Madrid is a big city by European standards with plenty of historic neighborhoods (barrio). Just going for the best hotel in your price range isn't going to help you get the best experience out of your accommodation.
What Kind of Vacation Are You Looking For?
Madrid is a very diverse city. Where you stay can easily color your opinion of the city. Pick your accommodation wisely:
- To live like young and hip locals, stay in Malasaña, Chueca or Lavapies.
- To feel you're in a big city, stay on Gran Via, Plaza de España or on Paseo del Prado.
- For historic Madrid, pick Madrid de las Austrias and La Latina or Huertas (Barrio de las Letras).
- If you're a football fan you might prefer to be near the Stadium: Santiago Bernabeu and Business District.
- If your trip is about shopping for high-class European fashion brands, stay in Barrio Salamanca.
- To be near the big museums, stay near Retiro, Paseo del Prado or Lavapies and Atocha.
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Gran Via is Madrid's main thoroughfare and shopping street. Think 5th Avenue or Oxford Street. It is busy virtually 24 hours a day with people moving between Puerta del Sol and the nightlife areas in Malasaña and Chueca.
On Gran Via itself, you mainly have shops. But you can walk to most of Madrid's biggest sights from Gran Via, the notable exception being Real Madrid's stadium, Santiago Bernabeu.
Immediately to the north you have the restaurant and nightlife hotspots of Malasaña and Chueca, and to the south, you have Puerta del Sol and then, beyond that, Huertas (or Barrio de las Letras, as it's also called). At the western end of Gran Via is Plaza España and the Royal Palace, while to the east is Plaza Cibeles, with the Palacio de las Comunicaciones, one of the most beautiful buildings in Madrid and where the bus from the airport arrives and departs. From there it's a short walk to the Prado Museum and Atocha train station.
As an idea of distances, the walk to Atocha train station from the middle of Gran Via is 30 minutes. Everything else mentioned above is closer.
From the Gran Via metro station, there is a direct Metro to both Atocha and Chamartin train stations.
Should You Stay There?
If you really want to feel you are in a city Gran Via is a good place to stay. It has good connections to the whole city and it is easily accessible from the airport. The question is, do you want to leave your hotel in the morning and be immediately on one of the busiest streets in Spain? If not, you might prefer to stay further north in Malasaña or Chueca.
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Madrid de las Austrias and La Latina
Madrid's oldest and most majestic barrio, Madrid de las Austrias is where you'll find Madrid's grandest plazas, most historic restaurants, and finest buildings. The vibe is historic, grandiose, classy and classic.
Madrid de las Austrias is home to Plaza Mayor, one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain, as well as the Royal Palace and the cathedral.
On the streets around Plaza Mayor, you have some of the oldest restaurants in Spain (including El Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world) and classic wine bars like Bodegas Ricla.
Immediately to the south of Madrid de las Austrias is the popular neighborhood of La Latina with the street Cava Baja, famous for its restaurants and wine bars.
It is a short walk to Puerta del Sol from Madrid de las Austrias. From there, you have metro and local trains (Cercanias) to the whole city.
Should You Stay There?
Madrid de las Austrias is one of the most attractive parts of Madrid. But nice buildings also attract lots of tourists. The restaurants and hotels around here vary hugely between unchanged classics and tourist rip-offs.
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Malasaña is Madrid's most fashionable neighborhood. Think Kreuzberg in Berlin, Shoreditch in London, or Williamsburg in Brooklyn. The shabby streets are filled with independent boutiques, vintage cafes and great food options.
This is a living neighborhood. Sure, there are tourists, but there are far more people here who live there. Once you walk away from busy Gran Via or Fuencarral it is obvious you are in a residential area.
That doesn't mean the residents ever get a quiet night's sleep. It is highly recommended to book a room with air conditioning so you can keep the windows closed at night. The vibe is shabby-chic, gentrified, residential arty and slightly alternative.
Malasaña itself is mainly about the bars, cafes, and shops. Craft beer (at Fabricas Maravillas and Irreale), good wine, and fusion restaurants mix with 100-year old bars like Bodegas Ardosa.
Immediately to the south of Malasaña you have Gran Via and just beyond that Sol. From the north end of Malasaña, it is a thirty-minute walk to the Prado museum.
Should You Stay Here?
Malasaña is perhaps the most vibrant barrio in the whole of Spain. Every street is teeming with people flocking to the latest boutique or to a classic restaurant. It is also a residential neighborhood, which means there are also supermarkets and places to buy fruit and vegetables, perfect for if you are staying in an apartment and want to cook for yourself.
It is also well connected to the rest of the city, both on foot and by metro.
Where to Stay
The best hotels in Malasaña tend to be on Calle Pez, recently famous for its cocktail bars, but there's no better way of getting to know a neighborhood like Malasaña than by staying with the neighbors. Airbnb has some great options in the area. They will usually only have one room available, so check out a few.
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Chueca is Madrid's gay neighborhood, though it's become common to describe it as "straight-friendly" to show that everyone should feel comfortable there. It has great restaurants and cafes for the daytime, but most straight people tend to head over to Malasaña at nighttime.
Chueca is mainly about the restaurant scene in the daytime and the gay nightlife. To the west, you have Malasaña, also known for its nightlife and cafe scene. Chueca is next to Paseo de Recoletos and Plaza Cibeles (good for the bus to the airport) and beyond that, Paseo del Prado and the Prado museum.
