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Madrid Guide

Madrid is the capital of Spain and its largest city. Founded over a thousand years ago, Mayrīt, as it was then known, was an Arab settlement on the banks of the Manzanares River. Today, with its 3.2 million inhabitants, it is the third largest city in the European Union (after London and Berlin) and a bustling, cosmopolitan financial hub with a varied cultural offering representative of its diverse, international population. This city audaciously combines old and new to create a one-of-a-kind atmosphere to be found nowhere else. The district of Lavapiés is a truly unique microcosm of the world; its denizens hail from around the planet and all live together in this singular neighbourhood in the heart of the old quarter.

This is a city with a wealth of culture. A stroll down Paseo de la Castellana is also a tour of the eclectic arquitectural diversity that characterises Madrid. The city's many prestigious museums are one of its main attractions for tourists both foreign and domestic. The Museo del Prado is home to one of the most renowned collections of paintings and sculptures in Europe, including Velázquez's "Las Meninas" and Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights". Other important museums include the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Reina Sofía which houses Picasso's "Guernica", among many other important modern artworks, and the Caixa Forum which exhibits a collection of contemporary art from the 1980s onward. For theatre aficionados, the shows at the emblematic Teatro de la Zarzuela are not to be missed.

Madrid's nightlife is one of the most intense in the world. It is not at all uncommon for parties to last all night long right through to the next morning; not for nothing is Madrid known throughout Spain as la ciudad que nunca duerme (the city that never sleeps). From bohemian Malasaña, through the lively gay district of Chueca to posh Plaza de Santa Ana, there's a slice of everything here in a city that caters to all tastes.

Yet in spite of Madrid's burgeoning population it is also one of the greenest cities in Europe, full of trees and vast green spaces known popularly as pulmones de Madrid (lungs of Madrid). Casa de Campo, the largest of these spaces, spans a colossal 1.722 hectares (it is five times larger than New York's Central Park) and Retiro Park, located right in the middle of the city, covers 118 hectares.

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