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The other day, I wrote about my summer trip to Spain and several of you asked my list of favorite cities. While my hometown New York ranks at #1 for myriad of reasons, my favorite international city is Madrid. I could probably go on forever, but here are the main reasons why I love Madrid (in no particular order):
1) The food. You might be able to tell by now, but I’m a full-blown foodie. I love all types of meals, from fancy private tasting menu dinners at The French Laundry to eating random organs on the street in Tokyo. While I imagine Spain might be difficult for vegetarians and vegans, it’s an omnivore’s dream come true. Delicious ham, pork and seafood – plus I feel like Madrid has some of the best doner kebab in Europe (great for late night snacks, which is something I always end up needing on my visits here).
2) The people. Honestly, I find Spaniards to be extremely friendly. Granted, I speak Spanish so it’s easier for me, but in general I consistently meet great people. I don’t find there to be negative feelings towards Americans, like in some other countries.
3) The lifestyle. Spaniards know how to enjoy life. Afternoon siestas (when many shops close between 2-5pm) are common and families bond around meals. I always love walking down side streets and seeing how people meet up at small bars and stand at high-top tables and relax and enjoy life. It’s a far cry from the crowded, hustle bustle chain restaurant culture of the US. Spaniards also prioritize travel and most end up vacationing for the month of August. Must be nice, right?
4) The energy. Being a New Yorker it’s always difficult traveling, because I constantly compare everything to NYC and that’s not really fair. It is rare to find a city that has a natural energy like New York. For some reason, I find that Madrid has a similar feeling. While it’s definitely different – Madrid isn’t a city of skyscrapers – I think it should be called “The City That Never Sleeps.” The nightlife here never ceases to amaze me. It is completely normal to stay out until 7am – or later. I’m always amazed to see senior citizens leisurely strolling the streets at 1am. My grandparents are close to waking up at that time! I still haven’t figured out how anyone gets any work done here, but I think that’s what’s so attractive about Madrid – its a city that places more emphasis on living than working.
5) The location. Madrid is exactly in the center of Spain, which makes it a great place to visit if you want to tack on other destinations. Easy Jet and several other low cost carriers have a good presence at MAD, so fares are relatively low. You can also take inexpensive buses and trains to most points within the country. When I studied abroad here in college, I remember renting a car with friends and driving to Salamanca and then onto Port, Portugal (home of Port wine) and spending a couple days on the Atlantic coast of northern Portugal. Two years ago on a visit I took a super-cheap 90 minute EasyJet flight to Marrakesh, Morocco. On my current trip I’ll also be hitting up several cities on the Costa Brava (north of Barcelona), Barcelona and Sitges (the beach town south of Barcelona) so stay tuned for that.
Other add-on trips that are easy and cheap to do: Mallorca, Ibiza, Rioja Wine Region (redeem some of your free resort nights from the current Starwood promo at the Frank Gehry designed Marques de Riscal, Elciego hotel, which looks stunning), Alicante (beach), Valencia, Portugal (Lisbon and Oporto) and San Sebastian.
6) It’s relatively cheap. While the Euro is pretty strong right now (as I write this the exchange rate is $1.45 for 1 Euro), I find most things to be cheap. You can definitely eat on a budget and cabs are reasonable as well (slightly cheaper than NYC in my opinion). Alcohol is pretty inexpensive too – it’s not unusual to go to a small bar and pay 1.60-2 Euros for a beer, plus you usually get a small plate of olives/snacks as well.
7) Points and miles friendly. I personally find it easier to plan trips to Madrid with my miles and points than to many other European cities. I’ve never had issues finding award space on Delta and the hotel options are decent – the Westin Palace Madrid is a gorgeous, high-end hotel that is only a category 5 – so 12,000 points a night or 4,800 and $90 with cash and points (an amazing deal). The Intercontinental Madrid is also a nice property, which I’ll be posting a full review on shortly.
Last summer I wrote a post on using miles to fly to Madrid. Click here for my recent review of the Westin Palace (a new one coming shortly).