Capital ideas in Madrid

by Marcus.Waring

Madrid is world-famous for its cultural trio of heavyweight museums - but don’t get stuck in the past and forget to enjoy the Spanish capital's newer offerings


If you already know the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen, head to edgier Legazpi in the south of the city. Matadero Madrid is a new cultural centre set in a former slaughterhouse. An ambitious project is transforming the site into a cutting-edge exhibition space, with lots of glass and pillars. Meanwhile back in the centre, say goodbye to blisters and hop on a Segway. For a tour of the historic sights with a twist, try Urban Movil. You begin with a quiet lesson on your upright electric scooter in a nearby square, then get to zip around sights like the Templo de Debod, the magnificent Palacio Real and the leafy Casa de Campo to the west. They also do cycle tours of the nearby historic town of Aranjuez.


In the wealthy barrio of Salamanca, at Juan Antonio López, on Conde de Aranda, sharp-pointed toes and pronounced décolletages are all part of Juan’s ambitious search for “women’s shoe essence”. Isolee, at Infantas 19, in the gay district of Chueca, is a design lover’s dream of white and wood. Shop for clothes or deli goods and finish with a bowl of gazpacho for lunch. Gandolfi, on San Andrés, has cartoon storyboards by the window at the front and is a colourful place for cool jewellery. On nearby Fuencarral, the Mercado Fuencarral has many shops below ground in a fun and jumbled maze. It’s particularly good for clothes.


Spa Sensay is hidden in the basement of the fashionable Hotel de Las Letras, off the frenetic Gran Via. There’s a Jacuzzi, pool, sauna and hammam and they do a relaxing volcanic hot stone massage. The water reiki is also different. Or head to the classical Relajarium Club Natural, on Claudio Coello, for a 15-minute head and neck massage, light lunch and snooze in a massage chair in the siesta room. The Bodyna Spa is located in the middle of the Hospes hotel. Set in a smaller building in the interior courtyard, it has Japanese-style treatments rooms and Ayurvedic, Thai and Shiatsu massages. There is a rest zone in the attic and a small pool in the basement where you can float with your loved one under a ceiling of winking stars. The Senzone restaurant is also excellent.


On busy Huertas, get stuck into Maceiras, a busy and lively Galician restaurant. Try steamed mussels and pimientos de padrón, fried green peppers with the odd fiery one (cooled by Albariño drunk out of china bowls called cuncas). At Mercado de la Reina, on the Gran Vía, have a glass of Rueda by the olive tree at the bar before sampling their crispy croquettes. For a smart occasion go for Ramses Life and Food, on Plaza de la Independencia. Next door to the Hospes hotel, this is an opulent bar, restaurant and club designed by Philippe Starck. If you prefer something more classical, head to Restaurante Paulino, on Jordán 7. It has an airy dining room at the back with original beams and the fish dishes are popular with the middle-aged cognoscenti of fashionable Chamberí.


At the Plaza del Dos de Mayo, just east of Tribunal Metro, Pepe Botella  takes passive smoking to a 20-a-day habit but is fun. On nearby San Andrés, Ojalá has a buzzy bar under a chandelier of red bulbs upstairs, while downstairs, low tables sit on a floor covered in sand. Bar Privee, on Bárbara de Braganza, is Madrid’s first champagne bar. It has années folles 1920s Paris décor, with mother-of-pearl screens and chandeliers. If you dine at Mercado de la Reina, head below it to the cosy Gin Club for a cocktail. The intimate Studio 54 in Chueca is a small club with a gay and straight crowd, walls that change colour and an enjoyably retro vibe. For later still, the Magik Room, on Colon, is open until 5.30am, although it doesn’t crank up until after 2am. It’s friendly and retro, with good house music with a Latin flavour.


For a European capital, hotels in Madrid are a bargain, and you can find exceptional deals by booking online. The Room Mate Alicia, tucked away in the central Plaza de Santa Ana, is both chic and great value. There are 30 standard rooms but think about taking one of the three Junior Suites with views of the square. Their curved sofas allow indulgent people-watching and you can fool around for hours with the electric blinds, wondering if people having a beer in the square can see in. Heading out through a white marble reception area propped up by a giant mushroom stalk, you'll see CervecerÍa Alemana, where Hemingway used to drink. He might throw a wobbly at their prices nowadays, but they probably wouldn’t let him in anyway. At the top end of the square, the ME Hotel has fresh and contemporary rooms with iPod adaptors and cool fridges. The decking-and-white-cushions roof terrace has to-die-for views of the city (if you jumped off) and is perfect for a sunset mojito.


Ryanair, British Airways, easyJet and Iberia all have flights from the UK to Madrid. Time Out Madrid is excellent.


Marcus Waring went backpacking through India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and the Cooks Islands in 1998. Following a journalism postgraduate at the former London College of Printing in 1999 he has worked as a freelance travel journalist. He has written for the Guardian, Independent, Sunday Telegraph, Evening Standard, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Marie Claire, Wanderlust, easyJet, Ryanair, and He was commissioning editor on bmi´s Voyager magazine in 2007. He is now based in West Sussex and is the resident travel writer for, which he writes a weekly travel column for. Other recent work includes editing a Frommer's Day by Day guide to Madrid and writing a spoof of The Dangerous Book for Boys aimed at the 60+ called The Deranged Book for Old-Timers (Summersdale). Upcoming projects include another humorous book and a UK-based travel novel and putting the finishing touches to his website, Favourite places include West Sussex, Hampshire, Devon (especially Dartmoor, which he visits twice a month), Finland, British Columbia and Australia.