There are surprising discoveries to be made throughout Madrid, which is why you should keep your schedule flexible enough that you can stop in the store that catches your eye as you make your way from one attraction to the next. That said, two neighborhoods stand out for their shopping opportunities.
Salamanca is the more chic, with the tasteful boutiques of Spain’s top designers as well as international luxury brands that you will find in similar districts around the world. If you want to keep it local, check out the beautiful tasseled bags, wallets, jackets, and other goods at Loewe (Calle Serrano, 26; tel. 91-577-60-56; and Calle Serrano, 47; tel. 91-200-44-99; www.loewe.com; Metro: Serrano) or handle a truly well-made shoe at custom-maker Gaytan (Calle Jorge Juan, 15; tel. 91-435-28-24; Metro: Serrano or Velázquez). Not surprisingly, Madrid’s nicest shopping mall ABC Serrano (Calle Serrano, 61; tel. 91-577-50-31; www.abcserrano.com; Metro: Serrano) is also in the neighborhood. Even if the goods are too dear for your wallet, you might pick up a few style tips to employ elsewhere. Wherever you shop, keep in mind one of our favorite Spanish words: “rebajas.” Translated loosely as “reductions,” it signals that a sale is in progress. (Citywide sales generally take place Jan–Feb and July–Aug.)
Shoppers with more limited means will have more luck—and more fun—in the recently trendy neighborhood of Chueca. It’s worth exploring side streets for shops of up-and-coming designers looking for a lower rent. But the main drag of Calle Augusto Figueroa is shoe central, since a number of top-end Spanish shoe manufacturers, including Barrats (Calle Augusto Figueroa, 20; tel. 91-531-65-37; Metro: Chueca) have outlets here. We have found discounts of 30–60 percent.
Also in the neighborhood is the outlet store of Salvador Bachiller (Calle Gravina, 11; tel. 91-523-30-37; www.salvadorbachiller.com; Metro: Chueca), a great source for luggage, purses, travel accessories, and other small leather goods. You can get great buys here (especially on brightly colored merchandise), but watch for flaws, such as broken zippers.
If your style runs more to T-shirts, a number of fashion designers and other Madrid notables have designed shirts that celebrate their city. Look for them at the Plaza Mayor tourist information center. For souvenirs, the store at CentroCentro may be the best general gift shop in the city. It stocks a good range of Spanish cookbooks in English, jewelry by local designers, and all kinds of clever household goods and novelty items. Our favorite? Mini wind-up toreadors and bulls.
In Puerta del Sol, the city’s main branch of El Corte Inglés (Calle Preciados, 3; tel. 91-379-80-00; Metro: Vodafone Sol) department store is another good bet for one-stop souvenir shopping. It carries some fairly predictable merchandise such as embroidered shawls, damascene jewelry, and mass-produced pottery. It’s best to think more broadly. Flamenco CDs (for some of the top artists, see p. ###) or specialty food items like saffron (expensive) and smoked paprika (cheap, but packed in charming tins) are easy to pack and make novel gifts. In addition, the city’s venerable perfumería Alvarez Gómez closed its retail shop in 2013, but many of the products are available at El Corte Inglés, including a lovely line of soaps scented with Mediterranean flowers and concentrated bath gel that is great for travel.
For more choices, follow some of the streets that radiate out from Puerta del Sol. On Calle Preciados, for example, you’ll find an outlet of Zara (Calle Preciados, 18; tel. 91-521-09-58; www.zara.com; Metro: Vodafone Sol or Callao), the clothing manufacturer that has gained a huge following for its on-trend yet affordable styles. For more timeless fashion, walk uphill to Capas Seseña (Calle Cruz, 23; tel. 91-531-68-40; www.sesena.com; Metro: Vodafone Sol), which has been making beautiful capes since 1901. If they suit your style, they are worth the investment.
But there are other, less costly, icons of Spanish style, including the constructed Basque cap, Spain’s answer to the French beret. La Favorita (Plaza Mayor, 25; tel. 91-366-58-77; www.lafavoritacb.com; Metro: Vodafone Sol or Ópera) has a range of colors and styles for men and women. And right off Plaza Mayor, you can shop for hand-sewn espadrilles at local favorite Casa Hernanz (Calle Toledo, 18; tel. 91-366-54-50; Metro: La Latina). Bring a color swatch if you want to match a particular outfit.
