Madrid, the capital and geographical centre of Spain, is a wonderfully vibrant city with intense cultural, artistic, and intellectual activity. The population of Madrid is over 3 million, making it the largest city in Spain and the third largest city in the European Union.
Of all Spain’s cities, Madrid is the most open, cosmopolitan and European. Its people come from all over the country and abroad, and make up a community that is known for its tolerance and the warmth of its welcome. The streets of Madrid buzz with energy. To walk through the old quarter is like taking a stroll through history, but, in other parts of the city, you can also find the very latest trends in culture, leisure, fashion and architecture.
Madrid is widely recognized as an international art capital, filled with some of Europe’s largest museums and first-class galleries. The city’s so-called “golden triangle” of art on the Paseo del Prado consists of the world-famous Museo del Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Borenmisza and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. More than half a dozen major museums add to Madrid’s art house list, including the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and Museum of the Americas. Within the walls of these museums there’s a mix of private and nationally owned collections featuring Spanish artists such as Velazquez, El Greco, Picasso, Goya and Dali.
The Madrid scene is also closely associated with its varied culinary offer. It’s where you can find the best and most extensive choice of dishes from all of Spain’s regions, and where eating is a ritual that takes place in the most select restaurants and in the many traditional taverns and bars in the city centre. Here you can enjoy the famous tapas that combine the fleeting flavours of fast food with the innovative dishes that characterise modern Spanish cuisine.
Madrid is a shoppers’ paradise. International brands mix with local shops opened until very late (normally from 10 am to 10 pm), where you can find almost everything: clothing, shoes, food, wines and souvenirs from very different styles, at very different prices. Some of the best shopping areas are:
Barrio de Salamanca: In this, the most expensive area of the city, you will find dozens of upmarket shops. The main streets are Calle Serrano and Calle Velázquez, but it is recommended that you also explore the small streets of the area, as you can find some surprises there. Calle Claudio Coello and Calle Lagasca are filled with a wide variety of shops.
Gran Vía is one of Madrid’s main avenues. Some tourists compare it with New York’s Times Square, not because of the architecture, but due to the fact that many theatres and cinemas are there. Also, you can find shops such as Zara, H&M, El Corte Inglés, Cortefiel, Stradivarius, FNAC, and renowned (and expensive) jewellery shops.
Chueca is currently the most fashionable district of the city. Close to Gran Vía, many people go there to buy casual clothing and to have dinner in an Asian restaurant, for example. Some sport brands, like Adidas or Foot Locker, have shops there. The main and most interesting street of the area is Calle Fuencarral.
The best and biggest street market is El Rastro. If you like flea markets, this is the one. Madrileños enjoy going there on Sundays and it is also a tourist attraction. If you like leather or second hand clothes, bargains, flowers, antiques and baubles, you can go there, but look out for pickpockets!
The people of Madrid clearly know how to enjoy life. Its bars and tascas are an integral part of its culture, providing fun and excitement. In between work and partying, Madrileños like to take advantage of sunny weather on one of the city’s plentiful terrazas, socializing and people watching as they sip their beverage of choice. You’ll find it impossible, too, to ignore the nightlife. Open-air establishments, where you can dance the night away, or enjoy the company of friends well into the small hours of the morning, are to be found in the city centre and you’ll find the streets, as always, teeming with people.
Music: The music scene in Madrid is vibrant. Everything from classical music, opera, zarzuela, flamenco jazz and hard rock, catering for all tastes.
Classical music is easy to find. If you visit the tourist information centre in the Plaza Mayor, they will be able to give you details of more than 8 theatres where classical music is performed.
Opera fans will love Madrid. In a city that has a whole square named ‘Opera’, you can’t fail to find an excellent variety of performances. The three main theatres that show opera performances are: Teatro Real (Metro Opera), Circulo de Bellas Artes (Metro Banco de Espana) and Teatro Pradillo (Metro Concha Espina)
Jazz can be heard in many bars and clubs in Madrid. Amongst the most popular are: Café Central (Metro Sol), Calle 54 (Metro Nuevos Ministerios) and Populart (Metro: Sevilla)
Flamenco Madrid is the capital of flamenco music nowadays. You can see flamenco festivals here that attract all the biggest artists, and in between festivals there are always ‘tablaos’ or flamenco bars that have live acts. Two of the most popular ‘tablaos’ are Casa Patas and Café de Chinitas.
Madrid is a world-class sporting venue. Two of the best football teams in Europe (arguably in the world) are from the Spanish capital. Real Madrid (2013-14 European Champions) play at the Bernabeu Stadium and Atlético Madrid (Spanish League Champions 2013-14 and runners-up in the European Champions League) play at the Manzanares Stadium. There are several other First Division sides in Madrid, so there is top-class football to be seen every week of the season. There are also first class basketball and handball teams in Madrid, and the world’s best tennis players – Spain’s Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer high up among them -come to play in the Madrid Masters and the Spanish Open attracts many of the world’s best golfers. There is a horseracing track, La Zarzuela, where the best horses in Spain compete and the night meetings in the early summer months are a delightful way to escape from the heat of the city centre and enjoy the atmosphere (even if you don’t gamble). Finally, Madrid is paradise for bullfighting fans. Las Ventas is the venue for the two-week San Isidro Festival, which is the highlight of the year’s bullfighting season in Spain.
The Madrid Metro is one of the first metropolitan rail networks to be built in the world. It’s easily the quickest way to get around the city. You can get a map of the metro at any station. The metro runs from 6 am to 1:30 am every day of the week, including weekends.
Travelling on Madrid’s bus network is an ideal way to see the city. It must be borne in mind, however, that traffic jams in the capital are frequent, above all at rush hour in the morning and evening. The timetables vary depending on the line, but generally speaking, buses run between 6 to 7am until 11 to 12 pm. After that, there is a restricted service (every 30 minutes) leaving Plaza de Cibeles. As a matter of interest, these buses are known as “owls”.
The Madrid train and bus networks operate jointly. Tickets — whether one-way, 10-journey or monthly travel cards – are valid on both networks. Tickets can be purchased at metro stations (either from vending machines or the ticket window) and at tobacconists.
If you live outside the city, your best option is to travel on the suburban train network. Prices vary according to distance. For a full list of tariffs go to: http://www.renfe.com/viajeros/cercanias/madrid/index.html
Madrid taxis are white with a red stripe and the city coat of arms on the side. They display a green light when unoccupied and all you have to do is hail them.
Sunday is the only day of the week when it is recommended to travel by bicycle. Holiday periods are also a good time to get on your bike, as the city is half deserted.
If you are not going to live in one of the university halls of residence, we recommend that you look for accommodation in Madrid two to three months prior to your arrival in Spain, in order to make sure you have a place for the whole academic year.
If for any reason you cannot find accommodation or decide to look for it on arrival in Madrid, we recommend that you allow two to three weeks before the start of your study programme. Rents in Madrid are lower than in other European capitals and all parts of the metropolitan area are well connected by metro, bus and suburban trains.