You can feel the sense of pride in this city

City Slicker: Madrid is enjoying the benefits of a major facelift. Harriet O'Brien offers some top ideas for new and returning visitors
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The Independent Travel

Why visit?

The Spanish capital is reborn: Madrid is in the throes of completing a series of major renovations.

Since the millennium, the city has been the subject of enormous change, from the addition of several spectacular new art spaces to the refurbishment of many streets and squares, and even the tidying away of traffic – several roads have been swept underground and new subterranean car parks constructed. Work is currently in progress in the area around the Teatro Real opera house. Elsewhere, the capital is looking spruce, and the resulting sense of pride here is palpable.

The new looks have heightened the intrinsic party spirit of the city. The Madrileños cheerfully refer to themselves as "Los Gatos", the cats, due to their ability to stay up – and out – all night. So, reschedule your waking hours, eat late (about 11pm) and then hit the bars and clubs. The most vibrant areas are La Latina, Santa Ana and Chueca; some of the most vibrant options include small Marula Café (marulacafe.com, Fridays and Saturdays) at Calle Canos Viejos 3, near La Latina metro station, for jazz, soul and Latin-Brazilian funk, and Mondo at Sala Stella (web-mondo.com, Thursdays to Saturdays) on Calle Arlaban 7, near Sevilla metro station, for sheer atmosphere.

Daylight offers uplifting weather conditions. Right now, the city has a chilly edge, particularly in the mornings. But with sunshine and blue skies pretty much guaranteed all day every day, this is an inspiring – and uncrowded – time of year to visit.

Don't miss...

Paseo del Arte. The Spanish capital's astonishing trio of treasure houses lie within walking distance of each other. The Prado (museoprado.es) presents some of Europe's very greatest art, including works by Velazquez, Goya, Dürer and Bosch. Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza (museothyssen.org) offers a potted history of Western art, with works ranging from 13th-century Italian altarpieces to paintings by Dali and Klee. And the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (museoreinasofia.es) presents an impressive collection of modern art – in particular works by Picasso, Miro and Dali.

Plaza Mayor. Enjoy a (pricey) coffee and drink in the atmosphere too of this grand arcaded square.

Parque del Retiro (parquedelretiro.com). This green retreat in the heart of the city rewards visitors with a stroll around its elegant promenades, lakes, fine buildings and statuary.

Palacio Real. The seat of Spanish royalty is an impressive confection in limestone and granite. Get closer on a tour of the 50 rooms that are open to the public.

Bernabeu Stadium. The home of Real Madrid FC (realmadrid.com) is open to visitors, with daily tours taking in the pitch, trophy room, players' tunnel and dressing rooms.

What's new?

Nuevo Serrano

The Bond Street of Madrid, Calle Serrano, is the latest part of town to have finished receiving a makeover. Lined with outlets such as Prada, Carolina Herrera, Hermès, Longchamp and more, this very long, very glamorous street has been subtly smartened and revised with new lighting, paving and street furniture.

Eurostars Madrid Tower Hotel

The capital's latest five-star accommodation is north of the centre in the brand new Cuatro Torres business area, which is nearing completion. Spacious, contemporary-chic and with tremendous views, the Eurostars Madrid Tower is set over the first 31 floors of the 52-storey SyV tower. Doubles cost from €131 (£111) without breakfast (00 34 91 334 27 00; eurostarsmadridtower.com).

Le Cabrera

Adding to the range of Madrid's stylish gastrobars, Le Cabrera is owned by Diego Cabrera and Sergi Arola, whose impressive credentials include establishing the Arola restaurant in the Arts Hotel, Barcelona, and winning two Michelin stars at Sergi Arola Gastro restaurant in Madrid. This new venture at Calle Barbara de Braganza 2 is a cocktail bar serving wonderfully inventive tapas (00 34 91 319 94 57; lecabrera.com).

Crystal Gallery

Madrid's magnificent city hall was built in 1919 as the Palacio de Correos y Comunicaciones, the telegraph office – and it became known as "Our Lady of Telecommunications" because it looks so cathedral-like. It has now been transformed into the city's administrative headquarters. In June, a glass dome covering its inner courtyard was completed – cleverly giving the capital a striking new space for special celebrations and gatherings (entrance on Calle Montalban, open Sundays 10am-6pm).

Insider's Secret

Olga Martinez Garcia-Olalla, city guide and art student

"Go to the church of Real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida – the nearest metro station to Paseo de la Floridas is Principe Pio. Goya painted the fabulous frescos here in the late 1790s and the building also contains his tomb. Later, you should have lunch at Casa Mingo next door (casamingo.es). It's a wonderful café – they make their own cider and serve really good chicken dishes."

Compact Facts

How to get there

From the UK, Madrid's Barajas Airport is served by Iberia (0870 609 0500; Iberia.com/gb); British Airways and BA Cityflyer (0844 4930787; ba.com); easyJet (0871 244 2366; easyjet.com); and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com).

Further information

Spanish Tourist Board (spain.info).

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