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EXCLUSIVE | Three Gay Days: Madrid Part One

EXCLUSIVE | Three Gay Days: Madrid Part One

Here's your must-have road map to 72 hours in one of the world's gayest destinations. Where to stay, eat, play and meet in energetic Madrid.

Madrid is a city that knows how to party. Early-to-bed-early-to-rise types might not see what all the fuss is about, but don't give up too easily. The residents of Madrid, called Madrilenos, know how to get into the spirit and so will you. In fact, this is one of Europe's most loved capitals, the third largest city in the European Union, and a welcome respite for gay travelers due to the staggering quantity and diversity of gay nightlife.

By day it is a pleasant enough city that is well known for its cultural and political significance, but it is certainly not Europe's (or even Spain's) most interesting destination. That aside, there is still enough to keep the red-eyed tourist busy, including a trio of world-class art museums. It is really not until after midnight that the closet doors burst open and the city springs to life. So, in the words of the well-known toast: Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa' dentro...or, in simple English: bottoms up!

LAY OF THE LAND
Madrid has managed to preserve the look and feel of its historic areas, making the neighborhoods really worth a visit. Notable landmarks include the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Teatro Real (Royal Theater), and the city center's Buen Retiro park, which was first established in the early 1600s as private gardens for royalty.

The city is also a walker's paradise. Its main east-west street is the early 20th century Gran V?a, running from the Prado area to the modern Plaza de Espa?a. Roughly parallel, the c. Mayor leads through the city's medieval heart, from the Puerta del Sol, Spain's "kilometer zero" from which all of the country's destinations are measured, past charming Plaza Mayor, Madrid's prettiest square, to c. de Bail?n, near the Royal Palace.

The "village of Chueca" -- the local gay ghetto, located in the neighborhood that was once Madrid's outer limit (and still is in many ways) -- lies just north of Gran V?a and west of the broad Paseo de la Castellana. The area's been spruced up in recent years and no longer has the seedy feel it once did. There's a serviceable subway system, and cabs aren't tremendously expensive -- but the city's so compact, we suggest you walk.

STAY
Hotel Ritz (Plaza de la Lealtad, 5; +34-91-701-6767 or 800-223-6800, fax +34-91-532-8776; reservations@ritz.es; from 220 EUR) is the city's luxury leader, perched in aloof splendor on a quiet street near the Prado Museum. It's stuffy and certainly not inexpensive, but the antique-decorated rooms and refined atmosphere of this Belle Epoque masterpiece make it worth the splurge.

The Westin Palace (Plaza de las Cortes, 7; +34-91-360-8000 or 800-325-3589, fax +34-91-360-8100; Reservations.Palacemadrid@westin.com; from 269 EUR), now a member of ITT's Luxury Collection, underwent a renovation and subsequently upgraded itself quite a bit. Its spiffed-up rooms (they even queried guests as to preferred color scheme) attract a combination of trendoids and group tours. Relax over tea or cocktails in its stunning rotunda.

A great bet for proximity to the city's nightlife is the well-placed property that was once the Tryp Hotel Reina Victoria, but is now ME Madrid (Plaza de Santa Ana, 14; +34-91-701-6000, fax +34-91-522-0307; memadrid@solmelia.com; from 189 EUR) located on Plaza de Santa Ana and surrounded by popular restaurants and bars.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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