Bookstores in Madrid

Who needs behemoth Barnes & Noble chains when you have hundreds of charming individual bookstores scattered around the city. These stores range greatly from traditional Spanish stores with antique maps and grungy vintage treasures, to colorful, contemporary shopfronts that feature raging feminist literature. Here are some of the hottest bookstores in the center of Madrid right now.

Tipos Infames

The white stucco walls and exposed wooden ceiling creates an instant, homey atmosphere as book-lovers stumble in at any time of the day (of course not including siesta hours of 3:00-5:00). This bookstore/bar/coffee shop is located in the popular Malasaña neighborhood, an easy turn off one of the main, local shopping streets Calle de Fuencarral. The full name is “Tipos Infames: Libros y Vinos” (The Infamous Types/Guys: Books and Wine”. You can come here on a late evening and sip a glass of Rioja while browsing the large selection of mostly Spanish narrative literature. The three owners, all friends, embrace the challenge of redefining traditional bookstores by offering frequent expositions, series of author editorials and by creating a welcoming and dynamic space for the community to enjoy.

“Nos gusta el vino y pensamos que marida con la literatura, ven a comprobarlo.” — We like wine and think that it marries well with literature, come try it!

Tipos Infames, Calle de San Joaquín 3, Madrid, Spain

Desperate Literature

Desperate Lit. is a small international business with stores in Brooklyn, Madrid and Santorini. This tiny, hole in the wall shop is tucked into a side street near the Opera metro. When you step past the door surrounded by green plants and mystery gift packs, you’ll come across an antique megaphone, a large oriental red rug, and an old wooden guitar sitting in the corner, just waiting to be played. They have a relatively small, yet classic, collection of English, Spanish and French books, seemingly focused on smaller name poets and sci-fi authors. The business is interested in recycling literature, so they offer to buy and trade second-hand books that are in good condition.

Desperate Literature, Calle Campomanes, 13, 28013 Madrid, Spain

LA Central

Steps away from one of the busiest metro stops, Callao, and across the street from a favorite Chocolatería Valor is a bookstore called LA Central. The shop includes a fancy (yet a bit pricey on a students’ budget) bistro and cocktail bar, hipster posters, touristy Madrid paraphernalia, and a library mainly comprising of philosophy, history, language and social sciences. The sleek walls holds thousands and thousands of books in several different languages. And the wooden staircase connects three different floors and up to a pretty glass ceiling, so you can enjoy reading in natural light. The store is always full of people, and holds book nights, comedy shows, and forums for new authors to exhibit and explain new works.

La Central, Calle del Postigo de San Martín 8, Madrid, Spain

Traficante de Sueños

In the heart of La Latina is this pleasant find, a bookstore that focuses on providing a progressive attitude toward the power of literacy. It is not only store, but an open community that offers a number of presentations, debates and workshops. The store targets a younger generation and encourages political discussion by selling mostly non-fiction books about history, social justice and humanitarian movements. They believe in “el libro como herramienta de intervención” – (the book as a tool of intervention). While I have only stopped here a few times and never bought anything, I respect the mission and think that like-minded entrepreneurs should be inspired to launch similar stores in other cities to touch educated, youths and inspire a well-read environment regarding modern social and political issues.

Traficante de Suenos

Traficantes de sueños, Calle del Duque de Alba, 13, 28012 Madrid, Spain

Other spots worth mentioning:

Librería Mujeres: Feminist literature and slam poetry near Plaza Mayor

Molar: Graphic novels and Spanish Records in La Latina

J&J’s Books: Expat community with a large selection of English books (and a brunch spot with bagels!) in Malasaña

Along with all of these quirky little shops, Madrid also has some outdoor book stands that are open in good weather. You can find old vintage postcards, maps and random second-hand books at the small wooden stand called La Librería de San Ginés, which is built on the side of the stone cathedral wall. On the southern side of Retiro park you can find small blue stands with canvas tops that sell all types of books. They bring out carts onto the street. I have seen books from some of my favorite Latin American authors, Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, being sold here. With the right amount of browsing, I am certain that both of these outdoor shops have many treasures yet to be discovered!

