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Business Travel Guide: Madrid, Spain

It’s hard to think about work when you’re in one of Europe’s most vivacious capital cities.  Located on the elevated Castilian plain, practically in the center of the Iberian Peninsula, Madrid is one of the few places where mixing business and pleasure is not only encouraged, it’s compulsory. Doing business in Madrid is inextricably bound to partying—usually done over a late, elaborate lunch or dinner in one of the city's convivial restaurants, or a tapeo, or during an after-work pub crawl involving tapas bars or cervecerías. But the Madrileños also know how to make money.

The economy in Madrid is built on a largely diverse roster of important companies representing industries such as petroleum refinery, telecommunications, utilities, construction and textiles. There’s also a strong banking culture in Madrid. In addition, the city boasts a thriving trade fair tradition with the IFEMA Feria de Madrid Convention Center, which has been hosting trade fairs, conventions and forums since 1980. The center and fairgrounds have undergone several architectural and infrastructural improvements over the years, which today make them rapidly accessible from both the airport and the heart of the city. A recently constructed metro stop also links the center to the rest of the underground Metro network.

What makes Madrid so magical is its pulsating culture, which traces its roots back to the Arab invasions in the 9th century. And although most of the Moorish architecture in Spain is concentrated in the Andalucia region, examples of the graceful arabesque style can be seen throughout Madrid. More common are the magnificent medieval and Renaissance palaces and squares that populate the center of Madrid, namely the sprawling 17th-century Plaza Mayor whose ornately spired buildings are living testimony to the grandeur of the Hapsburg Dynasty. Madrid is also characterized by its flamboyant fountains and baroque buildings, which were erected under the Bourbon monarchs in an effort to beautify the city during the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This is also the period in which neo-classical architecture flourished in the form of monuments and the Royal Palace.

Madrid is equally appreciated for its wide avenues and thoroughfares, which are a result of the urbanization of the city in the 19th century. One such street is the Gran Via, a busy shopping and business district lined on either side by Belle Epoque and Art Deco edifices.  The landscape of contemporary Madrid is perhaps the most captivating, as current Spanish architects have been given the liberty to create original, modern structures among the great architectural vestiges of Madrid's rich past. The successful blend of old-fashioned grandeur and modern whimsy, not only in architecture but in the culinary, film and fashion worlds, are what keeps the city new, alive and irresistible.


Facts to Know Before You Go

Currency: Euro

Since 2002, the euro has replaced the peso in Spain. Travelers can exchange their money at Barajas International Airport or at most banks in the city. However, credit and debit cards are widely accepted for most transactions. They also facilitate obtaining cash, usually at a more favorable exchange rate, directly from the numerous ATM machines located all over the city.  It is inadvisable to bring travelers’ checks. 

Transportation:

Madrid Barajas International Airport is the most important airport in Spain and one of the busiest in Europe, as it offers the most flights to and from Central and South America. In addition to the nationally-operating Iberia Airlines, close to 100 other airlines fly out of Barajas. Shopping in Madrid's airport is a pleasure at numerous stores such as Mango, Puma, Virgin, Carolina Herrera and, of course, Spain's very own Zara. A large selection of restaurants, cafés and even a tapas and wine bar make waiting for your flight a pleasure. Hot zones throughout the airport, only twelve miles from Madrid’s city limits, keep business travelers connected. Travelers should count on spending at least 30 minutes to reach the city. While a taxi ride that costs roughly 20 euros may seem like the most convenient form of transfer, don't forget that Madrid has a surprisingly complete underground metro system with over a dozen lines. Line 8 links the airport and the city; however, to reach the more central neighborhoods a change of trains will be necessary. A simple metro ticket is one euro and trains run from 6:00 a.m.-2:00 a.m. The airport station stop can be found in Terminal 2. Taking the metro is faster than a taxi or bus, which can get stuck in Madrid's trademark traffic.