Should You Stay Here?
Chueca is the sister-neighborhood to Malasaña, with perhaps even better restaurants. The main difference is that this is the gay neighborhood. And with that comes a music scene and ambiance that you'd expect from a more alternative part of town.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Sol and Huertas (Barrio de las Letras)
Puerta del Sol is the point in Spain from which all distances are measured and is the heart of Madrid.
In reality, it isn't the geographical center of Madrid (it is situated to the south of the city) but most of Madrid's big sights are within walking distance. There are a number of pension guesthouses in the area where you could get a low-cost double room if you're lucky (and willing to put up with a room with limited amenities).
This is one of the noisier areas of Madrid. If you are worried about noise at night, ask your hotel for a room that doesn't have a street-facing window or get a room with air conditioning so you can keep the window closed.
To the southeast of Puerta del Sol, Huertas is a historic neighborhood. Many of Spain's literary giants either lived or died here, including Cervantes himself. To commemorate this, the area is officially referred to as Barrio de las Letras, though most locals still call it Huertas.
The Low Down
Plaza Santa Ana is the hub of activity here, with famous cafes where Hemingway used to hang out and the hotel where bullfighters used to stay. Walk down Calle Huertas to Atocha train station and the famous triangle of art museums: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza.
Huertas' location close to Atocha train station, Puerta del Sol, Lavapies and Plaza Cibeles makes it ideal for visitors to the city.
El Pasaje on the Sol side of the barrio gives you good access to both the historic Huertas area and the transport connections of Madrid's central square.
Stay around the corner from where Cervantes died at One Shot Prado 23 or get views of the famous Plaza Santa Ana from Room Mate Alicia.
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Old-school chic is dominated by expensive brands such as Prada and Loewe. The vibe here is high-class and expensive with brand names everywhere. With that said, be advised that the people here may look down on those less fortunate.
The Low Down
The archeology museum and the national library are both very close, just off Plaza Colon. The Retiro park is just a little to the south, while the Chueca neighborhood is to the west.
Did you come to Madrid to shop for Prada? If not, we can't see why you'd want to stay around here.
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Parque del Retiro
In lieu of a beach, this is where Madrileños go to get away from it all. But of course, you wouldn't be staying in the park itself. The area to the west is still a bit swanky but has more restaurants than shopping
The Low Down
The park is a big attraction here. The southwest corner of Retiro is close to the big Art Triangle museums and Atocha train station. And we're still close to the shopping of Barrio Salamanca, which is just a short walk to the north.
If you have the money, this is a nice area to stay, with great access to the park, art museums, and train station. It's not quite as central as Malasaña or Huertas, but it's still a great place if you can find the right hotel.
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Paseo del Prado
This is Madrid's biggest avenue, with grand hotels and the Prado Museum dominating things here. It separates the historic Huertas (Barrio de las Letras) district from Parque del Retiro.
There's not much actually on Paseo del Prado, apart from the aforementioned sights and accommodation.
The Low Down
At the south end is Atocha train station. If you're looking for luxury hotels and quick access to the Prado, then you'll want to stay here. If you don't need the hotels though, stay in Huertas instead.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Lavapies and Atocha
Lavapies was once a very poor neighborhood, popular with immigrants and artists. The quality of life here has risen, though the international flavor has remained, with lots of Indian restaurants and other ethnic cuisines. The vibe is ethnic, bohemian, relaxed, and working class.
Should You Stay There?
Lavapies is a short walk from Atocha train station and the Reina Sofia modern art museum. From there it's just a few short steps to the Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums.
Up the hill from Lavapies is Huertas (Barrio de las Letras) and then to Sol.
Lavapies is a great place to stay in Madrid, particular for quick access to Atocha train station and the Art Triangle Museums (it'll also be a lot cheaper to stay around here).
For some reason, there are very few hotels in Lavapies itself. One popular one is Hostal Santa Isabel There is also Hostal Far From Home, on the boundary between Lavapies and Barrio de las Letras.
Hotel NH Madrid Atocha is a great place to stay, as is Balconies Urban Stay. Also, check out Hotel Mediodia.
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Santiago Bernabeu and Business District
This is the furthest north you'll ever need to be in Madrid (unless you have to catch a train from Chamartin).
Santiago Bernabeu is soccer team Real Madrid's home stadium. The rest of what you see around here is big business skyscrapers. Should you stay here? Only if you want an easy walk back to your hotel after the big match.
Holiday Inn Bernabeu is a short walk from the stadium. Also, check out AC Hotel Aitana by Marriot.
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Hotels Near Plaza España
The west end of Gran Via ends with Plaza España, a pleasant square surrounded by some of the oldest skyscrapers in Spain.
The Low Down
The Royal Palace and Cathedral (and the rest of Madrid de las Austrias) are just around the corner (to the south). To the west is Templo Debod, the Egyptian temple given to Spain as a gift from Egypt. To the north is Malasaña. To the east, you have Gran Via.
This is a good area to stay for access to some of the biggest sights in Madrid. But for a more residential feel, stay in nearby Malasaña.
Sercotel Suites Viena is located close to the Templo de Debod and a short walk down to Plaza España and the Royal Palace. Meanwhile, on Plaza España itself, you have the Espahotel.