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An Expat's Guide to Living in Madrid

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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. Throughout this article I'll try to convince you that this quote is true based on my experience living in Madrid for the last 5 years.

Don't just take it from me, A Way Abroad named Madrid as one of the best places to live in Europe for expats in 2024.

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 6 years later I am still here and now I now call the Spanish capital home. I moved to Madrid 4 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 article, I will give you some insights about Madrid and convince you to at least come visit as it's one of the best cities in Spain. If you end up moving here, that's even better!

Short on time? Here’s the cheat sheet: 

💭Madrid is a big, bustling city that’s ideal for those eager to soak up Spanish cuisine, a fun bar culture, and amazing nightlife.

🏠The best neighborhoods for expats are La Latina, Retiro, Sol, and Malasaña.

🛏️Start off by booking somewhere centrally located and easy to get around, like this Spectacular Terrace Apartment in Sol.

🛂Most non-European foreigners who live here are either English teachers, au pairs, on the new digital nomad visa, or work for international companies.

📚Make your transition easier and get a headstart learning the language with Mondly.

☂️Although it can get extremely hot in the summer,

☀️You’re rewarded with 4 true seasons that means everyday living in Madrid will bring something slightly different.

‍General Information About Madrid

The colorful buildings of La Latina in Madrid, a great neighborhood to live in.

Before you choose Madrid over other European cities, there's a few things you should know about living in Spain's capital city.

Madrid is not only the capital but also 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 41C outside while I am writing this!) But the temperature also drops to below zero during winter.

Unlike living in Latin America, when living in Madrid, you can expect 4 true seasons.

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. I'll dive into each of my top recs in just a sec so hang tight!

Visas to Move to Spain

A big plaza in Spain with tourists walking around on a sunny winter day.

Luckily, if you have your eye on Spain, there are some valid visa options to be able to get you legally living here.

As part of the EU, most nationalities are given 90-days every 180-days to spend through the Schengen Zone, this includes Spain and much of the European Union. You can certainly spend 90-days consecutively as a tourist but know that then you can't go directly to surrounding Portugal or France.

If you want the chance to stay in Spain longer and actually live in Madrid, these are the best visa options:

  • Many expats come here as English teachers with either the BEDA program or the Auxiliares program. These programs give you a great work-life balance, working only part-time but still with a sponsored work visa.
  • Move to Spain on a student visa. This allows you to study Spanish while living here and you can get a job, like as an au pair to pay your way and provide housing.
  • If you have some passive income flowing, check out Spain's non-lucrative visa. It's meant for retirees but others with passive income have been able to squeeze by with it.
  • The newest visa that has taken Spain by storm is the digital nomad visa. This visa allows you to legally work remotely from anywhere Spain. Just know you'll need to prove you have an online job and make a certain income.

Best Barrios in Madrid to Live

A large white castle in Madrid, a great city for expats to call home.

Madrid's neighborhoods, or barrios, are just as diverse as the city itself. Believe it or not, there are 131 different neighborhoods in the city, so while I won't cover all of them, I will share my top recommendations for where you should move to.

By the way, you'll notice the places I recommend you rent to get a feel for each neighborhood are on Vrbo, not Airbnb. Personally, I like Vrbo because you're able to cashback on each stay that you can then use on your next trip. Whereas with Airbnb, there are no rewards for users. But if you still prefer that platform, most rentals are on both Airbnb and Vrbo.

La Latina

Moving to Spain to soak up the stereotypical Spanish charm while still living in a big city? La Latina is a good choice for you. This neighborhood has an older vibe to it with plenty of tiny alleyways, beautiful architecture, and great restaurants.

Since this is a popular part of the city, it can get crowded with tourists on the weekends. In general though, it's a great place to live if you want to soak up Spanish culture but know that rent prices might feel high.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel or vacation rental for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in La Latina is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Apartment Steps from Plaza Mayor: Located right in the heart of La Latina, this affordable apartment rental even has air conditioning for hot summers.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Miyas Madrid Apartment: Traveling with a bigger group? Have plenty of space for 4 people at this charming apartment.
  • Luxury Stay: Collection La Latina: This bright flat right in the heart of La Latina is the perfect place to stay to really get a feel for what living in this neighborhood would be like.


Want to live surrounded by green spaces? You'll love living in Retiro. Located in the city center, this neighborhood borders the gigantic Parque de El Retiro. There are also a lot of art galleries and museums in this neighborhood.

This is a popular area for young professionals and families that still want to be close to the city center but have the sense that they're a bit farther away. Rent typically isn't as expensive as in Sol but you'll still need a decent income to afford the cost of living here.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Retiro is a good choice for you.


If you want to be as central as possible when living in Madrid, Sol is going to be a great choice for you. This neighborhood is popular with tourists, expats, and locals alike. Living in Sol is ideal for those who want to enjoy Madrid's lively nightlife scene.

I'll mention this later in safety but since it is the city center, know that pickpockets aren't super uncommon in this neighborhood. Another con for living in Sol is that since it's a popular part of the city to stay in, the cost of living will be high here.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Sol is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Spectacular Terrace Apartment: Get a lot of bang for your buck at this apartment rental in Sol.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Apartamento con A/C: Have all the amenities you could need, even high-speed internet, for a comfortable stay in the center of Sol.
  • Luxury Stay: Charming Luxury Apartment: If you want a high-end stay, you'll love this spacious apartment has plenty of room for 4 adults.


Looking for an alternative place to live? Hipsters, goths, hippies, and everything in between have made Malasaña there home. This is certainly one of the trendier spots in the city which is cool because it's unique but you will lose some of Spain's charm here as it can feel more like any grunge neighborhood across Europe.

In general, you can expect lower rent costs here but do know the barrio is growing in popularity. There's always something to do in this neighborhood, night or day.

📍Before you decide to move to this neighborhood, I suggest you book a hotel for at least a night or two to get a real feel for it at all hours. This will give you the best chance to see if living in Malasaña is a good choice for you.

  • Budget Stay: Corner of Love: The perfect place to stay for couples and even those that are traveling or moving with their pet.
  • Mid-Tier Stay: Modern Apartment City Center: The space at this apartment will be the perfect place to relax after a long day exploring your new home abroad.
  • Luxury Stay: Duplex Apartment with Private Patio: Have plenty of space to spread at out in this modern and clean apartment in Malasaña.
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International Community in Madrid

A rainy day in Malasana, one of the best neighborhoods to live 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.

Making Friends in Madrid

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.

My Favorite Restaurants & Bars in Madrid

A  wall of cured pork legs in a food market 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 Few Things To Know Before Moving to Madrid

A glimpse of colorful buildings and blue sky in Madrid, Spain.

Speaking Spanish

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. Regardless, I would at least try and learn basic vocabulary and phrases on an app like Mondly.

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!

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!


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 major European cities, 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.

Keeping in mind basic safety tips though will of course give you a bigger peace of mind.

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. 

Domestic & International Travel from Madrid

A quiet beach with a unique rock landform jutting out in the sea at Playa de las catedrales in Spain.

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 & Paella”. But, while the country does those 2 things very well, 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.

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
  • San Sebastian

Checking out the South of Spain

The South of Spain, on the other hand, is known for its Spanish 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!

Is Living in Madrid For You?

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!

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