Fodor's Spain (2015)
Main Table of Contents
Welcome to Madrid
Where to Eat
Where to Stay
Sports and the Outdoors
Side Trip from Madrid
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Top Reasons to Go | Getting Oriented | What’s Where | Planning | Eating and Drinking Well in Madrid
Updated by Ignacio Gómez
Madrid—the Spanish capital since 1561—celebrates itself and life in general around the clock. A vibrant crossroads, Madrid has an infectious appetite for art, music, and epicurean pleasure, and it’s turned into a cosmopolitan, modern urban center while fiercely preserving its traditions.
The modern city spreads east into the 19th-century grid of the Barrio de Salamanca and sprawls north through the neighborhoods of Chamberí and Chamartín, but the Madrid you should explore thoroughly on foot is right in the center, in Madrid’s oldest quarters, between the Royal Palace and the midtown forest, the Parque del Buen Retiro. Wandering around this conglomeration of residential buildings with ancient red-tile rooftops, punctuated by redbrick Mudejar churches and grand buildings with gray-slate roofs and spires left by the Habsburg monarchs, you’re more likely to grasp what is probably the city’s major highlight: the buzzing bustle of people who are elated when they’re outdoors.
Then there are the paintings—the artistic legacy of one of the greatest global empires ever assembled. King Carlos I (1500–58), who later became Emperor Carlos V (or Charles V), made sure the early masters of all European schools found their way to Spain’s palaces and this collection was eventually placed in the Prado. Between the Prado, the contemporary Reina Sofía, the eclectic Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, and Madrid’s smaller artistic repositories—the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the Convento de las Descalzas Reales, the Sorolla Museum, the Lázaro Galdiano Museum, and the CaixaForum—there are more paintings than you could admire in a lifetime.
The attractions go beyond the well-known baroque landmarks. Now in the middle of an expansion plan, Madrid is making sure that some of the world’s best architects will leave their imprint on the city. This is certainly the case with Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who are responsible for the CaixaForum arts center, which opened in 2008 across from the Botanical Garden. Major renovations of the Museo del Prado and the Centro Reina Sofía are by Rafael Moneo and Jean Nouvel, respectively. Looming towers by Norman Foster and César Pelli have changed the city’s northern landscape. Other projects include the Madrid-Río project, which has added new green spaces along the banks of the Manzanares River; the controversial and sustainable Museum of Art and Architecture that Argentinean architect Emilio Ambasz plans to build across from the Prado; the new Royal Collection Museum, expected to open sometime in 2015, by Tuñón and Mansilla; and the daring renovation of the whole area of Paseo del Prado, which has been entrusted to Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza, although after several delays this project seems to have come to a halt due to the downturn in the economy and political wrangling over the detail.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Hit the Centro Histórico: The Plaza Mayor on any late night when it’s almost empty is the place that best evokes the glory of Spain’s Golden Age.
Stroll down museum row: Find a pleasant mix of art and architecture in the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen, all of which display extensive and impressive collections.
Nibble tapas into the night: Indulge in a madrileño way of socializing. Learn about the art of tapas and sample local wines while wandering among the bars of Cava Baja.
Relax in the Retiro gardens: Visit on a Sunday morning, when it’s at its most boisterous, to unwind and take in the sun and merrymaking.
Burn the midnight oil: When other cities turn off their lights, madrileños swarm to the bars of the liveliest neighborhoods—Malasaña, Chueca, Lavapiés, and more—and stretch the party out until dawn.
Madrid is composed of 21 districts, each broken down into several neighborhoods. The most central district is called just that, Centro. Within this district you’ll find all of Madrid’s oldest neighborhoods: Palacio, Sol, La Latina, Lavapiés, Barrio de las Letras, Malasaña, and Chueca. Other well-known districts, which we’ll call neighborhoods for the sake of convenience, are Salamanca, Retiro, Chamberí (north of Centro), Moncloa (east of Chamberí), and Chamartín.
The city of Madrid dates back to the 9th century, but its perimeter wasn’t enlarged by much until the mid-19th century, when an urban planner knocked down the wall built in 1625 and penciled new neighborhoods in what were formerly the outskirts. This means that even though there are now more than 3.3 million people living in a sprawling metropolitan area, the almond-shaped historic center is a concentrated area that can pleasantly be covered on foot.
Palacio, La Latina, and Sol. Palacio and La Latina have the city’s highest concentration of aristocratic buildings and elegant yet affordable bars and restaurants, and Sol has some of the city’s busiest streets and oldest shops.
Barrio de las Letras. This area, home to the city’s first open-air theaters in the late 16th century, is where all the major Spanish writers eventually settled. There’s still a bohemian spirit here, good nightlife, and some of the city’s trendiest hotels.
Chueca, Malasaña, and Chamberí. These neighborhoods offer eclectic, hip restaurants, shops run by young proprietors selling a unique variety of goods, and landmark cafés where young people sip cappuccinos, read books, and surf the Web. The triangle between Fuencarral, Gran Vía, and Corredera Baja has become known as the Triball area.
Embajadores. Tracing back to the 16th century, the two areas in the Embajadores neighborhood, Rastro and Lavapiés, are full of winding streets. The Rastro bustles every Sunday with its flea market; Lavapiés is the city’s multicultural beacon, with plenty of low-budget African and Asian restaurants.
Salamanca and Retiro. Salamanca has long been the upper-middle-class’s favorite enclave, and has great designer shops and sophisticated and expensive restaurants. Retiro, so called for its proximity to the park of the same name, holds some of the city’s most expensive buildings.
Chamartín and Tetuán. These are two of the newer neighborhoods that sprawled a bit more spontaneously and uncontrollably by the beginning of the 20th century on the fringes of the late-19th-century city’s ambitious expansion program. They don’t have much artistic value, but remain mostly ungentrified and have plenty of personality.
WHEN TO GO
Madrid is hot and dry in summer—with temperatures reaching 95°F to 105°F in July and August—and chilly in winter, with minimum temperatures in the low 30s or slightly less in January and February, though snow in the city is rare. The most pleasant time to visit is spring, especially May, when the city honors its patron saint. June and September through December are also good.
The Festival de Otoño (Autumn Festival), from mid-May to early June, blankets the city with pop concerts, poetry readings, flamenco, and ballet and theater from world-renowned companies.
If you can, avoid Madrid in July and August—especially August, even though fares are better and there are plenty of concerts and open-air activities; many locals flee to the coast or to the mountains, so many restaurants, bars, and shops are closed.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
Madrid’s most valuable art treasures are all on display within a few blocks of Paseo del Prado. This area is home to the Prado Museum, with its astounding selection of masterworks by Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, El Greco, and others; the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, with an excellent collection of contemporary art; and the Thyssen Museum, with a singular collection that stretches from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Each can take a number of hours to explore, so it’s best to alternate museum visits with less overwhelming attractions. If you’re running short on time and want to pack everything in, replenish your energy at any of the tapas bars or restaurants in the Barrio de las Letras (behind the Paseo del Prado, across from the Prado Museum).
Any visit to Madrid should include a walk in the old area between Puerta del Sol and the Royal Palace. Leave the map in your back pocket as you come across the Plaza Mayor, the Plaza de la Villa, and the Plaza de Oriente, and let the streets guide you to some of the oldest churches and convents standing. The Royal Palace makes a good start and end point.
GETTING HERE AND AROUND
Madrid’s Barajas Airport is Europe’s fourth largest. Terminal 4 (T-4) handles flights from 32 carriers, including American Airlines, British Airways, and Iberia. All other U.S. airlines use Terminal 1.
Airport terminals are connected by bus service and also to the metro (Línea 8) and take you to the city center in 30 to 45 minutes for around €5 (€1.50–€2 plus a €3 airport supplement). For €5 there’s also a convenient bus to Avenida de América (note that bus drivers don’t take bills greater than €20), where you can catch the subway or a taxi to your hotel. In 2014, taxis began charging a flat fee of €30 from the airport to anywhere in the city center.
Buses are generally less popular than trains, though they’re sometimes faster. Madrid has no central bus station: most of southern and eastern Spain (including Toledo) is served by the Estación del Sur. Estación de Avenida de América and Estación del Sur have subway stops (Avenida de América and Méndez Álvaro).
Red city buses (€1.50 for a one-way ticket) run from about 6 am to 11:30 pm.
Estación del Avenida de América. | Av. de América 9, Salamanca | Station: Av. de América.
Estación del Sur. | Méndez Álvaro s/n, Atocha | www.estaciondeautobuses.com | Station: Méndez Álvaro.
Intercambiador de Moncloa. | Princesa 89, Moncloa | Station: Moncloa.
Madrid launched an electric-bicycle sharing program in summer 2014. There is a network of 1,600 bikes distributed in 124 stations across the city. Locals can purchase a yearly membership but visitors can pay per ride, buying a ticket at each service station. The bikes can be borrowed from, and returned to, any station in the system. Occasional users pay €2 for the first half hour and €4 for each successive half hour.
Driving in Madrid is best avoided because parking and traffic are nightmares, but many of the nation’s highways radiate from Madrid, including the A6 (Segovia, Salamanca, Galicia); the A1 (Burgos and the Basque Country); the A2 (Guadalajara, Barcelona, France); the A3 (Cuenca, Valencia, the Mediterranean coast); the A4 (Aranjuez, La Mancha, Granada, Seville); the A42 (Toledo); and the A5 (Talavera de la Reina, Portugal). The city is surrounded by ring roads (M30, M40, and M50), from which most of these highways are easily picked up. There are also toll highways (marked R2, R3, R4, and R5) that bypass major highways, and the A41, a toll highway connecting Madrid and Toledo.
The metro costs from €1.50 to a maximum of €2, depending on how far you’re traveling within the city; you can also buy a 10-ride Metrobus ticket (€12.20) or a daily ticket for €8.40 that can also be used on buses. The Abono Turístico (Tourist Pass) allows unlimited use of public buses and the subway for one to seven days. Buy it at tourist offices, metro stations, or select newsstands. The metro runs from 6 am to 1:30 am, though a few entrances close earlier.
Metro Madrid. | 902/444403 | www.metromadrid.es.
Taxis work under three different tariff schemes. Tariff 1 is for the city center from 6 am to 9 pm; meters start at €2.40. There is a fixed taxi fare of €30 to or from the airport from the city center. Supplements include €3 to or from bus and train stations. Tariff 2 is from 9 pm to 6 am in the city center (and 6 am to 10 pm in the suburbs); the meter runs faster and charges more per kilometer. Tariff 3 runs at night beyond the city limits. All tariffs are listed on taxi windows.
Radio Taxi Gremial. | 91/447–5180.
Radioteléfono Taxi. | 91/547–8200.
Tele-Taxi. | 91/371–2131.
Madrid is the geographical center of Spain, and all major train lines depart from one of its two main train stations (Chamartín and Atocha) or pass through Madrid (the third train station, Norte, is primarily for commuter trains). Though train travel is comfortable, for some destinations buses run more frequently and make fewer stops; this is true for Segovia and Toledo, unless you take the more expensive high-speed train.
Commuter trains to El Escorial, Aranjuez, and Alcalá de Henares run frequently. The best way to get a ticket for such trains is to use one of the automated reservation terminals at the station (they’re in the cercanías area), but you can buy tickets online for the high-speed AVE regional lines. You can reach Segovia from the Atocha station in a half hour, the same time it takes you to get to Toledo. If you return the same day, the ticket may cost less than €22. The AVE stations in Toledo and Segovia are outside the city, meaning once there you’ll have to take either a bus or a taxi to get to their old quarters.
The AVE line can get you to Barcelona in less than three hours. If you buy the ticket more than two weeks ahead and are lucky enough to find an online fare (with discounts up to 60% off the official fare), you may pay less than €50 each way for tickets that will often carry some change and cancellation restrictions. Otherwise expect to pay between €106 and €128 each way—the more expensive being the nonstop service.
Estación Chamartín. | C. Agustín de Foxá s/n, Chamartín | 91/315–9976 | Station: Chamartín.
Estación de Atocha. | Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V, Atocha | 91/528–4630 | Station: Atocha.
Estación de Príncipe Pío (Norte). | Paseo de la Florida s/n, Moncloa | 902/240202 for RENFE | Station: Príncipe Pío.
DISCOUNTS AND DEALS
The Madrid Card gives you free entry to 50 museums and monuments, and lets you skip the lines for many attractions. It’s available in increments of one, two, three, or five days, and can be purchased at www.madridcard.com, at tourist offices, and at some museums and hotels.
The variety of food that’s available in Madrid has widened as the city has progressively become less provincial and more cosmopolitan and locals have developed an appreciation for global flavors and a more sophisticated dining experience. As a result, although you’ll still find inexpensive traditional hangouts (usually with very affordable fixed-price lunch menus), there are also plenty of international offerings, especially in the more vibrant neighborhoods, and in a batch of high-end restaurants run by star chefs who have been inspired by the greatly innovative cuisine first launched here by Ferran Adrià.
Madrileños tend to eat their meals even later than people in other parts of Spain, and that’s saying something. Restaurants open for lunch at 1:30 and fill up by 3. Dinnertime begins at 9, but reservations for 11 are common, and meals can be lengthy—up to three hours. If you face hunger meltdown several hours before Madrid dinner, make the most of the early-evening tapas hour.
Most hotels offer special weekend plans and discount prices during August. Prices fluctuate, even with hotels of the same category belonging to the same chain, so it’s best to shop around. Hostal rooms found on the upper floors of apartment buildings often go for €50 or less. These cheap lodgings are frequently full, especially on the weekends, and sometimes don’t take reservations, so you simply have to try your luck door-to-door. Many are in the old city, in the trapezoid between the Puerta del Sol, the Atocha Station, the Basílica de San Francisco on Calle Bailén, and the Royal Palace; start your quest around Plaza Santa Ana or on the streets that are behind Puerta de Sol, near Plaza Mayor and Calle Atocha.
Madrid is an excellent jumping-off point for exploring other historically significant sites. The massive monastery of El Escorial is probably the best destination if you want to stick close to Madrid, but the high-speed train makes it easy to venture farther, to two destinations that should be on everybody’s list: Toledo and Segovia. Other options worth exploring are Ávila (1½ hours away by AVE) and Salamanca (2½ hours away by AVE). Any of these four destinations make great day trips, except Salamanca, for which you really need an overnight to experience fully; Toledo would optimally get an overnight as well, but you can do it in a day if time is limited.
Although biking in the city can be risky because of the heavy traffic and madrileños’ disregard for regulations, the city parks and the surrounding towns are good for enjoyable rides.
Bike Spain. This company rents bikes and organizes guided tours in Madrid and all over Spain. Bike rentals cost from €12–€17 for half-day and all-day bike rentals and €115 for an all-day guided trip to El Escorial. Bike Spain also organizes bike tours for the tourist office within the Official Guided Tours program every Saturday at 10 am and Sunday at 4 pm in English. Tours in Spanish take place Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. | 91/559–0653, 677/356586 (ask for Pablo) | www.bikespain.info | From €12.
Bravo Bike. For guided biking tours in Madrid (€31) or to rent bikes (€20 a day, or less if you rent for a few days), check out Bravo Bike. It also offers multiday guided and self-guided bike tours near Madrid, in Toledo, Aranjuez, Chinchón, and Segovia, as well as tours along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and Andalusia, among others. | 91/758–2945 | www.bravobike.com | From €31.
Julià Tours. This tour company offers half- and full-day trips to sites outside Madrid, including Toledo, El Escorial, and Segovia. | 91/769–0707 | www.juliatravel.com | From €50.
Madrid City Tours. These popular tourist buses make 1½-hour circuits of the city (there is a Historic Madrid tour and a Modern Madrid tour) with recorded English commentary. There are one- and two-day passes allowing you to get on and off at various attractions. | 902/024758 | www.madridcitytour.es | From €21.
Plaza Mayor tourist office. Madrid’s city hall tourist office runs about 40 popular bus, cycling, and walking tours a week, under the Madrid Guided Tours program. There are tours in English every day, with various departure points. | 91/588–2906 | www.esmadrid.com | From €5.90.
Asociación Nacional de Guías de Turismo. This tour operator offers custom history and art walks by certified travel guides. | 91/542–1214 | www.apit.es.
Carpetania Madrid. This company offers custom tours, as well as literary walks on the life and works of some of Spain’s classical and contemporary authors. | 91/531–1418, 657/847685 | www.carpetaniamadrid.com | From €100 for up to 10 people (2-hr walk).
EATING AND DRINKING WELL IN MADRID
Spain’s capital draws the finest cuisine, from seafood to rice dishes, from all over the Iberian Peninsula, but Madrid’s most authentic local fare is based on the roasts and stews of Castile, Spain’s mountain-studded central tableland.
With a climate sometimes described as nueves meses de invierno y tres de infierno (nine months of winter and three of hell) it’s no surprise that classic Madrid cuisine is winter fare. Garlic soup, partridge stew, and roast suckling pig and lamb are standard components of Madrid feasts, as are baby goat and chunks of beef from Ávila and the Sierra de Guadarrama. Cocido madrileño (a powerful winter stew) and callos a la madrileña (stewed tripe) are favored local specialties, while jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn-fed Ibérico ham)—a specialty from la dehesa, the rolling oak parks of Extremadura and Andalusia—has become a Madrid staple. Summer fare borrows heavily from Andalusian cuisine while minimalist contemporary cooking offers lighter postmodern alternatives based on traditional ingredients and recipes.
Itinerant grazing from tavern to tavern is especially important in Madrid, beneficiary of tapas traditions from every corner of Spain. The areas around Plaza Santa Ana, Plaza Mayor, and Cava Baja buzz with excitement as groups arrive for a glass of wine or two accompanied by anything from boquerones (pickled anchovies) or aceitunas (olives) to raciones (small plates) of calamares (squid) or albóndigas (meat balls).
Sopa de ajo, garlic soup, also known as sopa castellana, is cooked with pimentón (paprika), a bay leaf, stale bread, and an egg or two for flavor and texture. A warming start to a winter meal, bits of ham or chorizo may be added, while a last-minute visit to the oven crisps the surface sprinkling of Manchego cheese. Often eaten during Lent as an ascetic but energizing fasting dish, garlic soup appears in slightly different versions all over Spain. Caldo (chicken or beef broth), a Madrid favorite on wet winter days, is often offered free of charge in traditional bars and cafés with an order of anything else.
Cocido madrileño is a Madrid classic, a winter favorite of broth, garbanzo beans, vegetables, potatoes, sausage, pork, and hen simmered in earthenware crocks over coals. Estofado de perdiz is a red-leg partridge stewed slowly with garlic, onions, carrots, asparagus, and snow peas before being served in an earthenware casserole that keeps the stew piping hot. Estofado de judiones de La Granja (broad-bean stew) is another Madrid favorite: pork, quail, clams, or ham stewed with onions, tomato, carrots, bay leaves, thyme, and broad beans from the Segovian town of La Granja de San Ildefonso.
Asadores (restaurants specializing in roasts) are an institution in and around Madrid, where the cochinillo asado, roast piglet, is the most iconic specialty. From Casa Botín in Madrid to Mesón de Cándido in Segovia and Toledo’s Adolfo Restaurant, madrileños love their roasts. Using milk-fed piglets not more than 21 days old, oak-burning wood ovens turn out crisp roasts tender enough to carve using the edge of a plate. Close behind is the lechazo, or milk-fed lamb, that emerges from wood ovens accompanied by the aromas of oak and Castile’s wide meseta: thyme, rosemary, and thistle.
The traditional Madrid house wine, a simple Valdepeñas from La Mancha south of the capital, is giving way to designer wines from Castile–La Mancha, El Bierzo, Ribera del Duero, and new wine-producing regions popping up all over the peninsula. Traditional light-red wines lack the character to properly accompany a cocido or a roast, whereas many of these new wines combine power and an earthy complexity capable of matching central Spain’s harsh continental climate and hearty cuisine.
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Palacio, La Latina, and Sol | Barrio de las Letras | Chueca, Malasaña, and Chamberí | Embajadores | Salamanca and Retiro | Chamartín | Tetuán
The real Madrid is not to be found along major arteries like the Gran Vía and the Paseo de la Castellana. To find the quiet, intimate streets and squares that give the city its true character, duck into the warren of villagelike byways in the downtown area that extends 2 km (1 mile) from the Royal Palace to the Parque del Buen Retiro and from Plaza de Lavapiés to the Glorieta de Bilbao. Broad avenidas, twisting medieval alleys, grand museums, stately gardens, and tiny, tile taverns are all jumbled together, creating an urban texture so rich that walking is really the only way to soak it in.
TIP Petty street crime is a serious problem in Madrid, and tourists are frequent targets. Be on your guard, and try to blend in by keeping cameras concealed, avoiding obvious map reading, and securing bags and purses, especially on buses and subways and outside restaurants.
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PALACIO, LA LATINA, AND SOL
The narrow streets of Madrid’s old section, which includes the Palacio, La Latina, and Sol neighborhoods—part of Madrid’s greater Centro district—wind back through the city’s history to its beginnings as an Arab fortress. As elsewhere in Madrid, there is a mix of old buildings and new ones: the neighborhoods here might not be as uniformly ancient as those in the nearby cities of Toledo and Segovia (or as grand), but the quiet alleys make for wonderful exploring.
Beyond the most central neighborhoods, Madrid also has several other sites of interest scattered around the city. Moncloa and Casa de Campo are the neighborhoods to the north and east of Palacio—that is, you can easily walk to the Templo de Debod or visit Goya’s tomb if you’re in the vicinity of the Royal Palace.
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Madrid’s oldest neighborhood, Palacio is the home of the imposing Royal Palace. This is where the military post set by Mohamed I—the first foundation in Madrid—stood in the 9th century. The quarter, which borders the Plaza Mayor on the east, is full of winding streets with plenty of good restaurants and cafés and many of the city’s most traditional shops.
Monasterio de la Encarnación (Monastery of the Incarnation).
Once connected to the Royal Palace by an underground passageway, this Augustinian convent now houses less than a dozen nuns. Founded in 1611 by Queen Margarita de Austria, the wife of Felipe III, it has several artistic treasures, including a reliquary where a vial with the dried blood of St. Pantaleón is said to liquefy every July 27. The ornate church has superb acoustics for medieval and Renaissance choral concerts. | Pl. de la Encarnación 1, Palacio | 91/454–8800 for tourist info office | €7, €10 combined ticket with Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales | Tues.– Sat. 10–2 and 4–6:30, Sun. 10–3; last tickets sold 45 mins before closing | Station: Ópera.
A Good Walk: Old Madrid
Stroll around Puerta del Sol for a look at Madrid’s oldest buildings, bustling taverns, and quiet cobblestone alleys. Allow about two hours, more if you visit the Palacio Real or Monasterio de la Encarnación.
Begin at the Puerta del Sol, the center of Madrid and a major social and transportation hub, then take Calle Mayor to the Plaza Mayor. Inaugurated in 1620 on the site of a thriving street market, this is Madrid’s main square, where you’ll find the Casa de la Panadería (Bakery House)—an imposing building with mythological figures painted on its facade, home of the main tourist office.
Exit Plaza Mayor through the arch (Arco de Cuchilleros) and go down the stairs: to the right is Calle Cava de San Miguel—a stretch of colorful taverns going uphill to the posh Mercado de San Miguel and Calle Mayor; to the left is Calle Cuchilleros (knife-sellers street), which leads to the Plaza de Puerta Cerrada, or “Closed Gate,” named for the city gate that once stood here. The mural up to your right reads “Fui sobre agua edificada; mis muros de fuego son” (“I was built on water; my walls are made of fire”), a reference to the city’s origins as a fortress with abundant springs and its ramparts, made of spark-making flint. Cross the street to Calle Cava Baja, packed with taverns and restaurants. At Plaza del Humilladero, walk past Plaza de San Andrés and take Costanilla de San Andrés from Plaza Puerta de Moros, down to Plaza de la Paja. The Capilla del Obispo (Bishop’s Chapel), on the south edge of the plaza, completed in 1535, houses one of Spain’s most magnificent Renaissance altarpieces. Look right on narrow Calle Príncipe Anglona—at its end you’ll see a tall redbrick Mudejar tower, the only original element belonging to San Pedro el Real (St. Peter the Royal), one of Madrid’s oldest churches.
Cross Calle Segovia to Plaza de la Cruz Verde, take the stairs (Calle del Rollo) to your right, go straight to Calle Cordón, then turn left. Walk up the stairs, and cross the Plaza del Cordón and Calle Sacramento to get to Plaza de la Villa; noteworthy buildings here are (west) the former city hall main office, finished in 1692; (east) the Casa and Torre de los Lujanes, the oldest civil building in Madrid, dating to the mid-15th century; and (south) the Casa Cisneros, from the 16th century. Turn left on Calle Mayor and walk to Calle San Nicolás; on the corner is the Palacio del Duque de Uceda, a residential building from the 17th century now used as military headquarters. Turn right onto Calle San Nicolás (San Nicolás de los Servitas is Madrid’s oldest standing church, with a Mudejar tower dating to the 17th century) and walk to Plaza de Ramales, where you’ll find a display of a ruined section of the foundation of the medieval Iglesia de San Juan, demolished in the 19th century. Take Calle San Nicolas until it becomes Calle de Lepanto, which leads to the Plaza de Oriente. The equestrian statue of Felipe IV was sculpted from a drawing by Velázquez, who worked and died in what is now a residential building on the east side of the plaza. Lounge in the plaza, then visit the Palacio Real, stroll in the palace gardens, or visit nearby Monasterio de la Encarnación.
Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Monastery of the Royal Discalced, or Barefoot, Nuns).
