Tapas and art on tap
Peruse paintings, plazas, parks and palaces
Spain’s cosmopolitan capital is chock full of eye-popping art galleries, fantastic food, atmospheric neighbourhoods and sprawling green spaces. Experience the city like true Madrilenos do: marvel at stunning architecture and monuments, shop to your heart’s content and soak up the atmosphere at a vibrant flamenco bar or buzzing nightclub.
Carb up for the day with a plate of churros at Chocolateria San Gines before calling in at Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales. The 16th Century convent was once a palace and today houses an impressive collection of art and tapestries. Linger at a cafe terrace on the 400-year-old Plaza Mayor admiring the red-brick buildings and busy arcades. Grab a bite at the Mercado de San Miguel sampling the wares of Michelin-starred chefs at Madrid’s first gourmet food market before window shopping on Gran Via. Take the Real Madrid stadium tour for the skinny on one of the world’s top clubs and a peek in the dressing rooms. Wander through the atmospheric lanes of the Barrio de las Letras to Santos y Desamparados, a cool cocktail bar that’s a firm favourite with Madrid’s celebrities. Round off your night with a late-night jazz or blues gig at the buzzing Cafe Central. Book your flights to Madrid today.
Carefully selected Madrid hotels
Best hotels in Madrid for all types of traveller
There’s a decent array of city-centre hotels to book, starting with the Riu Plaza Espana. Located in the iconic Edificio Espana building on Gran Via, this hotel has a Sky Bar with sizzling city views, an outdoor pool and a 24-hour gym. Opera Hotel Madrid is a family-run hotel opposite the Royal Opera House (Teatro de la Opera) that has a top-floor gym with views and a restaurant served by its famous opera singing waiters. Hotel Meninas is a boutique hotel occupying a 19th-Century building in a quiet side street with a relaxing TV lounge and a vast buffet breakfast. The Vincci Capitol is a stylish hotel overlooking Gran Via with a swish rooftop terrace bar set in a building offering cinema screenings. Ocean Drive Madrid is a chic property complete with a garden terrace restaurant, the OD Sky Bar, swimming pool and solarium, plus rooms furnished with cool retro record players.
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What are the best things to do in Madrid?
- The Royal Palace of Madrid, built during the 18th Century on a site occupied by the Moors in the 9th, is the official residence of the Spanish royal family, reserved today mainly for lavish state functions. Europe’s largest royal palace is a sprawling Italianate Baroque complex occupying over 3,400 rooms though many more were originally planned. You can tour 50 of these taking in stunning frescoes and artworks by the likes of Goya, Velazquez and Caravaggio.
- The Prado Museum is one of the world’s great art museums. It contains perhaps the definitive collection of Spanish art from the 11th to 18th centuries alongside masterpieces by universally acclaimed artists including El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, Bosch, Titian, Van Dyck and Rembrandt. Although mostly dedicated to paintings and sculptures today the collection encompasses drawings, engravings, coins, medals, clothing and decorative art.
- The National Museum Art Centre Queen Sofia is the leading repository of contemporary Spanish art from the 20th Century to the present day. Inside you’ll find works by Dali, Miro and Juan Gris, alongside Picasso’s masterpiece Guernica. The permanent collection has been completely reorganised in recent years to include hundreds of new works amid a collection of over 20,000 pieces.
- After a busy day of sightseeing what better way to relax than with a trip to Hammam al Andalus, Madrid’s only Arab baths? In this faithful recreation of traditional, ancient Andalusian Arab baths – in terms of both decor and atmosphere – you can submit yourself to a range of rejuvenating experiences in a 90-minute session spread across baths with three different climates. There’s also a steam room and a rest room serving tea and your choice of relaxing aroma.
- El Retiro is a green oasis in the heart of the city comprising 15,000 trees across 125 hectares. It’s the ideal spot to enjoy a stroll, bike ride or picnic, or to hire a paddleboat on the park’s lake. There are several gardens to enjoy including the French-style Parterre and a Rose Garden with 4,000 bushes. Look out too for an array of striking sculptures and monuments, such as the Fallen Angel statue.
Where are the best places to visit in Madrid?
The bustling square of Puerta del Sol, where the gates of the city once stood, is today a key nexus that’s the starting point of all of Spain’s major radial roads. Look out for the famous clock on the government HQ building to which thousands of people gravitate come midnight on New Year’s Eve eating 12 grapes, one for each of the pips that sound. Keep your eyes peeled also for El Oso y el Madrono, a statue of a bear nuzzling a strawberry tree that makes for a popular meeting place among Madrilenos.