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These few favorites don’t even scratch the surface of all of the reading options available in the city. Overall, it seems that Madrid tend to cultivate an appreciation for art and literature and people enjoy supporting small, local businesses in order to preserve diversity and a genuine love for reading. Hopefully, this post has inspired you to go grab a book! …Or to buy a plane ticket to Madrid! Either one is fine by me.

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Madrid’s “Big Three” Art Scene

With my free time in Madrid I love to spend hours strolling through the famous museums and even some of the not-so-famous art galleries. The three most well-known museums in Madrid are the Prado, Reina Sofia and the Museo Thyssen. This collection is sometimes called “The Golden Triangle” or “The Big Three”. All three of these museums have very different collections of art, different personalities, and attract different visitors.

The most famous of the three museums is El Museo del Prado. It’s almost too easy to spend hours wandering through the hundreds of paintings at the Prado. It is the home of some of the most famous paintings in Spain’s art history, from the top three most renowned Spanish artists Goya (1746-1824), Velazquez (1599-1660) and El Greco (1541-1614). Half of the collection is a lot of handsome priests fighting off satanic dragons and chubby flying naked Renaissance babies, which for me gets old fast; however, the other half of the collection consists of influential pieces like Las Meninas and Goya’s “Black Paintings” like Saturn or the Drowning Dog.

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I learned about Las Meninas for the first time way back freshman year in one of my drawing classes at Bard. For many artists, Las Meninas is the painting that introduced perspective in art. I also studied Las Meninas in relation to Don Quijote in my Spanish Lit. class, and how they both share a kind of self-referentiality that was extremely rare back in the 17th Century. I mean like that type of artistic inception of “a painting of a painting” and “a book of a book” kind of thing. Pictures are forbidden, but here is a photo from Google just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. This painting was especially unique because it is both a self-portrait of Velazquez and a portrait of the royal family.

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What the Prado does really well is that it showcases interesting exhibitions, separate from the main collection, that feature different, less well-known artists. When I went back in the beginning of the month, there were a few that I found especially interesting. One exhibition called Meta Pintura “A Journey into the Idea of Art”, another about Jose de Ribera’s expressive sketches and yet another on the still life painting of Clara Peeters.

There was also a gallery featuring the works of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), who’s paintings I also studied at Bard. The most famous, and amazing painting is called the Garden of Earthly Delights, three wooden panels displaying heaven, reality and hell. Another thing that really caught my attention was this gorgeous wooden ceiling that was taken and restored from an old cathedral in northern Spain.IMG_4247.JPG

The Prado is open from 10AM-8PM every day, on Sunday it closes at 7. For adults it is 12€, luckily for students (still me – technically!) it’s free! It is also free every day Mon-Sat from 6-8, but careful with the line, people start lining up early to get in. https://www.museodelprado.es/en

The second most famous museum within the “Big Three” is called El Museo del Reina Sofia, which puts a more modern spin on Spanish art. Featuring artists like Picasso, Miró and Dalí, this collection is much more contemporary than the Prado. In my personal opinion, everything about the Reina Sofia is more trendy than the Prado, from the art itself to the structure and function of the building. What was originally an 18th century hospital has been converted into a clean, abstract red and gray steel rectangle museum. Construction finished in 1990 and even since then the Reina Sofia has been attracting just as many, if not even more visitors than the Prado.

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One thing that can be misleading about the building is that there are many different entrances. The main entrance is on the Sabatini north-side of complex. On the other side of the building is an entrance to the upper level temporary gallery. When I was there they had an exhibition about zines. And underneath of the museum is a really hip café/restaurant/bar called NuBel that is worth the visit.

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You may ask… what is a zine? Its like a mini magazine or collage of words, images, and memories. Anyone can personalize and publish their own zine.

The museum has four levels structured around a square central plaza with a garden. There are large glass windows which lets in natural light and the walls are stark white. So it is provides a perfect atmosphere to be able to focus and enjoy art. The majority of the collection is a mix of paintings, sculptures and old books and artifacts on display. There is a clear modern, surrealist, and abstract theme throughout the second and third floors of the Sabatini building.

