If you want to be at the heart of the old town, the areas around Puerta del Sol, Pza. de Santa Ana and Pza. Mayor are the ones to go for; if you’re into nightlife, Malasaña or Chueca may also appeal; for a quieter location and a bit of class, you should opt for the Paseo del Prado, Recoletos or Salamanca areas; if you have children the areas around the parks are good options.
Salamanca, the area north of the El Retiro Park , is a smart address for apartments and, even more so, for shops. The grid of streets between C/Goya and C/José Ortega y Gasset contains most of the city’s designer emporiums. Most of the buildings are modern and undistinguished, though there are some elegant nineteenth-century mansions and apartment blocks. A scattering of museums, galleries and exhibition spaces might tempt you up here, too - in particular the Sorolla and the Lázaro Galdiano museums, two little gems that are often ignored by visitors. It’s a safe, pleasant area, just north of the Parque del Retiro, and makes it one of the best areas to stay in Madrid for families.
The areas south of Pza. Mayor have traditionally been tough, working-class districts, with tenement buildings thrown up to accommodate the expansion of the population in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In many places, these old houses survive, huddled together in narrow streets, but the character of La Latina and Lavapiés has changed as their inhabitants, and the districts themselves, have become younger, more fashionable and more cosmopolitan. The streets in and around Cava Baja and Cava Alta in La Latina, for example, include some of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants. These are attractive barrios to explore, particularly for bar-hopping or during the Sunday-morning flea market, El Rastro. The Plaza Mayor area is the best neighbourhood to stay in Madrid for a mix of fantastic attractions.
The area around Paseo del Prado and Atocha might just be the area for you. This is a quieter part of the city, though still very central, and it is close to the main art museums, the El Retiro Park and Estación de Atocha. Some of the city’s most expensive hotels are here - as well as a few more modest options. The Westin Palace is a colossal, sumptuous hotel with every imaginable facility, a spectacular, glass-covered central patio and luxurious rooms.
Pza. de Santa Ana and the Huertas area are the focal point of Madrid nightlife, with bars and cafés open until very late at night. Go for rooms on the higher floors if you want to avoid the worst of the noise. Hotel Urban is an ultra-cool, fashion conscious five-star hotel in the area and provides a comfortable stay.
Pza. de España provides a breathing space from the densely packed streets to the east. Beyond the square lies a mixture of leafy suburbia, university campus and parkland, including the green swathes of Parque del Oeste (Western Park) and Casa de Campo. Sights include some fascinating minor museums and, further out, the royal palace of El Pardo. The airy terrazas along Paseo del Pintor Rosales provide ample opportunity for refreshment.