1. Where to Stay
Splurge on a sophisticated stay at the Only You Hotel & Lounge Madrid (from $222), located in the stylish, gay-friendly neighborhood of Chueca. Housed in a 19th century palace, the 70-room hotel feels plucked from some Grecian shore, with crisp white and deep blue color accents throughout, from the room walls to the original floor tiles from 1862. Treat yourself to room 416 (from $307), an airy, loft-style setup with exposed beams, an oversize vintage map of Madrid standing in for shower doors, and a spiral staircase leading to your sleeping quarters. If you can pry yourself out of your room, pop down to the hotel’s GastroBar, helmed by celebrated chef Carlos Martin, for refined Spanish tapas like crispy artichokes with Parmigiano Reggiano ($12.29), followed by a gin and tonic ($17.75, all the rage in Madrid right now) sipped alongside international jet setters among the navy-velvet-walled lounge, Salón Azul.
Immerse yourself in local art and design at the 17-room Artrip (from $111). The lobby itself functions as a gallery, featuring a bimonthly rotation of Madrid-focused works from emerging, young artists, juxtaposed with the hotel’s industrial-chic exposed brick and wood-paneled walls, concrete floors, and Roman columns. The minimalist rooms are equally aesthetically pleasing, with all-white décor punctuated with pops of color like purple pillows and thoughtful accents like fresh flowers, Lucky Bamboo plants, and fresh fruit. Opened in June 2012, the Artrip is the first hotel in the multiethnic neighborhood of Lavapiés, and only a short walk from the gallery-packed street Doctor Fourquet, which leads to the Prado, Thyssen, and Reina Sofía art museums.
Make like an intellectual expat at the new INNSIDE Madrid Suecia by Meliá (from $150). The 127-room hotel was built in the 1950s by the Swedish royal family and once played home to Ernest Hemingway, then reopened in December 2013 after a complete renovation. Spanish department store giant El Corte Inglés collaborated on the décor of the hotel, focusing on simple lines and a neutral color scheme with accents like cream-colored leather headboards and graphic blankets. Ask for an exterior-facing room on the seventh floor or higher to ensure a view of the Marqués de la Casa Riera gardens. Before heading out for the evening, invoke Hemingway’s spirit with a mojito ($13.65) on the two-floor rooftop terrace bar, where there’s a small dipping pool to cool your tired feet and panoramic views of the city.
2. Where to Eat
Taste Spain’s organic offerings at the Mama Campo market and restaurant in Chamberí. Opened in January, the grocery component of the space features all organic products, 95 percent of which are sourced from Spain, the majority from within 200 kilometers of Madrid. In addition to sweet treats like organic dark chocolate ($4.77) from nearby Alcalá de Henares and thyme honey ($4.50) from Madrid, shoppers can stock up on organic prepared foods like falafel ($5.79) and Mediterranean quinoa ($5.45), plus organic fruits and vegetables delivered to the market every morning. A few doors down, grab a fresh and local meal at the restaurant, cheerily decorated with dangling pendant lights and blond and red chairs and tables. Start with Salmorejo ($10.23), a chilled, creamy soup of puréed tomatoes, bread, garlic and vinegar, typical of Andalusia, followed by Butifarra (a Spanish sausage from Catalonia) with roasted potatoes and chimichurri ($18.41).
Sample the new wave of Spanish cuisine at the El Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience on the ninth floor of the eponymous shopping center in Plaza Callao. This gastronomic theme park features ten pop-up versions of international chains and local businesses. Start at the oh-so-Spanish La Máquina for a classic calamari sandwich ($6.25), then stop by Asadores Imanol, a Navarran restaurant from the north, for pinxtos (small bites of food served skewered to a piece of toasted bread). Madrid’s trendier restaurants are represented at Pizza al Cuadrado (try the pesto and pine-nut pizza, from $4.90) and StreetXO, a new Asian fusion street food spot by chef David Muñoz of Michelin-starred DiverXO (go for the chili crab and chipotle teamed Chinese bun, $16.40) of three Michelin-starred restaurant DixerXO. End your culinary marathon with a scoop of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Italian ice cream at Amorino (from $4.20), while watching the sunset over Madrid on the open terrace.
Dive into the inventive dining format at Restaurante TriCiclo, one of the newest eateries in the Barrio de las Letras. The seasonal menu is divided into three categories, the first offering fresh market products (“Del Mercado a TriCiclo”); the second a walk through traditional Spanish gastronomy (“Un paseo en TriCiclo”); and the last a journey through cuisines of the world, curated by the TriCiclo team (“Un viaje de TriCiclo”). Take a tour through the spring menu categories, starting with strawberries, tomatoes, and basil with mascarpone ($8.20) and white and green asparagus in a cod and garlic sauce (from $8.20) from the Mercado menu; a salad of green beans, cured beef, and foie gras with garlic (from $7.50) from the Paseo menu; and end with sardine focaccia with Burrata cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and herbs (from $6.15) and an order of prawns with shiso and mango (from $4.75) from the Viaje menu.
3. What to Do
Ride into coffee house culture (literally) at Bicicleta Cycling Café & Workplace, on the edge of Plaza de San Ildefonso in the hipster hood of Malasaña. As if the name could suggest otherwise, the main focus here is cycling and great coffee, but it is one of the few coffee shops in Madrid where guests are encouraged to stay and work, indicated by the multitude of electrical outlets (a rarity in any Madrid establishment), communal tables, and vintage oversize velvet chairs. For maximum productivity, head to the quieter basement level (where you can also store your bike) and sit at a private table with your laptop and a Cafe Bombón ($2.50) — a shot of espresso with condensed milk. Check out the bike décor on both floors (from bikes suspended from the ceiling to mounted bike seats and handle bars that look oddly like mounted animal heads), and spruce up your own set of wheels in the DIY bike corner, where a shiny red box of tools awaits to help cyclists change a tire or chain. Don’t have wheels on hand? Cycling aficionados can still show their pride by purchasing jewelry at the café made from recycled bike parts, like painted bike chain bracelets ($15.00) and earrings ($6.82).
