In many ways, Madrid is much the same as many other international metropolises -- it's Spain's largest city, has the largest population, is the capital and is the center for international business. But, before you jump to conclusions, hush … If you listen carefully, you can hear the gentle melodies of the Spanish guitar, the swish of a flamenco dancer's skirt, the snort of an angry bull, the shout from the matador, and the ... continue»
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The best time to visit Madrid is in fall (September to November) or spring (March to May) when balmy temps blow through the city, making it come alive. But if you don't mind drab weather and a rather listless Madrid, visit in the winter when hotels reduce their rates. Peak tourist season is summer -- despite nearly unbearable heat -- and the fact that many Madrileños close-up shop this time of year and take vacations themselves.Best Times to Visit Madrid»
Madrid's neighborhoods are called barrios, and they surround the city center at Puerta del Sol. The barrios are best if traveled by foot -- to fully imbibe the local flavor -- but Madrid's vast Metro system provides relief should you grow fatigued.
Puerta del Sol
Accessible via Estación de Opera and Estación de Alonso Cano metro stops.
Madrid's city center, Puerta del Sol (or Gateway to the Sun) is very tourist-centric. Let's Go Madrid says, "Tourist shops and fast-food restaurants mingle with ancient churches, gardens, and plazas." Also located here is Plaza Mayor, which brims with open-air cafés, restaurants, nightlife venues and mesones -- or cave-like tapas bars, usually accompanied by Spanish guitar melodies or other kinds of live music. For some architecture and a spot of Spanish history, be sure to check out the Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid) and for a night out at the opera, book tickets to a performance at the Teatro Real.
La Latina and Lavapiés
Accessible via La Latina, Puerto De Toledo and Lavapies metro stops.
Located south of Puerta del Sol, the neighborhoods of La Latina and Lavapiés are home to the world-famous Sunday flea market, El Rastro, squeezed in between. Lavapiés, in particular, is also asylum to a bohemian renaissance of sorts, in which en vogue madrileños and others from various backgrounds mix, mingle and enjoy a menu cobbled together from the handful of food markets that line these barrios' winding streets.
Accessible via Anton Martin metro stop.
Located east of Puerta del Sol and north of Lavapiés, Huertas holds an assemblage of theaters and nightlife options, especially in Plaza Santa Ana and along the streets, Calle del Príncipe and Calle de Echegaray. Sherman's Travel recommends ordering "a cortado (espresso with a pinch of milk) or a glass of vino (wine) at one of the cozy cafés and bars in this stylish barrio."
Accessible via the Santo Domingo and Plaza De España metro stops.
Sandwiched between Puerta del Sol to the south and Malasaña to the north, Gran Vía, nicknamed 'El Broadway Madrileño,' models itself after New York City's Broadway Avenue and is Madrid's commercial hub. You'll find a number of department stores and old-time cinemas, as well as several corporation headquarters, but, Let's Go Madrid says, "The parade of flashing cars, swishing skirts, and high-heeled shoes makes Gran Vía worth a quick look, but not much more."
Malasaña and Chueca
Accessible via Estación de Tribunal and Estación de Bilbao metro stops.
The barrios of Malasaña and Chueca sit to the north of Gran Vía and are halved by Calle de Fuencarral. These neighborhoods are almost sleepy during the day, but Travel Channel says, "At night it's transformed into a busy nightlife spot as young and old mix in the many bars, discos, and cafés." The home of gay Madrid, Chueca, buzzes with gay-friendly bars and nightclubs.
Accessible via Estación de Ruben Dario, Estación de Quevedo and Estación de Iglesia metro stops.
Just north of Chueca is upscale Chamberí. According to Frommer's, "The focal point of Chamberí is the circular Plaza Olavide. Classy, elegant, and traditional, Chamberí is set among wide avenues with historic mansions -- many of which now house foreign embassies." Stroll throughout Chamberí and pop into bookshops, restaurants and galleries, which include the Sorolla Museum (Museo de Sorollo).
Argüelles and Moncloa
Accessible via the El Corte Ingles, Intercambiador de Moncoloa and Ciudad Universitaria metro stops.
Resting north of Malasaña, the Argüelles and Moncloa barrios shelter a mixed group of Madrid's families in the residential district, as well as university students who attend Ciudad Universitaria (University City). These neighborhoods are peppered with peaceful parks and boho shops, cafés, tascas (Spanish restaurants) and wine bars.
Accessible via Estación de Bilbao metro stop.
Bilbao is located east of Argüelles and Moncloa and north of Chueca and is also known as a student center. Catering to its clientele, this barrio is filled with cheap places to eat and high-energy places to go out.
Accessible via Santiago Bernabeu, Estación de Colón, Banco De España and Estación de Retiro metro stops.
This elongated district is sandwiched between Bilbao to the west and Salamanca in the east and winds down to the Atocha Metro station by Lavapiés.From north to south, you'll see big-business skyscrapers, the Bernabéu Stadium, reserves of upscale hotels, the Palacio de Comunicaciones (Communication Palace), the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library), the Real Jardín Botánico (Royal Botanic Garden), and the famous Thyssen-Bornemisza and Prado museums.
And to the east of the Royal Botanic Garden is the expansive Retiro Park (Parque del Buen Retiro). Travel Channel says, "Do what the Madrileños do: buy a bag of sunflower seeds or kikos (fried corn kernels), dress up in your Sunday best and stroll down the long paseo (promenade) in front of the pond overlooked by a statue of Alfonso XII. On sunny days, you can rent a rowboat (watch out for the pesky splashers!)."
Accessible via Eastación de Goya and Estación de Lista metro stops.
Madrid's moneyed live just east of Castellana. "It's known throughout Spain as the quintessential upper-bourgeois neighborhood, uniformly prosperous, and its shops are correspondingly exclusive," says Frommer's. Upscale shops abound, including the El Corte Ingles department store, and a compilation of A-list designers, such as Roberto Torretta, Sybilla and Pedro del Hierro.
West of the city center is the notorious bullring, the Plaza de Toros Monumental de las Ventas, in which more than 20,000 people can gather and watch a matador bait a bull with a bright red flag.
And about 35 miles northeast is San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a huge and ornate monastery/mausoleum built by the late Felipe II in the mid-16th century, complete with 16 patios, 88 fountains and a library that holds more than 40,000 manuscripts. Travel here via train (at Atocha or Chamartín station) or via bus (at the Moncloa metro station).
Madrid is a pretty safe place, but it does see its fair share of pickpocketing. Be especially mindful of your wallets and purses when taking out money at ATMs, when using public transportation and when touring Madrid's top attractions like the Prado Museum, Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and El Rastro market. Frommer's says: "Thieves often work in teams or pairs. In most cases, one person distracts a victim while the accomplice performs the robbery."
In 2004, Madrid's suburban trains were bombed by Al Qaeda -- resulting in 200 deaths -- but Madrid has seen no like activity since then.
To avoid mishap, TripAdvisor also recommends that tourists "use only authorized taxis, which are white with a red band across the side."
The best way to get around Madrid is by metro. More than 10 metro lines extend as far north as the Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) into the city's southern suburbs. Buses are an option too as are metered taxis, which can be hailed on the street or found in ranks throughout the city. Renting a car is another alternative, but you should note that it's nearly always rush hour in Madrid.Getting Around Madrid»