A Guide to Madrid
The Spanish American author of Wildchilds, Eugenia Melian shares her top tips to make the most of your trip to Madrid. Read the story to discover the spots to shop, stay and see.
Image: Tour de Lust
It took some time for me to fall in love with Madrid after having lived in Paris for two decades. Now, I wouldn’t trade this city for any other in the world.
Madrid is a mysterious place, one of hidden delights, textures and contrasts. It is surprising, authentic, folkloric, romantic, passionate, traditional, bold and poetic. When visiting Madrid one must go in search of it's beat, get lost in its alleys, give up resisting its crazy hours and embrace the pace. More than a series of sights, Madrid is a lifestyle. ‘Quality of life’ is what defines this capital where nothing is more important than having a good day. Madrid embraces genuine tradition and its Castizo culture, a defining trait of the people of this city since the late 19th century. Madrid is a unique mix of past and present, classic and modern, enjoyed with the pride that the madrileños show towards their city and their way of life.
Image: The Slow Pace/Only YOU boutique hotel
Image: courtesy of Hotel Urso
The Hidden Hotels
Hotel Urso: A five-star boutique hotel in the heart of the city. An oasis of peace, discreet and elegant, Hotel Urso is situated between the lively and hip barrios of Chueca and Malasaña. The hotel offers an excellent wine bar and spa. Book Now
Only YOU: A buzzy hotel in the Chueca and Salesas barrio. This boutique hotel is heavy on modern design but cozy, occupying a 19th century building in the heart of the city. It offers a spa as well as various lounges, meeting areas, a bar and a restaurant. Book Now
Where to Eat
Malacatin - Calle La Ruda 5, La Latina: This cozy tavern has been around since 1893 serving castizo home-cooking with excellent produce. Have tapas at the counter or at a table at the front. For a taste of its famous cocido or Madrid winter stew, book a table at the back.
El Landó - Plaza Gabriel Miró 8, Centro: My favorite Madrid restaurant. El Landó serves traditional Castilian cuisine with superb quality produce. As you sit down you are offered their thinly sliced tomato salad: a must. Try their emblematic dish of huevos rotos, or smashed fried eggs with ham on a bed of fries. Other favorites are their grilled steaks, baked sea-bass, lamb sweetbreads and steamed coquina shells. The house wine is perfect and affordable and their rice pudding is indispensable. The service is impeccably done by seasoned pros in white jackets. Everything about this place is superb.
Lhardy - Carrera de San Jeronimo 8, Centro: Founded in 1839, it’s Madrid’s first elegant restaurant and one of its oldest, and a must stop in your itinerary. At the ground floor you can pour yourself a cup of their famous consomé from the silver samovar or snack on some croquetas. Upstairs you can have a hearty traditional meal in one of the five private rooms or in the formal dining room.
La Parra - Monte Esquinza 34, Chamberi: This charming restaurant is a Madrid classic. Serving Mediterranean cuisine in an Andalusian tavern setting that feels like an 19th century English club, La Parra focuses on an Anglo-Andalusian menu with a focus on fresh grilled fish, ham croquetas, a creamy thick version of gazpacho called salmorejo or squid lasagna. And of course, apple crumble for desert.
Juana la Loca - Plaza de la Puerta de Moros 4, La Latina: Unless you book well in advance or get lucky by going early, it is now impossible to secure a table at Juana la Loca. But I am just as happy eating their famously runny tortilla de patatas with caramelized onions at the bar. This buzzy restaurant does creative tapas and pintxos with a twist. Their seasonal produce is of the best quality and the menu changes all the time. Do not miss their fried eggs on fries, and anything with wild mushrooms or soft shell crabs. The wine list is excellent.
Casa Patas - Calle Cañizares 10, Centro: For an evening of excellent flamenco book well in advance at this temple of the art, beloved by local connoisseurs and visitors alike. You can have tapas at the counter of the tavern followed by the quality tablao. Their excellent programing guarantees a selection of top artists that is renewed weekly.
