It is easy to get overwhelmed the first time you set foot in Madrid. Aside from being Spain’s most populous city, Madrid’s dazzling medley of wondrous sights, flavors and sounds may very well border on an assault to the senses.
From sunup and even way beyond sundown – Madrid is known for its active nightlife - there is so much to do, see and experience in the city. But once you get accustomed to the idea that the city is just living up to its claim of being the “most touristic city in Spain” and that this is the way of life for Madrilenos then you can fully enjoy all that the city offers.
Like most places in Spain, Madrid has been a settlement since the prehistoric times. And because of its strategic location right in the heart of the country, it has figured prominently throughout history. The unification of the two kingdoms of Spain by Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II placed Madrid as the center of power in the 16th century thus paving the way for the city to blossom in other facets as well. The glorious Renaissance period in Spain has never been more evident than in Madrid – some of the greatest artists, architects, writers and musicians emerged from the city. It has retained its status as the country’s capital since then and even after several sieges and wars, Madrid survived and went on to become one of Europe’s economic, cultural, educational and technological powerhouses.
Madrid has the largest population in Spain, largely due to the high rate of immigration. As of 2010, it records over 3.2 million inhabitants with about 80% native Spaniards while the rest are immigrant communities from Ecuador, Romania, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, China and other countries. However even with the population density, Madrid remains to be one of Europe’s greenest places – there is always a park or a garden within a 15-minute walk. The city even has protected forests and reserves like the Monte de El Pardo and Soto de Vinuelas. Some of its most beloved parks are the Parque del Retiro, Case de Campo, the Real Jardin Botanico and the theme park Faunia.
While it may not have any striking or massive landmarks, Madrid is full of cultural attractions so much so that it has become a mecca to art lovers around the world.
There are dozens of art galleries and museums in the city. But the “Golden Triangle of Art” – Museo del Prado, Reina Sofia National Museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art – are among the most visited museums not only in the country but in Europe as well. With good reason, too: the museums hold the most extensive and the best collections of European art that spans centuries. Works of great artists such as Goya, Velazquez, Caravaggio, Zurbaran to modern ones such as Dali, Picasso and Miro are more than adequately represented in the museum.
The city also has several theatres and opera houses, a bullring that brings in thousands of spectators during the bullfighting season in May and stadiums where its most popular football team, the Real Madrid plays. Retail commerce is also thriving in the city and there are a number of popular shopping districts that are favorite haunts by the locals – the posh Sol-Salamanca areas and the boho district of Chueca and Fuencarral.