Travellers who have visited Madrid and Spain often find themselves comparing these two cities. Barcelona, with its location by the sea, compact size, architecture, and atmosphere may receive more visitors than Madrid, but I will say the Capital is my favourite!
First of all its old town: city’s most historical places are quite well preserved, the area from the big square Plaza Mayor until Atocha, with its narrow cobblestone streets, little squares, architecture, flamenco studios and tablaos, little cafés and bars, is where you feel the most you are in Spain. If you have a small budget you’ll also find some good value and clean hostels with private bathrooms on Calle Atocha. Another place for accommodation is the Big Avenue, Gran Via, where you will find chain hotels, this area is also more lively at night time (do not forget that in Spain dinner time starts from 22.00 onwards and lasts late night; if you go to a restaurant before 21.30 you’ll probably find that it is still closed). A more high end area is the Salamanca region, with its brand shops and luxury hotels, this area is calmer but less animated at night.
The ‘Madrileños’ (Madrid’s locals) usually skip breakfast at home and when they arrive at work they leave the office around 10 for a little while and go down to the coffee shop to take a coffee and toasted bread. The price of the coffee may differ whether you take it at the bar, on the table or at the terrace. The name of the coffee ‘cortado’ is given to that one with little milk on it. As it is the Capital city you will not experience ‘siesta’, the afternoon time between 14.00-16.00 when all shops close, unless it is a little neighbourhood.
As for sightseeing the most important visit you’ll make will be to visit the famous Prado Museum. All of the museums in the Museum Island, Prado, Arte Reina Sofia, Thyssen Bornemizsa are important and worth visiting. You will discover many tapas places in the old town such as the Mercado close to Plaza Mayor. It is a Spanish habit to hop on hop off the bars, having a tapas and a drink in each one. Even if you do not like it I would recommend to go to one of the famous flamenco places (tablaos) like Corral de la Moreria to watch a live show.
You can spend a couple of days to discover the cities outside Madrid; make day trips to Segovia and Avila, another day trip to Toledo. You will find them even more charming then Madrid. If you will go to Barcelona or Andalucia consider the high speed train. Madrid is famous with its gastronomy, some of the best restaurants of the country are found here and although it is not located by the sea fresh fish comes daily from the North. ‘Mariscos’ is the name of the seafood (prawns, etc)., fish is mostly the ocean fish and the Spanish cuisine is one of the best in the world. For detailed information on museums and walking routes see the Madrid collection.