The third largest city in the European Union (after London and Berlin), Madrid has been the capital of Spain since 1606, and today plays a key role in both its country’s and the European Union’s economy. Throughout its extensive history, El Foro (the Forum)—as local media often refer to it—has been under the rule of several empires, including the Romans and Moors, and portions of its culture and architecture reflect these glimmers of its past. Today, Madrid is located almost smack dab in the country’s center, about 300 kilometers/185 miles from the nearest coastline. The city experiences hot summers that can reach temperatures of 95F/35C in summer, with cool winters due to its elevation (667 meters/2,188 feet), with occasional snowfalls.
The City’s Culture
Come the football (soccer) season of August through May, Madridians descend upon the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home to Real Madrid, one of the most popular and highest-earning football clubs in the world. The city’s notorious nightlife gets rolling around midnight and can go to mid-morning hours even during the week. Such late-night reveling might account for Madridians’ partiality to siestas, which, while still practiced, have been curtailed in recent years due to new laws, although the custom still impacts shopping hours. Each May, the biggest event of the year, Las Fiestas de San Isidoro (Saint Isidore the Laborer), fetes Madrid’s patron saint with music, fireworks, and a slew of events.
Madrid is one of the top European destinations for art, with the Golden Triangle forming the central experiences of the Prado (often counted among the world’s finest museums), the Reina Sofía Museum, and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Located near the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Parque del Oeste contains the Temple of Debod, a second-century B.C. ruin gifted by Egypt in recognition of Spain’s help in preserving some of its other historic sites. The neo-classical Plaza de Cibeles and namesake fountain have become city icons, while the colonnades of the Plaza Mayor house numerous tapas bars and restaurants, including Sabrino de Botín (founded in 1725), which holds the world record for oldest restaurant in continuous operation.
Where to Explore
Nightlife can be found in most every neighborhood, but Bilbao and Malasaña are among the most famous for after-hours activity. Although Chueca is best known as the city’s gay quarter—and for its annual pride parade, one of the world’s largest—the district is quite popular among all ages and orientations due its numerous restaurants and bars, which stay open late even on weekdays. The majority of the city’s oldest buildings lie in La Latina (the Latin Quarter), which also boasts some of the best dining and the Sunday flea market El Rastro. Known for its many notable literary residents—including Miguel de Cervantes, often cited as the greatest writer of the Spanish language—the Barrio de las Letras today is known for its bohemian atmosphere and narrow winding streets brimming with artisans’ shops.