After Class Activities
Our program allows you plenty of time to discover your new country, culture, traditions, and everyday life after your class is over. Join the locals to munch on tapas and postpone dinner until 11:00 p.m. Then follow the crowds to a wonderful play at Plaza Santa Ana, shake to the dance scene of La Latinaor or take in a show at Madrid s top flamenco clubs near Plaza Tirso de Molina. Wandering through the throng at the city’s flea market El Rastro is an interesting way to experience some of the city’s essence and shouldn’t be missed. Get yourself started for a trip to Madrid with the links below:
Main Sights: Get to Know Madrid
Once the location of an exotic marketplace (Plaza Mayor), where Arab merchants came to sell their wares, this beautifully proportioned, cobbled courtyard was begun by Philip II and completed by Philip III in 1619 - his statue stands proudly in the middle. The plaza was intended to serve as a marketplace and showplace - heretics were burned at the stake, saints canonised and bread was sold. Today, tourists outnumber the locals but the Plaza Mayor is still lively as it was in the past. Nearby Plaza Mayor, a locale that transitions into the Hapsburg section, offers more shops, restaurants and outdoor cafés. The streets that spill down from the Plaza s Arco de Cuchilleros constitute one of Madrid s busiest dining neighborhoods.
This lush 118-hectare (292-acre) park, Parque del Buen Retiro, in the heart of Madrid was formerly the private garden of Philip IV. Visitors can enjoy a stroll among the trees and rose garden, a boat ride on the lake near the towering 1902 monument to Alfonso XII, tarot readings from hovering fortune-tellers or a game of chess.
Gate of the Sun
The Gate of the Sun (Puerta del Sol) is Madrid s oldest surviving neighbourhood. Even today, much of the city (including the subway system) radiates from Sol, which is packed with shops, bars, restaurants and hotels. In this neighbourhood you ll also find the monument of the bear and strawberry tree (El Oso y El Madroño) which symbolises Madrid.
This district could almost be called "Museum Madrid" - here you ll delight in Spain s leading art institutions - the treasure-filled Prado (one of the world s top art museums), the Reina Sofia (which houses Picasso s Guernica), and the Thyssen-Bornemisza (offering two halls devoted to Impressionists and post-Impressionists). The 3 museums are within a few blocks of each other along broad boulevards punctuated with monumental fountains and formal parks.
Excursions: Explore More of The Region
Monasterio de San Lorenzo de el Escorial
The monastery lies just 50km (31 miles) northwest of Madrid, in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. The extraordinary rectangular edifice with four spired towers was built by Philip II - as a memorial to his father, Charles V - and merges monastery, church and palace. It contains Philip s secret stash of El Greco and Hieronymus Bosch art, as well as a library with about 50,000 volumes and a vaulted, painted ceiling.
Often described as the soul of Spain , Toledo lies 70km (43 miles) south of Madrid and is easily reached by bus, car or train. The capital of Visigoth Spain (AD567-711), Toledo was famously depicted in the dramatic cityscape by El Greco (painted in 1597 and currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). The Crete-born painter, Domenikos Theotocopoulos - whose Spanish appellation, El Greco, has stuck - settled in Toledo in 1577 and remained there until his death in 1614. Regarded as the first great genius of the Spanish School, some of his most famous paintings are jealously guarded here.
In the south of Spain lies Seville, the administrative centre of Andalucia. The city has been influenced by over 800 years of Moorish culture and retains a pleasant old-world charm. Seville has plenty to offer visitors including sightseeing of ancient sites, parks, museums and art galleries as well as many sporting activities.
Salamanca is a city visitors fall in love with, not only because of the incredible beauty of its extremely well-known monuments, but also because of its excellent atmosphere and wealth of gastronomic delights. There are a lot of well-established places to visit, such as Cervantes, in the plaza Mayor (main square), famous for their varied tortilla (omelette) snacks and palomas, ensaladilla-filled pork scratchings. Another place where you can try a good local wine, along with an oreja (ear) tapa, or blood sausage, or chanfaina, the local stew, is Cervecería del Comercio in Pozo Amarillo, a street famous for its restaurants including Dulcinea (Don Quijote s love) and El Jamón.
