Madrid

For other places with the same name, see Madrid (disambiguation).

Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain, as well as the capital of the autonomous community of the same name (Comunidad de Madrid). The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million with a metro area population of almost 6.5 million. The city has an impressive cultural and architectural heritage, which includes not only grand avenues, plazas, buildings and monuments, but also world-class art galleries and museums. On top of that, Madrid is renown for gastronomic delights and a busy, lively nightlife lasting up until dawn.

Understand

Palacio de Cibeles, Madrid's city hall, Cibeles Square

Location

Madrid is located just northeast of the geographical center of the Iberian Peninsula, in the middle of the Spanish central Castillian plateau (Meseta central), at an average altitude of 650m. Nearly all of the most famous tourist areas are located in the center of the city including Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, and Plaza de Colón. The major streets in Madrid include the Gran Via, Alcalá Street, and Paseo de la Castellana.

Puerta de Alcalá

Climate

The climate of Madrid is continental; mainly dry and quite extreme at times. Madrid sees perpetual sunshine and a characteristically hot and dry summer, and a fairly cold winter with frequent frosts during the night and the occasional snowfall. Spring and autumn are mild with the most rainfall concentrated in these seasons. Spring and autumn are definitely the best times to visit, especially the months of April, May, June, September and October. There is very little rainfall during summer and also less rainfall during winter. During winter snow occurs sporadically; however, snowfall usually lasts only for a few days, but there is abundant snowfall in the adjacent mountain ranges nearby.

Plaza Mayor

History

The culture of Madrid was dominated by its Royal history, centre of the Spanish Empire. The Royal Palace, big places and buildings used by the Spanish Monarchy, enormous cathedrals and churches are plentiful in Madrid, as well as medieval architecture, although nowadays Madrid is just as much a cosmopolitan city as Berlin or London, full of new architecture, lifestyle and culture.

As Spanish Capital, Madrid has meant the different "establishment" for most Spaniards. During the 2nd Republic (1931-1936) was a bustling city of new ideas. Being capital of the Franquist dictatorship (1939-1975) made the city still seem to represent a conservative part of Spain to many Spaniards. However, the city is also the epicentre of the famous Movida, Spain's 80s movement that bred personalities such as the director Pedro Almodóvar. The heritage of this era is indeed still visible in the city centre, where a party can be found at all times and one of the most liberal and colourful environments of Spain can be seen. The city is also known for its great gay tolerance.

Temple of Debod with Torre de Madrid and Edificio Espana in the background

Madrileños everyday

The citizens of Madrid, who refer to themselves as Madrileños or the more traditional and currently seldom used term "gatos" (cats), live by a daily routine that is heavily influenced by the climate. Due to the typically midday heat during summer, a "siesta" can be still observed during which some citizens take a break to cool off, though Madrileños can usually only afford this 'luxury' during holidays and weekends.

Most stores are open during all the day; just small stores are often closed during this time. Workers and those more afflicted by Western lifestyles choose not to observe this long break and work traditional business hours, which are usually between 9AM and 6-7PM. During summer many offices, however, will have a summer schedule requiring workers to start at 8AM and finish at 3PM (most commonly without the standard 1-2 hour break for lunch).

Offices usually close during the weekend but businesses are often open Saturday morning (downtown stays open until afternoon). Most grocers are closed on Sundays, but some major chain and department stores linked to "culture" (books, music, etc.) will be open throughout the day and all of them on the first Sunday of the month. Shops and department stores in Puerta del Sol area are open every day.

Madrid has a very modernized and elaborate transportation network of buses and Metro. The city contrasts with some large European cities in that it is extremely clean, and city employees in bright yellow vests can almost always be seen cleaning the streets and sidewalks. Like most large cities, however, there is a substantial population of vagrants and beggars lining the streets.

Madrid is one of the biggest and most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. Communities of West Africans, North Africans, other Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and (especially) Latin Americans are prominent.

Nightlife in Puerta del Sol

Nightlife

Madrid possibly has the largest number of bars per capita of any European city and a very active nightlife; Madrileños are known to stay up until as late as 5AM-7AM. It is quite common to see a crowded Gran Vía on weekend nights. It is important to note that, due to this lifestyle, lodging located near the fun areas may end up a nightmare for light sleepers if your window faces the street.