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While the collection includes painters from other European countries like Magritte and Tanguy from France and Max Ernst from Germany, there is a strong emphasis in the Reina Sofia on Spanish history and how the art has taken a part in this history. Each gallery has an informational card that welcomes and walks the visitor through some of the most important historical moments of the Spanish 20th Century.

For example, one of my favorite sections was the Spanish art from the 1920s when the Generation of ’27 was taking off as a group of avant-garde poets and artists all from Spain who greatly influenced the art world. This stylistic period includes Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Juan Gris, Salvador Dalí, and a Dalí copycat named Oscar Dominguez. These artists played a lot with color and contrast, geometric form and negative space and the many uses of the line. Here are two of my favorites that I saw:

Of course the most famous painting in the Reina Sofia is La Guernica by Picasso. While yes, I do hate viewing art with crowds and often try to give a little extra-appreciation to the overlooked paintings in a room, I cannot deny the power and sheer beauty of this painting. There is a reason why it is so famous!

Guernica

12 ft high and 25 ft long, this black and white masterpiece really commands the room. As I had studied this painting before in college, I felt as though I was really able to appreciate the painting not only aesthetically, but also because of the political message that is so deeply ingrained in the piece. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), a German war plane, assisting the Nationalists and Franco, bombed a small town in the Basque Country of Northern Spain. Picasso’s painting is seen as a cry against brutal war violence and a testimony for the innocent lives that were taken from this event. The chaos of the screaming civilians and the juxtaposition of humans and gruesome-looking animals is silenced by the meaningful, yet muted monochromatic, grayish tones. I believe this could be representative of the many following years of pain and repression felt by the Leftist Republican party of Spain under the Franco Regime.

On the third floor of the building is a temporary exhibition called Ficciones y territorios: Arte para pensar la nueva razón del mundo (Territories & Fictions: Thinking a New Way of the World). It is a collection of social realist photographs focused on showcasing the low-come and gentrified suburbs outside of Madrid and Barcelona. There were some political essays to read that accompanied the photos. This genuine exhibition was a breath of air from the idyllic impressionistic style that dominates the Prado and Thyssen.

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The Reina Sofia is open from basically the same times 10-8 PM all week. However, it is closed on Tuesdays and on Sunday is closes at 7 PM. Every night (M-F) from 7-9 the museum is free, but it usually costs 8€.

Now, the third down on the list of museums in Madrid is called El Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. The Thyssen was a private collection started by a Swiss family back in the 80s, who now have their art on display for the public. The Thyssen has a bit of everything artistically speaking: soft, impressionistic Western landscapes, large modern abstracts,  and mixed media explorations. It is like a quick representative journey through art history from the 13th to the 20th century. Famous artists include Rembrant, Dalí, Carvaggio, and a few more modern additions like Roy Lichtenstein and Kandinsky.

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Some paintings that I especially enjoyed are Piet Mondrian’s “Composition XIII”, Frantisek Kupka’s “Study for the Language of the Verticals”, Lyonel Feininger’s “Ships”, Kandinsky’s “Murnau, casas en el Obermarkt”, Yves Tanguy’s “Imaginary Numbers” and Richard Estes’s “People’s Flowers”.

The Thyssen is the less known museum of the “Golden Triangle”. The other day I mentioned the name of the museum to one of my private lesson students who is from Madrid, and she had never even heard of it! While it may not be as popular or as large a collection as the Prado or Reina Sofia, the Thyssen is definitely worth the visit.

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The main collection of The Thyssen is open every day from 10AM-7PM. On Mondays however it is only open from 12 to 6 PM, but it is completely free. You can just walk right in and start exploring! General admission is 12€, and many can find a reduced fee for 8€.

Whether you’re having a luxurious four hour tour in the Prado or just stopping by the Thyssen for a brief stroll on a Monday afternoon, these three museums provide a world of entertainment and knowledge for any type of tourist in Madrid. Come check it out!