Madrid Travel Guide

Madrid Travel Guide

Curation by Yasmina Rodríguez, words by Laura Tucker

A cultural melting pot since the turn of the 17th Century, modern-day Madrid is a formidable European capital playing host to rich history, pioneering fashions and social progress. A confirmed foodie destination, Madrid expertly meshes hearty Spanish fare with upscale international dining concepts – its al fresco eateries filling up daily with ever-social Madrileños for late lingering lunches and unrushed suppers. As well as boasting Europe’s biggest Pride Parade, Madrid is a year-round LGBT+ paradise, presenting various annual ‘GayDays’ and film festivals, adding stars to the city’s already solid gay nightlife centred in Chueca. Discover the best of what to see in Madrid with Mr Hudson’s Madrid gay guide.

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The best hotels in Madrid

Let’s start this gay Madrid travel guide with a roundup of the best places to stay in Madrid. While staying in the capital of Spain, prepare yourself for royal treatment in kingly surroundings. Based close to the gay scene and built on the renovated heart of a 17th Century edifice, The Principal Madrid is one of the city’s many 5-star offerings, mixing classical design with a masterful measure of contemporary edge. Featured pleasures include the intimate dining atrium and the roof terrace where delectable cocktails can be enjoyed amid sundown views and live music.

Triangulated between the bourgeois district of Chamberí, the trendy Chueca gaybourhood and the up-and-coming Tribunal area is the Urso Hotel & Spa, a former palace turned majestic hotel retreat within walking distance of many Madrid points of interest. The perfect embodiment of old meets new, Urso Hotel brings refined modern elegance to its spa, bar and dining areas, while also reminding guests of the building’s regal past with four-poster beds and bespoke touches. The sky-roofed attic conservatory is particularly impressive, featuring opulent Asian-inspired tapestries, vertical greenery and a golden-hued décor.

Gran Hotel Inglés

Gran Hotel Inglés

Most fitting a modern design-conscious man with a playful edge is the Only You Hotel & Lounge which combines clean design with a bevy of bold colour splashes, designed by acclaimed designer Lázaro rosa-Violán. Based in a historic 19th Century mansion in the hip Salesas neighbourhood not far from Chueca, Only You Hotel grand and quirky in equal measure, complete with plush leather lounge, stone fireplace and eccentric, silver rhino-head décor. Hard to miss in Madrid’s literary district is CoolRooms Atocha, a glam boutique hotel inside a 19th Century townhouse with a bright scarlet façade. With staff clad in tailcoats and top hats, a grand staircase and a lounge lined with murals, CoolRooms is a little bit of edgy luxury in Madrid’s heart.

More literary vibes can be found at the Gran Hotel Inglés, hallowed in the bohemian, bookworm-favoured Barrio de las Letras since 1886, when Spain’s literary and artistic movers and shakers resided here. Arguably even better today, the hotel has been restored with Art Deco influences and tasty tapas offerings at on-site restaurant, Lobo 8. Just off of high-end Jorge Juan,  the effortlessly cool Tótem Madrid Hotel invites visitors to its restored 19th Century dwelling featuring elegant marble floors, a historic staircase centrepiece and a top-notch restaurant.

CoolRooms Atocha

CoolRooms Atocha

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Only You Boutique Hotel

Only You Boutique Hotel

Things to do in Madrid

The zenith for art lovers will be a tour of the city’s Golden Triangle of Art, inside which Madrid’s most representative museums lie; the world-famous Museo del Prado, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Museo Reina Sofía, three of the leading Madrid points of interest. As well as a key historic area, the Golden Triangle remains at the forefront of creative innovation maintaining a lively, buzzing atmosphere year round. Outside of the top three, alternative museums include the Museo del Traje, marking the historical development of fashion through the ages, and the Museo Cerralbo, which displays the historic collections of an aristocrat, the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo.

To experience art through new mediums, go off the tracks and explore the lesser-knowns. La Casa Encendida for instance, working from a vast, Neo-Moorish architectural space, is a multimedia centre showcasing vanguard art projects as well as hosting environmental and community workshops. In summer, the terrace roof also hosts open-air movie screenings and a bar. One other sociocultural hub is the Caixa Forum, presenting a whole variety of works across ancient and modern art, music and poetry festivals, current affairs talks and educational workshops. Located near the triangle, Caixa Forum is a new icon, housed in an old power station and renovated by architects Herzog & De Meuron to incorporate a vertical garden, café, gift shop and restaurant.

Photo: Bastiaan Ellen

Photo: Bastiaan Ellen

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Matadero Madrid, a 20th-century slaughterhouse on the banks of the Manzanares, is an unlikely cultural microcosm within the city

Unnervingly set within a 20th-century slaughterhouse on the banks of the Manzanares, is the Matadero Madrid, an unlikely cultural microcosm within the city, hosting design initiatives, creative training and professional community events. Inside this unique space, comprised of several neo-Mudejar style structures, there is also a regular market selling designer furniture and décor at competitive prices, in addition to non-fiction, specialist cinema, a café-theatre and a music rehearsal space.