Before you leave Plaza Mayor, stop at El Arco de los Cuchilleros Artesania de Hoy (Plaza Mayor, 9; tel. 91-365-26-80; Metro: Vodafone Sol or Ópera), which is devoted to contemporary craft items from throughout Spain. If you have a particular interest in Spain’s great ceramics traditions, do not miss Antigua Casa Talavera (Calle Isabel La Catolica, 2; tel. 91-547-34-17; Metro: Santo Domingo), where the beautiful tile facade of the building is only a prelude to the artful ceramics inside. Spanish artisans also excel at guitar-making. The best of the best is Guitarras Ramirez (Calle de la Paz, 8; tel. 91-531-42-29; www.guitarrasramirez.com; Metro: Sevilla), which was founded in the 1880s and has created instruments for everyone from Andrés Segovia to Eric Clapton. Other good options include Conde Hermanos (Calle Arrieta, 4; tel. 91-429-93-33; www.condehermanos.com; Metro: Ópera), makers of classical and flamenco guitars, and El Flamenco Vive (Calle Conde de Lemos, 7; tel. 91-547-39-17; www.elflamencovive.com; Metro: Ópera), the city’s tiny but indispensable flamenco hub, with guitars, sheet music, CDs, and more.
Be sure to set aside some of Sunday morning for Madrid’s famed flea market El Rastro. We once saw Madrileñas stocking up on armloads of fake pashminas here and you might find other fun fashion pieces among the mix of bric-a-brac. Enjoy the scene, but keep a close eye on your belongings, as pickpockets like to work the crowd. If you are a serious antiques collector, it’s better to return to the neighborhood on a weekday and check out the shops gathered in Mercado Galerias Piquer (Calle Ribera de Curtidores, 29; no phone; Metro: Puerto de Toledo).
Madrid’s most beautiful food market is Mercado de la Paz in Salamanca, where you can peruse the fresh goods and shop for packaged items to take home. On the other hand, Madrid’s best market for the beautiful people is Mercado de San Miguel. This long-shuttered fresh food market has assumed a new identity as a lifestyle emporia with all sorts of specialty food items to eat on premises or take away.
According to “Forbes,” Real Madrid is the most valuable soccer team in the world. You can add to its $3.3 billion net worth by picking up some of the team’s training jerseys and shorts, scarves, socks or hoodies. For the truly obsessed, there are also blankets, sheets, mugs, coasters, electric toothbrushes, and rubber duckies. Official stores include Tienda Carmen (Calle Carmen, 3; tel. 91-521-79-50; Metro: Vodafone Sol or Callao), Tienda Goya (Calle Goya, 77; tel. 91-435-79-04; Metro: Goya) and Tienda Gran Vía (Gran Vía, 31; tel. 91-755-45-38; Metro: Callao or Gran Vía).
The Center -- The sheer diversity of shops in Madrid's center is staggering. Their densest concentration lies immediately north of the Puerta del Sol, radiating out from Calle del Carmen, Calle Montera, and Calle Preciados.
Calle Mayor & Calle del Arenal -- Unlike their more stylish neighbors to the north of Puerta del Sol, shops in this district to the west tend toward the small, slightly dusty enclaves of coin and stamp dealers, family-owned souvenir shops, clockmakers, military paraphernalia, and an abundance of stores selling musical scores.
Gran Vía -- Conceived, designed, and built in the 1910s and 1920s as a showcase for the city's best shops, hotels, and restaurants, the Gran Vía has since been eclipsed by other shopping districts. Its Art Nouveau/Art Deco glamour still survives in the hearts of most Madrileños, however. The bookstores here are among the best in the city, as are outlets for fashion, shoes, jewelry, furs, and handcrafted accessories from all regions of Spain.
El Rastro -- It's the biggest and most frenetic flea market in Spain, and its makeshift stalls draw collectors, dealers, buyers, and hopefuls from throughout Madrid and its suburbs every Sunday morning. For more information, refer to the "Flea Markets" section under "Shopping A to Z," below.
Plaza Mayor -- Under the arcades of the square itself are exhibitions of lithographs and oil paintings, and every weekend there's a loosely organized market for stamp and coin collectors. Within 3 or 4 blocks in every direction, you'll find more than the average number of souvenir shops.
On Calle Marqués Viudo de Pontejos, which runs east from Plaza Mayor, is one of the city's headquarters for the sale of cloth, thread, and buttons. Also running east, on Calle de Zaragoza, are silversmiths and jewelers. On Calle Postas, you'll find housewares, underwear, soap powders, and other household items.
Near the Carrera de San Jerónimo -- Several blocks east of Puerta del Sol is Madrid's densest concentration of gift shops, crafts shops, and antiques dealers -- a decorator's delight. Its most interesting streets include Calle del Prado, Calle de las Huertas, and Plaza de las Cortes. The neighborhood is pricey, so don't expect bargains here.
Northwest Madrid -- A few blocks east of Parque del Oeste is this upscale neighborhood well stocked with luxury goods and household staples. Calle de la Princesa, its main thoroughfare, has shops selling shoes, handbags, fashion, gifts, and children's clothing. Thanks to the presence of the university nearby, there's also a dense concentration of bookstores, especially on Calle Isaac Peral and Calle Fernando el Católico, several blocks north and northwest, respectively, from the subway stop of Argüelles.
