Prado Museum, Madrid

Touring Magical Madrid: Where to indulge in Spain’s cultural capital

A journey through the transformative sights and sounds of the capital of Spain.

A showcase for Spain’s grandest aspirations, Madrid rewards bons vivants who appreciate local cuisine, fine wine and the beauty that comes with almost 500 years at the center of Spanish cultural life. 


All roads in Spain lead to Madrid—and specifically Puerta del Sol, a sweeping royal square presided over by a bronze King Charles III on horseback. The plaza was refurbished last year, and a newly installed compass rose marks the official point of origin of six national highways. “Sol” can get infamously hot, so carry on westward toward the 14th-century church of San Ginés and its celebrated namesake chocolatería. Turning south into Plaza Mayor, past the cast-iron architecture of San Miguel Market, people will be lining up for bocadillos de calamares (calamari sandwiches) at heritage restaurants like Bar La Campana. 

If you’ve never stood in awe of a Velázquez or shuddered in fear before a Goya, you won’t want to miss Madrid’s newest collection, a 90-year-old passion project that finally—finally—opened its doors last year. Incorporating a ninth-century archaeological site near the royal palace and Almudena Cathedral, the Royal Collections Gallery houses the state’s rich reserves of portraiture, heroic tapestry and memorabilia going back centuries. A visual history of the nation in gold and saturated color, it also offers panoramic views over the Manzanares River valley and, within its vast courtyard, some welcome swaths of shade. Like the epic Museo del Prado at the opposite end of the historic center, it stays open until the setting sun shrouds Palacio Real in golden light. Another must is Casa Loewe, a three-story limestone flagship for the brand that still manufactures its leather goods in ateliers across the city.


Madrid’s favorite living surrealist, Jaime Hayón, designed the Hotel Barceló Torre de Madrid, a Plaza de España five-star stay filled with his bold and sexy furnishings. 

The Four Seasons has its own Dani García brasserie, on the roof of its palatial flatiron property. But even more remarkable is its art collection: 1,500 pieces by Spanish artists. Paintings, photographs and sculptures adorn the public spaces, guest rooms and suites with concierge-led tours available for the most art-curious of travelers. 

Top restaurant in Madrid.
Sala de Despiece restaurant in Madrid


Meals in Madrid are long, joyous, messy and unconcerned with white tablecloths. If you’re comfortable on a mismatched stool at the bustling bar, Celso y Manolo rewards with sherry clams, Iberian ham and a whole tomato menu. Or head further north to the utilitarian tile of Sala de Despiece, whose kitchen Picasso transforms traditional tapas into painterly masterpieces of sardines and grilled octopus daubed with sauces in Mediterranean colors. In the dead of summer, gourmands in the know take to the rarefied air of A’Ollo for razor clams and burrata atop a Gran Vía villa. And it would be an absolute scandal to leave town without partaking of the vermouth cocktails mixed by manager Alberto Martínez at 1862 Dry Bar. His sweet-vermouth Martínez, with gin, Maraschino liqueur and Angostura bitters, will put the roll in your R’s.


Like any object of your affections, Madrid is as beautiful on the inside as out—and perhaps nowhere prettier than the wildly popular bar at BiBo, topped by a glowing hot air balloon. The room is lit by 7,000 lightbulbs, conceived by the ambitious chef Dani García, whose sugar-lacquered desserts resemble artworks. Placing a close second is the “secret” rooftop garden of Salvador Bachiller, a downtown oasis specializing in unique concept-cocktails.

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