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.

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

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