The Spanish capital is a grand place and the Madrilenos know it — this is a city of proud hosts.
To align with Germany, in 1940 Franco set the country’s clocks forward an hour, which is, allegedly, why the Spanish are somewhat nocturnal. This is especially true in Madrid (forget usual mealtimes and add a couple of hours).
Walk the wide streets, enjoy the imposing architecture and duck into the dark bars down hidden alleyways.
Walk Madrid’s wide streets, enjoy the imposing architecture and duck into the dark bars down hidden alleyways, says the Daily Mail’s Hugo Brown
Where to stay
Casual del Teatro
A few doors down from Ernest Hemingway’s favoured La Venencia bar, this 37-room hotel is in the Literary Quarter, home to the city’s first theatres. Just a ten-minute walk from the Prado Museum and Plaza Mayor, the convenient location more than makes up for the dramatically themed rooms (including Cabaret and Mamma Mia!), which are bound to divide opinion. B&B doubles from £82 (casualhoteles.com).
La Posada del Dragon
This elegant design hotel, which has its own tapas bar, is on Cava Baja in La Latina. Its 27 rooms are bright and quirky and some have balconies. The in-house offering isn’t cheap, but it’s far from your only option — La Latina is full of bars, taverns and coffee houses. B&B doubles with a balcony from £78 (posadadeldragon.com).
Breakfast at this chic hostel is £3 for a buffet of coffee, juice, fruit and bread. Ensuite doubles are spacious and clean and there is a rooftop bar, plus free city tours. The Plaza Mayor is close by, while the Royal Palace — with bulletholes from the civil war — is a ten-minute walk away. Doubles from £51 (thehatmadrid.com).
Airbnb in Centro
If you’re looking for good-value group accommodation, you can source stylish rentals in excellent locations on Airbnb. One I found sleeps six and is a short walk from the Puerta del Sol, once a gate in Madrid’s 12th-century walls. Now, the square is the city’s centre and where people gather on New Year’s Eve to eat 12 grapes as the clock strikes midnight, for good luck. Entire flat, sleeps six, from £76 a night (bit.ly/2ZeT9pR or airbnb.co.uk) — prices can fluctuate.
What to see and do
Take a segway tour
It won’t be your most stylish moment, but it is a great way to see the city. An hour-long tour (from £13, segwaytravelmadrid.com) stops at the beautiful Almudena Cathedral, which took more than 100 years to build; takes a lap of Atenas Park; and covers the history of the Royal Palace which, at nearly 1.5 million sq ft, is the largest in Europe.
The beautiful Almudena Cathedral, pictured above, which took more than 100 years to build
Visit the Plaza Mayor
Don’t miss the Plaza Mayor, even if it is a tourist trap. Restaurants are expensive, but buying one coffee while you gaze at the architecture won’t hurt. The huge, 400-year-old bronze statue is of King Philip III, whom historians have described as an ‘undistinguished and insignificant man’.
Get arty at the Prado
This year, the Prado Museum is marking its 200th anniversary with the A Place Of Memory exhibition. The immense collection includes Picasso, Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Don’t miss Goya’s bizarre masterpiece The Dog. The museum is busy, and queues can be long, so avoid visiting from 10.30am to 1.30pm, or book a time slot online (tickets cost £13, museodelprado.es).
See Museo Reina Sofia
While the masses fight over getting into the Prado, it might be worth settling instead for the Reina Sofia — although, with paintings like Picasso’s Guernica, it can hardly be considered settling! Generally, there are no queues, but, as ever, watch out for packs of school children (tickets from £8.60, museoreinasofia.es).
Stroll in Retiro Park
It’s hard to resist taking a table at Cafe El Estanque after a busy day in the city. Sit, sip and enjoy views of the park, lake and the Alfonso XII monument.
Boating, although only £5 per boat, can be disappointing, as a circuit takes only a couple of minutes. Instead, go for a stroll past the 15,000 sculpted trees and visit the Glass Palace or the Velazquez Palace (esmadrid.com).
Where to eat
Mercado San Fernando
Tourist favourite Mercado San Miguel is worth a look, but it’s overpriced and uncomfortably busy, so try San Fernando in trendy Lavapies instead. The grey facade may be dreary, but inside, it’s bright and arty, with an abundance of tables. As well as food, stalls sell everything from second-hand books to handmade soaps. Try morcilla (black pudding), patatas bravas (smoky fried potatoes) and secreto (pork steak), from £1.70 to £3.80 (mercadodesanfernando.es).
Cafeteria 3 Jotas
Hundreds of cafes in Madrid serve tostada con tomates (toast and grated tomato) and coffee, but join the locals at this one, near Colon, where it’s £1.70 and a clean start to what could be a heavy day of tapas. Address: Calle del Monte Esquinza, 3.
Cafe culture: Madrid’s buzzing streets are lined with cafes and restaurants
Mercado San Ildefonso
In Malasana, Madrid’s newest market is loud, lively and set over three floors. You can mix cuisines and there’s even a vegan stall — hard to come by here. The huevos rotos (potatoes, broken eggs and Iberico ham) from Malasana Farm and plates from La del Pulpo (octopus specialists) are delicious. Skip the sugary sangria and stick to glasses of wine (from £1.70). Visit mercadodesanildefonso.com.
It can be easy to miss out on excellent food in Madrid — especially around the Plaza Mayor, where prices sky-rocket. A short walk away, Emma Cocina is an exception. It serves everything from Iberian cured classics for £8.60, to modern plates such as asparagus tempura for £9.50. Still not exactly cheap, but it’s worth the small detour (emma-cocina.com).
Del Diego Cocktail Bar
There is a proud cocktail culture in Madrid. Bars serve copas, glasses full to the brim with a spirit with mixers on the side. A general rule is that the worse the bar looks, the bigger the drinks will be.
Del Diego has been serving cocktails in Chueca for 50 years and all drinks come with a small snack — it’s the Spanish way (cocktails and copas from £7). Visit deldiego.com.
British Airways (ba.com) has return flights from £76. One trip on the Madrid Metro costs £1.50. For more information visit spain.info.