Madrid is one of Europe’s great cities. It’s a major centre for international business and commerce and one of Europe’s largest financial centres, but it’s a delight to visit because it has preserved the look and feel of its multiculture past, especially through its architecture.
It is the third most populous municipality in the European Union (after Greater London and Berlin). It is not only geographically located in the centre of the country, but is also the political centre of Spain: the capital, the seat of government and the residence of the Spanish monarch. It attracts visitors from around the world who love its history, food, shopping and fun. The city has a temperate Mediterranean climate with cool winters and hot summers.
Its landmarks include:
- the huge Royal Palace of Madrid
- the Teatro Real (Royal theatre) with its restored 1850 Opera House
- the Buen Retiro park, founded in 1631
- the imposing 19th century National Library, founded in 1712
- an archaeological museum of international reputation
- three superb ART museums: Prado Museum, which hosts one of the finest art collections in the world, The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, a museum of modern art, and The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, housed in the renovated Villahermosa Palace.
A city of great art
The greatest Spanish painters during the Golden Age period include: El Greco, Murillo, Velazquez and Goya, who painted from the 1500s to 1800s. The best known artist since the 1900s has been Pablo Picasso. Other more contemporary artists include Salvador Dali, Juan Gris, Joan Miro, and Antonio Tapies.
A city of parks
Madrid is full of green spaces and parkland. The largest – and most popular – park in central Madrid is Parque del Retiro. It was formerly the grounds of the palace built for Felipe IV. Its large lake in the middle once staged mini naval sham battles to amuse royalty; these days the more tranquil pastime of pleasure boating is popular. The palacio de cristal, inspired by London’s crystal palace, is here.
Casa de Campo is an enormous rural parkland to the west of the city, the largest of all Madrid’s green areas. It’s home to a fairground, zoo and an outdoor municipal pool. Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the park and city by taking a cable car trip above the tree tops. The Royal Botanic Garden was an 18th century creation by Carlos III. It was used as a base for the plant species being collected across the globe. Today it is dedicated to maintaining Europe’s ecosystem.
The pioneering ecological theme park Faunia is a natural history museum and zoo combined, aimed at being fun and educational. It comprises eight ecosystems from tropical rain forests to polar regions and contains over 1,500 animals, some of which roam freely.
Playing and eating
The week before Easter there are large parades and celebrations to honour local patron saints. The people decorate the streets, build bonfires, set off fireworks and hold bullfights and beauty contests. (About 76 percent of the population is Roman Catholic.)
Food is central to all holidays. A significant portion of Spanish cuisine derives from the Roman, Jewish, and Arab traditions. The Moorish people were a strong influence in Spain for many centuries and some of their food is still eaten in the country today.
Travel between great cities
Elipsos is a joint venture between the French national railroad and the Spanish national railroad, created in 2001 to handle railway services between Spain and France, Switzerland and Italy.
The train generally has 4 classes:
- Grand Class: 1- or 2-bed accommodation, shower/WC, dinner and breakfast included
- Club Class: 1- or 2-bed accommodation, breakfast included
- Tourist Class: 4-bed accommodation, Superreclining seat.