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620x400_FlickrLauraMotta_MadridPlazaMayorIf you’re looking for an excuse to book a vacation to Spain, we have a good one for you this week: This 6-night trip to Madrid and Barcelona for $1009, including flights from New York City. (Other departure cities are available, too. Check the web site for pricing.)

Madrid in particular has caught our fancy lately. Once considered a dirtier, more hectic cousin to refined, seaside Barcelona, we’ve learned to appreciate this city’s bustle, and its incredibly varied offerings for visitors, from stately museums to sleek dance clubs. And with amazing tapas and wine to be had for just a few Euros, it’s a city that can be easy on your wallet. Here are just a couple of Madrid’s charms we’ve learned about recently:

Plaza Chueca:

620x400_FLickrINgolfBLN_MadridChuecaBoth gritty and charming, this sheltered square hums late into the night on weekends, and is a great place to grab an inexpensive beer at just about any time of day. The surrounding neighborhood of Chueca is worth a visit, too. Traditionally home to Madrid’s gay community, it’s filled with cafes and boutiques, and feels a lot friendlier and more intimate than some of Madrid’s more ostentatious main drags.

Gymage:620x400_GymageMadridEnjoying a meal or a drink on a stylish Madrid rooftop has become a basic rite of passage for travelers who come through this city. If your hotel can’t accommodate, stop in at Gymage. Locals use this gleaming, modern space to lift weights or run on the treadmill, but visitors are welcome at the facility’s rooftop restaurant and bar. The best part? The prices look nothing like what you’d find at a chic hotel rooftop.  Entrees hover around 7 Euros, while drinks are about 6. Calle Corredera Baja de San Pablo, 2, 28004

Hotel Villa Magna:620x400_HotelVillaMagnaThe nice thing about our package is that you can choose the lead price of $1009 per person, or easily upgrade the hotels for more. There are lots of choices, but if you’re ready to splurge, our recommendation is the luxury Hotel Villa Magna. It’s offered as you check out online for an additional $670 per person – a solid deal when you consider that this hotel can cost nearly $700 per night in summer. Plus, your money goes far at this beautiful property, which offers warm, attentive service, sparkling stained glass, a whisper-quiet lobby, and a tree-shaded breakfast terrace with wrought-iron tables. Plus, the white and sand-colored rooms have nice touches like plush carpeting, marble bathrooms, and sheets that will require you to drag yourself out of bed and into the waiting city – especially because the Prado museum is only a four-minute taxi ride away.  Paseo de la Castellana, 22, 28046

Mercado San Miguel:620x400_FlickrDanielDionne_Madrid_MercadoSanMiguel_Built in 1911, this wrought-iron structure was empty for years before it re-opening in 2009 as a collection of tapas and wine bars, produce and fish markets, and sweet shops. But it’s not just a place to shop. This market is a place to socialize, people-watch, and, of course, eat. Wooden tables and benches invite passers-by to languish with a glass of wine, sautéed octopus, a piece of classic Spanish tortilla, roasted potatoes, and much more. The best part? With a focus on small portions – perfect for sampling – prices stay proportionally low. Which means you can try everything in the market without going broke.  Plaza de San Miguel, s/n 28005


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