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This bustling cosmopolitan capital in the heart of Spain is characterised by intense cultural and artistic activity and a very lively nightlife. The famous Puerta Del Sol (Gate of the Sun) is said to form the real heart of Madrid. City breaks to Madrid from Dublin provide you with the opportunity to visit the pavement cafes of Plaza Mayor, the shops of the Gran Via, the priceless art collections of the Prado Museum, the Royal Palace, and the Retiro Park, a haven of peace in the centre of the city.
Madrid boasts one of the most impressive collections of art of any city in the world. Within walking distance of each other, the Reina Sofia, Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza offer a rich experience for the visitor. Cheap weekend breaks to Madrid from Ireland are ideal for shopping in Madrid which ranges from large department stores to small traditional shops with good and shopfronts preserved as in days gone by, mostly found in the areas around Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.
The Rastro flea market with its stalls overflowing with a variety of goods is a must on a Sunday morning. And with last minute city breaks & short break deals to Madrid the city is perfect for an evening spent with the locals drinking and sampling tapas in a typical ‘Tasco’ or visit one of the many restaurants offering specialities from the different regions of Spain. Remember that in Madrid eating out is later than at home, and dinner for locals rarely begins before 9.30pm.
The climate of Madrid is dry, warm and pleasant. It's high altitude and proximity to mountains causes some wide variations in winter and summer temperatures. In summer the heat at midday can be intense, with pleasantly cool evenings. Winters, by contrast, bring temperatures dropping to just below freezing. Rain in Madrid is a rarity, with a short rainy season in late October and some showers in spring.
A melting pot of cultures and cuisines, many argue that cosmopolitan Madrid does not have its own distinct flavour of gastronomy, but the Spanish capital is highly influenced by the contributions of the immigrants who once settled here.
Madrileño fare can never be called dull or boring with such delicacies as tripe and sausage, or crispy pig's ears and sweetbread, but plenty of other safer options exist for the less adventurous, such as gazpacho (chilled tomato and cucumber soup), Besugo al horno (baked bream), Cocido (beef, pork, chicken and vegetable stew) and the well-known tapas(savoury tidbits of appetisers). Those with a sweet tooth can enjoy barquillos(rolled wafers), buñuelos(type of fritter filled with custard and whipped cream) or bartolillos con crema (type of small pie with custard).
As in most Spanish cities, tapas restaurants can be found all over Madrid and some of the most popular and diverse eateries can be found in the area around Plaza Mayor and Sol. Visitors should bear in mind that lunch and dinner start much later than in many other countries. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest evenings for eating out and it is advisable to make a booking in advance to be sure of securing a table.
Madrid is easy to get around and is served by an extensive network of buses, a modern and efficient metro, and trains. Taxis are plentiful and cheap although a list of surcharges will increase the fare. Visitors should check that the meter isn't already running, as foreigners are often the victims of overcharging.
The quickest way to get around is on the fast and very efficient metro that reaches most places and operates from 6am to 1.30am, although it is best to avoid rush hours; otherwise the comprehensive bus network is there to fill in the gaps from 6am to midnight. Buses have designated lanes so are able to avoid traffic congestion, and night buses operate after midnight. The 10-trip ticket package allows for cheaper travel and is valid on both the metro and buses. Driving in Madrid is best avoided; cars can be left at parking garages for the duration of stay.
Madrid has endless fun and entertainment to offer kids on holiday. While it is a bustling city, known for its art galleries and nightlife, it is also very family-friendly. The variety of children's attractions in Madrid is profuse, enough to keep everyone happy (parents included!). Attractions range from palaces and markets to parks and playgrounds.
One of the favourite palaces to visit is Palacio Real, with its vast treasure collection, and kids also love seeing Santiago Bernabéu stadium, home to another of Spain's 'treasures' - the Real Madrid football team. The Teleférico, a cable car from Paseo del Pintor Rosales to the Casa de Campo, is another exciting Madrid adventure for children.
The best time to take kids on holiday to Madrid is in spring or autumn, when the weather is at its most pleasant and there aren't too many tourists around. However, in May there are a couple of events that attract quite a crowd and families may need to book accommodation and hire cars well in advance.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widely understood in areas frequented by tourists. Catalan, Galician and Basque are spoken in the relevant areas.
