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Making the Most of Madrid, Minus the Tourist Traps

With sunshine, siestas and a whole wealth of cultural attractions to explore, Madrid makes a fantastic holiday destination, and many people fall in love with Spain’s capital city after a couple of visits. Moving there is a whole different ball game, however, and it’s easy to find yourself swamped by tourists in the city streets, craving a nice quiet beer in a bar that isn’t packed with people taking photographs for their friends back home.

The Spanish nightlife scene is famously vibrant, and initially seems like one of the best reasons to move there: who wouldn’t want to spend every weeknight watching flamenco in the tablaos or partying the night away in Alonso Martinez Square? The answer, of course, is ‘people who live there’. Staying in a place for good is far different from experiencing it for a couple of weeks’ holiday, and the reality of not being able to find a quiet spot to enjoy the local culture quickly begins to grate. Luckily there are plenty of more sedate, arts and culture based venues where locals gather to enjoy the city without the crazy partying side.Spain has a thriving tradition around arts and design and Madrid is no exception, with designer bars and art-themed restaurants to suit every palette. Combining artistic décor with resident DJs and the prerequisite signature cocktails, La Posada de las Ánimas on Lagasca and the Cuban-themed Larios Café on Silva are both fantastic venues for a quiet, cultured night out.

Madrid also plays host to many thriving roof terraces. With the tourists out for the night, hotels open their top floors for concerts and cultural events around the city. Celebrated examples include the Fine Arts Circle on Calle Alcalá, The Terrace at the Hotel Urban where evenings have a literary theme, the Gau Café’s nightly poetry recitals and the experimental music events at La Casa Encendida.

If your tastes are on the upmarket side, Serrano is where you’ll find the swanky bars and most exclusive restaurants. A visit to José Luis is a must, although this world-famous tapas bar does provide a bit of a tourist trap. Still, with a range of excellent treats ranging from sirloin steak to salmon tartare and melted brie, the restaurant remains a haunt of locals, celebrity visitors and tourists alike. Try it for the first time on a mid-week night when it’s quieter, then move on to your local tapas bar to escape the crowds.

If your appetite requires more than a selection of tapas, you can head to El Paraguas on Calle de Jorge Juan. It’s situated close to the Serrano metro station, but with a full valet service available, driving is an easy option. And of course, Serrano isn’t without its own series of rooftop bars. One of the best known is the exclusive Serrano 41, which is split into outdoor and indoor areas. The best tables are usually reserved for the stars, but there’s an open dance floor inside and you’ll often find yourself rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème of Spanish life.

For your first New Year’s Eve in Madrid, make sure you see in January Spanish style, with the first chocolate of the year at the Chocolatería San Ginés. Founded in 1894, this is one of the largest and busiest churros houses in the city, but on New Year’s Day it’s a must for locals. While the tourists are still out at the all-night bars, grab a coffee and a plate of the sweet treats and welcome the new year in style.

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The main tourist traps to avoid during the day are unsurprisingly around the centre of town; the king’s official residence in Calle Bailén, the cultural centre of Plaza Mayor, and the arty neighbourhoods of Chueca and Malasaña are four of the worst places to find yourself in the middle of the day. Stick to the outskirts or your local neighbourhood until the evening, and then select your favourite places to eat and drink from our list, or from chatting with the locals.

What did we miss? Do you know of any other quiet hangouts in the capital city? Let us know in the comments.

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