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Article: #TravelTalk: Madrid's World of Art, History, and Culture with Bastiaan Ellen

#TravelTalk: Madrid's World of Art, History, and Culture with Bastiaan Ellen
Travel Guide

#TravelTalk: Madrid's World of Art, History, and Culture with Bastiaan Ellen

EP 008

Where art, history and culture collide, you will find Madrid, Spain. The capital and pulsing heart of Spain, Madrid is a world-renowned travel destination. 

Photos by Alev Takil (@alevtakil)

Historic sights will take you back to the 16th and 17th centuries when the Spanish Empire conquered much of the world. 

Asides from the historic landmarks and beauty of the city, what makes Madrid truly special is its community, culture, and people. 

We spoke with Madrid resident Bastiaan Ellen, the co-founder and CEO of Mr. Hudson, a travel planning service, to learn about the city. Given that Bastiaan works in the travel industry, we knew he’d give us killer tips on touring Madrid. 

Photos by Alex Vasey (@alexrvasey) and Bastiaan Ellen 

“We’ve lived in London for a couple of years, Switzerland, Zurich, and now we’ve been in Madrid for 5 years,” says Bastiaan. 

With an extensive list of places he’s lived and traveled to, Bastiaan brings an expert eye for exquisite travel. 

Visit Madrid like a travel expert, and see the city alongside Bastiaan. 

Madrid vs Barcelona

Photos by Florentia Potter (@florenciapotter) and Jack Gisel (@jackgisel)

“Many people compare Madrid to Barcelona, and it’s kind of like comparing New York with LA. Barcelona has the beaches, but Madrid is really about the arts, culinary scene, and business” explains Bastiaan. 

Barcelona is really popular due to its beach scene. But if you’re looking for more of an urban and cultured experience, Madrid is the city for you. Madrid is a larger city, with a population of over 6.6 million.

Bastiaan couldn’t have put it a better way, Madrid is the New York City of Spain. 

Best Time to Travel to Madrid

“If you're coming, don’t come in July or August,” recommends Bastiaan. “It’ll be way too hot and most places will be shut down”.

If you’re along the Spanish coast, then you'll be in a  relatively moderate climate. Since Madrid is in the middle of the country, Summer’s are extremely hot and dry. July and August are typically the warmest months, and temperatures can go up to 45℃. 

“What the Spanish have decided to do is that they kind of close everything in August, and they all go to the beach,” remarks Bastiaan. 

Bastiaan recommends coming to Madrid during the Spring or Autumn, where the weather calls for sweaters in the evening, but shorts and t-shirts during the day. 


What Neighbourhoods to See in Madrid 

No one ever wants to get stuck in tourist traps. It’s hard to experience your destination’s true culture if you only stick to areas surrounding your hotel. 

Photos by Javier Martinez (@jmartinez)

“Most tourists know about the centre... Most tourists get stuck in those areas but there are other parts of the city that have a different vibe and a lot more to offer,” says Bastiaan. 

Experience Madrid through Bastiaan’s eyes and get a taste of the city’s authenticity and community. See the below barrios (a Spanish term for neighbourhoods), to get another sense of the city outside of the typical tourist spots.  

Photos by Jose Antonio (@joseantoniogall) 

Visit the barrio of Salamanca, which was named after the northwestern city in Spain. Salamanca is quieter than other neighbourhoods, but is well known for its glamorous shops, fine dining restaurants, and high-end art galleries. 

Then there’s Malasaña, which Bastiaan describes as the more hipster and trendy area. Malasaña is dotted with many great coffee bars, second-hand and vintage shops, restaurants and bars, and according to Bastiaan, the area is comparable to New York City. 

Photos by Victor Garcia (@victor_g) and Jose Antonio (@joseantoniogall)

“What I really like about Madrid is that everyone can do anything they want without getting into trouble,” says Bastiaan. 

The barrio of Chueca, known as Madrid’s gay area, is equally as popular and trendy as Malasaña. Madrid is a very progressive city, and the area of Chueca is constantly bustling with a diverse crowd of all ages and backgrounds. 

Transit in Madrid

Bastiaan recommends choosing the train as your transportation around Spain. With Spain’s unique and high-speed train network, you can easily travel across the country in less than 3 hours. Purchase a ticket at Madrid Atocha, the city’s largest train station. 

