Los Austrias, La Latina and Ópera
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). hostalgala.com
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). thehatmadrid.com
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). posadadelleondeoro.com
Malesaña and Chueca
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). splendomsuitesmadrid.com
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). oscar.room-matehotels.com
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). onlyyouhotels.com
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). hotelvillareal.com
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). hotelurban.com
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). lapepa-bnb.com
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). hospes.com
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). hotel-wellington.com
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). unicohotelmadrid.com
Published in the November 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)