Travelling in Spain by car
Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport
Connections: Direct flights with many European cities and major capitals around the world. Madrid – Barcelona air shuttle. Daily connections with major Spanish cities
Location/Services: Located 12 kilometres from the city. Taxi, bus and underground services and C-1 suburban train line. 24-hour fast bus service.
Admission: Taxi: fixed rate from the airport to the city centre (inside the M-30 ring road): €30 Taxi supplement for other routes: €5.50. Free luggage transport. Metro surcharge: €3. Express Bus Line: €5. C-1 suburban train line: €2.6 (Free for passengers disembarking from or connecting to an AVE high-speed train link) Return trip: €5.2
Renfe Spain Pass
- This pass offers the chance to travel around Spain for all non-residents. This system is very practical, as it can be used on all AVE long-distance and mid-distance high-speed trains. The Renfe Spain Pass is valid for one month from the first trip and comes in two formats (Business/Club and Tourist). It can be purchased up to six months in advance, and is available for 4, 6, 8 or 10 journeys. More information: Renfe Spain Pass
Atocha railway station
Connections: High-speed AVE to Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, Malaga, Valladolid and Segovia, among others. International connections to Paris and Lisbon. Long-distance services to all regional Spanish capitals.
Services: Regular metro, bus and taxi services.
Chamartín railway station
- Connections: International connections to Paris and Lisbon. Long-distance services to all regional Spanish capitals.
- Services: Regular metro, bus and taxi services.
Access to the historic centre from the airport and Madrid’s main train and bus stations is quick and easy using the metro (for information on how to get into the city from the airport, see the How to get there section). It runs every day from 6 am to 1:30 am, and metro station entrances are marked with the letter ‘M’.
Buses are also a good option. They operate from approximately 6 am to 11:30 pm on Mondays to Fridays and run on special bus lanes in the city’s principal streets. Bus routes and their frequency are displayed at the stops. You can travel with rucksacks (as long as they are held in the hand and not on the back), with suitcases (the same size as airline hand luggage) and with folding bicycles. On Saturdays and Sundays they run from approximately 7 am to 11 pm.
To get around at night there are special night buses, popularly known as “búhos” (“owls”). They depart from Plaza de Cibeles square and have an ‘N’ in front of the route number. They run from Sunday to Friday and on public holidays from 11:55 pm to 6 am. On Saturdays and the eve of public holidays they run from 11 pm to 7 am.
Nevertheless, many people prefer the comfort of taxis when travelling at night. They run all day, and are white with a red stripe, and the city’s crest and their licence number on the side. They can be hailed in the street when the green light is on. Otherwise they can be found at taxi ranks or you can order them by telephone using the radio taxi service. Tariffs are displayed inside the taxis and comprise the minimum fare, flag-down charge, kilometre charge and other extras such as night service, public holidays, and station or airport service. The total cost is displayed on a meter.
To get to Madrid’s suburbs and surrounding areas, you can either take the bus or the train. Renfe Cercanias, the local train service, runs from 5-6 am to around midnight, and offers frequent daily services to places of interest for tourists such as Alcalá de Henares, El Escorial and Aranjuez.
This gallery in Madrid has the most complete collection of Spanish painting from 11th-18th centuries, and numerous masterpieces by great universal artists such as El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Bosch, Titian, Van Dyck and Rembrandt. The quality and variety of its collection makes the Prado one of the world’s best-endowed museums. It combines a first-class collection of Spanish painting, the most important works of the Flemish and Italian schools, and various fine examples of the German, French and English schools. It is home to numerous masterpieces of universal art such as Las Meninas by Velázquez, the two Majas by Goya, Nobleman with his hand on his chest by El Greco, the Garden of Delights by Bosch, and The Three Graces by Rubens, among other priceless pieces. Although the museum was created to house primarily works of painting and sculpture, it also contains major collections of drawings, engravings, coins and medals, as well as items of clothing and decorative art.
