Miles from Charlotte: 4,086
Flying time: 7 hours, 55 minutes
Nonstop service: American Airlines
Spain’s capital city sits in the center of a country known for its manicured parks, striking architecture, exquisite gastronomy, and vibrant arts scene. Unlike London and Paris, Madrid isn’t overrun with tourists, and it’s full of neighborhoods with hidden gardens, lesser-known cafés, and quirky museums. It’s a fun destination for couples or families, but it’s also a fabulous place to land with several girlfriends in tow.
Check into Thompson Madrid on Calle de la Montera. The hotel occupies two historic buildings in the Golden Mile district and is within walking distance of attractions like Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, and Calle Gran Vía, as well as multiple museums, restaurants, and shops. A king suite is best for a friends’ escape, with a living area spacious enough for a late-night dance party in PJs. The not-so-mini bar is stocked with Gin Mare and all the fixin’s to make a proper Spanish gin and tonic. If you want to dabble in some Spanish nightlife without leaving the property, check out Hijos de Tomás, an underground speakeasy with craft cocktails and a disco vibe. On a sunny day, sip a cocktail beside the rooftop pool and take in the 360-degree city views.
Spaniards don’t eat dinner before 9 p.m., so aperitivo hour(s) are a way of life here. Tide yourself over at Hermanos Vinagre, a reimagined tavern with tapas. Order some wine and ensaladilla rusa—potato salad with peas, carrots, mayonnaise, and tuna—served in a Russian nesting doll. For a fancy night out, strap on some heels and head to El Club Allard, where Chef Cristina Rubina marries her backgrounds in architecture and food. The tasting menu includes dishes like Mushroom Mousse and Foie Gras Meringue with a variety of wine pairings. If you’d rather just graze your way through Madrid, stop by Isa Restaurant inside the Four Seasons for a cocktail and a Nigiri Platter or some house-made Wagyu Gyoza. Salmon Guru, 1862 Dry Bar, and La Venencia, a decades-old watering hole for sherry lovers, are all excellent spots for local bites. For a sweet fix, get a piping-hot churro from Chocolatería San Ginés. The best part? They’re open 24/7.
Orient yourself with Thompson’s city map, illustrated by Madrid-based artist and cultural ambassador Nicolás Villamizar. Museo del Prado is home to the biggest collection of Goya and Velázquez paintings, plus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. Just down the street, Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum has one of the largest private collections in the world, with works by Van Gogh and Picasso, plus masterpieces that span 700 years. Madrid is also home to several fashion houses, including Oteyza, helmed by designers Paul García de Oteyza and Caterina Pañera. Unwind at Hammam Al Ándalus with a massage and indulge in the Arabian baths. End the night at Flamenco de Leones, where you can enjoy Andalusian food and cocktails and watch flamenco. Don’t forget to leave room in your suitcase for a few fairs of espadrilles from mom-and-pop shop Antigua Casa Crespo.
Day trip to one of Spain’s less celebrated wine regions
You’ve likely heard of Rioja, but what about Ribera del Duero? This wine region in Castilla y León is two hours north of Madrid, with more than 55,000 acres of vines, 300 wineries, and vineyards that stretch along the River Douro. Enlist Madrid Experience to plan a customized tour and wine tasting with a top sommelier. You’ll be whisked away to an underground cellar that dates back to the 14th century. Next, feast on roast lamb, a regional delicacy in Aranda de Duero, followed by a visit to Peñafiel Castle.
If you’re missing the flavors of Spain, Assorted Table Wine & Shop has several producers from Ribera del Duero. Check out Protos (Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva), Bodegas Antídoto, and Dominio de Pingus’ PSI label—a collaboration between winemakers Peter Sisseck and Pablo Rubio. Splurge on a bottle of Tinto Pesquera Reserva, made from tempranillo grapes, aged in American oak barrels for 24 months and an additional 12 months in the bottle. If there’s a specific wine or producer you don’t see, general manager Celine DeMaesschalck will find out if it’s available for special order.
> Always have euros handy. Most places accept credit cards, but some older shops, markets, and cafés are cash-only.
> You don’t need to tip; servers are paid better in Spain than in the U.S. But if your service or meal (or both) is exceptional, you can tip 5% to 10% in cash.
> Taxis and Ubers are easy and affordable. It’s roughly $25 from the airport and less than $10 for city rides, but Madrid is very walkable.
> Visit the Museo del Prado for free Monday though Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m., and Sundays and holidays from 5 to 7 p.m.
> Spaniards typically eat a light bite and coffee in the morning; lunch is considered the main meal of the day and eaten between 2 and 4 p.m. Dinner is between 9 and 11 p.m.
JENN RICE is a Durham-based culinary art and travel journalist whose work has appeared in Food & Wine, Vogue, Wine Enthusiast, Thrillist, Condé Nast Traveler, and more.