Where to Stay in Madrid First Time: 12 Best Areas & Neighborhoods

The best areas to stay in Madrid for both first time and returning tourists are the neighborhoods of Centro, La Latina, Huertas, Lavapiés, Chueca, Malasaña, and the upscale Salamanca and Retiro. In this guide, I will help you to decide where to stay in Madrid for first-timers and Madrid’s safest neighborhoods for families, nightlife, shopping, food, budget, one night, three days, Christmas, and near the train station and the airport.

Founded in the 9th-century, the Spanish capital, Madrid is the political, economic, and cultural center of Spain. It is famous for its historical buildings, food markets, royals, renaissance and contemporary art museums, and bustling nightlife.

Madrid is a very safe city and there are no no-go zones in the city cente, but like all famous tourist destinations, you should be aware of pickpocketing and scams. You should stick to central areas, well-lit streets and avoid the area around the Atocha train station at night. The centro neighborhood, Malasaña, La Latina, Chueca, Lavapiés are populated with tourists and generally safe, the safest districts in Madrid are the upmarket areas such as Salamanca and Retiro.

📌12 Best Areas to Stay in Madrid

1. Puerta del Sol and Gran Via, best place to stay in Madrid for first time

Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía, where to stay in Madrid for first time tourists

The Centro neighborhood is arguably the hot tourism hub of the city. The area around the main square of Sol and Madrid’s main shopping street, Gran Vía is an ideal place to stay for first-time tourists.

The Puerta del Sol square (The Sun’s Gate in English) is home to the Kilometre Zero plaque, the official starting point for Spain’s 6 National Roads. It’s a convenient meeting place for Madrileños and tourists. 

On the square, you can also find the Real Casa de Correos (House of the Post Office). This is where Spaniards gather to watch the countdown of the 19th-century clock tower on New Year’s Eve.

The El Oso y El Madroño also known as the Statue of the Bear and Strawberry Tree is another well-known sight on the square. The official symbol of the city, Oso & Madroño is the work of the sculptor Antonio Navarro Santa Fe.

Other statues on the square are the statue of the Bourbon King Carlos III and the reproduction of the Mariblanca statue, with the original being on display at the Municipal Museum.

Puerta del Sol is the starting point of many streets including Calle Arenal, Calle de Alcalá, Calle Mayor, and Calle Preciados. The pedestrianized street of Preciados is one of the most important shopping hubs of the Spanish capital.

Within a short walk from the square to the west, you will see Madrid’s main square and the focal point of medieval Madrid, Plaza Mayor. The Baroque style square has 129 meters long by 94 meters wide, surrounded by three-story buildings.

Designed by Juan de Herrera and Juan Gómez de Mora, Plaza Mayor was originally called Plaza del Arrabal during the 19th-century but renamed Plaza Mayor at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

The square is home to the Equestrian statue of Philip III, Casa de la Panadería which is one of Madrid’s first bakeries dating back 1500s, and El Arco de Cuchilleros which is one of the nine entrances to the square.

There are also a number of traditional tapas restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars, making it a prime location for anyone looking to sample the truly authentic local cuisine. Each year, the traditional Christmas market is hosted here.

This is where you can find the oldest cake shop in Spain, Antigua Pastelería del Pozo, established in 1830 and still retaining some of its original furniture, and the Sobrino de Botín, which was first opened in 1725, is famous for its roasted piglet.

If that isn’t enough Spanish culture for you, the local nightlife boasts not only a slew of the city’s top clubs and music venues but also several Flamenco houses.

The winding streets connecting Puerta del Sol to the most famous boulevard of Madrid, Gran Via provide a charming shopping experience with both department stores and smaller shops that sells clothes, jewelry, art, toys, music, and football paraphernalia. 

Gran Via, known as the Spanish Broadway, was built between 1910 and 1929 to link the Salamanca and Argüelles neighborhoods.

Home to some of the city’s first skyscrapers, it is an excellent exhibition of Madrid’s architectural development and boasts a selection of museums, theatres, and the Casino de Madrid.

Barrio Sol is also an important transport hub and close to Madrid’s nightlife in the barrios of Malasaña and Chueca.

