More insider guides for planning a trip to Madrid
These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
There are lots of little independent shops left in Madrid, some of which are so specialist that they only sell one thing. In summer, visit Casa de Diego for a very necessary purchase of a handmade fan, and in winter, fawn over the super stylish capes at Capas Seseña. Gourmands will appreciate the array of small shops that sell artisan cheeses, extra-virgin olive oils and Spanish wines. For everything from the city’s top leather handbags to the best espadrilles, the Telegraph’s Madrid expert Annie Bennett knows exactly which addresses you need to shop like a local.
Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía
Casa de Diego
Casa de Diego has been selling handmade fans for nearly two centuries, and is one of Madrid’s best-loved traditional shops. Be warned, you might go in looking for something plain and simple but end up not being able to resist one with an exquisite design. As it is so hot in the city in the summer months, using a fan is a sensible move rather than an affectation. They specialise in umbrellas and walking sticks as well – also handmade at their other shop and workshop nearby at Calle Mesonero Romanos – and stock shawls, veils and castanets too.
The streets of downtown Madrid used to have lots of tiny shops that had been in business for a century or more and specialised in one thing, but these gems are disappearing fast. Still hanging on in there is this magical shop which sells handmade gloves in all sorts of styles, materials and colours – although it is the buttery kidskin ones that most people want. They’re all arranged in the original drawers and cabinets too. While it’s always been a favourite of Madrid’s most elegant women, these days you are just as likely to see stylists, celebrities and costume designers inside.
Contact: 00 34 91 542 4936; esmadrid.com
Opening times: 10am-1.30pm, 5pm-8pm; closed Sundays.
La Central de Callao
You could spend hours in this labyrinthine bookshop, which occupies a palatial building just off Plaza de Callao and sprawls over three floors. The shop has sections for books in English and other languages, and specialises in literature, history, philosophy and social sciences. The café on the ground floor is a bit of a haven in this touristy area and is a quiet spot for a coffee and a piece of cake or a light lunch. Head to the website for the programme of book launches, readings and other literary events.
Contact: 00 34 91 790 9922; lacentral.com
Opening times: 10am-9.30pm (Fri-Sat until 10pm); Sun 11am-9pm
Plaza Mayor, Opera, and La Latina
Throughout the summer, there are queues outside Casa Hernanz by the Plaza Mayor. This is where the same family have been selling handmade espadrilles from a long wooden counter backed by packed shelves since 1840. Choose from an extensive range in every conceivable colour and style; you can choose between the traditional flat version, slingbacks or wedges with ribbons. There are very cute ones for babies too. Should you need a mesh bag to boil chickpeas in, a washing line or a rope to tie up your donkey, they can help you with that as well.
Contact: 00 34 91 355 5450; alpargateriahernanz.com
Opening times: Mon-Fri, 9am-1.30pm, 4.30pm-8pm; Sat, 10am-2pm; closed Sundays
Watch the artisans making bags and accessories at this stylish workshop on a hidden square in the heart of the Austrias neighbourhood. Beautiful leathers are dyed using a natural process in zingy shades, and then turned into highly covetable purses, wallets, satchels, backpacks and belts. They stock a range of gorgeous notebooks too. This is a good place to find a special gift for someone who likes high-quality things, as there is something to suit all ages and tastes and you can have items made to order.
Barrio de las Letras and Lavapiés
If you have ever fancied swishing around in a cape, this shop is for you. The exterior is marked with red wooden frontage and it’s the only place in the world that sells capes and nothing else. Founded in 1901 by Santos Seseña, it is now run by the fourth generation of the family. The capes are made from a dense yet lightweight merino wool from Béjar, a town in the province of Salamanca, and cut out on a table at the back – a process that looks simple but takes a lot of skill. Twirl around the shop in one and you won’t want to take it off.
Contact: 00 34 91 531 6840; sesena.com
Opening times: 10am-8pm (Sat, 10.30am); closed Sundays
Chueca, Malasaña, and Conde Duque
Ecoalf is a fashion brand that uses recycled plastic and other materials to create sustainable clothing, but there is nothing worthy or hippyish about their utility designs for men and women. It uses the latest techniques to create chic, wearable pieces – Queen Sofia of Spain has their Uma padded coat, which is made from recycled fishing nets. The range also includes t-shirts, trousers, swimwear, handbags, backpacks, trainers and flipflops. Look out for the covetable collection of jackets and parkas by Sybilla, one of the best – and certainly the most distinctive – Spanish designers.
This shop is run by a foundation that promotes everything to do with olive oil production and consumption. It stocks a huge range of extra-virgin oils from all over Spain, many of which it would be difficult to find elsewhere. Look out for varieties from Toledo and Extremadura. Although aimed at oil lovers in general rather than tourists (don’t expect obsequious service), they do have some in dinky bottles that are easier to transport for gifts, instead of the large cans or plastic flagons. They have some great hand creams and hair products too.
Contact: 00 34 91 308 0505; patrimoniolivarero.com
Opening times: 10am-2pm, 5pm-8pm; closed Saturday afternoons and Sundays; July, 9am-3pm; closed in August
Chalked up on a blackboard in Cultivo is the slogan #QuesosconRostro, which means ‘cheeses with a face’. What the dynamic young team of seven people behind this shop are trying to get across is that the produce on sale is made by real people who all have a story to tell. Two of them, Álvaro Carral and Rubén Valvuena, actually make their own cheeses – Cantagrullas from Valladolid and La Jarradilla from Cantabria – which are on sale in the shop, along with around 30 cheeses from all over Spain and a select few from other countries.
Paseo de la Castellana and Salamanca area
This superb wine shop in the Salamanca area stocks a huge selection from all regions of Spain, as well as from all over the world. The space has been designed to be the right temperature and light to keep the bottles in perfect condition, and there are regular tastings. Look out for the excellent gastrobar upstairs where they will serve you any wine you have bought in the shop with no extra corkage fee – although the list, with plenty by the glass, offers many interesting options. Knowledgeable staff are on hand to offer advice and they can ship your purchases home for you.
Contact: 00 34 91 426 0604; lavinia.es
Opening times: 10am-9pm