There’s a phrase in Spain, “la marcha,” which means “the march” and refers to the nonstop energy Spaniards have for eating, drinking and socializing, especially when nighttime rolls around in the country’s bustling cities. That colloquialism is a metaphor for Madrid’s lively and progressive ambience overall nowadays, with its new hotel and venue developments, ever-intriguing culinary scene and growing popularity as a must-experience meetings destination in Europe.

“Barcelona has always been very well-known, but now clients are looking for a new destination in Spain, and so Madrid’s time has come,” says David Perez Noack, director of the Madrid Convention Bureau.

Indeed it has, if recent ICCA rankings are any indication. In the past three years, Madrid has held a spot in the top four on ICCA’s annual list of the 20 principal cities worldwide for the number of meetings organized. Madrid climbed to No. 2 after Paris in 2013.

“This means that more international associations are choosing Madrid,” Noack says. “On the congress side, we are positioning Madrid as a city that can host important and big international meetings.”

Noack says accessibility, an expanding infrastructure, world-class cultural opportunities, a trendsetting food scene and a walkable city center with numerous green spaces are key selling points.

“Madrid is the capital in the geographical heart of the country, so it’s easily accessible via airlift to Barajas International Airport and high-speed trains,” Noack says. “Plus, we have a good infrastructure, it’s easy to work with our hotels and venues, and after the congress, there are so many options for attendees.”

Expansion-wise, several new hotels are set to debut in the city.

“More international hotel chains are coming to Madrid,” Noack says. “In 2017, a Four Seasons will open in Madrid as well as a Mandarin Oriental, which bought the Hotel Ritz, Madrid. Marriott and Sheraton are also opening hotels. The largest hotel in Madrid with meeting space is the Hotel Auditorium, which will become part of Marriott International in 2016.”

Additionally, Palacio Municipal de Congresos, one of several convention and exhibition centers in Madrid, is scheduled for a renovation and the addition of an upscale hotel.

Meanwhile, Madrid is a cultural capital, with premier museums such as the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia (all standout off-site venues), and close proximity to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Aranjuez, Avila, Caldenares, El Escorial, Toledo and Segovia. Its Gran Via bustles with upscale shopping, nightlife and grand architecture.

On the food front, cutting-edge restaurants are popping up all over town, as well as new markets to supplement standbys such as the popular Mercado de San Miguel, one of Spain’s most deliciously diverse culinary experiences.

“For corporate groups, San Miguel is very nice because you can do tapas tours or secure private areas,” Noack says, adding that another group-friendly option is Platea Madrid, a former cinema that just reopened as a gastronomic venue with different food kiosks and a central entertainment area.

Other interesting off-site venues include Matadero Madrid, a former slaughterhouse that was recently transformed into a cultural venue for exhibitions and performances; Galeria de Cristal, a glass-ceiling gallery in the Palacio de Cibeles; and Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home to the Real Madrid soccer team.

“Organizing an event for up to 5,000 people in the stadium is something really spectacular,” Noack says. “It’s just one of the many venues that always surprise and impress groups that come to Madrid.”

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