Spain's sprawling capital city, Madrid, is one of Europe's most visitor-friendly destinations. From the narrow lanes around Puerta del Sol – the city's historic heart – to wide avenues like Paseo de la Castellana and Gran Vía, you'll discover culinary, cultural, visual and musical experiences to suit all tastes and ages.
Packed with museums and galleries, Madrid's 'big three' are located conveniently close to one another in the so-called Golden Triangle of Art: the magnificent Museo del Prado (www.museoprado.es) with thousands of classic Spanish artworks including Goya and Velázquez; the Museo Reina Sofía (www.museoreinasofia.es) showcasing 20th-century masterpieces by Picasso and Dalí; and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (www.museothyssen.org) for everything in between.
Though a busy modern capital, Madrid has plenty of green spaces in which to walk, cycle and skate, including a stunning 10 km (6 mile) parkway known as Madrid Río (www.esmadrid.com/madridrio). Gardens such as Parque del Buen Retiro (www.esmadrid.com/en/retiro-park) are filled with families picnicking, rowing on the lake or taking tea in an outdoor café. For a bird’s-eye view of Madrid's ever-changing cityscape, head to Paseo del Pintor Rosales for a 10-minute teleférico (cable car) ride to Casa de Campo, Madrid's largest park.
You'll need some energy for all those parks, so treat yourself to an award-winning pastry from Nunos (www.nunos.es), conveniently near Retiro park. Or stock up for a picnic at Mercado de San Miguel (www.mercadodesanmiguel.es), open daily near Plaza Mayor. If you're planning a night out, then choose some fancy clothes at a designer shop like Agatha Ruiz de la Prada (www.agatharuizdelaprada.com). Her flagship store is located on Calle Serrano, Madrid's elegant 'Fifth Avenue'.
Dress your best for Madrid's vibrant nightlife and be prepared to stay up late. For everything from rooftop tapas bars to all-night clubs, head to bar-heavy Huertas or La Latina, where Artebar La Latina (www.artebarlalatina.com) offers concerts and exhibitions. For a quirky cocktail bar-museum, Museo Chicote (www.museo-chicote.com) beckons on Gran Vía with live music and arty cocktails. More sedate, operatic experiences await at the magnificent Teatro Real (www.teatro-real.com).
Before you head out, line your stomach with traditional roast suckling pig from Botín (www.botin.es) – the world's oldest restaurant according to the Guinness Book of Records, with an original oven from 1725. At the other end of the scale is the 21st-century gastronomy of La Terraza del Casino (www.casinodemadrid.es/en/gastronomia/rest_terraza), managed by famed Catalan chef Ferrán Adrià and his disciple Paco Roncero. The tasting menu may include tempura rose petals and liquorice cake. Savour the best of Madrid's fusion cuisine on the terrace of Nihil Prius (www.nihilprius.com) behind Círculo de Bellas Artes cultural centre.
Get your camera ready for Spain's colourful festivals, often around Catholic holidays. During Semana Santa (Easter), you can join in with parades and concerts all over the city. A highlight of Madrid's cultural calendar is La Noche en Blanco (http://lanocheenblanco.esmadrid.com) in September, when you can enjoy myriad cultural attractions and concerts for free. Find jazz and rock culture at Festimad 2M (www.festimad.es), which draws crowds of alternative music lovers over 2 or 3 weeks in April and May.