Casa de las Bolas in Salamanca

Neighbourhoods

Some popular neighborhoods are:

Plaza del Dos de Mayo is the heart of the Malasaña neighborhood
The busy Gran Vía at twilight
Madrid-Barajas airport

Get in

By plane

Main article: Madrid–Barajas Airport

Madrid Barajas International Airport (IATA: MAD) is the most important airport of Madrid. There are direct flights there from most major airports in Europe and the Americas as well as a few African and Asian airports. The extensive, practical and affordable metro network extends to the airport, and with one or two transfers you can get pretty much everywhere in the city. Alternatively you can take a taxi or bus.

Be aware that since Terminal 4 opened Madrid Airport has two widely separated terminal complexes (T1, 2, 3 on the one hand and T4 on the other). Be sure to check which you need to depart from, as getting from one complex to another is time consuming and expensive, as the €3 airport surcharge on public transport need to be paid on short trips between the terminals as well.

Be careful of buying SIM cards in the Madrid Airport; there is a vendor selling UK-based SIM cards with exhorbitant rates that work out to 100 euros for about 125 megabytes of data, with spotty service in Spain. Instead, get a SIM card from a standard vendor in Spain (Vodaphone, Movie, Orange, etc), which will be much more reasonable with better reception.

If you plan to visit Barcelona before or after Madrid, you can take advantage of multiple daily flights between the cities, which are sometimes cheaper than taking the high-speed train. The flight time is c.a. 1h15min and prices start at below €50 one way. Do note, however, that you need to add time to get to and from the airports to reach the city centres, while the train stations are in the cities already. Security checks and the time you have to be at the gate prior to departure are also longer than for a train so that if you are pressed for time and money is of no concern to you the train is almost always the better option. Also make sure to figure in all fees and surcharges when comparing prices as certain airlines are notorious for charging (sometimes exorbitant) fees for everything from luggage to printing a boarding pass.

Two smaller airports, Torrejón and Cuatro Vientos, also serve the city, however, there are no commercial flights coming in or out of these two airports.

Tropical garden in Atocha

By train

Connections

The state-owned rail company Renfe (+34 902-240-202, ) operates train service to/from Madrid. Frequent long-distance trains operate between Madrid and Alicante (3 h 15 min), Barcelona (2h 40min), Córdoba (2 hrs), Malaga (2h 30 min), Salamanca (2 h 45 min), Seville (2h 20 min), Valencia (2 hrs) and Zaragoza (2 h 15 min).

There are also 2 direct international trains, run by Renfe under "Trenhotel" designation, in service every night to and from Lisbon ("Lusitania", 9 hours) and Paris Gare Austerlitz ("Francisco de Goya", 14 hours). These have a variety of sleeping accommodations (in 4-, 2- and single-person berths) as well as reclining and "super-reclining" seats. A trip to Santiago de Compostela, clocking at 5 hours during the day, can also be made overnight (in which case it takes closer to 9 hours).

Stations

Madrid has two train stations: Chamartín and Atocha, both of which have excellent Metro and Cercanias commuter train connections.

  Chamartín station is on the north side of the city and is served by the Metro stop of the same name on Metro lines 1 and 10. Most northbound and both international trains arrive and depart from Chamartín station.

Trains to Barcelona, Valencia and southern Spain depart from Atocha.   Atocha is on the southern side of the city center and is divided into two main sections, an area for Cercanias trains and one for long-distance trains. The long-distance side is set inside the towering old station, where you will find a tropical garden with a pond full of small turtles as well as a number of shops. A memorial to the victims of the terrorist attack of March 11, 2004 is in the Cercanias portion of the station near the Metro stop.

If you need to get between the two stations, Metro line 1 (€1.50, 30–40 minutes) or Cercanias lines C3 and C4 (€1.35, 15 minutes) offer the most direct connection.

Estación Sur de Autobuses

By bus

Madrid has eight enormous international and intercity bus stations. Information on where buses to a particular destination depart from can be found at the Tourist Office.

Many of the international buses, and those headed south of Madrid, arrive at and depart from Estación Sur de Autobuses (Calle de Méndez Álvaro, Tel:+34 91-468-4200 ) which is accessible by metro.

