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City Guide to Spain: Madrid

Even with its myriad cafés, historical attractions, museums and restaurants, Madrid is best experienced by night. The uncontrolled and passionate revelry of a warm night in Madrid is an experience unmatched in any other European capital, entangling visitors and locals alike until the wee hours of the morning. Read full description...

City Guide: Barcelona | Valencia | Alicante | Seville | Málaga | Cádiz

Size and Feel

Madrid is Spain's largest city by far, with three million people in the city and another two million in the surrounding urban area (2003). This center of art, culture, nightlife, government and commerce is home to a remarkable variety of people and institutions.

Even with its sprawling size, Madrid is a fine place to visit or study. The city center is easily navigable, very dense, and always bustling. Students need never stray too far beyond the city's dense center to have a rich and exciting experience in Madrid.

Be warned that Madrid does feel like a big city, complete with all of the traffic and social problems that accompany three million people. Crime, congestion, long trips on the subway, and rude cab drivers are all par for the course. If you want a tame and comfortable experience, avoid Madrid.

Spanish Language Situation

Due to Madrid's size and political clout, the region's language (Castilian) is the one known outside of Spain simply as Spanish. As a result, Madrid and the surrounding smaller towns of central Spain are the best places to learn Spanish. There are no competing languages like in Barcelona or Valencia, nor the troubling accent of Andalucía (see Seville). Simply put, Madrid will improve your Spanish both in and out of the classroom.

Seasonal Variations and Climate

The spring and fall are certainly the best times to go to Madrid. While the city never really empties out, many families leave during the hottest parts of July and August seeking cooler weather on the coast. The winter brings some rain, but the weather remains generally pleasant. Madrid's biggest fiesta is during May, which makes this already lively city truly boisterous.

What's Great...

It's impossible to do justice to the greatness of Madrid in three bullet points. That said, these highlights have won the hearts of many in the past.

  1. The music scene in Madrid is unmatched in variety and quality, with outdoor performances by day and nightclubs catering to a massive population of music aficionados by night.
  2. Madrid's collection of art and architecture is fully world-class, with remarkable paintings, fine royal palaces, and one of the best public gardens (Parque del Buen Retiro) found anywhere in Europe.
  3. The spontaneous communities that form each night just before dawn as exhausted partiers gather in the city's many plazas before retreating home to hide from the daylight.

What's Bad...

If you don't like big city problems, you won't like Madrid.

  1. The city is dirty, partly because of the sheer number of people who go out every night and partly because of the Spanish predilection for urinating in the street.
  2. There is never a quiet moment in Madrid, which makes sleeping difficult for some. And yes, there will be times when you need to sleep.
  3. The heat of summer can exhaust you if you're not used to it. Madrid is already exhausting -- a hot day can make it unbearable.

Full Description

The city of Madrid is squeezed into a relatively small area considering its population, which fuels the hustle and bustle of everyday life in this glorious capital. Within the city, there are enough plazas, parks, museums, and palaces to occupy even the most ambitious tourist for at least a week. Just walking through the lively streets leads to innumerable novel experiences for someone unfamiliar with Spain.

Madrid is unique among Spanish cities is its collection of national treasures. The city houses a collection of pre-modern (before 1850) Western European art rivaled only in Paris and Italy, complete with paintings by El Greco, Ribera, Zurbarán, Velázquez, Murillo, Goya, Titian and Rubens -- all in one museum, the Prado. Much of the work Spain's famous modern artists -- Picasso, Miró, and Dalí -- has been collected by museums outside of Spain. However, some incredible specimens from these prolific men remain in Madrid, including Picasso's most celebrated mural, Guernica.

Madrid's nightlife is truly unmatched by any other city in Spain or major European city. Perhaps more people party until dawn in Ibiza or the southern coast, but nowhere else can you find the colorful variety and wonderful surprises of a night in Madrid. Of course, you don't need to go to Madrid to have wild nights in Spain, but if you're a veteran club-goer and you demand the best, don't pass up a chance to rock out in Spain's capital.

If living in a large city excites you and you can survive without a beach, then Madrid is the best place to learn Spanish in all of Spain (and perhaps the world). Madrid may not be as beautiful, stylish or charming as smaller cities, but it holds an exciting future for all students who are willing to explore its wonders.

Suggested Schools

Don Quijote in Madrid -- Part of a world-wide network of language schools, Don Quijote in Spain integrates culture, activities, sports and even cooking into their refined and effective Spanish programs.

Carpe Diem -- Small, friendly language school with locations in central Madrid and Seville that attracts an interesting international crowd.

International House of Madrid -- A high-end language center in Madrid catering to students of all different levels and offering exceptional instruction quality.

IPSA -- Multi-city language school that gives proper attention to activities and excursions along with classwork. IPSA teaches courses in Madrid, Malaga, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville, among others.

Eureka Madrid -- High-quality Spanish school in Madrid with meals, activites, and excursions incorporated into the curriculum.

City Guide: Barcelona | Valencia | Alicante | Seville | Málaga | Cádiz

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