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City Slicker: Madrid

Get the low-down on what to see and do in the Spanish capital, in the first of our new series of urban tours. By Ian McCurrach

Why visit?

Autumn is just the season to enjoy a city break. And few places deserve a visit as much as Madrid. For years the buzz has been all about its great Catalan rival, Barcelona. But the Spanish capital is proving to be just as much fun. This may be the sober seat of government, but Madrileños like to "vivir a tope" (live life to the full) with some determination. In fact, you are likely to see more people on the streets here at 3am than at 3pm, making the most of the lively bars, cafés, restaurants and club scene.

While watching the locals at play in the warm autumn weather is one of the most enjoyable pursuits in this party town, it's not all about soaking up the atmosphere. There's plenty of sightseeing on offer amid Madrid's broad boulevards, grand plazas and stately architecture, not least three of Europe's finest art galleries. Plus there are many new openings for returning visitors to explore.

Don't miss ...

... the spectacular city views from the Teleferico cable car (teleferico.com) in the Casa de Campo, a former royal hunting estate.

... the three great art galleries: the Reina Sofia (museoreinasofia.es); the Thyssen Bornemisza (museothyssen.org); and the Prado (museoprado.es).

... the elegant architecture of the Plaza Mayor, the hub of Madrid life for centuries.

... the vast 18th-century Royal Palace (patrimonionacional.es) with its soaring white façade.

... the Retiro, the city's most popular open space (think Hyde Park), where the whole of Madrid seems to congregate on a Sunday.

What's new?

Las Salesas

Madrid's Meat Packing District, bordering Chueca, is an up-and-coming hot spot. It is home to chic cafés, small sushi bars, the cult Italian trattoria Pulcinella, at calle Rugueros 7, and, for chocolate lovers, Cacao Sampaka, at calle Orellana 4. Don't miss Pescaderia Fernando VI, at calle Fernando VI 10, the city's famous fishmonger, where everyone comes early on Saturdays to buy fresh cod. Word has it that Marc Jacobs will open a boutique here soon near Benny Room, Mage and Tribeca boutiques.

Reina Sofia Museum

The original slab-sided building with glass and steel lifts was impressive enough, but now the museum has added an eye-catching rear by the French architect Jean Nouvel. The new glass and steel extension is arranged around a courtyard, providing an extra 332,000 square feet of space for temporary exhibitions, a library and auditorium. While you're there, don't miss one of the gallery's highlights: Picasso's 'Guernica'. There is also an excellent restaurant and museum store worth visiting.

Details: see above.


This restaurant in the heart of trendy Chueca serves tasty Basque fusion cuisine. And adding a curious twist, the unusual menu is structured according to the temperature at which the dishes are prepared – so 25C, 50C and 75C. Sua is owned by Madrid's favourite It boys: Rafa and Luis Medina. They've been on the 'Vanity Fair' best-dressed list for two years running, so expect to rub shoulders with a celebrity clientele. And, of course, booking is essential.

Details: sua.es.

Hotel Oscar

The latest addition to the chic Room Mate hotel chain, headed by Enrique Sarasola, Madrid's designer hotel guru. Hotel Oscar has 75 rooms with interiors by Tomas Alia; the design is modern minimalist with bold swathes of bright colour. Situated north of Gran Via, Oscar's restaurant and bar have become focal points for Madrid's cool set. Doubles from €140 (£112) per night.

Details: room-matehotels.com.


The hot fashionista pit stop. Yube has a wide selection of women's and menswear, including M Missoni, Paul & Joe, See by Chloé, the Olsen sisters' new clothing line and this winter's must-have chunky jewel necklaces by Spanish fashion newcomer Patricia Nicolas (left). Famous clients include actresses Penelope and Monica Cruz as well as Paz Vega and Mexican singer Paulina Rubio.

Details: calle Fernando VI 23; 00 34 91 3197673.

La Casa Encendida

This multidisciplinary space is housed within a large neo-Mudejar building. The focus is on cultural exchange and there are various spaces spread across the venue's four floors. The changing programme features shows from emerging young artists working across all disciplines, including cutting-edge performance art, music, dance and video. There is a shop selling Fairtrade products and a café, popular with young artists and thinkers.

Details: lacasaencendida.com.

How to get there

Easyjet (easyjet.com) flies to Madrid from Gatwick, Liverpool, Luton, Edinburgh from £47 return. Spanish Tourist Office (spain.info), Madrid Tourist Office (esmadrid.com).

Ana Ureña, freelance journalist and broadcaster

"Try my favourite place for merienda – the equivalent of afternoon tea. It's called Embassy and is one of the best patisseries in Madrid. Trays laden with delicious individual mini cakes are passed around the tables so you can pick out the ones you want to have with your café con leche – the Spanish latte."

Details: embassy.es.