Images are projected on the facade of city hall during a lighting show to mark the start of Christmas festivities in Madrid

Images are projected on the facade of city hall during a lighting show to mark the start of Christmas festivities in Madrid (Sergio Perez, Reuters)

7 p.m. - After regrouping at your hotel, it's time for tapas. But as in much of Spain tapas bars are ubiquitous, making it hard to choose a place on faith. Get the best of all possible worlds and also ogle some beautiful gastronomic treats at Mercado San Miguel (Plaza San Miguel), one of Madrid's oldest marketplaces that has undergone a stunning renovation.

Grab a glass of tinto de la casa (house red) for a mere 3 euros ($4), order up some nibbles such as mixed olives, Iberico ham, cheeses, smoked fish or even sweets from several of the dozens of purveyors and secure one of the tables that anchor the center of the marketplace. You'll find yourself among tourists from Japan, the U.S., Germany and Spain, as well as locals, all happily sharing this civilized, convivial Spanish tradition.

9 p.m. - Gently priced modern Mediterranean cuisine served in an elegant setting draws a full house virtually every night at La Gloria de Montera (Just off the Gran Via, Calle Caballero de Gracia, 10.

Sunday

9 a.m. - Breakfast is not a "groaning board" affair in Spain, so do like the locals and nip into any of the hundreds of sidewalk cafes (weather permitting of course) for a light repast of coffee, juice, pastry and fresh fruit. Most hotels also provide a continental-type breakfast for guests as well.

10 a.m. - A Sunday walk in the park - the sprawling, central Parque del Retiro - is in order. Enter at Plaza Independencia by the imposing, neo-Classical Puerta de Alcala, or gate, and stroll the manicured paths, past the man-made pond where couples and children boat, eventually making your way to the Victorian Crystal Palace where free art exhibits are usually on offer, and the sprawling rose garden.

Noon - Like many capital cities, Madrid is dense with museums of every stripe. A relatively intimate, self-guided experience can be had at the Cerralbo Museum (Ventura Rodriguez 17), the turn-of-the century home of the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo, an avid collector, academic, writer and archeologist.

The 32-room museum has been meticulously preserved and restored, with its intact collection of objects, furniture, artwork and books which was considered Spain's most complete and private collection of the time.

2:30 p.m. - At Este O Este (Calle de Manuela Malasaña 9), you'll find an intriguing melding of Spanish and Moroccan cuisine, including a couscous special on Sundays.

4 p.m. - Walk off that hearty midday meal with a stroll down the Gran Via. If shopping is your thing, you'll find outlets of familiar stores such as H&M, as well as the stylish, well-known Spanish retailer Zara.

5 p.m. - Just off the Puerta del Sol, which marks the center of Spain, you'll find Mallorquina (8 Plaza del Sol), a bustling, bi-level long-established pastry shop offering a dazzling array of cream cakes and sweets. If weather permits, get your treats "to go" and head over to nearby Plaza Mayor.

This grand, 17th-century square is the first stop on most tourist itineraries, so why not make it your last? Take in the mimes and other street performers, and try to reconcile the vibrant, light-hearted scene with the spot's bloody history as an execution center during the Spanish Inquisition.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)