Madrid has lots of traffic and it's difficult to park so there's no need for a car.
Fly direct from various UK airports with BA, Iberia and Easyjet. Madrid Barajas airport is 45 minutes from the centre by metro. A taxi into town should cost less than €30.
The metro is a cheap, clean and fast way to get around. Buy a 'bono' of ten trips for €6.15 which can be used however far you travel either by metro or bus. Madrid is at the heart of Spain's efficient and reasonably priced train network (www.renfe.com).
Country code for Spain: 34. Madrid: 91.
Los Misterios de Madrid (The Mysteries of Madrid) by Antonio Muñoz Molina; El Capitán Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte; new Madrid-set spy tale, The Spanish Game by Charles Cumming.
Do go / Don't Go
Don't go in August, when the city turns into a ghost town with most people closing up shop and heading for the beach. Winter may cold but the sun still shines brightly. Spring and autumn are ideal as the weather is mild and the city hosts several festivals during these seasons.
Tapas is as popular in Madrid as elsewhere in Spain but the chilly winters also give the city some warming dishes such as cocido madrileño, a traditional meal of broth and vegetables, as well as chickpea stews and hearty cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig). Also typical to Madrid are sopa de ajo (garlic soup), and bacalao a la madrileña, a dish of salted cod in a tomato, parsley and garlic sauce.
Cabs are very reasonably priced and easy to flag down anywhere. There's an extra charge when going to the airport or train station.
Ten per cent in restaurants and a few coins when ordering a drink or tapas.
Sunglasses, even in winter, as the light is often intense.
The area around the Paseo del Prado is home to Madrid's three greatest museums: the Prado (museoprado.mcu.es), the Reina Sofia (www.museoreinasofia.es) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza (www.museothyssen.org). The range and scope of these museums is breathtaking and together they constitute one of the greatest collections of artistic treasures in the world. The Prado is famous for its works by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, while the Reina Sofia museum showcases a predominantly Spanish collection of modern masterpieces.
Salamanca is the main district for boutiques and labels. Head for Calle Serrano and Lagasca as well as exploring all the smaller roads off these for high-end fashion finds. In Chueca, Calle Fuencarral and surrounding streets are the place to look for Spanish designers and familiar brands at much lower prices than the UK. Great high street buys here include Zara, Mango, Massimi Dutti and Homeless. If you're after some fine Spanish wine, Lavinia on Claudio Coello 76 (91 4356 917; www.lavinia.es) has more than 1,500 varieties and many different types of spirits with a good price range for every pocket. Credited as Europe's largest market, no trip to Madrid is complete without a visit to the sprawling Sunday market of El Rastro in La Latina. Filled with bargains, rip-offs, junk and treasures, it's a lively place for a stroll with one eye on the countless stalls and the other on your wallet.
The Faro de Moncloa is a 100-metre-high transmission tower with an observation deck at the Plaza de Moncloa, offering fine views over the city. A daytime trip on the cable car above the green parkland of Casa de Campo, starting at Paseo del Pintor Rosales, also has some wonderful vistas.
Join the locals for a stroll in Retiro park. The tree-lined avenues are thronged with performers and hawkers on a Sunday afternoon when the park is at its busiest.
February The Caja Madrid Flamenco Festival is held during the first week of the month at Casa Encendida (www.lacasaencendida.com). Mid February Arco is Spain's foremost contemporary art fairs attracting renown galleries from around the world as well as showcasing leading Spanish talent. March Madrid's Gay Pride is a riotously colourful parade from Puerta de Alcalá to Puerta del Sol followed by all-night partying in Chueca. 15 May The Festival of San Isidro sees concerts in the Plaza Mayor and daily bullfights at the city's gargantuan arena. Mid October to mid November The Festival de Otoño fills the city with a wide range of music and dance events.