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Madrid is not as large as it might seem—especially the central districts. Right in the middle of the city lies the Puerta del Sol, a traffic nexus that is the point from which all distances are measured. Also, the house numbering on every street starts at the end nearest the Sol. West and south of the Sol, are the oldest areas of the city, Los Austrias, which contain the royal palace (Palacio Real) and the historic and well-trodden square, Plaza Mayor. The triangular area to the east and south of the Sol—with the Plaza de Cibeles, Atocha Station and the Sol at its corners—is one of the liveliest districts in Madrid, containing countless bars and restaurants. This is also where the three big museums stand in a row, and beyond them, the largest park in central Madrid, Parque del Buen Retiro. Directly south of the Sol is Lavapiés: formerly a working class area, but now the most ethnically interesting part of the city thanks to a significant influx of immigrants from Africa and Asia. North of the Puerta del Sol and the parade avenue of Gran Vía are the Malasaña and Chueca districts. The former is an old residential area that has been cleaned up in the last twenty years, whilst remaining one of the city’s most relaxed bar districts. The latter has also undergone a rebirth: today it is Madrid’s hippest quarter, a centre for a culture of clubbing, restaurants and clothing shops. Originally a gay district, it is now best described as broad-minded.
Madrid is a wonderful city that inspires casual strolls around green areas and frantic nights of adventure. People fill the streets at every hour of the day and there are impressive buildings, lush parks and picturesque streets in abundance. Culture is ever-present here, and you don't have to be a history buff to appreciate the architecture and constant reminders of a long and rich history.
The varied culinary traditions of the entire Iberian Peninsula come together in Madrid to such a degree that experts discuss whether Madrid actually has a distinct culinary style of its own. The culinary culture of Spain’s capital city has been enriched by immigrants from Andalucia, Galicia, Asturia and a number of other regions in Spain and around the world.
Spanish coffee culture is a social and animated affair. Café con leche usually accompanies breakfast, preferably with a croissant. Mid-day, especially after a meal, locals have an espresso, café solo or a cortado, which is an espresso with milk. Café Americano is what some would call watered down versions of the two first coffees. In the afternoon, or after dinner, order a café solo corto, a strong espresso, or a carajillo—a café solo with Spanish brandy.
Because the clever Spaniards think you should always eat when drinking, most bars also serve food—usually tapas. And despite the efforts of the authorities, Madrid’s nightlife still happens later than in most other cities, and goes on for longer, as well.
Put simply, there are three main shopping areas in Madrid: Centro, located between Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía; Chueca, directly to the north and east of Centro; and Salamanca, slightly further to the east. These represent three different types of shopping, especially with regard to the range of products offered. It’s middle-of-the-road in Centro, trendy in Chueca and expensive designer fashion labels in Salamanca.
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