Information:

While you can easily consult most major newspapers on-line, the more authentic experience of reading your morning paper as you sip a thick hot chocolate and nibble on a churro at a neighborhood café is particularly enjoyable. El Pais is the main Spanish newspaper, or periódico. An English version is available on the International Herald Tribune's website. In Madrid is a monthly, anglophone magazine dedicated to entertainment in the Spanish capital. Foreign newspapers are available at some centrally located newsstands and in better business-style hotels.

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Where to Stay


Hotel Vincci Soma
Calle Goya, 79
34 91 435 7545
Hotel Vincci Soma in Madrid, Spain
An architecturally astute hotel in the hot Salamanca sector of the city, Hotel Vincci Soma (formerly the Bauza H&R) fulfills the business traveler’s every need with just the right mix of comfort and technology. With easy accessibility from the airport, a stylish, sought-after Mediterranean restaurant, several smartly-appointed board rooms, a business center and even a small gym, this hotel is ideal for on-site meetings during a quick overnight trip to the Spanish capital.

Hotel Hesperia Madrid
Paseo de la Castellana, 57
34 91 210 8800

Hotel Hesperia Madrid

An original, contemporary hotel decorated by Spanish designer Pascua Ortega, the Hesperia Madrid is conveniently located in the business district.  Offering full business services, a state-of-the-art rooftop gym, two restaurants (including the celebrated Santceloni Restaurant) and two pleasant lounges (one of which is a piano bar), the hotel is the ideal place for the serious business traveler.  It’s also equipped with complimentary wireless Internet service for all guests.

Hotel Ritz Madrid
Plaza de la Lealtad 5
34 91 701 6767
Hotel Ritz
For the business traveler who appreciates a bit of distance from the office after a hard day, the opulent Hotel Ritz is the perfect refuge.  Here you’ll be treated to a sumptuously appointed palace just steps from the Prado museum and the Buen Retiro Park.  The hotel offers high-speed Internet access, a gym, a restaurant and the glorious outdoor Ritz Terrace and Garden for lunch, drinks or dinner in season.  A business center and conference or banquet facilities are the pinnacle of luxury. It’s undeniably the most lavish hotel in Madrid.

Hotel Urban
Carrera de San Jeronimo, 34
34 91 787 7770

Hotel Urban

The ultimate in style and design, this mid-sized hotel in the cultural and business heart of Madrid offers resort-like amenities that include a cutting edge rooftop bar and pool, several restaurants and its own museum.  This ancient, art-filled hotel is unique in that it combines all the elements of a holiday property with those of a business hotel.  You’ll feel right at office with access to three conference rooms and wireless Internet service. Impress your clients or business associates with drinks in the ultra-chic Glass Bar or lunch at the outdoor Terraza restaurant.



InterContinental Madrid
Paseo de la Castellana 49
Tel.  34 91 7007300

InterContinental Madrid

The quintessential business hotel, the InterContinental in Madrid is serious about catering to corporate needs—beginning with its convenient location, less than a mile from the Convention Center and about seven miles from the airport. The hotel is equipped with a selection of meeting rooms and auditorium-style board rooms, as well as a sumptuous banquet hall (which makes the perfect venue for a prestigious event).  Plush rooms, a state-of-the-art gym and a full treatment spa allow the harried business traveler on-site indulgence.  Spacious bars, lounges and restaurants add the ease of entertaining clients at this all-service property.  Don’t miss dinner in the impressive outdoor El Jardin restaurant.



Where to Dine


Santceloni Restaurant
Paseo de la Castellana 57
34 91 210 8840
17/20
$$$$$

Santceloni Restaurant

Acclaimed chef Santi Santamaria brings the best of Catalan culture to the table at his celebrated venture in the center of Madrid. Designed by Pascua Ortega, the seductive subterranean dining room is bathed in low, golden light and beautifully appointed in soothing neutral tones. Head Chef Oscar Velasco prepares rich, intensely flavored regional specialties with an emphasis on fish and seafood. Try the squid in blood sausage oil with apples and arugula or the rich cod brandade with eggplant and herring caviar. His unusual meat and fowl dishes are equally as enticing. Desserts that rely heavily on exotic fruit make diners swoon with delight. A long, international wine list is impressive, but sommelier David Robledo places special importance on the fine Spanish wines available here.



