Madrid and Barcelona have always been bitter rivals as far as tourism is concerned but thanks to the high-speed AVE train which has cut down travel time between Barcelona and Madrid to less than 3 hours, it is now possible for tourists with hardly a week in Spain to take in BOTH cities.
Incidentally the same AVE train (Spanish bullet train) now takes only 1 1/2 hours from Madrid to Valencia (it used to take 4 hours) running at a speed of 438kms, making it Europe's fastest train.
Madrid's Puerta del Sol is a constant hive of activity both day and night.
Seeing that Barcelona is imposing its Catalan character more and more with each passing day more tourists who want to see the real Spain are coming to Madrid. At least everyone here speaks Spanish or "castellano", which is not the case in Barcelona where some Catalans do not, or refuse, to speak in Spanish, making it frustrating for the tourist who had studied Spanish in school and who wants to practise it with the local population.
Around Madrid City (Click on image to enlarge)
Madrid is so steeped in art that it is present even in the subway. Here a fresco in the Arguelles metro station. And whether it's Velazquez, Goya, El Greco, Picasso, Dali, Murillo, Rubens, Rembrandt or Renoir you'll be able to find their works here in Madrid.
The CaixaForum, owned by the Caixa Bank and situated at 36 Paseo del Prado, has a unique "vegetal wall" that attracts passers-by and tourists alike. Step inside and you'll see a building of modern architecture housing expositions and a post-modern art gallery. Entrance is free.
The Calle Mayor, one of Madrid's oldest streets, leads to La Puerta del Sol. It is off this road, near the Plaza Mayor, that is located the animated Mercado de San Miguel (market). It was also along this road that many craftsmen (silversmiths, shoemakers, etc.) established their shops.
Anyway, whether you are coming to Spain from Paris or going to Paris for your next stop, you can easily take the Talgo night train (Madrid/Paris or Barcelona/Paris) thus saving valuable time by sleeping on the train and having the whole day to explore the city. Be warned though that these Spanish trains have separate compartments for male and female passengers so if you are travelling as a couple you will have to be separated. Another possibility is to travel on a low-cost flight (such as EasyJet) whose promotional fares can sometimes be lower than those of a train.
The Retiro Park (El Parque del Buen Retiro)
(This park must rank very high as among the most beautiful parks in Europe.)
A large lake at the park offers great boating facilities.
An open-air falun dafa class in the park conducted by a voluntary instructor.
The Crystal Palace in the Retiro Park is enclosed entirely with glass.
Though Madrid is basically flat yet it stands over 600m above sea level. Its main tourism office is well-situated at 27, Plaza Mayor as it is not far from the Puerta del Sol (Sol metro station) which is really the heart of the city. Here you can even enrol for a guided tour of the city on bicycle. It's open 7/7 from 9h30 to 20h30.
Madrid's Golden Museum Triangle
Façade of the Prado Museum which was established in 1819. Currently there is an exhibition of Renoir's works (until 06/02/11) and another of Paul Rubens, which the Spanish nicknamed Pedro Pablo (to 23/01/11). Visitors who have only one hour to spend are advised to see the following paintings.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, originally owned by the art-loving Baron, is not too far from the other two museums that form the "triangle", a real godsend to travel-weary art-lovers. Senior citizens and students are entitled to a reduced entrance fee. It's open from 10am to 7pm but closed on Mondays.
It is at the Reina Sofia National Art Centre Museum at 52, Calle Santa Isabel that Picasso's masterpiece Guernica is displayed. Officially inaugurated in 1992, it is mainly, but not exclusively, devoted to the works of Spanish artists. To the left of the entrance is a sculpture symbolizing a brush-stroke.
Part of the fun in travelling is to taste foreign food and in this respect Madrid, like other cities in Spain, has its fair share of paellas and tapas. And what about churros and the horchata drink. Don't leave Spain without trying these! The best place to go for tapas is in a tasca, the Spanish equivalent of a pub, and it is here that you can rub shoulders with the Madrileños, many of whom stop here after work to chill out before returning to their homes and families.
Want to blend yourself with the local crowd on a Sunday afternoon and eat at the popular tapas restaurants? Then get off at La Latina metro station (Line 5, the green line on the metro map) which is near the Sol and Opera stations. Walk along Calle Cava Baja, Calle Cava Alta and its surrounding streets to decide on where you want to eat.
Enjoying Spanish food
A typical Spanish breakfast consists of chocolate con churros (picture on left) for 2.50 euros. It is not just the usual type of chocolate drink but very, very thick indeed. Others will opt for cafe con leche with magdalena, bollos (sweet rolls) or torrijas which is a soft version of the French toast. Or if you are very hungry early in the morning you might ask for patatas bravas (fried potatoes) or tortilla (Spanish omelette), which can be 4 cms thick! In short, breakfast is never a problem in Spain. The middle picture shows roast chicken accompanied by cider and to order it you say pollo asado con sidra (you really have to click on the picture then F11 to see how tempting it is). Give yourself a treat by having this at Casa Mingo at 34, Paseo de la Florida (Principe Pio metro station). With its succulent chicken and its top-quality cider manufactured at the restaurant itself it is no wonder that the restaurant has been flourishing for the last 150 years. For 15 euros you have a whole chicken plus a big bottle of cider - a great bargain indeed. Yet the restaurant remains simple to this day - its tables cannot be any plainer. But then you're here for good food, not for the table decorations. Another typical Madrilenian dish is called cochinillo asado (roasted suckling pig) and yet another is orejas de cerdo (pig's ears!). Then there is of course the paella. You know how rich the paella can be - with huge gambas, mussels, squids and crayfish on top of the rice. Yet it is also a dish for simple folks. This plate of paella (picture on right), for example, with the basic ingredients of yellow rice and meat, costs only 5 euros, with bread thrown in for good measure. Or perhaps you'd prefer to spend 40-50 euros on a tapas spree! Whatever you do, make the most of your Spanish holiday!