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Madrid

Everything you always wanted to know about tapas but were afraid to ask

Intro

Madrid blends an energetic, big-city vibe with a relaxed Spanish attitude. Spain’s vibrant, cosmopolitan capital has no shortage of cultural sites, restaurants, bars, and cafes to while away the hours in conversation. Whether it’s enjoying a beer in the funky La Latina neighborhood or shopping on elegant Serrano road, Madrid is packed with urban charm. In the past few years, the city has also been noted for its LGBTQ scene, hosting the biggest Pride extravaganza in Europe during the summer. And if you need a break from the city buzz, day trips to historic towns like Segovia and Toledo are just a short train ride away. Just come back in time to enjoy Madrid’s famous nightlife; with the ultra-late hours this city keeps, that won’t be hard to do.

When to visit

Madrid is sunny year-round. That being said, in summers locals flock to the coast, as temperatures can reach highs of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Although you’ll rarely see rain or snow in winter, temperatures can dip below 40 degrees — making spring or fall the ideal times to visit. Madrid is a wonderful city for walking, but it’s very dry, so be sure to carry a refillable water bottle to stay hydrated; tap water is perfectly safe and tasty. Lip balm is also good to have on hand.

Currency

The currency throughout Spain is the euro, and the exchange rate is currently €0.89 per 1 USD. You could change some money at the airport or at exchange houses in the city center, but the fees tend to be high at both options. Your best bet when you arrive is to find a local ATM (even at the airport, so you have cash right away), since you’ll get a better exchange rate. You can also use your card for larger purchases like cab rides or nightclub covers. 

Tipping isn’t expected throughout Madrid but servers will definitely not run after you if you leave a few euros behind for good service. Cabs and baristas definitely don’t expect a tip.

Language

Spanish is the language of Madrid, but you’ll be able to use English in nearly all restaurants, museums, and hotels. A local bar may not have an English menu, but the bartender will understand you if you speak slowly. It would still be useful to brush up on your high school Spanish, just to feel more comfortable. Here are a few key words and basic phrases:

  • “Hola” — “Hello”
  • “Buenos días” — “Hello” or “good morning”
  • “Buenas tardes” — “Good afternoon” or “good evening” 
  • “Adiós” — “Goodbye”  
  • “Gracias” — “Thank you” 
  • “Por favor” — “Please” 
  • “De nada” — “You’re welcome”
  • “¿Dónde está …?” — “Where is …?” 
  • “¿Habla inglés?” — “Do you speak English?” 
  • “¿Cuánto cuesta?” — "How much does this cost?”
  • “La cuenta, por favor” — "The check, please”
  • “Necesito ayuda.” — “I need help” 
  • “Vale” — “Okay” (Specific to Spain, this term is used all the time)

Transportation

Madrid is a lovely place to walk, so make sure you pack comfortable shoes. The city center is not very big and you can walk from one end to another within an hour. If you need to go a little further, the bus system and metro are easy to navigate, costing €1.70 for a single ride. Given later working hours, Madrid’s rush hour may be later than you’re used to; in the mornings it’s from about 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM and in the evenings it lasts from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Cabs run on a meter and Uber is popular in Madrid too. A cab from the airport should cost a €30 flat fee to anywhere in the city.

Safety

Just like in any big city, you should beware of pickpocketing, especially in busy touristy areas. Make sure you carry a bag with a zipper that you can put over your lap if you’re on the bus or the metro. Visitors are not typically exposed to more serious crime, as it tends to occur only on the outskirts of the city.

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