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Madrid is located in the middle of Spain and has been the country’s capital since 1562. It is the biggest city in Spain and is a cosmopolitan centre with a rich and varied cultural and artistic history. It is known for its great monuments and grand buildings, as well as for its museums, cultural events and exciting nightlife. Madrid is a surprising city, always full of activity and with even more treasures to offer than most people expect. While it is a very modern city and one of the great economic hubs of the country, it has also preserved its historic atmosphere to a great extent. There is a medieval city centre which was built during the Habsburg Empire, and many of the neighbourhoods and streets contain few if any modern buildings. Madrid is also the home of the Spanish royal family, and the impressive Palacio Real is one of the city’s main attractions.
Madrid has a temperate mediterranean climate and the weather tends to be beautiful with a lot of sun, though often very hot in summer. Temperatures from June - August average between 21 - 27° C (70 - 81° F), but regularly go over 30° C (86° F) and 40° C (104° F) temperatures are not unusual. Regardless of the season, the climate is generally dry and rain is rare. Even when it is very hot, the heat is not so oppressive because of the low humidity. Winters can be quite cold, with frequent temperatures below freezing in the months from Dec - Feb. Because of the high altitude in Madrid, there is often a wide range of temperatures over the course of a single day because the temperature drops considerably at night.
Castilian Spanish is the official language of Spain and the version of Spanish spoken in Madrid.
Roman Catholicism is by far the most common religion in Spain, and therefore the most prevalent one in Madrid. Almost 80% of the population declares themselves to be Catholic, though this doesn’t mean that they necessarily practice the religion. Madrid has more religious diversity than many other regions of Spain since it is a big city and has many immigrants. Muslims are the second largest religious group, currently numbering over 1 million throughout the country. Protestants and Jews are present but rare.
Service charges are almost always included in bills from restaurants, but a small tip is usually expected in addition. A tip of 5% is fairly normal, but can be less for a small meal or more if the service is exceptional. Tipping for taxis is likewise usually between 5 - 10% of the bill if you are happy with the service. In cinemas and theatres where someone shows you to your seat it is normal to give a tip of 50 cents. This is also done for services such as coat checks. Tipping in bars and cafés is done, but at a lower rate, usually around 20 cents per round of drinks.
Spain has two different sales tax rates, at 7% and 16% depending on the items purchased. The 7% tax is for all items or services considered “essential” and is always non-refundable. This tax rate is used for hotel and restaurant bills, for example. Most items you buy in a shop, however, will be taxed at 16%. This tax can be refunded to tourists who are not from the EU, as long as you spend more than € 90.15 in the same store. Not all stores participate in tax free shopping, but the ones that do will give you an invoice to present at customs when you leave the airport. The airport bank will reimburse you for the amount listed on the invoice.
The country code of Spain is +39 and the local area code for Madrid is 91. To call Madrid from abroad, dial 00 39 91 followed by the local number. There are several good mobile networks throughout Spain, and it is usually easy to pick up a signal with a foreign mobile. International phone cards with cheap rates can be found at a variety of newsstands or tobacco shops in Madrid. Pay phones accept both phone cards and change. Phone rates for both national and international calls are cheaper after 10 pm and during the weekend.
Madrid is well-provided for with internet cafés and there are several throughout the city. Rates are very reasonable, between € 1 - 1.50 per hour. Many of these internet centres also let you call abroad for discount rates, fax, print and make photocopies.
Most shops and other businesses are open Mon - Sat both morning and evening with a break in between. Typical opening times are from 9.30 am - 2 pm and from 5 pm - 8 pm, though with some stores the break may be shorter. Certain large stores stay open all day. Some shops in the centre stay open late, until around 9.30 pm. On Saturdays, it is not uncommon for small shops to close early, around 2 pm. Banks open earlier than stores, usually around 8.30 am, and close around 2 pm. Banks and government offices are closed on Saturday. On Sunday, almost everything is closed.
The following days are public holidays in Spain, and means that shops and banks will be closed. Transportation may also be more limited, and taxis add a small surcharge to the bill.
1st January, New Years Day
6th January, Three Kings’ Day
20th March, San José Day
Easter Thursday and Friday
1st May, Labour Day
15th August, Feast of the Assumption
1st November, All Saints Day
6th December, Constitution Day
8th December, Feast of the Immaculate Conception
25th December, Christmas
Madrid is not an unsafe city, though there are things to watch out for. Pickpockets are prevalent at crowded and touristy locations as well as on certain bus lines. Their most common technique is to squeeze past you at a crowded or narrow point (such as when exiting a bus) and grab something. You can defend yourself against this by not carrying valuables in obvious places or places that are easy to get to, such as in a backpack that sticks out behind you. There have been increases in violent crime in Madrid in recent years, but increases in security and police presence also. To be on the safe side, though, it is advisable to not go out alone at night, especially in certain areas. Also, it is a good idea to be careful when you cross the street during the day, as there is a high number of pedestrians killed by car in this city.
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