Downtown Madrid is packed with a mix of traditional shops and high-street names.
The streets leading off the Puerta del Sol, particularly Preciados, Carmen, Arenal, Mayor and Carretas are full of chain stores and small shops. Much of this area is now pedestrianised, which makes things easier, but this area is usually absolutely heaving with people – watch your bags!
El Corte Inglés department store (www.elcorteingles.com) takes up a huge chunk of Calle Preciados, and has two adjacent offshoots on the corner of the Puerta del Sol. One is for books, with a useful tourism section on the ground floor, and the other is for music and electronic stuff. A bit further up on the left the store has a dedicated sports’ shoe shop.
There are branches of Zara, H&M, Mango, Camper and other Spanish chains including Esfera. At the end, on Plaza del Callao, is Fnac (www.fnac.es), which is a very useful store for books (including in English), music and any bits and pieces you might need for your phone, music player, laptop or camera. They also sell tickets for concerts and other events. Next to it, giving onto Calle del Carmen, is yet another branch of El Corte Inglés, duplicating many of the sections in the other store, but on a smaller scale. Both have supermarkets in the basement.
If you have to buy present for kids, Asi (at 47) is a traditional toy shop with a window display full of proper old-fashioned dolls. Nearby, Vips (at 43) is handy for magazines and takeaway sandwiches and drinks. There are branches of Zara, Mango and H&M (which has two shops at 32 and 37) along here too, with much larger shops than on Calle Preciados. Look out for Lefties (at 34 and also at Carretas 10) which is a discount outlet for Zara and other shops belonging to the same group. The Casa del Libro (at 29, www.casadellibro.com) is a huge bookshop with an English section and a wide variety of guidebooks and books on Madrid.
Casa Diego (Puerta del Sol 12, www.casadediego.com), which has been in business since 1858, specialises in handmade fans, and also sells umbrellas and walking sticks. The fan that Princess Letizia used at her wedding to Prince Felipe came from here.
At the start of every summer, I make a pilgrimage to Casa Hernanz (Toledo 18) to stock up on espadrilles for the season. Should you need a mesh bag to boil chickpeas in, or a rope to tie up your donkey with, they can help you with that too. Incredible as it may seem, in summer there are often queues down the street to get in here.
One of my favourite shops is Capas Seseña (Cruz 23, www.sesena.com), which opened in 1901. This is the only shop in the world to sell capes and only capes, which are made on the premises too.
Where to stay
I've recommended three of my favourite hotels, you'll find these in the Make it Happen box above. You can also see my full list of recommendations here - Madrid Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Madrid.
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