Travel Tuesday: Why you need to go to Madrid. Now.

by Lori Rackl on July 18, 2023 in Travels,

A flurry of new hotels and other happenings make this an ideal time to check out Spain’s dynamic capital city.

Urban oasis

Madrid’s luxury hotel scene is en fuego, thanks to a host of high-end brands recently opening their doors. The sleek Rosewood Villa Magna joined the party at the tail end of 2021 with a 154-room sanctuary in the swanky Salamanca neighborhood.

A high-end, residential vibe makes guests feel at home at Rosewood Villa Magna, which debuted less than two years ago in Madrid’s Salamanca district. Photo courtesy Rosewood Villa Magna.

Villa Magna’s cozy-chic, residential vibe makes tourists feel like real Madrileños — make that really lucky Madrileños. Well-appointed indoor and outdoor spaces encourage guests and locals to gather for cocktails, linger over afternoon tea and dig into a long list of culinary delights, from fresh-made pastries to Michelin-starred chef Jesús Sánchez’s tasting menu at Amós. The hotel’s signature restaurant revolves around specialties from Spain’s foodie-famous Cantabria region.

Rosewood Villa Magna’s delicious ode to the pre-lunch tradition of “vermouth hour” takes place on the terrace of the hotel’s signature restaurant, Amós. Photo courtesy Rosewood Villa Magna.

Through September, Villa Magna is putting its spin on the pre-lunch tradition of “vermouth hour.” Thursday through Sunday between 12:30 and 2 p.m. on the Amós terrace, you can sip the aperitif while grazing on Cantabrian anchovies, Spanish cheeses and other Instagram-worthy delicacies.

One more worthwhile indulgence: the hammam ritual — or really any treatment — at Sense spa. The massage and cleansing combo take place in the steamy surrounds of the spa’s hammam, a nod to Madrid’s Arab past.

Artsy anniversaries

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pablo Picasso’s death, and museums around the world are commemorating the occasion with special exhibits devoted to the Spanish artist.

Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofía, permanent home to Picasso’s antiwar painting “Guernica,” focuses on a pivotal year in the young artist’s life in its upcoming exhibition, “Picasso 1906: The Turning Point.” It starts Nov. 15 and wraps up March 4, 2024.

This year also marks a milestone in another influential artist’s passing. Joaquín Sorolla, sometimes referred to as Spain’s Impressionist, was a prolific painter who won international acclaim for his plein-air works depicting the seashore and other light-filled, outdoor scenes.

Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla’s home has been turned into a museum showcasing hundreds of his paintings. Photo courtesy Lori Rackl

The centenary of Sorolla’s death prompted Madrid’s Royal Palace to host an immersive exhibit using virtual reality and other technology. “Sorolla Through the Light” also features some of his rarely seen paintings.

The popular exhibit was supposed to end this summer, but it’s been extended through Sept. 24.

For more Sorolla, head to the artist’s former home and studio in Madrid’s stately Chamberí district. The house-turned-museum showcases hundreds of his paintings and other artifacts in a pretty-as-a-picture setting.

Walk this way

Madrid is a great city to explore on two feet. It got even better after recent improvements to Plaza de España, a massive public square in the city center.

More than two years of construction work went into making the plaza more pedestrian friendly. Cars have been diverted to an underground tunnel network, bike lanes were added and 1,200 trees were planted. Pedestrian paths now link the plaza to top sights like the Royal Palace, the Sabatini Gardens and the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod.

El Retiro Park is part of Madrid’s so-called Landscape of Light, an area that recently became the city’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo courtesy Lori Rackl

The historic Paseo del Prado, billed as Europe’s first tree-lined urban promenade, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021. It shares that designation with nearby El Retiro Park, whose gorgeous grounds once belonged to the Spanish royal family.

Build in plenty of time to stroll both. At the sprawling El Retiro, rent a row boat for a paddle in the manmade lake, check out the glassy Crystal Palace and strut with the peacocks among the sculpted hedges in the Cecilio Rodríguez formal gardens.  

Flamenco comeback

Many of Madrid’s flamenco bars, or tablaos, didn’t survive the financial fallout from the pandemic. One high-profile casualty: Café de Chinitas. For decades, flamenco stars sang and danced in this intimate venue tucked away in a historic mansion.

Flamenco performers take the stage in the new Tablao de la Villa, where you can pair the show with a traditional Spanish dinner. Photo courtesy Ana Mendoza/Tablao de la Villa.

Passion-filled performances have once again returned to this storied space with Tablao de la Villa, which debuted last year with a fresh, new look.

Reserve a table near the small stage for one of the tablao’s nightly hourlong shows starring veteran and emerging flamenco artists. Pair the performance with a meal of traditional Spanish cuisine from the onsite restaurant. The combo ticket that includes three hearty courses, two glasses of wine plus the show is a steal for as little as 68 euros for the vegetarian menu, or 72 euros for meat and fish.   

Hit the roof

Madrid’s ornate architecture and grand boulevards make a striking tableau when viewed from on high. See for yourself at Thompson Madrid, one of the newest players in the city’s hotel game.

An infinity-edge pool awaits guests on the rooftop of Thompson Madrid, whose Spanish hotel marks the boutique brand’s entrance into the European market. Photo courtesy Thompson Madrid.

Opened last September, the 175-room property boasts a baller rooftop with an infinity-edge pool (hotel guests only) and plenty of spots to kick back with a glass of cava. Construction workers recently put the finishing touches on this 8th floor perch, meaning the Thompson can now add 360-degree-views to its list of rooftop bragging rights.

The Madrid hotel — Thompson’s foray into the European market — exudes a casually cool, mid century modern aesthetic. It commands an enviable location near the main drag of Gran Vía and the bustling Puerta del Sol square.

The boutique Thompson brand falls under the Hyatt umbrella, but the Madrid outpost embraces its Spanish surroundings. Local art — lots of it — hangs on every floor. An acclaimed, century-old Madrid restaurant group oversees the culinary program.

Diners at The Omar can watch loaves of fresh-baked bread and pastries be pulled from the oven in the industrial-chic restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Photo courtesy Lori Rackl.

The subterranean speakeasy, Hijos de Tomás, is modeled after the city’s 1950s cocktail bars. Upstairs, The Omar restaurant serves a tasty Spanish-style breakfast. Sophisticated takes on tuna, beef and other popular ingredients round out the lunch and dinner menus.

Yet another restaurant is slated for the Thompson’s rooftop in the coming months. Until then, hotel guests and the public can order light bites to go along with those expansive views of Madrid.


Cover Photo Courtesy Thompson Madrid.

Houston-based freelance writer Lori Rackl is the former travel editor of the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. Her insatiable wanderlust has taken her to more than 70 countries, and her bylines have appeared in dozens of publications.