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How to See a Bullfight in Madrid

Like it or not, bullfighting means big business in Madrid. Here's how to score tickets and where you can learn more about the history of this popular spectacle.

Love it or hate it, bull fighting -- heck, bulls in general -- are big business in the city of Madrid. In fact, bullfighters -- often-short, sequin-outfitted men -- are the country's rock stars (in a matter of speaking). And while there is plenty of controversy surrounding the sport, its history -- and the pomp associated with it -- is deeply rooted in Spanish culture.

Most fights in Madrid (widely considered the capital of bullfighting in Spain) take place at La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas (Calle Alcala 237, 28028, Madrid; tel. 011/34/91/356/22/00; www.las-ventas.com), an architecturally stunning, Mudejar-style arena that dates back to 1929. Also used for political events and concerts, bullfights remain its main draw -- especially during San Isidro fiesta in May. Tickets can (and should, for the best deal) be purchased in advance, either online (www.ticketstoros.com/ingles/venta.html) or at the ring's ticket offices on the Friday and Saturday before the fight from 10am until 2pm. You also can get them on Sundays from 10am until 5pm. You'll have to choose between "sombra" or "sol," meaning in the shade or sun; prices vary accordingly. And if you purchase a Madrid tourist card, which its well worth it given the many perks that come with, you may be privy to a complimentary guided tour of the ring. Find out more at www.madridcard.com.

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In the event you can't stomach a bullfight but remain curious nonetheless, get a taste of the action -- quite literally -- at local restaurants; some specialize in bull-based dishes. Most often you'll find it slow-simmered preparations like bull's tail stew (sometimes called "Madrid stew"), a garlic-scented, Castilian hodgepodge of bacon, chorizo, morcilla and veggies. Try it at El Fogon de Trifon (Calle Ayala 144, Madrid; tel. 011/34/91/402/37/94; www.elfogondetrifon.com).

Of course, you could always head to Taberna de Antonio Sanchez (Calle Meson de Paredes 13, Madrid; tel. 011/34/91/539/78/26) during cocktail hour. It's one of the oldest taverns in the city, and it's adorned with bullfighting posters -- and the head of the beast that nixed Sanchez. Valdepenas wine is culled from cellar casks, while a dining room in back dishes up regional eats. Try rabo de toro al vino tinto -- bull's tail simmered in red wine. While there, soak up the scene since bullfighting conversation flows freely.
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It's also possible to learn about bullfighting from a historical standpoint. For that, visit the Bullfighting Museum (Calle Alcala 237, Plaza de Toros de las Venta, Madrid; tel. 011/34/91/725/18/57). It's full of portraits and paintings -- including one from Goya -- that depict dramatic scenes. Beyond that, you'll come upon sculptures, engravings and drawings -- as well as capes and other accoutrements dating back centuries -- that honor the age-old tradition. Keep an eye out for epic bullfighter Manolete's death costume and stuffed heads of bulls past.
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