This 16th-century building was restricted for 200 years to women of royal blood. Its plain, brick-and-stone facade hides paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán, Titian, and Pieter Brueghel the Elder—all part of the dowry the novices had to provide when they joined the monastery—as well as a hall of sumptuous tapestries crafted from drawings by Peter Paul Rubens. The convent was founded in 1559 by Juana of Austria, one of Felipe II’s sisters, who ruled Spain while he was in England and the Netherlands. It houses 33 different chapels—the age of Christ when he died and the maximum number of nuns allowed to live at the monastery at the same time—and more than 100 sculptures of Jesus as a baby. About 30 nuns (not necessarily of royal blood) still live here, cultivating their own vegetables in the convent’s garden.TIP You must take a tour in order to visit the convent; it’s conducted in Spanish only. | Pl. de las Descalzas Reales 3, Palacio | 91/454–8800 | €7, €10 combined ticket with Monasterio de la Encarnación | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 4–6:30, Sun. 10–15; last tickets sold 1 hr before closing | Station: Sol.
RAINY-DAY TREAT: Chocolatería Valor.
Despite what the ads say, Madrid is not always sunny. If you hit a rainy or a chilly day, walk along the western side of the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales until you see, on your left, the Chocolatería Valor. Inside you’ll find the thick Spanish version of hot chocolate, perfect for dipping crispy churros. | C. Postigo de San Martín 7, Palacio | Station: Callao.
Fodor’s Choice | Palacio Real.
Emblematic of the oldest part of the city and intimately related to the origins of Madrid—it rests on the terrain where the Muslims built their defensive fortress in the 9th century—the Royal Palace awes visitors with its sheer size and monumental presence that unmistakably stands out against the city’s silhouetted background. The palace was commissioned in the early 18th century by the first of Spain’s Bourbon rulers, Felipe V. Outside, you can see the classical French architecture on the graceful Patio de Armas: Felipe was obviously inspired by his childhood days at Versailles with his grandfather Louis XIV. Look for the stone statues of Inca prince Atahualpa and Aztec king Montezuma, perhaps the only tributes in Spain to these pre-Columbian American rulers. Notice how the steep bluff drops west to the Manzanares River—on a clear day, this vantage point commands a view of the mountain passes leading into Madrid from Old Castile; it’s easy to see why the Moors picked this spot for a fortress.
Inside, 2,800 rooms compete with each other for over-the-top opulence. A two-hour guided tour in English winds a mile-long path through the palace; highlights include the Salón de Gasparini, King Carlos III’s private apartments, with swirling, inlaid floors and curlicued stucco wall and ceiling decoration, all glistening in the light of a 2-ton crystal chandelier; the Salón del Trono, a grand throne room with the royal seats of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía; and the banquet hall, the palace’s largest room, which seats up to 140 people for state dinners. No monarch has lived here since 1931, when Alfonso XIII was deposed after a Republican electoral victory. The current king and queen live in the far simpler Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid; this palace is used only for official occasions.
Also worth visiting are the Museo de Música (Music Museum), where five stringed instruments by Antonio Stradivari form the world’s largest such collection; the Painting Gallery, which displays works by Spanish, Flemish, and Italian artists from the 15th century on; the Armería Real (Royal Armory), with historic suits of armor and frightening medieval torture implements; and the Real Oficina de Farmacía (Royal Pharmacy), with vials and flasks used to mix the king’s medicines. | C. Bailén s/n, Palacio | 91/454–8800 | €10, €17 with guided tour; €3.40 Royal Armory only; €2 Painting Gallery only | Apr.–Sept., daily 10–8; Oct.–Mar., daily 10–6 | Station: Ópera.
Plaza de la Villa.
Madrid’s town council met in the medieval-looking complex here from the Middle Ages until 2009, when it moved to the new city hall headquarters in the post-office building at Plaza Cibeles, leaving the space to house city hall offices. The oldest building is the Casa de los Lujanes, on the east side—it’s the one with the Mudejar tower. Built as a private home in the late 15th century, the house carries the Lujanes crest over the main doorway. Also on the plaza’s east end is the brick-and-stone Casa de la Villa, built in 1629, a classic example of Madrid design, with clean lines and spire-topped corner towers. Connected by an overhead walkway, the Casa de Cisneros was commissioned in 1537 by the nephew of Cardinal Cisneros. It’s one of Madrid’s rare examples of the flamboyant plateresque style, which has been likened to splashed water. | Palacio | Free guided tour in Spanish Mon. at 5; otherwise closed to the public | Station: Sol, Ópera.
Plaza de Oriente.
The stately plaza in front of the Royal Palace is surrounded by massive stone statues of Spanish monarchs. These sculptures were meant to be mounted on the railing on top of the palace, but Queen Isabel of Farnesio, one of the first royals to live in the palace, had them removed because she was afraid their enormous weight would bring the roof down. (Well, that’s the official reason; according to palace insiders, the queen wanted the statues removed because her own likeness had not been placed front and center.) A Velázquez drawing of King Felipe IV is the inspiration for the statue in the plaza’s center. It’s the first equestrian bronze ever cast with a rearing horse. The sculptor, Italian artist Pietro de Tacca, enlisted Galileo Galilei’s help in configuring the statue’s weight so it wouldn’t tip over. | Palacio | Station: Ópera.
The remains of the Moorish military outpost that became the city of Madrid are visible on Calle Cuesta de la Vega. The sections of wall here protected a fortress built in the 9th century by Emir Mohammed I. In addition to being an excellent defensive position, the site had plentiful water and was called Mayrit, Arabic for “source of life” (this is the likely origin of the city’s name). All that remains of the medina—the old Arab city that formed within the walls of the fortress—is the neighborhood’s crazy quilt of streets and plazas, which probably follow the same layout they did more than 1,100 years ago. | Cuesta de la Vega, Palacio | Station: Ópera.
Campo del Moro (Moors’ Field).
Below the Sabatini Gardens but accessible only by an entrance on the far side is the Campo del Moro. Enjoy the clusters of shady trees, winding paths, and lawn leading up to the Royal Palace. Inside the gardens is a Museo de Carruajes (Carriage Museum), displaying royal carriages and equestrian paraphernalia from the 16th through 20th century. | Paseo Virgen del Puerto s/n,Palacio | Station: Príncipe Pío.
Catedral de la Almudena.
The first stone of the cathedral, which adjoins the Royal Palace, was laid in 1883 by King Alfonso XII and the resulting edifice was consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1993. Built on the site of the old church of Santa María de la Almudena (thought to be the city’s main mosque during Arab rule), the new cathedral was intended to be Gothic in style, with needles and spires; funds ran low, so the design was simplified into the existing, more austere classical form. The cathedral has a wooden statue of Madrid’s female patron saint, the Virgin of Almudena, reportedly discovered after the Christian Reconquest of Madrid. Legend has it that when the Arabs invaded Spain, the local Christian population hid the statue of the Virgin in a vault carved in the old Roman wall that encircled the city. When the Christians reconquered Madrid in 1085, they looked for it, and after nine days of intensive praying—others say it was after a procession honoring the Virgin—the wall opened up to show the statue framed by two lighted candles. Its name is derived from the place where it was found: the wall of the old citadel (in Arabic, al mudeyna). | Bailén 10, Palacio | 91/542–2200 | Free | Daily 9–9 | Station: Ópera.
Jardines de Sabatini (Sabatini Gardens).
The formal gardens to the north of the Royal Palace are crawling with stray cats but are still a pleasant place to rest or watch the sun set. | Bailén s/n, Palacio | Station: Príncipe Pío, Plaza de España.
San Nicolás de los Servitas (Church of St. Nicholas of the Servitas).
This church tower is one of the oldest buildings in Madrid. There’s some debate over whether it once formed part of an Arab mosque. It was more likely built after the Christian Reconquest of Madrid in 1085, but the brickwork and the horseshoe arches are evidence that it was crafted by either Mudejars (Moorish workers) or Spaniards well versed in the style. Inside, exhibits detail the Islamic history of early Madrid. | Pl. de San Nicolás, Palacio | 91/559–4064 | Donation suggested | Mon. 8:30–1:30 and 5:30–9, Tues.–Sat. 8:30–9:30 am and 6:30–9 pm, Sun. 10–2; groups by appointment | Station: Ópera.
Officially part of the Palacio neighborhood, this bustling area bordered by Calle de Segovia to the north; Calle Toledo to the east; Plaza de la Cebada to the south; and Calle Bailén, with its imposing Basílica de San Francisco, to the west, has created a reputation of its own. It now houses some of the city’s oldest buildings, plenty of sloping streets, and some of the best spots for tapas, especially on the Cava Baja and Cava Alta, and the area around Plaza de la Paja.
The epicenter of the fashionable and historic La Latina neighborhood—a maze of narrow streets that extend south of Plaza Mayor and across Calle Segovia—this is a diagonal street crowded with excellent tapas bars and traditional restaurants. Its lively atmosphere spills over onto nearby streets and squares, including Almendro, Cava Alta, Plaza del Humilladero, and Plaza de la Paja. | La Latina | Station: La Latina.
Plaza de la Paja.
At the top of the hill, on Costanilla San Andrés, the Plaza de la Paja was the most important square in medieval Madrid. The plaza’s jewel is the Capilla del Obispo (Bishop’s Chapel), built between 1520 and 1530; this was where peasants deposited their tithes, called diezmas—literally, one-tenth of their crop. The stacks of wheat on the chapel’s ceramic tiles refer to this tradition. Architecturally, the chapel marks a transition from the blocky Gothic period, which gave the structure its basic shape, to the Renaissance, the source of the decorations. It houses an intricately carved polychrome altarpiece by Francisco Giralta, with scenes from the life of Christ. To visit the chapel (Tues. 9:30–12:30, Thurs. 4–5:30) reserve in advance (91/559–2874 | firstname.lastname@example.org).
The chapel is part of the complex of the domed church of San Andrés, one of Madrid’s oldest, which was severely damaged during the civil war. For centuries the church held the remains of Madrid’s male patron saint, San Isidro Labrador (now with his wife’s remains, at the Real Colegiata de San Isidro, on nearby Calle Toledo). St. Isidore the Laborer was a peasant who worked fields belonging to the Vargas family—the 16th-century Vargas Palace forms the eastern side of the Plaza de la Paja. According to legend, St. Isidro worked little but had the best-tended fields thanks to many hours of prayer. When Señor Vargas came to investigate, Isidro made a spring of sweet water spurt from the ground to quench his master’s thirst. A hermitage (Ermita de San Isidro), now on Paseo de la Ermita del Santo, west of the Manzanares River, was built next to the spring in 1528. Every May 15 there’s a procession followed by festivities in the meadow next to the hermitage. In olden days, the saint’s remains were paraded through the city in times of drought. | La Latina | Station: La Latina.
Basílica de San Francisco el Grande.
In 1760 Carlos III built this impressive basilica on the site of a Franciscan convent, allegedly founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1217. The dome, 108 feet in diameter, is the largest in Spain, even larger than that of St. Paul’s in London. The seven main doors were carved of American walnut by Casa Juan Guas. Three chapels adjoin the circular church, the most famous being that of San Bernardino de Siena, which contains a Goya masterpiece depicting a preaching San Bernardino. The figure standing on the right, not looking up, is a self-portrait of Goya. The 16th-century Gothic choir stalls came from La Cartuja del Paular, in rural Segovia Province. | Pl. de San Francisco, La Latina | 91/365–3800 | €3 guided tour | June–Sept., Tues.–Fri. 10:30–12:30 and 5–7; Oct.–May, Tues.–Fri. 10:30–12:30 and 4–6 | Station: Puerta de Toledo, La Latina.
In this small neighborhood built in the 16th century, the Plaza del Sol used to mark the city’s geographic center. The square has been renovated a number of times, the last renovation taking place in 2005–09, and it’s no longer the city center—as the city keeps growing, that center has been displaced to the east. It encompasses, among other sites, the monumental Plaza Mayor, and also the popular pedestrian shopping area in between the Plaza Mayor and Callao.
Austere, grand, and often surprisingly quiet compared with the rest of Madrid, this public square, finished in 1620 under Felipe III—whose equestrian statue stands in the center—is one of the largest in Europe, measuring 360 feet by 300 feet. It’s seen it all: autos-da-fé (“trials of faith,” i.e., public burnings of heretics); the canonization of saints; criminal executions; royal marriages, such as that of Princess María and the King of Hungary in 1629; bullfights (until 1847); masked balls; and all manner of other events. Special events still take place here.
This space was once occupied by a city market, and many of the surrounding streets retain the charming names of the trades and foods once headquartered there. Nearby are Calle de Cuchilleros (Knifemakers’ Street), Calle de Lechuga (Lettuce Street), Calle de Fresa (Strawberry Street), and Calle de Botoneros (Buttonmakers’ Street). The plaza’s oldest building is the one with the brightly painted murals and the gray spires, called Casa de la Panadería (Bakery House) in honor of the bread shop over which it was built; it is now the tourist office. Opposite is the Casa de la Carnicería (Butcher Shop), now a police station.
The plaza is closed to motorized traffic, making it a pleasant place to sit at one of the sidewalk cafés, watching alfresco artists, street musicians, and madrileños from all walks of life. Sunday morning brings a stamp and coin market. Around Christmas the plaza fills with stalls selling trees, ornaments, and nativity scenes. | Sol | Station: Sol.
QUICK BITES: Mercado de San Miguel.
Near the Plaza Mayor, the most exciting, and interactive, addition to the Madrid tapas scene is this old market, which has been converted into a gourmet nirvana. Open till the wee hours of the night, the swanky, bustling stalls are usually filled with a mix of madrileños and tourists sampling plates of Manchego cheese with a good Rioja or Ribera del Duero red wine, or perhaps less traditional fare such as oysters with Champagne, Austrian pastries, crackers topped with Russian caviar, Andalusian shrimp paired with sherry, and much more. | Pl. de San Miguel s/n, Palacio | www.mercadodesanmiguel.es | Mon.–Wed. and Sun. 10 am–midnight, Thurs.–Sat. 10 am–2 am | Station: Ópera.
Puerta del Sol.
Crowded with people but pedestrian-friendly, the Puerta del Sol is the nerve center of Madrid. The city’s main subway interchange is below, and buses fan out from here. A brass plaque in the sidewalk on the south side of the plaza marks Kilometer 0, the spot from which all distances in Spain are measured. The restored 1756 French-neoclassical building near the marker now houses the offices of the regional government, but during Franco’s reign it was the headquarters of his secret police, and it’s still known colloquially as the Casa de los Gritos (House of Screams). Across the square are a bronze statue of Madrid’s official symbol, a bear with a madroño (strawberry tree), and a statue of King-Mayor Carlos III on horseback. | Sol | Station: Sol.
QUICK BITES: Gourmet Experience.
El Corte Inglés, Spain’s largest department store, has opened up a gourmet food court, a gastronomic enclave with top-quality offerings, on the ninth floor of its main building in Callao. It makes for a good quick stop if your feet hurt after strolling along the Gran Vía or even nearby Sol. The space has some well-known local food brands such as La Máquina (seafood) or Imanol (tapas), as well as other international options (hamburgers, Mexican, etc.), but the undisputed star is StreetXO, the take-away food stall from David Muñoz, Madrid’s current top chef and the mastermind behind the acclaimed DiverXO. This spot not only pays tribute to Asian-cuisine street vendors, but also offers glimpses of David Muñoz’s inventive fusion cuisine at affordable prices. Try his version of a club sandwich with ricotta cheese, fried quail egg, and the Japanese spice mixture sichimi togarashi. Grab your tray, and perhaps a cocktail from Juanillo Club (another of the stalls), and try to find an empty spot on the terrace, which offers panoramic views of the city, including the Royal Palace. | Pl. de Callao 1, Sol | Located on the 9th fl. of El Corte Inglés. Take the 2nd entrance walking down Callao on Calle Carmen and across from Fnac.
Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (St. Ferdinand Royal Academy of Fine Arts).
Designed by José Churriguera in the waning baroque years of the early 18th century, this museum showcases 500 years of Spanish painting, from José Ribera and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo to Joaquín Sorolla and Ignacio Zuloaga. The tapestries along the stairways are stunning. It displays paintings up to the 18th century, including some by Goya. Guided tours, by very qualified and amenable guides, are available on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 11, except during August. The same building houses the Instituto de Calcografía (Prints Institute), which sells limited-edition prints from original plates engraved by Spanish artists. Check listings for classical and contemporary concerts in the small upstairs hall. | Alcalá 13, Sol | 91/524–0864 | www.realacademiabellasartessanfernando.com | €6 (free Wed.) | Tues.–Sun. 9–3 | Station: Sol.
A large neighborhood extending to the northwest of Madrid, Moncloa includes high-class residential areas, such as Puerta de Hierro o Aravaca; more urban ones, such as Arguelles, the city’s largest university campus; and some of the city’s best parks: Casa de Campo, Parque del Oeste (with the Templo de Debod gardens), and la Dehesa de la Villa.
Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida (Goya’s tomb).
Built between 1792 and 1798 by the Italian architect Francisco Fontana, this neoclassical church was financed by King Carlos IV, who also commissioned Goya to paint the vaults and the main dome: he took 120 days to complete his assignment, painting alone except for a little boy who stirred his pigments. This gave him absolute freedom to depict events of the 13th century (e.g., St. Anthony of Padua resurrecting a dead man) as if they had happened five centuries later with naturalistic images never before used to paint religious scenes. Opposite the image of the frightening dead man on the main dome, Goya painted himself as a man covered with a black cloak. The frescoes’ third-restoration phase ended in 2005, and visitors can now admire them in their full splendor. Goya, who died in Bordeaux in 1828, is buried here (without his head, since it was stolen in France), under an unadorned gravestone. | Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida 5, Moncloa | 91/542–0722 | Free | Tues.–Sun. 10–8 | Station: Príncipe Pío.
Museo del Traje (Costume Museum).
This museum traces the evolution of dress in Spain, from old royal burial garments (very few of which remain) through the introduction of French fashion by Felipe V to the 20th-century creations of couturiers such as Balenciaga and Pertegaz. The 18th century claims the largest number of pieces. Explanatory notes are in English, and the museum has a superb restaurant. To get here, from Moncloa take Bus No. 46 or walk along the northeastern edge of Parque del Oeste. | Av. Juan de Herrera 2, Moncloa | 91/549–7150 | museodeltraje.mcu.es | €3 (free Sat. after 2 and Sun.) | Tues.–Sat. 9:30–7, Sun. 10–3 | Station: Ciudad Universitaria.
FAMILY | Teleférico.
Kids love this cable car, which takes you from the Rosaleda gardens in the Parque del Oeste to the center of Casa de Campo in about 10 minutes. TIP This is not the best way to get to the zoo and theme park if you’re with children because the walk from the cable car is at least 2 km (1 mile), and you’ll probably need to ask for directions. You’re better off riding the Teleférico out and back, then taking the bus to the zoo. | Estación Terminal Teleférico, Paseo de Pintor Rosales, at C. Marques de Urquijo, Moncloa | 91/541–1118 | www.teleferico.com | €4 one-way, €5.80 round-trip | Apr.–Sept., daily noon–dusk; Oct.–Mar., weekends noon–dusk | Station: Arguelles.
Templo de Debod.
This 4th-century BC Egyptian temple was donated to Spain in thanks for its technical assistance with the construction of the Aswan Dam. The western side of the small park around the temple is the best place to watch Madrid’s outstanding sunsets. | Paseo de Pintor Rosales, Moncloa | 91/765–1008 | Free | Oct.–Mar., Tues.–Fri. 9:45–1:45 and 4:15–6:15, weekends 10–2; Apr.–Sept., Tues.–Fri. 10–2 and 6–8, weekends 10–2 | Station: Plaza de España, Ventura Rodríguez.
FAMILY | Zoo-Aquarium.
One of the most comprehensive zoological parks in Europe, Madrid’s zoo houses a large variety of animals (including rarities such as an albino tiger) that are grouped according to their geographical origin. It also has a dolphinarium and a wild bird reservoir that hold entertaining exhibitions twice a day on weekdays and more often on weekends—check times on arrival and show up early to get a good seat. TIP Reduced ticket prices are available by booking online. The zoo is in the Casa de Campo, a large park right outside the western part of the city. TIP Though the nearest metro stop is Casa de Campo it’s best reached via subway to Príncipe Pío and then Bus No. 33. | Casa de Campo s/n, Moncloa | 902/345–014 | www.zoomadrid.com | €22.90 | Feb. and Mar., weekdays 11–6, weekends 10:30–7; Apr.–Aug., weekdays 10:30–7 (until 7:30 July and Aug.), weekends 10:30–9; Sept. and Oct., weekdays 11–6:30, weekends 10:30–7:30; Nov.–Jan., weekdays 11–6, weekends 10:30–6 | Station: Casa de Campo, Príncipe Pío then Bus No. 33.
BARRIO DE LAS LETRAS
The Barrio de las Letras, long favored by tourists for its clean-cut looks and its fun places to hang out, was named for the many writers and playwrights from the Spanish Golden Age (16th and 17th centuries) who set up house within a few blocks of Plaza Santa Ana. Once a shelter to los madrileños castizos—the word castizo means “authentic”—it is fast becoming one of the favored living areas of Spanish and foreign professionals affluent enough to pay the soaring real estate prices and willing to withstand the chaos of living within these lively and creative enclaves. Calle de las Huertas (full of bars and clubs), is pedestrian-only, making the neighborhood even more attractive for walking around and socializing.
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Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who transformed a former London power station into that city’s Tate Modern, performed a similar feat here. Their conversion of this early-20th-century power station has created a stunning arts complex fit to become the fourth point in Madrid’s former triangle of great art institutions—the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums. Belonging to one of the country’s wealthiest foundations (La Caixa), the structure seems to float on a newly created, sloped public plaza, with a tall vertical garden designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc on its northern side contrasting with a geometric rust-color roof. Inside, the huge exhibition halls display ancient as well as contemporary art, including a sample of La Caixa’s own collection. The restaurant on the fourth floor has good views. | Paseo del Prado 36, Barrio de las Letras | 91/330–7300 | Free | Daily 10–8 | Station: Atocha.
Fodor’s Choice | Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.
Opened in 1992, the Thyssen occupies spacious galleries filled with natural light in the late-18th-century Villahermosa Palace (itself finished in 1771). This ambitious collection of almost 1,000 paintings traces the history of Western art with examples from every important movement, from the 13th-century Italian Gothic through 20th-century American pop art. The works were gathered from the 1920s to the 1980s by Swiss industrialist Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his father. At the urging of his wife, the baron donated the entire collection to Spain in 1993, and a renovation in 2004 increased the number of paintings on display to include the baroness’s personal collection (considered of lesser quality). Critics have described the museum’s paintings as the minor works of major artists and the major works of minor artists, but the collection still traces the development of Western humanism as no other in the world.
One of the high points is Hans Holbein’s Portrait of Henry VIII (purchased from the late Princess Diana’s grandfather, who used the money to buy a Bugatti sports car). American artists are also well represented; look for the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington’s cook, and note how closely the composition and rendering resemble the artist’s famous painting of the Founding Father. Two halls are devoted to the impressionists and post-impressionists, including many works by Camille Pissarro and a few each by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne. Find Pissarro’s Saint-Honoré Street in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain for a jolt of mortality, or Renoir’s Woman with a Parasol in a Garden for a sense of bucolic beauty lost.
Within 20th-century art, the collection is strong on dynamic German expressionism, with some works by Georgia O’Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth along with Edward Hoppers, Francis Bacons, Robert Rauschenbergs, and Roy Lichtensteins. The temporary exhibits can be fascinating and in summer are sometimes open until 11 pm. A rooftop restaurant serving tapas and drinks is open in the summer until past midnight. You can buy tickets in advance online. | Paseo del Prado 8, Barrio de las Letras | 91/369–0151 | www.museothyssen.org | Permanent collection €10 (free Mon.), temporary exhibition €11, combined €17; €25.60 combined Paseo del Arte ticket for the Prado, Reina Sofía, and Thyssen-Bornemisza | Mon. noon–4, Tues.–Sun. 10–7 | Station: Banco de España.
Plaza Santa Ana.
This plaza was the heart of the theater district in the 17th century—the Golden Age of Spanish literature—and is now the center of Madrid’s thumping nightlife. A statue of 17th-century playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca faces the Teatro Español, where playwrights such as Félix Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and Ramón del Valle-Inclán released some of their plays. (Opposite the theater and off to the side of a hotel is the diminutive Plaza del Ángel, with one of Madrid’s best jazz clubs, the Café Central.) One of Madrid’s most famous cafés, Cervecería Alemana, is on Plaza Santa Ana and is still catnip to writers and poets. | Barrio de las Letras | Station: Sevilla.
Banco de España.
This massive 1884 building, Spain’s central bank, takes up an entire block. It’s said that part of the nation’s gold reserves are held in vaults that stretch under the Plaza de la Cibeles traffic circle all the way to the fountain. (Some reserves are also stored in Fort Knox, in the United States.) The bank is not open to visitors, but the architecture is worth viewing. | Paseo del Prado s/n, at Pl. de la Cibeles, Barrio de las Letras | Station: Banco de España.
Casa de Cervantes.
A plaque marks the private home where Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, author of Don Quijote de la Mancha, committed his final words to paper: “Puesto ya el pie en el estribo, con ansias de la muerte” (“One foot already in the stirrup and yearning for death”). The Western world’s first runaway best seller and still one of the most widely translated and read books in the world, Cervantes’s spoof of a knightly novel playfully but profoundly satirized Spain’s rise and decline while portraying man’s dual nature in the pragmatic Sancho Panza and the idealistic Don Quixote, ever in search of wrongs to right. | Calle Cervantes and Calle León, Barrio de las Letras | Station: Antón Martin, Sevilla.
Casa de Lope de Vega.
Considered the Shakespeare of Spanish literature, Fray Lope Félix de la Vega Carpio (1562–1635) is best known as Lope de Vega. A contemporary and adversary of Cervantes, he wrote some 1,800 plays and enjoyed great success during his lifetime. His former home is now a museum with an intimate look into a bygone era: everything from the whale-oil lamps and candles to the well in the tiny garden and the pans used to warm the bedsheets brings you closer to the great dramatist. The space also accommodates poetry readings and workshops. There is a 45-minute guided tour in English starting every half hour (reservations are necessary) that runs through the playwright’s professional and personal life—including his intense love life—and also touching on 17th-century traditions. Don’t miss the Latin inscription over the door: “Parva Propia Magna / Magna Aliena Parva” (“Small but mine big / Big but someone else’s small”). | Calle Cervantes 11, Barrio de las Letras | 91/429–9216 | Free | Tues.–Sun. 10–3 (last tour at 2) | Station: Antón Martin, Sevilla.
