Why I Chose to Travel to Madrid After More Than a Year in Lockdown
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
World-class galleries, delicious cuisine, bustling barrios, and storied nightlife are only a few of the reasons to visit Spain's energetic capital, Madrid. The landlocked city is often overlooked by beach lovers, but from the upscale Salamanca to the melting pot of Lavapiés, it has a lot to offer. Simply put, Madrid is one beautiful city. That's why, after more than a year in lockdown, I jumped at the chance to visit as soon as the city reopened.
The rules for traveling to Spain — and Europe in general — change often, so it's important to stay updated on requirements even while on vacation. According to the Spanish Ministry of Health, "All those passengers from a country/area that has a SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus risk must present a certificate or document certifying vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative certificate of a diagnostic test of active infection or a certificate of recovery." Though I was vaccinated, I still chose to take a PCR test prior to my departure to be safe.
To enter the country, all travelers, even those in transit, are required to complete a health control form in order to receive a QR code that must be presented to officials on arrival. Even when traveling within Spain — to islands like Tenerife, for example — travelers must present a negative COVID-19 test and QR code.
Officials are checking these items, so make sure to have your documents in order. On the return home to the U.S., allow extra time at the airport, even if you're transiting through Madrid from the islands, as most airlines are requiring Americans to check in to verify documents, and lines can be long.
For many, Barcelona is the place to be, but for me, Madrid has an electric vibe that encourages you to live well. The latest evidence of that is the opening of the luxurious Four Seasons Madrid, the brand's first property in the country. Located in the heart of Madrid, the hotel is one block from Puerta del Sol and within walking distance of Gran Via.
Here, seven historical buildings that once made up Banco Hispano Americano have been transformed into an opulent, 200-room destination filled with marble columns and pillars, original gold staircase railings, wooden doors, fireplaces, and a stained-glass ceiling by Spanish artist Maumejean. The chic, spacious rooms all boast modern comforts like Bose speakers, 65-inch TVs, marble bathrooms, luxurious, cloud-like bedding, and tablets that put everything at your fingertips. Need something a bit more spacious and indulgent? Snag the 4,305-square-foot Royal Suite for a whopping €24,000 a night, and make sure your first order of business is a soak in the circular marble tub.
Thanks to the brand's global Lead With Care program for both employees and guests, my room came equipped with a sanitary package that included two masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes. This came in handy while exploring the hotel's spa, rooftop pool, and the city itself. As with most places around Madrid, masks are required in all common areas unless you're eating or drinking. Finding a testing center for return or onward travel can be stressful, but scheduling an in-room COVID-19 test is easy through the Four Seasons app. Convenience does come at a cost, though, with COVID-19 PCR tests coming in at €205 (approximately $240 USD).
Go for a Stroll
Madrid is a walkable city, and there's plenty to see and do along the way. Whether you're visiting solo or with friends and family, there's no shortage of activities to partake in. People-watching in Madrid's many plazas, like Plaza Mayor, is a must. From street performers to food and shopping, you could spend all day taking in the scene here, like I did.
Afterward, walk over to the Royal Palace and enjoy a tour of the grounds for €12 ($14 USD). If you're around on Wednesday or Saturday, you can see the changing of the palace guards, which is always a fun treat. Meanwhile, art buffs can head to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, home to Pablo Picasso's famous masterpiece, "Guernica."
Come spring 2022, Galería Canalejas will open in the city, offering visitors high-end shopping services and designers, including Hermès, and Michelin-rated restaurants. The best part, which I had the pleasure of previewing, is that Galería Canalejas is attached to the Four Seasons Madrid, providing guests with direct access via a private elevator hidden behind an original bank vault.
Paella is to Spain as tacos are to Mexico, but just like the latter, there is so much more to Spanish cuisine than its most popular dish. La Máquina Jorge Juan is a trendy restaurant located in the Salamanca neighborhood. Make sure to try the rabo de vacuno estofado lentamente en cocotte (slow braised beef). If you're looking for a relaxed neighborhood bar vibe, Casa Dani is a solid option. Here, the tortillas are fresh, the morcilla (blood sausage) melts in your mouth, and the refills are free. If seductive mystery is more your thing, head back to the Four Seasons Madrid for a night at Isa. The informal gastrobar is sexy, with velvet décor, hand-painted gold ceilings, intoxicating craft cocktails, and Asian-inspired tapas.
After just a few days in the city, it was clear that Madrid is in the middle of a luxurious renaissance. Its pure, upscale vibes had me wishing I never had to leave — and should you plan a trip, you won't want to either.