Salamanca District -- This district is known throughout Spain as the quintessential upper-bourgeois neighborhood, with correspondingly exclusive shops. These include outlets run by interior decorators, furniture shops, fur and jewelry shops, several department stores, and design headquarters whose output ranges from the solidly conservative to the high tech. The main streets of this district are Calle de Serrano and Calle de Velázquez. The district lies northeast of the center of Madrid, a few blocks north of Parque del Retiro. Its most central metro stops are Serrano and Velázquez.
Major stores are open (in most cases) Monday to Saturday from 9:30am to 8pm. Many small stores take a siesta between 1:30 and 4:30pm. Of course, there is never any set formula, and hours can vary greatly from store to store, depending on the idiosyncrasies and schedules of the owner.
Many art and antiques dealers will crate and ship bulky objects for an additional fee. Whereas it usually pays to have heavy objects shipped by sea, in some cases it's almost the same price to ship crated goods by airplane. Of course, it depends on the distance your crate will have to travel over land to the nearest international port, which, in many cases for the purposes of relatively small-scale shipments by individual clients, is Barcelona. Consequently, it might pay to call two branches of UPS SCS (UPS Supply Chain Solutions; www.ups-scs.com) from within Spain to explain your particular situation, and receive comparable rates. For information about sea transit for your valuables, call UPS SCS at their only Spanish branch, in Barcelona (tel. 93-478-81-86). For information about UPS Air Freight, call the main Spanish office in Madrid (tel. 91-329-11-93) for advice on any of the dozen air-freight pickup stations they maintain throughout Spain. These include, among many others, Barcelona, Alicante, Málaga, Bilbao, and Valencia. For more advice on this, and the formalities that you'll go through in clearing customs after the arrival of your shipment in your home country, contact the nearest local office via the online directory at http://ups-scs.service.com/ups-scs/directory/index.htm.
For most small- and medium-size shipments, air freight isn't much more expensive than ocean shipping. Iberia's Air Cargo Division (tel. 800/221-6002 in the U.S.; www.iberia-cargo.com) offers air-freight service from Spain to New York, Chicago, Miami, or Los Angeles, as well as the United Kingdom and western Canada. What will you pay for this transport of your treasured art objects or freight? Here's a rule of thumb: For a shipment under 100 kilograms (220 lb.), from either Barcelona or Madrid to New York, the cost is approximately 4.40€ per pound. The per-pound price goes down as the weight of the shipment increases, declining to, for example, 1.50€ per pound for shipments of more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb.). Regardless of what you ship, a minimum charge is enforced.
For an additional fee, Iberia or one of its representatives will also pick up your package. For truly precious cargo, ask the seller to build a crate for it. For information within Spain about air-cargo shipments, call Iberia's cargo division at Madrid's Barajas Airport (tel. 90-111-14-00) or at Barcelona's airport (tel. 93-401-31-90).
Remember that your air-cargo shipment will need to clear Customs after it's brought into your home country. This involves some additional paperwork, costly delays, and in some cases a trip to the airport where the shipment first entered the country. It's usually easier (and in some cases, much easier) to hire a commercial customs broker to do the work for you. UPS SCS can clear most shipments of goods for around $150, which you'll pay in addition to any applicable duty you owe your home government. For information, go online to www.ups-scs.com/international/customs_broker.html.
Tax & How to Recover It
If you are not a European Union resident and you make purchases in Spain worth more than 90€, you can get a tax refund. (The internal tax, known as VAT in most of Europe, is called IVA in Spain.) Depending on the goods, the rate usually ranges from 7% to 16% of the total worth of your merchandise. Luxury items are taxed at 33%.
To get this refund, you must complete three copies of a form that the store will give you, detailing the nature of your purchase and its value. Citizens of non-E.U. countries show the purchase and the form to the Global Refund Office, Terminal 1, Departure Gate A, Madrid-Barajas Airport (www.globalrefund.com).
The shop is supposed to refund the amount due you. Inquire at the time of purchase how they will do so and discuss in what currency your refund will arrive.
When the Weather & the Sales Are Hot!
The best sales are usually in summer. Called rebajas, they start in July and go through August. As a general rule, merchandise is marked down even more in August to make way for the new fall wares in most stores.
The days of bargaining are, for the most part, long gone. Most stores have what is called precio de venta al público (PVP), a firm retail price not subject to negotiation. With street vendors and flea markets, it's a different story because haggling a la española is expected. However, you'll have to be very skilled to get the price reduced a lot, as most of these street-smart vendors know exactly what their merchandise is worth and are old hands at getting that price.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.