Of the budget-friendly things to do in Madrid, Cine Doré is a delight for your senses as well as your pocket. This old movie theatre, as well as seeing a tumultuous history and bombings during the Spanish Civil War, also restores old film for the Spanish Ministry of Culture. The best thing about Cine Doré however, remains its €2.50 showings of classic Hollywood and modern world cinema. If large-scale live theatrics is what you’re after, look no further than the beguilingly named Noches del Botánico, anglicised as Night of the Botanical, which is, in fact, a series of concerts set in the lustrous Alfonso XIII Royal Botanical Gardens. The event often sees an eclectic, star-studded line-up, previously having featured the likes of Jamie Cullum, Bryan Ferry and UB40 in addition to rising Spanish singers and groups.

Plaza de Oriente | Photo: Rebe Pascual

Plaza de Oriente | Photo: Rebe Pascual

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What to see in Madrid

To get perspective on our choices of what to see in Madrid, we must first find a viewpoint. Luckily, due to the city’s enviable year-round climate, rooftop bars are a mainstay in Madrid. For panoramic views over the city’s rooftops, head to Circulo de Bellas Artes. Alternatively, go Egyptian… Gifted to the city in the 1970s and shipped piece by piece from Egypt is the Templo de Debod, now Madrid’s own Egyptian temple and prime sunset-watching hotspot. In addition to top views, the temple is surrounded by magical gardens and reflective pools, perfect for dusk musings.

To continue your outdoor appreciation, Parque El Capricho is a public park and well-kept secret from most tourists, just a 30-minute train ride from the city centre in the district of Alameda de Osuna. A great place to spend a sunny weekend afternoon, come to El Capricho to lie on the wide grass gardens and enjoy the classic monument surroundings.  It’s time again to make our way back to Madrid’s Chueca district, where the Museum of Romanticism awaits, presenting significant romanticism exhibits and 19th Century decor, including artwork from the likes of Leonardo Alenza and Goya. What’s more, is that the museum shares its grounds with the Café del Jardin, a café featuring a beautiful hidden garden where visitors can enjoy romantic marble sculptures and lush greenery over a coffee and dessert.

Although anytime is a good time, September is a particularly good month to visit Madrid. This is largely thanks to the annual event named LesGaiCineMad which is dedicated exclusively to screening gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer films. Known as one of the most critical international forums for Spanish-speaking LGBT+ film, make sure your visit coincides with the next event for deeper insight into gay life in Spain. Other annual film events include May’s Lesbian Cinema event and June’s Cinema Pride.

Photo: Diego Munoz Suarez

Photo: Diego Munoz Suarez

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A real gem hiding in plain sight at the edge of Chueca, is cosy wine bar and restaurant Angelita: take your pick from the tasty tapas menu that changes with the seasons

Where to eat in Madrid

Forget your carbs-after-five woes and prepare to embrace the late-night supper culture of Spain’s capital. Michelin starred Bibo Dani García is a grand place to start, conceptually ahead of the rest with a travelling motif and elegant Andalusian allusions. Lit by a wall mural of 7,000 lightbulbs replicating the famed Malaga Fair, Bibo is a tuna-loving eatery of contrasts, serving avant-garde dishes rooted in tradition. When one Michelin Star isn’t enough, however, Ramon Freixa at Hotel Único can give you two and an additional three Repsol Suns. Here, celebrity restaurateur and chef Ramon Freixa is said to take patrons on an emotional journey through artful gastronomic compositions that connect modernity with tradition.

A real gem hiding in plain sight at the edge of Chueca, is cosy wine bar and restaurant Angelita, run by the Villalón brothers. Take your pick from the tasty tapas menu that changes with the seasons, and have the knowledgeable, friendly staff recommend delightful wine pairings from Spain and beyond. Another winery joint – and brunch place – of merit is the decadent, Italian-run Propaganda 12 where rich foodie feasts await amid peeling walls and 50s décor. On arrival, swap poker chips for moreish Italian aperitifs before indulging in generous truffle-marred dishes complimented with champagne and/or cocktails. For more blissful breakfast bites, Café Federal is a popular café spot for creative Malasaña crowds conceptualised around a rural Aussie dream – now operating in two locations.

Photo: Dan Burton

Photo: Dan Burton

Able to quell your Latin American fusion cravings is the informal and modern Casa Jaguar, located in the central Palacio neighbourhood. Specializing in Peruvian, Mexican, Venezuelan, Brazilian and Columbian dishes, Casa Jaguar also boasts an exotic cocktail list, making this place the best Latin Gastro cocktail bar in the whole of Madrid! If you’re looking for definitive local cuisine, Chueca-based Celso y Manolo is Spanish to the core, serving up traditional dishes from the north and northwest alongside perfect wine pairings and fruity cocktails in warm interiors.