Viridiana
Juan de Mena, 14
34 91 531 10 39 
17/20
$$$$$

Spanish celeb chef and cookbook author Abraham Garcia promises a festive dining experience at his brilliant restaurant in the Salamanca section of the city. Named after a Luis Buñuel film, the restaurant is decorated as a shrine to the Spanish cult filmmaker. Garcia’s incredibly creative and beautifully presented cooking has itself drawn something of a cult following, thanks to delectable dishes such as Majorcan fish with Iberian charcuterie, a trio of game in a red wine and mustard sauce, honey-roasted lamb and saffron couscous with mangoes and sun-dried tomatoes and Greek yogurt ice cream with Spanish sherry. The moderate to high prices are justified—but your expense account should come to the rescue. A thirty page wine list runs the gamut from Iberian to world wines.



El Paraguas
Calle Jorge Juan, 16
34 91 431 59 50

16/20
$$$$$

El Paraguas
Robust Asturian cuisine is reinvented at this attractive country contemporary restaurant in the Salamanca neighborhood of Madrid. Cheerful tones of ocher and muted lighting serve as the backdrop for a culinary tour of the Asturia region of Spain, known for its slow, savory cooking, abundant fish and seafood dishes and rich cheeses and pastries. Here Chef Sandro Silva does a refined version of this traditional fare and offers a long roster of specialties, including appetizers, seafood salads, rich fish and beef dishes, different sides prepared with beans, vegetable and rice dishes, and interesting desserts. Relax with a glass of one of the numerous wines on hand for washing the rich cuisine down.


El Invernadero
Calle Serrano, 46
91 431 30 60

15/20
$$$$$

Set in the discreet, design-conscious Petit Palais Embassy Hotel, El Invernadero, or winter garden, is the ideal venue for a serious business dinner. This blissful non-smoking restaurant offers a clean, calm and contemporary space in which to savor both the conversation of your dining companions and the cooking. Creative Spanish dishes are light and based on market fresh products while homemade desserts are deeply satisfying and not to be skipped. Frequented by neighborhood fashion execs, El Invernadero is one of Madrid's few understated hot spots where quality is uncompromised. It’s also the perfect dining place for the well-dressed businessperson.



Casa Lucio
35 Calle Cava Baja
34 91 365 8217

15/20
$$$$$

Casa Lucio

You couldn’t ask for a warmer, more invitingly rustic decor than at this authentic, family-run Spanish restaurant in the city’s royal Austrias neighborhood. Attractive brick arches lead to a cozy, softly lit dining room where traditional home cooking has kept a high profile since 1974 and whose star-studded clientèle keep coming back for more. Try the mysteriously delicious yet simple house specialty, Huevos Estrellados (fried eggs and potatoes). An excellent collection of Spanish wines enhances Lucio’s gratifying fare.  It’s open late, which makes it ideal for dining after a long day of back-to-back meetings.



Casa Botín
Cuchilleros 17
34 91 366 4217
14/20
$$$$$

Casa Botin

Off the touristy Plaza Mayor exists what is said to be the oldest restaurant not only in Spain, but the world. Judging from its time-worn wooden façade, this family run tavern is undeniably a valuable relic from the 18th century. It’s equally ancient on the inside, and diners here succumb to its charms—along with the house sangria—the moment they step inside.  Simple yet plentiful cooking is the secret to Casa Botín's long-standing success, with appetizers such as Iberian charcuterie, crisp croquettes and gazpacho. Typical of many restaurants in Madrid, the menu seems endless with starter sections on egg dishes, vegetables and beans. When you finally reach the main courses, you'll be caught in a dilemma over whether to order the roast pig, roast lamb, baby squid or baby eels in season (a delicacy in Spain). All are house specialties. Solicitous service at this legendary restaurant should please your clients.