Best Hotels in Madrid

While acknowledging that Airbnb has truly changed the way people are travelling, Bastiaan prefers hotels. Bastiaan appreciates the accommodations and relaxing atmosphere hotels offer, and notes how hotels have recently gone out of their way to improve their guest’s experiences. 

“I’m truly a hotel person,” he says. Take it from a passionate pro, and check out Bastiaan favourite hotels in Madrid: 

Photos by Urso Hotel & Spa (@hotelurson)

Check out Urso Hotel & Spa, for prestigious service in a beautiful historic building. The building was built in 1915 by José María Mendoza Ussía. Guests are transported back into time with the hotels winding towers, decorative tiles, and stained glass windows. Enjoy the hotels beautiful interior design that hails to an era of glamour and sophistication, while relishing the up to date modern accommodations. 

“Kind of an old-world hotel. Really good service. It's one of those hotels that make you feel like you’re on holiday,” describes Bastiaan.  

Photos by The Principal Madrid (@theprincipalmadrid)

At the edge of Chueca, you will find The Principal Madrid Hotel. This boutique hotel is where luxurious lifestyle meets modernity. Head up to the terrace to enjoy spectacular views among their rooftop olive tree and cypress garden. From spacious rooms boasting natural light and Egyptian cotton sheets, a Michelin star restaurant, to rooftop bars with creative cocktail lists, the Principal has it all. 

Photos by Only YOU Boutique Hotel (@onlyyouhotels)

In the barrio of Saleas, meters away from Chueca and the Paseo de Recoletos, there is Only YOU Boutique Hotel. The hotel is a reconfigured historic mansion and decorated by award-winning and world-renowned Lázaro Rosa-Violán. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch at the hotel’s YOUnique restaurant. Guests can enjoy a modern take on Madrid cuisine and gastronomy. 

“Sunday brunch isn’t a really big thing in Madrid, but I quite like it,” says Bastiaan.  

Suites are decorated with beautiful art and colour schemes that reflect the city’s culture and liveliness. Rest easy after a day of explorations and activities at the Only YOU Boutique Hotel. 

Photos by Hotel One Shot (@oneshot_hotels)

In the heart of the old town Madrid and barrio of Calle del Prado, you will find Hotel One Shot. A ten-minute walk away from all of Madrid’s famous art Museums, it's near all of the popular attractions. One Shot’s suites are basic and minimalistic, but aren't short on the comfort and services it provides to their guests. 

Best Coffee Shops in Madrid

Nothing fuels a day of exploration like a good cup of coffee. Coffee culture hasn’t been that quick to catch on in Spain, but more and more independent coffee shops are starting to pop up. Madrid is a city full of appreciation for art and culture, and independent shops are bringing their love for small details to the cups of coffee they are serving.

Photos by Fanning Tsend (@yespleaseenjoy) and Karl Fredrickson (@kfred)

“We recently discovered cold brew - okay we might be late to the game”, says Bastiaan. 

Independent coffee shops are introducing new ways of enjoying coffee to locals. Feel this new sense of energy and excitement, and try some of Bastiaan’s favourite spots: 

Faraday is a mix of many people’s passions: music, design, and coffee. Enjoy a cup of coffee in this cafe’s open-concept space that pulls design elements from the 1950 and 1960s. Not just a coffee shop, this cafe is also an antique shop and vinyl store. On weekends, Faraday hosts various DJs, giving guests a chance to experience vinyl in a new way. Discover your newest favourite album while sipping on your cup of joe at Faraday. 

Photos by Toma Cafe (@tomacafe)

Visit Toma Cafe, which directly translates to “to drink coffee" According to Bastiaan, Toma Cafe was one of the first independent coffee shops to open up in Madrid. With two locations, this coffee shop is roasting all of their beans in house. So as the name suggests, drink coffee and check out Toma Cafe!

Nestled in the La Latina barrio, you will find Pum Pum Cafe. Besides great coffee, this cafe has great snacks and lunches, and even has great vegan and vegetarian options! If you visit Pum Pum Cafe on a Sunday, make sure you check out the neighbourhood’s El Rastro Flea Market, the largest flea market in the country.  

What to do in Madrid

Madrid is a lively city filled with an appreciation for art, design, and food. While walking around the city, it’s hard to miss the Madrid's strong sense of community and culture. 