CHUECA, MALASAÑA, AND CHAMBERÍ
Once known primarily for thumping nightlife and dodgy streets, these two Madrid neighborhoods have changed significantly in the past decade. Money from city hall and from private investors was used to renovate buildings and public zones, thereby drawing prosperous businesses and many professional and young inhabitants. The triangle area created by Fuencarral, Gran Vía, and Corredera Baja is becoming more gentrified and is known as Triball.
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Chueca has been completely transformed by the gay community. Noisy bars and overcrowded nightclubs are still a trademark of the area, but it now also makes for pleasant daytime walks and has many inexpensive restaurants, hip shops, great cultural life, and inviting summer terraces.
A Moderniste palace commissioned in 1902 by the businessman and politician Javier González Longoria, the Casa Longoria was built by a disciple of Gaudí. The winding shapes, the plant motifs, and the wrought-iron balconies are reminiscent of Gaudí’s works in Barcelona. The building’s jewel is its main iron, bronze, and marble staircase, which is unfortunately off-limits to tourists because the building is now in private hands. | Fernando VI 4, Chueca | Station: Alonso Martínez, Chueca.
QUICK BITES: Cisne Azul.
Walking past the Cisne Azul you may wonder why such a bland-looking bar is crowded with locals in a neighborhood that’s obsessed with style. The reason is simple: wild mushrooms. In Spain there are more than 2,000 different species, and here they bring the best from the province of León, grill them on the spot with a bit of olive oil and serve them in a variety of ways: with a fried egg yolk, scallops, foie gras, and so on. We suggest you elbow yourself up to the bar and order the popular mezcla de setas (mushroom sampler) with a fried egg yolk. | Gravina 19, Chueca | 91/521–3799 | Station: Chueca.
Mercado de San Antón.
Following the successful transformation of the Mercado de San Miguel, near the Plaza Mayor, the city completely refurbished another old neighborhood food market into a more cosmopolitan enclave. Above the traditional market you can join the madrileños, glasses of wine, cider, or vermouth in hand, scarfing down small servings of international food—think sushi, Greek, Italian—and tapas (seafood options are particularly noteworthy) from the fancy food stalls. On the third level is a casual restaurant (La Cocina de San Antón) and a large terrace, perfect for indulging in a cold daiquiri or a caipirinha on a hot summer night. | Augusto Figueroa 24, Chueca | 913/300730 | www.mercadosananton.com | Mon.–Sat. 10–10; restaurant Sun.–Thurs. 10 am–midnight, Fri. and Sat. 10 am–1:30 am | Station: Chueca.
Famous for being the epicenter of La Movida, the countercultural movement that united rockers, punks, artists and other creative tribes in the 1980s, this neighborhood maintains the same bubbling and transgressive spirit. There are lots of bars, terraces, and shops, mostly by young designers; happening squares such as the Plaza del 2 de Mayo, Plaza de Comendadoras, and Plaza de San Ildefonso; and arguably the city’s best nightlife.
Centro de Conde Duque.
Built by Pedro de Ribera in 1717–30 to accommodate the Regiment of the Royal Guard, this imposing building has gigantic proportions (the facade is 250 yards long) and was used as a military academy and an astronomical observatory in the 19th century. A fire damaged the upper floors in 1869, and after some decay it was partially renovated and turned into a cultural and arts center, with temporary art exhibitions in some of its spaces, including the public and historical libraries. In summer, concerts are held outside in the main plaza. | Conde Duque 9 and 11, Malasaña | 915/885–834 | www.condeduquemadrid.es/en | Tues.–Sat. 10–2 and 5:30–9, Sun. 10:30–2 exhibitions only | Station: San Bernardo.
QUICK BITES: La vita e’bella.
For an inexpensive lunch on a pleasant day, stop here for any of its savory take-away dishes—strombolis, calzones, pizzas, arancini, or pastas—and enjoy your meal with other young madrileños, sitting on a bench at the nearby and bustling Plaza de San Ildefonso or Plaza de Juan Pujol. | C. Espíritu Santo 13 or Pl. de San Ildefonso 5, Malasaña | 91/521–4108 | Station: Tribunal, Noviciado.
Museo de Historia.
Founded in 1929 in a former 17th-century hospice, this museum houses paintings, drawings, pictures, ceramics, furniture, and other objects illustrating Madrid’s history. Exhibits are separated into four major historic periods—Empire, Enlightment, Industrial Revolution, and Modern Times. The museum’s collection of around 40,000 items (some of which are in storage at the Centro Conde Duque and brought here only for temporary exhibitions) span the five centuries since Felipe II brought the royal court to Madrid. The restored ornamented facade—a baroque jewel by Pedro de Ribera—and the painstakingly precise, nearly 18-foot model of Madrid—a project coordinated by León Gil de Palacio in 1830—are the two stand-out exhibits you should not miss. | Fuencarral 78,Malasaña | 91/701–1863 | www.madrid.es/museodehistoria | Free | Tues.–Sun. 9:30–8 | Station: Tribunal.
Plaza del 2 de Mayo.
On this unassuming square stood the Monteleón Artillery barracks, where some brave Spanish soldiers and citizens fought Napoléon’s invading troops on May 2, 1808. The arch that now stands in the middle of the plaza was once at the entrance of the old barracks, and the sculpture under the arch represents captains Daoiz and Velarde. All the surrounding streets carry the names of that day’s heroes. The plaza, now filled with spring and summer terraces, makes a good place to stop for a drink. One of the most popular cafés, Pepe Botella, carries the demeaning nickname the people of Madrid gave to Joseph Bonaparte, Napoléon’s brother, who ruled Spain from 1808 to 1813: Botella (“bottle” in English) is a reference to his falsely alleged fondness for drink. | Malasaña | Station: Noviciado, Tribunal.
Chamberí is a large area to the north of Chueca and Malasaña. It’s mostly residential but has a few lively spots, especially the streets around Plaza de Olavide.
See the world through the exceptional eye of Spain’s most famous impressionist painter, Joaquín Sorolla (1863–1923), who lived and worked most of his life at the home and garden he designed. Entering this diminutive but cozy domain is a little like stepping into a Sorolla painting because it’s filled with the artist’s best-known works, most of which shimmer with the bright Mediterranean light and color of his native Valencia. | General Martinez Campos 37, Chamberí | 91/310–1584 | museosorolla.mcu.es | €3 (free Sun.) | Tues.–Sat. 9:30–8, Sun. 10–3 | Station: Rubén Darío, Gregorio Marañón.
The Events of May
In 1808 Carlos IV ruled Spain, a king more interested in hunting than in the duties attached to government. The king delegated power to his wife, María Luisa, and she to the chief minister, Manuel de Godoy, one of the country’s most despised statesmen of all time. Godoy succeeded in tripling the country’s debt in 20 years and signed the secret Convention of Fontainebleau with Napoléon, which allowed the French troops to cross Spain freely on their way to Portugal. Napoléon’s plans were different—he intended to use the convention as an excuse to annex Spain to his vast domain. While the French troops entered Spain, the Spanish people, tired of the inept king and the greedy Godoy, revolted against the French in Aranjuez on March 17, 1808, hoping Napoléon would hand the throne over to the king’s elder son, Prince Ferdinand. In the following days Carlos IV abdicated, and his son was proclaimed the new king, Fernando VII. Napoléon had already chosen a person for that job, though—one of his brothers, Joseph (José) Bonaparte. The shrewd French emperor managed to attract the Spanish royal family to France and had Carlos IV, his wife, and Ferdinand VII imprisoned in Bayonne, France, and his brother placed on the Spanish throne.
When the French general Joachim Murat arrived in Madrid on March 23 with 10,000 men (leaving 20,000 more camped outside the city), following Napoléon’s orders, Madrid’s Captain General Francisco Javier Negrete ordered the Spanish troops to remain in their military quarters, arguing that resistance was futile. On the morning of May 2, a group of civilians revolted in front of the Palacio Real, fearing the French troops intended to send Francisco de Paula, King Carlos IV’s youngest son, to Bayonne with his brother and father. Gunfire ensued, and word of the events spread all over the city. The people rose up, fighting the mightier French troops with whatever they could use as weapons. Two captains, Luis Daoiz and Pedro Velarde, and a lieutenant, Jacinto Ruiz, disobeyed Negrete’s orders and quartered at the Monteleón Artillery barracks, which stretched from what is now Plaza del 2 de mayo to Calle Carranza. Helped by a small group of soldiers and some brave citizens who had marched to the barracks from the Royal Palace, the group resisted the French for three hours, doing so with very little ammunition, as they couldn’t access the armory.
Daoiz and Velarde died in the bloody fight. Ruiz managed to escape, only to die from his wounds later. Murat’s forces executed soldiers and civilians throughout the city, including in the Casa de Campo and what’s now the Parque del Oeste, captured by Goya in one of his two famous paintings of the executions—both restored in 2008 to celebrate the bicentennial of the events. The events marked the beginning of the five-year War of Independence against the French. The remains of the three military heroes, together with those who were executed at Paseo del Prado, are now held in an obelisk–mausoleum at Plaza de la Lealtad.
Paradoxically, Joseph Bonaparte proved to be a good ruler, implementing wise renovations in the then congested and unhygienic city. He built new squares, enlarged key streets, and moved some cemeteries outside the city.
Bordering the old city wall (torn down in the mid-19th century) to the south, Embajadores included most of Madrid’s old industrial areas in the 17th and 18th centuries, when it housed, among others, beer, glass, and car factories. That industrial past is now long gone and now it’s a residential area with some historical buildings and some of the city’s liveliest areas, such as Rastro and Lavapiés. Purse snatching and petty crime are not uncommon in these two areas, so be alert.
The Rastro area in Embajadores traces back to the last third of the 16th century, when it marked the lower part of the old city’s wall. The old slaughterhouses of this quarter (and all the other businesses related to that trade) are the origins of today’s flea market, which spreads all over the neighborhood on Sunday. It gets quite busy on the weekends, especially on Sunday mornings.
Named for the arrastre (dragging) of animals in and out of the slaughterhouse that once stood here and, specifically, the rastro (blood trail) left behind, this site explodes into a rollicking flea market every Sunday from 9 to 3, with dozens and dozens of street vendors with truly bizarre bric-a-brac ranging from costume earrings to sent postcards to thrown-out love letters. There are also more formal shops where it’s easy to turn up treasures such as old iron grillwork, a marble tabletop, or a gilt picture frame. The shops (not the vendors) are also open during the week, allowing for quieter and more serious bargaining. Even so, people-watching on Sunday is the best part: for serious browsing and bargaining, any other morning is a better time to turn up treasures. | Ribera de los Curtidores s/n, Embajadores | Station: La Latina, Puerta de Toledo.
Housed along its sloping narrow streets, Lavapiés has the highest concentration of immigrants—mostly Chinese, Indian, and North African—in Madrid, and as a result the area has plenty of ethnic markets and inexpensive restaurants as well as bustling crowds, especially in the Plaza de Lavapiés. The area also has the highest number of corralas still standing, a type of building (now protected by the city after many years of abandonment) which was popular in Madrid in the 17th century. In the corralas, all the apartments are connected to a central patio, which serves as the community’s social hub.
Fodor’s Choice | Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Queen Sofía Art Center).
Spain’s National Museum of Contemporary Art houses works by all the major 20th-century Spanish painters and sculptors. The permanent art collection features 1,000 works on four floors (the second and fourth floors of the Sabatini building and the ground and first floors of the Nouvel annex) and, despite concentrating on painting, puts a much higher emphasis on other art forms such as photography and cinema. The new collection breaks from the traditional habit of grouping works by major artistic movement and individual artist: instead, the current director has chosen to contextualize the works of the great modern masters—Picasso, Miró, and Salvador Dalí—and of other big local names, such as Juan Gris, Jorge Oteiza, Pablo Gargallo, Julio Gonzalez, Eduardo Chillida, and Antoni Tàpies, into broader narratives that attempt to explain better the evolution of modern art. This means, for instance, that in the first room of the collection (201), you’ll find a selection of Goya’s Disasters of War engravings (the proto-romantic and proto-surrealist great master serving as a precursor of the avant-garde movements of the 20th century) next to one of the first movies ever made, Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory, by the Lumière brothers. And you will find that the Picassos or Dalís are not all displayed together in a single room, but scattered around the 38 rooms of the permanent collection.
The museum’s showpiece is Picasso’s Guernica, in Room 206 on the second floor. The huge black-and-white canvas—suitably lighted and without distracting barriers—depicts the horror of the Nazi Condor Legion’s bombing of the ancient Basque town of Gernika in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War. The work, something of a national shrine, was commissioned from Picasso by the Republican government for the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair in an attempt to gather sympathy for the Republican side during the civil war. The museum rooms adjacent to Guernica now reconstruct the artistic significance of the Spanish participation in the World’s Fair, with works from other artists such as Miró, Josep María Sert, and Alexander Calder. Guernica did not reach Madrid until 1981, as Picasso had stipulated in his will that the painting return to Spain only after democracy was restored.
The fourth floor in the Sabatini building is devoted to art created after World War II, and the Nouvel annex displays paintings, sculptures, photos, videos, and installations from the last quarter of the 20th century.
The museum was once a hospital, but today the classical granite austerity of the space is somewhat relieved (or ruined, depending on your point of view) by the playful pair of glass elevator shafts on its facade. Three separate buildings joined by a common vault were added to the original complex in 2005—the first contains an art bookshop and a public library, the second a center for contemporary exhibitions, and the third an auditorium and restaurant-cafeteria. The latter, although expensive, makes an excellent stop for refreshments, be it a cup of tea or coffee, a snack, or even a cocktail, and in summer there’s also a popular snack bar set up in the gardens. | Santa Isabel 52, Embajadores | 91/467–5062 | www.museoreinasofia.es | €8 (free Mon. and Wed.–Sat. after 7 pm, Sun. 3–7); €25.60 combined Paseo del Arte ticket for the Prado, Reina Sofía, and Thyssen-Bornemisza | Mon. and Wed.–Sat. 10–9, Sun. 10–7 (after 2:30 only the temporary exhibition can be visited) | Station: Atocha.
The heart of the historic Jewish barrio, this plaza at the top of Calle de la Fe remains a multicultural neighborhood hub. To the east is the Calle de la Fé (Street of Faith), which was called Calle Sinagoga until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The church of San Lorenzo at the end was built on the site of the razed synagogue. Legend says Jews and Moors who chose baptism over exile had to walk up this street barefoot to the ceremony to demonstrate their new faith. | Embajadores | Station: Lavapiés.
SALAMANCA AND RETIRO
By the mid-19th century, city officials decided to expand Madrid beyond the 1625 wall erected by Felipe IV. The result was a handful of new, well-laid-out neighborhoods.
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The Salamanca neighborhood, one of the new areas included in the program of city expansions which started in the second half of the 19th century, was originally supposed to provide shelter for the working classes. However, it soon became a favorite location for the bourgeois, the upper class, and the aristocracy. Currently it draws a more mixed crowd but still houses most of the city’s expensive restaurants and luxury shops.
Museo Arqueológico (Museum of Archaeology).
After being closed for more than six years, this newly renovated museum, enclosed in a massive neoclassical building, reopened in spring 2014 with three large floors filled with Spanish relics, artifacts, and treasures ranging from ancient history to the 19th century. Among the highlights are La Dama de Elche, a bust of a wealthy, 5th-century-BC Iberian woman (notice that her headgear is a rough precursor to the mantillas and hair combs still associated with traditional Spanish dress); the ancient Visigothic votive crowns discovered in 1859 near Toledo, which are believed to date back to the 7th century; and the medieval ivory crucifix of Ferdinand and Sancha. There is also a replica of the early cave paintings in Altamira (access to the real thing, in Cantabria Province, is highly restricted). TIP Consider getting the multimedia guide offering select itineraries to make a visit more manageable. | C. Serrano 13, Salamanca | 91/577–7912 | www.man.es | €3 | Tues.–Sat. 9:30–8, Sun. 9:30–3 | Station: Colón.
Museo Lázaro Galdiano.
This stately mansion of writer and editor José Lázaro Galdiano (1862–1947), a 10-minute walk across the Castellana from the Museo Sorolla, has decorative items and paintings by Bosch, El Greco, Murillo, and Goya, among others. The remarkable collection comprises five centuries of Spanish, Flemish, English, and Italian art. Bosch’s St. John the Baptist and the many Goyas are the stars of the show, with El Greco’s San Francisco de Assisi and Zurbarán’s San Diego de Alcalá close behind. | C. Serrano 122, Salamanca | 91/561–6084 | www.flg.es | €6 (free last hr) | Mon. and Wed.–Sat. 10–4:30, Sun. 10–3 | Station: Gregorio Marañón.
Named for Christopher Columbus, this plaza has a statue of the explorer (identical to the one in Barcelona’s port) looking west from a high tower in the middle of the square. Behind Plaza Colón is Calle Serrano, the city’s premier shopping street (think Gucci, Prada, and Loewe). Stroll in either direction on Serrano for some window-shopping. | Salamanca | Station: Colón.
The Retiro holds the city’s best-known park, Parque del Buen Retiro, and the neighborhood’s borders extend both to the east and west of Madrid’s green lung. The area between the western side of the park and the Paseo del Prado, which used to be part of the park until it was sold to the Estate and built during the rule of Isabel II, showcases some of the city’s most exclusive, expensive, and sought-after real estate. The area on the opposite side of the park is livelier, with many quality tapas bars and less expensive restaurants.
Fodor’s Choice | Museo del Prado (Prado Museum).
One of the world’s top museums, the Prado is to Madrid what the Louvre is to Paris, or the Uffizi to Florence: a majestic city landmark and premiere art institution that merits the attention of every traveler who visits the city.
When the Prado was commissioned by King Carlos III, in 1785, it was meant to be a natural-science museum. The king wanted the museum, the adjoining botanical gardens, and the elegant Paseo del Prado to serve as a center of scientific enlightenment. By the time the building was completed in 1819, its purpose had changed to exhibiting the art gathered by Spanish royalty since the time of Ferdinand and Isabella. The museum’s long-awaited face-lift was begun in 2002 and completed after five years of work. It features a massive new wing together with a new building around the remains of the Cloister of the San Jerónimo el Real, designed by Rafael Moneo, that has resurrected long-hidden works by Zurbarán and Antonio de Pereda and more than doubled the number of paintings on display from the permanent collection.
The Prado’s jewels are its works by the nation’s three great masters: Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco. The museum also holds masterpieces by Flemish, Dutch, German, French, and Italian artists, collected when their lands were part of the Spanish Empire. The museum benefited greatly from the anticlerical laws of 1836, which forced monasteries, convents, and churches to forfeit many of their artworks for public display.
TIP Buy tickets in advance online; you can also reserve an audio guide online and pick it up in the main foyer in the Jerónimos building. If you don’t buy tickets online, another time-saving option is the two vending machines outside the Goya entrance. Enter the Prado via the Goya entrance, with steps opposite the Ritz hotel, or by the less crowded Murillo door opposite the Jardín Botánico. The layout varies (grab a floor plan), but the first halls on the left, coming from the Goya entrance (7A to 11 on the second floor, or planta primera), are usually devoted to 17th-century Flemish painters, including Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), Jacob Jordaens (1593–1678), and Antony van Dyck (1599–1641).
Room 12 introduces you to the meticulous brushwork of Velázquez (1599–1660) in his numerous portraits of kings and queens. Look for the magnificent Las Hilanderas (The Spinners), evidence of the artist’s talent for painting light. The Prado’s most famous canvas, Velázquez’s Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor), combines a self-portrait of the artist at work with a mirror reflection of the king and queen in a revolutionary interplay of space and perspectives. Picasso was obsessed with this work and painted several copies of it in his own abstract style, now on display in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.
The south ends of the second and top floors (planta primera and planta segunda) are reserved for Goya (1746–1828), whose works span a staggering range of tone, from bucolic to horrific. Among his early masterpieces are portraits of the family of King Carlos IV, for whom he was court painter—one glance at their unflattering and imbecilic expressions, especially in the painting The Family of Carlos IV, reveals the loathing Goya developed for these self-indulgent, reactionary rulers. His famous side-by-side canvases, The Clothed Maja and The Nude Maja, may represent the young duchess of Alba, whom Goya adored and frequently painted. No one knows whether she ever returned his affection. The adjacent rooms house a series of idyllic scenes of Spaniards at play, painted as designs for tapestries.
Goya’s paintings took on political purpose starting in 1808, when the population of Madrid rose up against occupying French troops. The 2nd of May portrays the insurrection at the Puerta del Sol, and its even more terrifying companion piece, The 3rd of May, depicts the nighttime executions of patriots who had rebelled the day before. The garish light effects in this work typify the romantic style, which favors drama over detail, and make it one of the most powerful indictments of violence ever committed to canvas.
Goya’s “black paintings” are dark, disturbing works, completed late in his life, that reflect his inner turmoil after losing his hearing and his deep embitterment over the bloody War of Independence. These are copies of the monstrous hallucinatory paintings Goya made with marvelously free brushstrokes on the walls of his house by southern Madrid’s Manzanares River, popularly known as La Quinta del Sordo (The Deaf One’s Villa). Having grown gravely ill in his old age, Goya was deaf, lonely, bitter, and despairing; his terrifying Saturn Devouring One of His Sons (which Goya displayed in his dining room!) communicates the ravages of age and time.
Near the Goya entrance, the Prado’s ground floor (planta baja) is filled with 15th- and 16th-century Flemish paintings, including the bizarre proto-surrealist masterpiece Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516). Next come Rooms 60A, 61A, and 62A, filled with the passionately spiritual works of El Greco (Doménikos Theotokópoulos, 1541–1614), the Greek-born artist who lived and worked in Toledo. El Greco is known for his mystical, elongated forms and faces—a style that was shocking to a public accustomed to strictly representational images. Two of his greatest paintings, The Resurrection and The Adoration of the Shepherds, are on view here. Before you leave, stop in the 14th-to-16th-century Italian rooms to see Titian’s Portrait of Emperor Charles V and Raphael’s exquisite Portrait of a Cardinal. | Paseo del Prado s/n, Retiro | 91/330–2800 | www.museodelprado.es | €14, permanent collection free Mon.–Sat 6 pm–8 pm, Sun. 5 pm–7 pm | Mon.–Sat. 10–8, Sun. and holidays 10–7 | Station: Banco de España, Atocha.
The Art Walk (Paseo del Prado)
Any visit to Madrid should include a stroll along Paseo del Prado, lined with some world-class museums (whose architecture as well as art are worth admiring), and some wandering in the adjoining Barrio de las Letras, the old literary neighborhood that is now a happening area full of restaurants. You can tour the area in about two hours, longer if you visit the Prado, lounge in any of the Barrio de las Letras’s charming tapas bars, or take a stroll in Retiro Park.
TIP The Paseo del Arte (Art Walk) pass allows you to visit the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza for €21.60. You can buy it at any of the three museums, and you don’t have to visit all of them on the same day.
The Paseo del Prado stretches from the Plaza de la Cibeles to Plaza del Emperador Carlos V (also known as Plaza Atocha) and is home to Madrid’s three main art museums—the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza—as well as the CaixaForum, an art institution with fabulous temporary exhibitions. In earlier times the Paseo marked the eastern boundary of the city, and in the 17th century it was given a cleaner neoclassical look. A century later, King Carlos III designed a leafy nature walk with glorious fountains and a botanical garden to provide respite to madrileños during the scorching summers.
The stretch of the Paseo del Prado from Plaza Cánovas del Castillo north to Cibeles houses some notable buildings, but it’s the southern end of the Paseo that shouldn’t be missed. Start your walk on Plaza Cánovas del Castillo, with its Fuente de Neptuno (Fountain of Neptune); on the northwestern corner is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. To your left, across from the plaza, is the elegant Ritz hotel, alongside the obelisk dedicated to all those who have died for Spain, and across from it on the right is the Museo del Prado, the best example of neoclassical architecture in the city and one of the world’s best-known museums. It was enlarged in 2007 with the addition of what’s widely known as “Moneo’s cube,” architect Rafael Moneo’s steel-and-glass building that now encloses the cloister of the old Monasterio de los Jerónimos. The monastery, of which now only the church stands, is easily dwarfed by the museum, but this is by far the oldest building in this part of the city, dating to 1503, and was at one time the core of the old Parque del Buen Retiro (the park stretched as far as the Paseo del Prado until the 19th century, when Queen Isabel II sold a third of its terrain to the state) and the reason for the park’s name: the monastery is where the Habsburg kings would temporarily “retire” from their mundane yet overwhelming state affairs. The park, always bustling, especially on the weekends, is a great place to finish off a day or to unwind after some intense sightseeing.
To the right of the Prado, across from the Murillo Gate, is the Jardín Botánico, also a wonderful place to relax with a book or to sketch under the shelter of a leafy exotic tree. Across the street is the sloping plaza that leads to the CaixaForum, an impressive arts exhibition center.
The Paseo del Prado ends on the Glorieta del Emperador Carlos V, a traffic circle where you’ll find the Estación de Atocha, a train station resembling the overturned hull of a ship, and, to the west of the plaza, across from Calle Atocha, in the building with the exterior glass elevators, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid’s modern art museum and the current home of Picasso’s Guernica.
