Despite its status as a leading European capital, land-locked Madrid has often been overshadowed as a tourist destination by the more glamorously chic Barcelona.
But its appeal to travelers is on the rise, with world class museums and dining, expansive, centrally located parks and first-rate shopping increasingly drawing visitors to its bustling thoroughfares.
Struggling economically, Spain continues to lure tourists and budget-minded travelers can stretch their dollars at hundreds of small, centrally located hotels and cafes that cater to both locals and foreigners serving up surprisingly sophisticated cuisine.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you get the most out of a short stay in this growing tourist destination.
5 p.m. - With a metropolitan area population of more than six million, Madrid is a major city and could seem overwhelming for first-timers. Best to stay in the center of the capital, where affordable hotels such as the Praktik Metropol abound. Airy, modern rooms can be found for $100 a night, sometimes even less, and the location steps off the Gran Via couldn't be better suit to major sites.
5:30 p.m. - Like many Western economies, Spain is struggling. Show your local smarts and save the entry fee at the world famous Prado Museum by lining up for the nightly free admission at 6 p.m. While you'll only have two hours, research which galleries house the artists you most want to see. And as you're in Spain, "local" artists such as El Greco, Goya and Velasquez might be among logical choices.
8:30 p.m. - It's too early for dinner in Spain, where most restaurants don't even open doors until 9. So go with tradition and sample the tapas and libations at Taberna de Antonio Sánchez (Calle de Mesón des Paredes 13), which specializes in local favorites.
10 p.m. - For dinner, head over to the lively Chueca district, with its trendy, funky shops, cafes and bars, driven by a youthful vibe and burgeoning gay scene.
At Bazaar, you'll find a sprawling, airy and stylish whitewashed room with huge glass windows looking out at the bustling street scene below. Arrive early to score a table on the upper level, and sample a host of moderately priced starters and entrees that navigate the terrain between pan-Asian and Spanish cuisines ranging from risottos to fresh fish.
Midnight: A stroll back to your hotel is entertainment enough, as the streets bustle with couples and groups heading off to tap into Madrid's pulsing nightlife. This