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Since the 1980s, out-of-town malls have sprung up and international chains have crept in. But fears that late 20th-century shopping practices would kill off Madrid's many unique, little stores have been largely unfounded, and the range of shopping experiences available for visitors is wonderfully diverse. It's these contrasts between the best on the international scene and some superbly idiosyncratic outlets that make Madrid shopping so serendipitous. It's not just what shops sell that provides a contrast - how they look is also varied. Temples of consumerism in steel and glass happily rub shoulders with cramped, dark shops where the stock is piled high and the merchandise specialized beyond belief. Few other world capitals have as many stores devoted to so many oddities - outsize corsetry, plaster statuary, crystallized violets. This gives Madrid shopping a special appeal, whether you're after easy-to-carry souvenirs or seriously self-indulgent retail therapy, or you simply enjoy window-shopping. Madrid has branches of some of Spain and Europe's best-known fashion stores, as well as the latest in the stylish, chain-store fashion, for which Spain is renowned. Spainsh leather shoes, bags and belts are some of the best in Eruope, and excellent value.
Read more on this destination in The AA Citypack Guide to Madrid.
Top shops in Madrid
Antigua Casa Talavera, Calle de Isabel la Catolica 2 - For fine hand-painted ceramics from Talavera, Granada and Toledo. This 100-year old establishment has both original and reproduction vases and platters with patterns that go back 1,000 years.
Casa de Diego, Plaza de la Puerta del Sol 12 - This 150-year-old store is still the best place in Madrid to buy a real fan. They range from cheap and cheerful for use on hot days to exquisite hand-painted collector's items. Also umbrellas and walking sticks.
Sesena, Calle de la Cruz 23 - With a firm eye on maintaining quality control, this family establishment, dating back to 1901, specialises in capes. Pablo Picasso, Michael Jackson and Hilary Clinton have all been customers.
La Violeta, Plaza de Canalejas 6 - This tiny shop could be out of a fairy tale. It specialises in an unusual sweet: real sugared violets in a jar and pretty little boxes. It also sells chocolates and candied fruits, and everything is wrapped elegantly to make the ideal present.
Natura Selection, Plaza del Emperador Carlos V - Dedicated to arts and crafts, plus clothes from South America, Asia and Africa. All are one of a kind, with scarves and bags, lamps and gloves - all made of natural materials such as cotton, silk and leather.
Perfumeria Alvarez Gomez, Calle de Serrano 14 - There are branches of this long-established perfumery all over Madrid. They sell a huge range of cosmetics and scents, but mostly their own delicate, flowery fragrances and colognes, beautifully bottled and excellent value.
ABC Serrano, Calle de Serrano 61/Castellana 34 - The tiled exterior of what were the ABC newspaper offices, now hides an Aladdin's cave of boutiques. With over 60 to choose from, this is a place to relax and check out the baby clothes and wine, the high fashion and fun jewellery. Good restaurants on site.
Cacao Sampaka, Calle de Orellana 4 - This could be Madrid's most tempting shop. Sampaka sells bars of chocolate as other shops sell silk ties. But it is not just bars. There are books and biscuits, jars and moulds, drinking chocolate and decorations. And the bar-cum-tasting room serves chocolate drinks, mousses, pastires and desserts.
Madrid's Christmas Market, Plaza Mayor - There are over 100 wonderful stalls at this Christmas market, offering tradtional Spanish festive items. Locals visit this market to purchase their essential Christmas items. 27th Nov - 31st Dec, daily.