Spanish designer Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada and family lead us straight to the hot spots.
“Madrid has this energy I haven’t found anyplace else; even in the grandest plazas and palaces, you’re allowed to have a good time,” says Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada, dressed in a red shift bearing a giant lopsided pink heart. As Spain’s favorite designer of Pop Art–patterned clothes and accessories for kids and grown-ups alike, Ágatha knows fun—she’s spent 28 years at the helm of a vast design empire, leaving her fanciful imprint on everything from ball gowns to Band-Aids. She sells her wares all over Europe, Asia, and the U.S., and recently debuted a line of delightfully loopy playground equipment. Accompanied by her 16-year-old daughter, Cósima; nieces Inés, 15, Ani, 9, and Carla, 3; and nephew Pedro, 5, Ágatha showed us her family’s key corners of their city. Get ready to romp amid the pomp.
A Day in the Park
“Madrileños unwind at El Retiro, the central park not far from the Prado. It has a lake with rowboats and a rose garden with puppet shows. Plus there are modern-art exhibitions—curated by the Reina Sofía museum—in the Crystal Palace, a Victorian greenhouse.”
“Plaza Mayor is the heart of old Madrid; it was built in the 1600’s and is the liveliest square in all of Spain. Sit in the shade of a café, order churros and hot chocolate, and take in the street performers—some use the hot air coming out of the parking-garage grates to make toilet paper dance.”
After You’ve Tackled the Prado
“The National Museum of Natural Sciences [2 José Gutiérrez Abascal; 34/91-561-8600; mncn.csic.es] is old and dusty and has a ‘once upon a time’ feel. Beyond the dinosaurs, there’s a collection of taxidermy and an 18th-century cabinet of curiosities. Also worth visiting: the Wax Museum [41 Paseo de Recoletos; 34/91-319-2649; museoceramadrid.com]. When I was little, I went right to the torture chamber.”
This Place Is a Palace
“The Palacio Real [Calle Bailén; 34/91-454-8800; patrimonionacional.es] is the most impressive royal palace in Europe. Skip the tour and just explore. You’ll see red velvet thrones and a salon with porcelain vines climbing the walls. Don’t miss the suits of armor worn by kings and princes, and even their horses and dogs! Check out what’s on at the Teatro Real [Plaza de Oriente; 34/91-527-9865; teatro-real.com], the opera house nearby. I designed sets and costumes for their wonderful production of Puss in Boots.”
Related: T+L's Guide to Shopping in Madrid
Making Pigs of Ourselves
“The Guinness Book of World Records calls Restaurante Botín [17 Cuchilleros; 34/91-366-4217; botin.es; lunch for four $146] the oldest eating establishment in the world. Cósima and I love their cochinillo, the traditional Castilian roast suckling pig. If you don’t want to go whole hog, just get the delicious Iberian sliced ham.”
If You Can’t Afford the Ritz
“Room Mate Hotels [34/91-399-5777; room-matehotels.com; doubles from $140], a new Spanish chain, tries to make you feel as if you’re staying with a friend. There are four of them in Madrid, all in happening neighborhoods. They’re high-style, but kid-friendly, and they only cost about a hundred euros a night. Room Mate Laura has apartments, so it’s especially good for families.”
“The world’s leading troupes perform at Teatro Circo Price [35 Ronda de Atocha; 34/91-527-9865; esmadrid.com/circoprice], a new one-ring circus space and cultural center. What’s better in life than going to the circus?”
All Things Ágatha
“Our flagship store [27 Serrano; 34/91-319-0501; agatharuizdelaprada.com] is on the city’s most elegant shopping street, across from the Corte Inglés, a department store with a popular merry-go-round out front. My boutique is bright and playful—we recently hung hundreds of socks from the ceiling. I guess that’s why five- to ten-year-olds are my best customers.”
Another Museum Must
"The Reina Sofía’s (52 Santa Isabel; 34/91-774-1000; museoreinasofia.es) new Jean Nouvel building is beautiful! And kids love the Calder sculpture in the middle of the big courtyard. The museum stays open until 9:00, so you can make a night of it."
"Vinçon (18 Castelló; 34/91-578-0520) is my favorite place to browse, and my kids love it too. It’s a design store that sells all kinds of things, including toys—like the Museum of Modern Art Store, only looser and more exciting."
A Piece of Cake
"Pastelería Embassy (12 Paseo de la Castellana; 34/91-576-4877), around the corner from my store, is a classic spot where chic people go for a merienda, our version of afternoon tea. Try horchata—it’s a milky drink made from tigernuts that dates back to ancient times. I wish I could say I like it!"
The Best Candy Store
"Caramelos Paco (55 Toledo, 34/91-365-4258) has floor-to-ceiling lollies, suckers, and caramels. And when your cheeks are stuffed, check out Fiestas Paco (52 Toledo, 34/91-365-2760), a carnival shop across the street, that sells noisemakers, costumes, and fright wigs."
"Madrid Xanadú (Km 23.5, Autovía A-5; 34/91-103-6000; millsmadridxanadu.com) is a big mall with a big surprise—an indoor ski slope where you can actually strap on skis and go! We’ve shown my winter fashions here."
Hot Chocolate Time
"Chocolatería San Ginés (5 Pasadizo San Ginés; 34/91-365-6546) is famous for its hot chocolate and churros—and coffee served in chocolate cups."