We lived in Madrid for almost 2 years, from the beginning of 2013 until the end of 2014, and I believe no city is more alive than this one (at least of the cities I visited so far).
Madrid is the capital and the largest city of Spain with around 3 million of population in the city and 6 million in the metropolitan area. It is also the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin. According to the Monocle magazine in its 2014 index, Madrid is the 17th most livable city in the world.
Although it is not an historical city like Rome or an artistic city like Paris or Barcelona, Madrid embraces a mix of Spanish contemporary architecture with baroque and belle époque buildings. It is also a place where you can appreciate art, from the home-grown talents like Goya and Velazquez until the well-known and international ones, like Picasso, Dali and Miró. A visit to the city is not complete without a visit to the three biggest museums: Museo del Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you love opera and other kind of classical concerts, Teatro Real is the best place to go. It is expensive but deserves at least one visit if you are around.
But Madrid is much more than architecture and arts, it is a great place to eat. I would say that you can find some of the best restaurants of Europe here, specially with Spanish and Latin America cuisine. Although Madrid is a big city, it is not too international and the Spanish love to keep their traditions specially with their food and wine. It is no coincidence that the world’s oldest restaurant can be found in Madrid. And although most of the best restaurants are faithful to the Spanish traditional cuisine, do not forget that Spain is a big country splited in several regions and having dinner in a Andalus restaurant is a completely different experience of having dinner in a basque restaurant.
One of the things I liked most when I was living in Madrid was to stay in the restaurants terraces or balconies (“terrazas”) after work or after dinner with a beer (“caña”) and some aperitifs (they are free when you order a drink!). Having a great late dinner around 10pm outside and in shorts during the summer was another amazing thing I did while I was living in Madrid. Oh yes, the summer nights in Madrid are terrific! Bars, restaurants and coffees are everywhere and open until so late (or early!). The streets (“las calles”) are always full of people but not just young people. In Madrid you can find older people just drinking a coffee, talking or eating some snacks (“tapas”) while observing other people around. Another thing is that the Spanish people talk a lot and loudly and you can listen them if you try to sleep before 1am.
Madrid has also some public spaces, including nice gardens and parks. I was specially fan of Parque del Retiro (the most tourist one!), Parque del Capricho (the most beautiful!), Parque del Oeste (the less crowded!) and Casa de Campo (the biggest one!). It is really nice to read a book or eat an ice cream while walking around the parks running away from the tourists (if you are not in the Retiro park, of course!).
Close to Madrid you will find other cities that deserve a one (or two) day trip, including Toledo and Segovia. Both cities are quite historical and with castles and old monuments to see. Toledo has astonishing views and the food in Segovia is really good.
I found Madrid a really nice city to live, specially if you live around Chamberí, Salamanca and Chamartín neighborhoods where you can have a mix of action, nice restaurants, coffees and people everywhere anytime. You can also use the public transports in the city center with several options of subway, buses and trains.
One strange thing about my relationship with Madrid is that I do not have good photos… Unfortunatelly, one never thinks about taking the camera out with you while being an habitant (it’s so different when you are a tourist!). Nonetheless, I am sure I will return to Madrid again. And this time I will not forget to take amazing photos of one of my favourite cities in Europe.