At times Madrid is Spain’s forgotten city, until an inevitable photo of Cristiano Ronaldo appears on your computer monitor and you remember that it does exist. And yes, it is Spain’s capital city. Lee Eustace reflects on a recent visit to the capital.
Centrally located with a continental climate, Madrid does not offer the luxurious coastal vacation that British and Irish tourists so often crave. For families planning holidays, the thought of lugging worn suitcases and children through Spain’s bustling metropolis in thirty degree heat, is one which would make a fortune as an advertising campaign for Durex.
Without the costal breeze and the kiddie’s camp, Madrid is often lost amidst a myriad of Spanish costal havens. Admittedly, its attraction does not lend itself to the demographic of family holiday destination, nor does it lend itself to the vision of what we mistakenly perceive Spain to be – A sunnier version of Bray head, with more roller-coasters, less rocks on the beach, and a more exotic name – Costa del what?
Madrid, despite its estimated population of 6 million, remains a quintessentially Spanish destination. Not the type of Spain where you are likely to forget that English isn’t an official language, as you try to avert your gaze from the middle-aged tourist, feasting on his full-English breakfast, while nursing a pint of San Miguel in nothing but his union-jack shorts. But rather a cultural milieu, a series of quaint architectural treasures and bustling cobblestone alleyways. 
Madrid’s city centre is a cosmopolitan paradise for artists and tourists alike. An interesting dichotomy emerges between traditional Spanish life and the influence of tourists and immigrants. The most obvious example of this is dichotomy is Madrid’s gastronomy. Unlike the tourist-saturated areas on Spain’s coast, Madrid’s gastro-landscape does not consist of a fry and a pint. 
San Miguel is replaced by Mahou as the local beer, and pints are replaced by cañas- measuring less than half a pint. Cañas are typically served with tapas, anything ranging from hamburgers to tripe, all of which is included in the price of a beer. Similarly, the role that a bar or a pub plays in the lifestyle of a madrileño differs greatly to Irish customs.
Walking through Madrid’s narrow streets, one is as likely to see a bar full of busy students and businessmen sipping coffee while working on laptops, as one is to find the town drunk drowning his sorrows in a half-pint of beer and a bowl of paella.  
A series of eye-catching art exhibitions surround the city, with many tourists flocking to Madrid in search of artistic inspiration from what is a spring of international voices and a subterfuge for the culturally inclined. Alternatively, Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu attains a Mecca-like status for thousands of football fans who line the Spanish capital to show their support for Europe’s most successful club.
The Stadium itself, with a grand capacity of 81,000, is home to Madrid’s recently refurbished footballing museum – a fountain of football memorabilia which is broadcasted through a series of interactive digital screens in what is the pinnacle of sporting tours. 
From art galleries to tapas, football matches to cañas and street markets to department stores, Madrid is a hub of cultural and tourist activity. While it lacks the aesthetic appeal of sandy white beaches and a coastal breeze, Madrid remains true to its Spanish roots while also incorporating a growing cosmopolitan influence – making it a must-see for tourist, so long as you leave the kids at home. 

Photo: Felipe Gabaldón/ Flickr