West of the Paseo del Prado is the lively Barrio de las Letras neighborhood, full of charming and historic streets and popular bars for a snack or a sit-down meal after museum sightseeing—from the Paseo del Prado, just take Calle Huertas, Calle Lope de Vega, or any of the other cross streets from Calle Alameda or Calle San Pedro. Along Calle Lope de Vega are the excellent tapas bars La Dolores and El Cervantes. Near here, at the corner of Calle León and Calle Cervantes is the Casa de Cervantes, where, as the plaque on the wall attests, the author of Don Quijote died on April 23, 1616 (he was buried in the convent and church of the Trinitarias Descalzas, also on Calle Lope de Vega, but his remains were misplaced in the 17th century). Down the street, at No. 11, is the Casa de Lope de Vega, where the “Spanish Shakespeare,” Fray Lope Félix de la Vega Carpio, lived and worked. Walk Calle León until it merges with Calle Prado, then make a left and end your tour of this neighborhood at Plaza de Santa Ana, the Barrio de las Letras’s lively main square, also crowded with bars, including the Cervecería Alemana, one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangouts while he was in Madrid (it’s a fine place to sip a beer).
If you feel the need to wear out your walking shoes a little more, take Calle Príncipe and then Calle Sevilla to Calle Alcalá, make a right, and head down until you reach Plaza de la Cibeles, then walk up to the Puerta de Alcalá and enter the Parque del Buen Retiro through the entrance on that square.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Parque del Buen Retiro (The Retreat).
Once the private playground of royalty, Madrid’s crowning park is a vast expanse of green encompassing formal gardens, fountains, lakes, exhibition halls, children’s play areas, outdoor cafés, and a Puppet Theater featuring free slapstick routines that even non–Spanish speakers will enjoy. Shows take place on Saturday at 1 and on Sunday at 1, 6, and 7. The park is especially lively on weekends, when it fills with street musicians, jugglers, clowns, gypsy fortune-tellers, and sidewalk painters, along with hundreds of Spaniards out for some jogging, rollerblading, bycicling, or just a walk. The park holds a book fair in May and occasional flamenco concerts in summer. From the entrance at the Puerta de Alcalá, head straight toward the center and you can find the Estanque (lake), presided over by a grandiose equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII, erected by his mother. Just behind the lake, north of the statue, is one of the best of the park’s many cafés.
The 19th-century Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), southeast of the Estanque, was built to house exotic plants from the Philippines, a Spanish possession at the time. This airy marvel of steel and glass sits on a base of decorative tile. Next door is a small lake with ducks and swans. Along the Paseo del Uruguay at the park’s south end is the Rosaleda (Rose Garden), bursting with color and heavy with floral scents for most of the summer. West of the Rosaleda, look for a statue called the Ángel Caído (Fallen Angel), which madrileños claim is the only one in the world depicting the prince of darkness before (during, actually) his fall from grace. | Puerta de Alcalá, Retiro | Free | Station: Retiro.
Estación de Atocha.
A steel-and-glass hangar, Madrid’s main train station was built in the late 19th century by Alberto Palacio Elissague, the architect who became famous for his work with Ricardo Velázquez in the creation of the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) in Madrid’s Retiro Park. Closed for years, and nearly torn down, Atocha was restored and refurbished by Spain’s internationally acclaimed architect Rafael Moneo. | Paseo de Atocha s/n, Retiro | 91/420–9875 | Station: Atocha.
Jardín Botánico (Botanical Garden).
Just south of the Prado, the gardens provide a pleasant place to stroll or sit under the trees. True to the wishes of King Carlos III, they hold many plants, flowers, and cacti from around the world. | Pl. de Murillo 2, Retiro | 91/420–3017 | www.rjb.csic.es | €3 | May–Aug., daily 10–9; Apr. and Sept., daily 10–8; Mar. and Oct., daily 10–7; Nov.–Feb., daily 10–6 | Station: Atocha.
Anyone interested in Patrick O’Brian’s painstakingly detailed naval novels or in old vessels and war ships will be interested in the 500 years of Spanish naval history displayed in this museum. The collection, which includes documents, maps, weaponry, paintings, and hundreds of ship models of different sizes, is best enjoyed by those who speak some Spanish. Beginning with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand’s reign and the expeditions led by Christopher Columbus and the conquistadors, exhibits also reveal how Spain built a naval empire that battled Turkish, Algerian, French, Portuguese, and English armies and commanded the oceans and the shipping routes for a century and a half. Moving to the present day, the museum covers Spain’s more recent shipyard and naval construction accomplishments. Guided tours, in Spanish only, are offered on Thursday at 11:15 and weekends at 11:30. | Paseo del Prado 5, Retiro | 91/523–8789 | www.armada.mde.es/museonaval | Free | Tues.–Sun. 10–6 | Station: Banco de España.
Palacio de Cibeles.
This ornate building on the southeast side of Plaza de la Cibeles, built at the start of the 20th century and formerly called Palacio de Comunicaciones, is a massive stone compound of French, Viennese, and traditional Spanish influences. It first served as the city’s main post office and, after renovations, it is now the City Hall’s main building housing the office of the mayor of Madrid, several exhibition halls, an elegant restaurant with two terraces on the sixth floor—with panoramic views of the city—and a breakfast and tapas bar on the second floor. | Pl. de Cibeles, Retiro | 902/197197 | Weekdays 8:30 am–9:30 pm, Sat. 8:30–2 | Station: Banco de España.
Plaza de la Cibeles.
A tree-lined walkway runs down the center of Paseo del Prado to the grand Plaza de la Cibeles, where the famous Fuente de la Cibeles (Fountain of Cybele) depicts the nature goddess driving a chariot drawn by lions. Even more than the officially designated bear and arbutus tree of Madrid’s coat of arms, this monument, beautifully lighted at night, has come to symbolize Madrid—so much so that during the civil war, patriotic madrileños risked life and limb to sandbag it as Nationalist aircraft bombed the city. | Retiro | Station: Banco de España.
Puerta de Alcalá.
This triumphal arch was built by Carlos III in 1778 to mark the site of one of the ancient city gates. You can still see the bomb damage inflicted on it during the civil war. | C. de Alcalá s/n, Retiro | Station: Retiro.
Real Fábrica de Tapices.
Tired of the previous monarchs’ dependency on the Belgian and Flemish thread mills and craftsmen, King Felipe V decided to establish the Royal Tapestry Factory in Madrid in 1721. It was originally housed near Alonso Martínez, and moved to its current location in 1889. Some of Europe’s best artists collaborated in the factory’s tapestry designs. The most famous was Goya, who produced 63 cartoons (rough plans), some of which can be seen at the Prado. It’s said that he put so much detail into them that the craftsmen complained he’d made their work miserable. The factory, still in operation, applies traditional weaving techniques from the 18th and 19th centuries to modern and classic designs—including Goya’s. Textiles are available for sale (you can suggest your own design) at skyrocketing prices: €1,000 per square meter (10¾ square feet) for carpets, €9,000–€12,000 per square meter for tapestries. The factory also runs a training center that teaches traditional weaving techniques to unemployed teenagers, who later become craftspeople. | Fuenterrabía 2, Retiro | 91/434–0550 | www.realfabricadetapices.com | €4 | Weekdays 10–2; guided tour every 30 min starting at 10 | Station: Atocha.
San Jerónimo el Real.
Ferdinand and Isabella used this church and cloister as a retiro, or place of meditation—hence the name of the nearby park. The building was devastated in the Napoleonic Wars, then rebuilt in the late 19th century. | Moreto 4, behind Museo del Prado, Retiro | 91/420–3578 | Daily 10–1 and 5–8:30 | Station: Banco de España, Atocha.
Tapas: A Moveable Feast
Originally a lid used to tapar (cover or close) a glass of wine, a tapa is a kind of hors d’oeuvre that sometimes comes free with a drink: the term supposedly came from pieces of ham or cheese laid across glasses of wine to keep flies out and to keep stagecoach drivers sober. The history of tapas goes back to the 7th- to 15th-century Moorish presence on the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors brought with them exotic ingredients, such as saffron, almonds, and peppers, and a taste for small delicacies that eventually became Spain’s best-known culinary innovation.
Often miniature versions of classic Spanish dishes, the individual pinchos or tapas, or the larger raciones, which usually feed a few, allow you to sample different kinds of food and wine with minimal intoxication, especially on a tapeo, the Spanish version of a pub crawl: you walk off your wine and tapas as you move from bar to bar. In the tapas bars, you can test the food without committing to a sit-down meal. Here are a few standards to watch for: croquetas (béchamel and meat with a fried bread-crumb crust), tortilla de patata (Spanish potato omelet), chorizo (hard pork sausage), gambas (shrimp grilled or cooked in parsley, oil, and garlic), patatas bravas (potatoes in spicy sauce), and boquerones en vinagre (fresh anchovies marinated in salt and vinegar).
This large neighborhood, which extends to the north of the city from Avenida de América, wasn’t annexed to Madrid until 1948. During the following decades, and due to the construction of new sites such as the Chamartín Train Station and the National Auditorium of Music, it has been gaining popularity among madrileños as a good and lively place to live.
As the city of Madrid was growing it also needed to expand its boundaries to annex what in the second half of the 19th century were still rough areas mostly inhabited by the working classes who came to the city for work and couldn’t afford to live closer to the center. One such area is the neighborhood of Tetúan, which extends very differently on both sides of Bravo Murillo, one of the city’s longest streets. Its eastern side is more developed, with plenty of office buildings and commercial real estate. The western side is more residential, with a higher immigrant population.
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Palacio | La Latina | Sol | Barrio de las Letras | Chueca | Malasaña | Chamberí | Lavapiés | Salamanca | Retiro | Chamartín | Tetuán
Spain in general has become a popular foodie pilgrimage, and Madrid showcases its strengths with a cornucopia of cuisines, cutting-edge style, and celebrated chefs who put the city on par with Europe’s most renowned dining capitals.
Top Spanish chefs fearlessly borrow from other cuisines and reinvent traditional dishes. The younger crowd, as well as movie stars and artists, flock to the casual Malasaña, Chueca, and Latina neighborhoods for the affordable restaurants and the tapas bars with truly scintillating small creations. When modern cuisine gets tiresome, seek out such local enclaves as Casa Ciriaco, Casa Botín, and Casa Paco for unpretentious and hearty home cooking.
The house wine in basic Madrid restaurants is often a sturdy, uncomplicated Valdepeñas from La Mancha. A Rioja or a more powerful, complex Ribera del Duero, the latter from northern Castile, normally accompanies serious dining. Ask your waiter’s advice; a smooth Rioja, for example, may not be up to the task of accompanying a cocido or roast suckling pig. After dinner, try the anise-flavored liqueur (anís) produced outside the nearby village of Chinchón.
The best tapas areas in Madrid are in the Chueca, Latina, Sol, Santa Ana, Salamanca, and Lavapiés neighborhoods. Trendy La Latina has a concentration of good tapas bars in Plaza de la Paja and on Cava Baja, Cava Alta, and Almendro streets. Chueca is colorful and lively, and the tapas bars there reflect this casual and cheerful spirit in the food and interior design. The bars around Sol are quite traditional (many haven’t changed in decades), but the constant foot traffic guarantees customers (and means the bars don’t always have to strive for better food and service). In touristy Santa Ana, avoid the crowded and usually pricey tapas bars in the main plaza and go instead to the ones on the side streets. The tapas bars in the Salamanca neighborhood are more sober and traditional, but the food is often excellent. In Lavapiés, the neighborhood with the highest concentration of immigrants, there are plenty of tapas bars serving Moroccan, African, and Asian-inspired food.
Prices in the reviews are the average cost of a main course or equivalent combination of smaller dishes at dinner or, if dinner is not served, at lunch.
SPANISH | First opened as a botellería (wine shop) in 1802, La Bola slowly developed into a tapas bar and then into a full-fledged restaurant. The traditional setting is the draw: the bar is original, and the dining nooks, decorated with polished wood, Spanish tile, and lace curtains, are charming. Amazingly, the restaurant belongs to its founding family, with the seventh generation currently in training. Try the house specialty: cocido a la madrileña (a hearty meal of broth, garbanzo beans, vegetables, potatoes, and pork). | Average main: €21 | Bola 5, Palacio | 91/547–6930 | www.labola.es | No credit cards | Closed Sun. in Aug. No dinner weekends | Station: Ópera.
La Gastroteca de Santiago.
MEDITERRANEAN | Among the trendy restaurants with talented chefs, this one offers good value, with a short and creative menu (barely a dozen dishes) that changes monthly and expert wine advice. It’s an excellent place to see where contemporary creative Spanish cuisine is heading without having to guess what’s on your plate. The restaurant seats only 16, and the open kitchen is as big as the dining area. If you feel adventurous, ask for any of the sampler menus—the top price is €60, or €85 when paired with wine—or show up for any of the Sunday-only lunchtime special rice dishes. | Average main: €24 | Pl. de Santiago 1, Palacio | 91/548–0707 | www.lagastrotecadesantiago.es | Reservations essential | Closed Mon., no dinner Sun. | Station: Ópera.
SPANISH | Madrileños favor this refined bar primarily for the wine. There are wine racks and decanters exhibited all around, and knowledgeable waiters are more than happy to guide guests through their wide selection of local brands. The food is on a par, with a menu that includes such local specialties as croquetas, artichoke salad, chickpea and octopus stew, and beef tartare, as well as Asian-inspired dishes like the Dragon’s Eyes (a rice cake filled with chicken and vegetables in a curry sauce) or tuna loin in soy sauce. Wine by the glass and a weekly lunch menu are also available. Show up early or be prepared to wait. | Average main: €18 | Santiago 9, Palacio | 91/542–2460 | No lunch Mon. | Station: Ópera.
SPANISH | The Guinness Book of Records calls this the world’s oldest restaurant (est. 1725), and Hemingway called it the best. The latter claim may be a bit over the top, but the restaurant is excellent and extremely charming (and so successful that the owners opened a “branch” in Miami, Florida). There are four floors of tile and wood-beam dining rooms, and, if you’re seated upstairs, you’ll pass centuries-old ovens. Musical groups called tunas (mostly made up of students dressed in medieval costume) often come by to perform. The specialties are cochinillo (roast pig) and cordero (roast lamb). It’s rumored Goya washed dishes here before he made it as a painter. | Average main: €23 | Cuchilleros 17, off Pl. Mayor, La Latina | 91/366–4217 | www.botin.es | Station:Tirso de Molina.
SPANISH | One of Madrid’s most traditional restaurants—host to a long list of Spain’s who’s who, from royalty to philosophers, painters, and bullfighters—serves up simple home cooking in an unpretentious environment. You can get a carafe of Valdepeñas or a split of Rioja reserve to accompany the perdiz con judiones (partridge with broad beans). The pepitoria de gallina (hen in an almond sauce) is another favorite. | Average main: €17 | C. Mayor 84, La Latina | 91/559–5066 | Closed Wed. and Aug. | Station: Ópera.
SPANISH | Quieter than most of its boisterous street neighbors, this small quaint bar with just a few tables offers a short but creative selection of local wines and homemade tapas. Some of the food favorites include the Carinena (grilled pork sirloin with caramelized onion), Madrid (scrambled eggs with onion, morcilla [blood pudding], and pine nuts in a tomato base), and huevos a la Macarena (eggs in puff pastry with mushrooms, fried artichokes, fried ham, béchamel, and pine nuts). Since it gets packed easily, try to drop by early both at lunch and dinner times. | Average main: €21 | Cava Baja 30, La Latina | 91/365–0804 | No lunch Wed. | Station: La Latina.
Fodor’s Choice | Casa Paco.
STEAKHOUSE | This Castilian tavern wouldn’t have looked out of place two or three centuries ago, and today you can still squeeze past the old, zinc-top bar, crowded with madrileños downing Valdepeñas, and into the tiled dining rooms. Feast on thick slabs of red meat, sizzling on plates so hot the meat continues to cook at your table. The Spanish consider overcooking meat a sin, so expect looks of dismay if you ask for your meat bien hecho (well done); opt for al punto (medium) or poco hecha (medium rare), instead. You order by weight, so remember that a medio kilo is more than a pound. To start, try the pisto manchego (La Mancha version of ratatouille) or the Castilian sopa de ajo (garlic soup). | Average main: €23 | Puerta Cerrada 11, La Latina | 91/366–3166 | Reservations essential | Closed 1st wk of Aug. No dinner Sun. | Station: Tirso de Molina.
SPANISH | Getting a weekend seat in this rustic old favorite is quite a feat, but drop by any other time and you’ll be served ample raciones (bigger tapas portions meant to be shared) such as the roscas (round hot bread filled with various types of cured meats), huevos rotos (fried eggs with homemade potato chips), pistos (sautéed vegetables with a tomato base) or revueltos (scrambled eggs: a favorite preparation is the Habanero, with fava beans and blood pudding). Note that drinks and food need to be ordered separately (a bell rings when your food is ready and you collect it by the small window). | Average main: €21 | Almendro 13, La Latina | 91/365–4252 | Station: La Latina.
SPANISH | This castizo (authentic or highly traditional) restaurant with dark wood-paneled walls lined with bottles of wine serves classic Spanish food. Specialties of the house are huevos estrellados (fried eggs with potatoes and sausage), grilled meats, a good selection of fish (sea bass, haddock, grouper) with many different sauces, and steak tartare. As you sit down for your meal, you’ll immediately be served a plate of bread with tomato, a salad, and Spanish ham. Check out the pictures of famous celebrities who’ve eaten at this typically noisy landmark; they line the staircase that leads to the main dining area. | Average main: €26 | Pl. Gabriel Miró 8, La Latina | 91/366–7681 | Reservations essential | Closed Sun., Easter, and Aug. | Station: La Latina.
Juana la Loca.
SPANISH | This tempting spot serves sophisticated and unusual tapas that can be as pricey as they are delightful. They have sumptuous creations such as fideuà con butifarra de calamar (a paella-type dish cooked with thin macaroni-shape pasta instead of rice and served with calamari sausage) or huevo confitado trufado (poached egg with truffle), yet customers also rush to the counter for their version of the classic tortilla de patatas—here made with caramelized onions, sweeter and juicier than the ones you might find elsewhere. If you drop by the bar during the weekend, go early, when the tapas are freshest. On weekdays, order from the menu. | Average main: €21 | Pl. Puerta de Moros 4, La Latina | 91/364–0525 | No lunch Mon. | Station: La Latina.
Taberna de Goyo.
SPANISH | On a street already packed with a fantastic selection of bars, the thing that draws people to this jostling destination are the excellent cured meats from Salamanca, thinly sliced by a master cutter. If in doubt try the Ibérico sampler (you can add cheese, too) and one of the Rioja wines by the glass. There’s also a wide selection of tapas—pimientos de padrón (small green peppers), grilled foie gras, scallops au gratin, Iberian pork meatballs with truffle, or blood pudding with fried egg on a piece of bread (nube de morcilla). There’s a dining room in the back. | Average main: €21 | Cava Baja 34, La Latina | 91/354–6373 | Station: La Latina.
TAPAS | It’s easy to locate this Basque tapas place by the crowds that gather at its door, which may make this hot spot uncomfortable at times, but the food is worth being jostled a bit. Among the highlights are the Unai hamburger (fried in tempura with foie gras), the Spanish omelet—one of the city’s best—the crayfish and cuttlefish black risotto, the croquetas de cocido (made with the meat from the popular Madrilenian stew), or the bull’s tail sandwich. Arrive early and you may be lucky enough to get one of the tables in the back. | Average main: €21 | Humilladero 6, La Latina | 91/364–1196 | Station: La Latina.
Fodor’s Choice | La Terraza—Casino de Madrid.
ECLECTIC | This rooftop terrace just off Puerta del Sol is in one of Madrid’s oldest, most exclusive clubs (the casino is a club for gentlemen, not gamblers; it’s members only, but the restaurant is open to all). When it opened the food was inspired and overseen by celebrity chef Ferran Adriá, but as the years have gone by, chef Francisco Roncero has built a reputation of his own. Try any of the light and tasty mousses, foams, and liquid jellies, or indulge in the unique tapas—experiments of flavor, texture, and temperature, such as the salmon ventresca in miso with radish ice cream or the spherified sea urchin. There’s also a sampler menu. | Average main: €38 | Alcalá 15, Sol | 91/521–8700 | www.casinodemadrid.es | Reservations essential | Closed Sun., Mon., and Aug. | Station: Sol.
SPANISH | This small family-run bar and restaurant has long been one of the best values in the center of Madrid—it’s two blocks from the Puerta del Sol—and you can eat inside or, during summer, at tables on the pedestrian-only side street. It’s usually noisy and serves simple food, but a starter, main course, dessert, and a full bottle of wine can be consumed for a ridiculously low price, or you can choose to share some of the larger portions (raciones) of octopus, cuttlefish, lacón (cooked ham with Galician potatoes), or pisto (a Spanish ratatouille). If you’re heading out, you can get a sandwich to go. | Average main: €9 | Cruz 6, Sol | 91/522–5289 | No credit cards | Closed Sun. and Aug. | Station: Sevilla.
BARRIO DE LAS LETRAS
MEDITERRANEAN | Hidden on a back street not far from Calle Atocha and the Reina Sofía, this cheerful Mediterranean restaurant is usually packed, thanks to the choice of paellas, fideuás, risottos, and hearty chickpea and bean stews—all served with salad, dessert, and wine. Tables of four or fewer must order the same type of rice. The front dining area is modern and festive; the back room incorporates trees and plants in a glassed-in patio. It has an affordable prix fixe lunch menu on weekdays. | Average main: €16 | Moratín 22, Barrio de las Letras | 91/429–2562 | Reservations essential | No credit cards | Closed Mon. | Station: Antón Martín.
ITALIAN | There are fancier and more expensive Italian restaurants in the city but none as warm or authentic as this one. Decorated with black-and-white photos of Italian actors and stills from movies, the interior is divided into three areas; the bistrolike front, with green-and-white checkered tablecloths, is the most charming. Portions are large, eye-catching, and tastefully presented. The risottos are popular, especially the Zucchine (with zucchini and king prawns) and the Selvático (with porcini mushrooms and Parmesan). The menu also features innovative fresh pastas like liver- or pumpkin-filled ravioli and a pappardelle with white-truffle cream and egg yolk. | Average main: €20 | C. Echegaray 27, Barrio de las Letras | 91/420–3042 | Reservations essential | Closed Mon. No dinner Sun. | Station: Antón Martín.
TAPAS | Clean, unspoiled despite the very touristy area, and very popular among locals, this spot—usually cramped on the weekends—serves plenty of hot and cold tapas and one of the best and most refreshing draft beers in the city. It has a long menu with praised choices such as the pulpo a la gallega (octopus with potatoes, olive oil, and paprika), the empanada (tuna-stuffed pastry puff), the piquillo peppers stuffed with cod and shrimp or any of the tostas (toast topped with ingredients like mushroom, shrimp, etc.), which you can also order in a sampler, or the mixed grill. | Average main: €13 | Pl. de Jesús 7, Barrio de las Letrasa | 91/429–6093 | No dinner Sun. | Station: Antón Martín.
TAPAS | At this hypersleek dining space (with a great summer terrace) cooking wizard Paco Roncero reinvents popular dishes such as patatas bravas (here served with a layer of alioli on top and filled with spicy sauce), Spanish omelet (with the basic potatoes and onions topped with egg foam and served in a martini glass) or soldaditos de Pavía (battered cod with Romesco sauce). Don’t skip dessert: his version of the almond-based Tarta de Santiago cake is highly recommended. There is another location nearby, on Plaza del Angel 9, that is also open daily. | Average main: €16 | Pl. Cánovas del Castillo 4, Barrio de las Letras | 91/330–2400 | Station: Banco de España.
TAPAS | Usually crowded and noisy, this is a great choice for a quick bite and for a glass of one of the best draft beers in Madrid. It certainly doesn’t have a wide variety of food, but some of the tapas that you’ll find on display on the counter have long become staples among local customers: white tuna belly (ventresca), smoked cod on bread, and the wittily named “marriage,” a combination of fresh red and white anchovies marinated in either olive oil or vinegar—which you can also enjoy at one of the few tables in the back. | Average main: €15 | Pl. de Jesús 4, Barrio de las Letras | 91/429–2243 | Station: Antón Martín.
La Finca de Susana.
MEDITERRANEAN | This is one of the best bargains in the city. A diverse crowd is drawn to this loftlike space for the grilled vegetables, oven-cooked bacalao (salt cod) with spinach, and the caramelized duck with plums and couscous. The hardwood floor is offset by warm colors, and one end of the dining room has a huge bookcase lined with wine bottles. Arrive by 1 for lunch and 8:30 for dinner or be prepared to wait. | Average main: €10 | C. Arlabán 4, Cortes | 91/369–3557 | www.lafinca-restaurant.com | Reservations not accepted | Station: Sevilla.
Le Petit Bistrot.
FRENCH | After more than a decade of working in French restaurants and hotels in different parts of the world, Carlos Campillo and his wife Frédérique Sévèque took on a challenge converting what was once a bullfighting-themed tavern into a Parisian bistro. Though some elements, such as the long brass-topped bar, hint at its castizo origins, there’s much that’s truly French here in addition to the food, including the servers, the wine, and the French aperitifs. Specialties include onion soup, escargot, Brie fritters, duck breast with orange juice, and the chateaubriand steak with butter, tarragon, and vinegar. On Sunday and holidays brunch is also served. | Average main: €16 | Pl. de Matute 5, Barrio de las Letras | 91/429–6265 | www.lepetitbistrot.net | Closed Mon. No dinner Sun. and Wed. | Station: Anton Martín.
TAPAS | A contemporary Spanish reinvention of a French bistro, this is a lively tapas bar with a more relaxed adjacent restaurant for those not used to fighting for space at the counter. The décor is informal, with tall tables in the bar and some sculptures of tricycles which allude to the restaurant’s name, but it’s the food which has quickly helped establish a reputation in the neighborhood and beyond. The menu has three parts: less elaborate dishes, such as the grilled and smoked crayfish; more intricate dishes from all over Spain such as the purple-garlic soup and the deer venison tenderloin with couscous; and some selected fare from all over the world, like the salt-baked duck breast. Note that you can choose a full, half, or one-third portion (the equivalent of a tapa) of each dish, and order wine by the glass. | Average main: €16 | Santa María 28, Barrio de las Letras | 91/024–4798 | www.eltriciclo.es | Closed Sun. | Station: Antón Martín.
