Your essential guide to Madrid

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By Jessica Jones

A BBC contributor, Madrid-based, British journalist Jessica Jones writes on Spain for titles including the i newspaper.

Find your bearings

From Hotel Ritz, Madrid, cross the tree-lined Paseo del Prado and wander the cobbled streets of the Barrio de Las Letras, Madrid’s literary quarter, where Miguel de Cervantes wrote his masterpiece, Don Quixote. Do as the locals do and pull up a pew at Casa González for a glass of rioja, a plate of jamón ibérico and some quality people-watching through the large front windows.

Feed your mind

Hotel Ritz, Madrid is at the centre of the city’s fabled ‘Golden Triangle of Art’ – home to some of the world’s finest galleries. Visit the Prado Museum for works by the Spanish masters, including Diego de Velázquez’s Las Meninas and Francisco de Goya’s black paintings, before stopping off at the Reina Sofía for Picasso’s Guernica. For an eclectic range of classic and contemporary pieces, Thyssen-Bornemisza is unmissable. With more than 1,600 works, it was once the second-largest private collection in the world after the British Royal Collection.

Las Meninas

Prado is one of the best regarded gallery collections not only in Spain, but worldwide, and houses works including Las Meninas by Velázquez

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is one the Madrid's most significiant cultural institutions, alongside the Prado and Reina Sofía.

Reina Sofía

The distinctive facade of the Reina Sofía museum.

Reina Sofia museum

The garden at the Reina Sofia museum.

Shop like a local

Madrid has a thriving homegrown designer scene, with many of its most famous stores located in the high-end Salamanca neighbourhood, just a short walk from the hotel. Check out the vibrant, eye-catching designs of Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, the elegance of Queen Letizia’s favourite designer Felipe Varela and the global Spanish icon Manolo Blahnik. Central Madrid, around Plaza Mayor, is the place to find traditional Spanish products, such as espadrilles from Casa Hernanz (established in 1840), and the exquisite handmade fans, umbrellas and walking sticks of Casa de Diego. For foodie treats to take home, peruse the shelves of the Corte Inglés Gourmet Experience, which feature the most delicious produce from around Spain.

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Only in Madrid...

"Teatro Real, founded in 1818, is one of the greatest theatres in Europe. Hotel Ritz, Madrid, gives visitors the opportunity to discover it through a private tour, including access to areas not open to the public. If you choose the night-time tour you can go backstage after a show, tour the technical areas and visit the dressing rooms and rehearsal rooms. And, yes, you can even stand on the stage."

Borja Martín Guridi, Chief Concierge, Hotel Ritz, Madrid

See some sights

The city centre and the beautiful Plaza Mayor are within walking distance of Hotel Ritz, Madrid. The central square, constructed in 1617 has seen much in its time, from bullfights and hangings during the Spanish Inquisition to concerts and markets. See the Baroque grandeur of the Royal Palace on the way to one of Madrid’s most surprising sights: an authentic Egyptian temple. The Temple of Debod was given to Spain in 1968 after it helped Egypt when flooding caused by the construction of the Aswan Dam threatened to destroy important relics. Swing by the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande, to see works by the likes of Zurbarán and Goya, in the place they were intended to be viewed.

Toast your arrival

Arrive in style by sipping on a glass of the world’s most prestigious Champagne at Krug Bar. Its wood panelling and luxurious furnishings provide the ideal backdrop for an unforgettable start to the evening (depending on how much Krug you drink). The nearby Platea, a converted 1950s cinema, retains its vintage glamour, offering a stunning cocktail bar and Michelin-starred cuisine. For incredible views over Madrid’s Gran Vía, enjoy a drink on the rooftop terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes. Recline on a bed or grab a seat at a high table and watch the sun set over Madrid with a glass of something chilled.

Make time to unwind

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

The hotel has an enviable location next to Madrid’s famous Retiro Park, and its glorious gardens are the ideal place to stroll, relax and take a break from the frenetic pace of city life. The former royal gardens include the intricate Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) and beautiful boating lake. Later, recharge your batteries at the hotel’s Bodyna Wellness Centre. The signature oriental massage with argan oil promises to leave skin radiant, hydrated and smooth.

Dine in style 

Take advantage of Madrid’s reliably fantastic weather by dining alfresco in The Ritz Garden, a magical, candlelit dining venue loved by locals as a laid-back yet stylish dinner option. It’s a romantic location in which to sample some of the best tapas in Madrid. Goya Restaurant & Terrace combines old-world charm with an innovative menu by chef Jorge Gonzalez, showcasing the very best of Spanish cuisine, including red shrimp carpaccio and roast suckling pig. The nearby Ramses Life, designed by Philippe Starck, offers three different dining options: the international Natsuki, Mediterranean Suria, or light bites on the stunning Ikebana terrace, overlooking the Puerta de Alcalá – one of Madrid’s most famous monuments.

The garden

The garden at Hotel Ritz Madrid.

Hotel Ritz Madrid

Hotel Ritz Madrid.

Goya

Goya at Hotel Ritz Madrid.

Ramses Life

Ramses Life is s a resturant, bar and club.

Time travel

Did you know that Madrid is home to the world’s oldest restaurant? Sobrino de Botín, founded in 1725, employed artist Francisco de Goya as a waiter and features in the final pages of The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, who was a regular.

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And finally

Search out a copy of Don Quixote at the nearby <a href="https://www.esmadrid.com/en/tourist-information/librerias-de-la-cuesta-de-moyano" target="_blank">Cuesta de Moyano</a>, a tree-lined street of wooden book huts that have been selling their wares since 1925.

Gallery

Mercado de San Ildefonso

The Mercado de San Ildefonso is a hip three-storey food market

El Rastro

El Rastro is the most popular open-air flea market in Spain. Photo: Alex Segre, Alamy

Mercado de San Miguel

The Mercado de San Miguel food market is a culinary hotspot

Cuesta de Moyano

Madrid's bookworms beat a path to the Cuesta de Moyano book market. Photo: Danita Delimont, Alamy