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An Expat Guide to Living in Madrid

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Gabriele Pletaite
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De Madrid al Cielo” (From Madrid to heaven) is a Spanish saying which suggests that once you have seen Madrid the only next best thing could be heaven. It is up to you to decide whether that is correct or not. But in this blog post I will try to convince you that this quote is true.

My name is Gabriele, I am 25 years old and moved to Spain in 2016. Initially, I was supposed to stay for six months only. But five years later I am still here and I call it my home. I moved to Madrid four years ago. Before that, I was studying for one year in León in the north of Spain. 

Are you thinking about moving to Spain but are unsure about where you would like to move?

Many people decide to go to Barcelona. It has a beach, I know! But if you are looking for a less touristy city, then Madrid should be on your list as well! In this blog post I will give you some insights about Madrid and convince you to at least come visit it. If you end up moving here, that's even better!

a woman in a museum standing under a giant flower installation
Enjoying the beauty of Palacio de Cristal in Madrid

General Information about Madrid

Madrid is Spain’s capital and the largest city of Spain with around 3.2 million inhabitants. It has a very dry climate and little rainfall. I have to add that temperatures really vary during the year. It does get especially hot in August (It is 41 degrees outside while I am writing this blog post!) But the temperature also drops to below zero during winter.

Madrid is famous for it’s bar culture, authentic Spanish cuisine and amazing nightlife. There are a lot of great neighborhoods in Madrid to choose from when deciding where in the city to live. My biggest suggestion is to rent an Airbnb your first few weeks in the city to get a feel for which barrio is for you before signing a lease.

Although not the only way to be able to move abroad to Spain, many expats come here as English teachers with either the BEDA program or the Auxiliares program.

Domestic and International Travel from Madrid

Madrid is very well connected for national or international flights. There's even tons of great day trips to take from Madrid via public transportation or car.

The Adolfo Suarez Airport in Madrid is the biggest airport in Spain and one of the most important airports of Europe as it connects the Spanish peninsula with the rest of the world. Barajas serves as a major junction between Europe and Latin America. Airlines like Iberia and Aireuropa have their primary hub there. 

Madrid’s central location in Spain makes it perfect for national travel by renting a car since all destinations in Spain, the beaches included, are really easy to reach by car.

To me, it seems like travellers underestimate Spain and think that the only thing it could ever offer is “Sangría and Paella”. But they could not be more wrong!

Once you have been in Spain for a longer time you will realize how diverse the country is when you compare the North to the South of Spain.

A woman with her back to the camera turning back to look while standing on the coast
Travelling in Mallorca and loving it

Exploring the North of Spain

The North of Spain is known to have a cooler climate, beautiful wild beaches and a cuisine that is very heavy on Seafood. Sidra (Cider) is a very popular drink across the north together with pintxos (small tapas served on bread).

My favorite destinations in the North of Spain must be Playa de las Catedrales and San Sebastian.

Checking out the South of Spain

The South of Spain, on the other hand, is known for its culture of celebrations, flamenco dancing and tapas. It has one of the highest average temperatures in Europe during summer, so keep that in mind if you are planning to visit.

Apart from that, the South is full of very beautiful architecture and is rich in history.

Andalusia was founded by the Romans but ruled by Islamic Moors for around 800 years. So you will definitely be able to find influences from many different cultures in the South. Think about the Alhambra in Granada and the Mosque in Córdoba. The pace of life is much slower there. Don’t forget, it gets very hot during the day!

International Community in Madrid

You would not have thought about it before, but Madrid has a big international community. It might not be as big as in Barcelona but many people from all over the world live in Madrid so you will never feel like the “weird foreigner” in between all the locals.

During the last couple of years I have been seeing more and more international companies setting up subsidiaries in Spain and hiring talent here. Of course, this made the international community in Spain bigger and has been attracting more people to move and work from here.

If this is something that interests you, you can check out companies like Revolut and Hopin for job offers. By the way, I wrote a post about finding a job in Spain. You can find it here.

When I moved to Madrid I made friends with many people during events that are typically organized for the international community in Madrid. For example, Meetup organizes language exchanges on Wednesdays and Thursdays for international students and expats. That is how I started meeting people in Madrid.

Another great way to make friends abroad could be Facebook groups, e.g. expats in Valencia, internationals in Barcelona etc.

Do I need to know Spanish while living in Madrid? 

That will be one of the toughest questions to answer because I have heard so many different opinions. I think that you do need a basic level of Spanish in order to get around, schedule appointments and talk to locals. But I know people living in Madrid that are mostly using English and it is working fine.

If you are planning to visit Madrid for a shorter stay I would not worry too much about your Spanish skills not being perfect. But if you are planning to stay a couple of months, knowing basic Spanish will make your life much easier. There are many different language schools in Madrid that offer Spanish classes, for all budgets. So taking a Spanish course could be a nice way of starting your life here or meeting new people.

But don’t forget: If you are forced to speak Spanish on a daily basis you will become a pro in no time!

a woman sitting in front of the Cathedral in Barcelona
Sight-Seeing in Barcelona

Getting Around Madrid

Madrid must be one of the most pedestrian friendly capitals in the world! Every time I have someone visiting me they are surprised how easy it is to get around. If you primarily stay in the city center, you can reach almost all major attractions by foot! And you do not even need to take the metro.

Speaking of the metro, I think the public transport system of Madrid is very well established and quite affordable. The metro connects you with all important neighborhoods and hotspots of the city. It usually never takes me more than half an hour to get somewhere. And keep in mind that Madrid is a big city!

Additionally, if you are 27 or younger, a monthly metro ticket only costs 20 Euros. Yes, TWENTY EUROS! And rides to the airport are included as well!

My favorite Restaurants and Bars in Madrid

Madrid has so many excellent things to do for travelers and expats, like me. You won't run out of amazing neighborhoods to visit, parks to hang out in, nearby towns to explore, and importantly, bars and restaurants to try out.

Get ready to open up your taste buds and try my favorite spots to grab a drink or a bite to eat.

Taberna la Elisa: Taberna la Elisa is a small taberna in the "Las Letras” area of Madrid. Their menu includes typical Spanish tapas. The inside of this restaurant is gorgeous as well!

Sra. Smith: This place became one of my favorite restaurants not too long ago. It offers very typical Spanish dishes for a very affordable price. If you get the chance you should try their menu del día!

Casa Julio: Casa Julio is famous for its croquetas. And I must say, those croquetas are one of the best ones I have ever had in Madrid!

Macera: If you are a fan of Gin Tonics this bar will not disappoint you! They have a wide range of Gins that they prepare themselves. It is a great place to try out during the evening with friends.

a woman eating a crema catalana and smiling at the camera
Crema Catalana, my favorite Spanish dessert


Another factor that is very important to me is safety. In my opinion, Madrid feels like an extremely safe city to live in. This is not the case with all capital cities.

Of course, you can always end up in the wrong neighborhoods. But compared to other capitals in Western Europe it is even safe at night. As mentioned previously, I walk around the city a lot instead of taking public transportation and I have never felt like it could be a problem or unsafe. Keep these tips in mind to stay safe as a female expat.

Of course, as in any other big city, you should always be aware of pickpockets! Especially in the area around Sol, Plaza Mayor or Gran Via. I would advise to be cautious in all crowded areas, especially in the center of the city. 

I hope you enjoyed this little Madrid guide. And that I was able to give you some insights about living in Spain. If you are debating about moving here I hope I could give you some insights and if you needed a sign to finally move to Spain, then here it is!

If you ever want to chat you can reach me on my Instagram @thelithuanianabroad or my blog.

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