Spain’s capital city since 1561, Madrid is now its bustling heart, in the geographic center of the Iberian peninsula, and home to over three million souls. Cradle of Spain’s social and cultural renaissance, the movída in the first decade of democracy after Franco’s death in 1975, Madrid boasts some of the country’s best museums, most beloved fútbol (soccer) clubs, vivacious nightlife, and over 40 parks and gardens. Around Plaza Mayor, a maze of streets reflects the city’s 16th-century origins. Elsewhere in the city, the neoclassical merges with the modern, reflecting Madrid’s youth and success as Spain’s manufacturing, electronics, publishing, and financial hub. The terrorist attacks of March 11, 2004, in which 191 were killed and over 1,800 injured, have not dampened the spirit of the Madrileños. An old proverb speaks of the perpetual fondness Madrileños feel for their city: “From Madrid to heaven, and in heaven a little window from which to see it.”
Jump into Madrid from Es Madrid, the city council’s web portal that provides a comprehensive and hip overview of all Madrid has to offer. It’s sophisticated, up-to-date, and lists tons of tourist services, must-see sights, special events, restaurant and hotel listings, and handy practical stuff like weather forecasts, maps, and metro info. Plus, it’s in Spanish, English, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Russian.
While we try to list only websites that are in English, some, unfortunately, are not. If your Spanish is a little rusty, use Google’s advanced language tool that enables you to drop in a site’s URL and it’ll translate the entire page.
Art and Culture
Most museums in Madrid are free at least three full days each year: May 18 (aptly, International Museum Day), October 12 (Hispanidad [Hispanicity] Day), and December 6 (Constitution Day).
Spain’s most popular
tourist attraction and home to a collection of Spanish art that spans five centuries, the 14th to the 19th, the Museo del Prado (Prado Museum) is free in the evenings. Tuesday through Saturday, admission is waived from 6 to 8 p. m. On Sundays, the Prado is free from 5 to 8 p. m. The museum is always free for those under 18, over 65, and the unemployed. Stop by to see classics by Goya, Velásques, Rubens, El Greco, Bosch, and many more masters. As there’s so much to see, follow one of the museum’s three routes past the most iconic of its works.
Housed in a 16th-century hospital, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (National Museum and Art Center, Queen Sophia) is Spain’s premier modern-art gallery. Trace the history of Spanish art from the 20th century forward, from representational art to the vanguard of Picasso and Gris’s cubism to Dalí’s surrealism and everything in between. Picasso’s Guérnica is housed here, returned to Spain in 1981 as Picasso stipulated once democracy returned after Franco’s death in 1975. Admission is free Saturday afternoons from 2:30 p. m and on Sunday mornings until 2:30 p. m.
Once an electric power station (1899) that now seems to levitate over its plaza, the Caixaforum Madrid, one of Madrid’s newest landmarks, is a sociocultural center that hosts art exhibits, film screenings, lectures, and musical performances. It’s free to go inside, check out an exhibit, and marvel at the building’s cutting-edge architecture and the “living” plant wall outside. Some family and educational programs are free; some charge an admission fee of 4 euros. Schedules and event listings are available on Caixaforum’s site.