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Travel Guide & Luxury Hotels in Madrid

Luxury Hotels Madrid Travel Guide to Madrid

Plaza Mayor. Photo by Yuni Martin.

Spain is the land of contrasts, and its capital city is no exception : passionate and conservative, traditional and avant-guard, Madrid is steeped in history yet still offers all the excitement of a large metropolis. Once the headquarters of the Kingdom of Castilla, governed for over 300 years by the supremely powerful Habsbourg dynasty, virtually everything in Madrid screams of historical heritage. Over the centuries, it has been home to playwright Miguel de Cervantes, poet Francisco de Quevedo, and French King Francis I - not to mention Ernest Hemingway, Placido Domingo, and even Julio Iglesias, of more recent fame. Featuring one of the world's most vibrant night scenes since last century, Madrid is like the European city that never sleeps, mixing modern urban life with ages-old legends of history, art and culture.

Where to Stay

The Madrid Edition

Plaza de Celenque 2, Madrid, 28013

Luxury hotels Madrid Edition

Image courtesy of The Madrid Edition.

Experience the ultimate in luxury and opulence at this sleek, ultra-modern hotel in the heart of Madrid's historic centre. Just a stone's throw from the Plaza Mayor, the Madrid Edition is a member of the Marriott collection and offers excellent service, panoramic city views, and innovative contemporary design, all within a tranquil setting not far from the bustle of the city's main sights. Taste the colourful, inventive cuisine at the Jeronimo, run by world-renowned chef Enrique Olvera, or relax with a game of pool at the designer showpiece pool table, after a visit to the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral just down the road.

Mandarin Oriental Ritz

Plaza De La Lealtad 5, Madrid, 28014

Luxury Hotels Madrid Mandarin Oriental Express

Image courtesy of the Mandarin Oriental Ritz.

The Mandarin Oriental Ritz is the definition of age-old elegance and refinement. Inaugurated in 1910 by King Alfonso XIII for the crème of aristocratic society, it has recently been restored to its former glory by renowned Parisian design firm Gilles & Boissier. Housed in an exquisite, original Belle Epoque mansion, this hotel offers sophisticated interiors, impeccable service, exceptional dining options, and state-of-the-art spa and fitness facilities. Located near the entrance of the Parque del Retiro, the Mandarin Oriental Ritz Hotel offers everything one needs for a comfortable, sophisticated stay in the heart of Madrid's historic centre.

Hotel Orfila

Calle Orfila 6, Madrid 28010

Luxury Hotels Madrid Hotel Orfila

Image courtesy of Hotel Orfila

The Hotel Orfila, from the Relais & Châteaux collection, is a small boutique hotel in the heart of Madrid's business district. Housed in a 19th-century palace not far from the Prado and the chic shopping district of Salamanca, this tiny hotel is perfect in almost every way, from its exquisite yet intimate decor to the specialized attentions of its thoughtful staff and delectable dining options at its signature restaurant, El Jardín de Orfila. Enjoy a gourmet dining experience curated by 2-star Michelin chef Mario Sandoval, or simply relax in the delightful garden terrace after a busy day of shopping and sightseeing. A wonderful historic refuge for a visit to Spain's equally historic capital.


What to See

Spain was once one of Europe's most powerful nations, and though much remains as a testament to this period of power 500 years ago, the city has also changed significantly over the centuries. From Moorish stronghold in the Middle Ages to Habsburg imperial capital in the Golden age, right to the centre of the Movida movement in the 1980s - a wander through its elegant, lively streets is like a journey through time. Here's what you need to see to discover the many faces of Madrid.

Madrid is above all a cultural capital, and offers more than its fair share of world-class museums and art collections. Three such museums are to be found in the area popularly known as the Golden Triangle, or the Triangulo de Oro : The National Prado Museum, the National Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and the Reina Sofia National Museum and Art Centre.

The Prado Museum

Travel Guide Madrid Prado Museum

Museo del Prado, Puerta de Velázquez.

The Museo Nacional del Prado, called El Prado for short, is Spain's primary museum and most extensive collection of great European masters. Here, you'll find works by Titian, Goya, El Greco, Rubens, Hieronymus Bosch, and many others - including Velázquez's world-famous masterpiece Las Meninas, known to have inspired both Manet and Picasso. Housed in one of the only remaining vestiges of the sumptuous Palacio del Retiro, the collection at the Prado definitely does not disappoint.

