1. Where to Stay
Book one of sixteen rooms at the eclectic boutique hotel Abalu (from $280), located in the heart of Malasaña, Madrid’s most happening nightlife area. Get a Shiatsu massage and in-room chocolate fondue with a package deal, or use the Mac Mini in your Gran Luxe suite to select a movie from the hotel’s DVD library.
Gaze at the panoramic view of Europe’s highest capital from the ME Madrid’s 360-degree rooftop terrace (from $197). The Tower Suite has a private outdoor whirlpool.
Sleep among great works of literature at the Hotel de Las Letras (from $139), where lines from renowned poets and authors like Catalan favorite Joan Maragall are stenciled on the walls of this Belle Époque building. Modern amenities like free spa services and a pillow menu contrast with the coffered ceilings and hand-carved woodwork.
2. Where to Eat
Eat dinner late at Taberna Matritum, where the curated tapas menu is paired with 427 bottles of wine and the kitchen is open till 12:30 am.
Mix high and low at Philippe Starck’s latest design venture, Ramses, where graffiti and steampunk flourishes meet avant-garde cuisine. The former warehouse serves bubble-gum-flavored vodka cocktails and entrées like white hake atop potato foam.
Make a reservation a few weeks in advance for a table at La Terraza del Casino, Ferran Adrià’s more accessible companion to gastro-temple elBulli. Molecular specialties at the Michelin-starred restaurant include brioche with marrow topped with Beluga caviar, paella of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, and licorice cake with iced chocolate for dessert.
3. What to Do
Keep quiet inside the century-old underground Medina Mayrit, a Moroccan-style hammam open until 2 a.m. Dip into aljibes (wells) and Arabic baths in three different temperatures, or visit the massage and aromatherapy rooms for an exfoliating rubdown. Speaking is forbidden.
Dance like a queen at the Palacio de Gaviria, a club inside a restored palace built in 1850. Cabaret performances and art exhibitions are part of a weekly calendar of rotating special events.
Sneak around back to hear after-hours professional flamenco musicians performing for each other in a back room at Candela (C/Olmo 2, 914-673-382) in the early morning hours.
Get an early breakfast at Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo de San Ginés 5, 913-656-546), the city’s oldest spot for churros. Post-club crowds pack the place till about 6 a.m.
4. Insider’s Tip
Walk into a dingy parking garage and line up behind hipsters and Chinese émigrés at Chinese favorite Jia Xiang Xiao Chi, a.k.a. El Chino de Plaza España (Plaza de España car park, 915-482-103). The flavorful dumplings, noodles, and soups are about $7 a plate, but the $12 shrimp is worth a splurge.
5. Oddball Day
Don’t leave Lavapiés (meaning “wash feet”) immediately after seeing Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofía . The Inquisition-era Jewish barrio is now populated with a variety of multiethnic residents from Africa, Asia, and South America, all of whom are out and about in the Plaza de Lavapiés. Pick up a cortado (an espresso cut with a little milk) from one of the many cafes on Calle Argumosa and then people watch in the plaza. Learn to play the traditional card game of Tute from the neighborhood’s older residents, or listen to the upbeat Turkish and Bangladeshi rhythms played by newcomers. See the results of the Inquisition at Parroquia de San Lorenzo, a Catholic Church that stands on the grounds of razed medieval synagogue. At lunchtime, go to Melo’s (Calle Ave Maria 44, 915-275-054) and order the zapatilla a giant shoe-shaped loaf of bread stuffed with pork, ham, and melted cheese. Wash it down with some house Galician wine, served in a bowl. Get a view from above with a cocktail on the roof of the open-air Gaudeamus Café .
The website of English-language magazine InMadrid has information on new restaurants, upcoming events, and concerts.
The Guía del Ocia is a weekly guide that lists all of the city’s cultural events, from flamenco to opera to free concerts.
For filtered cultural stimuli with an indie feel, check out the Le Cool newsletter.
On an electronic tip, the “Agendas” section of Cultura Rave can be helpful; $7 entrance coupons can often found in the “Sorteos” section.