Gran Via is the city’s prime shopping street. At 1,300 metres long it’s home to dozens of retailers including many household brands sitting alongside independent boutiques such as leather goods shop Loewe, and upscale jewellers Grassy, Sanz and Aristocracy. The busiest section houses various major retailers occupying former movie theatres and elegant old arcades rivalling those found in Paris. There’s also the Telefonica building that was once Europe’s tallest skyscraper and today houses the Espacio Fundacion Telefonica, a thriving cultural centre.
Malasana is a bohemian enclave in central Madrid bordering Gran Via. In the 1980s Malasana found itself at the heart of the Movida Madrilena, a major counter-cultural movement that revolutionised Spanish arts, culture and society in general. It’s also home to Triball, an area dedicated to sustainable business practices. This area has undergone a new lease of life lately with various cultural, fashion and culinary spaces opening.
El Rastro is a lively shopping area known for its jumble of specialty shops, local bars and historic sights. It’s famed for the bustling flea market held on Sundays and public holidays that hosts around 1,000 merchants selling all manner of items, from artisanal goods, clothing and accessories to kitchenware, trading cards, second-hand albums and magazines, pets and all sorts of bric-a-brac of various vintages. Make time to visit the fascinating Museum of Popular Art and Traditions which chronicles ethnography from across the country.
Plaza Mayor is another must-see. This enormous esplanade in the city centre dates to 1620 when it was opened by King Philip III, whose statue adorns the square. Down the centuries it’s hosted all types of public events, from bullfights, fiestas and theatrical shows to Inquisition trials and even executions. Today its grand arcades are home to many traditional shops, bars and restaurants. Look out for some of its most renowned buildings, such as Casa de la Carniceri and Casa de la Panaderia with its frescoed facade.
Which holiday type in Madrid is right for me?
For an affordable stay in Madrid, H10 Tribeca has been refurbished by designer Lazaro Rosa-Violan who took inspiration from New York City’s industrial Tribeca district. Enjoy sizeable rooms and a generous buffet breakfast. Puerta de Toledo in the historic centre offers a vibrantly decorated lobby, and Castilian-style rooms with modern furniture and mini-fridges. Petit Palace Plaza Mayor is a hotel right at the entrance of Plaza Mayor housed in a historic building yet offering all modern amenities. Ilunion Alcala Norte is a contemporary hotel conveniently close to the airport and city centre, while sister property Ilunion Suites Madrid is a sleek and chic hotel offering free Wi-Fi, public parking, a bar and a restaurant.
You’ll find several good hotels with pools in Madrid. Take your pick from the H10 Puerta De Alcala in the popular Salamanca area just 100 yards from El Retiro Park, the Hard Rock Hotel Madrid directly in front of the Reina Sofia Museum offering you in-room yoga and an electric guitar delivered to your room, Barcelo Imagine, five minutes’ walk from Paseo de la Castellana and Plaza de Castilla, and the fashionable Bless Hotel Madrid, which offers a rooftop pool, a bowling alley and a ‘secret’ lounge in an exclusive corner of Madrid.
There’s an equally fine selection of five-star hotels in Madrid. The Melia Madrid Princesa is a luxury hotel with elegant interiors and views of the Royal Palace, while the Palacio de los Duques Gran Melia is set in a former city palace just a short walk from the Teatro de la Opera, the Royal Palace and the Gran Via. The Hyatt Regency Hesperia Madrid on the exclusive boulevard Paseo de la Castellana is something of a culinary hotspot being home to Michelin-starred restaurant Smoked Room, while equally refined is the Hospes Puerta de Alcala Madrid. This contemporary design hotel offers white marble bathrooms and the pleasures of the Bodyna Spa, pool and hammam. Finally, The Westin Palace Madrid was commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912. Dine on locally sourced market cuisine beneath a stained-glass cupola in La Rotonda Restaurant.
How to travel around Madrid?
Madrid’s Metro system is clean, easy and affordable with 12 lines extending to the airport and suburbs. For frequent use save money by buying a Tourist Ticket available in one-, two-, three-, four-, five- and seven-day durations. Madrid’s also a very walkable city, several companies offer free walking tours.
Where to eat in Madrid?
Pop into the city’s worst kept culinary secret, the 131-year-old tapas bar Bodega de la Ardosa. It’s famed for its tortilla, and you should also try the "rabo de toro" (oxtail stew).
On Plaza Mayor try anywhere serving churros con chocolate. Besides that, it’s best to stick to drinks here (canas are a bit smaller than half pints of beer) as a sit-down meal will likely be costly for relatively poor quality.
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