Heading to Madrid? We’ve got the low-down on how to experience Spain’s capital like a local
Where to sleep
Madrid has a fantastic selection of places to stay, ranging from chic city crash-pads to hotels in some of the city’s oldest buildings. One of the best boutique options is the Urso Hotel & Spa, a favourite hangout of Madrid’s beautiful people. Base yourself here and you’ll have easy access to the capital’s coolest neighbourhoods, including Alonso Martínez, where the hotel’s located, and nearby Malasaña, one of the city’s trendiest districts. For a hotel with history, check into the NH Collection Palacio de Tepa, which you’ll find tucked into a nineteenth-century palace on the cobbled Barrio de las Letras.
Where to eat and drink
Madrid’s culinary scene is incredibly diverse. You’ll find everything from award-winning sushi bars to tiny family-run restaurants serving up dishes based on recipes which have been in the family for generations. But no visitor should leave without trying some of Madrid’s most famous delicacies, and you’ll find many of them at El Lando, a castizo (meaning authentic) restaurant on Plaza de Gabriel Miró. “Their lamb chops are incredible, as is the callos a la Madrileña and the steak tartar,” reveals local foodie Julio Portillo of Only YOU Hotels. “And after lunch you can pop over to nearby Corral de la Moreria for a Flamenco show.”
According to Julio, two dishes all visitors should try are ensaladilla rusa (potato salad) and croquetas (fried rolls containing ingredients like fish or cheese). “They’re typical dishes from the region,” he explains. “The best place to enjoy them is the Malasaña neighbourhood.” Another popular speciality is cocido madrilène, a traditional stew. “You can't leave the city without trying a cocido madrilène!” says Sara Alcazar, guest services officer Hyatt Centric Gran Via. “It’s the most authentic Madrilenian dish!”
Where to relax
Madrid is filled with parks, which is why locals spend so much time outdoors. “It’s an amazing city to walk around,” says Julio Portillo. “Get lost in areas like Chueca, Malasaña, Opera and Palacio. They’re neighbourhoods which are full of life and have amazing little bars and restaurants which will give you a taste of the city. And if you’re a morning person, start the day by going for a walk in El Retiro Park and through Barrio de Las Letras, headings towards the city centre, stopping off for tapas in one of the local bars.”
We also recommend a wander around the city’s biggest flea market. “Matadero de Madrid, which can be found inside an old slaughterhouse, is a huge complex dedicated to art and contemporary culture,” reveals Elena Seoane at the Radisson Blu Hotel Madrid Prado. “There are exhibitions, plays and films, and in summer, regular concerts and festivals. It’s not very touristy, either.”
Finally, consider squeezing a visit to Lavapiés, otherwise known as the city’s most laidback neighbourhood. “It’s a district located right next to our museum,” says Rosario Peiró, head of collections at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (try saying that after a pitcher of Sangria). “It’s a very culturally diverse area, filled with galleries and so-called library cafés, themed around various literary trends.”
Where to shop
Nothing beats a rummage through a flea market and Madrid has one of the best. “El Rastro is a huge flea market which takes place every Sunday,” reveals Juan M García, sales and revenue manager at Madrid-based One Shot Hotels. “But go before 10.30am, because after that time it’s packed.” If chain stores don’t do it for you, make a beeline for Madrid’s fantastic boutiques. “I like the small, independent clothes stores in Conde Duque and Malasaña,” says Juan M García. “You’ll find unique designs and the staff are really friendly. And If you’re looking for shoes, Calle Augusto Figueroa has some great stores.” When it comes to those all-important souvenirs, we’ve got a soft spot for the San Antón Market in the Chueca neighbourhood, where you can pick up Spanish sweets and bottles of locally-made olive oil before heading to the wine bar on the second floor. For something truly unique, head to Curiosite on Calle Corredera Alta de San Pablo, where you’ll find mouse mats adorned with images of paella and cushions shaped like legs of Iberian ham.
Where to get a culture fix
Whether you’re in mood for a flamenco show, the theatre or a spot of opera, Madrid’s got it all. The city’s also got some of Europe’s spectacular churches, including the baroque San Isidro Collegiate Church, which dates back to the seventeenth century and was once Madrid’s main cathedral. The city has some fantastic galleries too, but if you’re short on time, consider downloading the tourist board’s brilliant Essential Art Walk App, created to help visitors find the city’s 24 most famous masterpieces. Art lovers should also visit the Museo Del Prado. “It’s my favourite museum,” reveals Sara Alcazar at the Hyatt Centric Gran Via. “You can find some of Spain’s most iconic pieces of art there.” For something more modern, consider the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. “I love the surrealism and pop art works,” says Juan M García. Incidentally, Paseo del Arte has the highest concentration of museums and galleries. In the space of just kilometre, you’ll find the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, the Naval Museum and the Royal Botanic Gardens.
“Spring is the most amazing time to visit Madrid,” says Sara Alcazar. “In May the weather is amazing - not too hot or cold. The sun is shining until 9:30pm, and the city looks amazing.”
“Don´t forget to step on Kilometro 0,” says Juan M García. “It’s a famous tile on Puerta del Sol which marks the starting point of all roads in Spain.”
“Stay away from the restaurants in touristy areas such as Plaza Mayor or Mercado San Miguel,” suggests Julio Portillo. “It’s good to visit these areas but I wouldn’t recommend eating there - the food isn’t authentically Spanish.”
“Don´t be afraid to talk to locals,” urges Juan M García. “It’s a very friendly and welcoming city. And don’t miss the opportunity to take a few minute to relax near the pond in front of the Palacio de Cristal in the Retiro Park.”