Travel: My Rough Guide to Madrid: Where even the pickpockets have a smile on their faces

Most underrated museum

In a city blessed with the good fortune of being home to three of the greatest art collections in the world - the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofa - the Museo Sorolla gets little attention. However, for me, this tribute to a single artist's life and work is just as rewarding as the more heavyweight attractions. Situated in the former house of the artist Joaqun Sorolla, it's a delight to stumble upon this little oasis of peace and tranquillity in the midst of the traffic-choked streets of downtown Madrid.

Best discovery

While exploring the quiet side-streets around the stylish Atocha Station, I decided to investigate what was behind the rather uninviting exterior of the Royal Tapestry Workshop. Stepping back into centuries past you can see the 42 highly skilled workers coolly looping handfuls of bobbins around a myriad of strings hanging from the original 18th-century vertical looms, sewing up worn-out masterpieces with exactly matching silk and weaving together hundreds of threads to produce the subtle shades for a new tapestry. Progress, unsurprisingly, is painfully slow with a square metre of tapestry taking two months. One giant 16th-century Flemish tapestry on show took nearly two generations to complete.

Most characterful hotel

In this age of insipid, characterless hotels, the eccentric Hotel Mnaco stands out head and shoulders above the rest. Formerly a casa de citas where lovers, in rather less liberal times, could arrange to meet, it was converted into a hotel in 1959 and still retains much of its original decor. Each of its wonderful Art Deco rooms is completely different, embellished with a variety of mirrors, canopies, oil paintings and stuccoed ceilings. It's a little frayed at the edges, but for character and stylish eccentricity it can't be beaten.

Best tapas

A close second to the Prado as the city's main tourist attraction has to be its tapas, and to tapear (moving from one bar to the next sampling its speciality) has evolved into a culinary ritual all of its own. The best tapas bars are clustered together in the narrow streets around the city centre, and wandering from one bar to the next, eating and drinking as you go, has to be one of the most pleasant ways to get to know the city.

Most thieving flea market

Situated in the midst of one of the old working-class quarters of Madrid, the Rastro street market is a ramshackle affair that heaves with people every Sunday morning. On offer are dodgy designer clothes, antiques of dubious origin, assorted pets, dismantled electrical equipment, military regalia, dog-eared football programmes, broken pottery - in fact, everything you never knew you needed. A light-hearted and friendly atmosphere prevails, even the ubiquitous pickpockets have smiles on their faces.

Most atmospheric bar

There are so many great bars to choose from in Madrid, but for sheer atmosphere it's difficult to beat the sherry bar, La Venencia, near Plaza Santa Ana. Give the cool dry fino a try. Served from dusty wooden barrels and accompanied by delicious olives or mojama (dry, salted tuna), you might, if you're lucky, even be able to settle into one of the handful of seats at the back and share a bottle while the resident cats drape themselves over the sideboards. The mildly grumpy barman will chalk up your bill on the bar.

fact file

What to see

The Museo Sorolla is located at Paseo del General Martnez Campos 37 (Metro Iglesia/Ruben Daro) and is open Tues-Sat 10am-3pm and Sun 10am- 2pm. Entry 400ptas (free on Sun).

The Royal Tapestry Workshop is located at C/Fuentarrabia 2 (Metro Atocha) and is open Mon-Fri 9.30am-12.30pm. Entry 250ptas.

Where to go

The address of the Hotel Mnaco is C/Barbieri 5 (tel:

522 46 30, Metro Chueca) and the price for a double room is about 10,000ptas.

The bars in the streets around Plaza de Santa Ana and Puerta del Sol are some of the best for tapas.

The Rastro runs from 10am-3pm every Sunday along C/Ribera de Curtidores and the surrounding streets just south of Plaza Mayor (Metro La Latina).

La Venencia is close to Plaza Santa Ana at C/de Echegaray 7 (Metro Sol/Sevilla).

Simon Baskett lives and works in Madrid and wrote 'The Mini-Rough Guide to Madrid'. Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game