It's not often that a prime and picturesque neighborhood gets the snub from travelers because its shops, restaurants and other establishments are considered too nice. But that's what some visitors do with Barrio de Salamanca, perhaps the Spanish capital's toniest enclave that often (and rather aptly) is compared to the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The barrio supports a surprising density of jewelers, galleries, antiques dealers and luxury fashion houses where prices are, more often than not, sky high. On weekday mornings, rivers of tartan course along the sidewalks as uniformed children scamper off to the area's many private schools.
But for anyone hoping to savor the true essence of Madrid, even upper-crust Barrio Salamanca has price points ranging from modest to free. Among its cultural treasures is the newly renovated Museo Arqueologico Nacional (admission 3 euros, or about $3.30), which showcases the art and history of the country's first indigenous peoples as well as the waves of colonizers — Greek, Roman, Moorish — who came here from across the Mediterranean.
If you prefer your art a bit more recent, head straight up Calle Serrano to the Museo Lázaro-Galdiano (admission 6 euros, with a free hour each afternoon), where works by the likes of El Greco, Murillo and Goya share galleries with decorative arts. Other neighborhood cultural beacons include the Fundación Carlos de Amberes and the Fundación Juan March; both are free and offer temporary exhibitions, concerts and lectures.
Gastronomically speaking, the neighborhood is equally varied. Drop into Jurucha for tapas and aperitifs (2 to 3 euros), and, as winter's chill sets in, consider Taberna de la Daniela for a siesta-inducing cocido, the traditional Madrileño stew of garbanzos, vegetables and pork that is served in three courses for 26.50 euros.
If a nap is not in your future, try Magasand, the favored gathering spot for fashionistas who snack on sandwiches (5 to 7 euros) while perusing design magazines. If you're willing to stand in line, the new Gourmet Experience food court at El Corte Inglés department store claims seven Michelin stars among its seventh-floor food-stall vendors, with outlets by Jordi Roca, Roberto Ruiz and David Muñoz. A meal at Muñoz's sit-down StreetXO costs around 40 euros; you can graze at the other stalls for less.
Confiteria Rialto has been selling crisp and delicate Marcona-almond and chocolate moscovita wafers (250 grams, about 9 ounces, for 12 euros) for more than 80 years. At La Húngara, it's all about the sweet charms (chocolate and raspberry 10 ways) of Austro-Hungarian desserts, which range in price from 1.50 to 10 euros.
For wearable souvenirs, Renatta & Go (T-shirts start about 15 euros) has chic casual wear for women and girls, and all that glitters is merely gold-plated at Aristocrazy (rings from 50 euros), which does a booming business in costume jewelry.
Last year, the Spanish fast-fashion emporium Zara (dresses from 30 euros) opened an elegant and very full-service new flagship on Calle Serrano, and its Massimo Dutti division has restarted a bespoke menswear line (custom suits from 400 euros) under the aegis of society style maven Rafael Medina Abascal, bringing a new clientele to the brand. Other local haberdashers like Lander Urquijo and Patch Mercantile's Curro Ariza do their part to keep the local gentry looking fine at reasonable prices (shirts, 40 to 90 euros; 80-euro jeans) especially considering the quality of the fabrics and tailoring.
So whether your budget is 20, 200 or 2,000 euros per day, Madrid's Barrio de Salamanca is worth getting to know.