Buses to and from Barcelona and Bilbao operate from the Avenida de América bus terminal, also accessible by Metro.

By car

There are car rental facilities available at the airport, train stations, and other main travel sites. Always be sure to have a street map handy! The roads within Madrid are difficult to navigate as there are no places to stop and consult a map or check your route.

Also, if you are relying on GPS navigation, be aware that there are several consecutive junctions underground near the centre and your GPS may not get a signal underground. Plan your turns before you enter the tunnels.

Get around

By public transit

Map of the Madrid Metro

Madrid proudly sports one of the best public transportation networks in the world and the second largest metro network in Europe, second only to London's. Buses and subways form an integrated network and work with the same tickets.

Children under the age of 4 may travel without a ticket. Children under 11 receive a 50% discount. Tickets can be purchased at Metro stations, news-stands, and estancos (tobacconists').

Metro

Gran Vía station entrance featuring the traditional Metro logo

The Metro de Madrid (Madrid's Subway/Underground) is one of the best and least expensive metros in Europe. In addition, the underground tunnels of the Metro provide relief from the sun on hot days. Ticket machines are bilingual with instructions in both Spanish and English. Stamping the ticket one time allows you to use the Metro network as long and far as you like - make sure you stay inside the Metro zone, once you leave it, you'll have to stamp your ticket again. When you travel to or from airport stations, there is additional supplement of €3, which can be paid at the entrance or exit. The Passes do not require this supplement-it is included in the price. You can catch some trains as late as 2AM, although the official close time for the metro system is at 1:30AM.

Nights before Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays have a night bus (BúhoMetro) service on the same routes as the Metro lines, from roughly 01:00AM to 05:30AM. Stops for these lines are sometimes not in obvious places, especially in the pedestrian areas in the city center.

Announcements in the metro are made only in Spanish, though signs are bilingual in Spanish and English.

Bus

A bus in Madrid.

Whatever the Metro doesn't cover, the buses do.

Night buses (Búhos, "night owls"), have their main hub at Plaza de Cibeles, covering most of the city at roughly 20-minute intervals.

Buses are equipped with free wi-fi facility (EMTmadrid), easy to use with any type of laptop or netbook.

Train

Madrid has a system of local trains (Cercanías) that connect outlying suburbs and villages with the city center. Although most useful for visiting historic or outdoor destinations outside the city core, they are also useful for quickly getting from the north end of the city (Chamartin and Nuevos Ministros) to the south end of the city (Sol and Atocha) and, as of Sept 2011, Barajas airport (terminal 4).

By taxi

Taxi in Madrid

Taxis can be hard to find during late hours on weekends, especially if there is some rain. Unlike in other European cities, there are few taxi stands; just stand by the side of a major road or bus stop and wave your hand to signal an available taxi passing by. Available taxis have a green libre sign in the windshield and a green light on top.

Official taxis are white, and have a red stripe and the flag of Madrid on the front door. The tariff is displayed on top of the car (a 1 during daytime, a 2 during the night, which become 2 and 3 on holidays such as Christmas Eve).

There are also special surcharges for entering or leaving the airport/train station. Ask for the written table of tariffs and charges (suplementos) (shown on small stickers on rear windows, compulsory by law) before paying if you think it's too expensive.

Be aware there are some taxi drivers that will do what is called 'la vuelta al ruedo' which basically means they will drive you around or through the crowded avenues to increase the fare.

Most taxi drivers do not speak English, so you should have the names and/or addresses of your destinations written in Spanish to show your taxi driver. Likewise, get your hotel's business card in case you get lost.

By car

Transportation by private automobile in Madrid can be a nightmare. The Spanish capital suffers from the typical problems of most big cities; far too many cars and not enough space to accommodate them. Sometimes there can even be traffic jams in the Paseo de la Castellana at 3AM (early to some Madrileños). The problem is compounded by the narrow streets in the old town, where a lorry delivering beer barrels to a local bar can cause a huge tailback. Finding a parking space can be very time consuming, and difficult if one is not skilled in the art of close proximity parallel parking. Many Spaniards are also lacking in this art, prompting them to simply park in the street, blocking other cars in. If you find yourself blocked in by such a practice, honk your horn until the driver returns. If you parallel park your car in Madrid, be aware that most Madrileños park by sound alone. They will feel no remorse for repeatedly hitting the car in front and behind them while trying to get into or out of a tight spot. If you value your car's paint job, or you have rented a car, it may be best to park underground. Though this is no guarantee for nobody hitting your car, the chances are somewhat diminished.

