Welcome to Madrid
Madrid is truly the city that never sleeps. In New York, by the early hours, the only sounds are the police sirens and the rattle of shutters. In Madrid, crowds are still pouring through the wide streets, gossiping over tapas and dancing riotously in the city’s nightclubs.
It’s a city of locals, where visitors are happily welcomed into its warmth, history and grandeur. Here, the architecture is as golden and classical as a Bible illustration; great buildings glowing in the sun like ancient temples, but it’s also one of Europe’s greenest cities, with huge parks breaking the city into oases of trees and flowers.
Fountains mist the warm air and couples stroll to wood-panelled old cafes for a mid morning espresso, past 19th century buildings as elaborate as wedding cakes.
It’s a city of culture, where art is taken as seriously as music, and food and drink are equally vital. But Madrid is not content to wallow in the past. Its citizens are driven, determined and stylish; so there’s always an undercurrent of excitement, new projects unfolding, exciting independent shops and bars opening up and a sense that armed with curiosity and a Metro ticket, a visitor could travel through centuries of art, innovation and excitement in just one afternoon.
It’s a city of whirling, stomping Flamenco, and of quiet, contemplative strolling; where you can spend a day exploring what you love, and a night forgetting who you are- before waking up and doing it all again.
LA TERRAZA DEL CASINO DE MADRID
TABERNA DEL CHATO
ONLY YOU HOTEL
VINCCI VIA HOTEL
HESPERIA MADRID HOTEL
Opening times are very different in Spain. Most museums are open from 9.30am to 2pm and then from 4pm to 7pm. They are closed one day a week, usually Monday. (Though the Prado opens every day.)
Shops close at around 1.30pm and reopen around 5. Small shops close at 8pm, and on Saturdays, most shops close after lunch at around 1.30pm.
Most restaurants don’t open for lunch until 2.00pm and for dinner until 9pm. Locals eat around 10pm.
Thought most art is at the Prado, take note- Picasso’s great masterpiece, Guernica, is on show at the Museum Reine Sofia nearby.
Drinking measures in Spain are large- so be warned, particularly if you’re driving.
The temperature can be unpleasantly hot in mid Summer, so plan your trip in early Summer or Autumn- June and September are pleasant. Avoid August, as many businesses close and the city is both hot and empty. October and November are still warm, and very vibrant.
Visit the La Latina district. Near the Plaza Mayor, it has a huge, lively market, and interesting streets of old, traditional shops and tapas bars leading off.
Tip up to 10%, if you were happy with the service you received.
For a great view over the city, and excellent photo opportunity, ascend the Centro observation tower. It’s free, but you will need a ticket as each access is scheduled. You’ll have around 10 minutes to take pictures and admire Madrid from above.
Public transport in Madrid is good, though like any capital, driving in the city centre can be difficult, particularly at peak times.
It’s a fairly compact city, so if possible, park either on the outskirts or at your hotel, and then take public transport- or walk, as there’s plenty to see. For the locals, walking is a way of life.
The tube system is efficient and links the various city districts. There are over 300 stations, and 12 lines- tickets cost from €1.50.
Buy a ticket book for ten rides at the station, from a kiosk or tobacconist, as it’s cheaper if you’ll be using the Metro several times.
There’s a useful website, with a tourist map showing the best routes for sightseeing at http://www.metromadrid.es
Buses are red, with an EMT logo. They operate in bus lanes, which makes this a fairly efficient form of transport, though there can be delays during rush hour.
Buses run 6.30am- 23.30pm and night buses (sweetly known as búhos- owls) run till 5am every half hour.
Be warned- buses don’t stop unless they are flagged down, and if you want to get off, you must ring the bell.
NB: you can’t buy tickets on the bus- you have to purchase these from a kiosk or tobacconist (estanco) , and they cost from €1.50.
You must validate your ticket via machine when you board.
There are several taxi ranks throughout the city, shown by a blue sign and the letter T. Taxis are white with a red band, and the green light shows they’re free. You can hail them by raising a hand.
Prices tend to be reasonable, and start at €2.15 Monday to Saturday from 6 am to 9 pm; €2.20 from Monday to Friday, from 9 pm to 6 am the following day; and €2.20 on Sundays and public holidays.
If you’re not sure how far your journey is, discuss it in advance with the driver and agree a set price.
Driving is inadvisable, but if you need to, there are several major car parks. On-street parking is limited and there are fines if you outstay your metered time, so looking for an all-day car-park can save you stress and money.
Blue parking lots have a maximum limit of two hours, and are metered. Green parking lots will prioritise residents who pay an annual fee, but visitors can pay for an hour’s parking.
Pay the parking meters (parquímetros), where you purchase your ticket, which you must place in a visible area on the dashboard of your car. If you overstay by less than an hour, the fee is three Euros.
Never park in front of doors marked ‘vado permanente', as they require 24 hour access.
Central car parks are, Plaza de las Cortes, Plaza Santa Ana, C/Sevilla, Plaza Jacinto Benavente, Plaza Mayor, Plaza Descalzas, C/Tudescos and Plaza de España.
They are all open 24 hours a day and cost from €1 for 30 minutes. Look for a white P on a blue background. This is the safest way to park in Madrid, and avoids both break-ins and parking tickets.
Very inadvisable- city centre traffic is heavy and some drivers can be unpredictable to say the least. There are very few cycle lanes in the city centre.
However, you may want to hire a bike to enjoy the city’s parks. Juan Carlos Park has a free bike hire service- just sign up by the car park- or try www.27bikes.com bike hire just by the Retiro.
NB: A Madrid tourist ticket combined with a tourist card, means cheaper transport around the city, plus free or discounted entry to many attractions. Get it here. http://www.madridcard.com/en/compra/promocion