Lay of the Land
The city of Madrid is divided into barrios, or neighborhoods. A good place to start is Puerta del Sol, a bustling meeting point from which all Spain's road distances are set. To the north of Sol is Gran Vía, which contains the city's "Great Way" thoroughfare cutting east-west through the city. North of Gran Vía is lively Malasaña, which is bordered by the popular Chueca area. Further north is Alonso Martínez, where you'll find the Plaza de Colón. To the east of Sol is Las Cortes neighborhood, where the Prado and Thyssen museums and the Plaza de Cibeles are located. To the south is Atocha and the Reina Sofía museum, as well as the literary neighborhood of Huertas. West of Sol is Opera and the Royal Palace, and to the southwest is the La Latina neighborhood and the famous Rastro flea market.
WHEN TO GO
The Madrileños have a catchy phrase for their climate: "Nueve meses de invierno, tres meses de infierno" ("nine months of winter, three months of hell"), but it's not quite that bad. True, summers are hot, hot, hot, with temperatures often above 100 degrees, but it is a dry heat. Residents clear out during the last week of July and the first three weeks of August. But while winter does drag on, it hardly ever snows. The best climate, though, is in May, which also happens to feature the festival of Madrid's patron saint, San Isidro.
HOW TO GET THERE
Madrid Barajas International Airport is about eight miles northeast of the city (www.madrid-mad.com). There are direct flights from nearly every major US city, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, LA, Miami and New York. To reach the city by subway, take Line 8 from Barajas to Nuevos Ministerios, where you can change to one of the several other subway lines. Or catch a quick taxi to one of the hotels in the center, which should run to about 25 to 30 euros ($35 to $40).View Spain Factsheet