Museo del Jamon
Calle Gran Via 72
34 91 541  20 23

Calle Alcalá 155
34 91 575 39 56

Calle Atocha 54
34  91 369 22 04

Calle Escoriaza 1
34 91 796 4 79
13/20
$$$$$

Museo del Jamon

There’s nothing quite like these “ham museums,” six of which grace the Spanish capital.  At first glance, these landmark establishments look like a cross between a café, a bar and a deli.  They’re the perfect place to enjoy a rich café con leche or a glass of rioja and a freshly-sliced Serrano ham sandwich as you sit at the bar and read the newspaper.  The seemingly hundreds of hams hanging from the ceiling add to the quirky atmosphere of this Madrileño standby, where patrons can also dine on tapas and other Spanish specialties in the spacious dining rooms. Great for dining alone but also for groups, the Museo del Jamon can put together breakfast or lunch menus for as many people as you can muster.  The locations are reasonably-priced and surprisingly authentic options for business travelers, tourists and locals alike. 



Off the Clock

Museo Nacional del Prado
Paseo del Prado
Tel. 34 91 330 2800

Museo Nacional del Prado

A visit here is essential for any and all travelers in Spain. Built as a museum in the late 18th century, the Prado is housed in the neoclassical Villanueva building where the Roman-inspired architecture allows for wide, light-infused domed galleries. Masterpieces on view here include some of the most breathtaking examples of Spanish and European painters spanning the 12th to the 19th centuries, such as Velasquez, Goya, El Greco, Raphael, Rubens and Rembrandt, to name just a few. If time permits, visit the adjacent botanical gardens.  Here visitors can contemplate an extensive, clearly-labeled arboretum.

Teatro Real
Plaza Isabel II
34 91 516 0660

Teatro Real

What better way to wind down after a grueling day of seminars than to sit back and enjoy a first-rate performance at the handsomely restored royal opera house?  Opposite the Royal Palace, where the royal family currently resides, this majestic edifice was inaugurated in the mid 19th century. It enjoyed many glorious performances until 1925, when it was repurposed as a simple concert hall.  It wasn't until the 1990s that the Teatro Real was restored to its original splendor. It’s once again the most important theater in Spain and one of Europe's most prestigious operas houses. You can also take a guided tour of the Teatro Real on weekdays (except Tuesday) every half hour between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Parque del Buen Retiro
Alfonso Xii
34 915 886 338

Parque del Buen Retiro

Perhaps it's the elaborate fountains, colonnaded monuments and wide basins that give this sprawling park an Italianate feel. Or maybe it has to do with the Italian Renaissance architects who collaborated on the design of this grandiose green space that was also the original location of the Royal Palace in the 17th century. A necessary retreat from the heat and activity of the city, the Buen Retiro is an enchanting garden reminiscent of the Belle Epoque era.  Here, in the center of the city, visitors can rent a small boat on the Crystal Palace lake, bring their children to a marionette show, or simply stroll the tree-lined alleys and admire the statuary after a hard day's work.

Palacio Real
Calle Bailén
34 91 454 8800

Palacio Real

The finest example of 18th-century neoclassical architecture in Madrid, the Royal Palace is the current residence of the Spanish monarchy. The Italianate exterior gives way to lavish décor complete with heavily frescoed walls, gilded moldings and mirrors, the arresting porcelain room and stunningly complex crystal chandeliers. A variety of exemplary paintings by Spanish and European masters such as Goya, Velasquez and Caravaggio are also on view here.  Don't forget to visit the Royal Armory. Also meriting a visit are the Royal Palace’s extensive and verdant Campo del Moro gardens.

Corral de la Morería
Calle Morería 17
34 91 365 8446 – 91 365 1137

Corral de la Moreria

Flamenco has been danced here, perhaps the world’s best known tablao flamenco, for over 50 years. The nightclub is conveniently located next to the Royal Palace, in the main historic quarters of the city. Its nightly dinner show is worth your while if you want to see an energetic, colorful and quality dance performance (even if it is somewhat touristy and pricey).  Skip the dinner and buy just a “drink and show” ticket for the main performance, which commences around 10:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Ole!


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(Updated: 02/22/12 CT)

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