Spain's official currency is the Euro (EUR). One Euro is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at bureaux de change and major hotels, but banks give the best rates. All major credit cards and travellers cheques are widely accepted at most hotels, restaurants, and shops. ATMs are widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenient method of obtaining money.
The nightlife in Madrid is varied and exciting with many cafés, tascas(cheap bars), theatres, movie houses and nightclubs to keep visitors entertained. El terraceo(terrace-hopping) is a way of life in Madrid. Most people only start partying at around 11pm and no one enters a nightclub before 1pm. Many places stay open till the next morning. Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Gran Vía and Chueca are some of the trendiest nightlife areas.
Viva Madrid and Los Gabrieles are two of the most popular bars, but there are also many old tavernasaround Los Austrias to explore. Plaza Santa Ana and the surrounding streets have a few good spots and the seven-floor Kapital has a great rooftop bar. For clubbing, the Room is fantastic but only open Fridays, Joy Eslava Disco comes highly recommended and Lavapiés is popular with the bohemian crowd. There are wonderful flamenco performances at Casa Patas, and the Lope de Vega theatre has excellent shows. Tapas and coffee bars are also very popular in Madrid.
There are various Madrid nightlife coach tours offered, a good way to avoid queues and entrance fees at certain venues. Children are admitted in many bars, cafeterias and restaurants, as well as some pubs. There are flyers available from most hotels which list bar, club and concert information and discounts, as does the Guía del Ocio (available at news stands).
Madrid offers arguably some of the best shopping in not only Spain but also Europe, and with so many districts all touting their own shopping genre, visitors can find just about anything and everything! From exploring the small, specialised stores, boutiques and antique shops to the slightly bigger department stores and bustling food markets, Madrid is a shopper's paradise.
The city's answer to Bond Street and dubbed 'the golden mile', Salamanca is one of the city's most glamorous places to indulge yourself and stretch your credit card's legs, while Chueca is filled with trendy fashion stores. El Corte Ingles at Sol is by far the most convenient place for shopaholics to get their fix, selling all kinds of goods from high fashion to regional foods such as Chorizo (spicy sausage) and Turron (a kind of nougat). One of the most popular markets is Rastro, pulling Madrileños and tourists alike. It has become famous for its antique stalls, second hand goods, jewellery and unreliable electrical goods and is held every Sunday from morning until mid-afternoon.
Most shops close on Saturday afternoons and in July and August some small shops close completely. On Sunday, a handful of shops open their doors as well as some of the larger stores and small cake shops. Practically everything in Spain closes for siesta for at least two hours during the hottest part of the day and the usual reopening hours are from around 4.30 - 8pm.
Tourists from outside the EU can apply for a tax refund on good bought within Spain. A sales tax (VAT) of 16 percent is levied on most goods and services in the country and the specified minimum amount spent before claiming a refund is EUR90.16 in Spain. Shoppers can also purchase goods from shops participating in the 'Europe Tax-free Shopping' programme and they should look out for the ETS logo displayed in shops' windows.
Steeped in history, Madrid is a sightseeing paradise with the arts taking centre stage. It will take visitors several days to explore Spain's energetic capital and see all the historical landmarks, museums, art galleries, and parks the city has to offer.
The Paseo del Arte (Art Walk) links the three art museums that make up Madrid's famous 'Golden Triangle', namely Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornomisza, where the works of such Spanish masters as Picasso can be viewed.
The Times Square of Spain, Puerta del Sol is the official centre of Madrid and a must see, where visitors can take in such famous landmarks as the El Oso y El Madroño, a 20-ton statue of a bear eating fruits off a Madrono tree and a large equestrian statue of King Carlos III. Take a stroll through Calle and Plaza Mayor (medieval Madrid), lined with beautiful old buildings and impressively ornate churches and visit Goya's tomb at the Panteon de Goya.
The best, and most old-fashioned way to see the city is by foot as there are so many tucked away places to explore as well as many to appreciate en route to the next attraction, and with plenty of green lungs dotted throughout Madrid, exhausted sightseers can relax and rest their legs on a park bench and watch the world go by.
Visitors to Madrid are advised to purchase the Madrid Card which offers free entry to more than 40 museums, and discounts in many shops and restaurants, as well as free public transport. It is available from tourist offices from a period of 24 hours and a cost of EUR42.
Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the Saturday before the last Sunday in October). The Canary Islands: GMT (GMT +1 in summer).