Madrid Region

Spain's compact capital is a joy for visitors, filled with world-class art galleries, historic buildings and plenty of leafy green spaces, it is completely manageable on foot.

Situated in the geographical centre of the Iberian Peninsula and surrounded by La Mancha - those famous plains where My Fair Lady's Eliza maintained the rain in Spain mainly fell - Madrid is a relatively modern capital by European standards.Only declared the capital by King Philip II in 1561, at the height of the Spanish Empire , Madrid is a mere adolescent compared to her counterparts Paris and London.

But something about her youthfulness gives her an energy that keeps visitors returning time and time again for culture, bustling bars and great shopping.Anyone doubting Madrid's importance should head to Puerta del Sol, the city's busy central square. Here you can spot a plaque on the pavement called the kilometro cero mark, from where the whole Spanish road network is measured.

Walk west and yo'll find yourself in the expansive Plaza Mayor, lined with classical balconied facades. Markets for all occasion are held here and cafes spill outside so visitors can soak up the sunshine with their cafe con leche. A short walk on and you'll reach the pretty gardens that surround the city's Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace, conveniently situated opposite each other and both open to tourists.

But of course, for many visitors to the Spanish capital, its artistic offerings are the true highlight. Head east from Puerta del Sol and discover what is known as the 'golden triangle' of galleries.Situated just off the beautiful Paseo del Prado boulevard, the neoclassical Prado gallery is where the Spanish masters Diego de Velazquez and Francisco de Goya rub shoulders with European greats Titian, Rafael and Bosch.

For those with more modern tastes, neighbouring Rena Sofia is ideal with its centrepiece Guernica work, Picasso's impassioned criticism of war and fascism.Then complete the set with a visit to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, where you'll find Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Monet.

After all that art, escape to the maze of lanes around Plaza Santa Ana, where restaurants buzz with excited Spanish chatterand the tapas bars are plentiful.