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"Once you discover Madrid, it's hard not to fall in love with it," says Jorge Rubio Navarro, Consul in Charge of Tourism Affairs in Toronto.

The capital of Spain, Madrid has a population of 3.5 million in the city and a population of 6 million people in the Madrid region, which covers 3,100 square miles.

Located in the heart of Spain, Madrid is only one hour by air or three hours by train from other cities in Spain, like Seville, Malaga and Valencia. The Costa del Sol, in Andalusia, and Barcelona, in Catalonia, are less than 2.5 hours by train from Madrid. High-speed trains travel at 350 km/hr.

Flights to Madrid

Flights from London, Paris and Frankfurt to Madrid take less than two hours. (Madrid is at the same latitude as New York City.)

Daily flights from Toronto to Madrid begin June 15 and continue year-round. Air Transat offers seasonal flights from Toronto to Madrid and Montreal to Madrid, on Mondays and Tuesdays, from May 5 to the end of October.

Madrid Barajas Airport is the fourth largest airport in Europe, after London Heathrow, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. With the addition of the new Terminal 4, Barajas Airport serves 98 airlines and 45,500,000 passengers a year.

Hotels in Madrid Spain

Madrid region has more than 61,000 hotel rooms. According to Miguel Sanz, Director of the International Marketing Department at the Madrid Tourism Board, Madrid region has more than 100,000 hotel beds, more than in New York City.

Among the luxury hotels in Madrid is the 5-star Hotel Wellington, which opened in 1952. Located in the heart of Madrid, near Retiro Park, the Puerta de Alcala and major museums, the 233-room, 28-suites hotel offers 11 meeting and banquet rooms and a business center with WiFi Internet access. Restaurants at Hotel Wellington include Goizeko Wellington and Kabuki Wellington, as well as a coffee shop.

Celebrity chef

There are more than 3,000 restaurants in Madrid. Tapas, small dishes, are very popular, allowing diners to sample a variety of cuisine, while socializing.

Madrid is becoming known for modern cuisine. Every January, the Madrid Fusion festival (International Gastronomy Summit) showcases avant-garde cuisine.

Dario Barrio is a young chef, who has made a name for himself using the cooking/alchemy techniques of Ferran Adria from El Bulli. Made famous by his TV cooking show and his restaurant, Dassa Bassa, Chef Barrio wows diners with his own version of molecular gastronomy. Spheres of green olive essence explode in your mouth. Carrot foam decorates tender marinated octopus. Crispy Iberian ham tops creamy pink gazpacho so good you want to lick the bowl.

"Even though Madrid is not next to the ocean, it is the second largest fish importer in the world, after Tokyo," explains Miguel Sanz. "That shows you how important food is to the people of Madrid."

Madrid museums

With 133 museums, Madrid is a cultural center. On the Paseo del Arte (Art Walk), visitors find three leading art galleries, the Prado Museum, Queen Sofia Modern Art Museum and Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, within six minutes walking distance of each other.

The Prado was enlarged last year, the first time in 200 years. The Matadero Madrid (Old Slaughter House) is being converted to a 61 square mile cultural city within the city of Madrid. It will be finished in two years.

The Madrid Card gives free admission to more than 40 museums, as well as trips on the Madrid Vision tour bus and many discounts in shops, restaurants and shows.

What to do

Families will find two amusement parks, one waterpark, one zoo, one wildlife park and a year-round circus to entertain kids in Madrid.

For shoppers, Madrid has department stores, like El Corte Ingles, outlet shops, like Las Rozas Village and traditional High Street shopping. Clothing stores boast fashions from international and national designers: Gucci, Dior, Prada, Chanel, Loewe, Modesto Lomba, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Duyos, Davidelfin, Amaya Arzuaga, Juanjo Oliva and Custo.

Sports lovers should visit the Real Madrid Stadium and Museum. F.I.F.A. calls Real Madrid the best soccer team of the 20th century. Real Madrid tickets are hard to get. As proof of the soccer team's popularity, the Real Madrid Museum is the second most-visited museum in Madrid, after the Prado. With so many sport events (Spain Vuelta Cylist Tour, Madrid Marathon, Triathlon World Cup etc.), Madrid hopes to win the Olympics in 2016.

Madrid nightlife starts late and continues until nearly dawn. Madrid has 140 discos and clubs, 140 theaters and more than 100 movie theaters.

Day trips

There are three UNESCO World Heritage Sites within a one-hour drive of Madrid: Alcala de Henares (the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote), driving distance: 35 minutes, Aranjuez (Royal Palace and Gardens), driving distance: 45 minutes, and El Escorial (Royal Monastery), driving distance: 60 minutes.

Three more World Heritage Sites are within a two-hour drive of Madrid: Toledo (driving distance: 45 minutes), Segovia (driving distance: 75 minutes) and Avila (driving distance: 80 minutes).

Car hire Madrid

Hertz, Avis and all the major car rental companies are available in Madrid and Barajas Airport. Driving is on the right side of the road in Spain.

Alternatively, an easy way to travel around Madrid is on the Madrid Metro, the second largest subway system in Europe, after the Underground in London, with 322 kilometers of routes. Cercanias is a commuter train network through Madrid province.

Visitors arriving at Barajas Airport can take the Madrid Metro subway to downtown Madrid in 20 minutes for only 2 euros.

Madrid events

Festivals in Madrid cover music, fashion, food, culture and religion. Music events range from Flamenco Festival Caja Madrid, in February, to the Jazz Festival in November.

With more than 60 million visitors per year, it's not a surprise to learn that Spain is the second most popular tourist destination in Europe, after France.