For a capital city home to some 4 million inhabitants, Madrid has a surprisingly small town feel. All the most interesting sights and neighbourhoods are within walking distance of Puerta del Sol, the plaza that acts as the city's heartbeat.
There is nothing quiet about life in Madrid and visitors are often overwhelmed by the sheer energy of the place. From the alternative cafes of Malasana to the emerging art galleries of multicultural Lavapies, the city is constantly buzzing with life.
There’s a whole host of things to do and sights to see, from charming little plazas to grand palaces. The highlights for tourists in Madrid generally include trips to Plaza Mayor, the excellent Prado Museum and the vast Retiro Park which attracts Madrileños in their thousands during the hot summer months.
A fifteen minute walk or short metro ride north from Sol will take you to Chueca, the most popular district amongst Madrid’s gay community. Chueca is a lively and extremely welcoming area by day or by night. Most of the businesses here are very small so it’s a great place to spend some time taking in different design shops or just people watching from one of the numerous coffee houses. After dark the area turns into one of the liveliest nightlife destinations in the city.
Chueca is a great place to base yourself and is home to numerous gay friendly hotels and hostels. Options include Hostal Fontana, Hostal Nuria, Hotel Atlantico and Hotel Petit Palace Italia, all of which are in or very close to the main streets of Chueca. Right in the centre of Madrid you will find the Gay Hostel Puerta del Sol, which overlooks the plaza and offers excellent value for money coupled with a location that is hard to beat. This is probably the best bet for solo travellers looking to meet others to enjoy the city with. If you’re looking for a more relaxing break it may be worth staying in other areas as both Sol and Chueca tend to be fairly noisy throughout the night.
Eating out in Madrid will never leave you short of options and the Malasana-Chueca area is a good starting point. Café Olivar is a popular place to eat here with a variety of different European and even Moroccan dishes on offer. Nearby Tribunal is another vibrant area more popular with locals than tourists but it is one of the best places to sample traditional Spanish tapas or paella. If ethnic cuisine is more your thing, the widest selection is to be found in the up and coming Lavapies district where you will find Latin American, African and many Asian restaurants.
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