Experience Madrid, a cosmopolitan city with a rich history in art, architecture, culture and cuisine. After London and Berlin, Madrid is the third-largest city in the EU in terms of population and metropolitan area. With a population reaching about 3.2 million inhabitants, Madrid is the largest municipality of both the Community of Madrid and Spain as a whole. As such, it serves as the political, economic and cultural centre of the country.
Madrid’s name was derived from the village of ‘Mayrit’ (meaning ‘plenty of waterways’) where Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba commissioned the construction of a fortress. The fortress served to protect Toledo from the Christian invaders and functioned as a starting point for Muslim offensives. Its coat of arms read ‘I was built on water / My walls are made of fire’. In 1083, Alfonso VI of Léon and Castile conquered the city, and Madrid was integrated into the kingdom of Castile as a property of the Crown. Few vestiges of this era remained and only a couple of collections of decorative objects (from the Visigoth Kingdom of Toledo to the Late Middle ages) can be admired at the National Archeological museum, as well as in the rooms dedicated to medieval and renaissance art at the Lázaro Galdiano and the Prado museums.During the 16th and 17th centuries (Hapsburg Dynasty), Madrid was characterized by narrow winding streets with simple churches and palaces, the legacy of which can still be seen nowadays in Madrid de los Austrias (Hapsburg Madrid; between Cuesta de la Vega and Plaza Mayor). From 1701 onwards, when Philip V ruled, Madrid was enriched with fountains, gardens, triumphal arches and a new Royal Palace. From this period stem the Buen Retiro Palace (legacy of Philip IV), the Royal Basilica of San Francisco el Grande, the Basilica of San Miguel, the Church of San Marcos and the Convent of Las Salesas Reales. Fast forward another two centuries to the early 1980’s, during which the Malasaña district (bordered by Calle San Bernardo, Calle Carranza, Calle de Fuencarral and Gran Vía) witnessed the birth of the movida madrileña, a countercultural movement which changed Madrid’s image forever. With it, the city saw an explosion of new artistic products inspired by international artists, whose works now, after the end of Franco’s dictatorship, finally reached the youngsters of Madrid. Today it still is a place brimming with bohemian and hipster urbanites.
Madrid’s museums and architecture
Madrid is an exceptional destination for art lovers as three of the most prestigious art galleries in the world can be found there: the Prado museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum and the Reina Sofia museum. In addition to these monumental museums, Madrid houses interesting art collections in the Arts and History museum (Museo Cerralbo), the Sorolla museum (featuring work by Joaquin Sorolla), and the National Archeological museum (Museo Arqueológico Nacional). Madrid also has many architectural places of interest. Worth a visit are certainly the Royal Palace with its Royal Armory and Painting Gallery, the historical centre of the city (Plaza Mayor with Casa de la Panaderia, Arco de Cuchilleros and the statue of Philip III), the Royal Theatre with its restored Opera House, and the Royal Basilica of San Francisco el Grande (a Roman-Catholic church in 18th century neoclassical style in front of Plaza San Francisco). Other interesting spots include the Puerta de Alcalá, a granite gate consisting of five arches at the Plaza de la Independencia, the Cibeles Fountains (and palace) located in the centre of Plaza de Cibeles, the fountain of Neptune (Fuente de Neptuno) at the Plaza Cánovas del Castillo and the statue of the Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra at Plaza España.
A touch of green
In Madrid, almost every neighborhood has its own park, square or community garden to step off the pavement or do outdoor sports. If you’re yearning for some green, be sure to wander around in the city’s royal (Sabatini garden) and botanical gardens (Real Jardín Botanico), the Retiro Park (Parque de El Retiro) which houses the monument to King Alfonso XII as well as the Cristal Palace, Capricho park (Parque El Capricho de la Alameda de Osuna) and the Campo del Moro park. In Cuartel de la Montaña Park, you can even admire the original Temple of Debod (awarded the best sunset in Spain during 2016). This Egyptian temple from the 2nd century BC was donated to Spain to protect it from the floods following the construction of the Aswan Dam. If you want to get more active and get involved in a range of leisure activities, the Madrid Río Park and Casa de Campo Park are the place to be.
Experience the different flavours of Madrid at restaurants, bars and local markets
Be sure to pick a bar and order a pint of beer with some tapas. Recommended bites are patatas bravas (potato cubes in spicy tomato sauce), cazuela de callos (tripe casserole) or chopitos (tiny fried cuttlefish). The hottest districts for tapas are Sol, Plaza Mayor, Plaza de Santa Ana, Madrid los Austrias (Hapsburg Madrid) and La Latina, Chueca-Malasaña and Conde Duque. Apart from tapas, Madrid offers some splendid savory dishes such as cocido medrileño, almond soup, garlic soup, Madrid-style red bream (from the Cantabrian Sea) or the many superb stews with meat and vegetables. Do you have a sweet tooth? Help yourself to some barquillos (wafers) and bartolillos (cream-filled puff pastries) or other sweet dishes prepared and eaten during the many religious festivals. To name only a few torrijas (French toast), huesos de santo (‘bones of saints’; marzipan tubes filled with egg yolk cream), rosquillas de San Isidro (Saint Isidore’s donuts), buñuelos de viento (puff pastries) and panecillos de San Antón (Saint Anthony’s sweet biscuits).And last but not least, explore the wines from the Madrid designation of origin areas such as Arganda (southeast region), San Martin (southwest region, with its most common Garnacha grape) and Navalcarnero (southern Madrid; typical for its rosé wines). The high-quality white grapes Malvar and Albillo, grown in the area, are used to make the best wines of the country.
Traditional and cultural Madrid
Due to its rich past Madrid has seen many traditions, festivals and celebrations, some of which are still kept alive to this day.Witness the monthly Solemn Changing of the Guards (legacy of the ruling periods of King Alfonso XII and XIII) behind the gates of Plaza de la Armería at the Royal Palace on each first Wednesday of the month, or pick a spot at Puerta del Príncipe every Wednesday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to watch the guards march to the beat of a fife, as they are being relieved of their positions. Do you prefer more passion and expressiveness? How about admiring one of the many flamenco shows in the city’s theaters or attending flamenco song and dance recitals in the smaller tablaos or halls. Alternatively, you may get lucky and will be able to see Madrid’s most famous soccer team play at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium.Some of Madrid’s festivities include the religious festivals at Easter and Christmas, the celebration of the patron saint of the city (Feast of Saint Isidore the Farmer), Madrid’s carnival and the musical extravagance of the August Fiestas. In 2017, the World Pride, the world’s biggest LGBTQ event, took place in Madrid.For more information about exhibitions, concerts, theatre and dance, sports, trade fairs, festivities and other events, please have a look at Madrid’s events calendar.
See you in Madrid for ECCMID 2018!