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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. 

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Shopping


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.


The heat gets cranked up all the way come July in Madrid, so the only place to head 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 suffocating heat of the Madrid summer begins to ramp up in June, the covers are pulled off the public swimming pools. For those in the city centre, the best option to cool off is the complex at Casa de Campo, which has plenty of space for sunbathers, picnickers and the serious swimmer (7 Paseo Puerta del Angel, Metro: Lago).

Sightseeing


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 the biggest football teams in the world, Real Madrid, has a stadium whose grandeur matches its rich history. Even if you manage to get tickets to see a game while in the Spanish capital, it's worth taking the official tour of the ground, which takes in the trophy room, the museum and even the changing rooms and dugout. For more information visit realmadrid.com.


Madrid is blessed with three of the world's greatest art museums, all within a stone's throw of one another: the Prado, the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen. The latter is particularly interesting given that it is actually a private collection. A visit in October is a must, to check out the first Edvard Munch exhibition in Madrid since 1984. For more information go to www.museothyssen.org.


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).


The 10th edition of FotoPres at La Caixa Forum brings together 10 top-class international photojournalism projects showcasing the most innovative techniques and surprising images from around the world. All month (36 Paseo del Prado, obrasocial.lacaixa.es).

Key Areas


Faced with dwindling custom, the stallholders at the Mercado de San Fernando food market (Calle de Embajadores 41) have taken the initiative and now cook up their produce for you while you wait. Expect affordable prices and a clientele of appreciative locals. For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/mercadosanfernando/.


Faced with dwindling custom, the stallholders at this food market Mercado de San Fernando (Calle de Embajadores 41) have taken the initiative and now cook up their produce for you while you wait. Expect affordable prices and a clientele of appreciative locals.


Christmas wouldn't be Christmas in Madrid without a visit to the Plaza Mayor. Come December the city's main square is decked out with dozens of stalls, selling everything from toys and balloons, to nativity figurines and outlandish wigs, which everyone seems to don this time of year. For a traditional snack seek out the bars selling calamari baguettes.


For a gift for that hard to buy for relative, try Antigua Casa Talavera, a family store that opened its doors in 1904 and sells a stunning array of hand painted ceramics, sourced from producers in other Spanish cities such as Seville, Granada and Toledo. Calle de Isabel La Católica 2, Metro Santo Domingo.


Madrid has woken up to the joy that is a good food hall in recent years, and Mercado de San Miguel is the original, and many would say, the best. Just off the Plaza Mayor, this market offers everything from oysters and champagne, to sushi and Iberian jamón. It gets busy, but it's a must visit.


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

Day Trips


A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Alcalá de Henares is just a short hop from Madrid by train, and is brimming with history. The birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the city has a museum dedicated to the author of Don Quixote, as well as being home to the Madrid region's archeological museum. turismoalcala.es


Don't miss the World Heritage Site of Aranjuez. Hourly trains from Atocha take 30 minutes. Visit the 17th-century palace and other historical buildings then stroll around the spectacular parks and gardens and eat at one of the traditional restaurants in the Old Quarters. whc.unesco.org

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