Often overlooked for its seaside sister Barcelona, Madrid is Spain’s true heart centre. A bustling big town filled with art, architecture and food to rival the world’s best, it’s a place to work hard, play harder. With a culture that does everything late into the evening, once business is done for the day there’s still plenty of time left to explore the city.
Where to Eat
Madrid has significantly lifted its gourmet cuisine game in recent years. It’s still home to an abundance of classic tapas bars where with a drink order you’re gifted a plate piled high with potatas bravas, jamon baguettes, Spanish omelette or something else equally hearty. If traditional Spanish tapas are what you’re after, head to the beautiful glass-domed Mercado de San Miguel, just off Plaza Mayor. Vendors serve up all manner of tapas and wine in a vibrant market setting. There are also fresh cafes not unlike those you’d find in Paris, the only Michelin starred Mexican restaurant in the world, and a much-needed boost in more restaurants serving Asian cuisine.
If your trip is planned well in advance, try to get a table at Botin, officially the world’s oldest restaurant, in operation since 1725. The signature dishes are hearty, including roast lamb and suckling pig, accompanied by an impressive cellar.
Cafe Murillo is a classic European cafe that serves well for a quick coffee meeting, however its location by the Prado Museum is perhaps better suited to a long indulgent lunch. Go for the seared tuna, steak or hamburger.
Madrid’s traditional Casa de Comida restaurants are few and far between these days, but those that are left are an excellent option for their bargain set lunch menus. La Sanabresa, in the Las Letras neighbourhood near the museums has an excellent, no nonsense menu, of course accompanied by wine.
Where to Stay
If you’re looking for a stylish, sophisticated place to stay that’s away from the tourist traffic, Hotel Unico Madrid is worth a look-in. In the exclusive Salamanca district, it’s inside an elegant 19th century building and the design is certainly statement. One of Spain’s best restaurants, Ramon Freixa is onsite, along with a secluded garden that’s something of an oasis from the buzzing city centre.
Most business in Madrid takes place in the business district north of the city centre. The NH Collection Madrid Eurobuilding is in the heart of this area, making it popular for business travellers. Following a refurbishment in 2014, the hotel is filled with designer decor, modern technology and great facilities like a huge gym, spa and pool. It’s also a short cab ride from the airport, and service is fast and efficient.
Where to Play
A huge part of leisure in Madrid is spent sipping a drink with a plate of tapas on a terrace. Another huge part is art. The impressive Prado Museum is a short walk from the city centre, and houses one of the world’s finest collections of European art. If you like your art a little more modern, the Reina Sofia houses 20th century art, including multiple works by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali.
The Royal Palace, Opera House and Plaza Mayor are all worth a visit for their architectural significance, while in the streets leading off Plaza Mayor, you’ll find quirky tapas bars and boutiques in the La Latina and Las Letras districts.
For a dose of fresh air, you’ll do well to wander the manicured gardens of El Retiro, or head to the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple that looks west over the original royal hunting grounds; a gorgeous spot for a Madrid sunset.
If you’re in town on a weekend, Sunday mornings should be spent at El Rastro market in La Latina, where you’ll find everything from Madrid’s best tostada sandwiches to antiques stores. For a bigger spot of shopping, the Chueca and Malasana districts are also home to unique boutiques along with restaurants and bars.