Spain’s vibrant capital is one of the most popular city break destinations for tourists - and it’s easy to see why. Whether you’re exploring Madrid for 48 hours or spending a week soaking up the city, there’s plenty to see. Find culture at the Prado, Reina Sofia or Thyssen-Bornemisza museums, sip sangria in a café in Plaza Mayor or get lost wondering round Retiro Park.
But falling into tourist traps is easy in an unfamiliar city – ever found out you’ve paid too much for an attraction, or missed out on that hidden gem because you simply didn’t know about it?
That’s where a trusty guide book comes in handy. Arm yourself with one of our carefully selected editions and you’ll find that tapas bar the locals love or tick off all those must-see museums. We’ve gone for guides that are packed with genuinely useful information, are easy to follow and can fit into your rucksack or pocket when not in use.
1. Lonely Planet Madrid: £12.99, Lonely Planet Publications
Lonely Planet knows what it’s talking about when it comes to Madrid, as it always selects locals to write its city guides. This book encompasses every aspect of the capital and the four colour-coded sections make finding what you need to know easy. First, use the Plan Your Trip section, which covers potential itineraries, useful information on everything from entertainment to eating and the attractions you can’t miss. There’s also a particularly informative history section that includes an explanation on Madrid’s recent history since the economic crisis, giving you a greater insight into the city and the locals’ (Madrileños) way of life. The maps, information and recommendations for each specific area in Madrid are also a great way to find out what to go where for and the fold-out map at the back is one of the more detailed we’ve seen. This comprehensive guide will see you through everything from a few days to a couple of weeks exploring the city.
2. Pocket Rough Guide Madrid: £7.99, Rough Guides
A trusted name when it comes to travel guides, Rough Guides has produced a pocket-friendly edition that’s bursting with knowledge on the Spanish capital. Split into five colour-coded sections, you can either follow one of the various pre-prepared itinerates based on a two day stay, those on a budget or for those wishing to stay off the beaten track, or you can use the Best of Madrid section to select the restaurants, museums, galleries and activities that take your interest. If you want to explore specific areas of the city, the Places section describes each one in greater detail. It also comes with a separate map for those who want to mark out their route and leave the guide book in the hotel room. With a Spanish phrases section and useful information on opening hours, addresses and so on also thrown in at the back, it’s everything you’re looking for in a guide book.
3. DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Madrid: £7.99, DK
We love a top 10 list at IndyBest, so DK’s guide book caught our eye for its easy to follow lists on everything you can imagine. From the more standard best tapas spots or best children’s attractions, to useful round-ups on the best free things to do or the best festivals, you’ll find a list to suit your requirements. If there’s a specific museum you want to check out, you’ll also find a list on the 10 must-see artefacts in there. Despite the list format, it still provides a huge amount of history on everything it features and there’s a separate laminated map at the back, along with a map of the underground system, to help you get around the city with ease.
4. The Monocle Travel Guide Series Madrid: £12, Gestalten
The Monocle guides get to the beating heart of a city beyond the usual tourist traps and relay information like a particularly articulate friend who knows an urban space inside-out. It’s clearly arranged, separated into sections with a handy key (H for hotels; F for food and drink; D for Design and Architecture) and the colour photographs add to the detail. We were impressed by the cool independent shops recommended in the retail section. Likewise, the running and cycling routes included in the Sport and Fitness segment are the kind of things we really want to know when having a weekend away, ditto the recommendations for pools and roof terraces, given the mercury was pushing 40 during our stay. Like all the Monocle guides, the Essay chapter is a highlight, with engaging pieces on everything from film and football to Franco’s legacy that kept us entertained when shops shut down for siesta.
5. Luxe Madrid: £15.34, Luxe City Guides
If you buy the pocket-sized Luxe guide, you now get a six-month subscription to the digital version and it’s the all-singing latter that we were really impressed with. The printed guide is a fold-up card – with a pretty design – covering the need-to-know info for affluent travellers ¬in one place. Alongside everyday intel, accommodation, restaurant, bar and spa recommendations, shopping features heavily, with the suggestions split by area. The tone is tongue-in-cheek, sample line: “It’s pointless fighting the Madrileño way of life. Have lunch at 2pm, dinner at 10pm, cocktails at midnight and go dancing from 2am. It’s siesta, then fiesta.” The slick app – you get a code to download it when you buy the digital guide – has all this info written in the same accessible tone but with the added bonus that it is up-to-the-minute. There are pictures with all the listings and you can access a hotel’s website say or a restaurant’s booking page from within the app, as well as directions. Users can leave a review and report changes, with content updated regularly by Luxe’s team – so no more turning up at the door of a recently defunct restaurant on your next city break. There are maps available offline and you can create an itinerary for your trip.
6. Wallpaper* City Guide Madrid: £6.95, Phaidon
This compact guide book is our top pick for the design-conscious traveller. Part of a series of city guides created by design-led magazine Wallpaper*, its focus is on interesting and trendy landmarks, hotels, exhibitions and shops. There’s an “architour” section for those who want to spend the day studying Madrid’s beautiful buildings and blank pages at the back left for you to fill with sketches or notes inspired from your exploring. As well as giving you useful information on everything to see, there are also lots of pictures to help bring the Spanish capital to life. At the back, there are tips on where to escape to if you want to get out of the city and at the front what to do if you only have 24 hours, catering for business travellers and holidaymakers alike.
The Verdict: Madrid guide books
Our top pick is Lonely Planet’s guide book – it will tell you everything you need to know (and more) about the capital. The Monocle’s edition is worth looking at for something a little different, offering some entertaining reads on top of all your usual guide book information.
All prices are RRP
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