The Insider's Travel Guide to Madrid - United Hub

The insider’s travel guide to Madrid

By Matt Chernov

Combining grand historic elegance with the color and excitement of a modern European metropolis, the city of Madrid has something special to offer each and every traveler. In terms of art, food, music and culture, few destinations in the world are more wonderfully eclectic than this Mediterranean jewel. And it's that vibrant mixture of elements that makes Spain's capitol a superb spot for a restorative vacation or a romantic getaway — or perhaps a bit of both. Best of all, it's a surprisingly easy city to navigate once you're familiar with its unique layout and vibe. To give you a head start, here's a practical guide that will help make your first visit to Madrid truly unforgettable.

Best time to visit

Opinions vary on the best time of year to visit Madrid, but the good news is that you've got several excellent seasons to choose from. Like most places, it all comes down to what type of vacation you're looking for. Spring and fall offer beautiful weather, with average temperatures hovering in the mid-60s to low-80s depending on the month. However, if you want to feel like you have the city all to yourself, winter is a great choice since there are noticeably fewer tourists and great deals on accommodations. Admittedly, the intense summer heat isn't for everyone, but a refreshing dip in a luxurious rooftop hotel pool, or a shady picnic in one of the city's many outdoor parks, might help cool you off a bit.

Where to stay

The question of where to unpack your suitcase is pretty important since the city has so many amazing options. Hotels range from wildly opulent to retro and funky to comfortably utilitarian and everything in between. Similarly, each neighborhood has a distinct personality, and picking the right one can make a huge difference. If you prefer someplace noticeably upscale but without too much pretension, the affluent Salamanca neighborhood needs to be on your radar. If you're someone who doesn't find the terms "hip" or “trendy" to be dirty words when it comes to travel, then the lively Chueca and Malasaña districts are the perfect places to hang your hat.

Getting around

Travelers to Madrid typically arrive at the Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, which is located less than 8 miles from the historic center of town. In terms of physical size, it's the largest airport in Europe and serves as a major travel hub for much of the surrounding region. Trains and shuttles are a convenient way to get from the airport to your hotel, but the city also supports the Uber app, so feel free to order a ride on your smartphone. Madrid's downtown center is small enough to explore on foot. To experience life like a Madrileño, get yourself a Metro pass and take one of the local buses that run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Sights to see

Madrid contains a huge assortment of fascinating cultural sights and landmarks that are well worth visiting. First, be sure to spend some quality time in the spectacular Plaza Mayor located in the heart of the city. Built in the 15th century, this beautiful open-air plaza is a great place to go for a stroll, grab a drink, do some people-watching or go shopping. For visual art lovers, the collection of historic masterpieces at the Prado Museum is second to none. However, the avant-garde work that you'll find on display at the Centro de Arte de Reina Sofía museum is far more cutting-edge. If grand architecture is more to your liking, then the ornate Royal Monastery needs to be on your sight-seeing agenda. Finally, if you're traveling with any soccer fans, make sure to schedule a tour of Madrid's world-famous Santiago Bernabéu soccer stadium, or better yet, get tickets to a game during soccer season.

The big meal

Lunch is by far the biggest and most important meal of the day in Madrid, so make reservations at one of the city's acclaimed restaurants and discover the true flavor of Spain. For a lunch that's filled with authentic Spanish charm, try the adorably quaint Taberna San Mamés, which offers freshly caught seafood and a cozy atmosphere. It's the kind of place that will make you feel like a regular on your very first visit. In fact, it's so good that Anthony Bourdain dined there during the Madrid episode of his travel show. When you need a break from the restaurants, try exploring one of Madrid's massive produce markets — like the popular San Miguel Market, which has been serving hungry locals since 1916 — or spend the day indulging in the city's fabulous street food scene.

Afternoon siesta

Many of Madrid's smaller boutiques and private galleries close briefly during the afternoon while the city takes a proverbial nap known as the siesta. Though largely ignored by most of Madrid's working population, the custom is still prevalent enough to surprise visitors who might be overly accustomed to the 24-hour lifestyle back in the U.S. If that describes you, try thinking of it this way: the daily siesta is actually a rather helpful way to acclimate yourself to the Spanish time zone in case you're still feeling a bit of jetlag from the flight. It's also a good way to beat the blazing heat during the summer months, and it should allow you time to recharge your batteries for the fun you'll be having later in the evening.

Time for tapas

To tide your stomach over until dinnertime — which doesn't really take place in Madrid until around 9 or 10 p.m. — you'll want to order an assortment of delicious tapas sometime in the early evening. These tasty small plates are perfect to snack on while you're socializing with a group of new friends that you've met on your journey, or you can enjoy them alone while sitting in a historic outdoor plaza. What's especially nice is that many bars will offer them free of charge while you're ordering drinks. Classic local tapas include patatas bravas (small roast potatoes drizzled with spicy red pepper sauce), exquisitely marinated anchovies in vinegar and oil, and bite-size crunchy toasts called pintxos that come topped with a variety of cured meats and smoky cheeses.

Fun after dark

Madrid city center, Gran Vis Spain

Madrid is the very definition of a late-night city, and its clubs don't really open until after midnight. To make up for the late schedule, most of them remain open until at least 4 a.m. So, if you plan on partying — and let's face it, you owe it to yourself to try it at least one night while you're there — make sure you pace yourself during the day. When you're ready to dive in, head on over to Teatro Kapital for an experience you'll never forget. One of the biggest nightclubs of its kind in Spain, Teatro Kapital is like a circus spread out across multiple floors, each with a different musical identity. Sporting several massive dance floors that would put any Grammy party in Hollywood to shame, this is a must-visit attraction for energetic travelers. If you can't decide whether you're in the mood for a dance club, a concert hall or just a killer cocktail bar, then drop in to La Riviera and try them all. Home to some of the hottest DJ sets in Europe, La Riviera has everything you're looking for under one shimmering roof.

Getting there

When you're ready to experience the magic of Madrid, book your flight at united.com or on the United app.

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