For many years, Madrid was seen as the ugly sister of sophisticated Barcelona. Today, it's perceived as Spain's premiere spot to indulge in cultural activities and shopping. The variety of products offered in the small specialty shops and giant department stores of El Corte Inglés is truly staggering. Wander through the maze of the innovative designer fashion outlets and flea markets to feel the genuine spirit of the city.
As the cultural capital of Spain, Madrid is also the point of emergence for some of the hottest trends in the world of fashion. A unique mix of shopping celebrities, locals and tourists sweeps through the boulevards popping into exclusive boutiques, second-hand designer shops and vintage clothing markets.
Though some of the central establishments may seem expensive at first glance, true gems await patient browsers. Dare to leave your Madrid hotel room and explore the world of Spanish fashion. Be sure to visit:
- Puerta del Sol, Calle de Preciados, and Gran Vía comprise the most popular area among tourists, as they feature a wide range of popular fashion chains. The world-famous Spanish brands of Zara, Bershka, Stradivarius and Pull&Bear can all be found here, offering their collections for prices much lower than anywhere else in the world.
- Salamanca, located northeast of the centre, is a Mecca for the wealthiest shoppers. Calle Serrano and Calle Ortega y Gasset are home to the fancy establishments of internationally known designers like Versace, Chanel and Hugo Boss, along with the renowned Spanish fashion houses of Adolfo Domínguez and Purificación García.
- Chueca, the gay district of Madrid, is known as a popular shopping destination among fans of hippie fashion. Calle Hortaleza and Calle Fuencarral hold a number of intriguing second-hand and vintage boutiques, as well as youthful fashion outlets and unique accessories shops. An interesting hippie market takes place at Plaza Felipe II.
Art & Antiques
Though substantially modernised in recent years, Madrid retains its essentially retro feel. Art enthusiasts and crafts collectors will be delighted with the abundance of traditional art dealers' studios and outdoor markets selling all kinds of curious junk.
- Carrera de San Jerónimo is the area of the densest concentration of art studios, crafts shops and home decor outlets. Explore the establishments along Plaza de las Cortés, Calle del Prado and Calle de las Huertas, but don't expect big bargains, as the neighbourhood is quite upscale.
- El Rastro, held every Sunday between Calle de los Embajadores and Ronda de Toledo, is Madrid's most famous flea market. Vendors display all kinds of unexpected treasures, and bargaining is more than welcomed. Many claim that the conversion of the market into a major tourist attraction has taken away much of El Rastro's original spirit, but it still remains a unique experience.
- Rastrillo de Tetuán, a small-scale version of El Rastro, is held in Calle Marqués de Viana.
- Plaza Mayor hosts a stamp, print and coin market on Sunday mornings.
Madrid boasts several bookshops that always prove to be a hit with local and visiting bookworms. Locally printed books often turn out to be quite expensive because of high printing costs, but interesting second-hand shops abound in the city.
- Calle Isaac Peral and Calle Fernando el Católico, close to the university campus, are home to a large number of new and second-hand books in many languages.
- Cuesta de Moyano is a book market which opens daily beside the Botanical Gardens. It's a sort of literary El Rastro, selling mostly second-hand books in Spanish.
- Feria del Libro Antiguo y de Ocasión, devoted to old and rare books, starts at the beginning of May in Paseo de Recoletos.
Did you know...?
1. Madrid is believed to be home to more than 50,000 shops.
2. There are four huge El Corte Inglés department stores in the centre of Madrid.
3. The shopping mall of Xanadú features the largest indoor skiing slope in Europe.
4. The name of the El Rastro flea market means 'the trail'.
5. The Cacti-Cacti shop is dedicated entirely to cacti from all over the world.
6. El Rastro has been held for the past 500 years.
7. During the annual ARCO Art Fair, art galleries from all over the world exhibit the artists they represent.
8. Shoes from the Spanish designer Manolo Blahnik can be priced at up to 2,500 USD.
9. Justo Algaba is a shop specialising in bullfighters' outfits.
10. El Flamenco Vive is a place dedicated to everything flamenco-related.
1. Shops in Madrid are generally open from Monday through Saturday, 10am to 8pm, with a lunch break from 2pm - 5pm Smaller establishments usually remain closed on Sundays.
2. In Madrid, shops with sales are marked rebajas, traspaso or liquidación.
3. Streets around the Opera underground station feature a number of recommendable shops selling musical instruments, sheet music and CDs.
4. Spanish shops usually charge an additional fee for shipping objects of atypical size and shape.
5. Keep an eye on your belongings while browsing through the stalls at El Rastro. The market has an unpleasant reputation as the city's major area for pickpockets.
6. The VAT is marked on bills and receipts as IVA. Be careful, as it's often not included in the initial price.
7. Visitors are welcome to take the Madrid Shopping Tour, which encompasses all of the important shopping venues, for EUR25.
8. Remember that you're required to present a photo ID when paying with a credit card.
9. Duty-free shops at the Barajas Airport offer relatively cheap saffron.
10. Infoshopping is a free shopping guide to Madrid. It's worth picking up for its good map of the city centre.
Shop Review: Ocho y Medio
Ocho y Medio
Ocho y Medio is a unique specialty bookshop selling publications on everything related to the film industry, from biographies of famous filmmakers to books on audio-visual art. Customers can browse through more than 15,000 books in Spanish, English, French, German, Portuguese and Italian, stored on two floors. The shop is located in a neighbourhood known for the densest concentration of cinemas showing films in their original versions in Madrid. Ocho y Medio also owns a renowned publishing house releasing important books on cinema.
Address: Calle Martín de los Heros 11
Opening hours: Mon-Sat, 10am to 2 pm and 5pm tom 8.30pm
This delicious Spanish treat is produced in many varieties, but is most often made of nougat, honey, egg white, sugar and crushed, toasted almonds, which comprise at least 65% of the original product.
A Flamenco CD
Though the music was born in the hot south of Andalusia, Madrid is an important centre for contemporary flamenco culture, with many great local bands with their own unique sound.
Real Madrid T-Shirt
There's no better way of keeping the conversation going in Madrid than praising the performance of the Real Madrid football team. You might want to refrain from flaunting your outfit in Barcelona, however.
This traditional Spanish accessory, available widely at every souvenir shop, can be seen as just a tourist item. However, they do come in handy on hot summer days, and are really used by locals.
A Spanish Cookery Book
Spanish cuisine is widely acclaimed as one of the most interesting in the world. Find your perfect guide and prepare your own gambas al ajillo, fabada and gazpacho.