Reina Sofia National Art Centre
The Reina Sofía National Art Centre opened its doors to the public in 1990 with a major collection of Spanish and international art covering the period between the late 19th century to the present day. Two years later Pablo Picasso’s Guernica was installed, a key work that plays a fundamental role in the museum’s discourse and activities. Located in an old hospital building dating from the late 18th century by the architect Francesco Sabatini, the growth of its collection created a need for an extension, and 2005 saw the inauguration of a new building designed by Jean Nouvel. The 18,000 items in the museum’s collection have in recent years been rearranged to create an itinerary that explores its most distinctive features, such as Surrealism, the pavilion of the 1937 Republic, and Spanish Informalism of the 1950s in an international context. It currently revolves around three major sections: ‘1900-1945: The irruption of the 20th century. Utopias and conflicts’, ‘1945-1968: is the war over? Art in a divided world’, and ‘1962-1982: From revolt to post-modernity’. The Reina Sofía is also a space for research, experimentation and reflection, and offers a wide programme of temporary exhibitions and public activities.
In the nearly one thousand works on display, visitors can contemplate the major periods and schools of western art, from the Renaissance through Mannerism, Baroque, Rococo, Romanticism and the art of the 19th and 20th centuries to Pop Art. The museum also features works from some movements that are under-represented in state-owned collections, such as Impressionism, Fauvism, German Expressionism and the experimental avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. It also boasts an important collection of 19th-century American painting which is unique among European museums. Durer, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kandinsky, Picasso, Hopper and Rothko are some of the great painters whose works enthrall visitors. This international collection, which is now state-owned, was originally private, the result of the exquisite taste of its two main creators, Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1875-1947) and his son, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002). In 2004 the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza collection was added, with more than 200 pieces on loan, complementing the styles and genres already present in the Permanent Collection.
Madrid’s Royal Palace was built in the 18th century by order of Philip V on the site of the old Alcázar fortress, a former Moorish castle. Sachetti began the works in 1738, and the building was completed in 1764. Sabatini designed the southeast wing and the great staircase, or staircase of honour. It has a square floor plan with a large central courtyard. The Puerta del Príncipe gateway on the east side gives access to the central courtyard. The Sabatini and Campo del Moro Gardens are among the Palace’s other attractions, as well as its several different façades. There is some debate as to its artistic style; it is thought by some experts to belong more to the Baroque, and by others to the Neo-classical style. Of particular note among its numerous rooms are the Royal Guards’ Room, the Columns Room, the Hall of Mirrors and King Charles III’s room. It also contains paintings by Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco and Caravaggio.
Plaza Mayor square is a symbol of Madrid and must not be missed. Building work began on this huge open area in the city centre in the 17th Century under the orders of Felipe III, whose bronze equestrian statue adorns the square. It was opened in 1620 and is rectangular in shape, with arcades running around the edges. This site used to be the venue for many public events, such as bullfights, processions, festivals, theatre performances, Inquisition trials and even capital executions. Underneath the arcades there are traditional shops, as well as a wealth of bars and restaurants. In the square a number buildings stand out, such as Casa de la Panadería, with its fresco-decorated façade, and Casa de la Carnicería.
This is one of the most well-known monuments in Madrid. Built between 1769 and 1778 under the orders of King Carlos III, it was designed by Francisco Sabatini and erected as a triumphal arch to celebrate the arrival of the monarch at the capital. The granite gate is 19.5 metres tall and is elegant and well-proportioned. The façade features a number of decorative elements with groups of sculptures, capitals, reliefs and masks, among others.
Buen Retiro Park
Located in the heart of Madrid, its origins date from the reign of Philip IV, when the Buen Retiro Palace was built by the Count-Duke of Olivares. The Astronomical Observatory and the Buen Retiro Royal Porcelain Factory were added during the reign of Charles III. During the reign of Ferdinand VII, the pier on the pond and the Casa de Fieras zoo was built. Among the most prominent spots, the park includes the great pond with the monument to Alfonso XII, the Casa de Velázquez and the Crystal Palace, the Rosaleda rose garden and the Parterre, boasting one of the oldest trees in Madrid, a Taxodium mucronatum. In 1935, it was declared a Garden of Historic-Artistic value.