For free parking but within walking distance of 20 mins to city centre (Sol), try the street at Principe Pio metro stop. The place to park is the street near to the shopping mall called Calle de Mozart. It is packed with cars on weekday mornings because of people getting to the Metro station. During the evenings and weekends it's easy to get a parking spot.

In short, renting a car is not only unnecessary, but not recommended for getting around downtown Madrid, and a car is likely to be more of a liability than an asset. Visitors should make use of Madrid's excellent public transportation instead. Renting a car only makes sense if you are planning to leave Madrid and drive to the nearby towns.

By bicycle

Although Madrid does not appear as a bike-friendly city at a first sight, things are changing slowly to make bike experience more comfortable. Several streets in historical downtown have been transformed into mixed-traffic spaces where pedestrians and bikes have priority over cars. There are new easy-bike paths all along the river and connecting important parks.

It is also possible to use a lot of narrow easy streets where traffic is slow and calm to travel along the city without depending on exclusive bike paths. There are some official and unofficial publications with these streets along the web.

To avoid some of Madrid inconveniencies, such as hot weather or slopy streets it is also possible to get bikes on Metro and Railways trains with some schedule restrictions, and on every public transport without restrictions when using folding-bikes.

Madrid Río

Madrid now has its own public bike rental service, called BiciMAD. It boasts 1560 electric bikes spread over 123 stations. Unfortunately, the site is not (yet) available in English. However, the information at the bike stations is available in multiple languages. A casual user pays no initial fee, but €2 for every first hour or fraction, and €4 for the second. A contactless card is issued instantaneously upon signing up at any bike station. The process is relatively quick and requires some basic information such as name, ID, email and credit card number. Swipe the card through the somewhat larger opening on the left of any bike to retrieve it. Use the buttons to the left of the handlebar to toggle electric assistance (three levels). Here you'll also find a button to switch on the lights. So watch out, you'll need to do this yourself when it gets dark! Be equally careful when using electric assistance for the first time, as it might require some getting used to.

There are also some rent shops in the historical center area such as the company Baja Bikes Madrid or Urban Biking. This company offers several rental points in Madrid (Retiro, Atocha, Madrid-Río, etc.). They offer guided and self-guided bicycle tours, using electric or conventional bicycles.

See

Landmarks and architecture

Plaza Mayor
Puerta del Sol
Royal Palace
Catedral de la Almudena
Plaza de España
Fuente de Cibeles
Mercado de San Miguel is close to Plaza Mayor

Museum Triangle

The northern entrance to Prado
Reina Sofía National Museum and Art Center
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art

This is Madrid's museum district, named for the three major art museums clustered along Paseo del Prado east of the old city: the Museo del Prado, one of the finest art museums in the world, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, a baron's collection of classical art, and the Reina Sofia, Madrid's modern art museum. However, a couple of smaller museums also occupy the neighborhood which are well worth seeing as well.

Vertical garden, CaixaForum

Other museums

Museo de América
Dama de Elche: Iberian (pre-Roman) fertility goddess statue
Main hall of the Geo-mining Museum

Parks

El Retiro park
Templo de Debod
Ride in the Teleferico from Argüelles to Casa de Campo

Do

There are a number of free, English language periodicals that you will find in bars and restaurants that are a great source of event information. PopGuide Madrid is Madrid's premier English and German lifestyle magazine and features the best Madrid has to offer and the latest in film, fashion, music and art. The monthly InMadrid newspaper has a number of articles and information about events around town. Aimed at the 20-35-year-old crowd, European Vibe has listings for concerts, exhibitions, bars, restaurants, parties and other events happening in Madrid as well as articles about living in the city. Check the websites for current distribution points.