Dive into the burgeoning Madrid fashion scene at SINCLONNISON, a bespoke clothing and accessories boutique located in the heart of Malasaña. The name of the shop is a play on the Spanish phrase “sin clon ni son,” loosely translated to “one of a kind.” The main floor houses smart threads and accessories from European designers for men and women, like wood-carved sunglasses from France’s Waiting for the Sun (from $195), handmade plimsoll shoes from Spanish company Maians (from $76.50), and lush leather handbags ($109) and shoes ($218) from Danish-Dutch brand Royal Repuliq. Purchases in tow, treat yourself to a Madrilenian manicure at Beautyque Nail Bar, a high-end boutique meets nail salon and spa. Splurge for the “Manicura New York” ($44.60), a traditional manicure with shellac, and let the talented manicurist choose a funky nail art design. While your nails dry, unwind with an anti-aging White Tea facial ($83.50) followed by a glass of wine in the hidden spa rooms in the back of the salon.
Hang with the intellectual cool kids at La Central de Callao, an 80,000-volume, multilingual book store in a former 19th century palace. Start on the first floor in “the Football Inn,” a dedicated room for sports books (mainly soccer) with its own foosball table. Even if schooldays are far behind you, be sure to visit the children’s section on the first floor—it’s located in the former chapel of the palace, complete with a rotunda skylight and ceiling frescos of Biblical scenes. If you can’t find anything to read, keep your brain active by hunting for the names of authors in the word search puzzle on the walls of the central staircase. Stop by on weekend nights, when you can have a caña (small beer, $4.75) and listen to a book reading or live music in El Garito, the cavernous, exposed brick cocktail bar, located in the former crypt of the palace.
4. Insider’s Tip
Madrid boasts some of the most renowned performance houses on the continent, but you don’t have to drop a mint to get your culture fix. Microteatro por Dinero, in Malasaña, offers back-to-back 15-minute theatrical “micro works” to a maximum of 15 viewers in a 15-meter room for the approachable price of 4 euros ($5.55) a show. From Tuesday to Sunday every month, up-and-coming actors, writers, and directors showcase new projects in one of five salas (rooms) on the basement level of the space. Beat the weekend rush and reserve your ticket online for a three-pack of shows, only available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Arrive early for a pre-theater drink at the bar, where you’re more than likely to run into one of the artists mellowing out before their performance.
5. Oddball Day
You’ve explored the new Madrid; now it’s time to head to a Spanish town where time has seemingly stood still. Start your day around 10 a.m. (early by Madrid standards), hopping a bus ($5.00) from the Conde de Casal metro station for the 45-minute ride to Chinchón, an old-world town south of Madrid. After arriving, make your way to the crown jewel of Chinchón: its medieval Plaza Mayor, considered one of the most distinctive and beautiful in the world because of its round shape and gravel ground, perfect for its occasional use as a bullfighting ring. Surrounded by three to four levels of homes and restaurants with running balconies, the Plaza has been the site of monarchy visits, Holy Week processions, and reenactments, Carnival celebrations, and food festivals for the past 600 years. Although breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day in Spain, don’t skip out on Chinchón’s artisanal sweets: pick up hornazo de Pascua (fried dough filled with sweet cream covered in sugar, $2.75) with a café con leche at La Dulcería de Chinchón. Walk off the sweets with a northward stroll to the Torre del Reloj for a splendid view of town—the tower is the only remaining part of the 14th century Iglesia Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de Gracia that was destroyed during the War of Independence. Heading back south, take a 25-minute stroll across town to the ruins of the 15th century Castillo de los Condes. Hunker down for a long lunch at Mesón Quiñones Cuevas del Murciélago. Before sitting down to eat, tour the wine caves below the restaurant, dating to the 18th century, and sip 1 euro ($1.40) house copas de vino tinto in your souvenir clay cup. Then make like a true Spaniard with a sizable lunch, starting with grilled Chorizo ($6.25) and traditional Sopa de Cocido (a clear-broth soup of meats, sausage, potatoes, chickpeas, garlic, and onions, $6.95) followed by stewed Cod with tomatoes ($15.75). Walk off lunch with a visit to the Teatro de Lope de Vega, named for the Spanish playwright who wrote his comedy El Blason de los Chaves de Villalba when he was staying in the palace with the Counts of Chinchón. Catch the bus back to Madrid from the Plaza Mayor where buses depart at least once an hour on the weekends, dropping travelers off at the Conde de Casal metro station. Stroll back to the Plaza Mayor and enjoy a copa of the famed Chinchón anís ($2.30) while watching the sunset on the terrace of Arco de Goya before heading to the bus back to Madrid.
Get personalized and thoroughly tested tips on everything from shops and restaurants to exercise classes from the mysterious local resident behind the My Little Madrid blog (her guidebook My Little Madrid is available at La Central de Callao).
Find a deeper understanding of Madrilenian culture and explore life in Madrid as an expat with Vaya Madrid.
Save some cash with the free and nearly free activity suggestions, from concerts and museum expositions to Spanish classes, on Cheap in Madrid.