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
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.
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
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!
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.
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
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:
Hasta La Proxima Vez,