7 Reasons Why I Love Madrid

by on July 3, 2011 · 18 comments

in Intercontinental/ Ambassador, Starwood

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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).

A plate of jamon serrano - my favorite kind

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).

Stunning lobby restaurant at the Westin Palace Madrid

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Kris

    Yes! 4 months to go until my $350 SpanAir flight to Madrid… so excited to read your posts from there! I’m getting more and more excited about the trip, Madrid wasn’t high on my travel wish list until I saw the great fare (here on your site!). I’m looking forward to hitting up tons of restaurants, I rarely eat at the same place twice when I travel. My fiance is vegan, but I have a feeling he’ll be okay in Madrid, it seems like there are tons of different ethnic places where are usually great for vegetarian dishes. And I’ll be checking out your hotel reviews as well!

  • Daraius

    I loved Madrid too, and prefer it to Barcelona, so I’m curious to read how you compare Madrid with Barcelona.

    You’ve captured all the reasons why Madrid is great, though I’d add in the excellent Prado museum and having a picnic at Retiro park with Jamon Iberico bocadilos!

  • Vinyl Slider

    Hey TPG, I visited Spain in 1981 as part of a month-long high school group trip. We toured Barcelona, Valencia, Toledo, Madrid, Sevilla, Cordoba, side trip to Tangier, Malaga, Granada, Alicante, and capped off with a week-long family stay in Denia. I wholeheartedly concur with all your observations. If anything, Spain is more accessible now than ever. Even though I haven’t been there in decades, I look forward to a return trip with my wife and one of my daughters in 2013. If you have the time and inclination, you could do a great one-stop blog on Spain — tying in your Iberia posts (and covering other alliance redemptions), lifestyle/culture (as above with the Siesta and nightlife comments), short snippet on the major cities/attractions, etc. I really enjoy how you hit the sweet spot of just enough information and insight, without extraneous detail and tangents. Bravo!

  • Iain MacKenzie

    Best Doner Kebabs in Europe? I raise you Berlin.

  • Globetrekker22

    I went to MAD this spring on the Delta mistake fares… incredible city

  • Anonymous

    Yea I probably could have gone on forever with reasons, but I had to stop somewhere! I do like the Reina Sofia and Prado. And the Retiro. And the shops on Serrano.. and and and… :-)

  • Anonymous

    I was too busy eating currywurst in Berlin to try the doner. Though I’ll put it on my list for the next time!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the comments! I’m excited for your return visit- I can’t imagine what it was like in 81, but I’m sure its only gotten better!

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure you’ll be fine with food- I just hope you can enjoy the ham and other carnivorous delicacies!

  • Richard

    Spain is the best, isn’t it? Although the one short trip you should be planning is San Fermin. Dos días hasta los toros!

    I have to agree with Iain that the donor kebab is better in Berlin – the Turks really have it down pat. And the Basque Country has pretty much the best food in Spain, Europe, the world? Anthony Bourdain pretty much nailed it in the intro to his No Reservations (I think it was NR) episode.

    Prado, Retiro, Reina Sofia, Palacio Real-Almudena, Atocha, Las Ventas… Great city!

  • Richard

    Madrid better than Barcelona? Sacrilege! :-) Maybe because I’m Catholic and when I was studying architecture, Gaudi was my favorite. Actually, most likely because of those two. I still find new stuff in his work – and I’ve been in love with it since, oh, ’85 or so…

    All of Gaudi, La Rambla-Barri Gothic, Montjuic, Picasso Museum, Miro Museum, La Gracia, views of the city from the Olympic Park and then from Tibidabo, take a day trip to Montserrat. And how can I forget the Magic Fountains…

    Barcelona has better beaches , better outdoor markets, and even friendlier people. Madrid has more “governmental” architecture, more museums, better placement ala Brian’s #5 and yeah, more energy. Barcelona is a much more laid back city – think San Francisco v. LA. I like them both but my heart belongs to Donostia…

  • Jenny

    TPG, I swear you are my long lost brother: me encanto Madrid!! And as a fellow foodie, wanted to make sure you checked out Mercado San Miguel near Plaza Mayor if you haven’t already. Really fun spot with an awesome vibe, great tapas, wine, and more.

  • Phoebe

    I lived in Madrid for 5 years teaching and I loved the energy, food and people. I miss the chocolate con churros, croquetas and the tapas. I would also recommend going to Almeria!

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  • Cassious

    I lived in Granada for 5 months and it defiantly has better kebabs than Madrid. I’ve been to both but Granada has free tapas when you buy a drink anywhere and I prefer a smaller city. Madrid has good points but I’ve always liked Granada better

  • Dmeko

    ok, but…. barcelona is not spain.

  • James

    You wish.

  • John

    Madrid has better kebabs than any other city in Europe or any other place I have been in America. (Currently living in Seattle)
    I have eaten Kebabs in Berlin, Paris, Rome, Geneva, Seattle, New York and Morocco.
    Madrid still the best.

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