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Madrid is in constant competition with Barcelona. This concerns the rivalry between the cities' largest soccer clubs, but also as to which city is more attractive. Obviously the Madrilenians have the answer. And you can't blame them. Versatile Madrid is a city of epicureans, of world-renowned museums, of large squares and parks, of good eating and drinking, of heaven on earth: Madrid al Cielo!
We usually don't start a city's description with its largest park, but we make an exception for Madrid. It so happens that the Retiro Park is Madrid's main meeting point, especially in summer. The park is landscaped in French style, with a rose garden and many statues. On the north side there is a large lake, where you can rent rowing boats, which guarantees a romantic boat trip! In addition, there are many restaurants, bars and terraces.
On the west side of Retiro Park lies the city's main museum, the Museo del Prado. It contains a fascinating collection of great Spanish masters such as Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez and El Greco (a Greek who mainly worked in Spain). It exhibits a lot of works by Goya, but also holds paintings by Flemish, Dutch, German, French and Italian painters, including Jeroen Bosch and Rembrandt.
Not far from the Prado lies the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, named after the grandson of the Thyssen iron and steel factory's founder. He laid the foundation for the collection that consists of works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Piet Mondriaan. More modern art can be found in the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. The collection's masterpiece is Guernica by Pablo Picasso, painted after the fascist bombardment of a Basque city during the Spanish Civil War.
As long as it doesn't rain (and it barely ever rains), it seems as if all of Madrid lives outdoors. At least from late in the afternoon until late at night. The central and pedestrianized Plaza Mayor is full of bars, restaurants, terraces and street artists. Prices of consumptions are rather steep though. Prices are lower in La Latina, the neighborhood west of the large square. This is a really enjoyable entertainment district with narrow streets and again beautiful squares, like the Plaza San Andrés and the Plaza de la Paja. It's a district to wander around, eat tapas, have a drink and watch the Madrilenians.
Nightlife in Madrid starts late, as of midnight. Anytime before, the Spaniards are still busy finishing their dessert. In addition to La Latina, you will also find cozy bars and nightclubs in the Calle de las Huertas (east of Plaza Mayor) and in the area around Plaza de Cibeles (northeast of Plaza Mayor). On this square there's a beautiful fountain with a statue of the goddess of fertility. Oh well, you will actually find something to do anywhere in Madrid. Just wander around and sit down in any place that seems nice.
Viewing a city from a great height is always fun. To do so in Madrid, you have two options: The Teleférico or the Faro de Madrid. The
The center of the city of Alcaláde Henares is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located thirty kilometers northeast of Madrid and is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quichot. You can visit the house where he lived and each year on his birthday (October 9) Alcalá's inhabitants still tilt at windmills during the Cervantes Festival.
The famous Concierto d'Aranjuez guitar concert is inspired by the beautiful surroundings of the town of Aranjuez, 47 kilometers south of the Spanish capital. You can easily reach the town from Madrid in a rental car, via the A-4 freeway.
When driving southwest from Aranjuez, you follow a beautiful route along the Tagus (Tajo). Do take a small side road from time to time to take a closer look at the winding river. At the end of the route, you'll reach Toledo, one of Spain's most picturesque towns, obviously influenced by the Moors. If you liked the works by El Greco in the Prado: The painter of Greek origin lived and worked in this city. His house has therefore been converted into a museum. Wander around the narrow and steep streets of the ancient Jewish quarter and make sure to visit the thirteenth century's cathedral.
Even further southwest you'll reach the Parque Nacional de Cabañeros, a true paradise for bird lovers.
Madrid offers a wide range of accommodations, varying from basic guesthouses and small hotels (pensiones, casas de huéspedes, hostales and fondas) to luxurious five-star hotels. If you want to spend more time in the Spanish capital, it is best to rent an apartment. Especially the apartments in the central district of Los Austrias are extremely popular.
Madrid is a busy city and finding a parking space is a problem. It is also safer to park your rental car in a parking garage. Rates are reasonable. If you do want to park out on the street, keep in mind that spaces along a green line are reserved for residents. Along a blue line, you are allowed to park for a maximum of two hours.
Madrid Airport is located thirteen kilometers northeast of the Spanish capital. Madrid Barajas Airport can be easily reached by rental car: From Madrid's beltway (M-40) take the A-2 towards Barcelona and then exit 12 to the M-14.