Flamenco Shows

Concert Venues

Classical & opera

View of the Royal Theatre

Sports

Football

Four teams from Madrid play in La Liga (Spain's premier division). The matches between Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid are known as "El Derbi Madrileño" (English: Madrid Derby).

Santiago Bernabéu stadium
Vicente Calderón stadium

Bullfighting

Facade of Las Ventas bullring

Basketball

There are three major teams: Estudiantes, Real Madrid, and Fuenlabrada. The first two play at the Palacio de los Deportes (commercially known as Barclaycard Center) every other weekend during the season. Fuenlabrada, based in the Madrid suburb of the same name, play at Polideportivo Fernando Martín.

Tennis

Movies and film

Cine Ideal offers subtitled movies in English

There are a number of cinemas offering American and British films in English (along with films in other languages). These original films are denoted in the listings by a designation of "V.O." which stands for versión original. Cinemas in Madrid will sometimes have días del espectador (viewer days) with cheaper ticket prices, usually on Mondays or Wednesdays. Some of the V.O. theaters to check out are:

Cinesa Proyecciones

There are also a few movie theatres in Madrid where they show the original version of the movies subtitled in their original language. The list is provided below.

Festivals

Learn

If you want to go to Madrid to learn Spanish, there are several private language schools that offer Spanish courses for foreigners. Another option is to take a Spanish course at university, the Complutense University of Madrid offers Spanish courses for foreigners that take place in the faculty of Philology and Letters .

Language schools

Buy

Major credit cards and foreign bank cards are accepted in most stores, but be aware that it is common practice to be asked for photo-ID ("D.N.I."). If asked for your DNI present your passport, residency permit or foreign ID card. Basically anything with your photo and name on it will be accepted by most shopkeepers. The signatures on credit cards are usually not checked.

Calle de Preciados remains busy also after dusk

Shopping districts

In addition to the shopping areas below, there are also a great number of H&M, Zara, Mango, and Blanco stores all over Madrid, with high fashion clothes and accessories at a low price.

Chueca during the gay pride
There is no denying that with El Corte Inglés, the delight for your eyes is on the inside (Nuevos Ministerios store pictured)

El Corte Inglés

El Corte Inglés is a Spanish institution, the only remaining department store chain in the country. El Corte Inglés stores are ubiquitous and dominate the retail market, setting the tone and reflecting the preferences of the Spanish customers. While hardly as exciting as visiting the over-the-top luxury department stores in New York or London, they provide a nice shopping environment, and many feature nice (and reasonably priced) gastronomic options. So, if the weather is bad, one of their stores may be your last resort.

Some of the more prominent El Corte Inglés locations in Madrid:

You will also find stores along Calle de Serrano, Calle de Goya and Calle de Princesa, as well as in most shopping centres on the outskirts of Madrid.

Fashion

Loewe is one of the world's oldest luxury brands, founded back in the middle of the 19th century in Madrid. You will find a grouping of their flagship stores around the intersection of Calle Serrano and Calle de Goya, one in Gran Via and, if you forgot something, two at T1 and T4 of the Barajas Airport.

Markets

El Rastro is the most important flea market in Madrid
Outdoor book market

Shopping Outlets

Eat

Cocido madrileño
Callos a la madrileña
Bocadillo de calamares.
Jamón ibérico.

Cuisine

Dishes popular throughout Spain are also widely served in Madrid.

In addition, Madrid has a number of "typical" dishes:

It is ironic that Madrid, located right in the centre of Spain has higher quality seafood than most coastal regions. This quality comes at a price, and most Spaniards only occasionally shell out for a mariscada (Spanish for "seafood feast"). Experiencing Madrid's seafood may be, for the visitor, an experience which will be worth the cost.

Meat and meat products (Jamon Iberico, morcilla, chorizo etc.) are of generally a very high quality in Spain and particularly in Madrid.

Restaurants

Many of the restaurants and cervecerías in the Sol and Plaza Mayor area have "generic" poster board advertisements on the sidewalks with pictures advertising various paella dishes. These paellas are usually of bad quality and should be avoided. If you are looking for good, authentic Spanish paella, it is usually best to find a more expensive, "sit-down" type of restaurant that offers a variety of paella dishes.

