Neighborhoods really matter in Madrid. Tourists often opt to stay in the center of the old town, where the major sights are located, like the Palacio Real, the Plaza Mayor, and the phenomenal Prado and Reina Sofía Museums. I can see the allure of the area at first blush. I felt it myself when I stayed in Madrid the first time, intrigued by the narrow, brick-lined streets, the hodgepodge styles of yesteryear (think Art Nouveau storefronts on neoclassical buildings), the innumerable bars and restaurants, all hawking paella. I still love walking around that area, but over time, I’ve noticed that the tourists outnumber the locals on those romantic alleys, and I’ve learned that paella, while delicious, is about as Madrileno as apple pie — and pretty terrible outside of the eastern coast of Spain.
As we’ve visited and spent protracted periods of time in Madrid, I’ve gotten to stay in other parts of the city, as well. We’ve stayed across the Gran Via in Malasana and Chueca, known for world-class partying, a thriving LGBTQ community, and great bars. We’ve also stayed in Chamberi, a gorgeous neighborhood with one of the best restaurant strips in the city, Calle Ponzano, and the stunning Sorolla Museum, as well as Princesa, which is a little farther north and has abundant tapas. However, our hearts have settled in Barrio Salamanca.
Salamanca is admittedly a more uppity part of Madrid. It’s home to Chanel, Gucci, and the like, and it’s where Russian oligarchs have purchased penthouses. That might make it sound like the neighborhood lacks character, but somehow Salamanca has retained local flavor in the midst of its cosmopolitanism. And it’s SUPER kid-friendly, especially the Castellano part. The verdant Parque del Buen Retiro is just a skip away, so Josephine can run wild, watch performances, gawk at giant koi, and beat the heat at one of the many helado shops. There’s also a covered playground right on Calle Serrano, the main shopping street in the district, where Josephine has met tons of adorable kids and played safely for hours on end. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
The only issue in Salamanca has been where to stay. While the tourist center has the Four Seasons, the Mandarin Oriental, the Westin Palace, among others, Salamanca really just has the Rosewood, the Hotel Wellington, and the Unico. I love the Rosewood, but it’s super expensive over the holidays, and I didn’t feel good about asking anyone to hemorrhage like that. I also love the Unico, but the rooms are teensy weensy. On this trip, we found ourselves for the first time at the Hotel Wellington, which has a sort of dated vibe but which wound up offering exactly what we needed. We stayed in one of the newest rooms, located in the spa area. It was gigantic with a massive relaxation shower and a huge closet — really cool. And we had access to Club Wellington, which was really great. They had wonderful breakfasts, as well as snacks and drinks throughout the day. The service at the Club was so old-school and on-point; we just loved it.
So, I would recommend that families stay in Salamanca. Singles and young couples might prefer something more central. Wherever you stay, though, the subway is phenomenal, and you’ll easily be able to get to other parts of the city quickly and seamlessly. And now that Google Maps gives subway routes, there’s just no excuse not to use the metro. Whatever you do, get out and explore Madrid; see the variety in the city’s haunts. Find the place that makes your heart happy.
Author: Jessica Givens.