Madrid – Spain's Centre
The region Madrid is not only the geographical but also the political and economic centre of Spain. It also offers a variety of natural ad cultural sights, so that holidays in Madrid are the perfect mix of culture, nature and party.
Geography - The geographical centre of Spain
Madrid is one of the 17 Spanish autonomous communities and is located on a plateau south of the Central System in the centre of the country. The region's highest mountain is the Peñalara with a height of 2,430 metres. The community consists of only one province of the same name and its borders run along the metropolitan area of the Spanish capital Madrid. Although the region is one of the smallest ones with regard to area of land, it is the most densely populated Spanish region. Almost 6 million people, about 3.3 million of which have their permanent residence in the capital, live on an area of 8,022 km². This makes the city of Madrid the third biggest city in the EU after London and Berlin and one of the greatest European metropolises. The climate in Madrid is semi-arid Mediterranean and somewhat continental due to the region's high altitude. While the summers are very dry and hot, the winters are characterised by very cold temperatures around the freezing mark.
Nature - Magnificent mountain ranges in the middle of a plateau
The Community of Madrid is located on a plateau and is enclosed by the mountain range of the Central System (Sierra de Gredos, Sierra de Guadarrama) and the Iberian System in the north-east. The Peñalara in the Sierra de Guadarrama is the region's highest point with a height of 2,430 metres. There you can find the glacial valley with the mountain lake El Circo y la Laguna de Peñalara on the one hand and the greatest European granite formation La Pedriza in the town Manzanares el Real on the other. A major part of La Pedriza lies in the Cuenca Alta del Río Manzanares Biosphere Reserve, which is the greatest conservation area in the Community of Madrid and the source of the Manzanares River. This river flows through the capital and issues into the Jarama, which again flows into the Tagus, one of the region's most important water outlets. Other well-known mountains in the Sierra de Guadarrama are the Hierro with 2,383 metres and the Maliciosa with 2,227 metres of height. Besides the beautiful landscapes surrounding the city of Madrid, the capital itself also has a green side. Its green spaces cover an area of over 250,000 hectares altogether. The capital's most famous green oases are the Retiro-Park, the Royal Botanic Garden, the Parque del Oeste (Western park) with its wonderful rose garden La Rosaleda and the Casa de Campo.
Culture - Political and economic centre
The history of the autonomous community of Madrid goes hand in hand with the past of the capital because it all started with the foundation of the city of Madrid during the rule of Muhammed I of Córdoba in the 9th century. The Moorish ruler chose the present-day location of the Royal Palace as a settlement out of strategic reasons (the great view of the Sierra de Guadarrama). In addition, there was a lot of water in the region, which caused the Moors to call it Mayrit (place of many springs). When Philip II settled in Madrid in the 16th century and established the royal court, the city of Madrid became the country's capital as well as the region's political and economic centre. The Community of Madrid is still the wealthiest Spanish region. This is one of the reasons why many locals from other communities but also people from abroad (mostly from Northern Africa and Latin America) choose Madrid as their new home. Madrid's inhabitants, called Madrileños (English: Madrilenians), are very sociable and friendly. You generally feel welcome and accepted very quickly in this region and European metropolis. There are numerous remarkable sights in the Community of Madrid. The capital itself holds museums, theatres, historical buildings and magical parks. Some of its most popular attractions are the Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, the Paseo del Prado, the Puerta del Sol, Almudena Cathedral, the Plaza España and Atocha railway station. However, there is also a lot to discover outside of the metropolis. The university town Alcalá de Henares, which is the birthplace of the famous author Miguel de Cervantes, is worth a day trip as well as the Palace and the scenic gardens of Aranjuez, which constitute the former summer residence of the royal family. They are both part of the World Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO. You find another impressive cultural site in El Escorial. The magnificent monastery of Philip II, which can be seen from a distance, was built from 1563 to 1584 and is one of the greatest Renaissance buildings on earth.
Experience - A paradise for connoisseurs, shoppers and party-goers
The Madrilenian cuisine has a good reputation in Europe. You find Arab influences, international dishes and dishes from other Spanish region on the menu. Dishes containing lamb, deer, pheasant, partridge and fish are particularly common. Two regional specialities are the cocido madrileño, a hearty chickpea stew, and the callos a la madrileña, a stew with tripe. In case you feel like having something sweet: churros con chocolate (a fried pastry with liquid chocolate) are offered in Madrid for breakfast throughout the year. In addition, there are more sweet dishes at other times of the year such as almond pastry or marzipan sweets at Christmas, torrijas (a kind of French Toast) and huevos de santo (holy bones) at Easter. Madrid is a shopping paradise. The Calle Preciados, starting in the Puerta del Sol, and the famous Gran Vía are the most popular shopping zones in the metropolis' centre. Many great fashion chains, cafes and restaurants are located here. Another top location for a shopping stroll are the Calle de Goya with fashion, furnishing and jewellery shops and the Calle Ortega y Gasset with their luxurious boutiques. Madrid's many flea markets are also worth a visit. The most famous example is the Rastro, which takes place every Sunday. You can buy beautiful souvenirs such as candles and ceramic ware, hand-held fans, walking sticks or umbrellas made of ebony, mahogany or ivory here. After a long shopping trip, you can spend some time in a street cafe before Madrid's nightlife begins at 10 p.m. While you are enjoying a glass of Sangría, you can watch the vitality and good mood of groups of people who are walking by. If you want to join them, you should go to the nightlife district Huertas. Visitors who prefer attending local festivities with traditional customs and costumes will enjoy the San Isidro Festival in May or the Fiesta de la Paloma in August.
Activities - Shopping, sightseeing and natural adventures
Tourists can go shopping and sightseeing in the region Madrid and experience the lively nightlife of Spain's capital. However, leisure activities in nature are also possible in this central region. Mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, hiking or climbing, for example in the mountains of the Sierra Guadarrama, are popular ways of getting to know and exploring the region around the capital.
The Aeropuerto de Madrid Barajas (MAD) is the region's main airport as well as one of the greatest and most important in the whole of Europe. It is about 12 kilometres away from the metropolis and can quickly and easily be reached by metro (line 8). It is advisable for travellers of Madrid to know a bit of Spanish as many Madrilenians do not have sufficient command of the English language. A small troublesome issue are the pickpockets and tricksters in the capital. They often steal from tourists' backpacks on crowded escalators, on the bus or the metro. That is why it is important to keep an eye on your bag. Travellers are advised to use belt bags or neck pouches.
The Community of Madrid is very open-minded and friendly and offers anything but holidays which are quiet and boring. Travellers who want to experience the Spanish culture, nature, parties and shopping facilities all in one will be delighted with the capital's vibrant life and the natural landscapes surrounding it.