Located in the middle of Spain, beautiful Madrid is the capital and largest city in the country. The city's geographic location denotes its central role in Spanish politics, economy and culture, as it serves as the residence of the Spanish monarch, the richest region in Spain, and the home to many of the country's – and Europe's – top museums and attractions. With over seven million residents in the metropolitan area, it is also the 3rd largest city by population in the European Union, after London and Berlin.
In Madrid, the present and future are built on the past. During Spain's Golden Age, Madrid's culture and arts flourished. This period in history introduced the city's breathtaking Baroque and neo-Classical architecture, inspiring Madrid's many artistic geniuses such as Picasso and Miró, as well as its literary heroes such as Cervantes and the "Father of Spanish Playwrights" Lope de Vega. Madrid also served as the home and inspiration to great American writer Ernest Hemingway.
Visitors can experience many of the works of these greats today at the city's Golden Triangle, which encompasses three of the world's most important art museums: the Reina Sofía Museum, Prado Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. The Prado Museum is best known for its collection of 12th to 19th century Spanish paintings, while the Reina Sofía Museum displays an impressive survey of Spanish art history where the Prado leaves off, spanning the late 19th century to today. The Thyseen-Bornemisza Museum, regarded as one of the world's most impressive private collections, takes visitors through a chronological history of European paining from the 13th through 20th centuries.
To get a taste of Madrid's culture beyond the art and architecture, guests can catch a bullfight at Las Ventas, the largest bullring in Spain. Established in 1929, the 25,000-seat Las Ventas is regarded by many as the world center of bullfighting, the season for which runs March to October. To enjoy a sport that's slightly less violent, visitors can also vie for tickets to a Real Madrid football game. Known as one of the prestigious football clubs in the world and winner of nine European Cups, Real Madrid tickets are understandably hard to come by. Luckily, guests can get a taste of this popular sport by taking a behind-the-scenes tour of the club's grand stadium, Santiago Bernabéu.
Among its sprawling sporting venues and ornate architecture, visitors discover that Madrid is full of green spaces and parkland. Take a walk through the romantic and whimsical El Capricho Park, the former artistic retreat for 18th century cultural icons. Enjoy the fragrant blooms of Royal Botanical Garden, home to more than 30,000 plants and flowers and 1,500 trees. Or spend a day exploring the city's largest park, Casa de Campo. Here, guests can visit the Zoo Aquarium of Madrid or kayak in the park's lake.
Of course at the end of the day, there's no better way to make memories in Madrid than by soaking in its dining and nightlife scene. Snack on tapas, the traditional small plates of Spain, at taverns and bars such as Taberna de Antonio Sánchez or Baco y Beto. Or, enjoy classic favorites such as cocido, a hearty stew, and callos, or tripe, at restaurants such as La Gran Tasca and Restaurante Botín, the oldest restaurant in the world. After dinner, hit the streets of Grand Vía, which comes to life at night with bars, clubs and entertainment venues.