All the rage in sunny Madrid is a good gastro market. While we could list tens of good market options in this Madrid guide, noteworthy standouts include the hip Ildefonso Market with gourmet goodies housed in a unique space alongside other varied events from fashion shows to cooking classes. The tried and true, wrought-iron encased Mercado de San Miguel is also worth a mention, as a centenary establishment located in the centre of Los Austrias Madrid. Here, stalls serve up the finest contemporary foods from all corners of Spain – from Iberian ham and Galician seafood to Mediterranean rice and cheeses sourced out of Castile, Asturias and Basque.

Casa Jaguar

Casa Jaguar

San Miguel Market

San Miguel Market

Add to the mix a multi-cultural point of reference and desire to impress – and you’re left with exceptional shopping options to treasure

Shopping in Madrid

As well as having the long-standing national tradition of manufacturing quality artisan goods and textiles, Madrid is particularly notable for its multicultural eye and metropolitan desire to impress. As well as sophisticated menswear options, there are a number of interesting concept stores in Madrid. Of them, Anclademar is perhaps the best of the new, selling a well-travelled range of goods from Africa, Europe and the Middle East – including coffee table books, décor, costume jewellery and vintage clothing. As for concept stores referencing fashion and urban art in Madrid, Monkey Garden has you covered. As part of the wider ‘Project Monkey’, this store cum studio is an adventurous look at how fashion, art, music, creativity and design can form the essence of our lives’ philosophy.

Standouts in the garb department include Garcia Madrid, where professional creators of quality, custom-fit clothing stand by to dress fashion-conscious men of the moment. Then there’s MAN 1924, a menswear store with a cult following both in Spain and the world over, led by The Sartorialist himself, fashion blogger Scott Schuman, who named MAN 1924 his favourite store in Spain. Blending casual chic with messy cool, the store’s range of suits, shirts and swimwear is made either completely in house or in collaboration with other designers. For a slightly more structured formal suit Suitsupply is your guy, a Dutch brand gone international due to its attention to fit and timeless aesthetic with avante-garde updates.

When disaster strikes and you realise you forgot your sunnies back home, a visit to Óptica Toscana will get you feeling lucky again. Offering experienced optometrist services as well as a spectacular selection of glasses, perfectly arranged, here you’ll find both classic and dramatic frames in all shapes and colours from established designers to innovative up-and-coming creators.

Óptica Toscana_Madrid

Óptica Toscana

Photo: Bastiaan Ellen

Photo: Bastiaan Ellen

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Voyeuristic cocktail aficionados may find their sweet spot at LaKama Café, another lively gay bar known for its generous cup sizes as well as its muscular shirtless waiters.

Madrid nightlife

And now for Mr Hudson’s Madrid gay scene guide. Madrileños are insatiable socialites, either hanging with friends at favoured haunts after work or seeking out new venues to frequent – this means that Madrid’s nightlife is forever transforming. Literature and history lovers alike can get excited for our first submission. Hemingway is a hidden away Prohibition-era cocktail bar bearing the name of the eminent American writer said to have frequented this bar on visits to Madrid. And, in true prohibition style, Hemingway can only be accessed through the bathrooms of the plush rooftop bar, Casa Suecia.

While most of the nightlife in Madrid won’t truly get going until after midnight (those late suppers take time, you know), Why Not? is one of the few places in Gay Madrid that gets packed early. An underground gay pub with throwback décor and unapologetic pop music for days, the super-friendly atmosphere here makes up for the weekend cover charge. Voyeuristic cocktail aficionados may find their sweet spot at LaKama Café, another lively gay bar known for its generous cup sizes as well as its muscular shirtless waiters. As well as being a favourite for pre-gaming and coffee, later at night, this place gets high-energy and skin-to-skin-style crowded.

Hemingway Bar at Casa Suecia

Hemingway Bar at Casa Suecia

Also home to a winning combination of both beautiful and friendly staff is gay bar Marta, cariño, popular among locals and visitors alike. Based out of a, refurbished cinema, this bar is a chameleon, entertaining and satiating partygoers with its gastronomic concept, macerated cocktails and DJ-manned dancefloor cum performance space. Imaginative settings abound in this city, particularly at Sala Equis located in Spain’s last adult film cinema that closed down in 2015. Reinvented as a multi-purpose hub of differing pleasures, night-time visitors to Sala Equis can expect live music performance alongside food and drinks in decadent, theatrical surroundings.

Bringing 80s disco fever to the best party venues in Madrid is El cuerpo del Disco and while it has no fixed abode, this party has picked up residency with the likes of Café Berlin, Clamores, Sala El Sol, Moroder Sound Club and even the historic Chamartín Station skating rink. Massive and dance-centric, its sessions range from orchestral disco, boogie and electronic productions from the 80s to now, making this a party worth waiting all month for. One of the pinnacles of Madrid nightlife is popular mega-club Medias Puri which hosts an unpredictable line-up of performances, art and provocation for up to 1,000 people nightly. Somewhat disguised in an old haberdashery neighbourhood at 1 Plaza de Tirso de Molina on the ground floor of the Teatro Nuevo Apolo, guests must do an elaborate key exchange to access the owner’s huge backroom party.

Medias Puri

Medias Puri

Photo: Sofia Zubiria

Photo: Sofia Zubiria

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