Cheap flights to Madrid

Madrid may be lacking in architectural beauty compared with some other major Spanish cities, but it makes up for this with its boundless energy, blue skies, art, culture, and an exhilarating and exhausting nightlife which will delight party animals. The city is compact and easy to navigate on foot; most of the touristic sights of interest are found in the downtown area between the Royal Palace and Parque del Retiro.

The capital of Spain since 1562, Madrid sits in the geographic centre of the Iberian Peninsula and has long been an important stop on any art tour through Europe. The famous Museo del Prado on the city's 'Museum Mile' houses important works by Spanish and European masters from the Renaissance onwards, while the Museo Thyssen-Bornemiza houses one of the most extensive private collections in the world. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is devoted to 20th century Spanish art, with works by Miro, Dali and Picasso, and completes the holy trinity of Madrid's art world.

Visitors wishing to take a break from all that art may want to see the Plaza de Toros, Spain's largest bullring, where regular bullfights are still held. Sports fanatics who like something a little less blood-thirsty can watch Real Madrid, or Atletico Madrid, two of Spain's most famous football teams, kick off. Madrid is also home to some gorgeous plazas and parks which are worth exploring.

Getting around

Madrid is easy to get around and is served by an extensive network of buses, a modern and efficient metro, and trains. Taxis are plentiful and cheap although a list of surcharges will increase the fare. Visitors should check that the meter isn't already running and is in working order, as foreigners are often the victims of overcharging. The quickest way to get around is on the fast and very efficient metro that reaches most places and operates from 6am to 1.30am, although it is best to avoid rush hours. Otherwise the comprehensive bus network is there to fill in the gaps from 6am to midnight. Buses have designated lanes so they are able to avoid traffic congestion, and night buses operate after midnight. The 10-trip ticket package allows for cheaper travel and is valid on both the metro and buses. The Madrid Card also entitles the holder to some free public transport. Driving in Madrid is best avoided because it is unnecessarily stressful when public transport is so cheap and convenient. Rented cars can be left at parking garages while in Madrid. The city is very compact and it is best to walk when possible; most of the touristic sights of interest are found in the downtown area between the Royal Palace and Parque del Retiro.

Nightlife

The nightlife in Madrid is varied and exciting with many pubs, tascas(cheap bars), theatres, movie houses and nightclubs to keep visitors entertained. El terraceo(terrace-hopping) is a way of life in Madrid. Most people only start partying at around 11pm and few locals enter a nightclub before 1am. Many places stay open past dawn. Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Gran Vía and Chueca are some of the trendiest nightlife areas.

Viva Madrid and Los Gabrieles are two of the most popular bars, but there are also many old tavernasaround Los Austrias to explore. Plaza Santa Ana and the surrounding streets have a few good spots and the seven-floor Kapital has a great rooftop bar. For clubbing, the Room is fantastic but only open Fridays, Joy Eslava Disco comes highly recommended, and Lavapiés is popular with the bohemian crowd. There are wonderful flamenco performances at Casa Patas, and the Lope de Vega theatre has excellent shows. Tapas and coffee bars are also very popular in Madrid.

There are various Madrid nightlife coach tours offered, a good way to avoid queues and entrance fees at certain venues. Children are admitted in many bars, cafeterias and restaurants, as well as some pubs. There are flyers available from most hotels which list bar, club and concert information and discounts, as does the Guía del Ocio (available at news stands).

Shopping

Madrid offers arguably some of the best shopping in not only Spain but also Europe, and with so many shopping districts all touting their own specialities, visitors can find just about anything and everything! With small, specialised stores, boutiques and antique shops as well as the slightly bigger department stores and bustling food markets, Madrid is a shopper's paradise.

The city's answer to Bond Street, dubbed 'the golden mile', Salamanca is one of Madrid's most glamorous places to indulge yourself and stretch your credit card's legs, while Chueca is filled with trendy fashion stores. El Corte Ingles at Sol is by far the most convenient place for shopaholics to get their fix, selling all kinds of goods from high fashion to regional foods like Chorizo(spicy sausage) and Turron(a kind of nougat). One of the most popular markets is Rastro, attracting Madrileños and tourists alike. It has become famous for its antique stalls, second hand goods, jewellery and unreliable electrical goods and is held every Sunday from morning until mid-afternoon.

Most shops close on Saturday afternoons and in July and August some small shops close completely. On Sunday, a handful of shops open their doors as well as some of the larger stores and small cake shops. Practically everything in Spain closes for siesta for at least two hours during the hottest part of the day and the usual reopening hours are from around 4.30pm to 8pm.