Photos by Victor Garcia (@victor_g) and Brenna O'Donnell (@bookiebongo) 

Check out one of Madrid’s phenomenal markets. These markets can be either outdoors, covered, or a combination of both. Visit the Mercado de San Miguel. Located in the heart of Madrid, this market has been operating for over 100 years. The market is a reconfigured historic train station and gives off a beautiful and warm ambiance. Not just a market place that sells fresh produce, the Mercado de San Miguel offers many gastronomical experiences. Enjoy international dishes, traditional tapas, and drinks. This is the perfect place to spend an afternoon with friends. 

If you’re an art lover, visit one of Madrid’s famous galleries! If you're not, we’re pretty confident you’ll leave with a greater appreciation for art after spending time in the city. 

Madrid is known for its galleries and art. The city is so renowned for its art and history, that it gallery neighbourhood has earned the name of the Golden Triangle of Art. “It’s literally a triangle in Madrid comprised of museums,” explains Bastiaan. 

Visit the Museo Nacional del Prado, the most well known and popular museum in the country, as well as the world. The museum has been showcasing art and sculptures since 1819. Having been open for over 200 years, the museum reflects the history of the Spanish monarch, and art collecting at its time. Royals and collectors would primarily collect art from their favourite artists. The museum is described as a museum of painters, as opposed to paintings, due to the art collecting style of the 16th and 17th centuries. 

Photos by Clay Van Der Berken (@snapsbyclark)

See the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, for modern art. 

“This is my favourite place in Madrid,” says Bastiaan. 

Opened in 1990, as a gallery that focused on modern and contemporary art. Immerse yourself in collections featuring El Salvador Dali and Picasso. 

Breweries and Wineries in Madrid

Beer is a very popular beverage in Spain, however, unlike the North West, microbrewery mania hasn’t quite landed in the country. 

Photo by Patrick Carr (@patrickedwardcarr)

Beer is more so often consumed throughout the day or during meals. In Madrid, most restaurants and street vendors will serve beers.

“Beer is more so a drink people drink before they get serious about drinking,” says Bastiaan. 

Here’s a fun fact about beer in Madrid: Instead of your typical pint, beer is often served in small glasses. Serving beer in small glasses helps keep the beer cool during the hot summers. You’ll just have to order a few more glasses then normal to quench your thirst. 

“I think Spain is more a wine country,” notes Bastiaan. 

The country is known for its popular wine and wine region of Rioja. If you have the time and want to get out of the city, take a day trip to the Spanish countryside and visit a winery

Best Restaurants in Madrid

“I always recommend people coming abroad is to try Spanish food,” says Bastiaan. “Tapas is a common way of how Spanish people eat food. Not really a meal but something you have with a beer”

Eat like a local, and try some of Bastiaan’s favourite restaurants: 

Try Santa Rita for a modern take on traditional Spanish cuisine. Located in the barrio of Chanberì, this restaurant is serving up Spanish flavours in a relaxed and stylish atmosphere. Spanish food heavily surrounds meat and seafood, and this restaurant is no exception. Enjoy everything from octopus, chorizo, to steak at Santa Rita. 

Photos by Angelita (@madridandelita)

Bastiaan’s all-time favourite spot in Madrid is Angelita. The restaurant is run by two brothers, who bring in fresh seasonal produce from their family farm. The menu is constantly rotating depending on what produce is brought into the restaurant at that time, ensuring that guests are always surprised. 

Photos by Bacira (@bacira_rest)

If you’re looking for something different, give Bacira a try. This restaurant, located in the heart of Chanberì, is serving up Mediterranean and Asian fusion. Where ceviche meets nigiri, you will find Bacira. 

“This is one of my go-to places when I have friends in town,” says Bastiaan about Bacira. 

Whether it be traditional Spanish fare, modern and gourmet cuisine, or fusion, you’re in for a culinary treat while dining in Madrid. 

Nightlife in Madrid

Compared to London or New York City, where is focused on their work and careers, Madrid puts a lot more emphasis on social life and spending time with friends and family. This is arguably one of the best things about Madrid. 

Photos by Alev Takil (@alevtakil)

“Their whole lifestyle is geared towards making the most of time with friends and family,” admires Bastiaan. 

Socialization starts pretty early, but the real parties doesn't begin until much later in the night. People in Madrid often gather for dinners around 9:30 to 10:00 PM in the evening and take their time as well. Dinner is dedicated time to reconnect and socialize with friends and family. 