Architecture: Discover Unique Styles & Structures
With the opulence of Versailles in mind, Philip V commissioned Italian architects Giambattista Sacchetti and Francesco Sabatina to build the Royal Palace. The present king, Juan Carlos, resides in the more subdued Zarzuela Palace outside Madrid, so Philip s 3000-room extravaganza is now only used for state functions. The rest of the time, the startling white building in granite and Colmenar stone is open for tours. Highlights include the Hall of Halbardiers and Hall of Columns (with their splendid frescoes), the Throne Room (with its 17th-century sculptures) and the lavish private apartments of Charles II.
Convent of the Royal Barefoot Sisters
Founded in 1564 by Joanna of Austria, the daughter of Charles V, the convent (Convento de las Descalzas Reales) has housed royal and aristocratic nuns over the centuries. Still a functioning convent, it is also a superb example of 16th-century Baroque architecture, containing a magpie s hoard of rich tapestries and jewels, Italian and Flemish art and a superb display of Spanish religious artefacts. One tiny painting has been attributed to Goya.
The theme of this new, attractively landscaped theme park is bio-diversity. Each of the ten pavilions has been specially designed to recreate a different natural environment, with the aim of demonstrating how life - animal life in particular - has learned to adapt to a variety of ecosystems. Thanks to the latest high-tech wizardry, visitors can experience a tropical storm, take a stroll through the rain forest or watch rivers of molten lava flowing 1000m (3281ft) beneath the earth s surface.
Light of Moncloa
The Moncloa observation tower (Faro de Moncloa) in the university district is open to the public, offering visitors panoramic views of Madrid from the flying-saucer-shaped viewing deck. The tower was designed by architect Salvador Arroyo in 1992, to monitor traffic congestion.
Museums: Experience The History of Past Generations & Cultures
The 213-year-old Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) has undergone an extensive renovation to reclaim its position among Europe s greatest galleries. Within its 4000-strong collection of 16th- to early 19th-century paintings, are masterpieces by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, El Bosco, Titian, Rembrandt and Velázquez, as well as evidence of the astonishing development of Goya - from his sun-soaked early paintings of dances and festivities to the grim madness of his black period.
Queen Sofia National Art Centre Museum
This museum, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, in the former Hospital de San Carlos is almost entirely dedicated to 20th-century Spanish art and was designed to give Spain a museum to equal France s Pompidou Centre and London s Tate Gallery. In 1986, Queen Sofía opened the museum, British architect Ian Ritchies glass lifts were installed in 1990 and, in 1992, the star attraction - Picasso s Guernica - added the final flourish.
The painting depicts the horrific Nazi bombing of the Basque country s traditional capital in April 1937 (in support of Franco s cause in the Spanish Civil War). Drawing hundreds of visitors daily, Guernica has not ceased to attract controversy. Dalí, Miró and Juan Gris are among the other artists on show. Art buffs may seek out exhibition spaces Palacio de Cristal, Palacio de Velázquez and the Casa de Vacas or the notorious Angel Caído (Fallen Angel) statue on the south avenue of the Palacio de Cristal.
Madrid purchased the private collection of Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza after a nine-and-a-half-year loan, instantly enriching the city s fund of art treasures. The Thyssen-Bornemisza collection contains over 800 paintings, sculptures, carvings and tapestries, ranging from primitive Flemish works to contemporary pieces. Highlights include works by Fra Angelico, Van Eyck, Dürer, Caravaggio and Rubens.
Shopping: Don't Forget Your Souvenirs
The Best Shopping District
Downtown, everybody will be sure to find something to their liking. Along Gran Vía, around the Plaza Mayor area and in the vicinity of Puerta del Sol, there are scores of shops, one after the other. Salamanca is the place to go for haute couture sold in small exclusive boutiques and with prices to match. For more affordable fashionable clothes, a stroll down Calle Fuencaral and through the shopping mall Mercado Fuencarral may prove successful.
The national chain of department stores, El Corte Inglés, naturally has several branches in Madrid. These stores cater for all kinds of merchandise, ranging from groceries to clothing and furniture. If you re looking for a specific CD, you ll be sure to find it in a store called Madrid Rock and if you re keen on Spanish literature, it is a good idea to head in the direction of the city s largest bookstore, the Casa del Libro.
