It's midnight on the streets, and an elderly woman passes by with a stroller. Up ahead, laughing crowds slide into chic restaurants for dinner. And it's a Tuesday. Strange? Not in Madrid -- this charming city is up all night, every night. A perfect spot for the cosmopolitan couple, the Spanish capital blends big-city style and energy with laid-back Mediterranean attitude.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
Flight time: 7.5 hours from NYC, 13.5 hours from LA, 11 hours from Chicago
Getting around: Subway, taxi, bus
When to Go: Madrid at its best
Best weather: September to November; April to June (Summers can reach highs of 104 degrees Fahrenheit and winters dip below freezing, so plan a trip in spring or fall for averages around 70.)
Best prices: December to February
What To Do
Art and gardens: No Spanish vacation is complete without a stroll through the renowned Museo del Prado. Commissioned in 1785 by King Carlos III, it houses the works of the nation's three great masters: Fransisco Goya, Diego Velazquez and El Greco -- not to mention a couple of famous and frightening works by Hieronymous Bosch. Next door to the Prado is the Jardin Botanico, a beautiful garden in the center of the bustling city. Spend an afternoon in the shade of this centuries-old garden that holds plants, trees, flowers, and cacti from around the world.
People-watch: You can see plenty of sights while simply lounging in Madrid's town squares, where Spaniards of all ages congregate for delicious coffee and churros (the Spanish version of a donut) in the morning, and sangria and tapas in the late afternoon. One of the most popular places to people-watch is the Plaza Mayor, which has seen everything from bullfights to royal marriages and public executions in its centuries-long existence. (That's quite a combo!)
Tapas and copas: You certainly won't go hungry (or thirsty!) on the streets of Madrid. The city is packed with bars, “cafeterias” (bars with meals), pubs, and terrazas (fancy outdoor cafés) -- and the bartenders aren't stingy. Be prepared for an array of tapas (Spanish snacks), and a hearty dash of liquor in your copa (a mixed drink in a tall glass). You'll find bars and discotecas (dance clubs) open at all hours, so feel free to party 'til dawn.