If you’re planning on a night out, make sure you don’t arrive too early, because the club or bar will likely be empty. According to Bastiaan, locals in Madrid don’t go out to party until 2:00 AM. 

Check out Bastiaan’s favourite nightlife spots:

Photos by Room Mate Oscar (@roommatehotels) and Hotel Emperador (@hotelemperadormadrid)

Madrid has various hotel rooftop bars that are popular and open to the public. See the view from La Terraza de Hotel Emperador or La Terraza de Óscar, two of the best rooftop bars in the city. Enjoy cocktails and drinks, with a beautiful view overlooking Madrid. Both of these bars boast a rooftop pool, perfect for lounging during the day or night. 

Photos by Hemingway Cocktail Bar (@casasuecia)

Hemingway Cocktail Bar, located in Casa Suecia, is a dimly lit and intimate bar. The bar pays homage to the 1920s prohibition period. Enjoy signature cocktails, while being immersed in this bar’s art deco interior design. 

“The Spanish really know how to party,” says Bastian. If you’re in the mood for a party, check out one of Madrid’s best nightclubs: 

Photos by Medias Puri Beach (@medias_puri)

In the centre of Madrid, you will find Mediaspuri, one of the biggest and best discotheques in the city. With a capacity of over 1,000 guests and three flours, large dance floors, and live performers, this club is comparable to nightlife in Ibiza. 

Check out Sala Esqui, a music and dance venue located in a redesigned historic movie theatre. The theatre is still operational but has built a large bar and dance floor within the building. Sala Esqui was created to be a meeting place, where locals, artists, and guests can collide. 

What to Pack to Madrid

“You don’t have to worry too much about how you look… Madrid is a very laid back place. People appreciate authenticity,” says Bastiaan. 

Bastiaan recommends packing items that are breathable and comfortable. It’s important to wear comfortable clothing while exploring the city, especially when it’s hot out. 

Bastiaan keeps his Madrid essentials simple, with a focus on utility and comfort: 

  1. T-shirt. “I sweat a lot,” says Bastiaan. T-shirts are perfect for walking around the city when it’s hot. 
  2. Shorts. Similar idea to the t-shirt, shorts are crucial for beating the heat while keeping active throughout the day. 
  3. Sweater. Nights in Madrid can be a bit cooler, so pack a sweater for layering. 
  4. Linen shirt or pants. “I always recommended linen shirts and trousers,” says Bastiaan. Linen is quick-drying, cooling, and always stylish - perfect for day or night excursions in the Mediterranean. 
  5. Dress shirt. Although Madrid is typically a casually dressed city, you might want to dress up for evenings out. Some Michelin star restaurants have minor dress codes. 
  6. Sneakers. The ideal shoe for day and night. A classic white sneaker can go a long way in Madrid. “Compared to New York City or London, Madrid doesn't really have any dress codes,” says Bastiaan. Nightclubs don’t have any strict dress codes, so you can dance the night away in comfort and style. 

Travel Hack

Take it from a travel expert, and plan ahead before arriving at your destination.

“I'm a bit of an over-planner,” says Bastiaan. “I'm terrified to miss something important and spend a lot of time researching”. 

Photos by Simon Migaj (@simonmigaj) and Card Mapr (@cardmapr)

Bastiaan dedicates a whole day researching prior to his trips to make sure he doesn’t miss out on any interesting places. 

Using Google Maps, Bastiaan saves all of his points of interest digitally, so that he doesn’t have to lug around a physical map. “I ‘star’ every place I want to see on Google Maps,” describes Bastiaan. 

Researching prior to your trip gets you even more excited, and keeps you from getting lost or uninspired during your trip. Take Bastiaan’s tip, and be prepared for your next excursion to Madrid!

 Now that you’ve learned a little more about the city, and received some pro travel tips, it’s time to start dreaming up your next trip to Madrid! 

Don’t forget to give our buddy and Madrid resident Bastiaan a shout when you make it to your destination. 

Keep up to date with Bastiaan’s travel startup Mr.Hudson (@mrhudsonexplores), and get inspiration for other trips around the globe on their travel planning website

Looking for the perfect carry-on for your next plane ride? Check out our latest collection of weekender bags, that fit perfectly below any plane seat or overhead compartment.

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