MOROCCAN | Pass through the heavy wool rug hanging at the entrance and you may feel as if you’ve entered Aladdin’s cave, decorated as this restaurant is with adobe, wood, brass, whitewashed walls, and lavish palms. Full of young, boisterous madrileños, this is a great place to try elaborate Moroccan dishes like stewed lamb with honey and dry fruits or vegetarian favorites such as couscous with milk and pumpkin. To start, order the best falafel outside of Morocco or the yogurt cucumber salad. Reservations are essential on the weekend. | Average main: €9 | Piamonte 12,Chueca | 91/532–5321 | Closed Mon. No lunch Tues.–Fri. | Station: Chueca.
Fodor’s Choice | Asiana.
ECLECTIC | Young chef Jaime Renedo surprises even the most jaded palates in this unique setting—his mother’s Asian antiques furniture store, which used to be a ham-drying shed, where seats are amid a Vietnamese bed, a life-size Buddha, and other merchandise for sale. Renedo brings to his job a contagious enthusiasm for cooking and experimentation as well as painstaking attention to detail, and the eclectic 15-dish fixed sampler menu (€85, and the only menu on offer) perfectly balances Spanish, East Asian, Peruvian, and Japanese cooking traditions. If you’re willing to forfeit exclusiveness but want to indulge in a milder version of the chef’s creations, try the adjacent and much more affordable Asiana Next Door. | Average main: €85 | Travesía de San Mateo 4, Chueca | 91/310–4020, 91/310–0965 | www.restauranteasiana.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun.–Thurs. and Aug. No lunch | Station: Tribunal.
MEDITERRANEAN | The owners of the successful central restaurant La Finca de Susana expanded their repertoire by opening this Chueca spot serving low-priced, creative Mediterranean food of reasonable quality in a trendy environment. Resembling an old-fashioned convenience store, its square upper floor has large windows facing the street, high ceilings, and hardwood floors; the downstairs is larger but less interesting. Standout dishes include the tuna rosbif (roasted and sliced thinly, like beef) with mango chutney and the tender ox with Parmesan and arugula. For dessert, a popular choice is the chocolatísimo (chocolate soufflé). To get a table, arrive by 1 for lunch and by 8:30 for dinner. | Average main: €10 | C. Libertad 21, Chueca | 91/523–3905 | Reservations not accepted | Station: Chueca.
SPANISH | Perhaps a bit too rustic-looking—complete with decorative tiles of matadors and flamenco dancers on the walls—for the hipster neighborhood where it’s located, this spot nonetheless has always been a landmark with a very faithful following, including many of the local movie stars who live in its vicinity. It has three dining areas and around 100 tapas on the menu, including 15 to 20 types of tostas (toast topped with prawns, egg and garlic, pâté with caviar, cockles, and so on), a good selection of cured meats, and surely some of the best pescaíto frito (deep-fried whitebait) in the city. | Average main: €13 | Libertad 6, Chueca | 91/532–1219 | Closed Sun. and Aug. | Station: Chueca.
AMERICAN | If you’re getting nostalgic after days of traveling across Spain, don’t miss out on this mishmash of two deeply ingrained American concepts—the hamburger and the diner—with a European twist. The result is a very affordable menu, favored by Chueca and Malasaña hipsters, that includes your traditional beef hamburgers but also plenty of unusual offerings, such as the Tandoori burger; the Mexican, with chicken, avocado, and a salsa made with red chiles; the Caprichosa, with Brie and onion jam; or the vegetarian options with falafel or soy. They are clearly doing it right—there are now three other locations in Madrid, all centrally located: at Espíritu Santo 12 and Calle Silva 25 in Malasaña, and at Calle Cruz 7 in Barrio de las Letras. | Average main: €13 | San Marcos 26, Chueca | 91/522–9728 | www.homeburgerbar.com | Reservations essential | Station: Chueca.
La Tita Rivera.
SPANISH | Just a block from a Fuencarral street that embodies youthful and rebellious energy, this place has an industrial vibe enhanced by the exposed pipes of the beer tanks. It has a varied menu that includes chicken and pork burritos but the highlights here are the small tapas casis (“almost”), as in “falling short of a whole meal”: dinner rolls filled with all sorts of ingredients such as calamari and alioli, a cod omelet, marinated pork with pungent Asturian cheese, and even strawberries with cream cheese. The bar has a much sought-after quiet terrace in the back where you can indulge in a cold glass of Galician beer or, if in a more daring mood, an unusual mojito—with the owners’ homemade herb liquor. | Average main: €11 | Pérez Galdós 4, Chueca | 91/522–1890 | Station: Chueca.
Fodor’s Choice | Mercado de la Reina.
TAPAS | Plentiful and inexpensive tapas and succulent larger portions—think scrambled eggs with a variety of meats and vegetables, tasty local cheeses, and salads—make this large, tastefully decorated bar-restaurant a handy stop for people who want to refuel without having to sit through a long meal. There’s also a more formal dining area with long tables where groups can share some of the more elaborate meat and fish options and an outdoor terrace. A lounge downstairs—with an extensive gin menu—accommodates those who want to keep the night rolling. | Average main: €17 | Gran Vía 12, Chueca | 91/521–3198 | Station: Banco de España.
ITALIAN | Tired of not being able to find a true Italian restaurant in the city, owner Enrico Bosco opened this homey trattoria filled with memorabilia of Italian artists. Always bustling and frequented by families and young couples, it seems like a direct transplant from Naples. Superb fresh pastas; the best pizzas and focaccias in the city, cooked in a brick oven; and the homemade tiramisù are the standout dishes. The branch across the street, Cantina di Pulcinella, belongs to the same owners and serves the same food. | Average main: €13 | Regueros 7, Chueca | 91/319–7363 | www.gruppopulcinella.com | Reservations essential | Station: Chueca.
Bodega de la Ardosa.
SPANISH | Done up like an Irish pub, with large wooden barrels serving as tables, this charming bar (owned by a select club) has more than a century of history. There’s great vermouth and draft beer, along with food specialties such as salmorejo (a thick, cold tomato soup similar to gazpacho), a juicy tortilla de patatas made by the owner’s mother, and croquetas with various fillings, including béchamel and prawns (carabineros) and strong, aromatic goat cheese from the North (Cabrales). Tables at the back (you have to dip under the counter to get there) are quieter. Expect to hear a good selection of jazz. | Average main: €13 | Colón 13, Malasaña | 91/521–4979 | Station: Tribunal.
MEDITERRANEAN | The trendy, elegant vibe and creative menu of unique salads and tapas (try the bomba, a potato filled with meat or vegetables in a spinach sauce, or the huge marinated venison brochette) draw a stylish young crowd. Breakfast is served during the week, and there’s a good fixed-price lunch menu. The second, bigger location (at Costanilla de San Andrés 12, on Plaza de la Paja in La Latina) has a larger and more international menu with additions like hummus, lobster tempura, and California rolls, to name a few, and a trendy, white-brick, vaulted basement with vintage decor frequented by many of the movie actors living in the neighborhood. Show up early or expect to wait. | Average main: €10 | Manuela Malasaña 18, Malasaña | 91/448–7558 | www.grupolamusa.com | Reservations not accepted | Station: Bilbao.
TAPAS | You won’t find stale tapas piled up on rickety counters at this popular and tastefully decorated spot: instead, selections are prepared on the spot. There are traditional dishes like spicy patatas bravas; gildas (skewers) of yellow pepper with anchovies and olives; grilled pork ear; bull’s tail stew and blood pudding, as well as more sophisticated fare like steak tartare, or oysters served in various ways (with a Champagne reduction sauce, with thistle and artichokes, etc.). It also has a lounge area on the top floor for those wanting to extend the night out in true madrileño style. | Average main: €12 | Ballesta 4, Malasaña | 91/522–5786 | Closed Sun. and Mon..
Fodor’s Choice | Las Tortillas de Gabino.
TAPAS | Few national dishes raise more intense debates among Spaniards than the tortilla de patata. A deceivingly simple dish, it has many variations: some like it soft with the eggs runny, others prefer a spongy, evenly cooked result. At this lively restaurant you’ll find crowds of Spaniards gobbling up one of the city’s finest traditional versions of the tortilla, as well as some unconventional ones—potatoes with octopus, potato chips with salmorejo, tortillas with garlic soup, with codfish and leek stew, with truffles (when available), and with a potato mousse, to name just a few—that are best enjoyed when shared by everyone at the table. The menu includes plenty of equally succulent non-egg choices and a green-apple sorbet that shouldn’t be missed. | Average main: €16 | Rafael Calvo 20, Chamberí | 91/319–7505 | www.lastortillasdegabino.com | Closed Sun. | Station: Rubén Darío.
Fodor’s Choice | Santceloni.
MEDITERRANEAN | An enduring star of the city’s contemporary cuisine, this top-notch restaurant managed to survive the sudden death of its founder, star chef Santi Santamaría, garnering even greater acclaim under the leadership of Santamaría’s successor and best disciple, Óscar Velasco. In a sophisticated environment, where the service, the tableware, and the wine suggestions are as impeccable as the food, Velasco makes exquisite combinations of Mediterranean ingredients accompanied by a comprehensive and unusual wine list. Go with an appetite and lots of time (a minimum of three hours) because a meal here is ceremonious. If you’re a meat lover, make sure you try the jarrete (veal shank). Cheese aficionados swoon over the cheese sampler offered before dessert. | Average main: €53 | Paseo de la Castellana 57, Chamberí | 91/210–8840 | www.restaurantesantceloni.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun., Easter wk, and Aug. No lunch Sat. | Station: Gregorio Marañón.
Fodor’s Choice | Sergi Arola Gastro.
ECLECTIC | Celebrity chef Sergi Arola—Ferran Adrià’s most popular disciple—vaulted to the top of the Madrid dining scene at La Broche, then left (in 2007) to go solo. The result is a smaller, less minimalist though equally modern bistro space crafted to enhance the dining experience, 30 customers at a time. At the height of his career and surrounded by an impeccable team—which now also includes a talented and talkative bartender in the lounge—Arola offers two sampler menus ranging from five courses (€105) to eight (€135) in the namesake “Sergi Arola” menu, as well as some limited à la carte options. The choices include some of the chef’s classic surf-and-turf dishes (such as rabbit filled with giant scarlet shrimp) and nods to his Catalonian roots (sautéed broad beans and peas with blood sausage). The wine list has more than 600 labels, mostly from small producers, all available by the glass. | Average main: €40 | Zurbano 31, Chamberí | 91/310–2169 | www.sergiarola.es | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: Alonso Martínez.
SPANISH | Established in 1926, this Asturian tavern is popular with Lavapiés locals. The rustic, half-tile walls are strung with relics from the Asturian countryside, including wooden clogs, cowbells, sausages, and garlic. Specialties include fabada (Asturian white beans stewed with sausage), fabes con almejas (white beans with clams), and queso de Cabrales (aromatic cheese made in the Picos de Europa). Great hunks of bread and Asturian hard cider complement the hearty meals; desserts include tangy baked apples. There’s an inexpensive prix fixe lunch menu on weekdays. | Average main: €17 | Olivar 3, Lavapiés | 91/369–0837 | Closed Wed. and July. No dinner Sun. | Station: Tirso de Molina, Antón Martín.
TAPAS | The owners of this sleek restaurant also produce cured hams and top-notch canned foods, and these quality ingredients are included in a menu that manages to be both traditional and creative. The dining areas include an avant-garde, street-level tapas bar and a more refined restaurant on the second floor. The former, with a large countertop and tall tables lined up along the wall, is a good option if you don’t want to sit through a long meal, and quite popular. It has simple staples, among them the cured meats (salchichón, chorizo, lomo, or Iberian ham), and also plenty of more elaborate fare, such as roasted scallops with cream of lobster and spider crab, risotto with mussels, or the Bilbao-style pisto. It serves half portions and has a good selection of wines by the glass, and great gin and tonics. | Average main: €17 | Jorge Juan 33, Salamanca | 91/781–6197 | www.restaurantealbora.com | Station: Velázquez.
SEAFOOD | Owned by the proprietors of the best fish market in town, this seafood restaurant with a warm modern interior welcomes guests with an impressive window display of fresh seafood—red and white prawns, blue crabs, lobsters, oysters, barnacles, crayfish, and the renowned Galician Carril clams are just some of what you might see. The selection of exceedingly fresh white fish (including turbot, sole, grouper, and sea bass) can be prepared oven-cooked, grilled, battered, or fried in olive oil with garlic and cayenne pepper. In addition to the dining room, there is a large wooden counter where you can snack while sipping an Albariño made especially for the restaurant. | Average main: €25 | José Ortega y Gasset 75, Salamanca | 91/402–1290 | www.marisqueriaelpescador.net | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. | Station: Lista.
SPANISH | A buzzing two-story bar and restaurant with classic and refined furnishings, this spot has quickly become a landmark in the Salamanca neighborhood. It is frequented by a very varied clientele—the city’s posh crowd mingles with families—all in search of its creative and yet traditional food. The tapas menu is plentiful and diverse, with specialties like the tortilla española con atún y lechuga (Spanish omelet with tuna and lettuce), rabas (fried calamari), or fried Brie, and the desserts are unusually diverse and savory. There is a dish of the day for €13, and a few tapas samplers. | Average main: €20 | Hermosilla 46, Salamanca | 91/578–0470 | Closed Sun. | Station: Velázquez.
Fodor’s Choice | Goizeko Wellington.
SPANISH | Aware of the more sophisticated palate of Spain’s new generation of diners, the owners of the traditional madrileño dreamland that is Goizeko Kabi opened this other restaurant that shares the virtues of its kin but has none of its stuffiness. The menu here delivers the same quality fish, house staples such as the kokotxas de merluza (hake jowls) either grilled or sautéed with herbs and olive oil, and the chipirones en su tinta (line-caught calamari cooked in its own ink); as well as pastas, a superb lobster and crayfish risotto, and some hearty bean stews. The interior of the restaurant is warm and modern with citrus-yellow walls. | Average main: €28 | Hotel Wellington, Villanueva 34, Salamanca | 91/577–6026 | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. in July and Aug. | Station: Retiro, Príncipe de Vergara.
TAPAS | If you’re shopping in the Serrano area, this is the place to go for a quick bite at a good price and a cold draft beer. It will never win a design award (its look is indistinguishable even from other bars on the same street) but gaze at the tapas on display on its long counter and you’ll understand why locals love it so much. Highlights include the gambas con alioli (prawns with a garlic-mayo sauce), fried empanadillas (small empanadas), egg or ham croquetas, and the omnipresent Spanish omelet. If you find the usually crowded counter a bit too uncomfortable, there are tables in the back. | Average main: €15 | Ayala 19, Salamanca | 91/575–0098 | Closed Sun and Aug. | Station: Serrano.
JAPANESE | This elegant Japanese dining spot serves the kind of superbly fresh sushi and sashimi you’ll find in other parts of the world, but where it really excels is in chef Ricardo Sanz’s Spanish-based combinations. Examples include a dish with sea bass carpaccio (usuzukuri) on top of black-skinned potatoes from the Canary Islands and Canarian green mojo sauce; beef bone-marrow nigiri sushi (honoring the classic cocido madrileño); and oxtail with teriyaki sauce. For dessert, don’t miss the reinvented hot chocolate with crispy churros. | Average main: €31 | Hotel Wellington, Velázquez 6, Salamanca | 91/575–4400 | www.restaurantekabuki.com | Closed Sun. No lunch Sat. | Station: Retiro, Príncipe de Vergara.
SEAFOOD | With its nautical theme and maze of little dining rooms, this informal restaurant is all about fresh seafood—the best that money can buy. Crab, lobster, shrimp, mussels, and a dozen other types of shellfish are served by weight in raciones (large portions). Many Spanish diners share several plates of these shellfish as their entire meal, but the grilled hake, sole, or turbot makes an unbeatable second course. To accompany the legendary carabineros (giant scarlet shrimp), skip the listless house wine and go for a bottle of Albariño from the southern Galician coast. | Average main: €27 | Lagasca 60, Salamanca | 91/576–8035 | www.latrainera.es | Closed Sun. and Aug. | Station: Serrano.
TAPAS | Old-style tapas bars with floors littered with prawn tails and olive pits are still in the majority in the city, but there’s a new breed that has more in common with the city’s upscale restaurants, though with prices that don’t leave you gasping for air when the check arrives. Puerto Lagasca, with dishes based on what’s in season, is one of the best tapas bars in its league, where diners can share traditional appetizers like salmorejo, roasted peppers, fresh anchovies, a tomato and tuna salad, and good assortment of meat and fish options—among the latter, a good pick is the fried-fish sampler. Note that it also serves half portions. | Average main: €17 | Lagasca 81, Salamanca | 91/576–4111 | puertolagasca.com | No dinner Sun. | Station: Nuñez de Balboa.
SPANISH | Celebrity-chef Ferran Adrià once stated that his dream was to cook for only one guest at a time, and Ramon Freixa, a Catalan and another among the handful of chefs who are raising the bar of Spanish cuisine, gets close to Adrià’s fantasy at this small restaurant with only seven tables. The experience in the baroque-inspired setting is best enjoyed by true connoisseurs, considering that some of the dishes are so sophisticated and intricate they’re served on up to three different plates. “Less is more” is definitely not the motto here, as dishes like the “deconstructed tomato”—10 different varieties of tomato cooked in 10 different ways—proves, but if you have the wallet, this is a delicious adventure. | Average main: €40 | Hotel Selenza, Claudio Coello 67, Salamanca | 91/781–8262 | www.ramonfreixamadrid.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: Serrano.
Ten Con Ten.
SPANISH | Sophisticated upscale madrileños and local celebrities all flock to this bustling Asturian-inspired restaurant that’s lately on everyone’s must-do list. It is a positive balance between two sometimes very clashing elements: PR buzz and food quality. Located at the core of the city’s main shopping district, it displays a retro bourgeois look with two well defined spaces: a massive rectangular bar area with some tall wooden tables—usually crowded during the after-work hours by posh businessmen sipping fancy cocktails—and a classier dining room at the back. The menu is long and eclectic but where it stands out is in those dishes with local roots: the fried rice with queen scallops (zamburiñas), the roasted octopus, the monkfish hamburger, or the Asturian beans (verdinas) with quail. Reserve well in advance and go for lunch if you want to avoid noise and bustle. | Average main: €22 | Ayala 6, Salamanca | 91/575–9254 | www.restaurantetenconten.com | Station: Serrano.
Fodor’s Choice | Arzábal.
TAPAS | The only thing typical about this popular tapas bar—so popular that it now has two locations on the same block (the other on the corner of Menéndez Pelayo)—are the Iberian hams hanging from the ceiling and the paper tablecloths; the quality and sophistication of the food, however, stand well out and above the crowd. Go to the bar for a quick bite, like fresh salty anchovies with bread and tomato, fried artichokes, or a bowl of salmorejo accompanied by a cold beer or a glass of wine. At the handful of tables, hungry locals share more elaborate fare: think sautéed rice with truffle and wild mushrooms, quail with sautéed onions, or a tomato-and-white tuna-belly salad. Note that it also serves half portions of many dishes. | Average main: €16 | Dr. Castelo 2, Retiro | 91/557–2691.
GERMAN | The faithful continue to fill this traditional shrine to fine dining, once considered Madrid’s best restaurant and still worth seeking out. Wild boar, venison, hare, partridge, and wild duck, as well as unique burgers (monkfish, swordfish, or the juicy German-style, made with beef and veal) are standard options. Ox stroganoff with noodles and a Pommery mustard sauce, pork chops with sauerkraut, and baumkuchen (a chocolate-covered fruit-and-cake dessert) reflect the restaurant’s Germanic roots. The dining room is decorated with brocade and antique Austrian porcelain; an ample selection of French and German wines rounds out the menu. | Average main: €39 | Alfonso XII 6, Retiro | 91/522–0731 | www.restaurantehorcher.com | Reservations essential | Jacket and tie | Closed Sun., Easter wk, and Aug. No lunch Sat. | Station: Retiro.
TAPAS | Traditional taverns with tin-top bars, beer and vermouth cooled with stainless-steel coils, and uberefficient waiters are a dying breed in Madrid, but this one, just a couple of blocks from the Retiro park, is one of the best. It’s always busy with locals clamoring over plates of sautéed wild mushrooms, fresh salty anchovies served with a cucumber and tomato salad (pipirrana), or clams in an Andalusian white wine sauce. You can stop for a quick bite at the bar—they’ll serve you a free tapa with every drink—or enjoy heartier choices, such as the chickpea and king prawn stew, in the homey dining room at the back. | Average main: €18 | C. Doctor Castelo 22, Retiro | 91/574–0015 | www.lacastela.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. | Station: Ibiza.
AMERICAN | Classic American dishes—Caesar salad, regular or gourmet hamburgers, steak tartare—as well as fusion Mediterranean-American options are the heart of the reasonably priced menu at this perennially popular dinner spot. The sophisticated rust-red, blue, and yellow dining room, batik tablecloths, and oversize plates are complemented by attentive service. The lunchtime menú del día is a good value, as is the Sunday American-style brunch. | Average main: €21 | Alfonso XII 4, Retiro | 91/532–4509 | www.lagamella.com | No dinner Sun. | Station: Retiro.
ECLECTIC | A black-and-white color scheme punctuated with prints from Luis Buñuel’s classic film, the restaurant’s namesake, is the hallmark of this relaxed, somewhat cramped bistro. Iconoclast chef Abraham Garcia says “market-based” is too narrow a description for his creative menu, which changes every two weeks: standards include foie de pato con chutney de frutas (duck liver with fruit chutney) and huevos sobre mousse de hongos (eggs on a mushroom mousse with black truffle). The wine choices can be overwhelming, so ask for help, and save room for one of the creative desserts such as the coconut pannacota with sour chocolate, or the Abraham’s sorbet with firewater. | Average main: €30 | Juan de Mena 14, Retiro | 91/531–1039 | www.restauranteviridiana.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Easter | Station: Retiro.
Fodor’s Choice | Zalacaín.
BASQUE | This restaurant, decorated in dramatic dark wood, gleaming silver, and apricot hues, introduced nouvelle Basque cuisine to Spain in the 1970s and has since become a Madrid classic. It’s particularly known for using the best and freshest seasonal products available as well as for having the best service in town. Making use of ingredients such as various fungi, game, and hard-to-find seafood, the food here tends to be unusual—it’s not one of those places where they cook with liquid nitrogen, yet you won’t find these dishes elsewhere. | Average main: €34 | Alvarez de Baena 4,Salamanca | 91/561–4840 | www.restaurantezalacain.com | Reservations essential | Jacket and tie | Closed Sun., Easter wk, and Aug. No lunch Sat. | Station: Gregorio Marañón.
Fodor’s Choice | Casa Benigna.
SPANISH | Owner Don Norberto takes gracious care in what he does, providing a carefully chosen and health conscious menu and painstakingly selected wines to devoted customers. Evidence of craftsmanship is alive in every corner of the casual and understated hideaway, from the best rice in the city (cooked with extra-flat paella pans especially manufactured for the restaurant) to the ceramic plates from Talavera, but the star attraction is the chef and his astounding knowledge of food (he has his own brand of tuna, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar). He generously talks (and often sings) to his guests without ever looking at his watch. | Average main: €26 | Benigno Soto 9, Chamartín | 91/416–9357 | Reservations essential | Closed Christmas wk, Easter wk, and Aug. No dinner Sun. and Mon. | Station: Concha Espina, Prosperidad.
SPANISH | Playful sketches decorate the walls of this French bistro–style restaurant filled with oversize antique furniture. The cuisine is provincial Spanish with a touch of imagination. The lasaña de erizo de mar (sea urchin lasagna), arroz con setas y perdiz (rice with mushrooms and partridge), and the Villagodio (a thick, grilled cut of beef) are just some of the house specialties. The small terrace, secluded and sheltered by trees, is popular in the summer. | Average main: €22 | Juan Hurtado de Mendoza 11, Chamartín | 91/345–5952 | Reservations essential | Closed Sun., Easter, and Aug. | Station: Cuzco.
Fodor’s Choice | DiverXO.
ECLECTIC | When you ask a madrileño about a remarkable food experience—something that stirs the senses, not just feeds the appetite—David Muñoz’s rather austere venue is often the first name you’ll hear. With a wide-ranging background that includes stints at London’s Nobu and Hakkasan, this young, cheerful chef has an uncanny ability to mix and tamper with traditions and techniques without transgressing them. Witness his Spanish tortilla: a dough ball filled with potato and caramelized onions with a side of bean purée and Mexican chili sauce, reminiscent of both the Spanish omelet and Chinese dim sum. The restaurant serves only three sampler menus—the most challenging is an 11-dish proposal, for €120. Getting a table at this food shrine is akin to buying a ticket for the Super Bowl, so call well ahead—you can make reservations up to a month in advance. (As of this writing, the restaurant will move to a nearby and more flamboyant location, the NH Eurobuilding, sometime in summer 2014.) | Average main: €35 | Pensamiento 28, Tetuán | 91/570–0766 | diverxo.com | Reservations essential | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: Tetúan.
ASIAN FUSION | Before Estanis Carenzo and Pablo Giudice, the two Argentinians who own this place, brought their pungent and tongue-tingling curries into the city, madrileños were used to rather soulless understandings of South Asian food. They alone reeducated the palates of scores of local diners with Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysian, and Laotian recipes in a venue that resembles a neat, upscale dinner, with leather benches and wood floors. The short menu comprises clients’ favorites—like the pork and crab spring rolls and the braised beef cheeks in a red curry sauce—to which they add some daily specials. They also have three different sampler menus. Try a Tom Collins with lychees and lemon to accompany your meal. | Average main: €22 | Ponzano 85, Tetuán | 91/533–4154 | Closed Sun. and Mon. | Station: Ríos Rosas.
