It’s about time Madrid caught up to Barcelona and Seville, Spanish cities long since lauded for their creativity and prominence. Madrid is the country’s capital and largest city. While it may be late to the party, it’s certainly become the coolest kid there.
Firmly planted in an age of burgeoning creativity, Madrid’s trifecta of excellent national museums, known as the golden triangle of art, include Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and El Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza, have recently added square footage and undergone renovations.
Although much of its architecture was constructed during the 16th and 17th centuries, like the Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol, new boutiques, gastropubs, and cafés pop up weekly.
Madrileños entrust the spirit of the city, traditional yet unpretentious, onto its visitors. Siestas are celebrated daily, but not always with sleep. Commercial galleries have thrust the city’s artists and poets into the limelight.
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Here are some superb places to sleep, eat, drink, shop and experience. Don’t forget to snap along the way!
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel Villa Magna
Paseo de la Castellana, 22
91 587 12 34
Located on a tree-lined boulevard that slices through the chic neighborhood of Salamanca, Hotel Villa Magna is a former royal residence that’s been extensively renovated. The result: marble bathrooms, walk-through closets, and double-glazed windows that fully open to let the cool afternoon breeze pass through. A richly colored stained-glass window follows the spiral staircase up the hotel’s nine floors. Traveling with kids? Hotel Villa Magna offers an extensive kids menu including child-sized bathrobes and coloring books upon request.
The Hat Madrid
Calle Imperial, 9
91 772 85 72
A stone’s throw from Plaza Mayor, Spain’s most famous plaza and a major gathering place, The Hat offers private, shared, female only and large group rooms. Serving as both a design forward hotel and hostel, The Hat scatters its namesake accessory throughout the property. Its rooftop terrace overlooks terracotta roofs and white-walled buildings and does double duty; complimentary breakfast and happy hour cocktails can both be enjoyed there.
WHERE TO EAT
Calle de Génova, 28
91 737 20 17
Even Madrid is eager to cash in on Cuban fever. Walking into Habanera, diners step into an indoor patio, 26-feet high and complete with colonial style façades and vegetal motives as far as the eye can see. Fruit-forward cocktails are garnished with paper umbrellas and tongue-in-cheek names like Ready to Sin? (whiskey and caramelized apple juice), or My Body Craves Salsa (coconut rum with mango puree, an homage to Celia Cruz, a famous salsa dancer). Check out the unisex bathroom where a set of swings provide the perfect Insta-happy setting.
Alex Segre/Alamy Stock Photo
Chocolatería San Ginés
Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5
91 365 65 46
Perfectly warm, smooth but thicker than any hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted, the chocolate con churros at Chocolatería San Ginés attract tourists and locals alike. Nestled in a delightfully classic European alleyway, the Chocolatería has been making its chocolate and churros since 1894. By its estimate that’s 5.4 million cups of chocolate. Open day and night, every day, there’s always time to stop in for a cup.
courtesy El Corte Ingles
Calle de Serrano, 52
91 531 98 84
Mohawk-sporting, wooden-earring wearing, three-star Michelin chef David Muñoz has described his restaurant, StreetXO, as the "Cirque du Soleil of gastronomy.” Fish look like beets, drinks gurgle and steam as ingredients are added, mushrooms taste like cucumbers. StreetXO is Muñoz’s follow-up to DiverXO, where reservations are infamously impossible to score. StreetXO is egalitarian; queue in line and eat at the bar.
WHERE TO DRINK
Calle de Caracas, 10
91 378 75 12
A sweet cream pink, turquoise, and lemon yellow driftwood wall gives this casual spot some welcome pops of color. Whether it’s coffee you crave, or a bottle of rosé, El Columpio provides a relaxed vibe, traditional bites (the house-made croquetas are not to be missed) and a neighborhood feel. Family-style tables and plush booths encourage visitors to linger, both day and night.
courtesy Azotea del Circulo
Tartan Roof Bar
Calle Marqués de Casa Riera, 2
91 530 17 61
Drink in a sunset with your Tempranillo. Perched atop the Círculo de Bellas Artes (the Fine Arts Building), this rooftop bar has uninterrupted views of the undulating rooftops and green parks of Madrid. For visitors without a dinner reservation, expect to pay a three euro cover charge, a small fee that’s well worth the atmosphere. Bonus: The roof is equipped with misters to keep you cool during the warmer months.
WHERE TO SHOP
Dorling Kindersley ltd/Alamy Stock Photo
Calle Toledo, 18
91 366 54 50
Although hundreds of stores throughout Madrid sell espadrilles, rope-soled brightly colored cotton shoes that are the must-have summer European fashion accessory, there is only one Casa Hernanz. It’s not uncommon for the line to snake up the block, but once you’re inside, the long, worn, wooden counter, which dates back to the 19th century, welcomes you like a friendly arm. Floor-to-ceiling cases hold the Hernanz family wares, from the basic laborer loafer to platforms and bejeweled designs. They’ve been in business for five generations and continue to make their espadrilles by hand.
courtesy El Corte Ingles
El Corte Inglés
Calle de Serrano, 47 (woman's shop); Calle de Serrano, 52 (men's shop)
90 222 44 11
Although it may have its roots in a tiny tailor shop that opened its doors in 1940, today El Corte Inglés is Spain’s national shopping treasure and the largest department store chain in Europe. Imagine if Bergdorf Goodman, Dean & Deluca, and Target came together under one roof. Luxury brands like Loewe and Chanel have their own shop in shops just a few floors down from bedding, textiles, and a comprehensive denim bar. There’s a chilled wine cellar in the basement of its flagship on Paseo de la Castellana and to celebrate its 75th anniversary, El Corte Inglés recently launched two new shops in Madrid—one for men and another for women—which feature more edited options of local and international brands alike.
WHAT TO DO
Joaquín Cortés/Román Lores
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Calle de Santa Isabel, 52
91 774 10 00
Pablo Picasso’s 1937 mural-sized oil painting, Guernica, is just one of the roughly 21,000 works in the Reina Sofía permanent collection. Dedicated to art from around the world, with a focus on Spanish art, the museum is partially housed in the Sabatini Building, a former hospital constructed during the reign of King Carlos III. Fancy a gander but don’t like admission fees? Just across the road in El Retiro Park sit the aptly-named glass and wrought iron Palacio de Cristal, and the red brick and tile Palacio de Velázquez–both of which are free to visit.