Spain's capital is a vibrant cultural and financial hub with a plethora of urban parks, imposing avenues and renowned museums. Yet despite Madrid's cosmopolitan flair and social diversity, there is something unique in the city's ability to stay authentic.
The heart of Spain's capital is Puerta del Sol, a buzzing square nestled between the old-world streets of El Madrid de los Austrias and the lively literary district of Huertas. Gran Vía, an avenue known for its shops and theatres, crosses the city centre just north of Sol. Beyond it stand the trendy neighbourhoods of Malasaña, Chueca and Alonso Martínez.
The financial district revolves around Paseo de la Castellana, a main artery in the upper northeast. South of the city centre lies the multicultural Lavapiés, strategically located close to Atocha, Madrid's main railway station. Head east past the boulevards of Paseo del Prado and you'll find Salamanca, the city's fashion district, and Retiro, home to the city's main urban park.
Madrid's main attractions
A stroll in the heart of Madrid will take you by most of the city's top attractions. Starting at the arcaded Plaza Mayor square, head east to Puerta del Sol and continue down Calle de Alcalá to Plaza de Cibeles. This majestic fountain overlooks Madrid's most emblematic streets and monuments, including Puerta de Alcalá, a monumental gate guarding the main entrance to Buen Retiro Park.
Madrid is also home to several prestigious museums, most of which can be found in the arts district that spreads around Paseo del Prado. You can admire renowned masterpieces at the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and explore the contemporary art scene in private galleries sprinkled along the streets of the nearby Lavapiés district.
The concierge recommends…
- Contemplating the sunset at Templo de Debod, an authentic Egyptian temple built over 2,000 years ago and brought to the city in 1972.
- Finding anything from vintage comic books to antique furniture at El Rastro, Madrid's buzzing open-air Sunday flea market.
- Enjoying a night of tapas and drinks in La Latina, a lively neighbourhood packed with bars and taverns.
- Shopping for designer brands in chic boutiques along the Golden Mile in the posh Salamanca district.
- Touring the Santiago Bernabéustadium, home to the city's famous football team, Real Madrid.
Hotels in Madrid
Like most European capitals, Madrid offers accommodation for every kind of traveller. Visitors looking to see the sights should stay near Gran Vía
, a lively central avenue lined with shops, theatres and restaurants.
For a peaceful family-friendly environment, check out the Las Acacias
area, located south of the city centre and close to both La Latina
nightlifeand the Vicente Calderón
Coming for business? You'll find a wide array of options close to Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu
stadium, next to Paseo de la Castellana,
the main artery of the city's financial district. If you're planning on visiting IFEMA
,Madrid's international exhibition centre, try booking a hotel in the nearby town of Barajas
Madrid is well connected to its suburbs by both metro and train. You'll find plenty of budget options in quieter towns like Getafe
, a short ride away from the city centre.
Eating Out in Madrid
Spaniards love to eat out and, for the most part, they will make it a social affair. Perhaps this explains the incredible number of bars and restaurants that line Madrid's streets.
Although Madrileños take pride in their own traditional dishes, Spain's capital is a melting pot of regional cuisines. In the side streets around Puerta del Sol
you will find anything from Basque pintxos
– the more elaborate bite-sized rendition of a tapa – to sidrerías
serving cider from the Spanish region of Asturias.
In the old streets of La Latina
, bustling on weekend nights and Sunday mornings, visitors will find centuries-old taverns serving some of the city's signature dishes. If you're looking for trendy cafés, international cuisine and hip bars, head out to the vibrant Malasaña
or explore the multicultural neighbourhood of Lavapiés.
For a complete gourmet experience, don't miss up-and-coming gastro-markets like Mercado de San Miguel
, situated by Plaza Mayor
square, or Mercado de San Antón
, in the bustling gay hub of Chueca
The chef recommends...
- Cocido madrileño: This traditional stew is served in three stages. First comes the caldo, or soup with thin noodles, followed by a plate with vegetables, potatoes and chickpeas. Last but not least, the meat platter.
- Chocolate con churros: Visitors with a sweet tooth can't leave without experiencing a true merienda, or afternoon snack: dipping fried-dough churros in creamy, rich hot chocolate.
