In 2013, I had the privilege of studying abroad and living in Madrid for six months. During that period, I became infatuated with the city’s beauty, neighborhoods, and quirks. I found that many things made Madrid unique. The contrast between where I grew up in California and what I experienced in Madrid was immense. To this day, I find myself dazzled by this enchanting place.
If you have never visited Madrid, you’re in for a treat when you do. It’s a great entry point into Europe and an accessible city to get around.
Here are some of my favorite things about Madrid that I know you’ll love too!
1. Madrid is easy to navigate
Something I love about Madrid is how easy it is to get around. There is no need to rent a vehicle or take any expensive transportation while at this destination. Everything is accessible by foot or public transport.
The airport, Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport, is about eight miles from the center (Sol). You can get to town using the metro, a taxi, bus, or shuttle.
While in town, the historic center is simple to navigate on foot, by bus, or metro. Public transportation is spotless and efficient. Almost all of the major sites are within walking distance of each other.
2. Madrid has options for every budget
Madrid is a city that can please all types of people. When I was living there, I was on a student budget. You can go on a trip to Madrid and spend next to nothing on activities, dining, and accommodations if you are diligent. You can easily find a dorm room at a hostel for around $20/night or share an Airbnb with friends. There are plenty of inexpensive eats (Cien Montaditos has little sandwiches for a euro to two euros each) that taste great and won’t burn your wallet. There are many free public places to see, and many museums have free entry after a specific time.
On the other end, you can have a luxurious trip to Madrid. There are countless five-star hotels and fine dining establishments in the city. Barrio Salamanca has high-end retail along with numerous Michelin-starred restaurants in town. You can also see world-class musicals and flamenco shows (though the best flamenco is in Andalucia) in town.
3. Relaxed pace of life
Don’t let the neon lights on Gran Vía fool you. While Madrid is a bustling city hosting millions of tourists worldwide each year, nothing feels rushed. I loved that the pace of life in Madrid was much slower than in many cosmopolitan cities. You can take your time wandering around the place and soak up the atmosphere.
Waiters at restaurants tend to leave you alone, not in a rush to turn over your table. Groups of friends often spend hours together at lunch, chatting and enjoying each other’s company.
Madrid has outstanding parks like Retiro or the Parque del Oeste where you can relax, and people watch.
4. There are delicious food options
Madrid has outstanding food everywhere if you look for them. Keep in mind, Madrid has tourist traps like many cities. Gran Vía and Sol have no shortage of them. However, if you do your research, you’ll find some great places to eat.
Spanish food focuses on quality and freshness. Seasonings are simple, and they don’t use many spices other than paprika. There are many dishes with parsley, olive oil, garlic, red peppers, eggs, potatoes, and high-quality meat. Their wine, cheese, and cured meats are exceptional.
A great way to experience a Spanish meal is to try a menu del día. These are prix fixe menus that typically include a starter, entrée, dessert, bread, and drink (including wine) for about 8+ euros. In the evening, try some tapas at local bars.
5. It has unique neighborhoods to explore
Madrid has many neighborhoods, each with unique characteristics. The city center is Puerta del Sol, where there is a large plaza and many stores. Gran Vía is a long street with shops and entertainment that many consider Madrid’s “Time Square.”
Madrid’s arts center, the Paseo del Prado, is a wide boulevard with the city’s most famous museums. Just above this cultural district is Barrio Salamanca, Madrid’s high-end district.
Slightly north of the city center is Malasaña, the city’s hippest neighborhood, with exciting bars and creative restaurants. Close by is Chueca, Madrid’s historically LGBTQ+ neighborhood full of shopping, eateries, and culture.
The La Latina neighborhood has the city’s largest flea market every Sunday. Next door, Lavapiés has diverse restaurants from Madrid’s immigrant community.
Austrias is just west of Sol and is the oldest part of Madrid. You can find the impressive Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral there.
Spain’s capital city of Madrid has significantly more to offer than bullfighting and expensive nightclubs overlooking the city. With boroughs equally rich in culture as the tapas dishes are in flavor, the city presents an endless amount of activities for the curious explorer.
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About the Author
Kelsey T. is a freelance writer and international education professional from Southern California. Her global experience includes volunteering in Costa Rica, studying abroad in Spain and Morocco, and teaching English in Spain. Additionally, she has traveled to over a dozen countries in Europe, North America, Africa, and Asia. Today, Kelsey dedicates her time to travel writing and helping college students study abroad.