Photo by Rick Ligthelm  –  Link

Madrid

Spain

Although Madrid may not have world famous landmarks associated with other European capitals like Paris or Rome, this city is bursting with life and Spanish culture, making it the perfect city break destination.

Because it's landlocked in the centre of Spain, many tourists choose to visit beachy Barcelona over Madrid, especially in the summer when the temperature soars. However, Madrid has so much to offer any type of visitor, as well as having almost entirely preserved its 'spanishness,' so we think it deserves to be more celebrated all year round.  

What to see and do in Madrid

This sounds like a cliche, but there really is no end of things to do in Madrid (or not do, as the laid-back Spanish lifestyle demands...). However, to get the best feel for this great place, start by exploring its artistic heritage and wandering through some of the most beautiful parts of the city.

Art galleries: With so many great artists coming from Spain (Picasso, Dalí, Goya, Velázquez, Miró… need we say more?), the capital is great for exploring some world-class artwork. There are three big galleries in Madrid: the Museo del Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and you should aim to visit at least one of these to experience the most famous side to Spain's artistic flair.

There are also many off-the-radar art galleries that are smaller and, arguably, better than the main trio as they're less hectic and busy. One in particular not to miss is the Museo Sorolla, the old house of artist Joaquín Sorolla, which has become a museum dedicated to his artwork. The museum is small, yet it's easy to spend hours here gazing at his paintings which are so personal and family-oriented. There is also a really nice patio garden attached, making this museum feel like an oasis in the centre of the city. Top tip: it's free to enter after 2pm on Saturday and all day on Sunday, but you might have to queue as it's not a very well-kept secret...

Other things to see: If you're after a picturesque wander, head for the Salamanca barrio (neighbourhood) north of the centre. As one of the more glamorous neighbourhoods, it's the best place to stroll down wide streets of 19th-century apartment buildings lined with trendy shops and restaurants.

At the south end of the barrio don't miss out on discovering Retiro Park, one of the most beautiful parts of the city - you'll find yourself wanting to return again and again. In the park you can go rowing on the glittering lake, marvel at the Palacio de Cristal (a palace made almost entirely of glass), wander through manicured gardens, and mingle with the locals lounging on the grass. Bliss.  

Lesser-known Quinta de los Molinos is another beautiful green space in the city, which transforms into a pretty shade of pink with the arrival of the almond tree blossom in spring.   

Eating and drinking in Madrid

As with anywhere in Spain, eating and drinking is the centre of everyone's social sphere, and this is particularly true in Madrid. Almost everywhere you look there are tapas bars, restaurants, and cafes which seem to always have that perfect bustling-yet-chilled atmosphere.

For tapas, just about everywhere will be great and quite inexpensive, so it's best to choose where to go based on the vibe you're looking for. For an authentic (and relatively chaotic) experience, head to El Tigre bar close to the centre; just go in and order a drink and it will arrive with platefuls of delicious tapas. You don't get to choose your food, but that's half the fun! Note: the food is always delicious, but not always vegetarian friendly.

If you're going for more of a civilised sit down meal, try La Pescadería in the trendy Malasaña area. Expect delicious tapas (try the prawns with mango and spicy fried potatoes) and good value wine, but be warned, it's really popular so either head there early or book a table.   

After dark

Okay so technically you'll probably still be eating dinner after dark in Spain, so don't expect Madrid's nightlife, aka bars and clubs, to come alive until around midnight; be prepared for some late nights (or early mornings) when you visit this capital!

To soak up the nighttime atmosphere head to Sol, the city's central square where you'll find locals meeting and socialising ready for the night ahead. Don't worry too much about where you end up, just follow the crowds and see where the night takes you!

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