Sleep: Madrid

With a bamboozling number of hotels and hostels, we reveal the Spanish capital's top picks, from outlandish razzle-dazzle to a stripped-back spot with cheap and cheerful design credentials.

By David Whitley
Published 3 Oct 2015, 09:00 BST, Updated 30 Jun 2021, 12:04 BST

Los Austrias, La Latina and Ópera

Los Austrias is the grandest part of town, where the Habsburg dynasty truly left its mark. The Royal Palace manages to look imposing without a hint of flair. Plaza Mayor is beautiful, if full of terrible street entertainers, while the La Latina district to the south is prime tapas territory. The Ópera area to the north, bounded by Gran Vía, is dull, but has better options for accommodation.

Best for budget: Hostal Gala
Essentially a second-floor guest house with a touch of internationalist flair, Hostal Gala has a few surprises for the budget prices. Rooms with balconettes and hydro-massage showers are welcome, while cute touches such as free lollies at reception and the Elvis and Marilyn Monroe pictures on the gents' and ladies' toilets add character. But the real trump card is the glorious friendliness and helpfulness of the staff.
Rooms: Doubles from €55 (£39). 

Best for backpackers: The Hat
There's a hipster converted-warehouse chic to this hostel right next to Plaza Mayor, which plays up its design credentials and has a bar that pulls in non-residents. But the Hat does a good job at the basics, too. Four-bed dorms come with sturdy bunk beds, individual lockers and plenty of space. Each bed has its own reading lamp, plug socket and shelf to store books and phones.
Rooms: Dorms from €17 (£12), en suite doubles from €60 (£42). 

We recommend: Posada de la León de Oro
The emphasis at the León de Oro is firmly on its restaurant, located at the top of the revered tapas-crawling strip, Calle de Cava Baja. Gorgeous wooden beams line the ceiling, and bottle after bottle of wine is racked against the wall.

The building has plenty of history — in pre-car days, travellers from the countryside would leave their horses here and bed down in rudimentary lodgings. But there's been a modern sheen to the rooms since new owners put their own stamp on things in 2000. Metal sculptures of open-leafed books sit on the floor and angular metal lamps look like art installations, while sliding mirrored doors make the rooms look bigger than they are.

This is not the choice for light sleepers, though — the rooms overlook a central atrium, and the noise from both the traffic and the restaurant carries. Those with earplugs and the intention to embark on a tasting trawl down Cava Baja, however, should be in their element.
Rooms: Doubles from €99 (£64). 

Malesaña and Chueca

The roaring traffic of Gran Vía separates the city centre from the two districts that give modern Madrid most of its character. Malasaña and Chueca are siblings which have a similar outlook on life, but approach it from different directions. Malasaña is rock, while Chueca is disco. Malasaña has a down-to-earth creativity, while Chueca throws itself into life without ever crossing the line into dishevelled raucousness. Crucially, most of the best accommodation options are found in Chueca, where the city's gay scene congregates, which offers an excellent array of tapas bars and restaurants.

Best for families: Splendom Suites Gran Via
The aparthotel concept can often end up in a complete personality vacuum, but here it's pulled off beautifully. Little hearts with glass beads dangle from door handles and Mickey Mouse cushions adorn beds if there are children in the party. There's a borderline minimalist design to go along with super-handy long-stay features such as full kitchens and washing machines, while the first-floor games room, with a mini pool table and all manner of toys, should elicit hallelujahs from parents.
Rooms: Studios from €120 (£85).

Best for a party: Room Mate Óscar
With the city lit up from all angles, the rooftop bar terrace at Room Mate Óscar is understandably one of the hottest places to hang out. The pool (cleverly decked over in winter months) doesn't half help too. The hotel — and the Room Mate chain as a whole — plays up its design credentials with curvy furniture, backlit everything and a trippy field of hanging mirrors in the lobby. But rooms are strikingly affordable, if built somewhat oddly around a frosted glass shower cubicle in the middle.
Rooms: Doubles from €79 (£56). 

We recommend: Only You
It's Sunday afternoon — often the quietest time of the week in hotel land — but Only You is going off. Between the two gigantic willow pattern vases, DJ decks are pumping out the tunes, a little stall in the lounge is selling vodka and gluten-free cakes, and people are pecking at the leisurely, boozy brunch buffet. Elsewhere, silvery fake rhino and ox heads add a touch of weird to proceedings, the back wall of the reception is made up of white suitcases, and the lift doors are covered in blue-and-white tile paintings.