Tourists from outside the EU can apply for a tax refund on goods bought within Spain. A sales tax (VAT) of 16 percent is levied on most goods and services in the country and the specified minimum amount spent before claiming a refund is €90.16 in Spain. Shoppers can also purchase goods from shops participating in the 'Europe Tax-free Shopping' programme and they should look out for the ETS logo displayed in shops' windows.

Sightseeing

Steeped in history, Madrid is a sightseeing paradise with the arts taking centre stage. It will take visitors several days to explore Spain's energetic capital and see all the historical landmarks, museums, art galleries, and parks the city has to offer.

The Paseo del Arte (Art Walk) links the three art museums that make up Madrid's famous 'Golden Triangle', namely Prado, Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornomisza, where the works of such Spanish masters as Picasso can be viewed. The Times Square of Spain, Puerta del Sol is the official centre of Madrid and a must see, where visitors can take in such famous landmarks as the El Oso y El Madroño, a 20-ton statue of a bear eating fruits off a Madrono tree, and a large equestrian statue of King Carlos III. Take a stroll through Calle and Plaza Mayor (medieval Madrid), lined with beautiful old buildings and impressively ornate churches, and visit Goya's tomb at the Panteon de Goya.

The best, and most old-fashioned way to see the city is by foot as there are so many tucked away places to explore as well as many to appreciate en route to the next attraction, and with plenty of green lungs dotted throughout Madrid, exhausted sightseers can relax and rest their legs on a park bench and watch the world go by. Visitors to Madrid are advised to purchase the Madrid Card which offers free entry to more than 40 museums, and discounts in many shops and restaurants, as well as free public transport. It is available from tourist offices.

Kids Attractions

Madrid has endless fun and entertainment to offer kids on holiday. While it is a bustling city, famous for its art galleries and nightlife, it is also very family-friendly. Kids will enjoy many of the main sightseeing attractions, and will revel in the many fiestas and events held in the city streets. The variety of attractions aimed specifically at children is also impressive and should keep the whole family happy.

Attractions range from palaces and markets to parks and playgrounds. One of the favourite palaces to visit is Palacio Real, with its vast treasure collection (kids always seem to love castles and treasures), and certain little boys and girls will also love seeing Santiago Bernabéu stadium, home to another of Spain's 'treasures' - the Real Madrid football team. The Teleférico, a cable car from Paseo del Pintor Rosales to the Casa de Campo, is another exciting Madrid adventure for children. The Madrid Zoo and Aquarium are perennial favourites and there is a Safari Park for additional animal viewing. One of the other highlights for children (and many adults!) is the Parque de Atracciones amusement park, which is large and modern and offers plenty of thrills as well as amusements for younger children.

Dining

A melting pot of cultures and cuisines, many argue that cosmopolitan Madrid does not have its own distinct flavour of gastronomy; the Spanish capital is highly influenced by the contributions of the immigrants who once settled here and the variety of food on offer is exciting.

Madrileño fare can never be called dull or boring with such delicacies as tripe and sausage, or crispy pig's ears and sweetbread (bull's testicles), but plenty of other safer options exist for the less adventurous, such as gazpacho(chilled tomato and cucumber soup), Besugo al horno(baked bream), Cocido(beef, pork, chicken and vegetable stew) and the well-known tapas(savoury tidbits of appetisers). Those with a sweet tooth can enjoy barquillos(rolled wafers), buñuelos(fritters filled with custard and whipped cream) or bartolillos con crema(small pies with custard).

As in most Spanish cities, tapasrestaurants can be found all over Madrid and some of the most popular eateries can be found in the area around Plaza Mayor and Sol. Visitors should bear in mind that lunch and dinner start much later than in many other countries. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest evenings for eating out and it is advisable to make a booking in advance to be sure of securing a

Climate

Madrid has a Mediterranean climate, with dry, warm and pleasant weather most of the year; winters are cold, but not as chilly as winters in many other European cities, and summers are hot. The city's high altitude and proximity to mountains causes some wide variations in winter and summer temperatures. In summer, between June and August, average temperatures range between 65°F (18°C) and 88°F (31°C) and the heat at midday can be intense, though evenings are often pleasantly cool. Summer temperatures can rise above 95°F (35°C) during occasional heat waves. Winters, between December and February, bring temperatures dropping to just below freezing, averaging between 36.7°F (2.6°C) and 50°F (10°C). Rain in Madrid is a rarity and no season is marred by heavy rain, but what rain the city does receive falls mostly in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. The wettest months are April, May, November and December.

The most popular time to visit Madrid is in the summer months between June and August, as this is the peak tourist season in the whole country, but the best time to visit is just before or after summer, in May or October.