We live in a world where time is a scarce resource, we are always in a hurry and stress completely consumes and overwhelm us. Perhaps for this reason, few things I find more pleasant than making a coffee, sitting in a comfortable place, opening a good book (if it is a paper book much better) and letting yourself go. Reading makes me feel free.
Many times, a book is also the first step to a fascinating trip. Who has not read a novel set in a European city that makes us live a wonderful adventure? Soon after, almost without realizing it, we are buying a plane ticket for that city.
I read any book about Madrid I can get my hands on. It does not matter if they are about traditions, history or important figures. However, when I travel abroad I also like reading books about the country before my trip. They help me to understand better the culture and idioidiosyncrasy of my destination. In other words, books enrich my trip.
I guess if you are reading this post it is because you are interested in traveling to Madrid. So let me recommend you 10 books about Madrid and Spain that I always recommend to my non-Spanish friends.
This is a wonderful guide about Madrid written by Anna Carin Nordin. The title of this guidebook speaks for itself. Anna Caris shares with us a selection of her favorite secrets spots, incredible stories and great recommendations: from mysterious buildings or hidden squares to the best places in Madrid to have a cocktail. In total, up to 500 places to make the most of your visit to Madrid. Books to Read About Madrid Despite the fact that Anna Carin Nordin was born in Sweden and raised in Switzerland, since more than ten years she has made Madrid her new home. Click here to see on Amazon
If you love history you cannot miss this book. Of course, we recommend reading it until the end before traveling to Madrid. In this way, you will be able to appreciate every detail of our city and understand a little better the idiosyncrasy of Madrid. A little detail that I really liked about this book is that it includes a small but helpfull guide to enjoy Madrid in two days. Like the rest of the books in this post, I have read it and I can say that the author, Jules Stewart, has done a magnificent documentary work. Jules immerses us in the history of Madrid from its foundation by Muslims in the 9th century to the Franco’s dictatorship. However, don’t expect a history essay. The author narrates the most important events that have shaped the history of Madrid. Click here to see on Amazon
Ernest Hemingway, one the greatest writers of the 20th century, was a great connoisseur of Madrid and Spain. He was passionate about our country and bullfighting “aficionado”. In fact, he worked in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) as a war correspondent.
Specifically I would like to recommend you two books by Ernest Hemingway:
Essential book to read before visiting Spain. The American writer published this book in 1926. “The Sun Also Rises” tells the story of 3 young Americans who live in Paris during the interwar period. In Paris, they take a train to Pamplona (Northern Spain) to attend the San Fermin festival. There, a whole series of love events take place between the protagonists and a Spanish bullfighter that will lead to a violent end. Click here to see on Amazon
For Whom the Bell Tolls“: This great novel was published in 1940, one year later after the Spanish Civil War. In this book Hemingway tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades attached to an antifascist guerilla unit. In Spain he meets Maria, a beautiful nurse with whom he falls in love. Click here to see on Amazon
The book perfectly reflects those horrible years of the Spanish Civil War: barbarism and death but also camaraderie and loyalty to ideals. An interesting fact is that the first edition of this book in Spanish had to be published in Buenos Aires (Argentina) in 1942, since the Franco’s dictatorship in Spain began in 1939.
Although it is a book in Spanish, in this case the language is not of vital importance because it is a Madrid photography book. In total, the book includes more than 200 photographs, most of them taken between 1945 and 1960. The photographs in this book capture the vitality of Madrid after the civil war but also the gritty reality of life at that time.
I really like old photos of Madrid, but this is, hands down, the best photography book of Madrid I've found to date. The photos were taken by Manuel Urech, one of the best graphic reporters in the history of Spain, who worked for prestigious media such as ABC, Madrid Diario or Agencia EFE. Click here to see on Amazon
The history of Spain cannot be understood without studying the figure of Queen Isabella of Castile, the most powerful woman of her time. In 1469 the young Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon married, unifying the two most powerful kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula: Castile and Aragon. This unification, together with an ambitious foreign policy (the conquest of Granada, important alliances with European countries and the voyages of Christopher Colombus) made Spain the greatest power in Europe for almost 200 years.
In this book Jean Plaidy immerses us in the Castilian court of the 15th century, in which intrigues, murders and ambition were commonplace. In the midst of this hostile climate, a figure emerges strongly, Isabella the Catholic. Despite having everything against her, Isabella the Catholic defied part of the Castilian nobility and married Ferdinand of Aragon. Later both became Kings of Spain.
Without a doubt, an exciting book to delve into this interesting period of history in Spain. IMPORTANT: This book is part of a trilogy about Isabella la Catolica. The other two books are "Spain For The Sovereigns" and "Daughters Of Spain". Click here to see on Amazon
This wonderful novel was written by Camilo Jose Cela in 1955. Frankly, it is a very interesting book to understand one of the saddest periods in the history of modern Spain. After the civil war (1936-1939) Spain was completely devastated and plunged into chaos. Even, many Spaniards decided to emigrate to countries like Argentina or Mexico to start a new life. Others stayed in Spain and tried to survive and rebuild the country.
