Things You Should Know Before Moving to Madrid
Moving to a new city can bring on a mixture of feelings; a combination of excitement, fear, anticipation and wondering what may lie ahead. Madrid is no exception! Ah, the Madcity at is it commonly referred to, is an eclectic, cosmopolitan, international, yet, still wonderfully Spanish capital city. It has so many wonderful things to offer the people who live here, but there are definitely some “quirks” that the newcomers should be aware of.
Apartment rentals and public transportation:
1- Even though it’s a big city, with many, many apartments for rent, “piso” hunting can take longer than one might expect.
- be prepared to stay in a hostel, hotel, with a friend or couch surf while you search through the ads on websites like idealista, segundomano, easypiso, spotahome, fotocasa and many more. You could also take the old-school route and walk through the streets responding to ads posted on doors and windows, but make sure you are prepared with “saldo” on your mobile phone a pen and paper and also an open schedule; most landlords will want to show you the apartment right then and there or within the hour. The process can be a nightmare if you aren’t prepared and ready to do the leg work.
2- Madrid’s public transport system is stellar!
- Can’t find a place in the center? Want to live closer to your job? Never fear, Madrid’s public transport is well run, convenient and with the combination of buses, trains and the metro, you can get to any corner of the city pretty quickly. Ojo! There are certain times of the day, i.e. mornings and after work, when the metros and trains are packed like tuna cans, even to the point where you might not be let on or may have to squish your way into a space not big enough for a normal-sized human. But hey, at least you won’t have to wait for the next train, just plug in your Ipod and breath your way through it. Also keep in mind on weekends that the metros only run until about 1:30-2am, but there are night buses, the “bujo,” that run all night.
3- It is a “courtesy” to let people off the metro before you get on.
- I use the word “courtesy” loosely, be prepared to not only, push your way onto the metro, but also off it. People love to crowd around the doors of trains and metros and often only leave a small space for those getting off.
4 – Don’t forget to get your monthly abono!
- The “abono” is your ticket to less expensive transportation around the city. The abono is the monthly metro, train and bus pass that allows you to use public transport as many times a day as you want without having to pay each time you ride. Buying a “billete sencillo” can really add up if you travel more than once a day; this ticket costs 1.50 on metros and buses and prices vary on trains. The zone A abono for the center of Madrid is less than 55 euros a month and the prices go up from there depending on the zones you need to commute to. It’s worth asking your employer if they would consider reimbursing you for this cost.
5 – Speaking of public transport, gotta love those random “Huelgas”
- “Huelga” in Spanish means strike, and these happen A LOT! Due to the economic situation in Spain and the unhappiness of many workers, strikes, are organized to protest loss of wages, poor working conditions and numerous other issues. What does this mean for those of us that take public transport on a regular basis? Random cuts in timetables, delays and many other inconveniences that can make getting to and from places a task. Leave early and keep yourself informed, because, funny enough, these strikes are normally announced in advance to give the public time to plan ahead. So considerate of them 😉
6 – The metro at 6am on weekends is a very different animal than the metro at 6am during the week.
- When going out on weekends, you have the option to catch the last the last metro at 1:30-2am or be brave and stay out until 6am when the metro re-opens. Be warned, you will see some rather interesting things on public transport at this hour; drunk people, people making out, people who have fallen asleep, etc. Be careful not to fall asleep on the metro on your trek home, you could run the risk of getting robbed or just riding the line back and forth until some nice person wakes you up.
Grocery shopping and banks
7 – Grocery stores are normally open 7 days a week!
- This is important, because in other parts of Spain, especially in small towns, this is not true. Some have limited hours on weekends, but you can normally get whatever you want, whenever you want.
8 – Grocery store closed? That’s what “Chinos” are for!
- Ok, I realize that may sound a little racist to a newcomer, but the “Chino” is the term for the small convenient stores that are ALWAYS open and have just about anything you could want. Having a party and run out of beer? Chino. Really want some potatoes chips, soda or cookies at 12am? Chino. Having people over and forget the plastic cups? Chino. Need a last minute costume for that themed party? Chino! They are pretty great, even though what you will find in them varies in quality. Typically they are small stores jam packed with everything from food products to home decor and clothes.
9 – Banks close at 2pm and siesta is a real thing
- While the typical Spanish siesta doesn’t really happen in a big city like Madrid, schedules and hours of operation are something to be aware of. Banks tend to close early, so if you work in the morning, it is very possible you will have to take a day off to go to the bank or go early before work. Most stores, supermarkets, restaurants and bars close for 2 hours during the day, normally 3-5pm, so that the staff can eat and have a break before they re-open at 5-5:30pm.
