With 3.3 million energetic locals, the Spanish capital is one of the most passionate, artistic and straightforward cities in the world.
CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
(CNN)With its strident, martial statues peering down wide boulevards, even the best of Madrid can daunt at first glimpse.
Look for order, and you encounter bustle, sometimes even brusqueness.
This shouldn't be mistaken for discourtesy.
Madrileños simply have a reputation for directness, of a haste that contrasts sharply with the pace of life in much of coastal Spain.
No offense is intended.
It's a proud capital city, fastidious about curating and displaying its national treasures, home of some of the world's greatest art and sculpture and a place that inspires great civic loyalty.
The attitude is part illusion.
Spain's most cosmopolitan city is also the country's most open and gregarious metropolis.
Read on to preview the best of Madrid.
Orfila's Executive Suite.
Close enough to the Castellana to feel the pulse of the city's main artery, set back enough to sleep quietly and stroll along sedate side streets.
A converted 19th-century palace, with marble floors in the reception areas and period-style furniture, the Orfila also has an upmarket restaurant with a classy lunchtime set menu that's also a good value.
From here, boutique shopping wis easily accessible, with the Prado a short walk away.
Hotel Orfila, Calle de Orfila 6, 28010 Madrid Spain; +34 91 702 7770
Almost a century old, Madrid's Ritz was built to give the Spanish capital a landmark luxury hotel to rival the Paris original.
It continues to do so.
It's at its best in summer, when the garden comes into its own.
The hotel is well-appointed, with spacious bedrooms and service a little less snooty than its counterpart in the capital of France.
Café Oliver likes to think of itself as a something of mold-breaker, for having first advertised and served the concept of brunch on Sundays -- this in the capital of a nation given to late eating hours, and wedded to the idea of long family outings to eat on Sunday starting at three o'clock, or well after.
The food is Mediterranean in an extended sense, with North African influences among the Spanish, French and Italian.
Cafe Oliver, Calle Ventura de la Vega, 11, 28006 Madrid Spain; +34 91 521 7379
This is a club to which modern Madrid owes some of its reputation as a sleepless city, at least on weekends.
Set up in an ornate former theater, close to the up-all-night Sol and Santa Ana districts, it brings in a wide clientele, principally -- though not exclusively -- those who want to use the dance floor.
Simply watching from the sidelines or the upper-floor aeries is permitted, too.
Real Madrid perenially generates more revenue than any other football club in the world.
The home of what claims to be the most glamorous and successful football -- or soccer -- club in the world sits on prime Madrid real estate, lording it a little ostentatiously over the Castellana.
For big games, tickets are hard to come by.
But on an average weekend it's a place not just to see some of the most celebrated stars of the most popular sport floodlit in their all-white strip, but a genuine cross-section of madrilenos in the audience; the earthiest of them chanting from behind the goal.
The most well-to-do keep warm in the seats beneath long, overhead outdoor heaters.
Madrileños know how to have a good time. Even when they're waiting for a meal.
Spaniards eat late, which is sometimes confounding to visitors from elsewhere, when they find restaurants still organizing the tablecloths at 8 p.m.
But there is a compensation: tapas.
Tapas, a mealtime in miniature, fills not only a gap in the daily timetable, and space in the belly before dinner, it's an important social function, as well.
In a gregarious city like Madrid, it means good food to be taken standing up, mouthfuls designed not to interrupt for too long what's really important: talking time.
There are staples: dried ham, boquerones (anchovies in vinegar) and fried, salted green peppers; a small plate is likely to contain one that surprises with its spiciness.
One specialty is rich, meaty callos -- long in preparation -- but in the bars of La Latina and Santa Ana, there is ample opportunity to see and taste new combinations: montaditos arranged with an eye on their visual appeal, little pieces of toast bearing arrangements of seafood, ham or manchego cheese, as patiently put together as a wedding cake.
Aperitifs? Tapas are far more than that.
They are the reason to let dinner wait, to keep chatting until late into the night.