Hola and buenos dias! For today’s Destination of the Week we jet to a city with a world-class collection of museums, a delicious restaurant scene and some of the best nightlife in the world – no wonder it’s one of TPG’s all-time favorite cities: Madrid.
QUE HACER (What to Do)
Often overlooked in favor of more well-traveled European capitals like Paris and London, or even Barcelona’s seaside charms, Madrid is nonetheless a must for any traveler to Europe hoping to get a true flavor of Spain.
The city is chock-full of famous museums and landmarks. Almost every traveler starts with a tour of one of the world’s most famous museums, El Museo del Prado, where they can check out masterpieces spanning from the Middle Ages to the 19th century (be sure to check out paintings by El Greco, Velazquez and Goya). The nearby Thyssen-Bornemisza contains a hodgepodge of famous paintings including works by Picasso, Chagall and Lichtenstein. There are also ongoing temporary exhibitions like the current one on Cartier Jewelry (which often sells out, so get your tickets in advance).
The Reina Sofia completes Madrid’s major museum trifecta with an unparalleled collection of modern art that includes Picasso’s iconic Guernica. On the other end of the spectrum is the tiny Museo Sorolla, which contains a fabulous private collection of Impressionist paintings.
Of course, you can’t come to Madrid without stopping by another kind of museum, El Museo del Jamon – a “ham museum” with multiple locations around the city that sell Spain’s prized meats like Jamon Iberico and Serrano.
Don’t skip a stroll around the bustling Puerta del Sol, the city’s main central plaza. The streets radiating off it have tons of boutiques and department stores where you can spend your euros on the latest designer looks. Also just a few blocks away is one of Madrid’s most beautiful (and touristy) squares, the Plaza Mayor. Spend a few moments here enjoying a cafe con leche at one of the outdoor cafes as you cast your eye on the colorful buildings, then head a block west to the Mercado de San Miguel where you can grab a glass of wine (or a bottle) while sampling artisanal meats and cheeses as well as fresh seafood delicacies like percebes, gooseneck barnacles from the Galician coast. We were recently in Madrid and TPG nearly started a riot as he cracked open a gooseneck barnacle in the crowded market and sea water sprayed in an innocent bystanders eye! Fortunately, they laughed it off and all was good- thank god for the Madrileno laid-back attitude!
Other top things to do include a tour of the Palacio Real, where you check out the former residence of Spain’s royal family, and the lovely paths and small lake in Buen Retiro park, where all of Madrid seems to come on sunny days for a walk around the gardens.
All that sightseeing never fails to work up an appetite, and among TPG’s top restaurant picks are a restaurant called Lateral in the quiet Plaza de Santa Ana to snack on their delicious tapas platters, La Finca de Susana near the Puerta del Sol for a fancy, multi-course lunch of nouvelle Spanish cuisine, some simple Spanish pinchos at La Daniela Medinaceli just a block behind the Westin Palace hotel (pricey, but convenient and delicious), and drinks at Ole Lola in the bar-filled Tribunal neighborhood or the rooftop of Mercado San Anton in Chueca for a nightcap with a view.
Barajas International Airport is Madrid’s main airport, which is located about 6 miles from the city center – a taxi ride will cost you about 20-25 euros ($26-32). You can also take the city’s Metro line 8, which runs from all the airport terminals to the Nuevos Ministerios station in central Madrid in about 15-20 minutes. There’s also an Express Bus, which runs from Terminal 4 to the Atocha train station in central Madrid from 6:00 am – 11:30 pm. The ride takes about 40 minutes and costs 5 euros ($6.50).
The airport serves as a hub for Air Europa and Iberia as well as low cost carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair, which also have large presences here and which can be great for cheap intra-Europe flights if you are traveling here from another hub.
Iberia is a member of OneWorld and serves Los Angeles, New York-JFK, Boston, Chicago O’Hare, and Miami. Using American AAdvantage miles, you would need 60,000 or 100,000 miles to fly Iberia roundtrip from the U.S. to Madrid in economy or Business Plus respectively. You can also use British Airways Avios, which is also the frequent flyer program of Iberia. Using Avios to fly Iberia to Europe is a great way to get there without having to pay huge fees and taxes by flying to London on BA. Air Europa is a member of SkyTeam and offers seasonal service to New York-JFK. You would need 60,000 or 100,000 Delta SkyMiles to fly Air Europa roundtrip from the U.S. to Madrid in economy or business (read TPG’s review of Air Europa business class), respectively.
When it comes to U.S. carriers, Delta offers service to Atlanta and New York-JFK; American flies to Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, New York-JFK; United to Newark, and US Airways flies Philadelphia and seasonally to Charlotte.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Radisson Blu Hotel, Madrid Prado: This boutique property has just 54 stylish guest rooms, including six suites. Guest rooms have LCD flatscreen TV’s, rain showers, free high-speed internet access, and some rooms have views of the Prado Museum. The hotel is home to The Cask Restaurant and Whisky Bar, which has a modern Spanish menu with grilled meats, chicken, fish and tapas. The hotel has a small cardio gym and indoor pool with lounge chairs for guests to use. Rates in December begin at 156 EUR ($200) or 44,000 Gold Points since this is a Category 5 hotel.