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Palacio | La Latina | Sol | Barrio de las Letras | Chueca | Malasaña | Chamberí | Salamanca | Retiro | Chamartín
Madrid kicked off the new millennium with a hotel boom, and the last decade has seen its number of hotel rooms nearly double. From 2009 to 2010 alone, the number of hotel rooms available increased by 4,000, and the failed bids to host the Olympic Games pushed up the total amount to about 900 hotels and 86,000 rooms by early 2014.
Plenty of the new arrivals are medium-price chain hotels that try to combine striking design with affordable prices. A step higher is the handful of new hotels that lure the hip crowd with top-notch design and superb food and nightlife. These have caused quite a stir in the five-star range and forced some of the more traditional hotels—long favored by dignitaries, star athletes, and artists—to enhance their food and service. Meanwhile, hostals and small hotels have shown that low prices can walk hand in hand with good taste and friendly service.
The Gran Vía, a big commercial street and Madrid’s equivalent to Broadway in New York, cuts through many neighborhoods. During the day it has a good feel of Madrid’s hustle and bustle and nightlife energy, but it does lose a bit of its charm when the stores are closed.
Prices in the reviews are the lowest cost of a standard double room in high season.
Hotel Intur Palacio San Martín.
HOTEL | In an unbeatable location across from one of Madrid’s most celebrated monuments (the Convent of Descalzas), this hotel, once the U.S. embassy and later a luxurious residential building crowded with noblemen, still exudes a kind of glory. The entrance leads to a glass-dome atrium that serves as a tranquil sitting area, there’s an antique elevator, and many of the ceilings are carved and ornate. Rooms are spacious and carpeted; the five at street level have a much more modern style, with stenciled headboards and ceramic floors; request one facing the big plaza. Pros: charming location; spacious rooms. Cons: average-quality restaurant. | Rooms from: €160 | Pl. de San Martín 5, Palacio | 91/701–5000 | www.intur.com | 94 rooms, 8 suites | No meals | Station: Ópera, Callao.
Room Mate Laura.
HOTEL | On Plaza de las Descalzas, this hotel is in an old apartment building that’s been refurbished following the company’s mantra of good distinctive design without burning a hole in the customer’s pocket. All rooms have different layouts, many of them duplex, and include kitchenettes—and they are large enough to fit three people comfortably. Pros: friendly service; kitchenettes make this ideal for long stays. Cons: only the best rooms have views of the convent; no restaurant; some bathrooms need to be revamped. | Rooms from: €110 | Travesía de Trujillos 3, Palacio | 91/701–1670 | www.room-matehotels.com | 36 rooms | No meals | Station: Ópera.
Room Mate Mario.
HOTEL | In the city center, just steps from the major sights and nightlife, Mario is small and limited in services, but features bold modern style at a good price and is a welcome alternative to Madrid’s traditional hotel options. Original silk-print headboards highlight the color-sheme combinations of white, gray, and black tones. There’s no restaurant, but a great breakfast is provided. Pros: unusual interior design; centrally located; great breakfast; convivial staff; it’s the cheapest of the chain. Cons: no restaurant; rooms are slightly smaller and offer fewer views than the other Room Mate hotels. | Rooms from: €90 | Campomanes 4, Palacio | 91/548–8548 | www.room-matehoteles.com | 54 rooms, 3 suites | Breakfast | Station: Ópera.
We Are Madrid.
RENTAL | A good option among the apartment offerings that have sprouted around Madrid in the last couple of years, offering studios or one-bedroom apartments that accomodate three or five people. Each is enhanced by reproductions of classic paintings and includes a kitchen with dishwasher and washing machine. There’s a second location—more daring in style, with pop-art influences and “La Movida” style posters—at Espíritu Santo 24, in the heart of Malasaña, which has a penthouse that can sleep up to six, along with a terrace and a Jacuzzi. Pros: good value; well-stocked apartments. Cons: studios only have sofa beds; only the one-bedroom apartments have an oven in the kitchen; minimum three-day stay on weekends, and two-day stay on weekdays. | Rooms from: €100 | Costanilla de los Ángeles 16, Palacio | 91/126–9106 | www.wearemadrid.net | 3 studios, 3 apartments | No meals | Station: Gran Vía, Sol.
Posada del León de Oro.
HOTEL | This beautifully refurbished late-19th-century guesthouse is nestled in one of the most happening streets of the city. It was built atop the remains of a stone wall that encircled the city in the 12th century—revealed through glass floor panels at the hotel entrance and in the restaurant. Rooms have white tiled floors, headboards with historical prints of the city, and high ceilings with exposed wooden beams. In addition to the inexpensive restaurant, there is also a swanky tapas bar facing the street and serving more than 400 wines by the glass. A breakfast buffet is served in the breakfast room, or you can opt for a simpler, less expensive breakfast at the hotel bar–café. Pros: unbeatable location; lively atmosphere; family rooms can fit four people. Cons: double rooms facing the inside courtyard are quite small; rooms on the first floor and those facing the street can get noisy on weekends. | Rooms from: €140 | Cava Baja 12, La Latina | 91/119–1494 | www.posadadelleondeoro.com | 27 rooms | No meals | Station: La Latina.
HOTEL | Spacious rooms are offered in this restored 18th-century building, once home to the Ateneo—a club founded in 1835 to promote freedom of thought. They are done in cream and light wood tones with parquet flooring and white bedspreads, and exterior rooms have balconies overlooking the crowded street—except those on the fourth floor, which have sloped ceilings and skylights above the beds. Pros: sizeable rooms; triple and quadruple rooms available. Cons: though now pedestrianized and safe (thanks to the police station), the street still attracts some sketchy characters; noisy area. | Rooms from: €95 | Montera 22, Sol | 91/521–2012 | www.hotel-ateneo.com | 38 rooms, 6 suites | Breakfast | Station: Gran Vía, Sol.
Chic & Basic Mayerling.
HOTEL | A former textile wholesaler’s premises is now a small boutique hotel, just a few blocks off Plaza Mayor and Plaza Santa Ana, and it lives up to the franchise name by offering sleek minimalism at just the right value. Rooms, which come in two sizes (large and extra-large, the latter for just a few more euros) are decorated in white, with colorful headboards, a small open closet, and LED-lit showers behind a glass wall. Though it has no restaurant, there is a common help-yourself area where you can grab breakfast and free juice, yogurt, and fruit throughout the day. Pros: some rooms accommodate up to three people; nice terrace; free Wi-Fi; comfortable beds; great location. Cons: rooms are smallish by U.S. standards; white walls show dirt; services are spartan. | Rooms from: €100 | Conde de Romanones 6, Sol | 91/420–1580 | www.chicandbasic.com | 22 rooms | Breakfast | Station: Tirso de Molina.
Fodor’s Choice | De Las Letras.
HOTEL | Modern-pop interior design seamlessly respects and accents the original details of this 1917 building on the bustling Gran Vía. Public areas feature glazed tiles, canopies, the original wood-and-iron elevator, a wooden staircase, and stone carvings. The rooms, painted in tones of ocher, orange, or burgundy, have high ceilings, wooden floors, indirect lighting, and over-the-top modern bathrooms. Each junior suite has a terrace with a whirlpool bath. There is a charming rooftop terrace bar open to the public that’s quite popular in the summer, and you can also enjoy contemporary Spanish food by one of the country’s top chefs in the restaurant-lounge at street level. Pros: young vibe; gym with personal trainers; happening rooftop bar. Cons: lower rooms facing noisy Gran Vía could be better insulated. | Rooms from: €142 | Gran Vía 11, Sol | 91/523–7980 | www.hoteldelasletras.com | 103 rooms, 7 suites | No meals | Station: Banco de España.
Fodor’s Choice | Hostal Adriano.
HOTEL | Tucked away on a street with dozens of bland competitors a couple of blocks from Sol, this hotel really stands out for its price and quality. The rooms, though not especially big, are charming and far from the standard hostal fare—thoughtfully decorated with bright color schemes and furniture and accessories collected over the years by the two friendly Argentinian owners. The best of the lot has been wallpapered with some old María Callas pictures and the musical score from Tosca. In case it’s fully booked, note that the owners have another small (10 rooms, 1 quadruple) and equally welcoming hostal (Adria Santa Ana), with no elevator, on nearby Nuñez de Arce 15. Pros: friendly service; great value; charming touches. Cons: short on facilities. | Rooms from: €65 | De la Cruz 26, 4th fl., Sol | 91/521–1339 | www.hostaladriano.com | 22 rooms | No meals | Station: Sol.
HOTEL | In a 19th-century building on the quieter edge of one of Madrid’s main shopping areas, this hotel is both charming and convenient. Its rooms are modern and sophisticated, with hardwood floors and opaque glass closets. Some of the “double superiors” (slightly more expensive) have skylights in the bathrooms. Pros: conveniently located; good-size bathrooms; free Wi-Fi; happening bar/restaurant. Cons: expensive breakfast; bustling area. | Rooms from: €160 | C. Preciados 37, Sol | 91/454–4400 | www.preciadoshotel.com | 95 rooms, 6 suites | No meals | Station: Callao.
HOTEL | The rooms in this modern, design-oriented boutique hotel between Santa Ana and Sol have views of the city center and are equipped with cutting-edge technology. They have dark hardwood floors and modern touches such as the stainless-steel-and-glass sinks in the bathrooms. Common areas may not be ample in size but are charming, trendy, and full of character. Pros: good design; centrally located. Cons: small lobby; no restaurant. | Rooms from: €120 | C. Sevilla 4, Sol | 91/532–9049 | www.hotelquatropuertadelsol.com | 61 rooms, 1 suite | No meals | Station: Sevilla.
BARRIO DE LAS LETRAS
Catalonia Puerta del Sol.
HOTEL | The regal cobblestone corridor leading to the reception desk, the atrium with walls made partly of original granite blocks, and the magnificent main wooden staircase presided over by a lion statue best reveal this building’s 18th-century origins. The other common areas, including the restaurant and a reading room with a small library, have less character. Guest rooms are comfortable, with functional wooden furniture and striped curtains and bedspreads. Pros: grand, quiet building; spacious rooms. Cons: street looks a bit scruffy. | Rooms from: €130 | C. Atocha 23, Barrio de las Letras | 91/369–7171 | www.hoteles-catalonia.es | 63 rooms | No meals | Station: Tirso de Molina.
Hotel Catalonia Las Cortes.
HOTEL | A late-18th-century palace a few yards from Plaza Santa Ana, formerly owned by the Duke of Noblejas, this hotel retains a good part of its aristocratic past. It has a gorgeous wooden staircase, some of the old moldings, and stained-glass windows, but the classic feel is neither ostentatious or overwhelming. Rooms are elegant, and bathrooms are quite decent in size for Madrid. Pros: tastefully decorated rooms; big walk-in shower; triple rooms available; great location. Cons: common areas are rather dull. | Rooms from: €140 | Prado 6, Barrio de las Letras | 91/389–6051 | www.hoteles-catalonia.com | 64 rooms, 10 suites | No meals | Station: Sevilla, Antón Martín.
Hotel NH Paseo del Prado.
HOTEL | Once the residence of a count, this hotel a block from the Prado is a reasonable yet luxurious alternative to the five-star establishments that populate the area. Common areas may feature odd combinations—period chairs around a black leather couch—but guest rooms are spacious and more stylish, with hand-painted Canarian motifs, bold-colored carpets from the Royal Factory of Tapestries, and wooden furniture. The tapas bar is overseen by one of the city’s best chefs and is a magnet for peckish passersby. Pros: sizable and elegant bathrooms; good location. Cons: you’ll have to upgrade if you want good views; extra fee for in-room Wi-Fi. | Rooms from: €150 | Pl. Cánovas del Castillo 4, Barrio de las Letras | 91/330–2400 | www.nh-hoteles.es | 114 rooms, 1 suite | No meals | Station: Banco de España.
Fodor’s Choice | Hotel Urban.
HOTEL | This is the hotel that best conveys Madrid’s new cosmopolitan spirit, with its stylish mix of authentic ancient artifacts and daring sophistication. The New Guinean carvings in the lobby, small Egyptian museum, and antique Chinese or Burmese statues in every room all belong to the owner, a renowned art collector. Public areas are distinguished by the tall alabaster column in the lobby’s atrium, the tiled and gold-inlay wall on the main staircase, and the sleek cocktail bar. Rooms, done in dark hues, are less flamboyant. There’s a great restaurant and an ultrachic bar on the roof, where the glamorous gather on summer nights to enjoy the views and sip champagne cocktails. Pros: excellent restaurant and happening bar; rooftop swimming pool. Cons: some rooms are small; rooms near the elevator can be noisy. | Rooms from: €240 | C. de San Jerónimo 34, Barrio de las Letras | 91/787–7770 | www.derbyhotels.com | 96 rooms, 7 suites | No meals | Station:Sevilla.
ME Madrid Reina Victoria.
HOTEL | In an unbeatable location, this ultramodern hotel retains a few reminders of the era when bullfighters would convene here before setting off to Las Ventas—a few bulls’ heads hang in the lounge and some abstract pictures of bullfighting are scattered around, but the old flair has been superseded by cutting-edge amenities. Rooms contain an iPod/iPhone dock; a large flat-screen TV with surround sound; an advanced memory-foam mattress; and a minibar that’s double the usual size. The hotel has a good restaurant, and two of the city’s fanciest and busiest bars are here, including one on the roof with a 360-degree panoramic view of the city. Pros: modern vibe and high-tech gadgetry; trendy bars and restaurant; great location. Cons: the need to preserve some of the building’s historical features makes some rooms rather small. | Rooms from: €185 | Pl. Santa Ana 14, Barrio de las Letras | 91/531–4500 | www.memadrid.com | 182 rooms, 9 suites | No meals | Station: Sol.
Lodging Alternatives in Madrid
If you want a home base that’s roomy enough for a family and comes with cooking facilities, consider a furnished rental. These can save you money, too. Apartment rentals are increasingly popular in Madrid. Rentals by the day or week can be arranged, though prices may rise for short stays. Prices range from €100 to €300 per day depending on the quality of the accommodations, but perfectly acceptable lodging for four can be found for around €175 per night. These are just a few of the apartment rental agencies that Fodorites are using these days:
HOTEL | The Radisson chain may not be Scandinavian anymore, but this outpost across from the Prado retains the austere lines of its lineage, counterbalanced by painstaking attention to detail. Black and gray tones have only the occasional orange and purple splash to evoke the zest of the Mediterranean, but there’s bulletproof sound insulation in an otherwise noisy neighborhood, and rooms have eye-catching headboards printed with scenes of emblematic Madrid buildings, roomy beds, towel heaters, antifog mirrors in the bathrooms, free Nespresso machine coffee, and more. The hotel also has a fancy whiskey bar and a small pool and spa area to help you unwind on hot summer days. Pros: terrific location; wide array of services. Cons: some standard rooms are rather small; pricey breakfast. | Rooms from: €190 | Moratín 52, Barrio de las Letras | 91/524–2626 | www.radissonblu.com/pradohotel-madrid | 54 rooms, 6 suites | No meals | Station: Atocha.
Fodor’s Choice | Room Mate Alicia.
HOTEL | The all-white lobby with curving walls, ceiling, and lamps, and the fancy gastrobar facing Plaza Santa Ana set the hip mood for the mostly young urbanites who stay in this former trench coat factory. Carpeted rooms, though not large, are very modern; the black-slate bathrooms, all with showers (no tubs), are in the bedroom, separated only by a glass door. For just a few more euros you can upgrade to an executive room with a terrace or a minisuite with large windows overlooking the action in the plaza. Pros: great value; chic design; laid-back atmosphere; unbeatable location. Cons: standard rooms are small; some might not care for the zero-privacy bathroom spaces. | Rooms from: €130 | Prado 2, Barrio de las Letras | 91/389–6095 | www.room-matehoteles.com | 34 rooms, 3 suites | No meals | Station: Sevilla.
HOTEL | Popular with Americans, this stylish apartment hotel is near the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Plaza Santa Ana tapas area. It has attractive attic studios on the fourth floor (with sloped, wood-beamed ceilings) and larger suites downstairs; all apartments are brightly decorated and have marble bathrooms and basic kitchens. They also serve breakfast at no charge, which can be ordered as room service. Triples and quadruples are a great deal. Pros: large rooms; great for families and longer stays. Cons: a bit noisy; some of the kitchens could use revamping. | Rooms from: €110 | Manuel Fernández y González 10, Barrio de las Letras | 91/420–2318 | www.suiteprado.com | 18 apartments | Multiple meal plans | Station: Sevilla.
Urban Sea Atocha 113.
HOTEL | This is part of a new trend of affordable hotels that caters to the young urban traveler who doesn’t mind sacrificing some style and services in exchange for lower prices. Lodgings are distinctly not fancy, and there’s no bar or restaurant here, just a small lounge area with free coffee, tea, fruit, and cookies by the reception desk. Rooms (not large) have stark white furnishings and bright color accents, and bathrooms are small. Staff is generally friendly, and there’s a nice deck with a view on the top floor, but be aware that rooms are basic. Pros: great location between Lavapiés and the Barrio de las Letras and a stone’s throw from the Reina Sofía; free Wi-Fi. Cons: bare-bones services; no separation between the toilet and the shower may be off-putting for some; exterior rooms facing Calle Atocha are a bit more expensive. | Rooms from: €85 | Atocha 113, Barrio de las Letras | 91/369–2895 | www.urbanseahotels.com | 36 rooms | No meals | Station:Atocha.
HOTEL | Faithful to its surname, this hotel seems as if it’s been transplanted from London or New York into one of Madrid’s busiest neighborhoods—everything on the ground floor emphasizes urban elegance and imagination. The lamps, the meeting areas with velvet armchairs and silk screens, and the steel butterfly cutouts in the restaurant set the style. No two rooms are alike in shape—the hotel is a conversion of five old private houses—but they’re all comfortable and bright, even the interior ones, thanks to a large open courtyard that keeps the street noise out and lets the sun in. Pros: stylish; central location; great breakfast buffet; sheltered quiet courtyard. Cons: standard rooms are rather small and some can be noisy. | Rooms from: €140 | Prado 18, Barrio de las Letras | 91/141–4100 | www.vinccihoteles.com | 167 rooms | No meals | Station: Sevilla, Antón Martín.
HOTEL | Built in 1912, Madrid’s most famous grand hotel is a Belle Époque creation of Alfonso XIII and has hosted the likes of Salvador Dalí, Marlon Brando, Rita Hayworth, and Madonna. Guest rooms are high-tech and generally impeccable, banquet halls and lobbies have been beautified, and the facade has been restored. The Art Nouveau stained-glass dome over the lounge remains exquisitely original, and guest-room windows are double-glazed against street noise. The hotel also houses the well-known Asia Gallery restaurant and soon will feature a sushi bar. Pros: grand hotel with tons of history; weekend brunch with opera performances. Cons: standard rooms face a backstreet; pricey in-room Internet. | Rooms from: €230 | Pl. de las Cortés 7, Barrio de las Letras | 91/360–8000 | www.palacemadrid.com | 467 rooms, 45 suites | No meals | Station: Banco de España, Sevilla.
Fodor’s Choice | Only You Hotel & Lounge.
HOTEL | The Ibizan owners of this hotel bring that island’s mix of glamour, energy, and cutting-edge music and design to one of Madrid’s most happening neighborhoods, Chueca. The Mediterranean blue, interspersed with dashes of colonial decor, shows up all over the hotel—a renovated historic building from the 19th century—from the headboards in the carpeted rooms to the large collection of ceramic plates in the dining room to the wallpaper in the lounge areas. Its four different types of rooms have lots of natural light, and plenty of state-of-the-art amenities, including smart TVs and free Wi-Fi. In line with the quarter’s offbeat spirit, the hotel does away with the breakfast buffet in favor of à la carte choices that include lactose- and gluten-free dishes. Every Thursday night the popular lounge concocts a new hot-dog recipe, and has live DJs and a faithful clientele sipping its star cocktail, the Eivissa Connection. Pros: great location; affable service; plenty of amenities; late check-out (for example, if you check in at 6 pm you won’t have to leave until 6 pm the next day). Cons: the bed area in the rooms is a bit cramped; you’ll need to pay a bit more to get rooms with views of Barquillo Street. | Rooms from: €190 | Calle Barquillo 21, Chueca | 91/005–2222 | www.onlyyouhotels.com/en | 70 rooms | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | Room Mate Óscar.
HOTEL | Bold, bright, and modern, the flagship Room Mate is undeniably hip and glamorous. It has sizable rooms decorated with graffiti art, a lively restaurant, a trendy bar that stays open late every night with largely gay clientele, and a year-round roof terrace that’s the envy of the city. The location, just off the Gran Vía, bustles and is excellent for getting around. Pros: friendly staff; hip guests; fashionable facilities. Cons: noisy street; may be too happening for some. | Rooms from: €100 | Pl. Vázquez de Mella 12, Chueca | 91/701–1173 | www.room-matehoteles.com | 69 rooms, 6 suites | Breakfast | Station: Chueca.
HOTEL | Each of the lodging options in this hotel, in the heart of one of the city’s youngest and liveliest neighborhoods, is a small oasis of singularity. Designer Luis Delgado’s mission is to make each room special, with a hodgepodge of interesting accents: vintage telephones; black butterfly stencils along the walls of the White Room; a Thai stone bathtub in one of the junior suites. The apartments (six with kitchen), in a building across the street, have less daring interior design, but are sizable—the largest accommodates nine—and some have a Jacuzzi. To really feel Malasaña’s vibe, if you aren’t daunted by noise, ask for a street-facing room; if you’re bringing the family, an apartment penthouse is a good choice. There’s a café, but it doesn’t serve full meals. The same owners have a no-frills, more affordable hotel (Life) just two blocks away, on the quieter Calle Pizarro, with rooms that can accommodate up to four people. Pros: unique room decoration; charming café. Cons: rooms smaller than average; Wi-Fi is not free. | Rooms from: €95 | Pez 19, Malasaña | 91/531–4744 | www.hotelabalu.com | 8 rooms, 8 suites, 12 apartments | Breakfast | Station: Noviciado.
Fodor’s Choice | AC Santo Mauro.
HOTEL | Once the Canadian embassy, this turn-of-the-20th-century mansion is now an intimate luxury hotel, an oasis of calm a short walk from the city center. Common areas in the main building display some striking yet tasteful neoclassical architecture and period furnishings. Rooms are more neutral, with earth and beige tones and some contemporary splashes of art, and some of those in the main building retain the original mouldings and fixtures. The top-notch restaurant is in what used to be the mansion’s library. Views vary; request a room with a terrace overlooking the gardens. Pros: quite private; sizable rooms with comfortable beds; good restaurant; exclusive quiet gardens. Cons: pricey breakfast; not in the historic center. | Rooms from: €280 | Zurbano 36, Chamberí | 91/319–6900 | www.ac-hotels.com | 51 rooms | No meals | Station: Alonso Martínez, Rubén Darío.
HOTEL | Hidden away on a leafy little residential street not far from Plaza Colón, this elegant 1886 town house has every comfort of the larger five-star Madrid hotels, but in more intimate surroundings. Originally the local residence of the literary and aristocratic Gomez-Acebo family, the building is now in the hands of a private family whose presence can be felt in the classy flower arrangements in the lobby, the original furniture in every room (purchased from run-down French and English castles), and the collection of Loewe silk foulards framed and displayed in the rooms. The 32 rooms are carpeted and decorated in cream-and-ocher tones. There is also a great restaurant with a small garden, usually open from Easter to October, that’s superb for summer dining. The hotel has an agreement with a local gym, which guests can use for a fee. Pros: quiet street; refined interiors; attentive service; free Wi-Fi. Cons: all rooms except for the suites have bathtubs and no stand-alone showers; small TVs. | Rooms from: €270 | Orfila 6, Chamberí | 91/702–7770 | www.hotelorfila.com | 20 rooms, 12 suites | No meals | Station: Alonso Martínez.
Gran Meliá Fénix.
HOTEL | A Madrid institution, this hotel is a mere hop from the posh shops of Calle Serrano. An impressive lobby with marble floors, antique furniture, and a stained-glass dome ceiling define the style. Spacious rooms are decorated in reds and golds, flowers abound, and a happening cocktail and tea (with up to 45 different varieties) bar extends onto a large terrace overlooking Plaza de Colón on the Castellana. Ask for a room facing the Plaza de Colón; otherwise, the view is rather dreary. Pros: close to shopping; great breakfast buffet; quadruple rooms accommodate two adults and two children available; exclusive wellness center. Cons: rather small bathrooms; below-average restaurant. | Rooms from: €230 | Hermosilla 2, Salamanca | 91/431–6700 | www.solmelia.com | 214 rooms, 11 suites | No meals | Station: Colón.
HOTEL | Discreetly tucked away in the midst of the Salamanca shopping district, this is a gem of a boutique hotel. It’s chic but low-key, with tasteful art-deco details in the common areas—swirling mosaics on the floor, flowered wall moldings around the front desk area, and an intriguing red sculpture that sprouts upward in the main stairwell. Rooms are similarly tasteful, with large beds and white-marble bathrooms. The library has stacks of design magazines to browse, and the courtyard is wonderfully apart from the hustle and bustle of the city. It houses one of the city’s best restaurants, whose chef serves a scrumptious brunch every Sunday on the terrace. Pros: great interior design; personalized service; Ramon Freixa restaurant. Cons: rooms facing the street can be noisy; fewer facilities than some of the larger hotels. | Rooms from: €220 | Claudio Coello 67, Salamanca | 91/781–0173 | www.unicohotelmadrid.com | 44 rooms, 5 suites | No meals.
Fodor’s Choice | Villa Magna.
HOTEL | There are luxury hotels in Madrid with grander history or more cutting-edge design, yet none walks along that slippery border between the classic and the modern with as much ease and grace as the Villa Magna. You’ll often find celebrity guests sipping cocktails or closing business deals sitting on antique-style furniture reupholstered with modern fabrics and surrounded by bold modern art (the owner is an avid collector). But beneath the surface, it’s the smaller details—things that usually go unnoticed—that impart the feeling of indulging in something unique: the team of five pastry chefs; the dizzying 100 à la carte massages from the wellness center; or the male hair salon that boasts the royal family among its clientele. Pros: attentive service; rooms larger than the Madrid average; right in the main shopping area; great restaurants (Tse Yang and Villa Magna). Cons: expensive room service; the exterior looks rather dull. | Rooms from: €325 | Paseo de la Castellana 22, Salamanca | 91/587–1234 | www.villamagna.es | 150 rooms | No meals.
