The majority of first time visitors to Madrid want to stay in the center, somewhere near Puerto del Sol and Gran Via, mainly because this is the central tourist area. Three metro lines converge here and it’s around 30 minutes to Barajas airport. Plaza Mayor’s arcades lie a few steps west and a short walk south-east is lively Plaza de Santa Ana. North of Puerto del Sol is Gran Via, Madrid’s main thoroughfare, lined with restaurants, shops, cinemas and grand buildings converted into Madrid hotels. Northwards is the shopping street Fuencarral, very close to trendy Chueca’s square.
West of Puerto del Sol is the historical area of Opera, home to elegant Plaza Isabel II and Madrid’s grand opera house, Teatro Real. A short distance away is the expansive Royal Palace and Plaza de Oriente, dotted with royal statues. A compact city, Madrid hotels in this area are easily accessible from spots like Plaza Mayor. North of Opera, at one end of Gran Via, is Plaza de Espana.
The 5 star options tend to be located in more upmarket areas outside the tourist center, for instance the exclusive Salamanca barrio (neighbourhood). At its heart is the Plaza de Colón square and main thoroughfare of Calle Serrano. Designer shops line the grid of streets between Calle Goya and Calle José Oretga y Gassett, showcasing everything from Gucci emporia to Spanish designers like Adolfo Domínguez.
'Downtown' Madrid is in the area of Atocha. Behind the station is an area with the cheapest accommodation you can find. It's not the prettiest part of Madrid, and not always the safest after dark, but it is excellent if you're on a budget and if you're not planning to spend too much time at your hotel!
For a compact city, Madrid has an unusually large number of hotels. In fact, so many new properties have opened in the past few years that there are concerns that there are too many, in the center at least. For visitors, of course, this can only be a good thing.
Intense competition means higher standards of accommodation and service, even in the lower-priced places. In particular, the difference between budget and mid-range hotels is becoming increasingly marginal, with the newer hostales now offering en suite bathrooms in most rooms. And, across all price brackets, staffs are friendlier and keener to help than ever before. Fans of boutique hotels, meanwhile, will be pleased to hear that the concept has finally made it to Madrid.
Remember that a hotel's official published rate is the "rack rate", and in many cases you can get lower rates than those officially quoted. Check directly with your hotel of choice by internet, or by calling the individual hotel´s reservation desk. High seasons are Easter and Christmas, so avoid those periods if you can. If you decide to go to Madrid during the very hot months of July and August, the capital's low season, you'll usually be able to pick up some very good bargains in the higher priced hotels.