14 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Madrid

Madrid was a place I called home for one of my most favorite chapters of my life. It was the first time I had ever been in Europe and the first time I ever had to learn how to actually live on my own. As a country, Spain is just so uniquely different from any other place I have ever been to in the world and this bustling capital city is no exception.

The culture shock of coming from Las Vegas and moving to Madrid was huge. From the moment I got off that plane and was greeted with the Spanish speaking speed of 80mph to the moment I had to get used to eating dinner at 11 pm and partying until 6 am. Madrid has so many quirks about it that most people do not actually have a clue about until they are in the city experiencing this stark culture shock for the first time. To help prepare you for your visit way more than I was before moving to Madrid, here are

14 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Madrid

*I actually started jotting these things down while I was still living in Madrid (just noting all the little quirks and differences I saw), I just never got around to publishing a blog post about it. But since I get asked about Madrid quite a bit—I’ve made guides for more than 20 people for Madrid at this point—I figured I should finally just publish my tips and a guide so I’ll have a handy link for people from now on!

1. Invest in a reusable water bottle

Simply put, bottled water is expensive in Madrid (sometimes it can cost up to 4-6 euros). Having a reusable water bottle from which you can drink water from after your meal—outside the restaurant of course—can prevent you from spending so much money on it.

Fun Fact: Wine is actually cheaper than water and sometimes comes free with the meal. Ever wonder why I have come to love wine so much?

Pro Tip: If you don’t mind drinking tap, ask for Agua del Grifo

 Most  Menu del Dia  deals always come with either a glass of red wine or  tinto de verano

Most Menu del Dia deals always come with either a glass of red wine or tinto de verano

 It took nearly 40 minutes for our tapas to come out at this tapas bar by my apartment

It took nearly 40 minutes for our tapas to come out at this tapas bar by my apartment

2. Eating Schedule

Madrileños have a very unique eating schedule. They eat late—well compared to Americans at least. Lunch time is typically from 2pm-3:30pm (which is followed by siesta) and Dinner service is not typically until 9PM. This means that  restaurants typically do not open until 9PM. Most people typically like eating around 10-11PM though.

3. Customer service is an American concept

Nope can’t complain to the manager or on Yelp here. Customer service is honestly not that great in Madrid because of the terrible salaries people are earning. So be prepared to wait for quite a bit of time for your food to come out—this was something that took awhile for me to get used to.

4. Yelp doesn’t exist or is often times wrong

Speaking of Yelp, it doesn’t really exist in Madrid. Since customer service isn’t really a main priority, you can pretty much deduct why an app for reviewing service isn’t of importance to the people.

Trip Advisor is definitely more popular though! This typically fellow tourists and travelers that leave reviews here so you will have more chances of finding reviews on this platform.

 I was one of the only reviews on Yelp for this sandbar— check it on Yelp! I’m probably still one of the only ones.  (Ojalá Sandbar)

I was one of the only reviews on Yelp for this sandbar—check it on Yelp! I’m probably still one of the only ones. (Ojalá Sandbar)

 Made a rookie move on my first day in Madrid— got Paella at a place that advertised with pictures and had a serving for just one person

Made a rookie move on my first day in Madrid—got Paella at a place that advertised with pictures and had a serving for just one person

5. Never eat at restaurants with pictures of the food displayed outside

Two words: Tourist Trap. This is especially true for the posters and signs you see along Gran Vía or Sol for Paella and Sangria. My Madrileño friend once told me: If they have to post pictures of their food to get you to come in or harass you as you walk by, then that means their food can’t be that good and it will probably be expensive (direct translation from Spanish).

Paella is meant to be shared with one another person at minimum. If they are advertising that you can order your own plate, chances are it is probably cooked from frozen and not fresh.

6. Siesta is a serious thing

Before I moved to Madrid, I honestly thought this “siesta” culture was a myth. But it is every much a thing. A very serious thing at that. And while you may think this does nothing but give the Spaniards extra sleeping time, it actually affects when businesses open and close.

