Heritage, Soul and Seriously Good Food: Why Madrid Tops Our Must-Visit List

Heritage, Soul and Seriously Good Food: Why Madrid Tops Our Must-Visit List

Just as exciting as Madrid’s slew of new luxury hotels, exhibitions and Michelin-starred restaurants are the historic markets, museums and time-tested tapas bars that keep its old heart beating

In partnership with

a tale of two cities: a modern-day fairy tale of a
metropolis, with a snug network of vibrant neighbourhoods to sway
between, modern, sun-dappled parks in which to linger and a
limitless supply of new joints for cocktails and tapas. It’s also
the soul and centre (quite literally, there’s a stone slab that
marks it) of Spain, with history that hides around every
charismatic corner. Intrigued? From its latest openings to its
best-loved classics, here are six reasons why Madrid has catapulted to the front of our
must-visit list.

Madrid: the best food, museums, markets and hotels

World-class gastronomy

From traditional tapas to cutting-edge tasting menus, Madrid’s
thriving culinary scene is an epicurean’s paradise. First on your
list when you arrive should be a guided food excursion: hunt down
one of the city’s many food tour operators to take you to the best
family-run eateries in the city and teach you the basics on how to
order tapas. For fine dining, you have 21 Michelin-starred
restaurants to choose from, but you might as well shoot straight
for the top and make a pilgrimage to DiverXO – the only one with three of them to
its name. Well worth a visit, too, is Casa Botín, which,
founded in 1725, is the oldest restaurant in the world. Ask for a
table in the vaulted cellars.

Be sure to venture off the beaten track, too. Neighbourhoods
like Chueca, Conde Duque and Malasaña are all full of contemporary,
locally beloved terrazas. If we had to pick one street? That would
have to be Calle de Ponzano, in the chic neighbourhood of Chamberí,
arguably Madrid’s trendiest restaurant drag.

Retiro Park

Greenery galore

More than half of Madrid’s elegant streets are already lined
with trees, and it’s getting greener every year – one of the many
reasons this is such a liveable city. The glorious Madrid Río Park, now a pedestrianised promenade on the
banks of the Manzanares, is a good place to join the locals for a
spot of cycling; or head to the grand Retiro Park, which was once part of the king’s
estate, where you can drift around its lake in a rowboat. Better
still, you will very likely be blessed with rays no matter when you
visit – Madrid boasts more than 300 days of sunshine a year.

People eating tapas on a patio

Exuberant nightlife

You may have heard Madrileños referred to as “los gatos” (cats),
in part for their reputation for staying out late; with one of the
world’s highest number of bars per capita, this is a city that
takes its nightlife seriously. Harking back to the 1930s, Museo
is arguably Madrid’s most iconic cocktail bar, with
past regulars including Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra and Sophia
Loren. Looking to rub shoulders with modern stars? Try your luck at
the gothic-chic Santos y Desamparados, in Madrid’s alluring Barrio de
las Letras (Literary Quarter). And don’t forget flamenco, the
city’s historic and much-loved art form.

Sublime art

Almost nowhere else in the world will you find such a high
concentration of priceless fine art than on Madrid’s Paseo del Arte
(Art Walk). Part of the city’s gorgeous Landscape of Light area, a
newly anointed Unesco site, it’s home to the Prado,
and Thyssen-Bornemisza. But don’t overlook contemporary
cultural hives like the colourful La Casa
or the red-brick Matadero,
both home to a steady stream of trendy exhibitions. Also
fascinating, and lesser-trodden, are Madrid’s beautifully preserved
house museums. Among them are the Museum of Romanticism, the Cerralbo and the Sorolla, all of which offer a (very photogenic)
glimpse into homes of yesteryear.

Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid-Palm Court

Splendid hotels

Madrid has shot even further up in the glamour stakes in recent
years, with a string of new luxury hotels setting up shop here.
There are big names like Mandarin Oriental and Four
, but also the likes of URSO Hotel &
, the city’s first five-star boutique – a neoclassical
delight in a non-touristy enclave between the hip neighbourhoods of
Chamberí and Chueca. Traditionalists, though, should rest their
heads at Gran Hotel Inglés, the very first hotel to be built in
Madrid in 1886, or the lavish Palacio de los Duques Gran Meliá, formally a
19th-century palace located close to the Teatro Real opera

Mercado San Miguel

Fantastic markets

Start at Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid’s historic
wrought-iron-and-glass covered market, where you can spend hours
sampling gourmet food and beverages from around Spain. As well as
small local suppliers, you’ll find pop-ups from heavyweight
Michelin-starred chefs (Rodrigo de la Calle has a paella station) –
go during the week when it’s less crowded. Sundays are for browsing
knick-knacks and bar-hopping at the lively El Rastro flea market
and its atmospheric side streets. Madrid’s newest gastronomic jewel
is the Canalejas Food Hall, a stone’s throw from
Puerta del Sol (the centrepoint of Spain, with a plaque to mark
it), which celebrates food from 13 countries around the world.

The Lowdown

Start planning your trip at esmadrid.com

Discover More
How to Have a Blissful Stay in Madrid, the Soul of Spain