 The Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, at the northern tip of the Triangulo, is a tiny museum so full of masterpieces that it takes an art aficionado almost as long to explore as the much larger Prado. At the Thyssen, you'll find breathtaking pieces by the same high profile masters as at the Prado - Ghirlandaio, Cranach, Hans Holbein, Caravaggio, Degas, to name just a few - but on a much smaller scale. And further south, at the bottom tip of the triangle, is the Museo Nacional y Centro de arte Reina Sofia, housing a collection of works from the 20th and 21st centuries, including works by Gris, Dalì, Miró, and Picasso's spectacular Guernica, depicting tragic events in the Spanish Civil War.

After admiring the masterpieces at one (or all three) of these museums we can head towards the Parque del Buen Retiro for a well-deserved break in the green, lush surroundings of this vast city park. On our way, we'll pass by the Plaza de Cibeles, a large square in the heart of Madrid's centre, where the city's three main avenues and four central districts converge. Admire the grandiose Fountain of Cybele, dating back to the 18th century and since then become a symbol of the city, and the even grander Palacio de Cibeles, built in 1907 as the main post office and telegraph headquarters. We'll also see the equally majestic Puerta de Alcalà, an elegant stone gate originally built in 1778 as an entrance through the city's main walls, just a few steps from the park.

Parque del Buen Retiro

Travel Guide Madrid Parque Retiro

Palacio de cristal in the Parque del Retiro. Photo by Alvaro Bernal Nlim.

The Parque del Buen Retiro, or simply El Retiro to the locals, was created in 1640 for King Philip IV of the Habsburgs as part of the royal palace of the same name. Meant as a summer residence, the Palacio del Retiro and its luscious, abundant gardens became synonymous with pleasure and leisure, until the palace's destruction in the 19th century. Today, all that remains of the palace is the Casón del Buen Retiro, originally used as the palace ballroom, and the Salón de Reinos, which now houses the Prado - but the gardens have been restored to their original splendour. In the gardens, we'll find the original 17th century decorative sculptures, the grandiose monument to King Alfonoso XII, and the sensational Crystal Palace, built as a pavilion for the colonial exhibition in 1887.

Heading through the Retiro back towards the Prado, we'll come to a large, tree-lined boulevard of the same name, the Paseo del Prado, which runs right through the centre of the Golden Triangle. Continuing in this direction, we'll come across the Puerta del Sol, quite literally the heart of the city as this is where Kilometro Zero is to be found, marking the central point of the entire Iberian peninsula since the 18th century.

Plaza Mayor

Travel Guide Madrid Plaza Mayor

Further along, we find the quaint, historic and much more picturesque Plaza Mayor, the main town and market square from the 16th century onwards and still a gathering place for Spaniards today. Here, in this almost perfectly rectangular square, the architecture is stately and quaint, dating back to the Renaissance and the Golden Age, when the Spanish monarchy and its power were at their prime. Among its façades are the Casa de la panaderìa, the main city bakery since 1616, and, in the centre of it all, the equestrian statue of King Philip III who first had the square constructed.

Not far from the Plaza Mayor is the Mercado de San Miguel, a closed market dating back to the Belle Epoque, and the perfect place to stop for some tapas and wine. The original structure still stands, showcasing remarkable turn-of-the-century iron work, but updated for the 21st century in a fashionable, modern style. The stalls and restaurants here offer classic Spanish and madrileño fare - so you can delight your tastebuds with some authentic Serrano ham, a homemade Spanish tortilla, or the signature Madrid deep-fried squid. To finish things off on a sweet note, you'll find the nearby Chocolatería San Ginés, the famous café which has been serving customers since 1894 and where you can try the typical Spanish favourite, chocolate con churros.

Just a few steps from the market, along the centuries-old Calle Cuchilleros, is the Restaurante Botín, one of the world's best restaurants (according to Forbes) and the best choice for Madrid's signature cuisine, including its famous suckling pig and Castilian roasted lamb. El Botín is one of the world's oldest restaurants - it was founded in 1725 - and is allegedly where 19th-century artist Francisco de Goya waited tables before making it as an artist. Ernest Hemingway and Benito Pérez Galdós are also known to have been regulars here, along with many other noteworthy artists, writers, and intellectuals - combining the delights of the palate with the delights of the mind.

Palacio Real

Palacio Real Travel Guide Madrid

Palacio Real de Madrid and Sabatini Gardens.

