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Spain’s capital city is an exciting meld of the old and new. Madrid’s streets teem with stately palaces, ornate Belle Époque buildings, and modern architecture, and its skyline is spiky with soaring slate spires. This is also a place that celebrates its abundant open spaces. The River Manzanares, which slices through the city, is crisscrossed by arched bridges and lined with walking paths and green spaces such as the modern Madrid Río Park, a landscaped stretch of riverbank activated with playgrounds, performance spaces, and the Arganzuela Bridge, which looks like an enormous metal spring.
In the evening Madrid’s vibrant nightlife awakens, as revelers flock to bars, clubs, and restaurants that stay open until the morning hours. Thanks to those privileged royals of yore, the city is a marquee arts destination, studded with world-class museums and galleries that still benefit from the largess of rulers who supported famous artists. Madrid’s artistic reputation is only rivaled by its gastronomic one — the food here, from traditional tapas to reservations-required upscale dining, is reliably excellent.
Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) is the major international airport serving Madrid. Once you’re on the ground, there are several public transportation options, shuttles, taxis, and car rentals available. You may want to skip the car rental, though, if you’re heading to Madrid Central, as the city has banned older and air-polluting cars from the city center in hopes of creating a low pollution area. There are exceptions for people with reduced mobility; if you are considering renting a car, check the city of Madrid’s official website to understand the list of restrictions on driving in this area.
As an alternative to driving, you can rely on a combination of the Madrid Metro rail system and Empresa Municipal de Transportes (EMT) buses. Tourist Travel Passes, which can be purchased at Metro stations, get you unlimited public transit rides for a set amount of time. Download the BiciMAD app, the city’s bike sharing system, to locate e-bikes available for rent throughout the city.
Late spring and early summer are prime seasons in Madrid, when temperatures are warm but not scorching, and open-air markets, sidewalk cafes, and plazas hum with activity. Summers are hot and dry, and autumns mild. Winters are cold, although snow is infrequent. In the middle of May, the city comes together for an annual weeklong celebration of the city’s patron saint, Isidor the Laborer, with street festivals, dancing, and feasting. The city’s LGBTQ+ Pride event in June has grown to be one of Madrid’s marquee celebrations, and crowds flow into the city for days of festivities.
Housed in a circa-1785 palace (with some modern additions) the Museo del Prado is home to more than 7,000 paintings. Its vast collection includes works by only-last-name-needed artists such as Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco. It’s within walking distance of two other heavyweight art museums, the contemporary Museo Reina Sofía — home to Picasso’s Guernica — and the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, which showcases works by European masters.
This 17th-century park is studded with ornate marble buildings, a placid boating lake, and shade trees. Some of its unique features include what is believed to be the oldest tree in Madrid — a 400-year-old Mexican conifer — and the Palacio de Cristal, a glass and iron greenhouse repurposed as a modern art gallery.
As you zip around the city, take a moment to explore some of the unique displays within the transit system. The Ópera station houses an archeological museum showcasing 16th- and 17th-century artifacts unearthed during construction. A paleontology exhibit in the Carpetana station displays the fossils of prehistoric animals; the Chamberí station, which opened in 1919, is now closed to trains but open to visitors, and retains its original billboards and other period details.