Cheap flights to Madrid
Begin your hike from the town of Manzanares el Real, beneath the quintessential Spanish castle. Stand on the pretty lakeshore, look past the castle, and you'll see the peaks rising up behind the town.The climb up into the Cuenca Alta del Manzanares mountains gives spectacular views and a real escape from the city vibe for a discreet night’s bivvy amongst the boulder fields and unusual granite outcrops. If you search well, or ask locals, you may even find the gorgeous swim hole of Baños de Venus de La Pedriza...
There are lots of short distance suggested hikes (called PR) that run through the park. One popular day hike is the trek to the Yelmo, one of the highest peaks in the area. The route from the village is well-marked by red and white stripes painted onto rocks. It's a long day walk so be sure to pack enough food and water.
Level of Difficulty: Medium (if you're going to bivvy, Easy if you're just going for a day hike). Bus 724 from Madrid’s Plaza de Castilla interchange departs every half an hour.
What to pack: Warm clothes (check the weather forecast!), woolly hat, headtorch, raingear, sleeping bag, mat and bivvy bag.
Best time to go: late spring or early summer before the fierce Madrid summer heat descends.
Europe's third largest city may not have a beach like Barcelona, but if you come on a city break to Madrid sunbathing is the last thing that'll be on your mind. Spain's capital is one bursting with culture and activities for tourists at every turn, with museums, art galleries and night after night of sexy flamenco.
Madrid's tourism board will proudly inform you that the city has more bars per square metre than anywhere else in Europe. When it comes to appearances Madrid is hard to beat too, having retained much of its historic and regal flair seen in its wide boulevards, elegant fountains and royal parks. And for those of you who are bad with your bearings, don't worry, despite the size of this metropolis, Madrid's centre is surprisingly small. It has one of Europe's best metros too.
Soak up the autumnal colours along the Manzanares river and in the Casa de Campo park by hiring bikes and a picnic from the Matadero, a former slaughterhouse that is now one of Madrid's most happening cultural spaces.
The mercury bursts out of thermometers in July in Madrid, so the best place to head to is a terrace. Atenas is one of the city's best, located in a park just a stone's throw from the Manzanares River. Expect chilled-out tunes, live music and respite from the soaring temperatures (Calle Segovia/Calle Cuesta de la Vega, terrazaatenas.com).
As the temperature shoots up in June, all minds turn to matters aquatic. The biggest and arguably most enjoyable pool is to be found in the Casa de Campo (Paseo Puerta del Ángel, 7. Metro Lago) but there is also a swanky rooftop watering hole atop the Emperador Hotel on Gran Vía (www.emperadorhotel.com)
Hang your head in shame if you leave the city without visiting the Prado art gallery (Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23). The permanent collection is wonderful and the temporary exhibitions are very good too. This month Goya's portrait of Don Pedro de Alcántara Téllez-Girón y Pacheco, 9th Duke of Osuna is on display - on loan from the Frick Collection in New York, where it is normally housed. Until 24 April, museodelprado.es.
The Matadero cultural center in the south of the city is a hub of all kinds of artistic activity, but it also plays host to a farmers market every month. In November, more than 50 stallholders will be plying their local wares to visitors, anything from Spanish cheeses and olive oils, to hamburgers and fresh veg. 28-29 November, http://mercadoproductores.es.
Flamenco continues to thrive in the Spanish capital, and while there are plenty of tourist based options, for something a little more underground head to El Juglar on Sunday nights, where up and coming local talent struts its stuff on a tiny stage (37 Calle de Lavapiés, Metro Lavapiés).
For some unbeatable views of the city, check out the Gymage Lounge Resort, which is a gym, hotel, restaurant and rooftop terrace cocktail bar all rolled into one. In the scorching August heat a late-night visit to the roof to take in the sights is the best plan. (gymage.es)
May is a great month to visit Madrid, as the weather is pleasant without being too hot and Madrileños of all ages get out on the streets to enjoy their patron saint festivities (May 11-15). San Isidro is the saint being celebrated, with parades, concerts and fireworks marking the occasion. (www.esmadrid.com/en)
Part of Madrid's so called "golden triangle" of museums, the Reina Sofía is Madrid's home for 20th-century art. Picasso's Guernica is the most famous part of its collection, but there is also work from Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Juan Gris. Unlike the other museums in the city it's open Monday (but closed Tuesday!).
Madrid's penitents, in their distinctive hooded garb, take to the streets for the annual Easter processions. Check http://www.esmadrid.com/ for the full routes for these atmospheric religious marches, which will run from March 20 to 27.
Forget Father Christmas, for Spaniards gifts are delivered courtesy of the Three Kings, who will be arriving in Madrid with their own special parade on Kings Night, 5 January. The procession is a firm family favourite, and will run from Nuevos Ministerios down to Plaza Cibeles. (http://www.esmadrid.com/en)
One of Madrid's most multicultural and up-and-coming neighbourhoods, Lavapiés, plays host to a tapas and music festival this October that is bound to get your taste buds tingling. The area will host 67 concerts during Tapapies, with a diverse blend of music including rumba, blues, retro, swing, funky, afrobeat and samba. There will also be a children's theatre and street circus performances. 15-25 October, http://tapapies.com/ .
A visit to Madrid would not be complete without a trip to the Rastro flea market, which sets up every Sunday and bank holiday down Ribera de Curtidores street in La Latina. From vintage clothing and military memorabilia to classic vinyl and samurai swords, you'll find it all here. madrid.es
Madrid is now teeming with gourmet markets, and it's much the better for it. One of the more interesting options is Mercado de San Ildefonso, which finds its home in the shopper's paradise of Calle Fuencarral. Expect a mix of mouth-watering food, including prawns, calamari, Iberian jamón and Spanish sausages on offer, and a very cool crowd of locals (57 Calle Fuencarral, Metro Tribunal).
If the limited pools in the city centre aren't enough to cool you down, then catch a bus from Avenida de America and head to the brilliantly named Aquopolis water park, where you can enjoy the flume rides, slides and dolphin shows. villanueva.aquopolis.es
The charming town of Chinchón is just 50km from the city center (bus 337 from Conde de Casal). The picturesque plaza is the main attraction for visitors, which doubles as a bullring and a market. It's also a good place to grab a coffee, lunch or a beer, on one of the many terraces.
The ski season might be over but that doesn't stop anyone from hitting the slopes in Madrid. The Snowzone at the Xanadú mall in the nearby town of Arroyomolinos features an indoor real snow experience all year round. With a kart track next door it's a great choice for stag parties. madridsnowzone.com
The stunning Roman Aqueduct in the nearby city of Segovia has to be seen to be believed. In fact, if you have a decent camera you'll want to spend all day getting the perfect shot of it. A hard morning's snapping deserves a decent feast though, and what better than the city's specialty of roast suckling pig?