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). As of July 2005, the population of the city was 3,228,000 and the population of the metro area was 5,843,000. 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.
Madrid is located just northeast of the geographical center of the Iberian Peninsula, in the middle of the Spanish central Castillian plateau (Meseta central), at an average altitude of 650m. Nearly all of the most famous tourist areas are located in the center of the city including Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real, and Plaza de Colón. The major streets in Madrid include the Gran Via, Alcalá Street, and Paseo de la Castellana.
The climate of Madrid is continental; mainly dry and quite extreme at times. Madrid sees perpetual sunshine and a characteristically hot and dry summer, and a fairly cold winter with frequent frosts during the night and the occasional snowfall. Spring and autumn are mild with the most rainfall concentrated in these seasons. Spring and autumn are definitely the best times to visit, especially the months of April, May, June, September and October. There is very little rainfall during summer and also less rainfall during winter. During winter snow occurs sporadically, however snowfall usually lasts only for a few days, but there is abundant snowfall in the adjacent mountain ranges nearby.
The culture of Madrid was dominated by its Royal history, centre of the Spanish Empire. The Royal Palace, big places and buildings used by the Spanish Monarchy, enormous cathedrals and churches are plentiful in Madrid, as well as medieval architecture, although nowadays Madrid is just as much a cosmopolitan city as Berlin or London, full of new architecture, lifestyle and culture.
As Spanish Capital, Madrid has meant the different "establishment" for most Spaniards. During the 2nd Republic (1931-1936) was a bustling city of new ideas. Being capital of the Franquist dictatorship (1939-1975) made the city still seemed to represent a conservative part of Spain to many Spaniards. However, the city is also the epicentre of the famous Movida, Spain's 80s movement that bred personalities such as the director Pedro Almodóvar. The heritage of this era is indeed still visible in the city centre, where a party can be found at all times and one of the most liberal and colourful environments of Spain can be seen. The city is also known for its great gay tolerance.
The citizens of Madrid, who refer to themselves as Madrileños or the more traditional and currently seldom used term "gatos" (cats), live by a daily routine that is heavily influenced by the climate. Due to the typically midday heat during summer, a "siesta" can be still observed during which some citizens take a break to cool off, though Madrileños can usually only afford this 'luxury' during holidays and weekends. Most stores are open during all the day; just small stores are often closed during this time. Workers and those more afflicted by Western lifestyles choose not to observe this long break and work traditional business hours, which are usually between 9AM and 6-7PM. During summer many offices, however, will have a summer schedule requiring workers to start at 8am and finish at 3pm (most commonly without the standard 1-2 hour break for lunch). Offices usually close during the weekend but businesses are often open Saturday morning (downtown stays open until afternoon). Most grocers are closed on Sundays, but some major chain and department stores linked to "culture" (books, music, etc.) will be open throughout the day and all of them on the first Sunday of the month. Shops and department stores in Puerta del Sol area can open every day.
Madrid possibly has the largest number of bars per capita of any European city and a very active nightlife; Madrileños are known to stay up until as late as 5AM-7AM. It is quite common to see a crowded Gran Via on weekend nights. It is important to note that, due to this lifestyle, lodging located near the fun areas may end up a nightmare for light sleepers if your window faces the street.
Madrid has a very modernized and elaborate transportation network of buses and Metro. The city contrasts with some large European cities in that it is extremely clean, and city employees in bright yellow vests can almost always be seen cleaning the streets and sidewalks. Like most large cities, however, there is a substantial population of vagrants and beggars lining the streets.
Madrid is one of the biggest and most cosmopolitan cities in Europe. Communities of West Africans, North Africans, other Europeans, Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and (especially) Latin Americans are prominent.