Heading beyond the Mercado de San Miguel and pushing on through the narrow streets, we'll enter an entirely different era, stumbling upon one of the most impressive treasures of Spanish 18th-century architecture: the Palacio Real. This palace was built in 1735, on the site of the earlier royal palace which had burnt down just the year before, and can be considered an absolute jewel of classical baroque architecture. More than twice the size of both Buckingham Palace in London and the Palace of Versailles in France, it is the largest royal palace in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. The palace was constructed for King Philip V of the Bourbon dynasty, grandson of none other than French Sun King Louis XIV, and offers a distinctly French flavour, taking its inspiration from his grandfather's palace at Versailles. Complete with its very own Hall of Mirrors, Royal Chapel, and Throne Room, the interiors are grand, and the gardens equally so. Explore the sumptuous Campo del moro gardens to the west, and the Sabatini Gardens to the north, created and designed just last century but rivaling the purest of French gardens. The palace is still the official headquarters of the Spanish monarchy today, although King Felipe and his family actually live in the royal residence which is several kilometres away, in the surrounding countryside.

Catedral de la Almudena

Catedral Almudena Travel Guide Madrid

Catedral de la Almudena.

Just opposite the Palacio Real is the Catedral de la Almudena, the official seat of the archdiocese of Madrid in the Catholic Church. Although it was built in a mix of Neoclassical and Neo-Gothic styles, the cathedral was not completed until 1993, after a century-long ordeal interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. Not far from the cathedral, on the opposite end of the Palacio Real, is the Plaza de Oriente, featuring a grandiose equestrian monument to King Philip IV and a collection of original 18th century sculptures.

If we've had our fill of cultural and culinary delights for one day, we can head towards another area of the city for recreation of a different nature : shopping. The barrio de Salamanca, one of Madrid's chicest areas, is devoted to high-end designer shops and is also known as the Golden Mile, or Milla de oro - with good reason. From worldwide designer names and Michelin-starred restaurants to smaller, lesser-known local boutique brands, the fares here are high quality and the ambiance is stylish and smart - in a distinctly European kind of way. Here you'll enjoy browsing, shopping, high-end dining, or just strolling through the tastefully decked-out streets and taking in the relaxed, elegant atmosphere.

To discover a bit more of Madrid's rich, heritage-laden past, we can make our way towards the Barrio de las Letras. Meaning quite literally "writers' neighbourhood", the Barrio de las letras is an area just near the Puerta del Sol where poets, authors and intellectuals are meant to have lived, worked, and been inspired. In the Siglo de Oro, or 17th century - Spain's most prolific artistic and literary era - this neighbourhood was home to none other than Miguel de Cervantes, author of the celebrated classic novel Don Quijote de la Mancha. Two of Cervantes' most famous contemporaries, Quevedo and Lope de Vega, also lived in the area, and it was here that the first ever theatrical works were staged almost 400 years ago. Not much remains of these sites now, but it is still possible to visit Lope de Vega's original home and the Convent of San Ildefonso, where Cervantes was buried in 1616. La Venencia, a tavern from the 1930s where Hemingway used to come to write, is also nearby and still open for those wishing to dine in the company of literary ghosts past.

For an immersive dip into Spanish culture, we can conclude the evening with a flamenco performance and gourmet meal at the upscale Corral de la Morería, just across from the Cathedral. Although flamenco originated in Spain's southern region of Andalusia, this passionate art form has been wholeheartedly embraced in the capital city, as well. Enjoy the select menu prepared by chef David García, and delight in the passionate rhythms of Andalusian music and dance.

Off the Beaten Path

If you have explored Madrid inside out and want to discover more of what the city has to offer, there are beautiful haunts off the beaten path, not too far from the centre, offering an even deeper peek into the history and culture.

Chapel San Antonio de la Florida

North of the royal palace, sandwiched in between the Parque del oeste and the ultracentral hub of Plaza España, is a jewel of Neoclassical art : the Chapel of San Antonio de la Florida. Built for King Carlos IV in 1792 as a hermitage and church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua, the chapel's main claim to fame are the frescoes by renowned painter, Francisco de Goya. Though the architecture is sobre and subdued, Goya's frescoes on the cupola's vaulted dome and lunettes are sublime, telling us the legend and life story of Saint Anthony himself. In 1919, Goya's body was transferred here from Bordeaux, where he had died almost a hundred years earlier, and the chapel is now his final resting place.

