Your essential guide to Madrid

Annie Bennett

By Annie Bennett

Madrid-based travel writer Annie has authored guidebooks for National Geographic Traveler and writes on Madrid and Spain for The Independent, Sunday Times Travel Magazine and The Telegraph.

Find your bearings

Paseo del PradoMandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid faces the Paseo del Prado, the tree-lined boulevard punctuated by fountains that links the city’s major museums. The hotel is in the elegant Jerónimos neighbourhood, where many members of the Spanish aristocracy had sumptuous homes in the handsome late 19th-century buildings. The opening of the hotel in 1910 had a big influence on the architecture of the area, with Parisian features such as sensual curves softening the more austere traditional style. You may recognise the streets from Pedro Almodóvar’s film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios).

Feed your mind

Reina Sofia MuseumGetting your cultural fix couldn’t be easier when you stay at Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid as the Prado, one of the world’s most celebrated art museums, is almost next door. You’ll also find the famed Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum opposite, with artworks from the 13th century to the present day. A few minutes’ walk away, CaixaForum, remodelled by Herzog & de Meuron, stages temporary exhibitions and cultural events, while the vast Reina Sofía contemporary art museum houses Picasso’s epic masterpiece, Guernica. Book ahead to visit the Palacio de Liria, which contains one of the most notable private art collections in Spain, including paintings by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya.

Shop like a local

Real Fábrica Española shopfrontThe city’s top boutiques are in the smart Salamanca neighbourhood, near the hotel. Start on Calle de Serrano where shops include Versace, Camper and Prada. Don’t miss Malababa, where the covetable shoes and bags are made from recycled leather. Also close to the hotel in the Barrio de Las Letras is Real Fábrica Española, where you can pick up gifts such as scarves, handmade soap and traditional Basque berets, sourced from artisans across Spain. Nearby, pop into The Concrete Company for jeans made from top-quality denim from Japan – get a pair tailormade for the ultimate fit.

See some sights

Gran Via, MadridFrom Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid stroll up the Paseo del Prado to Plaza de Cibeles – where Real Madrid fans celebrate their team’s wins around the fountain of the goddess Cybele. Walk along the Gran Vía, the city’s most famous street, which is lined with shops, theatres and opulent early 20th-century buildings – and don’t forget to look up. Turn down Calle Preciados to reach the Puerta del Sol, the hub of Madrid, then cut through to the Plaza Mayor, the magnificent square that dates back more than 400 years. Grab an artisan ice cream from Mistura before carrying on to the Teatro Real opera house and the majestic Plaza de Oriente, where you can have a drink or lunch on the terrace of the Café de Oriente before visiting the Royal Palace – considered Europe’s largest royal palace.

Toast your arrival

Palm Court with glass ceilingGet straight into the effervescent vibe of the Spanish capital in Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid with a drink at the chic Champagne Bar or under the glass ceiling in the famous Palm Court. Meander into the Barrio de Las Letras for a vermouth or a gin and tonic at Viva Madrid, a pretty tiled tavern that dates back to 1856 and is now run by the world-renowned barman Diego Cabrera. After midnight, head to the Azotea roof terrace for cocktails as you gaze across the Madrid skyline.

Make time to unwind

Boating lake at the Retiro Park, Madrid

Make time to unwind

Spa & wellness

After a hard day’s sightseeing, simply sink into the indoor pool back at the hotel or enjoy a massage or beauty treatment using the best local and international products in the intimate spa. For an hour of quiet contemplation, it is just a few minutes’ walk to both the Retiro Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, which were founded in the 18th century. Look out for the elm tree known as Pantalones, whose trunk looks like a pair of trousers.

Dine in style

Quique Dacosta restaurant dining room at Mandarin Oriental Ritz, MadridQuique Dacosta has five Michelin stars to his name in his native region of Valencia and is now bringing his Mediterranean magic to Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid where his signature restaurant looks out onto the garden (you’ll want to book ahead). Near the hotel, Bodega de los Secretos is both romantic and surprising, as it occupies underground wine cellars that date back to the 17th century. Hide away in one of the arched alcoves and order chargrilled octopus, and steak from the Pyrenees. In the fashionable Las Salesas area, Diego Guerrero has two Michelin stars at his DSTAgE restaurant, but if you’re in the mood for something less formal, try his Dspeakeasy bistro around the corner. 

Fallen Angel fountain, Madrid

Time Travel

In the Retiro Park behind Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid, the Fallen Angel fountain represents Lucifer’s descent and is one of the few statues in the world that celebrates the devil.

CentroCentro, Madrid

And finally

Zoom up to the observation deck at the CentroCentro cultural centre in the former post office in Plaza de Cibeles for a 360-degree view of Madrid.