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10 Photos: Roaming Around Madrid

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Our “10 Photos” essays include tips on exploring destinations, redeeming for hotels and flights and more. TPG Contributor Lori Zaino shares some great haunts in her home city of Madrid, Spain for relaxing, touring, chowing down or simply enjoying some sunshine.

A back view of Madrid’s Almudena cathedral and Royal Palace.

One of the best things about Madrid is that it’s never in a hurry. It’s always a good time to stop for a drink or tapa, sit on a bench and have a chat or go for leisurely stroll. There’s plenty for tourists to see in this vibrant city, from gorgeous museums (like the the classic Prado or the more modern Reina Sofia) to epic monuments (such as those in the Plaza Mayor), but it can be just as rewarding to simply slow down and get on Madrid’s laid-back wavelength.

Boaters enjoy the sunshine on a fall day in the Retiro park.
Boaters enjoy the sunshine on a fall day in the Retiro park.

The city is full of green spaces, many of which were once private royal gardens. The Parque de Buen Retiro is Madrid’s most famous park, and at its heart is a shimmering lake surrounded by trees, flowers and a stately and impressive cluster of monuments. Once used as a retreat for the Spanish monarchy, the park is now a local haunt for weekend-afternoon outings, attracting row boaters, joggers, yoga and tai chi devotees, rollerbladers and more. While in the Retiro, don’t miss the Palacio de Cristal, a palace made of glass set beside a small pond filled with turtles and ducks. You can even catch art exhibitions and theater inside the Casa de Vacas, a cultural center located in the park.

The Templo de Debod was moved from Egypt to Madrid in 1968.
The Templo de Debod was moved from Egypt to Madrid in 1968.

It might surprise you to find an Egyptian temple in the center of this Spanish city, but the Templo de Debod is one of Madrid’s most offbeat attractions. Constructed outside of Aswan in the 4th century BC, the temple was moved and reconstructed in Madrid in the early 1970s as a gesture of gratitude to Spain for its help in protecting the famous Egyptian temples of Abu Simbel. You can enter the Templo for free, but most visitors opt to linger outside, especially when the sunset is reflected off the mirror-flat surface of the surrounding pond.

Madrid has its very own cable car.
Madrid has its very own cable car.

A short walk from the Templo, you can find the entrance for Madrid’s teleferico, or suspended cable car. The ride is short — only about 12 minutes each way — but offers great views of the sprawling city and Madrid’s largest green space, the Casa de Campo. Round-trip tickets are 5.90 euro ($6.30) and allow you to get off in the Casa de Campo park, explore as you’d like, then hop back on for your return ride.

The manicured labyrinthat the Caprichos Park in Madrid.
The manicured labyrinth in the Caprichos Park in Madrid.

If you’d like one last green adventure, head to the Parque de los Caprichos, which is on the outskirts of the city but maintains a real Madrileño feel. Built by the Duchess of Osuna in 1784, the park is a local favorite for a peaceful afternoon stroll. While here, you can visit several beautiful lakes, check out a handful of monuments and statues, peek into the cottage and even work your way through a labyrinth made of well-manicured hedges.

A shrimp and pineapple snack at the Mercado de San Miguel.
A shrimp and pineapple snack at the Mercado de San Miguel.

After a day spent outdoors, head to one of Madrid’s many food markets to eat, drink and simply relax. Housed in an old theater, Platea is a contemporary and trendy spot with loads of international offerings. For a more hipster vibe, the Mercado de San Ildefonso has a very Brooklyn feel, complete with al fresco courtyards. The Mercado de San Anton offers a stylish rooftop setting where you can a gin-and-tonic late into the night, or try Mercado de San Miguel for a traditional Spanish vibe: think legs of jamón, red wine and fresh seafood, all within the only early-20th-century iron structure still standing in Madrid.

See the Madrid from up top.
See Madrid from up top.

The Mercado San Anton isn’t the only spot with a sexy rooftop bar — the Circulo de Bellas Artes has gorgeous 360 views of the entire city, and The Hat offers a more hipster vibe with hand-crafted shandies. A hidden rooftop perched high above the Lavapies neighborhood, Gau Cafe is perfect for a low-key dinner and drinks. For gourmet snacks, beers and amazing views, you can always visit the Gourmet Experience on the eighth floor of the Corte Ingles department store, set along Madrid’s famous shopping street, the Gran Via.

Outdoor seating lines the Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid.
Outdoor seating lines the Plaza Santa Ana in Madrid, rain or shine.

Madrileños spend a lot of time outside their homes, and one of their favorite activities is enjoying drinks and/or a meal at one of the city’s many terrazas, or outdoor patios. These can be found every which way you look in Madrid, but some of my personal favorites are set in small plazas, tucked away from heavy traffic but still offer lots of positive energy. For some of the city’s best outdoor seating, try the Plaza Santa Ana, the Plaza Santa Barbara, the Plaza dos de Mayo or Plaza Olavide. Weather permitting, terrazas can often be found open through early December and starting back up again in March.

Head down to La Latina for some Sunday afternoon drinks and tapas.
Head down to La Latina for some Sunday afternoon drinks and tapas.

There’s no better place to enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon than the happening La Latina, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Madrid. The narrow streets here are lined with small bars and family-owned tapas joints and are especially lively on Sunday afternoons into the early evening when tourists and locals wander between establishments, having drinks and snacks along the way. After visiting the Mercado de San Miguel and the Plaza Mayor, continue down the Cava de San Miguel street toward La Latina and join the fray by stopping by any little spot that catches your eye.

The Plaza Mayor is one of the most famous squares in Madrid.
The Plaza Mayor is one of the most famous squares in Madrid and it’s near the La Latina neighborhood.

Visiting Madrid

Arrive: All three airline alliances provide options for getting from North America to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD):

Oneworld — Iberia offers nonstop flights to MAD from Los Angeles (LAX), New York-JFK, Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and Miami (MIA), while American flies nonstop from Dallas (DFW) and Philadelphia (PHL). If using AAdvantage miles, you’d need 30,000 (economy) or 50,000 (business) to fly American one-way from the US to MAD, but using Avios on Iberia for this trip would be a more economic alternative, allowing you to avoid the huge fuel surcharges charged by British Airways.

SkyTeam — Delta flies nonstop to MAD from New York-JFK or Atlanta (ATL), requiring a minimum of 30,000 SkyMiles (economy) or 62,500 (business), one-way. Air Europa also offers seasonal nonstop service between MAD and JFK or MIA.

Star Alliance — United flies nonstop to MAD from Newark (EWR), requiring the following MileagePlus redemptions each way: 30,000 (economy), 57,500 (business) or 80,000 (first).

Stay: Hotels in Madrid are typically reasonably priced and there are plenty of points options. One TPG favorite is Starwood’s Westin Palace Madrid, thanks to its traditional decor and central location; rates start at 229 euros ($245) or 12,000 Starpoints per night. Another is the Marriott Autograph Collection’s AC Santo Mauro. Located in the Chamberi district, this luxurious property has a boutique feel, almost as if you’ve wandered into someone’s private yet lavish home; rates start at 195 euros ($208) or 40,000 Reward points per night in low season, but can be more than 450 euros ($480) on peak dates.

Spend: Credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Citi Prestige don’t charge foreign transaction fees, making them ideal to use on vacations in foreign countries like Spain. To see more cards without these fees, check out, Top Credit Cards With No Foreign Transaction Fees.

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