Basically, Only You knows it's cool, but pulls it off well. There's a free Panama hat in the rooms, while the robe in the bathroom is in orange and white giraffe print. The back wall, in navy blue leather and velvet, is a real eye-catcher. But it's the framed maps of old Madrid that spark the imagination and lure you into nerdy investigation, somewhat undermining the louche hipster image.
Rooms: Doubles from €145 (£103). 


The eastern side of the city centre, wedged in a rough triangle between Puerta del Sol plaza and either end of the massive Retiro park, has a more relaxed feel. It's traditionally been the area where writers live — little statues and quotes laid out in gold letters in the cobbles allude to this. There's also an impressive selection of cafes, restaurants and bars. It's not cutting edge, but it's hugely amiable. And the big three art museums — the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia — are close at hand.

Best for history: Villa Real
When plumping for heritage in a hotel, it's usually about the backstory and classic grandeur. But at the Villa Real, it's about what's inside it. Over 150 meticulously pieced-together mosaics have been gathered up, mainly from ancient Greece and Syria, and displayed in the lobby and corridors. It's as much archaeological museum as hotel. The rooms aren't stuck in the past, though — split-level, polished dark-wood floors combine with modern art on the wall, earthy leather couches and a general glossy sheen.
Rooms: Doubles from €132 (£94).

We recommend: Hotel Urban
The startling points of difference become clear the moment you walk through the door. Huge gold vases containing black mock-bullrushes soar upwards, and carved wooden house-posts from Papua New Guinea flank like guardian totem poles. The anthropological pilfering continues with figurines from China and Cambodia in the rooms, and a mini-museum downstairs.

It's no surprise to learn the owner is an archaeologist, but his finds have been placed in a very sleek setting. Backlit reception desks and a wow-factor glass roof over the central courtyard scream cool. The rooftop terrace has a small pool and sunloungers arranged to catch the afternoon rays.

The rooms revel in a glorious richness, with bedspreads that resemble snakeskin and blinds that are electronically controlled from the bed. In short, staying at Hotel Urban is the sensory equivalent of drinking a well-cellared vintage wine.
Rooms: Doubles from €182 (£129). 

Best for museums: La Pepa Chic B&B
Generally, you'll pay a premium for being so close to the big museums. But this perky B&B is almost next door to the Thyssen-Bornemisza and is available for a fraction of what you'd pay at the Westin Palace opposite. There's enough of a design flourish to make it interesting too — old wooden doors are used as headboards and children's shoes are used as slightly strange but cute decoration. Sliding doors and freestanding clothes rails are used to maximise space, and the admirably leisurely breakfast runs until 11.30am.
Rooms: Doubles from €61 (£43). 


Opinions as to what Salamanca, to the east of Chueca, is about rather depend on your perspective. To some people, it's the snootiest part of Madrid, where money counts for more than character. To others, it's the city at its most chic, where the finest local designers strut their stuff among international labels. The truth lies somewhere between the two. Salamanca is certainly showy, but the shopping scene isn't just about having large credit card limits. There are also plenty of absolutely gorgeous buildings flanking the wide streets, and more than enough spots to eat well and throw back cocktails on a terrace.

Best for parklife: Hospes Madrid
The front-facing rooms have stellar views over Puerta de Alcalá, but it's what's behind it that's key. El Retiro, Madrid's grandest people-watching park, is merely a few footsteps away from the hotel. There are hints of grandeur in the lobby's stucco work, but the general look is one of calming wooden floors and crisply comfortable whites and creams.
Rooms: Doubles from €183 (£130). 

We recommend: Hotel Wellington
At first glance, the Wellington looks like a stuffy, old-fashioned five-star complete with daft-suited porters. But then you start to notice the unusual elements. The English-style pub for ill-judged 4am nightcaps; the plastic cows dressed up as bullfighters; the rooftop veg garden. The Kabuki Japanese restaurant, meanwhile, was the first in Spain not serving Spanish food to get a Michelin star. In summer, the deal-sealer is the outdoor deck area, with its orange trees and large pool.
Rooms: Doubles from €171 (£121).

Best for food: Hotel Único
Reservations are required well in advance to sample the handiwork of two Michelin-star chef Ramón Freixa in the intimate, eponymous in-house restaurant. The Único is also in the best spot for designer shopping. The almost entirely mirrored staircase gives way to rich dark-wood backboards dominating the rear wall, and free handbooks packed with hints on how to best enjoy the city are a bonus.
Rooms: Doubles from €205 (£146). 

Published in the November 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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