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Best Madrid Shopping

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Assuming you’re not after the kitsch offered in the cheesy shops around Sol and Plaza Mayor, Madrid shopping isn’t the best in Europe. The major exception to this is for fashion, especially shoes and leather goods. The Spanish take their appearance seriously and are willing to throw down a fair chunk of change to look nice. Good deals can be difficult to find, but if you’re willing to go for the high-end look, you can shop your way through your entire vacation. Shopping in Madrid is fun if you love antiques, from fascinating but inexpensive castoffs at El Rastro market to Louis XIV furniture at the antique shops in Barrio de Salamanca. Madrid is bucking the global trend of bookstore closings and has a lively literary scene, with many chain and specialist bookshops. Rather than point out specific stores, we figure we'll just point you in the right market areas.

El Corte Inglés

Welcome to Spain’s favorite department store. They’re scattered all around town and all around the country and are good for finding affordable Spanish fashions and anything you need that you left at home. This second aspect is handy, since most Spanish stores are very specialized, and it’s convenient to have everything under one roof. They sell pretty much everything here, from computers to music to shoes to groceries to cosmetics to airline tickets. A stroll through one also gives an insight into the buying habits of the Spanish working and middle class.

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El Corte Inglés  
Plaza Mayor Jonathan Buffard

Plaza Mayor

Neighborhood: Austrias

Madrid’s historic downtown makes for a hit-or-miss shopping experience. For every cheesy shop selling oversized straw hats and T-shirts that say “¡Olé!” you’ll find another offering real Spanish crafts, antiques and collectibles. Sunday mornings there’s a collector’s fair in Plaza Mayor selling coins, stamps, postcards, old deeds and various other ephemera that make unique gifts and mementos. Nearby stores sell militaria, lace fans, bullfighters’ costumes, capes and more. The difference between the tourist trap and the traditional is as apparent as the neon signs on one storefront and the subdued century-old facades of another.

Fuencarral from Glorieta de Bilbao to Gran Vía and Malasaña to the west of Fuencarral Jonathan Buffard

Fuencarral from Glorieta de Bilbao to Gran Vía and Malasaña to the west of Fuencarral

Neighborhood: Malasaña

While most people go to Malasaña for its nightlife and dining, by day it’s worth exploring the narrow lanes for all the boutiques selling alternative music, gifts and fashion. Going south on Calle Fuencarral away from Bilbao and toward Gran Vía takes you past an increasingly shoddy array of shoe and clothing stores, discount jewelry retailers, tattoo parlors and gay leather shops. West of Fuencarral the stores go half a step upscale and you can find lots of funky little gifts (you do want a Betty Boop lunchbox, don’t you?), clothing for 20-somethings, and lots of hard-to-find local and international music.

Private Art Galleries

Neighborhood: Barrio de Salamanca

After seeing so much fine art in Madrid’s museums, you might be tempted to buy some yourself. The streets around Calle de Lagasca are home to dozens of galleries, exhibiting everything from the works of lesser-known impressionists and religious painters to the latest in contemporary photography. Much of it is beyond the means of the average shopper, but it does make for a fun additional trip for art lovers, and some prints and photographs are fairly affordable. There are also plenty of antique shops in this area selling furniture, glassware and day-to-day objects from times gone by. While Calle de Lagasca has a good cluster of galleries and antique shops, you’ll find them throughout the city. For an extensive but incomplete list, visit www.consorciodegalerias.es.

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Private Art Galleries  
Calle Serrano/Velázquez, Calle Ortega y Gasset Jonathan Buffard

Calle Serrano/Velázquez, Calle Ortega y Gasset

Neighborhood: Barrio de Salamanca

The Barrio de Salamanca is justly famous as the most exclusive shopping area in the capital. High-end fashion and jewelry are the mainstays here, with international labels competing with local designers. Much of Europe’s cutting edge of fashion is first seen in these stores. If you have money to burn this is the place to make a bonfire. If you don’t, and you look it, there’s a good chance you’ll be given the cold shoulder.

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