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Madrid Travel Guide

About Madrid

Energetic, cosmopolitan and creative, Madrid has all the features of a modern European capital. At the same time, the legacy of its rich and complex history (once the centre of the Spanish Empire and dominated by the Catholic monarchs) is visible everywhere. There’s the enormous cathedral, the Royal Palace, and countless historic buildings full of pomp and circumstance.

Apart from being Spain’s financial and political hub, Madrid is an art haven, especially within the city’s Golden Triangle of Art. The Prado features Spanish greats; modern art can be found in Reina Sofía; and the Thyssen-Bornemisza hosts world-class exhibitions.

There are also plenty of contrasts, from the labyrinthine streets of the medieval quarter to the wide boulevards of the 18th and 19th centuries. Meanwhile, downtown barrios have transformed in recent years, with boutiques, bars and galleries popping up. Take a drink here on one of the outdoor terraces and watch the world go by.

Tourists tend to stick to the central area between the Palacio Real and the Puerta del Sol, but each of Madrid’s neighbourhoods is distinctive – Lavapiés, Malasaña and Chueca being the most hip. At the northern end of Paseo de la Castellana are the ‘leaning towers’ of the Puerta de Europa, while down from the Plaza Mayor is the district of La Latina, where hip new cafés sit alongside traditional bars.

When it comes to nightlife, the city boasts the largest number of bars per capita in Europe, with Madrileños known to party ’til dawn. Apart from the superb tapas joints and clubs, there are thrilling flamenco shows to be found in the centre.

When you want to escape the urban bustle, the expansive El Retiro park offers a peaceful retreat with shaded woods and a glassy lake. Otherwise, head to Madrid Río, a 10km-long (6 miles) spread of pedestrian and biking paths complete with an orchard, historical monuments and even its own beach. The project has rejuvenated the riverfront and shown what can be done in spite of Spain’s economic difficulties. Madrid is a city looking forwards, with new ideas and renewed spirit.

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Featured Hotels


Vincci Soma

The location is one of the main attractions of this 170-room boutique hotel in Madrid, opposite Goya Metro station in the upmarket Salamanca district, 1km (0.6 miles) from Retiro Park and the chic shops of Calle Serrano. There are a few forays into the realm of luxury service, with a pillow menu and a book delivery service. The restaurant serves creative Mediterranean dishes.

Hotel Trafalgar

Less than 10 minutes from the centre of town by metro (Iglesia or Bilbao), the Trafalgar is a modern hotel that is popular with both tourists and businesspeople. It lies in a residential neighbourhood, well provided with shops, restaurants and other amenities. The 48 en-suite rooms, while unexceptional, are air-conditioned and have direct-dial telephones and TV. There is also a laundry service and currency exchange. The English-speaking staff are friendly and helpful.

Hotel Paris

One of the popular cheap options in Madrid’s Puerta de Alcalá area, Hotel Paris' 120 rooms are surprisingly spacious, decorated in classic style – this was one of the first luxury hotels in Madrid at the start of the 20th century. It was only when the Ritz was established in 1910 that it was relegated to a more modest category. Its main attraction is its location, right on the Puerta del Sol, with the main cultural stops right on its doorstep.

Hotel Unico

Despite the name, this five-star property in the heart of Madrid's most affluent neighbourhood, Salamanca, is not exactly unique – at least in terms of interior design. But based in a 19th-century palace, it is smart and elegant, with numerous luxurious touches such as the coffee machine in the rooms, the ground-floor garden that manages to block out the noise of the city and the staff who deliver complimentary chocolates and water to your room in the afternoon. Breakfast in the aforementioned garden is an extravagant affair, with fresh-baked pastries, Iberico ham, fine cheese and eggs to order.

The Principal

Concealed behind a palatial facade, The Principal is situated on the corner of one of Madrid's most important streets, Gran Vía. The entrance, reception and dining area are handsomely decorated, with portraits of aristocrats and fine wooden furnishings conjuring 19th century grandeur. Rooms are stylish without being ostentatious; expect carpeted floors and elegant but simple furniture. Ask for a room overlooking Gran Vía for terrific views over the city, or you can always pop up to the roof terrace for a drink.

Hesperia Madrid

Looming over the grandest boulevard in Madrid, Hesperia is a haven from the rush and frenzy of the capital city sprawling beyond its doors. The lobby and dining area are enormous, which means finding a quiet corner of your own is easy. The rooms are large too, many of them with separate lounge and sleeping areas, and all furnished with warm tones and classic woodwork. Book a room with a view of Paseo de la Castellana, the noise of which is inaudible thanks to triple-glazed windows.