As the capital of Spain and one of the world's great cities, Madrid is more than the sum of its museums, monuments, galleries and other tourist attractions. As the administrative centre of Western Europe's second-largest country, Madrid serves as a natural gateway and introduction to the country's abundant visitor attractions.
Much like Europe's other major capitals such as London and Paris, visitors arrive from cheap flights to Madrid to enjoy the talents of artists and performers attracted to the city from the length and breadth of the country. This may go some way toward explaining why Madrid can lay a very real claim to being one of Europe's cultural capitals.
Located in the centre of the country, Madrid's centre is Puerta del Sol that, in turn, is seen as the literal and figurative centre of the city and country with a spot near the council building designated as kilometre zero, from which distances to other cities in Spain are measured.
A short distance from this centre lies Plaza Mayor which has undergone a terrific expansion from its roots as a local market square into the grandiose focal point of the city. Tourist amenities in the form of souvenir sellers and cafes abound in the area though the prices reflect their very central location.
Most outings around Madrid can start here and should take in some of the following standouts from the city's countless attractions.
The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía features the single most visited work in all of Madrid, Picasso's Guernica, a reason alone why many visitors book flights to Spain, has called Reina Sofia home since 1992 and also features works by most of the last century's major Spanish artists. As the name suggests the Museo Sorolla is dedicated to the works of Joaquín Sorolla who lived in the house. The Museo de América features a collection of items brought back from the new world during Spain's conquest of the Americas - these include Colombian and Mayan artefacts. Finally, a subject of a lesser cultural but no less passion-inducing standing: football. The Real Madrid Museum can be seen as part of a stadium tour that takes in the Bernabeu, the iconic home of Real Madrid football club.
The Royal Palace (Palacio Real) is another can't-miss museum. The 3,000-room building is not short of space and since it is not the home of the Spanish Royal family, it is open to the public. The Museo del Prado is considered by some to be one of the world's greatest galleries and features works by some of the world's undisputedly greatest artists such as El Greco, Velázquez and Goya in the Spanish contingent and Rubens, Bosch and Botticelli representing the rest of the world.