Stay in Sol and Gran Vía if you are a first-time tourist and need a central location, you want a convenient mix of culture and shopping, you want to try traditional local food, you value nightlife, you prefer to travel on foot, you’re looking for the best places to stay in Madrid on a budget, you stay in Madrid for short time 1 night to 3 days.

Best places to stay in Madrid city center:


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2. Los Austrias, where to stay in Madrid for sightseeing

 Los Austrias, best area to stay in Madrid for sightseeing

Los Austrias (also known as El Madrid de los Austrias) is the place to stay for those looking to truly experience the history of Madrid. One of the oldest areas of the city, with buildings dating back as far as the 15th century.

Barrio Los Austrias is close to one of the best sights of the city like the Royal Palace, El Teatro Real (Royal Theatre), Almudena Cathedral, Plaza Mayor, and the Descalzas Reales Monastery, a nunnery that houses a collection of 17th-century art open for public viewing.

The sprawling 18th century Royal Palace, the residence of the Spanish Royal Family, is an estate so large that the public walking tours can’t cover all of its rooms in a single tour.

The Palace is compassed Campo del Moro Park, which dates back to the Middle Ages, and the gardens of Sabatini.

On Sundays the Painters’ Market comes to the Plaza del Conde de Barajas, exhibiting the works of 40 local independent artists.

The nightlife here is similarly cultured, built around the local opera houses, theatres, and flamenco houses. Bars offer live music for fans of jazz and blues, as well as cocktails and dining for those looking to chat about the performances they have just witnessed.

The area around Madrid’s 400-year-old central square, Plaza Mayor, is the perfect place to browse some of the oldest shops in the city and pick up traditional souvenirs, such as old coins, traditional shoes, and local delicacies. 

Once you are tired of shopping and sightseeing, head to the San Miguel Market, a food hall of over 30 stalls, featuring flavors from every part of Spain, combined with live entertainment, this is the perfect spot to unwind and recharge.

You must try traditional Spanish cuisine like patatas bravas, calamari sandwiches, pimentos padrón, and sangría.

Stay in Los Austrias if a place to stay with a lot of sightseeing; you love history, you love art and culture; you are looking for more relaxed nightlife; you want a neighborhood with a romantic ambiance; you want to stay in central but less touristy places.

Best Places to Stay in Los Austrias:


3. La Latina, where to stay in Madrid for foodies

The historical district of La Latina originated as the merchant hub of medieval Madrid and those roots shine through to this day, with the city’s largest flea market, El Rastro, acting as the area’s main tourist draw and street markets taking over the winding roads every Sunday morning.

It is also home to the Mercado de la Cebada, a good place for foodies where you can buy fresh local products and local cuisines.

Aside from its sprawling markets, the La Latina area is famous as the primary tapas hotspot in Madrid, especially on the Calle de la Cava Baja and Cava Alta streets.

It draws crowds of tourists and locals alike to sample the breadth of Spanish cuisine on offer here, including a number of interesting items you probably won’t have seen on the menu at your local tapas bar. 

If you need a break from shopping and eating, there are a number of museums and historical churches in the area, including the San Isidro Museum and the Basilica of San Francisco el Grande, a beautiful, domed building, which showcases a collection of artworks from the 18th century.

Or how about a scenic walk in some of the manicured gardens, set higher up the hills and offering gorgeous views over Madrid. 

The nightlife of the area keeps up with the lively standard of the city, offering a host of clubs, bars, and taverns to keep you entertained late into the night.

La Latina is a safe area but as any famous tourist spot, you should take care of your belongings. Accommodation in La Latina consists mostly of budget options and numerous mid-range hotels. It’s also within walking distance to the attractions in Centro and Retro, making it an ideal place for budget travelers. 

Stay in La Latina if you love good food and lots of it; you enjoy shopping at markets; you are interested in antiques and vintage items.

Best Places to Stay in Madrid in La Latina:


4. Huertas, central location with bohemian atmosphere

Huertas is located next to Lavapies, close to Plaza del Sol and Retiro. Also known as Barrio de las Letras, which translates as ‘the literary quarter’, Huertas is a hub of history, art, and culture. 

