Best of Madrid

Best of Madrid

Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is famous for its gracious boulevards, world class museums, and beautiful Baroque Royal Palace. With excellent train and flight access it’s easy to combine your visit with many other Spanish locales (check out my recent article on Seville, here). Madrid is culturally rich, pedestrian friendly, and well known for its active night life – truly a city that never sleeps.


Gran Via: To get a sense of the city, walk along this major thoroughfare which leads from Calle de Alcalá, close to Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza de España. It’s the city’s “Broadway boulevard” home to theater, restaurants, taverns, and fashion.

Plaza Mayor: This portico-lined square is right in the heart of the city’s oldest districts. The symmetrical layout is ringed by three-story residential buildings with 237 wrought iron balconies. The plaza plays host to numerous events, art shows and holiday markets and is a welcome open-air space amidst Madrid’s many bustling streets.

Las Tablas Flamenco: Flamenco is Spain’s most famous dance and is known around the world for its energy, colorful costumes, and artistry. Purchase tickets in advance for one of the many shows on offer, some including dinner or a drink.Madrid, Spain

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: From Impressionism to avant-garde, this museum features abstract and figurative art, 17th century Dutch masters, and 19th century American classics. It’s part of the “Golden Triangle,” which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofia national galleries.

Reína Sofa Museum: One of Europe’s most interesting contemporary art collections, this museum houses the “Guernica,” Picasso’s creation for the 1937 Paris Exposition.  Most likely his most famous work, it’s a powerful political statement painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica. It has become a reminder of the tragedies of war and a symbol of the hope for peace.

El Retiro Park: Contained in this vast green oasis you’ll find a bevy of sculptures, monuments, lush lawns, and an artificial lake with row boats for hire. Rent a bicycle and pedal around the plentiful paths and check out the Glass Palace a beautiful cast iron pavilion built in 1887 to house exotic flora for an exhibition on the Philippines.

Prado: The crown jewel of the city is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Lining its walls are masterpieces from Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools.  Make time to view Dutch artist Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and the “Haywain Triptych” famous for the dreamlike universes they depict.  Short on time?  Focus on famed Spanish painters, El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya. Our tour with an historian from “The Real Thing” gave us an insidery view and an amazing lesson in art appreciation.

The Royal Palace: Although it is not the official residence of his Majesty the King of Spain (they live in Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid), this palace hosts state ceremonies, official banquets, and state functions.  This majestic building is open every day as a museum except when ceremonies are held. Housed within is an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, weapons, musical instruments and decorative arts (most notable is the porcelain room).  Of particular interest to my cellist son: two violins, one viola, and one violoncello all made by Stradivarius for Charles III. Madrid & Beyond’s excellent guide gave us plenty of insight to the life of the Bourbon kings who called this grand palace home.Madrid, Spain

Santiago Bernabéu Stadium: Home to Real Madrid (thirteen-time winners of The European Cup) it is set to undergo a massive renovation to include a pedestrian zone, larger club shop, and museum. The self-guided tour takes you around the club’s most iconic spots including players’ dressing rooms, trophy collection, interactive exhibit, and of course the gift shop featuring plenty of “merch.”


Tapas tour: Hosted by Devour Tours, this tour connected us to the authentic cuisines and traditions that the city is most famous for.  For the uninitiated, tapas are those delectable hot and cold appetizers in Spanish cuisine – small portions that pack a flavorful punch, meant to be shared. In three hours, we sampled an endless variety of food and beverages from the family-run eateries and mom and pop shops that are at the heart of what makes Spain so unique… and delicious!

Churros San San Ginés: There’s one reason to visit this café and that is for its famous chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros). It’s open 24 hours so visit day or night, or multiple times!

Mercado de San Miguel: Arrive hungry and stroll the aisles of this beautiful historic market and take a gastronomic tour of Spain: Iberian ham, Galicia seafood, Basque cheese, Asturian Cider, and much more.

Madrid, Spain

Lateral: This restaurant group’s six locations offer a mix of traditional tapas and modern cuisine with outdoor seating with heaters for cooler nights. Try the gazpacho, fresh tosta de salmon con brie, las croquetas de jamón, and albóndigas (meatballs).

Madrid, SpainLa Casa del El Abuelo: A traditional pocket-size family tavern in business since 1906, it means “grandfather’s house” in Spanish. The secret to their long success? Prawns. Perfectly prepared in garlic with a side of freshly baked bread, served with a glass of sweet Alicante red wine.

