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View of the Catedral de Nuestra SeƱora la Almundena and Palacio Real

This is Spain's headiest city, where the revelling lasts long into the night and life is seized with the teeth and both hands. Strangers quickly become friends, passion blooms in an instant, and visitors are swiftly addicted to the city's charms.

Madrid may not have the Roman origins that get city historians hot and bothered, and it may be a comparative parvenu, selected from rural obscurity to become the capital only in the second half of the 16th century, but it oozes an ebullience that rarely fails to move.

In no other European capital will you find the city centre so thronged so late into the night, as though some unwritten law forbade sleeping before dawn. To experience Madrid is to explore its restaurants and eateries, prop up its countless bars, and be swept up in the nocturnal madness of its music scene and clubs. Madrid has always been a city of immigrants and transients, and the result is an unusually open and accessible city. Ambitious programs to modernise the city are afoot, but the gatos (locals) of Madrid can rest assured that their town remains as refreshingly unlike Paris, London or Rome as ever.

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