VP Jardín de Recoletos.
HOTEL | This boutique apartment hotel offers great value on a quiet street just a couple blocks from the Retiro Park and Madrid’s main shopping area. Its large lobby, with marble floors and a wood-panelled ceiling, adjoins a café, restaurant, and the hotel’s restful outdoor garden—an after work magnet for Madrileños working and living in the neighborhood. Rooms are large and feature modern furnishings, and they all have a sofa bed plus a small kitchen with a microwave, a stovetop, and a refrigerator. “Superior” rooms, just a bit more expensive, have sizeable terraces. Not far away, there is another commendable hotel in the chain (El Madroño), which is slightly cheaper but which also has rooms for four people and adjoined rooms for groups and larger families. Book well in advance. Pros: spacious rooms with kitchens; good restaurant; free Wi-Fi. Cons: the garden closes at midnight and when crowded can be noisy | Rooms from: €160 | Gil de Santivañes 6,Salamanca | 91/781–1640 | www.recoletos-hotel.com | 36 rooms, 7 suites | No meals | Station: Colón.
Fodor’s Choice | AC Palacio del Retiro.
HOTEL | A palatial early-20th-century building, once owned by a noble family with extravagant habits (the elevator carried their horses up and down from the rooftop exercise ring), this spectacular hotel epitomizes tasteful modern style. Relics of its grandiose past include baseboards and fountains covered with ceramics from Talavera, Parisian stained-glass windows, marble floors and columns, and original moldings. All rooms have superb views of the nearby Retiro Park. Bathroom doors in the superior double rooms are full-size Lichtenstein silk-screen prints. Pros: spacious, stylish rooms; within walking distance of the Prado; bathrooms stocked with all sorts of complimentary products. Cons: pricey breakfast; lower rooms facing the park can get noisy. | Rooms from: €265 | Alfonso XII 14, Retiro | 91/523–7460 | www.ac-hotels.com | 50 rooms, 8 suites | No meals | Station: Retiro.
HOTEL | One of the newest five-star additions to the city center, the Hospes has all the right ingredients for meeting the demands of today’s discerning travelers. In a historic 19th-century building facing Retiro Park, it has a stylish design that isn’t overwhelming, a spa with a two-page service list, and an interior patio turned into a deck. The good restaurant is under the direction of an emerging and innovative young chef. Pros: intimate and quiet; right next to Madrid’s version of Central Park. Cons: some rooms have a shower but no bathtub; standard rooms don’t face the park. | Rooms from: €210 | Pl. de la Independencia 3, Retiro | 91/432–2911 | www.hospes.com | 41 rooms, 6 suites | No meals | Station: Retiro.
HOTEL | Alfonso XIII, about to marry Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, encouraged and personally supervised the construction of this hotel—the most exclusive in Spain—for his royal guests, and he performed the opening ceremony in 1910. A monument to the Belle Époque, its salons are furnished with rare antiques, hand-embroidered linens, and handwoven carpets, and all rooms (which are gradually being revamped) have canopy beds; some have views of the Prado. The famous and pricey restaurant, Goya, serves a Sunday brunch feast from 7 am to 3:30 pm that´s accompanied by the soothing strains of harp music; from February to May, you can enjoy chamber music during weekend tea and supper. Pros: old-world flair; lovely tearoom and summer terrace; excellent location. Cons: what’s classic for some may feel stuffy and outdated to others. | Rooms from: €295 | Pl. de la Lealtad 5, Retiro | 91/701–6767 | www.ritzmadrid.com | 167 rooms | No meals | Station: Banco de España.
Silken Puerta de América.
HOTEL | Inspired by Paul Eluard’s La Liberté, whose verses are written across the facade, the owners of this hotel granted an unlimited budget to 19 of the world’s top architects and designers; the result is 12 hotels in one, with floors by Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel, David Chipperfield, and others. You can pick the floor of your choice online—most popular are the futuristic all-white layout by Hadid, the elegant black wood and white leather proposal by Foster, and the imaginative re-creation of space by Ron Arad. There’s also a well-regarded restaurant and two bars (one on the rooftop), which are all just as impressive in design. The only snag: you’ll need a taxi or the subway to get to the city center. Pros: an architect’s dreamland; top-notch restaurant and bars. Cons: less-than-convenient location; the distinctive interior design doesn’t always get the required maintenance. | Rooms from: €170 | Av. de América 41, Chamartín | 91/744–5400 | www.hotelpuertamerica.com | 282 rooms, 33 suites | No meals | Station: Avenida de América.
Madrid is blazing hot in the late spring and summer, but madrileños have a relentless yearning for nightlife. As a result, the city allows nearly 2,000 bars and restaurants to create outdoor spaces for enjoying the cooler, dry, summer nighttime air.
For formal summer dining, we recommend some of the many lovely hotel restaurants, most of which have private and peaceful gardens or roof terraces. Try the Ritz hotel, La Biblioteca del Santo Mauro (at Hotel Santo Mauro), El Jardín de Orfila (at Hotel Orfila), and La Terraza del Casino.
Two midrange restaurants with good terraces are Sacha and Mercado de la Reina.
If you just want a bite or an early-evening drink, drop by La Latina neighborhood, especially Plaza de la Paja or Plaza de San Andrés, across from the Church of San Andrés, or the terraces at Plaza de Olavide, near Malasaña and the Bilbao subway stop.
Plaza Santa Ana is a pricier, more-touristy alternative. Plaza Chueca in the neighborhood of the same name, the Mercado de Fuencarral (halfway between Gran Vía and Tribunal), the Plaza del 2 de Mayo, and the Plaza de las Comendadoras in Malasaña are always bustling and crowded with younger people.
The best nightlife is along the terraces on Castellana, at the popular Le Cabrera at Casa de América, the Mercado de San Antón in Chueca, the Tartan Roof at the Círculo de Bellas Artes, and at the hotel rooftop bars that have spread out in the last few years: Hotel Urban, ME Madrid, Silken Puerta de América, De las Letras, and Room Mate Óscar.
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Dance and Music Performances | Film | Flamenco
As Madrid’s reputation as a vibrant, contemporary arts center has grown, artists and performers have been arriving in droves. Consult the daily listings and Friday city-guide supplements in any of the leading newspapers—El País, El Mundo, or ABC, all of which are fairly easy to understand even if you don’t read much Spanish.
Seats for the classical performing arts can usually be purchased through your hotel concierge, on the Internet, or at the venue itself.
El Corte Inglés.
You can buy tickets for major concerts here. | 902/400222 | www.elcorteingles.es/entradas.
Entradas.com. | 902/221622 | www.entradas.com.
This large retail media store also sells tickets to musical events. There is a second location on Paseo de la Castellana 79 in the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood. | Preciados 28, Sol | 91/595–6100 | www.fnac.es.
Tel-Entrada. | 902/101212 | www.telentrada.com.
DANCE AND MUSIC PERFORMANCES
In addition to concert halls listed here, the Convento de la Encarnación and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando museum hold concerts.
Auditorio Nacional de Música.
This is Madrid’s main concert hall, with spaces for both symphonic and chamber music. | Príncipe de Vergara 146, Salamanca | 91/337–0140 | www.auditorionacional.mcu.es.
Centro de Conde Duque.
This massive venue is best known for its summer live music concerts (flamenco, jazz, pop), but it also has free and often interesting exhibitions, lectures, and theater performances. | Conde Duque 11, Centro | 91/588–5834 | www.esmadrid.com/condeduque.
Círculo de Bellas Artes.
Concerts, theater, dance performances, art exhibitions, and events are all part of the calendar here. It also has an extremely popular café and a rooftop restaurant-bar with great views of the city. | Marqués de Casa Riera 2, Centro | 902/422442 | www.circulobellasartes.com.
La Casa Encendida.
Film festivals, art shows, dance performances, and weekend events for children are held here. | Ronda de Valencia 2, Lavapiés | 91/506–3875 | www.lacasaencendida.com.
The city’s newest and biggest arts center is in the city’s old slaughterhouse—a massive early-20th-century neo-Mudejar compound of 13 buildings—and has a theater, multiple exhibition spaces, workshops, and a lively bar. | Paseo de la Chopera 14, Legazpi | 91/517–7309 | www.mataderomadrid.org.
This resplendent theater is the venue for opera and dance performances. Built in 1850, this neoclassical theater was long a cultural center for madrileño society. A major restoration project has left it filled with golden balconies, plush seats, and state-of-the-art stage equipment. | Pl. de Isabel II, Palacio | 91/516–0660 | www.teatro-real.com.
Of Madrid’s 60 movie theaters, only 12 show foreign films, generally in English, with original sound tracks and Spanish subtitles. These are listed in newspapers under “v.o.” for “versión original”—that is, “undubbed.”
A rare example of Art Nouveau architecture in Madrid, the hip Cine Doré shows movies from the Spanish National Film Archives and eclectic foreign films for €2.50 per session (you frequently get a short film or two in addition to a feature). Showtimes are listed in newspapers under “Filmoteca.” The neon pink–trim lobby has a sleek café-bar and a bookshop. | Santa Isabel 3, Embajadores | 91/369–1125 | Tues.–Sun. 4 shows daily, starting at 5:30 pm (winter) or 6 pm (summer) | Station: Antón Martín.
Filmoteca Cine Doré.
The excellent, classic v.o. movies at this theater change daily. | Santa Isabel 3, Lavapiés | 91/369–1125.
Ideal Yelmo Cineplex.
This is your best bet for new releases. | Doctor Cortezo 6, Centro | 902/220922 | www.yelmocines.es.
Although the best place in Spain to find flamenco is Andalusia, there are a few venues in Madrid. Note that tablaos (flamenco venues) charge around €35–€45 for the show only (with a complimentary drink included), so save money by dining elsewhere. If you want to dine at the tablaos anyway, note that three of them—Carboneras, Corral de la Moreriá, and Café de Chinitas—also offer a show-plus-fixed-menu option that’s worth considering.
Café de Chinitas.
It’s expensive, but the flamenco is the best in Madrid. Make reservations because shows often sell out. The restaurant opens at 8 and there are performances at 8 and 10:30 Monday through Saturday. | Torija 7, Palacio | 91/559–5135 | www.chinitas.com.
Along with tapas, this well-known space offers good, relatively authentic (according to the performers) flamenco. Prices are more reasonable than elsewhere. Shows are at 10:30 Monday through Thursday, and at 9 and midnight on Friday and Saturday. | Canizares 10, Lavapiés | 91/369–0496 | www.casapatas.com.
Corral de la Morería.
Dinner à la carte and well-known visiting flamenco stars accompany the resident dance troupe here. Since Morería opened its doors in 1956, celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner have left their autographed photos for the walls. Shows last for about an hour and a half and are nightly at 8:30 and 10:30. | Morería 17, on C. Bailén, La Latina | Cross bridge over C. Segovia and turn right | 91/365–8446 | www.corraldelamoreria.com.
A prime flamenco showcase, this venue rivals Casa Patas as the best option in terms of quality and price. Performers here include both the young, less commercial artists and more established stars on tour. The show is staged at 8:30 and 10:30 Monday through Thursday and at 8:30 and 11 Friday and Saturday. | Pl. del Conde de Miranda 1, Centro | 91/542–8677 | www.tablaolascarboneras.com | Closed Sun.
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Palacio | La Latina | Sol | Barrio de las Letras | Chueca | Malasaña | Chamberí | Lavapiés | Salamanca | Retiro | Chamartín | Tetuán
Nightlife—or la marcha—reaches legendary heights in Madrid. It’s been said that madrileños rarely sleep, largely because they spend so much time in bars, socializing in the easy, sophisticated way that’s unique to this city. This is true of young and old alike, and it’s not uncommon for children to play on the sidewalks past midnight while multigenerational families and friends convene over coffee or cocktails at an outdoor café. For those in their thirties, forties, and up who don’t plan on staying out until sunrise, the best options are the bars along the Cava Alta and Cava Baja, Calle Huertas near Plaza Santa Ana, and Moratín near Antón Martín. Those who want to stay out till the wee hours have more options: Calle Príncipe and Calle De la Cruz—also in Santa Ana—and the Plaza de Anton Martín, especially the scruffier streets that lead onto Plaza Lavapiés. The biggest night scene—with a mixed crowd—happens in Malasaña, which has plenty of trendy hangouts on both sides of Calle San Vicente Ferrer, on Calle La Palma, and on the streets that come out onto Plaza 2 de Mayo, and on the refurbished and adjacent Triball area. Also big is nearby Chueca, where tattoo parlors and street-chic boutiques break up the endless alleys of gay and lesbian bars, discothèques, and after-hours clubs.
Most of the commendable cafés you’ll find in Madrid can be classified into two main groups: the ones that have been around for many years (Café del Círculo, Café de Oriente), where writers, singers, poets, and discussion groups still meet and where conversations are usually more important than the coffee itself; and the new ones (Faborit, Diurno, Delic, Anglona), which are tailored to hip and hurried urbanites and tend to have a wider product selection, modern interiors, and Wi-Fi.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
Popular for its quiet summer terrace under the Puente de Segovia arches, its unbeatable electro-funk mixes, and for staying open into the wee hours, this is a cleverly designed narrow space with lots of illuminated wall art. | C. Caños Viejos 3, Palacio | 91/366–1596.
Café de Oriente.
This landmark spot has a magnificent view of the Royal Palace and its front yard. Inside, the café is divided into two sections—the left one serves tapas and raciones; the right serves more elaborate food. The café also has a splendid terrace that’s open when the sun is out. | Pl. de Oriente 2, Palacio | 91/547–1564 | Station: Ópera.
A few blocks from the Royal Palace, this is one of the sleekest clubs in the city, with a huge LED screen on the ceiling, professional barmen serving cocktails until 6 am, lots of house and funk music, and a crowd mostly in its late thirties. | C. de la Bola 13, Palacio | 91/541–9291 | Closed Mon.–Thurs.
Magical and chameleonlike thanks to the use of LED lighting and the undulating shapes of the columns and walls, this is the place to go if you want a late-night drink—it opens at 11 and closes at 5:30 am—without the thunder of a full-blown disco. | Jacometrezo 6, Palacio | 91/445–6886 | Closed Sun.–Wed.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
You can get food here, but this place is best known among the madrileños who swarm La Latina on the weekends for its middle-floor bar, which is usually filled by those looking for a drink between lunch and dinner. There’s also a fabulous, semi-hidden terrace that tends to be packed. | Pl. de la Cebada 11, La Latina | 91/366–9064 | Closed Sun. night and Mon.
A good option if you’re in La Latina, this small café serves a variety of hot chocolates (with cognac, caramel, mint, and more) and imported teas, as well as some sweets, including chocolate cake, carrot cake, and custard crème mille-feuille. At night, sip mojitos or caipirinhas and take in the scene-setting jazz or bossa nova. | Príncipe de Anglona 3, La Latina | 91/365–0587 | Closed Mon. | Station: La Latina.
This warm, inviting café is a hangout for Madrid’s trendy crowd. Besides the patatitas con mousse de parmesano (potatoes with a Parmesan mousse) and zucchini cake, homesick travelers will find carrot cake, brownies, and pumpkin pie among the offerings. | Costanilla de San Andrés 14, Pl. de la Paja, La Latina | 91/364–5450 | Closed Sun. evening, Mon., and Tues. | Station: La Latina.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
A multispace that combines a café and a lounge, this place caters to a relaxed, conversational crowd; the bottom floor is suited to partygoers, with the latest in live and club music. On weekdays, it also features theater and stand-up comedy. | Caballero de Gracia 10, Sol | 91/522–1815 | www.costelloclub.com.
Café del Círculo (La Pecera).
Spacious and elegant, with large velvet curtains, marble columns, hardwood floors, painted ceilings, and sculptures scattered throughout, this eatery inside the famous art center Círculo de Bellas Artes feels more like a private club than a café. Expect a bustling, intellectual crowd. | Marqués de Casa Riera 2, Sol | 91/522–5092 | Station: Banco de España, Sevilla.
Chocolatería San Ginés.
Gastronomical historians suggest that the practice of dipping explains Spaniards’ lasting fondness for superthick hot chocolate. Only a few of the old places where this hot drink was served exclusively (with crispy churros), such as this chocolatería, remain standing. It’s open virtually 24 hours a day (9:30 am to 7 am weekdays; 9 am to 7 am, weekends) and is the last stop for many a bleary-eyed soul after a night out. | Pasadizo de San Ginés (enter by Arenal 11), Sol | 91/365–6546 | Station: Sol.
A chain spot bold enough to open next door to Starbucks had better serve some great coffee, and for less money; Faborit does, and offers a warm, high-tech environment to boot. Whether your feet hurt and the sun is blazing, or it’s chilly out and you’re tired of shivering, indulge in a mug of cappuccino with cream or a chai cappuccino. The main café is two blocks from the Puerta del Sol, but there are also now branches on Paseo del Prado, near the CaixaForum, across from the Palace Hotel, and on San Bernardo, just a block off Gran Vía. | Alcalá 21, Sol | 91/521–8616 | Station: Sevilla.
Dizzyingly colorful, this club has a large dance floor, a bar specializing in fancy cocktails, and different house-music sessions (among them the famous electronic-music Mondo sessions on Thursday and Saturday) which cater to the city’s most glamorous and refined. | Alcalá 20, Sol | 91/445–7938 | www.cocomadrid.com | Closed Mon.–Wed.
Madrid’s oldest disco, and one of the hippest clubs for all-night dancing to an international music mix, is open until 5:30 am. There’s live music starting at around midnight, Thursday through Saturday. | Jardines 3, Sol | 91/532–6490.
A downtown disco in a converted theater, this is a long-established standby. | Arenal 11, Sol | 91/366–3733.
BARRIO DE LAS LETRAS
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
Madrid’s best-known jazz venue is chic, and the musicians are often internationally known. Nightly performances are usually from 9 to 11 pm. | Pl. de Ángel 10, Barrio de las Letras | 91/369–4143 | www.cafecentralmadrid.com.
With a bohemian spirit and a shabby-chic interior—a secondhand couch, a handful of tables, and a brass bar—this small place, which serves some cold, basic staples during the day (like salmorejo and empanadas) and cocktails at night, is a magnet for people who want to get away from the bustle of the Santa Ana area. | León 9, Barrio de las Letras | 679/744–898 | Closed Sun.
This is two different spaces connected by an elevator that could easily be confused for a dance floor. The bottom lounge takes up most of the ground floor of the chic ME Madrid, including the reception area; the exclusive rooftop terrace in the same hotel is one of the Madrid’s essential summer venues and offers an unbeatable 360-degree view of the city. | ME Madrid, Pl. de Santa Ana 14, Barrio de las Letras | 91/445–6886.
Salsa has become a fixture in Madrid; check out the most spectacular moves here. | Atocha 107, Barrio de las Letras | 91/429–6208 | www.azucarsalsadisco.com.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
Resembling a room at a very exclusive club (with all the waiters in suits), this bar with a dark wood interior and cathedral-like ceilings serves about 20 different cocktails (hence the name). It caters to an older, more classic crowd. | Reina 16, Chueca | 91/532–2826.
Arguably Madrid’s most renowned cocktail bar, this family-owned place is frequented by a variety of crowds, from movie directors to moviegoers. | C. de la Reina 12, Chueca | 91/523–3106 | www.deldiego.com | Closed Sun.
Easy to miss (it’s located inside a building just a block off Fuencarral), this is one of the Malasaña’s best lounges. There are live DJs and bands almost every night playing good funk music to a 30-plus crowd. | Augusto Figueroa 3, Chueca | www.intrusobar.com | Closed Mon.
This landmark cocktail bar–lounge is said to have been one of Hemingway’s haunts. Much of the interior can be traced back to the 1930s, but modern elements (like the in-house DJ) keep this spot firmly in the present. | Gran Vía 12, Chueca | 91/532–6737 | Closed Sun.
The handful of tables here are rarely empty on weekends, thanks to the candlelit, cozy atmosphere—it attracts a young, mixed, postdinner crowd. Weekdays are mellower. | Belén 5, Chueca | 91/308–2747.
A Chueca landmark, this restaurant-café, DVD rental stop, and take-out spot is spacious, with large windows facing the street, sleek chairs and couches, and lots of plants. Diurno serves healthy snacks and sandwiches along with some indulgent desserts, as well as strawberry mojitos and other cocktails. From 5 pm onwards it becomes a restaurant with a short but varied menu, and also offers a copious brunch on weekends. | San Marcos 37, Chueca | 91/522–0009 | Station: Chueca.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
Artists, musicians, aspiring filmmakers—they all flock to this bar with the free-spirited vibe for which Malasaña is famous. Locals come here to chat with friends over tea, delve into their Macs or, later in the day, sip an inexpensive gin and tonic. | Corredera Baja de San Pablo 51, Malasaña.
True to its name, this place plays homage to the old classic bars that are now a dying breed in the city. It serves coffee, tea, and even an inexpensive Sunday brunch, but folks come here for the cocktails. There are more than 50 brands of gin here, homemade spice-based liquors, and the hard-to-find madrileño artisan-brewed beer, Cibeles. | Barco 4, Malasaña | 91/080–2683.
A good option if you are looking to have a drink in the Gran Vía (Triball) area and enjoy some jazz. In a space that mixes vintage design with artsy touches, you’ll mingle with a chic bohemian crowd, and choose from a good variety of cocktails—including one bearing the club’s name (made with mixed-berry juice with vodka or gin). | Ballesta 6, Malasaña | 91/166–0511.
Café la Palma.
There are four different spaces here: a bar in front, a music venue for intimate concerts (a bit of everything: pop, rock, electronic, hip-hop), a chill-out room in the back, and a café in the center room. Don’t miss it if you’re in Malasaña. | La Palma 62, Malasaña | 91/522–5031 | www.cafelapalma.com.
Diverging in its spirit and style (think vintage furniture and pop art wallpaper) from the classier baroque cafés of the neighborhood, this hectic spot attracts the young and techno-savvy with its free Wi-Fi and good assortment of teas, chocolates, cakes, and drinks. | Espíritu Santo 9, Malasaña | 667/201169 | Station: Tribunal.
Ocho y Medio.
After the closing down of the mythical Sala Flamingo (a madrileño version of the late CBGB) the popular Ocho y Medio music session has found a new location. There are indie-rock-pop concerts on weekends, followed by intense, electropop-music DJ sessions that reach their peak at around 3 am and end close to dawn. | Barceló 11, Malasaña | www.ochoymedioclub.com.
A landmark enclave that until 2013 carried the legendary label Pachá in its name, it’s been running for over three decades with the same energetic vibe and the blessing of the local crowd. | Barceló 11, Malasaña | 91/447–0128 | Closed Sun.–Wed.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
Diego Cabrera, the former barman at Gastro, one of Madrid’s best restaurants, has developed a reputation as one of Spain’s cocktail beacons. The interior pays homage to the craft (cocktail shakers line walls) and the space gets packed on the weekends. Choose one of the many unique creations, such as the Guaracha (made with berry-flavored vodka, lemon, and mint leaves) or the Tangerine (made with gin, St-Germain, tangerine juice, lime juice, and rosemary sugar), or one of the many cocktail classics. | Bárbara de Braganza 2, Chamberí | 91/319–9457 | Closed Sun.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
This is the most authentic blues bar in the city, with live music Tuesday to Thurday at 11, barmen with jeans and leather jackets, and bohemian executives who’ve left their suits at home and parked their Harley-Davidsons at the door. | Torrecilla del Leal 18, Lavapiés | 91/530–8095.
Along with the theater on the neighborhood’s main plaza, the reconstruction of the Escuelas Pías—an 18th-century religious school burnt down during the Spanish civil war and now turned into a university center—is one of Lavapiés’s modern highlights. The rooftop has a hidden café with a wide selection of teas and coffee, and its large terrace, open year-round, has great views. It opens at 3:30 pm on weekdays (6 pm June–August, because days are so hot) and at 8 pm on Saturday. | Escuelas Pías, Tribulete 14, 4th fl., Lavapiés | 91/528–2594 | Closed Sun. | Station: Lavapiés.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
A large, stylish club frequented by an upscale crowd mostly in their forties and fifties, Eccola Kitchen is the place to go for an early drink in Salamanca. The space is divided up into several different areas with comfortable leather couches, and the extensive drink menu includes cocktails as well as shooters with eccentric ingredients like Siberian or Korean ginseng. | Diego de León 3,Salamanca | 91/563–2473 | Closed Sun.
BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
Extravagantly decorated, this hot spot between Retiro Park and the Prado is a favorite with posh madrileños. The drinks menu includes about a dozen unusual brands of gin, including the exclusive Citadelle Réserve, here served with lemongrass and edible gold foil. The big attraction here, though, isn’t just the gin and tonic, but the dedication with which it’s served. | Academia 7, Retiro | 699/755988 | Closed Sun.
A multispace venue across from Retiro Park designed by Philippe Starck with two restaurants, a club in the basement, and a bar at street level, this spot is perfect for an early though expensive cocktail, before or after dinner, preferably during the week. Order a Ramsés (black vodka, absinthe, and cranberry juice) and enjoy the parade of the glamorous see-and-be-seen set. | Pl. de la Independencia 4, Retiro | 91/435–1666.
Steps from Retiro Park, this airy all-white café uses house-baked artisanal bread for sandwiches and bocadillos (a sandwich on a small loaf of bread), including the classic Iberian ham with tomato. A short lunch menu, scrumptious cakes, and several types of breakfast are also served. The terrace, open from mid-March to early fall, gets busy. | Pl. de la Independencia 10, Retiro | 91/522–8785.
This happening spot is hot from midnight on. | Duque de Sesto 54, Retiro | 91/573–8775 | www.golden-boite.es.