La Mallorquina: Since 1884, this bakery’s glass display cases have been filled with delectable handmade pastries and cakes. Need a break from touring? Head upstairs to their small dining room where you can enjoy your treats to order with a café con leche or a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Our favorite? Hands down, the perfectly flaky, crunchy and sweet Napolitana de Chocolate.Madrid, Spain


Antigua Casa Talavera: The handmade Spanish ceramics crafted here hail from several regions of the country: Talavera, Toledo, Valencia, Granada, and Seville. Pick up brightly hewed Sangria pitchers, dinnerware, tea sets, plates, vases and tiles depicting scenes of Spanish life: bullfights, dancers, and folklore.

Taller Puntera: This store doubles as a workshop where reasonably priced handmade leather goods are crafted. Artisans work in a rainbow array of leather colors and textures.

Salamanca Neighborhood: Madrid’s northeastern district is a quiet but upscale neighborhood with plenty of chic dining options, historic architecture, and international high-end retailers. Calle de Serrano, Calle de Goya, and Calle de Velásquez are considered the most exclusive streets of the entire city and showcase beautiful 19th century buildings with delicate facades.

Il Corte Inglés:  Spain’s largest department store features an extensive selection of men’s and women’s fashion including Spanish brands like Bimba Y Loa, Jocavi and Cuplé. On the top floor visit the Gourmet Experience for a selection of foodie souvenirs like olive oil and vermouth.Madrid, Spain

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Madrid at dusk photo credit: Florian-Wehde

Best of Seville

Best of Seville

Seville’s rich heritage results from the melding of a myriad of cultures including Phoenician, Roman, Visigoth, Arab, and Jewish. Located in southwestern Spain, Seville is a 2.5-hour train ride from Madrid or a 1.75-hour flight from Barcelona. Birth place of Flamenco, the city is also the inspiration for countless operas including Carmen, Don Giovanni and The Barber of Seville. Its architecture weaves Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles into a colorful and vibrant tapestry. Seville straddles the Guadalquivir River with walk-able bridges connecting the historic city center with the lively Triana neighborhood.

Typically narrow Sevillian street

Food is a main attraction – a mix of traditional and more innovative cuisine can be found in every corner. Tapas is the hallmark and each establishment proudly puts its heart and soul into its own specialties. With an excellent year-round climate, take advantage of plenty of outdoor dining on terraces and in hidden courtyards. Nightlife in Seville has its own special charms – the restaurants and bars spill out their patrons into the many squares that dot the city. It’s easy to join in on the vibrant lifestyle and “alegría de vivir.”

After a day of sightseeing, there’s plenty of shopping along charming cobblestone streets and picturesque winding passages. Pedestrian-only areas offer an eclectic mix of popular Spanish brands (Zara, Mango, Desigual), international retailers, and local artisans selling ceramics, olive oil, chocolate, orange blossom fragrances, flamenco fashion, leather goods, musical instruments, and embroidery. As you wander the city’s endless, twisting streets, Google Maps often proves useless—bustling streets quickly lead to petite passageways barely the width of a sidewalk and not easily tracked by any app. But, wander you must, since this is the best way to embrace Seville’s hidden treasures.


Museo del Baile Flamenco:
Located in an eighteenth-century building, learn about the origins and evolution of Flamenco, the different categories of this passionate dance, and witness the passionate artistry live in a nightly show.

Barrio de Triana:
On the west bank of the river, this neighborhood has many beautiful churches including the Chapel of the Sailors. Famous for its pottery, pay a visit to the Triana Ceramic Centre, housed in a former ceramics factory.

Seville, Spain

Plaza de Toros:
The most important bullring in the country has a capacity of 13,000 seats. Not up for a bullfight? Visit the museum with an array of sculptures, costumes, and bullfighting paintings on display.

Catedral de Santa Marìa de la Sede:
This is the largest Gothic church in the world and the third largest after the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica. Built on the site of the Almohad Mosque, remains of this mosque are still preserved in its minaret, symbol of the city. Head to the top for excellent views of the city.

Real Alcázar:
The oldest palace in Europe, it remains a royal residence where Spain’s royal family stays when visiting Seville. It’s actually a group of palaces and gardens built in different eras dating back to the tenth century. Watch Game of Thrones (The Water Gardens of Dorne), or the movie Knight & Day for scenes filmed here.)Seville, Spain
Seville, SpainSanta Cruz District & San Bartolomé District:
These districts make up the city’s old Jewish quarter. Wander through lovely squares like Plaza de Doña Elvira, Plaza de la Alianza and Plaza de Santa Cruz. Visit the Interpretation Centre of the Jewish Quarter: a permanent exhibit which reveals the legends of the Sephardic community that inhabited this quarter.