If what you re looking for is a range of options all under one roof then one of the city malls is what you need. La Vaguada shopping gallery is located in the northern part of the city and consists of over 350 stores. If you re after more exclusive fashion garments, Galería del Prado on Plaza de la Cortes is the place to go.
The biggest and most widely known flea market in Madrid is El Rastro, which covers streets from Plaza Mayor all the way to Puerta de Toledo (La Latina). Every Sunday morning hundreds of salesmen begin setting up the stalls on which to show off their wares, which include almost anything one could ever think of buying. One can wind and weave through the throng until around 3 in the afternoon when the vendors begin packing up their stalls.
Nightlife: Let's Get The Party Started
Theatre, Movies and Other Cultural Activities
If dancing all night long is not your cup of tea, there are other quieter options to choose from when it comes to ways to spend the night. In Madrid there are over 100 movie theatres. Some are very modern, with the latest movies out at the box office while others are smaller and less frequented. These usually carry foreign or independent films. Make sure to look out for the Dia del Espectador - on these days movie tickets are sold at a reduced price, sometimes even at 50% off. Usually these days fall on Monday and Wednesdays.
Madrid also has many theatres to offer those seeking cultural entertainment. Some of these put on classical plays in huge halls and other theatres, usually smaller ones put on more experimental and avant garde performances.
Other cultural activities on offer aside from the theatre include orchestral performances, operas and many other artistic productions. The Circulo de Bellas Artes is made up of a theatre, a movie theatre, a cafe, and many other rooms in which new events and exhibitions are constantly being organized and displayed. Thanks to the Juan March Foundation, most activities here are free.
Cafes, Tapas Bars and Nightclubs
Madrid has cafes, tapas bars and nightclubs on almost every block and therefore only the most well-known are mentioned. The area most favoured by those who enjoy going out to these places is probably Plaza Santa Ana. This is where tourists usually flock to, however you will also come across a considerable number of locals as well. Tapas bars line the streets here so the selection is endless.
Along Castellana you will find mostly upscale bars and nightclubs with the kind of crowd such places attract. It is unlikely to find students here and the general age group ranges from 25 years upwards. The same goes for Retiro and Salamanca areas. This is where the "pijos" hang out, Spanish for yuppies. Running parallel to Castellana are many salsatecas or salsa nightclubs, owned and run by Latin American immigrants.
In the Malasaña district you ll mostly come across simpler bars that can come off as rather untidy or unclean. Prices here are very affordable and the crowd is generally very young, mostly made up of students who like to spend their evenings here. Plaza Dos de Mayo is a square that is always buzzing with activity - the clubs there are relatively stylish and therefore quite expensive. When the bars in this area close down for the night, the streets empty fairly quickly and it is not a good idea to stay around for to long as in this part of town street crime at that hour is very high.
The Chueca district is one of the favourite areas of Madrid at the moment. It may be helpful to know that this is the city s gay area, that way you ll know what to expect before wandering into the nightclubs there.
If you are a jazz or salsa fan, in Huerta you will be sure to find a music bar to your liking. On weekends these places usually have live music to enjoy along with your drink.
The La Latina district is ideal for enjoying a relaxing glass of red wine with your tapas in quiet inner patios and courtyards.
Street life reaches rush-hour proportions at 0400 - hardcore hedonists revel on until the following afternoon. While the busiest nights are Friday and Saturday (with Thursday a close runner-up), the locals go out every night and miraculously manage to work or study during the day.
Perhaps the secret to endless energy lies in the tradition of consuming tapas - snacks of olives, anchovies, chorizo sausages, gambas (deep-fried shrimp) and Madrid s specialities of orejas (pig s ears), callos (tripe), mollejas (sweetbreads), snails in hot sauce and bull's testicles.
Spaniards like to dress up when they go out. Even at "alternative" bars people are seldomly wearing jeans or tennis shoes. Women in Spain like to dress sensually, especially when going to nightclubs and are always careful to ensure that they are elegantly, fashionably and femininely dressed. There are of course, those that dress with a somewhat freakish fashion sense to stand out in the crowd.
