Madrid is an affordable, vivacious, and unpretentious city with plenty of attractions for lovers.
Start your exploration on foot and make your way to Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor, two major gathering spots filled with shops, eateries, and more. Continue exploring via the narrow streets surrounding them, where you'll find markets, tapas bars, green spaces, and other delights.
Float a Boat in Retiro Park
Spanning nearly 350 acres, Retiro Park is among the city's largest green spaces. Originally designed as a retreat for royalty, it opened to the public in the late 19th century.
Stroll its gardens or rent a rowboat for a romantic sail at Estanque del Retiro, a man-made lake near the park's northern entrance.
You'll also want to see the park's Victorian-style Palacio de Cristal. Built in 1887 to serve as a greenhouse, it's a magnificent glass-and-cast-iron structure now used to host temporary art exhibits.
Treat Yourselves to an Affordable Luxury Hotel
Adding to sophisticated travelers' enthusiasm for Madrid, two of the most iconic hotel brands — the Four Seasons at Puerta del Sol and Mandarin Oriental in the former Hotel Ritz — are opening at the end of 2019. The latter will unfurl a €100-million restoration that restores a glass roof in the center of the property and adds a basement spa and pool, as well as a royal suite overlooking the Prado.
These high-end hotels bring restaurants with impressive wine lists, rooftop bars, tapas galore, and romantic venues to sip cocktails and champagne.
Other affordable hotel brands worth considering include Iberostar, Hyatt, NH Collection, Autograph, Marriott, Barcelo, Gran Meliá, and W hotels, several of which have multiple locations within the city.
Plan to rearrange your dining schedule when visiting Madrid. Typically, madrileños don't eat lunch until 2 p.m. and dinner starts around 9 p.m., leaving time for a midday siesta.
Fortunately, you won't be without sustenance. Madrid marks "la hora de vermut" at 1 p.m. At Casa Alberto, established 1827, the vermouth is on tap and comes from the zinc-topped bar on the rocks with a twist of lemon and a side dish of ripe olives smothered in a smoky dressing. Don't leave before visiting the back room, decorated with historic bullfight memorabilia.
Whatever style of art you fancy, there's a place to view it in Madrid. The best-known museum is the massive Prado. Celebrating its 200th anniversary, it contains centuries of fine art from around the world.
Since it could take a lifetime to absorb the riches of the Prado, concentrate on its greatest hits on your visit: Among them are the ecstatic Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder's gruesome The Triumph of Death. Also view work by El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, Titian, and many more.
See the work of more modern Spanish masters at Reina Sofia Museum, which displays Picasso's Guernica and paintings by Salvador Dalí. Or explore one of Madrid's smaller museums such as Sorolla (one artist's loving tribute to his wife) along with the museums of Romanticism and Decorative Arts.
What's not to love about a city that considers hot chocolate and churros the proper way to start the day? Madrid is also hog heaven for pork eaters, and you can score a ham sandwich for as little as one euro.
Find an array of delicacies at San Miguel Market, where you can assemble a mouth-watering picnic of cheeses, seafood, olives, smoked salmon, desserts and drinks to take away.
On nearly every street corner you can pick up something affordable to eat, from bocadillo de calamares (fried squid sandwich) to a seafood platter.
After spending little to feed yourselves, splurge on succulent paella at La Paella de la Reina, a fine-dining restaurant located few blocks from busy Gran Via. If you appreciate enduring eateries, Restaurante Botín claims to be the world's oldest restaurant; its menu favors grilled and smoked meats.
Twosomes with a sweet tooth ought to visit La Mallorquina bakery in Puerta del Sol, operating since 1894. Although the ground floor retail is often busy, upstairs is a quiet tea room where you can be served pastries and coffee or tea. The shop's motto: "Where there is cake, there is hope. And here there is always cake."
The official residence of the Spanish monarchy, this iteration of the royal palace opened in 1755 and contains 3,418 rooms. Treasures on display include paintings by Velázquez and Goya, collections of everything from furniture to watches, and the priceless instruments from the world's only Stradivarius string quartet.
Cooks may get a kick out of seeing the vast, well-preserved Royal Palace Kitchen. If that piques hunger, treat yourselves to a meal at romantic Café de Oriente; its terrace overlooks the Palace.
To view the changing of the guard at the Palace, arrive early on a Wednesday or Saturday. This elaborate spectacle involves 400 soldiers, musicians, and others along with 100 horses.
A romantic respite from busy streets, Madrid's rooftop bars are an ideal way to ease from day into night. One of the most popular lookouts is the Fine Arts Circle, which offers a 360-degree view of the city. NH Collection Madrid Gran Via hotel also boasts an aerie, and if you can tear yourselves away from the views, wi-fi is free.
Experience the excitement of witnessing Spain's traditional dance, the flamenco, performed live. Madrid is home to several venues where you can catch a show. Performances feature singers, musicians, and male and female dancers.
El Teatro Flamenco, which bills itself as "the first flamenco theater in the world" features cabaret-style tables and chairs with a view of the stage a few steps above. Bar service is available before the curtains part.
More rustic Villa Rosa positions its stage at eye level. Before you enter, notice the exquisite tiles cladding the exterior; they depict different Spanish locations. Other painted tiles serve as the backdrop to the action. In addition to enjoying the dance, which features a variety of popular performers, drinks and snacks are available.
When you treat yourselves to something special in a new city, it becomes a lifelong reminder of time well spent.
Souvenirs don't have to be expensive. For example, many places in Madrid sell traditional Spanish espadrilles to fit both of you. These comfortable and stylish shoes are made of canvas and eco-friendly jute and are available as flats or with a 2 1/2" wedge heel. Some espadrilles have a rubber sole but you may want to add your own arch support.
For one-of-a-kind treasures, visit the Huertas district. At Lola Fonseca, the artist paints exquisite scarves and wraps on silk. A fourth-generation business in the same area, Seseña Capes creates elegant, dramatic woolen wraps for men and women. Other nearby shops fashion custom guitars and sell products exclusively made in Spain.