While the area on which Madrid now stands has been continuously occupied since prehistoric times, its modern history begins in the 9th century with the construction of a fortress to defend Muslim-controlled Toledo against Christian armies invading from the north. In 1085, midway through the 700-year-long Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula, Madrid was captured by Christian forces from the kingdom of Castile. It grew steadily into a city and remained under Castile’s control until the unification of Spain in 1492, which marked the end of the Reconquista.
Madrid owes much of its old-world appeal to the transformational efforts of King Charles III, the so-called “best mayor of Madrid.” During his late-18th-century reign, Charles ordered the construction of many of the city’s most iconic monuments, including the Royal Botanical Gardens and the Puerta de la Alcalá. He also installed modern infrastructure, such as a sewer system and street lighting.
Spain’s capital today is a busy, cosmopolitan city, the country’s cultural, political and economic heart. It is known as much for its exquisite architecture and monuments as for its active nightlife. While the recent European Union economic troubles have hit Spain particularly hard, Madrid remains a vibrant metropolis with a lifetime of sights and activities for the visitor to experience.
Must see: The Museo del Prado, which together with the nearby Reina Sofía and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museums forms the Golden Triangle of Art, is one of the finest art museums in the world, with a collection that includes Velázquez’s famous Las Meninas, as well as the the work of masters like Goya, el Greco and Hieronymous Bosch. You could fill a book with other must-see locations and monuments in the city, including the Royal Palace, Royal Theater, National Library, Buen Retiro Park, the Plaza de Cibelas and countless others.
Lodging: Hotel Villa Real–This hotel, situated in the heart of the city, features elegant architecture, wood paneling, marble floors and state-of-the-art accommodations, as well as an extensive collection of Roman mosaics and Greek Apulian vessels that date back as far as the third century B.C.E.
Ground Transportation: When you exit your private jet, you’ll find yourself in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Catch a MadridVision “hop-on, hop-off” double-decker bus to tour the historic sites of the city center.
Packing Tips: English speakers who enjoy reading should be sure to bring an e-reader; English-language books are hard to come by in Spain.
Recommended Books: Though not a native of the city, Miguel de Cervantes made his home there for some time. His novel Don Quixote is considered the pinnacle of Spanish literature and one of the best works of fiction ever written.
Currency: The Euro is the local currency.
Calling Code Spain: 34