This Literary Quarter was once home to the legendary Spanish writers, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Quevedo, the area is a celebration of literature and theatrical arts.

The Plaza de Santa Ana displays statues of some of Spain’s most celebrated playwrights and poets, while the Calle Huertas pavement is engraved with quotes from famous Spanish literary works.

It’s here you’ll also find the Teatro Español, one of the principal theatres of Madrid and a key stop for anyone wanting to experience the highest quality Spanish theatre.

In addition to being the district in which Cervantes lived, his final resting place can be found in the nearby Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians, along with several other notable, if less famous, names.

Las Letras is also within walking distance to the Madrid Golden Triangle of Art, which comprises the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofía Museum, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.

Bookshops, interior design stores, and antique emporiums make up the shopping district of this area, and if you can’t make it to the interior decoration festival, which sees the local shops set out sprawling street markets, don’t fear, as the first Saturday of every month hosts the Ranas Street market, which boasts live street performances and special offers from the participating vendors.

You may think that an area dedicated to literature wouldn’t have much of a lively nightlife, in which case you will be pleasantly surprised by the varied entertainment on offer after sundown.

True to its roots as a center of the arts, a variety of live performances can be observed, from music to dancing, and the clubs and bars cater for both those who seek a lively night of dancing, as well as those who prefer a calmer evening of cocktails and conversation. 

Huertas is a safe neighborhood and a good base in Madrid but you should you common sense and keep your valuables safe from pickpockets. You will find many people on the streets enjoying themselves both day and night. The lodgings here range from budget to 5-star hotels, and long-term apartments for literary history lovers.

Stay in Huertas if you love culture and history, and want to stay in a bohemian and convenient area; you love literature, you enjoy live performances.

Best Places to Stay in Huertas (Barrio de las Letras):


5. Malasana, where to stay in Madrid for nightlife

Malasana, where to stay in Madrid for nightlife

To experience a more alternative Madrid, you may want to consider the trendy district of Malasana, home to the Movida arts movement of the ‘80s and still retaining much of its rebellious character. 

The Movida Madrileña, known as Madrid Scene in English, started in the mid-1970s after the death of dictator Francisco Franco and Spain’s return to democracy. It was full of bars, drugs, and nightlife in the 80s, but now Malasaña is one of Madrid’s hippest neighborhoods.

Malasana neighborhood is packed with craft coffee shops, vintage stores, tattoo parlors, rustic bars around the historic main Plaza de Dos de Mayo, and the pedestrianized-street Calle Fuencarral.

The nightlife here is distinct and varied, with an ever-changing calendar of public events set amongst the permanent array of niche clubs and bars with a penchant for the risqué.

Here you’ll find adult-only shops, rock bars, and venues for just about every musical preference, with parties commonly spilling out onto the streets.

If you are less inclined to party, it may still be worth visiting in the daytime, to wander the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art Conde Duque, ABC Museum of Drawing and Illustration, or appreciate the 17th-century churches that sit nestled amongst the bars. 

Local shops offer almost everything you could be looking for but are of particular interest to anyone looking for vintage goods and clothing, or fans of comics, with several comic book stores within walking distance of one another.

Malasaña is within walking distance from lively Chueca, Centro’s Gran Vía, and Plaza de España, where you can find a monument to Miguel de Cervantes, a Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright.

It is also home to two city’s tallest buildings: Madrid Tower and the Edificio España, both built in the 1950s.

You can find affordable hotels and hostels in this neighborhood.

Stay in Malasaña if you’re looking for the best place to stay in Madrid for nightlife, you are not bothered by rowdy revelers, you want to experience Madrid’s alternative culture, you want to stay in the hip and bohemian neighborhood.

Best Places to Stay in Madrid in Malasaña:


6. Chueca, Madrid’s premier gay barrio, great nightlife

Sandwiched between Malasaña and Salamanca, and immediately north of Gran Via is the district of Chueca, Madrid’s premier gay neighborhood, that hosts the Gay Pride Festival around in midsummer late June or early July.

As you would expect from an area famous for its LGBTQ community, the nightlife is a major draw for this area. The streets are lined with the hippest bars, restaurants, clubs, and cocktail bars, transforming into a vibrant hub of entertainment after sundown.

