Madrid City Guide: Where To Stay And What To See - The Gloss Magazine

Madrid City Guide: Where To Stay And What To See

Spain’s charismatic capital offers a vibrant, stylish destination for aesthetes …

Elegant boulevards, majestic museums, royal palaces and manicured parks: most people think of Madrid in these terms, yet a clutch of fine dining restaurants, cool hotels and artisan shops has given the city a new, exhilarating energy. In so doing it’s become a vibrant, stylish destination for aesthetes (possibly snatching from Barcelona the status of Spain’s most charismatic city). To prove a point: next week is the city’s Mad Cool Festival (July 10-14) which not only brings together different musical genres (Dua Lipa, Pearl Jam, The Killers and Keane are in the line-up) but also focuses on art, gastronomy and the environment.

Art and culture: For the culturally curious, ticking off the “big three” is a must do on any visit. Make haste to Museo del Prado where works by Bosch, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Velazquez and Goya await (the Museum gift shop is worth a mention too!). Contemporary artworks by Miro and Bacon are on display at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, where Picasso’s Guernica hangs. While the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum houses Europe’s largest private art collection with works spanning the 13th to 21st centuries.

Less highbrow but still arty, Las Letras district was once the meeting place for writers, playwrights, poets and actors including Cervantes, Quevedo, Lope de Vega and Tirso de Molina. Stroll along its streets and you’ll see literary quotes inscribed on the pavements. On the first Saturday of the month, Ranas market takes place in this area (and often includes special menus in restaurants).

Shopping: Leave some space in your luggage for shopping. Start on Gran Vía, the most famous avenue in Madrid, where most of the high street brands are found and where rooftop bars offer plenty of post-retail refuelling and people watching. (Make a beeline for the flagship Zara store on the Paseo de la Castellana). For trinkets old and new, browse the stalls at the Mercado de Motores.

For designer boutiques, head to the Salamanca district especially Serrano, Ortega y Gasset and Jorge Juan streets. This area is called the “Golden Mile” where charming ateliers and boutiques selling artisan jewellery and leather goods proliferate.

More fashion-forward is Las Salesas neighbourhood, (especially Calle Barquillo, Argensola, Orellana and Fernando VI streets), where emerging designers, show-stopping florists and concept stores delight. On the first Saturday of every month, the stores organise “Salesas Village” – an open air market.

Other must dos: the architecturally impressive Mercado de San Miguel, which opened its doors in 1916, is full of delicatessen stalls. Don’t leave without visiting the Sunday morning El Rastro street market in La Latina barrio. It’s Madrid’s most iconic flea market, held every Sunday. There are also plenty of antique and vintage shops in the area.

Worth visiting: Olofane, Portici, Berenice, Casa Josephine, Le Secret and Verdegeban. If you’re more interested in quirky design shops, specialist book shops and charming cafes then look for accommodation in Chueca-Malasaña-Fuencarral.

Retiro Park

For photogenic Instagram shots: make a point of visiting Plaza Mayor Square, where you’ll find decorative shop window displays and signs which are over 100 years old. Visitors will find everything from historic apothecaries to famous milliners. Four stores of note include Cocol, located in an old upholstery workshop, which sells artisanal homeware; Casa Diego which is the place to find colourful handcrafted fans and other genteel accessories, while Seseña is a must for authentic Spanish capes (Picasso, Hemingway and Fellini were all devotees). For espadrilles Antigua Casa Crespo, founded in 1863, sells alpargatas; the store is packed to the rafters with espadrilles in every conceivable colour and silhouette.

For nightlife: It’s worth remembering that most stores stay open until 10pm, which means that nightlife begins much later too. The university Princesa area is a good starting point as it has plenty of buzzy tapas bars, music venues and nightclubs. La Latina district is also a hot spot for lively bars with flamenco shows.

As for where to stay, here are my recommendations:

Tótem Madrid

Tótem is on a leafy street in the Salamanca area, which is the smartest part of Madrid. The best shops are on the doorstep (on Serrano and Goya streets), and there are lots of bars and restaurants nearby. The Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums are less than 20 minutes’ walk away, while the Retiro Park is also close and provides some shade on steamy days. As for the hotel, it exudes elegance and tranquility; rooms are pared back and guests have the top notch restaurant La Parrilla del Pimiento on site. The hotel’s cocktail bar has a speakeasy vibe where the resident DJ spins everything from bossanova to ragtime tunes.

Plaza España Skyline

If you want the flexibility of an apartment without any hassle, then this is for you. It’s part of the Be Mate apartment offshoot of Room Mate, which has introduced reasonably priced design hotels throughout Spain. The company owns and manages the entire building where stylish apartments combine Scandi-meets-mid-century design. Many of the apartments have terraces and large floor-to-ceiling windows offering great views. The location, in a quiet residential street just off the the Plaza de España, is also next to the lovely Oeste park and the Gran Vía is only ten minutes away. Visitors can also walk up to the Argüelles neighbourhood, which has all the high street shops without the crowds.

The Pavilions Madrid

This discreet boutique hotel is just off Plaza de Colón, in the city centre, one of Madrid’s smartest areas but a few blocks beyond the main tourist beat. It is behind the Interior Ministry, which means there are police on the street corners at all times – making this one of the safest places in the city! The neighbouring streets are full of stylish cafés and restaurants. The hotel has 28 rooms, a new terrace bar and a small garden plus a mini fitness area with Technogym equipment. Book a rooftop room for great views over the city centre.

Barceló Torre de Madrid

Housed in an iconic concrete tower, Barceló has been recently renovated by Spanish designer Jaime Hayón in his signature playful style. The colour palette is vibrant and there are lots of quirky sculptures and artworks. Order cachaça-based cocktails in the hotel’s lobby bar, Asian- and Spanish-inspired dishes in its modern restaurant, and enjoy Ayurvedic-inspired treatments in the diminutive spa.

Bless Hotel Madrid

There’s much to like at Bless, located in the luxe Salamanca district – including three restaurants: Bless Lively Lounge in the lobby, Picos Pardos on the rooftop and super-stylish Salvaje (which has outposts all over the world, from Barcelona to Bogotá). After a dip in the pool or a yoga class on the rooftop, head to concept store Isolée on Calle de Claudio Coello for shopping, or head to the Museo del Prado and Museo Lazarao Galdiano. Some rooms include magnificent terraces, divine dressing rooms, vintage bathtubs and outdoor hydromassage tubs.

Where to Dine:

Casa Botín: Founded in 1725, it’s considered the oldest restaurant in the world and a benchmark for Madrid’s classic cuisine.

Taberna La Carmencita: Located in the trendy Chueca barrio, this is one of the capital’s oldest tabernas serving local cuisine in a charming environment.

La Terraza del Casino: Occupying the top floor of the Baroque Casino de Madrid, an elite social club built in 1910, the restaurant is bright and unstuffy, while star chef Paco Roncero’s cooking is smart, fresh and experimental. The terrace is breathtaking.

Lhardy: Founded in 1839, Lhardy is famous for serving traditional Spanish dishes like cocido madrileño, a typical stew-like dish and its setting which has remained unchanged. Its 19th-century decor is full of character and has remained unchanged over the years.

Bosco de Lobos: In the stunning courtyard of the College of Architects, an impressive building made of cubic shapes, Bosco de Lobos offers great Italian cuisine.

Celso y Manolo: Located in the lively barrio of Chueca, they serve top quality Spanish food in a relaxed and stylish setting. It’s also a great place for drinks.

El Landó: This classic restaurant offers a culinary journey through traditional Spanish cuisine, showcasing locally sourced ingredients in a cosy atmosphere. @landorestaurante


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