The Sorolla Museum

Joaquin Sorolla Capturing the Moment Travel Guide Madrid

Capturing the Moment, by Joaquín Sorolla, 1906.

The Sorolla Museum, just north of the Salamanca district, was originally the home of the Spanish impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla and today is a museum housing a small collection of his artwork. Here, you'll discover the rooms Sorolla occupied with his wife and children, and the studio where he painted some of his most famous works, including My Wife and Daughters in the Garden and The Return from Fishing which earned him admiration and recognition at the Paris Salon of 1894. Awarded the French Legion of Honour and admitted to the Fine Arts Academies in Paris, Lisbon, and his own hometown Valencia, Sorolla is one of the most important names in Spanish Impressionism.

Exquisite Day-Trips

Madrid is indeed the cultural capital of Spain and offers much in the way of historic, artistic, intellectual and recreational pursuits. But there is much to be discovered beyond the city walls, also, in the surrounding region historically known as Castilla in centuries past. Discover these beautiful treasures in Spain's central countryside, where history and legend meet architectural grandeur and natural beauty.

The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo El Escorial

San Lorenzo El Escorial Travel Guide Madrid

In times bygone - and still today, some would argue - the Spanish monarchy was all about upholding religious tradition and faith, due primarily to Spain's position as a staunchly catholic nation and papal ally. The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo El Escorial is a symbol of this solemn role and its significance for the Kings of Spain, hailing back to the times of the Habsburgs and beyond. Nestled in the lush green hills of the Sierra Guadarrama, the monastery was built in the 16th century, and is the largest Renaissance structure in the world. Housing a Christian basilica as well as a mausoleum, library, museum, university, and hospital, the complex was originally built both as a monastery and a royal residence for King Philip II, who was the only monarch to ever live here permanently. Constructed by architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, who spent much of his career working on St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the architecture takes its inspiration from other prominent Renaissance monuments throughout Europe.

The impressive mausoleum, or Royal Pantheon, holds the tombs of Spanish Kings, both Habsburg and Bourbon, from 1500 to the present day, including Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Philip V, grandson of the French Sun King. The royal art collection, assembled over more than 400 centuries, offers an array of masterpieces to rival that of the Prado, including master works by Titian, Cellini, Velázquez, Rogier van der Weyden, Veronese, Bernini, Ribera and Claudio Coello, and many others. A visit to El Escorial is paramount to an inspiring journey into the world of the Spanish monarchs, both past and present.

Segovia and Ávila

Segovia Travel Guide Madrid

Segovia, aerial view. Photo by Isabel Deniz.

To discover a slightly different period in the Spanish timeline, we'll travel back in time to the medieval towns of Segovia and Ávila, also set against the foothills of the Sierra Guadarrama. In both of these towns, you'll come across the remains of Spain's ancient and Medieval past and also see the characteristic blend of cultures resulting from centuries of cohabitation amongst Christians, Jews, and Muslims. In Segovia, one of the most remarkable sights is the Roman acqueduct, dating back to the first century and now one of the world's best-preserved of its kind. Almost perfectly intact as it was two thousand years ago, the acqueduct runs through the centre of the city and was in use until 1973. Other sights in Segovia include the Gothic Cathedral, the Medieval city gates, and the royal Alcázar, which according to some was taken as inspiration for Cinderella's castle at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. For a short detour on our way back to Madrid, we can stop at Ávila and see its Gothic cathedral and astonishing Medieval walls. Dating back to the 11th century, the walls are robust and in surprisingly good condition, featuring all original nine gates - and evoking stories of towers, turrets and Spanish damsels in distress.


Toledo Travel Guide Madrid

Narrow streets of Toledo. Photo by Aki.

Also dating back to Medieval times is the picturesque town of Toledo, to be found in the countryside about an hour from Madrid. Toledo is the capital of Castilla-La Mancha, the region immemoralized by Cervantes in his novel Don Quijote de la Mancha, and appears to come right out of a picture book. In Toledo, you'll experience the distinct blend of cultures which threw Christians, Jews, and Muslims together for over 600 years, and a characteristic mélange of historical periods, as well. You'll see the Cathedral, a Gothic church taking inspiration from the cathedral in Bourges, and the Alcázar or royal palace, dating back to Renaissance times - not to mention the Saphardic Synagogue and the Galiana Palace from the 13th century, done in mudéjar style. Toledo is an exquisite break from the more urban surroundings of the Spanish capital city, and a worthwhile dive into Spain's colourfully diverse historical past.

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