You can check out the legendary cocktail bar Museo Chicote or enjoy a drink on the rooftop terrace of the San Antón Market. Don’t worry if that’s not your thing though, there is still plenty to see here in the daytime as well.

Plaza de Chueca is the heart of the Chueca, a regular meeting spot with its own metro stop. Calle de Hortaleza is packed with shopping, dining, and nightlife.

The San Anton Food Market is located along Calle Agusto Figueroa, with a wide array of vendors offering samples to those browsing the stalls.

If you take the ingredients you buy here to the La Cocina de San Antón restaurant two floors above the market their chefs will cook it for you, so you can enjoy it as fresh as possible, whilst taking in the views from their rooftop terrace.

If your trip to Madrid needs some romantic flair, the Museum of Romanticism is housed in the former palace of the Marquis of Matallana, or for a more alternative date idea, the bones of Saint Valentine rest in the San Anton church and are available for viewing by the public.

Chueca is Madrid’s official gay neighborhood with thrilling nightlife. it is typically a safe area to stay in Madrid day and night as the popular nightlife keeps the streets busy and the lights on.

Stay in Chueca if you want to stay in one of the hippest neighborhoods in Madrid, if you are there for the Pride festivities, you seek LGBTQ-friendly accommodation and entertainment, you want a truly personalized dining experience, you seek a vibrant nightlife.

Best Places to Stay in Madrid in Chueca:


7. Salamanca, where to stay in Madrid for luxury

Designed in the late 19th-century as a playground for the wealthy aristocracy, Barrio de Salamanca remains one of the most luxurious residential areas of Madrid. This Salamanca barrios is the safest area in Madrid. It’s also home to embassies of the United States, Canada, and Switzerland.

Madrid’s longest and most elegant avenue, Paseo de la Castellana runs through Salamanca. This street is home to Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (Real Madrid), the AZCA business center, and the Cuatro Torres Business skyscrapers complex.

You can find the best high-end boutiques, fine dining eateries, upscale bars, and luxury hotels around Calle de Serrano, Calle de Velázquez, and Calle de Goya, also known as Golden Mile. In fact, even those who don’t will be able to appreciate the beautifully designed shopfronts and architecture of the area.

The area also boasts a number of museums, art galleries, and exhibition halls, including the National Archaeological Museum, Columbus Plaza, the Puerta de Alcalá, the newer Robot Museum, and Madrid’s iconic bullring Las Ventas.

The Puerta de Alcalá on Plaza de la Independencia is a neo-classical arch, one of the iconic monuments in Madrid, erected in 1778 by Italian architect Francesco Sabatini. It’s a great place to take photos.

If all that shopping and wandering museums make you hungry, there are also six Michelin-starred restaurants in the area to choose from, along with a plethora of other fine dining establishments and cafes, offering an array of cuisines, from authentic local delicacies to Japanese fusion.

The nightlife of the area maintains the exclusivity and sophistication it was designed for, with the city’s top mixologists serving cocktails from some of the most prestigious clubs and bars, catering to the wealthy socialites and company executives from the nearby business districts.

Salamanca is a bit off-center but you can easily reach its attractions by metro. Velázquez, Serrano, and Ventas are the nearest metro stops to Salamanca barrios.

Accommodations in Salamanca are mostly 4- and 5-star hotels but you can also find some budget hotels.

Stay in Salamanca if you want to stay in an upscale residential area; you enjoy high-end shopping, fine dining, vibrant and upscale nightlife.

Best Places to stay in Salamanca:


8. Lavapiés, where to stay in Madrid on budget

Located between La Latina and Huertas, within walking distance to Retiro and Centro, the hip and trendy Barrio de Lavapiés, meaning “wash your feet”, is a good option for those who like international cuisines with a wide range of good value accommodation.

You will find the central meeting places for young Madrileños in Plaza Lavapiés, and many numerous Indian restaurants along Calle Lavapiés (also known as Curry Row by locals).

Lavapies have stayed true to their multicultural origins throughout the centuries and the melting pot of cultures that formed this working district have left their mark on the art and atmosphere of the area. 