"The Hive" is set in Madrid in 1943 and reflects starkly the harsh living conditions of that time. Without a doubt, this book is a perfect portrait of the lower-middle class in Madrid; their miseries, worries and their difficulties to raise their families. Camilo Jose Cela is one of the most important writers of the 20th century in the Spanish language. He was even awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1989. Click here to see on Amazon
In the late 80s the English author, Jennifer Lash, was diagnosed with cancer. After surgery, she decided to undertake a solitary journey along the "Camino de Santiago" through France to Spain. After this wonderful and intimate journey she decided put down in words the whole experience and her thoughts. Reading this book will allow you to travel with Jennifer through the green meadows of northern Spain, embrace the freedom of the outdoors and discover a part of Spain unknown to many travelers.
In my opinion, it is a moving book. OK, this book is not exactly about Madrid, however it is about a deeply rooted tradition in the Spanish people, the "Camino de Santiago". Definitely a book recommended for those who like travel literature. Click here to see on Amazon
Since I was a teenager Philipe II was one of my favorite historical figures. Perhaps it is because he ordered the construction of the Monastery of Escorial, one of the most incredible places in Madrid, but I have always been very interested in delving into the figure of King Philip II.
I have read a lot about this King and personally this biography is among my favorites. Simply put, it is a perfect book to start with the figure of Philip II. The historian Geoffrey Parker immerses us in the biography of the most powerful monarch in Europe during the 16th century: his worries, his obsessions, his religious fervor and historical moments like the failed "Invincible Armada" against England, which could have changed the course of history.
Maybe you are thinking if you have to have previous knowledge to enjoy this book. Not at all, although there are parts where the narrative rhythm slows down, the book is easy to read. You don't have to have a doctorate in history to enjoy it. Click here to see on Amazon
Avoid wandering around the Prado Museum without understanding what you are seeing with this official guidebook of the Prado Museum. This book offers an exquisite tour illustrated and commented tour through the most importants works at Prado Museum: from "Las Meninas" or "The Garden of Earthly Delights" to "The Third of May 1808".
If you are thinking of visiting the Prado Museum and you like painting, we highly recommend buying this guidebook. The Prado Museum is a gigantic museum (more than 1500 exhibited works) and this guidebook will help you understand and interpret this amazing museum. You can also buy this in the museum store. There you wll find more interesting books and all kind of souvenirs. Click here to see on Amazon
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Unfortunately, it is not easy to find books in English in Madrid. Something very similar happens with movies. The vast majority of cinemas offer movies dubbed in Spanish. Probably the low level of English among the Spanish population is the main reason (Spain has one of the worst levels of English in Europe).
If you are one of those who still enjoy visiting bookshops and browsing real shelves to find literary treasures, I recommend you several English-language bookshops in Madrid:
This bookshop defines itself on its website as “a second-hand English language bookshop and Bagel Shop”. A very original concept, at least in Madrid. In other words, you can have a delicious coffee on a cold winter afternoon while reading one of your favorite books. It sounds pretty good :))
In J&J Books and Coffee you can find from novels or travel guides to biographies, etc. All books are second-hand and in very good condition.
The atmosphere is great and the bookshop is run by Dave, who greets each customer behind the counter with a smile. Without a doubt, this bookshop maintains the essence of small family-run businesses and we LOVE that.
Address: Calle del Espiritu Santo, 47
“La Libreria” is one of the most emblematic bookshops in Madrid. It was founded in 1986 and specializes exclusively in books about Madrid. They also sell old maps of Madrid, postcards, photography books and any book with Madrid’s name on it
This bookshop is mainly frequented by locals. It is really strange to find non-Spanish speaking people here. Despite the fact that most of the books are in Spanish (the bookshop has a catalog of more than 500 books about Madrid) they also have a small selection of books in English.
Without a doubt, “La Libreroa” is the perfect place for lovers of Madrid.
The bookshop could not be located in a better place, between the Church of San Nicolás (the oldest church in Madrid) and Plaza de la Villa, in the heart of Old Madrid
Address: Calle Mayor, 80
A wonderful bookshop for those who like to learn new languages. At the same time it has become a meeting point for expats living in Madrid. Here you can find books of any genre (politics, fiction, biographies, economics, etc.) in Spanish, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and many other languages.
The only drawback is that having books in so many languages, the catalog of books is somewhat reduced. Anyway, it is well worth a visit.
Address: Calle de Genova, 3
We love this place. It is one of those tiny bookshops with tall shelves full of hundreds of books. Several days a week this bookshop also hosts readings, lectures and meetings which contributes to the creation of a wonderful literary environment. Charming and very helpful owners!!
In addition to books in English, they also sell books in Spanish and French.
Address: Calle de Campomanes, 13
Booksellers is specialized in books to study English. However, they also have a small English literature section. Just one little problem, Booksellers is located in Tetuan district, a bit far from Old Madrid. If your hotel is located near the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, it is OK.
If you take metro from the historic center you will get here in approximately 15 min. The closest metro station to Booksellers is “Rios Rosas” (line 1).
Address: Calle Santa Engracia, 115
We wish you a WONDERFUL TRIP to Madrid
Javier Redondo, Cofounder of OgoTours