The capital of Spain, located in the heart of the peninsula and right in the center of the Castillian plain 646 meters above sea level, has a population of over three million. A cosmopolitan city, a business center, headquarters for the Public Administration, Government, Spanish Parliament and the home of the Spanish Royal Family, Madrid also plays a major role in both the banking and industrial sectors. Most of its industry is located in the Southern fringe of the city, where important textile, food and metal working factories are clustered. Madrid is characterized by intense cultural and artistic activity and a very lively nightlife.
The grand metropolis of Madrid can trace its origins to the times of Arab Emir Mohamed I (852-886), who ordered the construction of a fortress on the left bank of the Manzanares river. Later it became the subject of a dispute between the Christians and Arabs until it was conquered by Alonso VI in the 11th century. At the end of the 17th century, a defensive wall was built for the protection of the new outlying areas, tracing the roads of Segovia, Toledo and Valencia. During the 18th century, under the reign of Carlos III, were designed the great arteries of the city, such as the Paseo del Prado and Paseo las Acacias.
Gran Via is the most central street of Madrid, close to practically everything, in the main shopping and entertainment area of the city. Nearby is Plaza Cibeles square. Here is Madrid's best shopping area with its many stores on Preciados, Carmen and Arenal Street as well as the Corte Ingl?s.
El Corte Ingles (The English Court) is Madrid's main department store and Spain's largest departments store chain. It was founded in 1940 by Ram?n Areces, who had been working before in a Madrid tailor shop on the calle Preciados.
Midnight on Friday is when the city gets ready for the night's drinking and revelry.
The major museums are El Prado, Reina Sof?a Art Centre and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museums.
The Prado Museum. Long queues snake round the building at weekends. You can't visit it in 1 day, you should make several trips, each devoted to 1 particular artist, e.g. Goya or Velasquez. Time we waited in queue: 1/2 hour. Admission: about 3 euros per head
The Reina Sof?a Museum, whose long Spanish name is Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sof?a, is Madrid's main venue for national and international art exhibitions. It hosts various art-related activities, including conferences, courses, contemporary music concerts, poetry recitals. In 1990 the collection of modern Spanish art was added to the Reina Sof?a Museum, and shortly after it was decided to move to the Reina Sof?a Picasso's famous Guernica with its preliminary sketches and drawings, which had been kept in the Cas?n del Buen Retiro, part of the Prado Museum.
This move remains controversial: Picasso had explicitly made clear his desire that the Guernica should be exhibited in the Prado and, although its current room in the Reina Sof?a was built for Picasso's masterpiece, people often complain about difficulty in seeing the entire painting, despite the fact that it is no longer kept behind a bullet-proof glass shield.
The Museum is Madrid's Museum of Contemporary Art, the city's answer to London's Tate Gallery or Paris' Pompidou Centre.
This museum/art centre is recommended as a 'must' because it is where Madrid's most important modern art exhibitions are displayed. The permanent collection in the Reina Sof?a Museum is almost entirely made up of Spanish art from the 20th century, with works by many major artists: Picasso, Mir?, Oteiza, Julio Gonz?lez, Tapies, Equipo Cr?nica, Gerardo Rueda. But on permanent display are also works by international artists like Barnet Newman and Soto.
On the top floor is the museum's library, the largest in Spain devoted to art.
The museum's building has a superb mobile sculpture by Alexander Calder.
Other main cultural and tourist sites are the Puerta del Sol, Palacio Real, Parque del Retiro (Retiro Park) and Plaza Mayor.
Palacio Real (Royal Palace) in Madrid is described by most visitors to the city as one of the most beautiful things to see in the whole of Spain.
It is a colossus of about 2800 rooms, of which 50 open to the public.
It is splendid, from the glorious painted ceilings and crystal chandeliers to the Porcelain Room and the incredible decorations in Spanish marble and gilded stucco. It contains important works of art including frescoes by some of the greatest artists, such as Tiepolo and a precious collection of paintings including Vel?zquez, Caravaggio and Goya. Visit the Hall of Mirrors, Queen Mar?a Luisa's Plasterwork Room, and the Gala Dining Room, all dating from the reigns of different monarchs. The Throne Room has Tiepolo ceilings and crimson walls.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of His Majesty The King of Spain, who uses it for official ceremonies but does not reside there.
The remote origins of the Palace go back as far as the 9th century, when it was built as a fort. On this ancient fortress the Old Alc?zar was erected in the 16th century. This was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve 1734, and King Philip V had a new Palace built on the site from 1738 to 1755, where King Charles III took up residence in 1764.
Visits are free on Wednesday for citizens of EU countries.
Atocha railway station has regional trains, including to Escorial, Toledo, Segovia and other places.