Five minutes from Plaza de Castilla, this is a popular disco among people in their thirties; there’s an eclectic music vibe—pop, hip-hop, swing, electronic—and on-stage performances by actors, go-go dancers, and musicians. | Alberto Alcocer, 32, Chamartín | Closed Sun.–Wed.
On the top floor of the ultramodern Silken Puerta de América Hotel, the Skynight gets really lively on the weekends, with scores of well-off madrileños elbowing their way to the exclusive gin-and-tonic bar, which also offers good views of the western part of the city. | Silken Puerta de América Hotel, Av. de América 41, Chamartín | 91/744–5400 | Closed Sun.
At this popular venue you’ll find plenty of space to dance (under the gaze of the go-go girls) but also quieter nooks where you can chat and sip a drink. | Rosario Pino 20, Tetuán | Closed Sun.–Wed.
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Hiking | Running | Soccer
The region north of Madrid, into some parts of Ávila and Segovia, is taken up by the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, which became Spain’s 14th national park in the summer of 2013. Long favored by naturalists, writers (including John Dos Passos), painters, poets, and historians, it also attracts sporty madrileños looking to get away from the chaos of the capital. The Sierra’s eastern border lies at Puerto de Somosierra, west of the A1 highway heading to Burgos; the little town of Robledo de Chavela, southwest of El Escorial, marks the park’s western edge. Near the middle of this long stretch sprouts another branch to the northeast, giving the Sierra de Guadarrama the shape of a fork, with the Valle de Lozoya in its tines. Hiking options are nearly limitless, but two destinations stand out for their geological importance: the Parque de la Pedriza, a massive, orangey, fancifully shaped granite landscape in the Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, and the Peñalara’s alpine cirques (basins) and lakes.
Arawak Viajes Madrid.
This travel agency offers three or four different day trips every weekend to different spots in the Madrid Sierra (and to Guadalajara or Sierra de Gredos), plus a weekend trek every month. Prices to the Sierra de Guadarrama are usually around €20–€26. You must reserve in advance and pay within one day of making the reservation. Buses depart from Estación de Autobuses Ruiz on Ronda de Atocha 12. | Ercilla 28, Embajadores | 91/474–2524 | www.arawakviajes.com.
Madrid’s best running spots are the Parque del Buen Retiro, where the main path circles the park and others weave under trees and through gardens, and the Parque del Oeste, with more uneven terrain but fewer people. The Casa de Campo is crisscrossed by numerous, sunnier trails.
Fútbol is Spain’s number one sport, and Madrid has four teams: Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Rayo Vallecano, and Getafe. The two major teams are Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. For tickets, either call a week in advance to reserve and pick them up at the stadium or stand in line at the stadium of your choice.
Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Home to Real Madrid, the stadium seats 85,400. | Paseo de la Castellana 140, Chamartín | 91/398–4300 | www.realmadrid.es.
Estadio Vicente Calderón.
Atlético Madrid plays at this stadium, which is on the edge of the Manzanares River south of town. | Virgen del Puerto 67, Arganzuela | 91/366–4707, 90/253–0500 for tickets | www.clubatleticodemadrid.com.
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Palacio | Sol | Barrio de las Letras | Chueca | Malasaña | Chamberí | Lavapiés | Salamanca
Spain has become one of the world’s design centers. You’ll have no trouble finding traditional crafts, such as ceramics, guitars, and leather goods, albeit not at countryside prices (think Rodeo Drive, not outlet mall). Known for contemporary furniture and decorative items as well as chic clothing, shoes, and jewelry, Spain’s capital has become stiff competition for Barcelona. Keep in mind that many shops, especially those that are small and family-run, close during lunch hours, on Sunday, and on Saturday afternoon. Shops generally accept most major credit cards.
Madrid has three main shopping areas. The first, the area that stretches from Callao to Puerta del Sol (Calle Preciados, Gran Vía on both sides of Callao, and the streets around the Puerta del Sol), includes the major department stores (El Corte Inglés and the French music-and-book chain FNAC) and popular brands such as H&M and Zara.
The second area, far more elegant and expensive, is in the eastern Salamanca district, bounded roughly by Serrano, Juan Bravo, Jorge Juan (and its blind alleys), and Velázquez; the shops on Goya extend as far as Alcalá. The streets just off the Plaza de Colón, particularly Calle Serrano and Calle Ortega y Gasset, have the widest selection of designer goods—think Prada, Loewe, Armani, and Louis Vuitton—as well as other mainstream and popular local designers (Purificación García, Pedro del Hierro, Adolfo Domínguez, or Roberto Verino). Hidden within Calle Jorge Juan, Calle Lagasca, and Calle Claudio Coello is the widest selection of smart boutiques from renowned Spanish designers, such as Sybilla, DelPozo, or Dolores Promesas.
Finally, for hipper clothes, Chueca, Malasaña, and what’s now called the Triball (the triangle formed by Fuencarral, Gran Vía, and Corredera Baja, with Calle Ballesta in the middle) are your best bets. Calle Fuencarral, from Gran Vía to Tribunal, is the street with the most shops in this area. On Fuencarral you can find name brands such as Diesel, Gas, and Billabong, but also local brands such as Homeless, Adolfo Domínguez U (selling the Galician designer’s younger collection), and Custo, as well as some makeup stores (Madame B and M.A.C). Less mainstream and sometimes more exciting is the selection you can find on nearby Calles Hortaleza, Almirante, and Piamonte and in the Triball area.
Antigua Casa Talavera.
This is the best of Madrid’s many ceramics shops. Despite the name, the finest wares sold here are from Manises, near Valencia, but the blue-and-yellow Talavera ceramics are also excellent. | Isabel la Católica 2, Palacio | 91/547–3417.
Shop here for traditional handmade ceramics and pottery. | Flor Baja 8, Palacio | 91/547–9514 | www.ceramicacantaro.com.
Casa del Libro.
At this shop not far from the Puerta del Sol you’ll find an impressive collection of English-language books, including translated Spanish classics. It’s also a good source for maps. Its discount store nearby, on Calle Salud 17, sells English classics. | Gran Vía 29, Sol | 90/202–6402.
BOUTIQUES AND FASHION
Brothers Custodio and David Dalmau are the creative force behind the success of this chain, whose eye-catching T-shirts can be found in the closets of such stars as Madonna and Julia Roberts. They have expanded their collection to incorporate pants, dresses, and accessories, never relinquishing the traits that have made them famous: bold colors and striking graphic designs. | Mayor 37,Sol | 91/354–0099 | Fuencarral 29, Chueca | 91/360–4636 | Serrano 16, Salamanca | 91/577–2663.
The area around Sol is more mainstream, with big names such as Zara and H&M, and retail media and department stores (e.g., FNAC, El Corte Inglés), but there are some interesting isolated stops such as Seseña, which, since the turn of the 20th century, has outfitted international celebrities in wool and velvet capes, some lined with red satin. | De la Cruz 23, Sol | 91/531–6840.
El Corte Inglés.
Spain’s largest department store carries the best selection of everything, from auto parts to groceries, electronics, lingerie, and designer fashions. It also sells tickets for major sports and arts events and has its own travel agency, a restaurant (usually the building’s top floor), and a great gourmet store. Madrid’s biggest branch is the one on the corner of Calle Raimundo Fernández Villaverde and Castellana, which is not a central location. Try instead the one at Sol-Callao (split into three separate buildings), or the ones at Serrano or Goya (each of these has two independent buildings). | Preciados 1, 2, and 3, Sol | 91/379–8000, 90/112–2122 for general info, 90/240–0222 for tickets | www.elcorteingles.es | C. Goya 76 and 85, Salamanca | 91/432–9300 | Princesa 41, 47, and 56,Moncloa | 91/454–6000 | C. Serrano 47, Salamanca | 91/432–5490 | Callao 2, Sol | 91/379–8000 | Raimundo Fernández Villaverde 79, Cuatro Caminos | 91/418–8800.
This company has provided Spain and the rest of the world with guitars since 1882, and its store includes a museum of antique instruments. Prices for new ones range from €122 to €227 for children and €153 to about €2,200 for adults, though some of the top concert models easily break the €10,000 mark. | C. de la Paz 8, Sol | 91/531–4229.
BARRIO DE LAS LETRAS
BOUTIQUES AND FASHION
Just a block off Plaza de Santa Ana, this is the flagship store of a young Spanish designer with clothes and accessories for both men and women. He’s known for modernizing the look of Spain’s current vice president, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. | Pl. del Ángel 4, Barrio de las Letras | 91/843–5852 | www.eduardorivera.es.
On Sunday morning, Calle de Ribera de Curtidores is closed to traffic and jammed with outdoor booths selling everything under the sun—this is its weekly transformation into El Rastro flea market. Crowds get so thick that it takes a while just to advance a few feet amid the hawkers and gawkers. Be careful: pickpockets abound here, so hang on to your purse and wallet, and be especially careful if you bring a camera. The flea market sprawls into most of the surrounding streets, with certain areas specializing in particular products. Many of the goods are wildly overpriced. But what goods! El Rastro has everything from antique furniture to exotic parrots and cuddly puppies, pirated CDs of flamenco music, and keychains emblazoned with symbols of the CNT, Spain’s old anarchist trade union. Practice your Spanish by bargaining with the vendors over paintings, colorful Gypsy oxen yokes, heraldic iron gates, new and used clothes, and even hashish pipes. They may not lower their prices, but sometimes they’ll throw in a handmade bracelet or a stack of postcards to sweeten the deal. Plaza General Vara del Rey has some of the Rastro’s best antiques, and the streets beyond—Calles Mira el Río Alta and Mira el Río Baja—have some truly magnificent junk and bric-a-brac. The market shuts down shortly after 2 pm, in time for a street party to start in the area known as La Latina, centered on the bar El Viajero in Plaza Humilladero. Off the Ribera are two galerías, courtyards with higher-quality, higher-price antiques shops. All the shops (except for the street vendors) are open during the week. | C. de Ribera de Curtidores, Barrio de las Letras | Sun. 9–3.
FOOD AND WINE
Named after the current owner, this liquor store has been in the family for more than 100 years. It’s rustic and a bit dusty and looks like a warehouse rather than a shop, but David knows what he’s selling. Head here for a good selection of Rioja wines (some dating as far back as 1920) and local liqueurs, including anisettes and pacharan, a fruity liquor made with sloes (the wild fruit of the blackthorn tree, similar to plums). | Cervantes 6, Barrio de las Letras | 91/429–5230.
This traditional food store has a secret in back—a cozy and well-hidden bar where you can sample most of its fare: canned asparagus; olive oil; honey; cold cuts; smoked anchovies, salmon, and other fish; and a good selection of Spanish cheeses and local wines. It also serves good, inexpensive breakfasts. | León 12, Barrio de las Letras | 91/429–5618.
Behind Plaza Santa Ana, this is a charming 150-year-old wine store with a broad range of wines and fine spirits. | Echegaray 19, Barrio de las Letras | 91/429–6088.
BOUTIQUES AND FASHION
Chueca shelters some local name brands (Hoss, Adolfo Domínguez, and Mango) on Calle Fuencarral and has a multifloor and multistore market (Mercado de Fuencarral) selling modern outfits for younger crowds at No. 45 on the same street.
Chueca’s trademark is its multibrand boutiques and small multibrand fashion shops, often managed by eccentric and outspoken characters. This is a good example—a cozy, tasteful store owned by two Frenchmen: Stephan and Thierry. They specialize in feminine, colorful, and young French prêt-à-porter designers (Stella Forest, La Petite, Tara Jarmon). | Hortaleza 26, Chueca | 91/521–5152.
Jesús del Pozo.
This prominent designer died in 2011 and it’s now Josep Font who extends its creative legacy with modern clothes for both sexes. It’s an excellent, if pricey, place to try on some classic Spanish style. | Lagasca 19, Chueca | 91/219–4038 | www.jesusdelpozo.com.
A fancy outlet selling samples and end-of-season designer clothes, this is a good place to find big discounts. | Pl. de Chueca 8, Chueca | 91/531–3222.
After more than 20 years in the fashion industry, Basque designer Fernando Lemoniez finally took the plunge and opened his own boutique, in what used to be a fruit shop. Women of all ages can be found browsing the feminine silk and chiffon dresses and gathering insight from Lemoniez himself, who often drops by the store on Saturday morning. | Argensola 17, Chueca | 91/308–4821.
A favorite among fashion-magazine editors, this store, on the corner of Calle Fernando VI, features a very chic and seductive European collection—especially Parisian and Scandinavian. | Regueros 15, Chueca | 91/308–6677.
The highly energetic owner of this store enthusiastically digs into racks looking for daring garments from Spanish designers in her quest to modernize her customers’ look. The store also sells some original clothespins made by art school students. | Conde de Xiquena 9, Chueca | 91/310–3421.
This designer, with a celebrity following, makes sophisticated and elegant clothes for the urban woman. | Almirante 10, Chueca | 91/435–7989 | www.robertotorretta.com.
FOOD AND WINE
You can find more than 120 different cheeses from all over Spain as well as almost 300 others from nearby countries such as France, Portugal, Italy, and Holland at Poncelet. Marmalades, wines, and items to help you savor your cheese are also available. | Argensola 27, Alonso Martínez | 91/308–0221 | www.poncelet.es.
A block off San Bernardo, this is a charming café and bookstore run by a woman from Alabama and her Spanish husband. The store stocks a good selection of used books in English. | Espíritu Santo 47, Malasaña | 91/521–8576 | www.jandjbooksandcoffee.com.
BOUTIQUES AND FASHION
At Sybilla’s younger and more affordable second brand, Jocomomola, you’ll find plenty of informal, provocative, and colorful pieces, as well as some accessories. | Colón 4, Malasaña | 91/575–0005.
The Turkish brothers Isaac and Nahman Andic opened their first store in Barcelona in 1984. Today, Mango has stores all over the world, and the brand rivals Zara as Spain’s most successful fashion venture. Mango’s target customer is the young, modern, and urban woman. In comparison with Zara, Mango has fewer formal options and favors bohemian sundresses, sandals, and embellished T-shirts. | Fuencarral 70, Malasaña | 91/523–0412 | www.mango.com | Fuencarral 4, Bilbao | 91/445–7811 | C. Goya 83, Salamanca | 91/435–3958 | Hermosilla 22, Salamanca | 91/576–8303.
Uno de 50.
This is a good place for hip original and inexpensive (less than €200) costume jewelry—mostly made from leather and a silver-plated tin alloy—and accessories by Spanish designer Concha Díaz del Río. | Fuencarral 17, Malasaña | 91/523–9975 | www.unode50.com | Ayala 26, Salamanca | 91/577–2610.
Young professionals who want the latest look without the sticker shock hit Zara for hip clothes that won’t last more than a season or two. The store’s minimalist window displays are hard to miss; inside you’ll find the latest looks for men, women, and children. Zara is self-made entrepreneur Amancio Ortega’s textile empire flagship, and you will find locations all over the city. Its clothes are considerably cheaper in Spain than in the United States or the United Kingdom. There are also two outlet stores in Madrid—in the Gran Vía store and in Calle Carretas—both called Lefties. If you choose to try your luck at the outlets, keep in mind that Monday and Thursday are when new deliveries arrive. | Gran Via 34, Triball | 91/521–1283. | Serrano 23, Salamanca | 91/436–3158 | Carretas 6, Sol | 91/522–6945 | Conde de Peñalver 16, Salamanca | 91/781–9788 | Princesa 58, Moncloa | 91/549–1616
Just across from the Iglesia subway exit, Booksellers has a large selection of books in English; there’s another branch nearby, at Calle Fernandez de la Hoz 40. | Santa Engracia 115, Chamberí | 91/702–7944.
La Tienda Verde.
Established in 1950, this store is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts planning hikes, mountain-climbing expeditions, spelunking trips, and so forth; it has detailed maps and Spanish-language guidebooks. | Maudes 23 and 38, Chamberí | 91/535–3810 | www.tiendaverde.es.
This percussion shop–workshop where Canarian Pedro Navarro crafts his own cajones flamencos, or flamenco box drums, is hard to find but his pieces are greatly appreciated among professionals. Prices range between €80 and €210 and vary according to the quality of woods used. | Olivar 36, Lavapiés | 91/539–2178.
BOUTIQUES AND FASHION
Salamanca is the area with the most concentrated local fashion offering, especially on Calles Claudio Coello, Lagasca, and the first few blocks of Serrano. You’ll find a good mix of mainstream designers, small-scale exclusive boutiques, and multibrand stores. Most mainstream designer stores are on Calle Serrano.
The top stores for non-Spanish fashions are mostly scattered along Ortega y Gasset, between Nuñez de Balboa and Serrano, but if you want the more exclusive local brands, head to the smaller designer shops unfolding along Calles Claudio Coello, Jorge Juan, and Lagasca. Start on Calle Jorge Juan and its alleys, and then move north along Claudio Coello and Lagasca toward the core of the Salamanca district.
This Galician designer creates simple, sober, and elegant lines for both men and women. Of the eight other locations in the city, the one at Calle Fuencarral 5, a block away from Gran Vía, is geared toward a younger crowd, with more affordable and colorful clothes. | C. Serrano 5, Salamanca | 91/577–4744 | www.adolfodominguez.com.
Natural and luxe fabrics (silks, cashmere, wool, crepe) make Alma Aguilar’s sundresses and feminine coats extra appealing. | Azcona 56, Room 7, Salamanca | 91/577–6698 | www.almaaguilar.com.
The three young female designers working for Hoss and their hip and fashionable clothes are gaining a growing acceptance with younger fashionistas. | C. Serrano 18, Salamanca | 91/781–0612 | Fuencarral 16, Chueca | 91/524–1728.
This young but renowned Catalonian designer sells his seductive clothes a few blocks from the customary shopping route in the Salamanca neighborhood. Worth the detour, his clothes are distinctive and colorful, with original shapes and small, subtle touches such as ribbons or flounces that act as the designer’s signature. | Don Ramón de la Cruz 51, Salamanca | 91/575–9716 | www.josepfont.com.
This posh store carries high-quality designer purses, accessories, and clothing made of butter-soft leather in gorgeous jewel-like colors. The store on Calle Serrano 26 displays the women’s collection; men’s items are a block away, on Serrano 34. Prices can hit the stratosphere. | C. Serrano 26 and 34, Salamanca | 91/577–6056 | www.loewe.com | Gran Vía 8, Chueca | 91/522–6815.
You’ll find a good selection of Spanish designer brands (Antonio Miró, Hoss, Josep Font, Jocomomola, and Ailanto) at Nac. The store on Calle Génova is the biggest of the four in Madrid. | C. Génova 18, Chamberí | 91/310–6050 | www.nac.es | Lagasca 117, Salamanca | 91/561–3035.
Pedro del Hierro.
This madrileño designer has built himself a solid reputation for his sophisticated but uncomplicated clothes for both sexes. | C. Serrano 24, 29, and 40, Salamanca | 91/575–6906.
For women searching for contemporary all-day wear, this is a good choice. There’s another branch at Claudio Coello 95. | C. Serrano 28, Salamanca | 91/435–8013.
One of Spain’s best-known female designers, with fluid dresses and hand-knit sweaters that are sought after by anyone who is fashion savvy, including Danish former supermodel and now editor and designer Helena Christensen. | Jorge Juan 12, at end of one of two cul-de-sacs, Salamanca | 91/578–1322 | www.sybilla.es.
Cerámica El Alfar.
You’ll find pottery from all over Spain here. | Claudio Coello 112, Salamanca | 91/411–3587 | www.ceramicaelalfar.es.
Specializing in modern Spanish ceramics from Galicia, this store stocks breakfast sets, coffeepots, and objets d’arts. | Conde Aranda 2, Salamanca | 91/310–4830 | www.sargadelos.com.
FOOD AND WINE
One of the largest wine stores in Europe, with a large selection of bottles, books, and bar accessories, as well as a restaurant where you can sample products. | José Ortega y Gasset 16, Salamanca | 91/426–0604 | www.lavinia.es.
In the middle of Salamanca’s shopping area, this store sells Spanish wines, olive oils, cheeses, and hams. | Ayala 24, Salamanca | 91/576–7641.
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50 km (31 miles) northwest of Madrid.
Outside Madrid in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama, El Escorial, commissioned by Felipe II and built over 20 years in the late 16th century, is severe, rectilinear, and unforgiving—it is one of the most gigantic yet simple architectural monuments on the Iberian Peninsula. The Royal Monastery is in the town of San Lorenzo del Escorial, about one hour away from Madrid, and it makes a great half-day side trip from the capital.
Getting Here and Around
El Escorial is easily reached by car, train, bus, or organized tour from Madrid. If you plan on taking public transportation, the bus is probably the best option. Herranz’s line nos. 661 (through Galapagar) and 664 (through Guadarrama) depart a few times every hour (less frequently on the weekends) from Bay 30 at the intercambiador (station) at Moncloa. The 50-minute ride leaves you within a five-minute walk of the monastery. You can also take the cercanías C-8a from either Atocha or Chamartín, but it runs less frequently than the buses and stops at the town of El Escorial, from which you must either take Bus No. L4 (also run by Herranz) to San Lorenzo de El Escorial (where the monastery is) or a strenuous, long walk uphill.
Local tourist office.
To get to the local tourist office, cross the arch that’s across from the visitors’ entrance to the monastery. | C. Grimaldi 4 | San Lorenzo de El Escorial | 91/890–5313.
Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (Royal Monastery of St. Lawrence of Escorial).
Felipe II was one of history’s most deeply religious and forbidding monarchs—not to mention one of its most powerful—and the great granite monastery that he had constructed in a remarkable 21 years (1563–84) is an enduring testament to his character.
Felipe built the monastery in the village of San Lorenzo de El Escorial to commemorate Spain’s crushing victory over the French at Saint-Quentin on August 10, 1557, and as a final resting place for his all-powerful father, the Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V. He filled the place with treasures as he ruled the largest empire the world had ever seen, knowing all the while that a marble coffin awaited him in the pantheon below. The building’s vast rectangle, encompassing 16 courts, is modeled on the red-hot grille upon which St. Lawrence was martyred—appropriately, as August 10 is that saint’s day. (It’s also said that Felipe’s troops accidentally destroyed a church dedicated to St. Lawrence during the battle and sought to make amends.) The building and its adjuncts—a palace, museum, church, and more—can take hours or even days to tour. Easter Sunday’s candlelight midnight mass draws crowds, as does the summer tourist season.
The monastery was begun by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo but finished in 1584 by Juan de Herrera, who would eventually give his name to a major Spanish architectural school. It was completed just in time for Felipe to die here, gangrenous and tortured by the gout that had plagued him for years, in the tiny, sparsely furnished bedroom that resembled a monk’s cell more than the resting place of a great monarch. It’s in this bedroom—which looks out, through a private entrance, into the royal chapel—that you most appreciate the man’s spartan nature. Spain’s later Bourbon kings, such as Carlos III and Carlos IV, had clearly different tastes, and their apartments, connected to Felipe’s by the Hall of Battles, and which can be visited only by appointment, are far more luxurious.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the entire Escorial is the Panteón de los Reyes (Royal Pantheon), a baroque construction room from the 17th century that contains the body of every king since Carlos I except three—Felipe V (buried at La Granja), Ferdinand VI (in Madrid), and Amadeus of Savoy (in Italy). The body of Alfonso XIII, who died in Rome in 1941, was brought to El Escorial in January 1980. The rulers’ bodies lie in 26 sumptuous marble-and-bronze sarcophagi that line the walls (three of which are empty, awaiting future rulers). Only those queens who bore sons later crowned lie in the same crypt; the others, along with royal sons and daughters who never ruled, lie nearby, in the Panteón de los Infantes, built in the latter part of the 19th century. Many of the royal children are in a single circular tomb made of Carrara marble.
Another highlight is the monastery’s surprisingly lavish and colorful library, with ceiling paintings by Michelangelo’s disciple Pellegrino Tibaldi (1527–96). The imposing austerity of El Escorial’s facades makes this chromatic explosion especially powerful; try to save it for last. The library houses 50,000 rare manuscripts, codices, and ancient books, including the diary of St. Teresa of Ávila and the gold-lettered, illuminated Codex Aureus. Tapestries woven from cartoons by Goya, Rubens, and El Greco cover almost every inch of wall space in huge sections of the building, and extraordinary canvases by Velázquez, El Greco, Jacques-Louis David, Ribera, Tintoretto, Rubens, and other masters, collected from around the monastery, are displayed in the Museos Nuevos (New Museums). In the basilica, don’t miss the fresco above the choir, depicting heaven, or Titian’s fresco, The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, which shows the saint being roasted alive. | San Lorenzo de El Escorial | 91/890–5904, 91/890–5905 | €10, €17 with guided tour | Oct.–Mar., Tues.–Sun. 10–6; Apr.–Sept., Tues.–Sun. 10–8.
WHERE TO EAT
SPANISH | Some go to El Escorial for the monastery; others go for Charolés. It’s a landmark that attracts a crowd of its own for its noble bearing, with thick stone walls and vaulted ceilings, wooden beams and floors, and stuffy service; its summer terrace a block from the monastery; and its succulent dishes, such as the heavy beans with clams or mushrooms, and the game meats served grilled or in stews. The four-course mammoth cocido (broth, chickpeas, meats, and a salad) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday tests the endurance of even those with the heartiest appetites. | Average main: €25 | C. Floridablanca 24 | 91/890–5975.
SPANISH | Away from town and surrounded by trees in what used to be a mountain cabin, this family-oriented restaurant is coveted by madrileños, who come here to enjoy the terrace in summer and the cozy bar area with a fireplace in winter. It has a good selection of fish and rice dishes, but the meats and seasonal plates are what draw the large following. Take Paseo Juan de Borbón, which surrounds the monastery, exit through the arches and pass the casita del infante (Prince’s Quarters) on your way up to the Monte Abantos, or get a cab at the taxi station on Calle Floridablanca. | Average main: €20 | C. Horizontal s/n | 91/890–3811 | No dinner Mon.–Wed. Oct.–Apr.