How to visit Madrid and enjoy like locals
Why visit Madrid?
Aaahh! Madrid. It’s very hard not to love this capital city of Spain. Famous for its grand boulevards, gorgeously manicured parks, not to mention the abundance of European art in the many museums and galleries spread out all over the city. This is a guide on how to visit Madrid and enjoy it like locals do.
In this city of over three million people in the core (slightly more than 6.5 million people in the metropolitan area), it’s amazing that they have managed to preserve the old while incorporating the new. The Spanish Monarch residence is here and Madrid is the seat of government. Only Paris and London surpass it in size, so you can imagine just how expansive the city is.
The first and foremost reason we don’t live there is because Madrid is expensive. For us to fully enjoy what the city has to offer, we would have needed to live in the main core which is quite costly. Madrid, Bilbao and Barcelona have the highest cost of living in Spain.
Our second and important reason was that we wanted to live close to the water. Having lived in Seville where it gets quite hot and not able to withstand it anymore, we wanted some sea to escape to, which is what eventually brought us to Valencia.
Madrid like a local:
In order to fully appreciate the wonderful city of Madrid, you have to bring the right attitude as it definitely enhances your Madrid visit. Here is a guide to enjoying Madrid like locals do.
Visiting and loving Madrid like locals guide. Steps to doing it right:
BRING THE RIGHT ATTITUDE ON YOUR MADRID HOLIDAY!:
We love staying like locals wherever we travel as it is a good way to get a much better impression of the city. Shopping for groceries, having a drink, everyday interactions that give the local flavour, something that can be hard to get from hotel stays.
Madrilenos are fun! and it seems they do have fun all day. There seems to be something going on all the time, in the streets, parks and there seems to be a holiday in honour of one saint or the other on a weekly basis so chances are that you will happen upon a celebration. I have visions of Pedro Almodovar type of life happening. We stayed in central Madrid and some of the clubs were open till 5AM. There was a club that people were still going into at 8AM, complete with a big bouncer at the door when we were heading out for the day. Amazing!
EAT LATE, BRING YOUR APPETITE AND EAT WELL:
Local thing to do in Madrid includes enjoying a glass or two of Tinto de Verano which translates to summer red. This is their version of a sangria. It is a mixture of red wine, carbonated soda or soda (like Sprite). It’s not weighed down by fruit like in Sangria and is perfect for those hot days.
A local in Madrid will have a cana of beer (usually 225ml) and costs very little. This is enjoyed with complimentary nuts or olives. A very common sight in many parts of Spain as they sit outside and enjoy people watching and chatting with neighbours and friends.
Hang out where the Madrid locals do: a very popular place is the central market, the mercado de San Miguel, one of Madrid’s oldest and quite beautiful market with its Goth architecture. A gastronomic delight, so make sure to get your tapas and chow down like a local. Read all about it on my San Miguel mercado post.
Things locals do in Madrid: Tapas and Tinto/Cana
Locals in Madrid enjoy their tapas crawl. This is a way of life for lots of people in Spain l’ve found after living in three different cities and visiting some more. This is having a tapas and or drink at different places. Usually, you meet friends, have a drink, go on to the next bar, have another tapas and so on till you get full. It’s a great way to find favourite hangouts and/or discover new places to eat. Trial and error. Something we have also started doing. When in Rome and all that.
No dinners at seven in the evening here! This isn’t Florida. Madrilenos do not go out for dinner till 9pm or much later. If you want to stick out, go for dinner at 8pm (like we did the first day, l was hungry!) and you’ll see how empty the restaurants are. The other few patrons will be tourists just like you.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR NATURAL VISTAS ON YOUR MADRID VISIT:
The city is huge, the buildings are huge, the parks are huge and lovely. Visit one of the parks like the El Retiro Gardens, bring your lunch, eat it on a park bench and people watch, like we did.
Related Reading: El Retiro Park
LOVE FOOTBALL WITH PASSION!
Since we absolutely love the Real Madrid football club, we had to visit their home. Football is a good way to meet locals as they are always willing to talk and argue about their teams.
Football, (futbol) as in soccer that is. No hand touching here, unless you want to get called for a foul! Pick your team and love them to death. Your big name teams in Madrid are Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid. Be prepared to talk endlessly about them too.
We struck up a lot of conversations on the buses just by asking what team people supported. It was a great way to meet people and others usually joined in, one even got off the bus with us at the stop on the day we visited the stadium to make sure we found it okay, even though it wasn’t his team. Real Madrid has it’s own stop on the train by the way called the Santiago Bernabeu.
Here’s his little video of the stadium if you’re interested. In our house, football is a religion (Italian Serie A) as it is for Madrid locals
HAVE A BIT OF CULTURE: Visit Madrid Museums
Madrid is full of museums with world class artwork. Amazing places like Museo Nacional del Prado, featuring works by master artists like Rubens, Titian, and Velasquez. This museum, along with the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia form the “Golden Triangle of Art” because of their close proximity to one another. Very impressive inside and out they are. Be sure to check out what times you can enter for free at the museums, even though you have to wait in very long lines, but it might save you a euro or two if you have the time, otherwise a skip the line tour is highly recommended. Visit the Crystal Palace at El Retiro park if you get a chance, it’s free entry all the time..
SHARE YOUR LOVELY CITY OF MADRID:
You have to share Madrid the rest of the world. Share the beauty, the love, the kindness, the good food, the great drinks, share everything! They’ll love you for it! One word of caution though, Madrid locals do not take kindly to public drunkenness so it is quite important that you respect the people and don’t be an ugly tourist.
A lot of neighbourhoods also have quiet times that you should respect. This means no excessive noise between 10pm till 8am. This city is their home and you should treat it with respect. Everything in moderation.
Bad things can happen on your holiday. Protect your trip with the best travel insurance.
You might be lucky enough to catch a quick flamenco show. Make sure to tip her or him!
Related Reading: 24 hrs in Madrid
Things to do in Madrid:
- El Retiro Park
- Museums (Prado, Thyssen, Reina Sofia etc…)
- Madrid via hop-on hop-off bus
- Royal Palace
- San Bernabeu
- Tapas Crawl
- Plaza Mayor
- Mercado San Miguel
These are just a few of the many things to see in Madrid. Doing just a few of these will make your Madrid visit memorable and enjoyable. If you have time, you could also consider one of the numerous Madrid day trips to places like nearby Toledo or Segovia.
Pin it for later:
I hope you have enjoyed this guide on how to visit Madrid and enjoy like locals. Visit madrid and you will understand why millions yearn and do a Madrid trip, us included. Now that we’re lucky enough to live close by, we will definitely go back as much as we can to explore some more and live like locals.
How about you? Do you have any other tips to share about Madrid? I wonder if it will be the same as mine? Would you think of a Madrid visit like locals?