The insider’s travel guide to Madrid
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.
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.
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.
To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month — recognized nationwide from September 15 to October 15 — we're highlighting the extraordinary impact of Hispanic Americans on our nation, starting close to home with our more than 13,000 Hispanic colleagues at United.
As part of our festivities, we're showcasing the stories of a few of our Hispanic employees, who were nominated by their colleagues as rock stars. In addition to their personal or professional achievements, these employees were selected because of the significant contributions they've made to United by going above and beyond to help our customers, their fellow colleagues, and the communities we serve, thrive. Whether donating their time volunteering for a worthy cause, leveraging their unique perspective to address a critical business challenge or helping foster an inclusive culture, they make United a better place to work. Let's get to know them better here.
Captain Gabriel (Gabe) Vaisman, based in Houston, has been part of the United family for over 34 years. As a native of Argentina who immigrated to the U.S. with his family at a young age, Gabe faced multiple challenges during his school years, including financial struggles and learning a new language. However, with discipline and determination, and even working two jobs in high school, he was able to obtain his commercial pilot's license and multi-engine rating at the age of 18. He quickly moved up the ladder and landed his first job at United in 1985, where he continued to move up and became a captain for our Boeing 737 fleet 22 years ago. When he is not busy flying customer to their destinations, you can find Gabe visiting children hospitals as part of his volunteering efforts with the Pilots For Kids organization in Houston. For the past 14 months, he has also served on the board of Lone Star College, acting as an advisor for their professional pilot degree program and inspiring a new generation of pilots.
Gabe pictured at a lecture at Lone Star College (LSC), with LSC students, and at one of our recent events for Girls in Aviation Day.
"All the volunteer work I do has helped change one life at a time, and I hope that my career story inspires anyone who feels hopeless with no way out of their current situation. The message I always try to leave with young people is that no matter what career you choose, you will have to sacrifice time and maybe give up a few good times with your friends to accomplish what you are pursuing."
Vania Montero Wit
The daughter of Bolivian immigrants, Vania earned her law degree from Harvard University and joined United's legal department 20 years ago. Throughout the years, Vania Montero Wit has advanced to become one of the key leaders of United's legal department as vice president and deputy general counsel. As one of the highest-ranking Latinas at United, Vania represents a crack in the glass ceiling for Hispanic women in corporate America. Despite the heavy demands of her job, Vania is very generous with her time, serving as executive sponsor for uIMPACT, a business resource group supporting women at United, and has given career advice to employees as a panelist for UNITE, United Airlines multi-cultural business resource group. She has made a positive impact in the community as Chair of the legal department's Pro Bono and Community Service Committee, where she even took on and won an asylum case. Vania's compassion for others and continued support of the company's diversity-and-inclusion initiatives make her a role model for both Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike.
Vania (center) speaking at a leadership event at United.
" As a working Latina woman, I strive to be a role model for any and all who are working in a corporate environment and struggling to find their voice or simply looking to make connections and expand their network. My long tenure at United has afforded me a range of experiences and teaching moments all of which I am happy to share with others."
Katherine Gil Mejia
Katherine Gil Mejia is a human resources representative for United Ground Services in at New York/Newark. A native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the U.S. only 8 years ago, she joined United shortly after at the young age of 19. With her work ethic and drive, she quickly became a go-to-person for many departments offering assistance or guidance when needed. Katherine never hesitates to step in and translate for customers or colleagues that are struggling with a language barrier, and she does so while providing amazing customer service. Katherine's knowledge of United — as well as her caring and friendly personality — have earned her the trust and respect of her colleagues. Katherine also has a passion for helping others, giving back, and making a difference in the community. She always offers to volunteer during United Airlines Fantasy Flights, and when she can, she also takes the time to bring Ben Flying bears to kids at hospitals.
Katherine in Newark.
"I know the language barrier for some employees can play a role in potential miscommunication. I often put myself in their shoes and try to relate. My upbringing in Dominican Republic taught me to work and trust my neighbors, community and family. It was natural to bring that trust mentality into work with my colleagues and employees. I believe that is what makes me successful in HR."
Antonio (Tony) Valentin has been working as a ramp service employee at Chicago O'Hare for three years. He's earned the respect of his colleagues by going above and beyond and always stepping in to help both colleagues and customers alike. It's not rare to find him around the terminal translating for Spanish-speaking customers and helping them find their ways to their gates. Tony's caring personality shines beyond the airport in all the volunteering work he does in the local community, especially in the Chicago Humboldt Park area, and in the work he has done as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, including his deployment to Puerto Rico where he assisted with relief effort after Hurricane Maria.
