Before you plunge into the kinetic life of this cultured party-town, take a deep breath and look up at the piercing blue sky immortalized by the master painter Velazquez. Madrid has gone through many changes since the Hapsburgs made it the new capital of Spain in the Middle Ages. The clear sky, the energy of its people, and its historic place as an epicenter of refined civilization, however, have remained steadfast. Many structures look more French than Spanish, a direct result of the marriages of alliance between the French and Spanish royals. This is mostly the case in the section known as Bourbon Madrid. Beyond the city there are more examples, like the massive and ornate Palacio Real de la Granja built by in 1719 as a royal country home akin to the French royal châteaus. Old Madrid is the other main section of the city, characterized more by the reign of the Moors, the subsequent re-conquest by Catholic Spaniards, and a good dose of Hapsburg influence.

In nearly every district of this vast city you encounter palaces, churches, monasteries, grand squares, elegant parks, and hundreds of museums headed up by the stupendous Prado, that together hold the world's greatest concentration of priceless art. Still, many will say that the greatest allure of Spain is its people. They are a vivacious, friendly lot that loves to live and lives to love, finding no entertainment greater than that of spending many hours each day talking with friends and family over tapas at a neighborhood tavern. When you visit, don't forget to take your daily siesta or you'll never be able to keep up with the full, long days of the Madrileños!
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