Culture: Learn About Their Traditions
Madrid has had its fair share of cultural icons - Surrealist genius Salvador Dalí lived in the city as a student, as did film-maker Luis Buñuel and Ernest Hemingway hung around for a while to write his masterpieces. Today, Madrid s cultural temperature is still high. With a distinctive dancing style (chotis) and music (zarzuela) of its own, as well as the best Spanish performers and directors, a gem of an opera house, cinemas like palaces, and year-long festivities, Madrid s cultural scene is best described as exuberant .
There are no strict dress codes to be observed in Madrid - one s clothes should merely try and fit the occasion. During the somewhat oppressive summers people tend to wear light clothes to make the heat bearable. Winters in this city can get pretty cold.
Madrid has been rivaling with madrid to obtain the title as Fashion Capital of Spain. Here in Madrid fashion weeks are also organized with main events being held at the Pasarela Cibeles (Cibeles Catwalk). Twice a year, Madrid-based designers, such as Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Angel Schlesser and Javier Larrainar, among many others, present their creations and latest collections here.
You will find clothes by these great designers in the city s exclusive boutiques. If you re traveling on a tighter budget, your best bet will be to take a look in the shopping malls for clothes.
As everywhere else in Spain, food in Madrid is an important subject. Going to a restaurant for a meal is not only intended for eating purposes, but as a social occasion as well. In Madrid you will come across the simplest of snack bars and cafeterias as well as true gourmet shrines. And the beloved tapas bars must not be missed. Whether it s a small snack you re after or a plentiful and mouthwatering meal, in Madrid you are sure to find the food to your liking.
Many immigrants from places all over the world live in Madrid, and have naturally brought recipes from their homelands with them. International cuisine is gradually catching on here but why not take advantage of your stay in Spain to taste the exquisite local cuisine?!
Watch a Real madrid soccer game Spain s most successful team, and with a record nine European Champions Cups, arguably Europe s - and perhaps the world s - most storied soccer club. Long success on the field, immense financial resources and a history of acquiring superstars makes Real Madrid a magnet for players and fans alike. The Santiago Bernabéu is the famous football stadium in Madrid.
Festivals & Events: See What They're Celebrating
Village Summer Festivals
This festival, Veranos de la Villa, held during the first week in August, is made up of a series of cultural events including photo and art exhibitions, operas, concerts and theatrical performances. The festival features both small, up-rising musical groups as well as internationally famous music bands, which usually perform around Plaza España. Festivities continue on through the night on Plaza Mayor.
Verbena de la Paloma Festival
The Verbena de la Paloma Festival is held from August 6 to 15 in the La Latina area. This festival involves some of Madrid s best popular traditions. In the evenings bars are quickly filled with people and many free live concerts are held. Performances of traditional dances with folkloric costumes are put on and during this time Madrid takes on an almost village-like quality. The last evening sees off the festival with a spectacular firework show.
During Holy Week many church services and impressive processions take place in Madrid. Both Holy Thursday and Good Friday are official holidays here and on these days, as well as on Easter Saturday and Sunday, locals parade around the city streets, carrying religious statues, particularly of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Those seeking penitence can often be seen wearing long robes.
Carnival has been celebrated in Madrid since Medieval times. This tradition was interrupted for many decades by General Franco, who banned the carnival since the Civil War. In 1976 this ban was lifted and ever since, the popular event is celebrated every year. On the last day of Carnival, Ash Wednesday, the traditional "Entierro de la Sardina" (The Burial of the Sardine) is held on Paseo de la Florida. This marks the beginning of Lent.
Since 1970 the "Club de Musica y Jazz San Juan Evangelista" organizes the annual Jazz Festival in Madrid. In last year s festival, jazz greats such as Chick Corea and Dizzy Gillespie delighted onlookers with their musical talent. Other festivals, such as the Flamenco Festival, are also organized by the club, the aim being to reach as many people as possible. The festival is held in late October-November and admission fees are very low.
Feria de San Isidro
This religious festival is held in May and honors Madrid s patron saint. The Las Ventas bullring boasts the best bull fights of the season and many colorful street celebrations, concerts and performances brighten the city by day.
New Year's Eve
Thousands crowd to Puerta del Sol on New Year s Eve to see off the old year and welcome the new with fireworks. At midnight the Spanish tradition is to eat one grape on every strike of the clock, making a wish per grape.