Archive of the Indies:
In 1795 by order of King Carlos III, all documents relating to the discovery of America were collected and stored in this Renaissance building where 43,000 files are kept.

Roman Columns:
Where Aire Street and Marmoles Street meet, there are three famous Roman columns that belonged to a second century temple built by Hadrian. (During our stay at Palacio Marmoles, we walked by this historic site almost daily.)

Pretty Plaza de España mixes Renaissance and Moorish styles

Maria Luísa Park:
Over 340,000 square meters, it was the headquarters of the Latin American Exhibition of 1929. The main attraction is the Plaza de España with its gorgeous brick and ceramic panels.  In the avenues adjacent to the park are the pavilions of the countries that participated in the exhibition including America, Argentina, Guatemala, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, Chili, Uruguay, and Portugal. (Star Wars fans, you will recognize Plaze de España from Attack of the Clones— it’s where Anakin and Padmé arrive on Nadoo.)

Torre del Oro:
This stone tower, dating back to the thirteenth century, houses the Naval Museum which documents the nautical history of Seville, an important inland port.Seville, Spain

Easter Week:
The main festival of the city, it melds together rituals, arts, and celebrations. Sixty religious brotherhoods parade and proceed throughout the city streets in this season of penance. Easter Sunday begins the bullfighting season which lasts through October. Following Easter is the ever-popular April Fair, a colorful explosion of fiestas, parties… and dresses!

Hop on Hop Off Bus:
For a fun city tour on a double-decker bus, sign up for a one- or two-day ticket. (Your ticket will include some excellent complimentary walking tours throughout the city.)


La Azotea:
A collection of four tapas restaurants sprinkled throughout the city. All offer excellent food in an authentically local setting.

Laherre Restaurant:
This beautiful tapas restaurant is nestled in the courtyard of the Hotel Palacio Pinello. The setting is bright and minimalist – an nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets.

Tapas Tour:
Can’t say enough about our amazing Devour Tours Tapas tour – a great way to get a truly authentic taste of the city. It’s a must for your Seville itinerary.


Adolfo Dominguez:
This Spanish fashion designer has several locations throughout the city all offering simple but chic designs for men and women.

Il Corte Inglés:
Spain’s largest department store, there are two locations in Seville within blocks of each other. One focuses on home decor and housewares, the other features a gourmet food hall, and fashion and accessories for men and women including Spanish brands Bimba Y Lola, Jocavi, and Cuplé. On the top floor there’s a roof top restaurant with a bird’s eye view of the city.Seville, Spain

Mercado El Postigo:
Browse the airy courtyard of this gallery space which brings together a group of artisans selling hand-made jewelry, pottery, and fashion accessories.

Metropol Parasol:
This vaulted, looming wooden structure located at La Encarnacion Square was designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer and nicknamed “the Mushrooms.” It has received a lot of attention (and criticism) for its avant-guarde design. Inside is the Central Market, featuring 40 different stalls with an array of merchandise: fruits, game meats, fish, seafood, pastries, and of course the famous hand sliced Jamón Ibérico – Iberian cured ham made from acorn and chestnut fed pigs.

Seville, SpainEl Galante:
Lovely men’s shirts, silk ties, and furnishings locally made and at affordable prices. Located nearby to Plaza de Jesus de la Pasion.

Convento Madre de Dios de la Piedada:
What beer is to Trappist Monks, sweets are to the Convent Sisters – baking fulfills their requirement of prayer and work, and doubles as a source of income. Wooden turnstiles create privacy and allows them to sell the sweets unseen. You might have to visit them daily since the pastries on offer change often. Many of the recipes hail from Jewish traditions since most convents housed Jewish women escaping persecution during the 15th century.

Seville, Spain

A lovely lunch at Hotel Alfonso XIII

Seville has no shortage of accommodations. To name just a few: the luxurious and iconic Hotel Alfonso XIII; the beautifully appointed and well located Gran Melia Colon; or for a unique stay, check into Palacio Marmoles, an apartment/hotel, originally an 18th century palace and private home, transformed into seven exquisite apartments each with well-equipped kitchens and lovely furnishings, and all with access to a rooftop terrace with views of the cathedral.

Need help putting together your bucket-list trip or dream vacation?
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Herricks Travel American Express/Altour