A hub of visual and dramatic art, the selection of exhibition centers and theatres include the Teatro Valle-Inclán, one of the base theatres of the National Drama Centre, and the La Casa Encendida cultural center, which offers a wide variety of exhibitions, performances, art installations, and workshops.

The Spanish Film Archive is also located here, a must-visit for anyone interested in the development of Spanish cinema.

Thanks to its multicultural population, the dining options available in Lavapies are varied enough that even the pickiest eaters will find something they love, with restaurants offering food from across the world. 

The Tapapiés festival takes full advantage of this smorgasbord of cultural cuisines, exhibiting live performances, catered by vendors blending their country’s traditional foods with the Spanish tradition of tapas.

It’s not just the food of these cultures that is celebrated in Lavapies however, as the thriving immigrant community brings the vibrant festivals of their home countries with them. 

Most notably, the Indian celebration of Holi takes over the streets at the beginning of spring, filling them with color and ushering in the season. It is an event not to be missed if you have the opportunity to participate in the festivities.

Stay in Lavapiés if you want to stay near Atocha train station; you’re traveling on budget; you are passionate about art, you want to try food from a variety of cultures, you want to take part in cultural performances and festivals.

Best Places to Stay in Madrid in Lavapiés:


9. Retiro, where to stay in Madrid for family

Retiro, where to stay in Madrid for family

Llocated close to Paseo del Prado and Av de Menéndez Pelayo,the family-friendly district of Retiro is famous for its El Retiro Park and home to the Golden Triangle. Retiro Park is safe to visit day and evening.

The primary feature of the Retiro district is Madrid’s most famous park, Parque del Retiro, which was first opened to the public in 1868. It was originally built for King Philip IV, has damaged during the War of Independence, later became a place for commoners and royals.

This sprawling 125-hectare estate has more than 15,000 trees, the lungs of Madrid are a great place to relax.

Retiro Park boasts Crystal Palace that has been converted into exhibition centers, a large artificial lake with the option to hire a rowboat and spend an afternoon on the water, and a number of statues, art installations, and fountains including the monument to King Alfonso VII.

For families with young children, the Teatro de Títeres is a puppet theatre that performs shows every weekend, to keep little ones entertained in between trips to the various playgrounds.

Such a large open space makes an ideal venue for festivals, which includes the annual book fair, held early each summer, that sees publishing houses from across Spain gather to display their titles. 

Don’t despair if you can’t make it for the fair though, as the Cuesta de Moyano book market is situated nearby, with over 30 permanent stalls forming an open-air bookshop, selling books both new and secondhand.

Retiro is the perfect area to relax and unwind, with the many cafes surrounding the park offering the opportunity to sip a drink on the terrace and bask in the Spanish weather.

You will also find the Cibeles Plaza, Atocha Train Station, and  Naval Museum nearby Retiro barrios.

Stay in Retiro if you’re looking for the best places to stay in Madrid near the train station; you like being out in the open air, you are looking for romantic date ideas, you‘re family with young children, you prioritize relaxing over sightseeing and shopping.

Best Places to Stay in Madrid in Retiro:


10. Argüelles, Moncloa, and Chamberi, residential areas in Madrid

Argüelles, Moncloa, and Chamberi, a residential areas in Madrid

Located near the University City in Madrid, Arguelles, and Moncloa are the lovely residential and quiet neighborhoods of central Madrid.

It’s just 10 minutes underground to go from Moncloa-Aravaca to the city center and surrounded by green areas and cultural attractions.

Its notable sight is the Templo de Debod (Debod’s Temple), an ancient Egyptian temple gifted to Spain and transported to Madrid in 1968.

Templo de Debod stands as the centerpiece of a reflection pool in the Parque del Oeste (West Park) and offers a stunning place to observe the sunset.

Moncloa-Argüelles is popular with students with a number of prominent universities such as Universidad Pontífica Comillas, Universidad Politécnica, Universidad Complutense of Madrid, and Universidad Nebrija.

Unsurprisingly, the area heavily caters to international students and locals, with an array of cafes and bars, bookshops and bakeries, and, of course, a selection of clubs, pubs, and bars to keep you entertained into the evening.

