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Madrid, Spain: Plaza de Cibeles, traffic at night
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Special to msnbc.com
updated 9/18/2006 3:16:30 PM ET 2006-09-18T19:16:30

It says something about the abiding appeal of Madrid that even after it suffered horrific terrorist attacks on its train system in March of 2004, visitors didn’t take it off their lists. Instead, Madrid’s tourism numbers remained steady, and Spain as a country continues to get more tourism—from all parts of the world—than any other country on the planet. Spend just one day and night in Madrid and you’re sure to find out why this resilient, timeless, extremely sophisticated city remains so popular.

8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.:  Breakfast is not a big meal in Spain, so do as the Spaniards do and grab a roll at your hotel, smear it with some butter and jam, and help it down with a glass of milky coffee. Save the stomach space for all of the feasting you’ll be doing later in the day.

9:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.: Truth be told you could spend a month at the Prado Museum and still only scratch the surface of the 7000 masterworks housed here. It’s one of the world’s five greatest museums, and shouldn’t be skipped. Since your time is more limited than that, concentrate on the Spanish oeuvre, as no museum in the world can match the scope of its collection: works by El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Ribero and Murillo. If you must make a detour—and you’ll be tempted—stroll to the hall of the Flemish primitives to see Hieronymous Bosch’s most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights, as well as his haunting, surreal Hay Wagon and Seven Deadly Sins. Beware, though, the images in these paintings have a way of weaseling their way into one’s dreams ... and nightmares.

MORNING ALTERNATIVE

This alternative is only for those who have visited the Prado many, many times before (if not, you’re doing yourself a disservice by skipping it). But if you’re in that lucky group, get thee to a nunnery! Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales only opened to tourists in 1960; its still home to an order of Franciscan Nuns, who live in what is considered the most splendid convent in Spain. The architecture is eye-popping, and the many noble women who lived here through the ages brought with them extensive dowries as “brides of Christ”, which bought the priceless Flemish tapestries that hang here, along with works by Rubens, Titian, Van Cleve, Breughel and others. Note: This is a late morning activity as the Monastery doesn’t open until 10:30 am most days.

1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.: Power lunch at Jockey and you’ll be dining among the heads of state, celebrities and business people who make this equestrian-themed eatery their unofficial clubhouse. The grub is inventive, international and oh-so-gourmet.

2:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Take a siesta. No, I’m serious. Much of what makes Madrid great goes on after the sun sets, so do what the locals do and bed down for the afternoon to be fresh come party-time.

AFTERNOON ALTERNATIVE

Don’t want to waste a minute of your time here? Then head out to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in the Villahermosa Palace just next to the Prado. An eclectic, highly personal collection of great art, amassed over the course of 60 years by the Thyssen-Bornemisza family (shipping and banking magnates), it was sold to the government of Spain only in 1985, transforming what was considered the world’s greatest private collection into one of its finest public ones. Along with superb pieces by El Greco, Velasquez, Rembrandt and Durer, it boasts a number of star paintings from the 19th and 20th century, including a surprisingly large number of American works (Hopper, Rothko, Pollock, Lichtenstein) along with paintings by the great Europeans of that era (Picasso, Kandinsky, Sargent). While not on the level of the Prado, this collection fills some of the gaps in modern art, affording those who visit both museums an unusually thorough view of the history of Western Art, all 2000-plus years of it.

5 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.: What you do at twilight will depend on the season. If you’re visiting between April and the end of October, screw your courage to the sticking point, to quote Shakespeare, and attend a bullfight . Madrid, as the capital of Spain, hosts the finest matadors in the land and this centuries-old spectacle is an essential part of a visit to the Iberian peninsula. While the atmosphere won’t be as charged or the crowd as rowdy as it would be in southern Spain, it still is a compelling if bloody event to witness. Read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises first to get into the right spirit. Those visiting in the winter and early spring months (and those who don’t have the stomach to watch a bull being killed for entertainment) can do what the locals do and go tapeo hopping, drifting from tapas bar to tapas bar for refreshment and a nibble here and a nibble there. Consider a stroll to the Plaza Mayor for world-class people-watching.

9:30 or 10 p.m. - Midnight: Now you eat dinner, so be careful with your nibbles earlier in the evening. Roast suckling pig is going to be your entrée cooked in an 18th century tile oven using the same recipe that’s been in place here since 1725, the year Sobrino de Botin opened. From all accounts, it looks very much the same as it did the year it opened. You’ll be doubly psyched to visit this restaurant if you read about it when doing your bullfight reading (it, too, is prominently featured in the last scene of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises).

Midnight on … The night is still young in Madrid—in fact, most clubs don’t even open until after midnight--and if you like you can party ‘til dawn here at any number of dance clubs as hedonistic and happening as any you’d find in Ibiza. Try Cool , for its, well, cool video projections and highly international crowd; or samba over to Oba Oba , a Brazilian hotspot fueled by powerful capirinhas; or Kapital a massive disco in a former theater that occupies seven levels, each with its own vibe, soundtrack and type of reveler. You’re sure to get your groove on in one of these sizzling nightspots.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

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Prado Museum, Paseo del Prado, phone 91-330-28-00; museoprado.mcu.es/ihome.html.  Open Tues-Sat 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Sun and holidays 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. Admission 3€ adults, 1.50€ ($1.70) seniors.

Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Plaza de las Descalzas Reales, phone 91-542-00-59. Open Sat and Tues-Thurs 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. and 3-5:45 p.m.; Fri 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.; Sun 11 a.m. - 1:15 p.m. Admission 4.80€ ($5.50) adults.

Jockey, Amador de los Ríos 6, phone 91-319-24-35. Reservations required, so call well in advance.     

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Paseo del Prado, 8 at the Palacio de Villahermosa, phone 91-369-01-51; www.museothyssen.org/thyssen_ing/home.html. Open Tues-Sun 10 a.m. -7 p.m. Admission 6€ ($6.90) adults, 4€ ($4.60) seniors.

Bullfights take place in the Plaza Monumental de Toros de las Ventas, Alcalá 237, phone 91-356-22-00. You can get your tickets at the stadium’s box office (Fri-Sun 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m.) or through a ticket agent such as Localidades Galicia, Plaza del Carmen 1, phone 91-531-27-32. Tickets to bullfights can range anywhere from 12€ to 126€ ($14-$145); the cost will vary by the magnitude of the event and the position of your seat.

Some worthy tapas barsyou might try include Cerveceria Alamania (Plaza de Santa Ana 6), La Taberna de Antonio Sanchez (Meson de Parades 13), Casa Labra (Calle Tetuan 12), and Taberna Tocscan (Plaza de las Cortes & Huertas).

Sobrino de Botin, Calle de Cuchilleros 17off the Plaza Mayor,phone 91-366-30-26. Reservations strongly recommended.   

Cool, Isabel la Católica 6, phone 91-548-20-22. Cover 7€-10€ ($8.05-$12)

Oba Oba, Jacometrezo 4. The cover is usually 7€ ($8.05).

Kapital, Atocha 125, phone 91-420-29-06. Cover swings between 12€-15€ ($14-$17) but includes your first drink.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

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