Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain, as well as the capital of the autonomous community of the same name (Comunidad de Madrid). The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million with a metro area population of almost 6.5 million. Madrid is best known for its great cultural and artistic heritage, a good example of which is the El Prado museum. Madrid also boasts some of the liveliest nightlife in the world.
The most famous of Madrid’s many stately plazas, the Plaza Mayor dates back to 1619, when it lay outside the city’s bounds and was used to host bullfights. During the Spanish Inquisition, many accused heretics met their death there. Three sides of the rectangular cobblestone plaza are bordered by block-long rows of three-story apartments completed in the late 18th century.
The Museo del Prado is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Madrid. The 18th century structure designed by architect Juan de Villanueva houses one of the world’s finest art collections. A 2007 expansion has made the famed museum easier to navigate. With more than 7,000 works of art representing culture and history from the 12th century to the early 19th century, however, it’s impossible to see everything in a single visit. Visitors may wish to focus on the museum’s collection of Spanish artists, including Goya, El Greco, da Ribera and Velázquez, which is inarguably the best collection of Spanish paintings in the world.
The Gran Vía is known as the Broadway of Madrid because it’s “the street that never sleeps.” The grand boulevard runs through central Madrid from the Plaza de España to Calle de Alcalá. Although the street now seems integral to the bustling capital, it’s actually a fairly recent addition to the city. Completed in 1910, the Gran Vía is lined with hundreds of shops, restaurants and businesses.