10 – “running into the bank or super market” doesn’t happen
- if you think dealing with the strange timetables was bad, lines, lack of staff or getting your place in line taken by an “abuelo/a” can make otherwise quick errands, quite the event.
11 – Drawing money from ATMs can be frustrating
- Cash machines are not always well maintained in the city Some screens are so dirty you can’t read them, they run out of money or sometimes only have 50s. In Spain, no one wants your 50 euro note, good idea to keep small bills and “suelto” (coins) with you. Most businesses here still only/mostly operate in cash.
Spanish Way of Life:
12 – Football is a way of life.
* not unlike many European cities, the madrileños take pride in their cities two main football teams, Real Madrid and Athletico. It will not be uncommon that upon meeting someone new, they will ask which team you support. Your answer may either a) get you a new friend or b) get an ear full as to why the person’s team is better than yours.
13 – Construction and scaffolding are always just a part of the city.
- Madrid has no construction season, it is an all-the-time thing that can make daily life difficult. Scaffolding blocking the sidewalks, jackhammers sounding at 8am, metro repairs causing delays and random line cuts. It is something to keep in mind and deal with. During summer months it is even worse; metro wait times get pretty ridiculous.
14 – At any time of the day or on any day of the week you can see a protest or street march.
- Madrid is a big city, with lots of people and these people are always gathering to march against and also to support one cause or another. You can get out of the metro in Sol and see masses of people, typically in matching shirts, holding signs, chanting and someone on a bullhorn shouting something normally unintelligible to the foreign ear. The city is alive and has a lot of activist energy, it is cool to see and also can motivate you to get involved in causes you feel passionate about.
Eating out and late nights
15- Drink and get fed too!
- The tapas culture in Spain is a wonderful way to eat less, but also eat more of a variety of things at the same meal. Many bars will give you a tapa for free when you order a drink; they range from olives or potato chips to mini meals of deliciousness!
16 – Have fun for free or very little cost!
- On a budget? Madrid is full of awesome, fun things to do! Most all museums have free hours, there are free markets, concerts, many parks and beautiful streets to take a stroll on. It is always fun to play tourist in your new city and discover everything Madrid has to offer!
17 – Late-night night life
- Are you a night owl? Well you have come to the right place; the party doesn’t get started in Spain til after 1-2am and goes until sunrise. The city’s many discos and bars offer your inner party animal many options for entertainment.
18 – After the party ends it is Kebab time
- A kebab is a middle eastern favorite for late-night partiers. They are a pita stuffed with meat, cheese and veggies to help ward off a hangover. You also have options like 24-hour pizza stands, fast food restaurants and the never-fail Chino.
19 – Chocolate and Churros, a late-night alternative to fast food
- This Spanish delight is a greasy, fried, bready, chocolately treat that cannot be missed. This combo is also popular for breakfast, or any part of the day, really. You can find many bars or kioskos making them fresh to order, so go and order a ración sometime!
City quirks and suprises:
20- Pick-pockets, street performers, solicitors, beggars and the like….
- Madrid is a lively place, full of a diverse population, with that, comes all kinds of people. It is important to keep in mind that at any moment, you could be subjected to performances on public transport, be pick pocketed, solicited or just straight up asked for money. Keep your wits about you and you will be fine. With time, you may come to ignore or enjoy this aspect of the city.
21- In April, Jesus takes to the streets.
- Ever seen a giant procession of the story of Jesus Christ? Well you will in Spain! Semana Santa is, not only a holiday that we know as Easter, but the country transforms into a combination of a celebration/mourning of the life of Jesus. Although it is more prominent in the South, you can see the processions going through the main streets of Madrid, too. Interesting for those of us who come from less religious countries.
22- In the fall the city is visited by 1000s of sheep!
- The “festival de la transhumancia” is a tradition dating back to 1372 and celebrates the shepherds’ old routes and their rights to move their flocks to different lands. Madrid just happens to be in the middle of those routes, thus, we get a visit from the sheep still to this day.
23- The city shuts down in August
*Aw, vacaciones! Summer holidays! People are coming in and out of the city, but the people who live here are running to the beach and escaping the heat. In August, the city is empty, which can be lovely for those who remain. With the welcome space and quiet, also comes closed businesses and friends out of town, but it’s only a month!
As you become more acquainted with your new city, you will discover all the little quirks and charms that makes Madrid the awesome city it is! It has something for everyone and offers more fun, entertainment and culture than one can possibly fit in a week, weekend, month or year even! Enjoy the adventure of discovery! Welcome to Madrid!