One of the best ways to see Madrid is to tackle it neighborhood by neighborhood. This is because each "barrio" has a different personality and history to it. From the touristy Puerta Del Sol to rocking Malasaña and from the elegance of wealthy Salamanca to the historic Plaza Mayor, Madrid truly has something for all tastes and interests.
Puerta Del Sol is a good place to start as a number of important roads diverge here. You can head westward on Calle Arenal to reach the Royal Theater & Palace or travel southwest on Calle Mayor to the Plaza Mayor and Austrias.
Go eastward to Carrera de San Jerónimo and this brings you to the Congress and Prado Museum, while the Calle de Alcalá will take you straight to the Puerta de Alcalá, Plaza de Cibeles, and the Retiro Park. Any of the northbound shopping streets of Montera, Preciados or Carmen direct you out on to the most famous shopping street, Gran Vía. Across from here and you are on your way to Malasaña.
Puerta Del Sol is the more bustling center in the middle of Madrid, with lots of large department stores, many retail shops and numerous fast food restaurants on every side. Its central location makes it a popular meeting point. Come here for New Year’s Eve, and you would think you are in New York’s Times Square. Thousands of tourists and locals gather to the count down of the chimes of the clock above Casa de Correos. The years old tradition is to eat a grape for every chime.
The most popular Madrid attractions are around the Plaza Mayor in the Austrias neighborhood. You can discover the Madrid food at some really classy restaurants like El Botín or Casa Lucío. You can sit and eat whilst watching flamenco dancers at any one of the nearby venues.
Take a trip to the hip Cava Baja Street for a glass of sherry! Los Austrias is a brilliant neighborhood to stroll along winding streets and lose yourself in historic Madrid.
Madrid is very easy to get to, as are most European capital cities, especially since the recent upgrade and extension at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport. Almost every major international airline flies into as well as the up and coming low cost carriers such as Easy jet. The low cost airlines are now expanding routes to provide a bigger variety of cheap flights to Madrid.
Madrid Barajas Airport now has a new terminal (T4) which was finished in March 2006 increasing traffic tremendously. Barajas is now the 4th busiest airport in Europe. Due to the 4 terminals at Madrid’s airport, be sure to note which terminal you are flying from as T4 is quite a walk from the other 3 terminals.