A melting pot of cultures and cuisines, many argue that cosmopolitan Madrid does not have its own distinct flavour of gastronomy; the Spanish capital is highly influenced by the contributions of the immigrants who once settled here and the variety of food on offer is exciting.
Madrileño fare can never be called dull or boring with such delicacies as tripe and sausage, or crispy pig's ears and sweetbread (bull's testicles), but plenty of other safer options exist for the less adventurous, such as gazpacho (chilled tomato and cucumber soup), Besugo al horno (baked bream), Cocido (beef, pork, chicken and vegetable stew) and the well-known tapas (savoury tidbits of appetisers). Those with a sweet tooth can enjoy barquillos (rolled wafers), buñuelos (fritters filled with custard and whipped cream) or bartolillos con crema (small pies with custard).
As in most Spanish cities, tapas restaurants can be found all over Madrid and some of the most popular eateries can be found in the area around Plaza Mayor and Sol. Visitors should bear in mind that lunch and dinner start much later than in many other countries. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest evenings for eating out and it is advisable to make a booking in advance to be sure of securing a table.
Madrid offers arguably some of the best shopping in not only Spain but also Europe, and with so many shopping districts all touting their own specialities, visitors can find just about anything and everything! With small, specialised stores, boutiques and antique shops as well as the slightly bigger department stores and bustling food markets, Madrid is a shopper's paradise.
The city's answer to Bond Street, dubbed 'the golden mile', Salamanca is one of Madrid's most glamorous places for visitors to indulge and stretch their credit cards' legs, while Chueca is filled with trendy fashion stores. El Corte Ingles at Sol is by far the most convenient place for shopaholics to get their fix, selling all kinds of goods from high fashion to regional foods such as Chorizo (spicy sausage) and Turron (a kind of nougat). One of the most popular markets is Rastro, attracting Madrilenos and tourists alike. It has become famous for its antique stalls, second hand goods, jewellery and unreliable electrical goods and is held every Sunday from morning until mid-afternoon.
Most shops close on Saturday afternoons and in July and August some small shops close completely. On Sunday, a handful of shops open their doors as well as some of the larger stores and small cake shops. Practically everything in Spain closes for siesta for at least two hours during the hottest part of the day and the usual reopening hours are from around 4.30pm to 8pm.
The nightlife in Madrid is varied and exciting with many pubs, tascas (cheap bars), theatres, movie houses and nightclubs to keep visitors entertained. El terraceo (terrace-hopping) is a way of life in Madrid. Most people only start partying at around 11pm and few locals enter a nightclub before 1am. Many places stay open past dawn. Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Gran Vía and Chueca are some of the trendiest nightlife areas.
Viva Madrid and Los Gabrieles are two of the most popular bars, but there are also many old tavernas around Los Austrias to explore. Plaza Santa Ana and the surrounding streets have a few good spots and the seven-floor Kapital has a great rooftop bar. For clubbing, the Room is fantastic but only open Fridays, Joy Eslava Disco comes highly recommended, and Lavapies is popular with the bohemian crowd. There are wonderful flamenco performances at Casa Patas, and the Lope de Vega theatre has excellent shows. Tapas and coffee bars are also very popular in Madrid.
There are various Madrid nightlife coach tours offered, a good way to avoid queues and entrance fees at certain venues. Children are admitted in many bars, cafeterias and restaurants, as well as some pubs.