Being somewhat less of a tourist hotspot, yet still, in the center of the city and within easy commute of some of the most popular attractions, Arguelles and Moncloa may be the ideal area to look for accommodation if you are on a budget but still want to stay in the heart of the city.

Stay in Moncloa if you prefer a quieter break, you want a taste of everyday life in Madrid, you want to stay in the city center on a budget.

Best Places to Stay in Madrid in Moncloa:


11. Museo Del Prado and Plaza De Las Cortes, where to stay in Madrid for museums

Located to the east of Madrid Centro, the Museo Del Prado, Paseo Del Arte, and Plaza De Las Cortes area is one of the most picturesque in all of the city. Stylish, historic buildings provide a sophisticated, upper-class vibe to the area.

Despite this, it doesn’t have a stuffy feel, like many such neighborhoods exhibit. A friendly, welcoming atmosphere is present throughout, with locals ready to help you embrace their culture. 

The name Paseo del Arte comes from the incredible collection of major art museums located in the district.

Founded in 1819 and designed by Juan de Villanueva, Museo del Prado is Madrid’s most famous museum that has 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures dating back to the 16th to 19th centuries. It is the works of Spanish painters such as Francisco Goya and Diego Velazquez, among others.

Meanwhile, the Reina Sofia Museum provides countless exhibits and works of contemporary art of famous Spanish artists Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Joan Miró.

Adjacent to the Prado museum, in Madrid’s Art Walk, lies Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, which displays European paintings from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century.

These institutions alone can keep art fans entertained for days at a time. Then you have other locations, like the Plaza De Las Cortes, displaying incredible monuments and fabulous architecture, guaranteed to wow anyone interested in those sorts of things.

For those not interested in art, you have other options too. For starters, there is El Retiro Park. With wide-open green spaces, gardens, lakes, monuments, and more, it is ideal for relaxing and getting away from the city environment for a break.

Facilities and amenities in the area like restaurants and shops are all quite pricey, which probably won’t come as a surprise. However, they help to complete an experience that is all about style, class, and luxury.

You will find big brand international franchise hotels, and few B&B, and mostly no hostels here. Stylish boutique hotels are abundant in the neighborhood, allowing you to immerse yourself in the experience of the area throughout your stay.

Stay In Museo Del Prado If you are looking where to stay in Madrid for museums, you are a fan of art, you prefer high-end, classy environments, you like beautiful parks.

Best places to stay near Prado Museum:


13. Around Madrid Barajas International Airport (MAD)

The main airport in Madrid is MAD-Madrid Barajas International Airport, 16km away from the city center. If you have a late arrival and early departure, you can choose to stay near the airport. Below is my recommendation of the best hotels near Madrid airport:

luxury hotel: täCH Madrid Airport This 4-star hotel is only 2km from Madrid Barajas Airport, it provides rooms with wooden flooring, flat-screen TVs, and private bathrooms with toiletries and a hairdryer. It also has a paddle tennis court, a games room, and a restaurant. The hotel offers a free airport shuttle bus. You can easily reach Madrid’s city center from Barajas Metro Station which is 400m away from this property.

mid-range hotel: Clement Barajas This hotel offers stylish, air-conditioned rooms with satellite TV, free Wi-Fi, wooden floors, safes, work desks, and modern bathrooms. It also has à la carte restaurant that offers traditional dishes made from high-quality ingredients.

budget hotel: Hostal Viky This family-run guest house is just 5 minutes drive from Madrid International Airport and 15.5 km from the city center. It has modern rooms with air conditioning and flat-screen satellite TV and a free 24-hour airport shuttle.

Check out my virtual tour of the best places to stay in Madrid in this video:

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The second-largest city in the European Union, home to the Royal Palace, the Royal Theatre, world-famous football club Real Madrid, and the headquarters of the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO).

Madrid is the epitome of a modern city, with something to offer every demographic and preference. With the majority of the major attractions within convenient walking distance of one another, you should be able to see all you want to, regardless of where exactly you set up base camp.

That said, finding the best areas to stay i, Madrid for the duration of your trip can really make your stay perfect. Hopefully this article has helped you to do just that and narrowed down where to stay in Madrid, to get the most out of your trip to the Spanish capital.

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