In fact, most supermarkets, banks, pharmacies, businesses close for siesta in the afternoon (typically between 2pm – 5pm). Most bars and restaurants close by 4pm (since lunch service isn’t until 2pm) and do not open until about 9PM

*Banks are typically only open 9 am – 2PM

 We met up at our friends apartment at 1 am so that we can head to the club by 2 am!

We met up at our friends apartment at 1 am so that we can head to the club by 2 am!

7. Partying until 6 AM is the norm

I am honestly not the biggest going out and partying all night fan, but Madrid definitely taught me how to enjoy this little quirk. Nightlife is such a big part of the Madrid culture as it is one of the best scenes for nightlife in all of Europe.

Because they have siesta time and don’t finish dinner until about 11pm-12 am, the party doesn’t even really start until about 1-3 am. The majority of people actually stay out until 6:30 am because that is when the metro opens back up (and no one wants to pay for those expensive taxis that add up after many nights out!)

It is very much so part of the culture that there is actually a word for this lifestyle: “Pachanga!” (Spanish slang meaning “party hard/to rage”)

8. Tip isn’t really a thing (but still appreciated)

If you’re coming from the U.S. this is one of the biggest differences you will find in Spain (and a large majority of Europe). Tips are not very common and not expected at all. Though if you are feeling nice, leaving a euro or 2 is always nice. Your server will definitely be pleasantly surprised.

9. Food is meant for sharing

Spain, most especially Madrid is all about sharing food (cue: tapas culture). That being said, do not expect to order your own plate of anything and not share with whoever you are eating with. Jamon Iberico y Croquetas for all!

 Getting churros con chocolate was a thing my friends and I loved doing— we would order a portion and share amongst ourselves

Getting churros con chocolate was a thing my friends and I loved doing—we would order a portion and share amongst ourselves

10.  The fashion is very modest

 One of the biggest things I had to get used to in Madrid is that the people dress very modestly. Unless you are going out to the club at night, don’t wear clothing that is too revealing. Yep, keep the crop tops and daisy dukes at home, girl! Tights, Scarves, Coats are definitely the way to go.

You will notice that Madrileñas wear tights with everything—shorts, dresses, and basically anything that would show too much leg. Scarves are also an outfit staple.

 A scarf, tights and a coat over any outfit was basically my uniform in Spain

A scarf, tights and a coat over any outfit was basically my uniform in Spain

11.  Most of the time, bread is NOT free

While the charge is not significantly high, it is still an extra charge—so if you are a broke college student like I was when living in Madrid, make sure you ask first if the pan is gratis

 That bread was definitely not free :(

That bread was definitely not free :(

 I pretty much had a glass of red wine everyday at lunch or dinner (one or the other, not both) while I was living in Spain

I pretty much had a glass of red wine everyday at lunch or dinner (one or the other, not both) while I was living in Spain

12.  No one says “Adios”. Don’t say it.

Saying this is basically a dead giveaway that you are a tourist. Unlike the Spanish used in countries like Mexico, Madrileños say Hasta Luego or Ciao

13.  Drinking socially is a very common and large part of the Madrid culture

It is common to have a small glass of beer or glass of wine with your mid day meal. Strong mixed drinks are reserved for later in the night.

During my time in Madrid, I always drank red wine with my meal. That said, because they drink very often the Spanish drink very much so in moderation. So no, this is not your cue to be gulping down a whole bottle of wine and a 6 pack of beer everyday.

14.  People in Madrid (and most of Spain) are very relaxed

If there is one thing living in Madrid taught me, it is to CHILL OUT. The people are very lax and often take their time and enjoy everything they do with leisure. This means no rushing, 2-3 hour lunches and the mindset of mañana mañana (which means later/there’s always later aka what’s the rush!)  

Well there you have it! 14 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Madrid. Hope this helps you in some way!

Read some of my Madrid Blogs Posts here:

Madrid, you make a girl want to speak Spanish

Hello from the other side….

Exploring Spain

2 Months Later…

 I’m telling you—beer or wine with every meal was the norm!

I’m telling you—beer or wine with every meal was the norm!

Hasta La Proxima Vez,

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