A much better option is the La Latina neighborhood just south of Plaza Mayor, especially along the Cava Baja street. To enjoy a gastronomic tour of this area you can join the Old Madrid Tapas & Wine Tour. There are also a number of deli-like shops along Calle Arenal that offer food para llevar (for take away).

At bars, one generally orders various sized plates, a ración meaning a full dish, a media ración a half dish or a smaller version which would be a tapa, a pinxto or a pincho.

The Spaniards don't eat lunch until 2 or 3PM, and dinner doesn't start until 9 or 10PM. As a rule of thumb, restaurants serve lunch from 1PM (earlier in touristic zones) until 3:30PM, then close and re-open for dinner at 8PM, serving until 11PM. This schedule is usually for restaurants since bars and "mesones" are usually opened all day long offering a wide variety of "tapas" and "bocadillos"(rolls) for a cheap price. If you're really desperate, the standard bunch of fast food chains do stay open throughout the day.

Budget

100 montaditos is a place where you can find cheap beer
Museo del Jamon

Mid-range

Splurge

Casa Lucio

Drink

Tapas bars

In the tapas bars, you should get free food with your drinks.

Cafes

Madrid gets alive around midnight

Bars

Nightlife starts later in Madrid, with most people heading to the bars at 10-11PM.

Museo Chicote

One of the best options to enjoy the Madrid's nightlife is the popular quarter Barrio de las Letras, especially its main street, Calle Huertas and others in the area.

Clubs

Clubs generally open at about midnight. If you go in any earlier you may find it quite empty. Many clubs don't close until 6AM, and even then everyone is still full of life.

Sleep

Hostels

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

"Locutorios" (Call Shops) are widely spread in Madrid near touristy locations. In Madrid do it's very easy to find one. Making calls from "Locutorios" tend to be much cheaper, especially international calls (usually made through VoIP). They are usually a good pick for calling home.

When travelling in Spain is not easy getting connected, Internet pre-paid cards can be purchased but with few formalities. Wi-Fi points in bars and cafeterias in Madrid are available after ordering, and most Hotels offer Wi-Fi connection in common areas for their guests.

Prepaid portable WiFi Hot spot service is now available in Spain (provided by trip NETer) which allows the connection to any WiFi device: Smart-phones, Tablets, PCs…

Cope

Embassies

Stay safe

Madrid is a relatively safe city. The police are visible, and the city is equipped with cameras. There are always a lot of people in the streets, even at night time, so you can walk across the city generally without fear. Travelers who remain aware of their surroundings, and keep an eye on their belongings should have little to worry about.

Madrid has a significant amount of nonviolent pickpocket crime so always watch any bags you have with you especially on the Metro and in busier public spaces. It is important for your safety to avoid falling asleep in the metro, which can leave you particularly vulnerable to thefts. It is not unknown for thieves to cut jean trouser pockets in order to steal belongings.

Be careful when carrying luggage, especially if anyone approaches you with an outspread map in hand asking for directions. This may very possibly be a trap to distract you while an accomplice steals your luggage.

When using ATM machines, be aware of your surroundings, just as you would anywhere. Bring a friend if you need to withdraw cash after dark. If someone approaches you while using an ATM, simply hit CANCELAR, retrieve your card and move on.

Have fun when going out, but do avoid drinking too much, and keep an eye on your drink. Beware of thieves preying on people leaving night clubs who have had a lot to drink. Do NOT carry valuables on a night out.

Beware of anyone who approaches you and asks you to write down your signature: it is normally for a "sick hospital" unit, and she will point out the "stamp" on the paper. She will then ask for a generous donation of €20 or more. This distraction can often be used to block vision while a pickpocketing or theft attempt is made.

Be aware of young men and boys who are indicating they are deaf/homeless trying to get you to sign a piece of paper. This also can be a ruse to distract you in order to steal your belongings. These thieves sometimes enter cafes/bars so make sure you do not leave wallets/phones on the table as possessions on show make for easy targets. The area around Calle de las Infantes near Gran Via is particularly renowned for this.

Avoid people offering masaje (massages). Be firm and say "No me toque" (Don't touch me) or "No tengo dinero" (I don't have any money) and keep walking. This is often a scam to extort money.

Go next

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