Antonio at Chicago O'Hare.
"I've always had a passion for helping people and I truly believe that being a good person is equal to being successful. As a prior educator, I am always encouraging members of RSE (ramp service employees) to return to school and to live their lives as lifelong learners."
Sylvia Gomez is the daughter of Mexican immigrant parents that moved to the U.S. in 1960. At the age of 5, her family moved back to Mexico so they could build strong connections with their heritage and culture. They eventually returned to the U.S. in pursuit of a better education, as her father believed that education was the key to success. The move back to the U.S. was not easy, but it gave Sylvia the opportunity to understand two different cultures, which has been instrumental in her career. She recently celebrated 30 years at United, where she currently serves as managing director of IT Infrastructure Program Management. Sylvia has been making a mark in the company with her efforts to pass forward her experience and knowledge, and she spends a great amount of her time mentoring United employees. She is currently mentoring five young women, and she also makes sure to stay in touch with previous mentees to make sure they are still on a path toward success. She is also an active participant on the planning committee for a Women in Technology group and volunteers with Junior Achievement USA, mostly working with inner-city high school students.
Sylvia (center) pictured with Digital Products managing director, Francisco Trejo and Security Technology managing director, Diego Souza at the HITEC San Jose Summit.
"Always look for people that have been there and learn from them. And, always look to see who you can help. Never underestimate the power of having people around you. Have the confidence to take risks and celebrate your successes."
Carlos Palacio, a lead customer service representative in Houston, has been part of the United family for 20 years. When speaking to Carlos, you can clearly see how passionate he is about his job and about United, and embracing his Cuban heritage has been instrumental in delivering excellent customer service at the airport. He even takes extra time with Hispanic customers that cannot speak English, making sure they have all their travel documents and that they have all they need for their journeys. On his spare time, the new father often travels to Latin American countries like Colombia and Cuba to visit children's hospitals and to donate schools supplies for children in need. Seeing the smiles of the little kids he helps keeps Carlos motivated and pushes him to continue his efforts to help others.
Carlos pictured in the cockpit of a United aircraft (left) as well as donating school supplies to children (right).
"I want young people to know that this is a great country … to go to school and make a career and pay attention to mom and dad who want the best for them, and one more thing, never forget we are all human. My culture is very fundamental in my job. I help people every day who need help in Spanish. Speaking Spanish at work helps many of our customers."
Roberto Hernandez was born and raised in Puerto Rico. His passion for travel and customer service ultimately led him to the airline industry four years ago, when he joined United as a flight attendant. Roberto worked as a purser for a while, displaying excellent leadership skills and customer service. He now works as a base supervisor at New York/Newark and is also the local chapter director for EQUAL, a business resource group at United. In his role at EQUAL, Roberto has been focused on fostering diversity and inclusion at United, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, he recently played a great role organizing this year's company celebration of Pride in New York and was there front and center representing our company in Pride Live's Stonewall Day on World Pride. Roberto really values his heritage and culture, and is very proud of where he comes from, which is why he did not hesitate to help with the relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
Roberto, posing in the engine of one of United's aircraft.
"I bring my true, authentic self to work each day, ready to assist in whatever way I can. When I say 'true, authentic self' I mean the person I was raised to be. A kind, caring and patient individual who is ready to assist in any way I can. I think the most important piece is to respect each other and to learn from one another. Be proud of who you are, no matter where you're from. We're all different, but if we all integrate together we can make things happen. That's what I love about United. We're doing that."
In their own distinct way, these rock stars exemplify the many ways our company is enriched by our differences and unique journeys. When we create an environment where people feel valued, this influences how we treat one another and our customers across the globe. In the words of our chief executive officer, Oscar Muñoz: "This month is also an opportunity for us to think about our efforts to build bridges between cultures and communicate authentically to all the communities we serve," he said. "By becoming more culturally aware, we can be more effective ambassadors for United's values around the world and embody them in the way we serve our customers and one another."
We hope you're as inspired by this group of dedicated, passionate and talented rock stars as we are.
Yirlany Moya, a United aircraft move team employee in Los Angeles, is nothing if not an eternal optimist. Which is part of the reason why, for the longest time, she wasn't too concerned about the lump that had formed in her right breast. It couldn't be serious, she reasoned. After all, she was young and healthy.