For those trying to earn or burn some Hilton Hhonors points, while there are no options in the city, there is the Hilton Madrid Airport. Rates in December begin at 65 EUR ($85) or 30,000 Hilton Honors Points since this is a Category 4 property.
AC Palacio Del Retiro, Autograph Collection: Located by Retiro Park, this 50-room hotel was originally built in the beginning of the 20th century but is now part of the Marriott family. Guest rooms feature contemporary design elements and amenities such as wireless internet, iPod docking stations and plasma TV’s. There is a fully equipped fitness center with iPod docking stations in the machines. Due to the small size, there is no spa on-site, however guests have access to the Caroli Health Club for spa and massage services. Indice Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Rates in December begin at 260 EUR ($335) a night. This is a Marriott Category 7 property, and requires 35,000 Marriott Rewards Points (30,000 with PointSavers) for a free-night redemption.
Marriott and AC Hotels formed a joint venture a couple years ago, which re-branded 90 AC Hotels in Spain, Italy and Portugal as AC Hotels by Marriott. Due to this, you can find 19 additional AC Hotels by Marriott in and around Madrid.
InterContinental Madrid: Situated on the stately Paseo de la Castellana, this classic luxury property has 302 guest rooms and 41 suites. The club level rooms come with access to the Club InterContinental Lounge, which serves a complimentary daily buffet breakfast, appetizers and drinks. There is a fitness center with Technogym equipment, and when it comes to dining, guests have a choice of El Jardín del InterContinental, the hotel’s signature fine-dining restaurant, El Café, the more casual restaurant, or Bar 49, which has cocktails and tapas. Rates in December begin at 116 EUR ($150) a night or 30,000 Priority Club points. You can read The Points Guy full review on this property when he stayed here last year.
Other Priority Club properties in Madrid include: Holiday Inn Madrid, Holiday Inn Madrid-Piramides, Holiday Inn Express Madrid Airport, Holiday Inn Madrid-Alcorcon Crowne Plaza Madrid Airport, Holiday Inn Express Madrid- Alcobendas, Holiday Inn Madrid- Rivas, Holiday Inn Madrid- Leganes, Holiday Inn Express Madrid-San Sebastian, Holiday Inn Express Madrid- Getafe, Holiday Inn Madrid- Tres Cantos.
The Westin Palace, Madrid: Commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912, this regal hotel is located near the Prado. The hotel has 467 guest rooms and suites located on 6 floors with the top one being the Starwood Preferred Guest Floor. Guest rooms feature Westin’s Heavenly Bed and Bath, flatscreen TV’s, CD player-radios, and marble bathrooms with dual vanity sinks and a bathtub. The hotel’s main restaurant is La Rotonda, which is named for the stained glass dome that sits above it, and offers a daily breakfast buffet as well as lunch and dinner. There is a beauty parlor and Westin Workout facilities on site. Rates in December start at 219 EUR ($285) a night. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 12,000 Starpoints, or Cash and Points which is only 4,800 Starpoints + $90 for a free night. The hotel is also a member of Fine Hotels and Resorts and a Visa Signature Hotel. You can read The Points Guy’s full review on this property when he stayed here last year.
Starwood also has the Sheraton Santa Maria de El Paular, which is currently closed until March 31, 2013.
Fine Hotels and Resorts
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
Hotel Villa Magna: Located in the heart of Madrid, this upscale hotel contains 150 traditionally decorated guest rooms. Rooms are furnished in either mahogany wood or in a white enamel finish and feature marble bathrooms, 32-inch plasma TV’s, iPod docking stations, and wireless internet access. Dining options in include the Magnum Bar, Restaurant Villa Magna, and Tse Yang Cantonese Restaurant. The hotel has 24 hour concierge services, fitness center and a business center. Rates in December begin at 290 EUR ($375) per night. This is also part of the Visa Signature Hotels program.
The Gran Melia Fenix and the Hotel Ritz are also members of Fine Hotels and Resorts. TPG stayed at the Ritz last year (which is directly across from the Palace) and found it to be a little too stuffy and old fashioned.
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards,Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Hotel Ritz, Madrid: Dating back to 1910, this iconic Orient-Express property has 167 guest rooms decorated with antiques and classic trappings. The hotel is centrally located just across the street from the Prado, the Thyssen Bornemisza and near the Centro de Arte Moderno Reina Sofia. Guest rooms are furnished with embroidered bed linen, handmade carpets, and marble bathrooms with separate shower and bath tub. The main restaurant is the Goya Restaurant which serves Spanish delicacies influenced by French and Basque cuisine. Traditional afternoon tea is served in the lobby. There is also a fitness center and sauna. Rates in December begin at 260 EUR ($335) per night.