- Bocadillo de calamares: Although Madrid is not on the coast, they claim the country's best seafood is served here. Perhaps that's why this is the city's signature sandwich: fried calamari on Spanish bread.
Shopping in Madrid
Madrid is undoubtedly one of the fashion capitals of Europe. Whether you're looking for designer purses, trend-setting garments or Real Madrid's latest jersey, the city's myriad shops and boutiques will exceed your expectations.
The area around Puerta del Sol
displays the greatest variety of shopping opportunities. Travellers searching for luxury can't miss the Golden Mile
in the Salamanca
district, home to the most exclusive shops in town.
Although most of Madrid's larger shopping malls can be found in neighbouring suburbs, you'll find several urban malls in Nuevos Ministerios
in the financial district.
Unique shopping experiences in Madrid
- El Rastro: Every Sunday morning, this outdoor flea market attracts locals and tourists with its colourful array of stalls selling anything from handmade leather purses to hardware goods. On the side streets, visitors haggle for antique furniture, vintage vinyl albums and used books.
- Mercado de Motores: Set among classic locomotives in the Madrid Railway Museum, this up-and-coming flea market offers open-air terraces, live music and food stalls. It is open on the second weekend of every month.
- Mercado de San Fernando: Don't miss your chance to stop by one of Madrid's trendiest markets. Buy books by the kilo, admire colourful fresh produce or enjoy a vermouth while you observe the lively scene around you.
Culture & Nightlife in Madrid
Art lovers should set their sights on the area that runs from central Atocha Station
to Plaza de Cibeles.
Known as the Paseo del Arte
, or Art Walk, it is home to renowned museums such as the Museo Nacional del Prado
, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Madrid is also buzzing with contemporary art galleries. Some are nestled in the luxurious Salamanca district
, while others stand between Alonso Martínez
Calle Doctor Fourquet, in the multicultural Lavapiés,
also boasts some of the city's most innovative galleries.
Madrid's high culture revolves around the Teatro Real
, the capital's opera house, located within walking distance of Puerta del Sol
in the city centre. Visitors looking for a night of flamenco will find shows in classic tablaos
(flamenco bars) such as Corral de la Morería
, in La Latina
, or Casa Patas
, just off Calle Atocha
Madrid's top nightlife districts
- Malasaña: This trendy downtown area combines iconic '80s bars with hip cafés. If you're looking for the indie scene, this is your place.
- Las Letras: Enjoy live jazz, savour a contemporary gin and tonic or indulge in drinks al fresco in Madrid's literary quarter.
- Salamanca: For a luxurious rendezvous, try this posh neighbourhood offering exclusive discos and glamorous bars.
- Gran Vía: In the heart of the city, this main drag offers all kinds of entertainment, from Broadway musicals to cocktail bars and Irish pubs hosting live music.
Visiting Madrid with a Family
Spain's capital has something for every traveller, including the younger ones. Most hotels and restaurants are family-friendly, and many neighbourhoods have public playgrounds. The city is also packed with parks and museums fit for all ages.
Given Madrid's sunny weather, locals flock to Retiro Park
on weekends, the perfect place for a family outing. For extra fun, you can rent all kinds of bikes on the bordering street of Menéndez Pelayo
or enjoy free puppet theatre
on Saturdays and Sundays.
Looking for a day of sheer excitement? Don't miss the Warner Brothers Theme Park
in San Martín de la Vega
, 33 km south of Madrid. It offers restaurants, shows, over 40 rides and a water park with a beach area.
Football fans of all ages should catch a live game at one of Madrid's three Spanish La Liga stadiums: Real Madrid's iconic Santiago Bernabéu,
Atlético de Madrid's Vicente Calderón
and local underdog Rayo Vallecano's Estadio de Vallecas.
Family-friendly museums in Madrid
- CaixaForum: This cultural centre with a stunning vertical garden facade hosts family-friendly exhibits and organises workshops and shows for children.
- Museo del Ferrocarril: Explore a turn-of-the-century train station and hop on board classic locomotives at Madrid's Railway Museum.
- Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales: Kids love dinosaurs, so why not take them on a journey through the evolution of our planet in Madrid's natural history museum?