One afternoon, while talking with her neighbor Cari, Moya joked about the "little ball," as she called it. Cari shot her a serious look and urged her friend to get it checked out. Moya's sister, Joscelyn, did the same after hearing about the lump, but, for weeks, Moya stubbornly refused.
"I kept telling them, 'It's not cancer, stop being negative.'"
Finally, the pestering got to her and Moya called her mom, Esther, who is a retired nurse, for advice. Over the phone, Esther told her daughter not to worry, but talked her into coming to Costa Rica, where she was living, so that they could see a doctor together just in case.
There, a physician examined Moya. When he finished, he asked her to get dressed and meet him in his office. With a grave expression on his face, he said there was a fairly significant chance the mass was cancerous. Her mother broke down in tears, but Moya took the news in stride, not yet ready to consider the worst-case possibilities. It wasn't until she was back in Los Angeles a few days later, after a mammogram and ultrasound confirmed that she had stage-3 cancer, that reality set in.
In March of 2017, Moya underwent a double mastectomy, followed by a difficult three months of chemotherapy. By that fall, she was cancer free, but she wasn't physically able to return to work until October 2018. When she did finally get back to the airport, it was a welcome return to normalcy and a long-awaited reunion with her colleagues, many of whom are like family to Moya after 23 years with the airline.
They welcomed her back with open arms and she, in turn, talked openly about her cancer with them, hoping that it might help someone else. There's nothing wrong with assuming the positive, Moya says, but she tells other women to get checked out immediately if they notice a lump or anything else out of the ordinary. She also reminds them of the importance of yearly mammograms. And recently, when her supervisor was diagnosed with a form of cancer, she guided him through his treatments with encouragement and advice.
Sometimes, she's certain that she went through her ordeal so that she could be a beacon for others in that way. If that's the case, she feels it was worth it. Cancer gave her an ironclad resolve to spread goodness and hope. Her tattoos say it all: Inked across her chest, where her breasts once were, is an anatomically correct heart wrapped in bright pink swirls, with the words "Life doesn't allow you to be weak." On her right calf is a cancer awareness ribbon, with splotches of pink exploding out of it, symbolic of Moya's unbridled joy, which stems from her feeling of unending gratitude.
Moya's Tattoo across her chest: "Life doesn't allow you to be weak."
"I'm in a good place in my life," Moya says today, two years removed from her last round of chemotherapy. "I have a great job, and I'm blessed with a great family and great support system. I wake up every day and give thanks to God. I think there was a bigger purpose for what I went through. Ask me what it is, and I can take a guess, but I haven't figured it out yet. One day, though, I know the dots will connect."
Ask someone to name their favorite thing about fall and you'll likely get a different answer depending on where they live. For many people, the mosaic of vibrantly colored leaves and foliage is what defines the months of September through mid-December. Others find the scent of autumnal spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric is what makes the fall so special. And for some, it's the cooler temperatures that make being outside even more enjoyable. Plus, fall is full of fun activities no matter where you are — from pumpkin patches and apple picking to watching football and enjoying a bowl of chili. All of these things, and more, make the fall so magical. To help you celebrate the season, here are seven fall-themed activities to try this year.
Go apple picking
Apple picking combines outdoor fun with delicious and healthy snacks that can be used in a variety of ways, making it the perfect fall activity for adults and children of all ages. Though you'll find countless orchards around the country worth visiting this season, New England is widely considered a prime apple picking destination with over 120 varieties found in the region. It can be argued that the variety they are best known for is the McIntosh apple. This type of apple and many more can be found at Honey Pot Hill Orchards in the lovely town of Stow, Massachusetts, so be sure to stop in and take home a bushel that you pluck from the trees yourself. Picking times are from 9 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily, making it easy to schedule a trip.
Meanwhile in California, apple season runs until the end of November, giving you plenty of time to pick a few baskets of Red Delicious or Gala apples before winter. Riley's at Los Rios Rancho in the city of Yucaipa is one of the largest farms of its kind in Southern California and has been welcoming apple pickers to their 10,000-tree farm for more than 100 years.
Visit a pumpkin patch
If there was a fall mascot, it would be a pumpkin, so to celebrate the true essence of the season, it's hard to beat a trip to a colorful pumpkin patch. A pumpkin patch is more than just a place to find the perfect candidate for this year's prize-winning jack-o'-lantern, it's a wonderful way to create cherished new memories with your children or friends. The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, New York, is perfect for pumpkin picking, but also offers weekend activities throughout the fall, including scarecrow making lessons, cider brewing demonstrations, pumpkin pie eating contests, and live music and barbecues.