Image: The Royal Palace/Elizabeth Nord
Image: The Royal Chapel/WikiLoc
What to See
National Archeological Museum (MAN): The history of the Iberian peninsula is on display at this modern museum, showcasing artifacts and works of art from the Mediterranean cultures between prehistory and the early modern age: Roman mosaics, Arabic woodworks, rare Greek ceramics, examples of fine goldsmithing in Visigoth votive crowns, Spanish Islamic ivories and rare Andalusian glassware. And the star of the museum: the Lady of Elche, a 5th century BC stone bust of an Iberian woman whose elaborate headgear is a precursor of the mantillas and head combs of traditional Spanish dress.
Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida / Real Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida: Francisco Goya painted the dome and ceiling frescoes of this Neoclassical monument where his remains are buried. It’s a masterpiece of Spanish art. Sit in contemplation in one of the sober pews and then for a change of mood, cross the sidewalk and immerse yourself in the genuine experience of Casa Mingo, a cider house serving whole roast chickens with glasses of craft sidra since 1888. To avoid the lunchtime crush and secure a table outside, try to get there before 2pm.
If you need to walk it off after lunch, the gardens of Campo del Moro are a ten minute stroll away along the river Manzanares’ edge. With a stunning view of the back of the Royal Palace, the gardens were designed in the 18th century to mimic the gardens surrounding Versailles. Two fountains adorn the sweeping esplanades which are flanked by woody alleys and hidden paths. Since you are here, you might as well walk up the Cuesta de la Vega hill which takes you to the Almudena cathedral and the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace: Take the tour through fifty of the 2800 rooms of this gigantic palace built in 1734 by the King Felipe V on the site of the 9th century Alcazar or Muslim fortress. The official residence of the Spanish royal family, now it is only used for state ceremonies. Visit the Throne Room, the Royal Pharmacy, the Royal Kitchen and the famous Armory.
Museo Cerralbo: The Cerralbo museum is an ode to the history of taste and the spirit of collecting in Spain at the end of the 19th century. The Marquis de Cerralbo’s palace is an overwhelming sensorial experience. From delicate Meissen vases and Murano chandeliers to bold masculine stone floors, archaeological artifacts and thousands of paintings in a maximalist setting where everything has its place.
Where to Shop
La Oca Loca - Calle de Lagasca 61, Barrio de Salamanca: Spain produces the best children’s clothes in the world. La Oca Loca, in the high-end Barrio de Salamanca, offers exquisitely made children’s clothing from 0 to 14 years. The European royal families shop here.
Cocol - Costanilla de San Andres 18, Centro: This charming neighborhood store on the Plaza de la Paja in the old Centro barrio, is an ode to Spanish artisans and their craft. Here you can pick up a rustic mud pitcher or a hand-loomed wool beret. Their beautifully curated selection of blown glass, earthenware, rope, basketry or leather will make you regret not bringing that extra suitcase.
Capas Seseña - Calle de la Cruz 23, Centro: ‘They say Picasso is buried in his.’ Get fitted and order the iconic Classic cape, in production since 1901. This unisex piece comes in a heavy wool flannel lined with red velvet and you will want a lesson on how to wear it and if to clasp it or not. They also propose ready-made modern designs in a variety of colors for men and women. Seseña is a landmark of the Centro barrio.
Calzados Lobo - Calle Toledo 30, Centro: My go-to place for striped espadrilles and lace-up ones for newborns that I gift around the world. Lobo is a family-run institution that has been making quality shoes in Spain since 1897.
Almacen de Pontejos - Plaza de Pontejos 2, Centro: Haberdashery paradise in this century-old warehouse in the old center of Madrid, a short walk from Capas Seseña and Calzados Lobo. Even if you do not need a shoe buckle or a leather coat button, this jewel of a place is a must-visit. They also offer crotchet lessons.
Guantes Luque - Calle de Espoz y Mina 3. Las Letras: In business since 1886, Luque offers a vast selections of gloves in every style, material and color. I particularly appreciate the driving gloves in soft antelope, and the black leather evening ones, snug but with a slight slouch at the wrist.
Ecoalf - Hortaleza 116, Chueca A sustainable brand making stylish clothing and accessories made entirely from recycled materials. Through their Upcycling The Oceans project they work with 3000 volunteer fishermen to collect raw debris from the ocean floors. 200 millions plastic bottles have been recycled into clothing so far. Ecoalf puts their money where their mouth is.