The Spanish capital, a vibrant city well known in Spain for being “castiza” or let’s just say, a city that until now was not as international or cosmopolitan as Mediterranean Barcelona. I lived in Madrid while I was a student at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and since then, the city has changed a lot and for the better.Just like in London in the last decade, I was surprised by the amount of luxury hotels, shops and restaurants opening everywhere. The city is no doubt modern, welcoming and forward thinking.
The Salamanca district
For the first part of our stay, we stayed in a Boutique Hotel in the upscale Salamanca district. For many, this is the best part of town. It is not as busy as Gran Via or Callao and there are many upmarket shops and restaurants. The area is not touristy and it is close to main attractions in the city. Our hotel, the Barceló Emperatriz, was in a quiet street off the Paseo de la Castellana and we got there by tube , Gregorio Marañon was only a 5 mins walk. You can read my full review of this quaint boutique hotel here if you are looking for a stylish place to stay.
From the hotel we walked to the Lázaro Galdiano museum, which has one of the best art collections in the city, and the charming Sorolla museum. Football fans can also walk to the world renowned Santiago Bernabéu stadium in about 5 minutes.
Calle Serrano and its surrounding streets
Stroll along the “Golden Mile” (la Milla de Oro) which is made up of well know streets, José Ortega y Gasset, Claudio Coello and Serrano.In this part of town, there are plenty of top notch restaurants and if you have the budget, enjoy shopping at its many luxury retail stores; Gucci, Loewe, Dior, Celine, Carolina Herrera, Saint Laurent, Adolfo Domínguez or Hannibal Laguna amongst many others are all located here. For something a bit more budget friendly and charming, wander through the small boutiques located on Argensola, Barquillo and Almirante streets.
Plaza de Colón
Plaza Colón commemorates Cristobal Colón and the discovery of América, it features the Jardines del Descubrimiento (Gardens of Discovery) and the world’s largest Spanish flag (294 m2). Walk all the way down Plaza de Colón towards Puerta de Alcalá , another Madrid landmark , and from there enjoy a nice stroll in the beautiful Retiro Park. On your way to Puerta de Alcalá you will pass by Casa América which is set in the 19th century Palacio de Linares in the emblematic Plaza de Cibeles.
Bilbao and Plaza dos de Mayo in Malasaña
From Plaza Colón, take bus 21 from nearby calle Goya and head to Bilbao for a nice stroll. Stop for a drink at the iconic bar Comercial and walk towards Plaza dos de Mayo in the heart of Malasaña, Madrid’s hippest neighbourhood. This square is trendy and lively, so take a seat, savour the coffee and enjoy people watching. It is popular on Sundays for brunch so get there early to make sure you get a table as if sunny, it gets very busy. I was there with my toddler and was thankful for the many playgrounds for kids in the square. If it is in style, you will surely find it in Malasaña so do walk around and get lost wandering these streets.
Gran Via, Callao District
This is the heart of Madrid, Gran via is also known as the Spanish boulevard and it is like the Oxford Street of the Spanish capital only that with more -and better- restaurants, bars and theatres.It is busy pretty much all day as this is a non stop 24 hour street. Retail stores were open until 10pm even on a Sunday so you can defo shop till you drop here¡
We stayed at the modern and newly opened Hyatt Centric Gran Via Madrid , an impressive art deco 10 storey building with a wonderful terrace open from end of the spring till autumn and from where you can enjoy wonderful views to the Gran via.If you want to read more about this hotel, I’ve written a review for a travel magazine here.
From Gran via you can also pretty much walk everywhere , here are a few options:
Mercado de San Miguel
A gastronomic and foodie temple situated in the old centre of Madrid (Madrid de los Austrias). You will enjoy the best of Spanish Tapas, including Ibérico ham, the freshest seafood from Galicia and the best Mediterranean rices amongst many other specialities from other countries such as Tacos from Mexico or fresh Mozzarella from Italy.
This large square is situated at the Western end of the Gran Via and it features a monument to El Quijote writer, Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra. From here you can easily walk to Opera and the Palacio Real and have a break at the chilled Jardines de Sabatini. By Plaza de España you can take the lift to the roof terrace of Ginkgo Restaurant & Sky bar to enjoy great views of Madrid while having something to eat and drink.
The Golden Triangle of Art
Art lovers paradise as the most representative museums of Madrid and some of the most important museums of the world are right here in this area known as the Golden Triangle. El Prado National Museum has collections of Goya, Velázquez,El Bosco, Tiziano, El Greco, Rubens.No wonder this is consider the most important museum in the world.
For 20th Century works of contemporary art head to the “Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía” where they have “surrealism”, “cubism” and “expressionism”pieces as well as the works of the most famous Spanish artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza offers a collections that if done in chronological order, it gives you a lesson in Western art history, from 13th Century to 20th Century. Between its collections you will find amongst others ,17th-century Dutch painting, Impressionism, German Expressionism, Russian constructivism, geometric abstraction and Pop Art.
While you are in this area, you can pay a visit to the Real Jardín Botánico
The Chueca quarter is in the centre of town, its main hubs are Plaza de Chueca and the streets of Fuencarral and Hortaleza. This is one of the liveliest areas of the city. It starts at Gran Vía and stretches all the way to Chamberí. This area is an example of the freedom and openness of the LGBT community of Madrid and Spanish society. There is always a welcoming and festive vibe with streets that are great for strolling while having a look at the many fashionable shops or enjoy people watching at the many bars, cafés and restaurants.