If you're traveling through the Midwest this season, hop aboard a vintage farm wagon at Polly's Pumpkin Patch in Chilton, Wisconsin, and make your way out into their scenic fields where you can pick as many pumpkins as you want. Other activities at Polly's include a livestock petting zoo, a 40-foot slide and a popular corn cannon that lets older kids launch corn cobs at targets for cash prizes.
Enjoy a harvest festival
An annual tradition in America that dates back to 1613, harvest festivals are outdoor celebrations that coincide with the growing and reaping seasons we all enjoy. Filled with food, fun, music and dance, you haven't truly experienced the wonder of the fall season until you've participated in a local harvest fest. The good news is that there are plenty to choose from around the country this year. Two of the most popular are the Autumn at the Arboretum festival in Dallas, Texas, which runs until October 31, and the incredible North Carolina Pecan Harvest Festival in Whiteville, North Carolina, which ends on November 3. Both of these festivals have been drawing huge crowds for years.
For a harvest fest that's slightly spookier, head to Wisconsin where you'll find the classic Jack O' Lantern Days celebration in the cozy town of Fish Creek, and the Halloween-themed Zombie Days festival on the coast of Chequamegon Bay. Ghoulish activities include an undead musical show, a zombie pub crawl and a traditional harvest festival pumpkin parade. The scary fun lasts from October 26 through October 27.
Hit the trails
Hiking is more than just great exercise; it's an excellent way to bring the whole family together during the fall. And since the leaves are changing colors, it's also a great way to snap some incredible nature photos. So lace up your hiking boots, grab your kids and your camera, and find a trail that's right for you. If you're looking for suggestions, Sterling Point Trail in Vermont and Rome Point Trail in Rhode Island are impossible to beat when it comes to picturesque fall hiking.
On the opposite side of the country, the trails at Dry Creek Falls in Portland, Oregon, were voted one of the most photogenic hiking spots on the west coast by BuzzFeed, and it's easy to see why once you've been there. Covering a distance of just over 4 miles, this beautiful trail is perfect for all skill levels, making it a solid choice for families with kids.
Roll in the hay
Hayrides and corn mazes are traditional fall activities that have never gone out of style, and for very good reason. There's just something wonderfully nostalgic about introducing a new generation of children to the simple pleasures of wandering through an overgrown corn maze, and with so many participating farms scattered across the country, there's a plethora of options to choose from. The Johnny Appleseed corn maze at Shady Brook Farm in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and the popular horse-drawn hayride at Papa's Pumpkin Patch in Bismarck, North Dakota, are two of the best.
In honor of Halloween, the massive haunted hayride at Fear Farm in Phoenix, Arizona, brings an assortment of ghosts, goblins and ghouls to life from early October until the first week in November. Filled with sinister special effects, creepy costumes and macabre makeup, this Hollywood-worthy hayride is recommended for adults and children over the age of 12. With five terrifying corn mazes to choose from, Fear Farm certainly lives up to its name!
Up, up and away
Hot air ballooning during the fall is a dazzling way to experience the season in all its natural splendor. After all, how else can you get a spectacular birds-eye view of the colorful trees as their leaves change from green to golden orange? Balloons Over Letchworth, located near New York's Letchworth State Park, offers astonishing views of the surrounding area, including majestic waterfalls and stunning forests. Best of all, they offer a variety of family tour packages, so you'll find just what you're looking for, regardless of the size of your group.
If you're visiting Southern California's wine region this fall, reserve a balloon ride with the fine folks at California Dreamin'. Their friendly FAA commercial licensed pilots will take you and your family on an unforgettable balloon voyage high above the vineyards of Temecula wine country.
Pitch a tent
Though typically associated with summer, in many ways the fall is truly the best time of year to go camping. Thanks to the cooler weather, there are few — if any — insects to bother you and your family. Plus, there are less people claiming all the best spots, so you should have no problem picking a prime location to pitch your tent. And when it comes to toasting marshmallow for s'mores over an open campfire, everyone agrees that they simply taste better when eaten on a brisk autumn night.
For the ultimate fall camping trip, book a spot at Earth First Farms in southwest Michigan and set up your tent in an actual organic apple orchard. The 49-acre farm provides campers with complimentary firewood and plenty of fresh produce to pick.