For anyone with a liking for art, music, dining, nightlife, and the dolce vita (good life), 24 hours in the capital of Spain would be irresistible.
Madrid first made its mark during Spain’s golden age in the 17th century, and its oldest quarters are filled with grand palaces, baroque churches, and glorious plazas, while artwork fills the city’s outstanding museums such as the Prado, where you’ll find canvases from such masters as Goya and Velázquez.
Steeped in tradition, of which Madrileños are proud, in the last two decades Madrid has also emerged as a hip, modern European capital. Contemporary architects have made a mark, including on the stylish Madrid-Barajas airport, whose modern Terminal 4 opened in 2006. Shops burst with the latest fashions, and the acclaimed Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Centro Reina Sofía highlight contemporary Spanish art from Dalí and Miró to Picasso, cementing Madrid’s reputation as a great art capital. Better yet, evenings in Madrid are unbeatable. Restaurants and bars thrive, locals congregate in cool plazas, and the haunting tones of flamenco and live music float from laneways long into the night.
Be there at opening: the Prado is one of the greatest art museums anywhere, with sumptuous works from all over Europe. Don’t miss the Spanish masters: El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, and Murillo.
You’d need a week to see all of Madrid’s art, so choose between the splendid European paintings at Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, or the best of modern Spanish canvasses at Centro Reina Sofía.
Have lunch where it’s hip and happening: the Malasaña and Chueca districts, where youthful diners flock to casual eateries featuring new twists and multicultural influences on traditional Spanish dishes.
Had enough of art? Madrid’s zoo is one of the best on the continent, featuring albino tigers, a walk-through shark tank and wild bird shows, as well as an unusual dolphinarium.
Get a bird’s-eye view of Madrid from the Teleférico (or cable car) over the city, then linger for coffee outdoors in splendid Plaza Mayor, just the place to watch buskers and passers-by.
Explore the alleyways south of Plaza Mayor in the heart of the old (but newly fashionable) La Latina quarter and choose one of the many tapas bars for a bite.
The best of flamenco from well-known stars and young up-and-comers features at Las Carboneras in Plaza del Conde. Old men strum guitars and sing of love, while women dance: haunting and melancholy.
Time to hit Café Central in Plaza de Ángel, where jazz performers are just getting warmed up. This chic venue is one of the best in Europe, attracting international players.
The night is still young in Madrid. Just around the corner from Café Central is Plaza Santa Ana, a baroque square that is now the epicentre of Madrid nightlife.
Not done yet? Head back to the lively neighbourhoods of Malasaña and Chueca, with their huge choice of chic bars packed with locals who socialise over tapas until dawn or – for travellers – jetlag kicks in.