Madrid boasts zillions of charming cafés, perfect spots to take a break, have a chat, scrutinize a blind date, or just take a book and relax with a coffee or tea. It seems you can't get through a week in the city without a new café or tea room opening up and drawing you in. The list is never-ending, so let us guide you to some of the best cafés in Madrid.
Still charming after all these years, this is Madrid's definitive literary café, open since 1888. It still holds poetry 'tertulias' (roundtable discussions) on Monday nights, and publishes a magazine filled with doodles and thoughts from visiting writers. A pianist tinkles the ivories to a packed terrace in summer, while in winter it's heaving inside. Look out for the aged Alfonso, who has been selling cigarettes, matches and lottery tickets, just inside the entrance, for over 30 years.
For many years now, this beautiful venue with high ceilings and elegant decor has been the place to get your jazz fix in Madrid. The artists that come here put it among the best of its kind in Europe. George Adams, Don Pullen, Ben Sidran and Bob Sands have all taken the stage, as well as Spanish stalwarts such as Chano Domínguez, Jorge Pardo and the oldest and greatest of them all, Pedro Iturralde. Its classic stone tables are ideal for having a hot cup of coffee while enjoying live music. In charge of the kitchen is a chef from San Sebastián, Juan Miguel Pérez Páramo, aka 'Micky'.
Stacked to the rafters with board games, Café Manuela has been a hive of activity since the Movida days. Its handsome art nouveau decor and conveniently nicotine-coloured walls are still the backdrop to occasional live music and other performances, but otherwise it's a great place to reacquaint yourself with Connect Four and Mastermind. Look out for the absinthe.
The belle époque interior is entirely fake yet utterly convincing, making this one of the most peaceful and elegant spots to flick through the newspapers or recover from the exertions of the Palacio Real opposite. Despite its location, with tables outside on the stunning Plaza de Oriente, the café seems to be as popular with locals as tourists, who are perhaps put off by its air of grandeur.
When the terrace opens it's near impossible to find a place to sit at this most-sought-after spot in the square. The good news is they hardly ever close, so whenever the mood strikes, you can stop in for breakfast, sandwiches, snacks (from Iberian hams to basic nachos) as well as more elaborate and international options (wok dishes, moussaka...).
A quintessential point of reference in the city's café society, the Bellas Artes is utterly elegant. Under new ownership, it is now free to enter at lunchtime for the 'menú del día'. Otherwise take a seat amid the columns and female nudes and frown over 'El País' with coffee and a croissant to fit right in.
This vintage-style café attracts a lot of young people who come here to chat in the afternoon or to have the first drink of the evening in a relaxed atmosphere with attentive waiters. On the walls are regular art exhibitions, and some evenings a DJ spins discs on a nearby street. Vegetable cocktails or carrot cake. You choose.
A quiet favourite with the smarter denizens of the neighbourhood, Café de Ruiz is an elegant place, with comfortable sofas and dramatic flower arrangements. A big draw is its house-made ice-cream and other tempting sweet treats, such as hot dipping chocolate with churros, milkshakes, lemon tart and cheesecake.